Back in Mississippi from the Great Smokies

I got back to Mississippi early Sunday morning. I go back to work on Wednesday.

The assessment? I did well on my assignment and impressed a lot of people. I received a lot of nice compliments from both the folks who worked for me and the folks I worked with, but it was very stressful and I’m glad there was an end to it. I came away from it learning two important things: one, that I can be a supervisor and do it well; two, that I’m not in a big hurry to move up into that position.

Now I’m going back into the routine. It’s hot and humid and the sun is scorching me (in the shade of the east Tennessee forests I put on my sunglasses maybe half a dozen times in seven weeks). I’d like this to be my last summer in Mississippi if possible, and if I don’t have to work another winter here that’d be just fine too. The detail in Tennessee snapped me out of the trance (read: rut) I’ve been in since I moved to the Coast, and I’m ready to move on to somewhere better.

Photos from seven weeks in the Great Smoky Mountains:

Louisiana with the folks

My dad downloaded the “Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith” trailer tonight. Ooh, it’s so dark! It’s going to be such a bummer.

Spent the day in Louisiana with the folks. Visited Chalmette Battlefield, took a boat tour of Bayou Sauvage, and visited Fort Pike. Stopped in Bay Saint Louis for ice cream on the way back.

Laissez les bon temps roulez

A friend and I went to a Mardi Gras parade in Biloxi last night. The cops seemed a little frazzled but the crowd wasn’t too nuts. There was garbage everywhere, though. A fair amount of underaged drinking, too.

Purple, green, and gold Mardi Gras float at night.

Some of the floats were pretty cool, some were very plain. The parade in Biloxi was nothing like what little I saw in New Orleans last year. New Orleans was a horrorshow. I didn’t enjoy it. The Biloxi Night Parade (there were parades all day and in the different towns on the coast since January) was very accessible, very pleasant, and very brief. I practiced a little on my new Nikon digital camera and discovered it is not very good at photographing things that move, even if they move slowly.

Friends from Alaska visit

My friend Lisa and her boyfriend Jimmy stayed here a couple of nights. They live in Alaska. I hadn’t seen her in forever and this is the first time I’d met her boyfriend. He’s a very nice guy. He took a look at my broken fan (he’s an electrician) and showed me some stuff with the plumbing.

Upon arrival Wednesday night, Lisa cooked up a crawfish etouffe (a Cajun dish) with the live crawfish they’d bought. After boiling the poor unfortunate little critters, Jimmy and I liberated the meat while Lisa made the roux. It was damned good too.

We took a hike on the Tuxachanie trail up at DeSoto National Forest yesterday. In over two years of living here, I haven’t yet hiked in that forest (a short drive from my apartment). Here’s why: it’s flat and wooded, and the trails are a straight shot. I don’t like hiking in the woods, especially coniferous ones. You can’t see much around you. Coniferous forest tend to be very sterile and monotonous because their decaying cause high acidity in the soil. Very little else grows there, and there is little wildlife diversity.

However, we had a very nice time on the Tuxachanie Trail. In addition to being flat it is very boggy, which makes the woods a little more intersesting. Jimmy likes looking under logs and in ponds, so he found a salamander, a couple of different frogs, a green anole (small lizard), and a gopher tortoise.

For dinner I cooked some crab meat-stuffed catfish from the Cajun meat store in town. Then we went for a drink down the street. This was a very fun weekend. They left this afternoon after lunch, and then I took care of some errands that have been piling up in my absence.

Moab, Utah

I’m back in Moab for a final night. Tomorrow I’m going back to my brother’s place, and I’ll spend the weekend with him.

A desert Christmas card: orange-red sandstone cliffs, olive-green junipers and pines, and white snow under a silver sky.
Tsegi Canyon
I left Many Farms really early this morning to get to Navajo National Monument by 8:00 a.m. Roger, the ranger I met earlier in the week (turns out he’s the superintendent) was surprised to see me. The tour didn’t start until 10, and it was a four-hour hike to the Batatakin ruins. The Keet Seel hike is scheduled for tomorrow. The locus of this foul-up is an employee named Earl. Earl will always have a special place in my voodoo-doll collection.

White petroglyph shaped like a deer on red sandstone.
Deer petroglyph
It wasn’t so bad. Turns out the ranger’s wife Peggy was on her way to escort some bioliogists into the canyon so they can inventory the aquatic biota of the seep springs before leading the tour to Betatakin. He invited me to go along with them. The place, way on top of the Shonto Plateau, still looked like a Christmas card with all the snow. We hiked pretty much straight down the cliff into Tsegi Canyon, dropped off the biologist, waited for a couple of Californians to catch up, and headed for the ruins.

Red sandstone village ruins in a tall cliff alcove.
What can I say? The place was beautiful. The ruins were fantastic. I’m sure I’ve written that a bazillion times already. Batatakin was built into an alcove in the cliff. There was only one large square kiva in the main village. A granary was built about 100 feet above on a ledge in the alcove, accessible only by a long-gone ladder. There were petroglyphs and pictographs and loom holes on the cliff wall, pottery shards (“potsherds”: my new vocabulary word) on the ground. Little seep springs with unusual plants grow out of the cracks, a relict glacial forest of aspens and horsetails covers the canyon bottom. Snow everywhere except in the village, sheltered from it but not the sun by the alcove. Peggy found the tracks of a bobcat and drops of blood from its kill.

On the drive out I finally saw a black-tailed jackrabbit; it ran along the road and I slowed down to let it cross. It ran along side my car for a bit, then jumped into the brush. I looked at the speedometer: it read 30 mph.

Red sandstone buttes against a deep blue sky.
Monument Valley as John Ford intended
So with another half-day to kill, I considered, in spite of my resolution to avoid it at all cost, visiting the Four Corners Monument so I could stand in four states at once. But I realized last week in Durango- cut off from the rest of Colorado by mountain passes, and all throughout this trip, that the cultures of the Four Corners area- white, Hopi, Navajo, Mormon, Spanish, Mexican, whatever- are all intertwined, and that the state borders were arbitrarily division drawn across the Colorado Plateau by long-dead bureaucrats in Washington. So screw the Four Corners, I drove up through Monument Valley again. This time the skies were clear and I saw them as John Ford intended. I did some Christmas shopping at Goulding’s Trading Post nearby, and then again in Bluff. I made Moab by evening, checked into a very nice, very cheap motel run by the Methodist Church, and visited the Moab Brewery for a snack and a Scorpion Pale Ale before they closed.

I had a nice conversation there with a couple of guys, one a traveling geophysicist who studies active volcanoes and consults on Caribbean aquifers, the other a part-time bicycle guide who made Moab his home. So, in the end, the trip out to Keet Seel might have been more arduous than necessary and my afternoon less leisurely, and so I will withdraw the pin from Earl’s rear.

Many Farms, Arizona

I’m staying in a high school dormitory tonight. Yes, I am. It used to be a boarding school, and now it’s an inn run by the students at Many Farms High School so the reservation kids can learn the tourism trade.

I’m running out of steam. This is by far the longest I have ever been on the road. I’m going back to Navajo National Monument tomorrow for an all-day hike to the Keet Seel ruins (8 miles to get there-yikes). I called today and signed up, so I’ll finish Indian Country with a big flourish.

Red stone stable.
Hubbell stable
I’ve been toodling around Indian country doing this and that. Yesterday morning found me at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site in Ganado. Ganado is the home of the Ganado Red style of Navajo rugs, and I finally made a purchase of one: my gift to my brother and his wife to decorate their home. The trading post is run by the National Parks and their local nonprofit cooperating organization. I took a tour of the Hubbell house and a little of the grounds. The ranger who led me around was new to the area from San Francisco. We had a pretty long conversation. As usual, we know someone in common. I commented that I would like to work in one of the western parks, but since I’m single the isolation of some of these places might bother me. She agreed; her boyfriend lives in Page, Arizona (probably about 3 hours driving) and they don’t see each other much. I related my impossible overseas relationship to her.

There’s not much more than a couple hours worth of stuff to see at Hubbell (usually there’s a Navajo weaver working in the visitor center but this morning the lady was just rolling up a ball of yarn), so I drove back out to Hopiland to see the cultural center in Shungopavi. The museum there is pretty good, in a shabby kind of way; with better presentation (i.e. more money) some of the stuff would be pretty smashing. The Hopi are a little more outgoing than the Navajo, and the docent answered a lot of my questions. He suggested I drive out to Walpi, one of the ancient stone villages still inhabited.

First I ate at the restaurant next door (all of the tourist facilities, except the many craft stores, are concentrated in the Hopi Cultural Center complex). I noticed the Indians here don’t add any kind of seasoning whatsoever to their food. The Hopi dish I had (can’t recall the name) was pinto beans, hominy, a whole roasted green chile, and a couple of fry breads aside.

On fry bread. I’ve had this a few times now. The Indians are not on the low-carb bandwagon. It’s a big, fluffy, zeppole without the sugar, and tastes a little like a fried wonton. My first sample was at Twin Rocks Cafe in Bluff when I ordered a Navajo taco. If you’ve ever had a chalupa at Taco Bell, that is a Navajo taco. Anyway, sometimes fry bread comes in one massive serving, a clue to the weight problem among Indians. Though not nearly as fat as your average Mississippian, they’re certainly wider than the average Coloradan or Utahazoid. All the women are a little chubby.

Anyway, I drove out (up) to Sichimovi. You can’t drive all the way to Walpi, even though the three villages on top of First Mesa are right next to each other. There’s a little visitor center/community house, and a sign reminding you to not take pictures of anything, anywhere. I hired a guide (bring small bills to Indian country: nobody ever has change) to escort me up to Walpi. While I was waiting for the guide, Loretta, to scare up some small bills, I looked at the crafts for sale by local artists. I stopped in one potter’s shop. He was working on his masterpiece, a ceramic vessel with the Hopi creation story in relief. He showed me the pigments he used (they use a lot of traditional natural pigments) and told me a little about his career. He told me up front he is becoming better known, and his stuff was pretty steep. Even his daughter’s work for sale there was expensive, a few hundred dollars a piece.

Loretta walked me up to Walpi. It’s separted from Sichimovi only by a narrow road; on either side of it is a sheer cliff. The village built a stone s
taircase down the side of the mesa to the canyon floor where the small farms are. Walpi is at the very end of the mesa, fortresslike. It’s a stone pueblo directly descended from the ruins I’ve been visiting. Electricity and water only came to the mesa-top villages in the 1990s, but Walpi stills has none of that. As a result it’s only partly inhabited and some of the rooms are used only for special occasions. Walpi dates back to the 17th century, and it’s not the oldest either– Old Oraibi, on nearby Third Mesa, is nine hundred years old.

Loretta was very nice. I asked a lot about the local economy and how the stone pueblos are designed and used. I avoided asking particular details about religious rituals, since they won’t divulge that sort of thing. Lots of people come through Indian Country during the warmer months, and I bet they get their share of condescending tourist from all over. She asked me where I was from and what I did for a living. I wonder if the seashore seems as far away and exotic to people in the desert as the desert seems to me.

Since the Hopi don’t allow photography (they don’t want their culture exploited) I have none of my short trip to Walpi. The day before, I surreptiously took a photo of the canyon from my car while I waited for a road crew flagman to wave me down the mesa. I don’t believe they can stop me from taking photos. Even on Indian reservations, I still have rights. How do they deal with the press? But as a guest I’ll respect their cultural privacy.

On my way to the inn in the evening I did something I never do: I picked up hitchhikers. People hitchhike a lot in Navajoland. They also walk a lot; I see people walking along the highway in what seems like the middle of nowhere. Unlike the Hopi, the Navajo seem to live in very scattered communities, though there are a few towns. I was stopped at a gas station in Chinle checking my Lonely Planet guide for motels when an old man asked me for a ride. He was with two people. Why did I say yes? I don’t know, maybe I wanted to end the trip hacked into a million pieces. Buy people had been very nice to me during this trip, and this was a rural community, so I said yes. I figured I’d build up some credit with the universe. So these three older folks (sixtyish- two men, one woman) got in the car and asked me in heavily accented English to drive them to church on the other side of town. I didn’t understand a lot of what they said, but they told me the hotel at the other end of town was the only good one. They were quite nice, however, my leftover Hopi food was crushed by one man’s boot.

Looking down into a red sandstone canyon under gray skies.
Canyon de Chelly from the White House Trail
That was all yesterday. Today, I visited Canyon de Chelly National Monument. It wasn’t the National Park Experience I’d been having at the other places. Someone once told me he thought Canyon de Chelly was a great place to visit. He must have stayed in a $100 hotel rooms in Chinle and paid a guide to show him around. Because I was really disappointed in the place. Chinle, the town where the monument is, is kind of grungy and ugly. The three hotels are all significantly more expensive than everywhere else I’ve visited here (I ended up driving up to Many Farms last night, 15 miles away). You have to hire a Navajo guide to see the canyon, something I, as a National Park ranger, am adverse and averse to. It smacks of privatization of public services and of outsourcing of my profession and livelihood. I don’t mind it at a tribal park, but this is a National Monument. It’s mine as much as theirs. So I didn’t hire a guide (they hang out at the visitor center on a rotating basis- very Third World). There’s one trail you can walk down the canyon on your own, the White House Trail. It’s a wide developed trail. The canyon bottom is heavily trod by horses and four-wheel drives. People still live in the canyon- it’s owned by the Navajo Reservation and managed and preserved by the Park Service. Even the access road isn’t very scenic, it’s just a local road with homes and signs on it.

I will say this: when I got close to the canyon floor, I was looking down at a sheep pen on a farm. A little old lady walked out to it, opened up the gate, and all these sheep ran out. I might have been in Slovakia or Uzbekistan or some other pastoral country. How nice that such quaint, old-fashioned lifestyles still exist for my benefit. This is the sort of thing Freeman Tilden (an obscure naturalist now worshipped by National Park interpreters) used to write about. Besides that, the White House Ruins in the canyon were behind a six-foot chicken-wire fence, and I was in the company of this Canadian family with their eight loud teenagers. By the women’s clothes I judged them religious kooks to boot.

So was this just a disappointing experience or just travel fatigue? Can I really expect to be blown away every day for two weeks. Clearly not. Even “Star Trek: The Next Generation” experienced diminishing returns and was cancelled. It’s time to head back to Denver.

Gallup, New Mexico

Two mitten-shaped buttes in the snowfall; the snowfall obscures the usually magnificent view, but gives the valley a ghostly look.
The Mittens in the snow
A slowish day. This morning I visited Monument Valley, a tribal park. The weather was bad again this morning, foggy and snowy. The guides would only start a tour with two visitors, and it took a while to scare up a second person. Finally, after and hour or so of waiting, a British couple and their baby decided to join me. Our driver, Joe, despite his insistence that I stick around, was a little uncertain about the road conditions. He abandoned his tour van for his own four-wheel drive truck. He tipped forward the passenger seat and gestured for the British family to get in back. They peered in, and seeing it was not equipped with seat belts, asked to return to the tour van.

Before we got too far down the road, Joe got out to look over the conditions, and we watched some trucks tow out a couple of similar vans. Hmm. Anyway, we went into the valley.

The snow gives the red sandstone desertscape a different look than the familiar movie scenes.
John Ford Point
You’ve seen Monument Valley a zillion times on television and in the movies. John Ford used to film there all the time, and the nearby trading post preserves John Wayne’s favorite room. In fact, there is an overlook called Ford’s point. Lots of truck commercials are filmed there, too.

But this morning the visibility was pretty bad, and the snow was the first substantial fall after a six year drought. I was looking at the valley in a different way than I had expected: not entirely what I hoped for, but still a rare occurence. I don’t have the photos back yet, but I suspect the monuments will look like sandstone ghosts in the haze.

Joe tried to hustle me in the morning, but turned out to be a pretty good guide. I asked him a lot about Navajo life, the economy, the culture, the architecture of the hogans, the history, etc. I wondered if he would use any of those asanine Hollywood-style Indianisms like, “The coyote is my friend and the wind speaks to me.” He didn’t– he was pretty frank and sincere– but he explained how he used to go to different churches when he was looking for things to do and people to meet (he especially liked roller-skating). “But this is my church,” he said gesturing to landscape around us.

Can’t go wrong with Monument Valley as your church, I thought.

We only travelled about ninety minutes. The Brits were anxious to get back to Moab. It was a short, but stunning little jaunt, and I still had half a day. So, off to Navajo National Monument to look at ruins for the second half.

Green junipers and pinon pines along a snow-covered trail.
Sandal Trail in the snow
This place was pretty high up and it was still snowing. The ruins were accessible only with a guide and the guide had set off around the time the Brits and I were watching Joe clean out his rusty old truck. The ranger said a volunteer guide would be available again on Thursday (next time this happens to you write your damned congressman and tell them to fund these places properly- ed.). With a few hours of daylight to kill, I drove through the bulk of the Navajo reservation and through the Hopi reservation within it (finding the museum there closed), and so went all the way to Gallup for the night.

By the way, there is a Navajo rush hour, if you can believe it; from about five to six o’clock in the evening there are a lot of people on the two-lane highways. They must travel very far to work.

Opinion of Gallup: This is the ugliest city I have ever seen. “Historic Route 66” runs along the dismal downtown. It has lots of neon and tourist-Western schmaltz and seedy motels. The people here can’t drive for shit (one lady, with about ten feet of space on her starboard side, was having trouble negotiating around my car on her port). I thought there’d be something to do here at night. There isn’t, but I found a crunchy-looking cafe for dinner. The live band (some guy) played a couple of guitar tunes, then disappeared. Can’t complain, the Lonely Planet book warned me.

Mexican Hat, Utah

Elephant Canyon sandstoneI made it out of Elephant Canyon without too much excitement. Only two or three inches of snow fell. It sounded like more from inside the tent, and I didn’t sleep too well because I was anxious about the hike out, which was delayed and slow but quite pleasant and beautiful. The scenery continues to be unbelievable, and I travel amazed among it. It took a while to clean the snow off my car. When I cleaned the windshield I found a note sealed in a zip-lock under the wiper: an apology and explanation from the visitor center ranger for the misunderstanding about the permit fee. How odd. I didn’t misunderstand anything, they seem to be misunderstanding each other.

Owachomo BridgeAfter the long drive out of the Needles I headed west on Utah Highway 95 over the Comb Ridge, a long, serrated crustal upheaval, and onto the Cedar Mesa to see Natural Bridges National Monument. Of course, I found another ranger who knew one of my coworkers. He gave me some more tips on Navajo rugs. The weather up there was bad and trails were icy, so I only walked to the Owachomo Bridge. I’d have loved to spend more time there.

Despite the weather, I chose to drive down the Cedar Mesa along the Mokee Dugway, an unpaved, three mile, ten percent grade with hellacious switchbacks. Actually, it’s a good thing it was foggy, because the view might have scared me back up the Mesa.

I’m in Mexican Hat tonight, named for a rock shaped like an upside-down sombrero balanced on a sandstone spire. I’m on the frontier of the Navajo Indian Reservation, where I will spend the second half of this trip.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Elephant HillHere I am in Elephant Canyon, camping in the backcountry by myself for the first time ever. It is starting to snow on my tent! I am two and a half miles from the trailhead, where my car is parked at the end of a winding three-mile dirt road down the mesa, several miles from the ranger station, an hour’s drive from the nearest town.

Needles from the Elephant Canyon Trail.I can’t believe it’s snowing. It wasn’t in the forecast. I hope it doesn’t snow too much: I want to find my way out in the morning. Plus, I don’t know how this bivy sack is going to hold up. There’s already moisture inside, but I think it’s condensation from my breathing. I’m having visions of breaking through a few feet of snow in the morning. Cripes.

I swear this country is right out of Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote. I remember thinking that while hiking at Arches and it’s similar here. Do people ever get tired of seeing red sandstone? I hope I never do.

I got my backcountry permit from the British volunteer at the visitor center. Everyone here is really nice. It’s a small NPS world; the oak tree of a female ranger I met used to work for one of the interpretive rangers at my park. Apparently there was some confusion over giving me a discount on the backcountry permit (I did not get one and was not eligible for one), because another ranger drove down to the trailhead to explain it to me. “You didn’t drive down here just to tell me that, did you?” I asked her. Yeah, she did. That was nice; I didn’t really care if I had to pay full price (I never expect a break, but then it never hurts to ask). We chatted for a good while. She knows another ranger from my park.

Chelser ParkSo then I hiked over Elephant Hill to Elephant Canyon (so named, I think, because some of the sandstone is shaped like elephant legs) and set up my campsite on a ledge over the wash. Then I went for a hike into an area called Chesler Park, probably about a six-mile loop. More mind-amazing scenery. I can’t believe such places exist. I might be dreaming this whole trip, it is so unreal to me. There’s still snow around, and it highlights the mesas and the rock formations in a very striking way.

An adventure: I had to hop over a two-foot rock gap on my way back into Elephant Canyon, then scramble up a short ledge. As I scrambled, my water bottle popped out of the pouch in my backpack. I watched it bounce, roll, and then disappear into the crevice. Tragedy. Not only do I not want to litter this beautiful place with my carelessness, but I need the bottle if I run out of water. The plan is to pack snow into it (there is no standing liquid water here now), melt it, filter it if needed with my pump, and refill my Camelbak (probably an unecessarily long sequence, but THAT’S THE PLAN, GODDAMMIT).

I was determined to get the bottle back, and I could see it at the bottom of the crevice, about fifteen feet down. It was in fine shape; it’s one of those Lexan Nalgene things. (There was another water bottle wedged in the bottom of the crack as well, so I’m not the only one). I enthusiastically set about solving the situation in a very rangerly manner. I may have spent most of my career on Staten Island, New York, but I know how to improvise. I duct-taped open my caribiner, and tied my parachute cord (using the clove hitch I learned in boating class) to it; fashioning a fishing line of sorts.

By God, I thought, I will have that bottle back in no time.

Elephant Canyon TrailI could sit over the crack, bracing myself with my legs, and dangle the line down. But there was a draft blowing into the crevice from the canyon bottom, very light but enough to make my “fish hook” drift up the crevice. I just couldn’t drop the caribiner into the bottle’s cap loop.

Shit shit shit shit shit shit shit.

I did this for an hour. A juniper branch employed to leverage the cord didn’t yield results. Neither did replacing the caribiner with my hand-shovel work to nudge the full water bottle up the crevice floor to an easier spot; the shovel was still too light. I failed figure out a good way to fasten the cord to a flat piece of sandstone for the same purpose. While I was doing all this, the clouds overtook the sun and sunset was approaching, and I still had two miles to the campsite. I also noticed a raven watching me work. He was after my pack, naturally, and the food inside, so I had to take a break and repack the contents, which I had strewn about the rock during my labors. “What are you doing? Get out of here!” I said, but it only perched closer. “Go away!” The raven spoke to me in its rattly way, paused, then flew off. God only knows what it said to me. My friend Debi always used to tell me that the ravens were messengers from another world. Anyway, I got back to work.

On my very last attempt, the draft died and I snagged the bottle and hauled it up. I could have danced a victory jig, but I was getting scared because it was less than one hour to sunset, and it was totally overcast. I was really afraid I would lose the cairns, even with the flashlight.

I can walk, and I made the two miles or so up the canyon before sunset.

My campsite in Elephant CanyonIt was dark by five thirty, and it was cloudy, so there wasn’t much to see at night. All I could see was the glow of the snow cover, and my white permit attached to my bivy sack. I ate dinner (granola bars, pretzels, raisins, nuts, and seeds- the raven would have loved it), then crawled into my bag and read Abbey for a couple of hours. Then I fell asleep for a while, and awoke to the sound of snow falling on my tent.

Moab, Utah

I’m staying tonight in Moab. I want to get an early start tomorrow, so no bars this evening. It was too cold last night for outdoor human habitation. I borrowed my brother’s sleeping bag, which is rated for zero F, and it was fine, but I dared not even stick my nose out of it to breathe. Everything I brought here froze. Here’s a desert lesson: what moisture there is in the air freezes to the surface on cold nights. I can’t believe how much snow and frost there is. Of course there was snow on the ground when I got here, but it looks like it snowed a little in my tent. I wonder if snow actually falls from the sky here or if it just condenses directly on the rocks. So my wet tent is rolled up in the rental car. All that for about 12 hours of use. I’ll go to the bivy next time (tomorrow, I’d like to backpack into the Needles).

View Grand View PointAfter departing Arches this morning, and a nice hot breakfast in town, I drove out to the Island in the Sky at Canyonlands National Park. Canyonlands has three districts; this one is the one with the driving loop for lazy motor-tourists. Like me, at least for today. Though I got out and walked down to Grandview Point, which overlooks the other two districts: Needles, where the backcountry is, and The Maze, where the deep backcountry is (you might go there to evade taxes for a while). The guy who had to saw off his own arm last year was in The Maze. I’ll be staying out of The Maze this trip; I know my limitations and self-amputation is beyond them.

Arches National Park, Utah

The Devil’s Garden at Arches National Park. That’s where I hiked and that’s where I’m camping. It is frigging freezing here, probably about 15 degrees F later tonight.

Landscape ArchThe hike was amazing. I claimed my campsite this morning, strategically east-facing and overlooking a canyon, and without setting up my tent I went for a walk. I suppose I spent about six hours out there. The trail goes past a whole bunch of red sandstone arches, including the 200 foot Landscape Arch. It was pretty cool, but I had my mind totally blown– I mean a slap-in-the-face-amazing sight– at another arch. I refuse to name it or describe it further, because I’d hate to ruin it for anyone else.

Okay, a hint: the arch is around a corner, so you don’t see it until it is right on top of you. Looking through it was like looking into another universe. The wind was blowing through like mad. Literally, mind-blowing. A National Park Experience if I ever had one.

Dark AngelAn ironic moment: during my hike I occasioned a few times upon a couple from San Francisco, Madu and Priya. We did each other the favors of photo-documenting our visits. Apparently, they saw me hopping around the sandstone fins with ease, and it encouraged them to continue over a daunting looking ridge. They said they got their confidence from me. HA! I can’t wait to tell my brother that. About five years ago, he coaxed my terrified self 2,000 feet up a waterfall and a bare granite slab in the Adirondacks (hey, I’m a seashore ranger).

Pine Tree ArchAnyway, I got back to the campsite and set up the tent. Easy enough. There was wind during the day, so I tried securing it down with my long stakes. Not easy in the rocky soil and with no mallet. I used a piece of sandstone I found laying around. It disintegrated in my hand. Not good hammer material. Took me about an hour and about twenty bent stakes to nail that bugger down.

Moab, Utah

Hovenweep CastleAfter leaving Durango this morning, I visited Hovenweep National Monument and Bluff, Utah. Hovenweep is a collection of Puebloan ruins, in good conditions as ruins go. Bluff is a tiny Mormon town on the edge of Navajo country. I looked at more Navajo rugs at one of the trading posts. Man, they’re expensive, but what do I want? Mass-produced Walmart-made-in-China crap?

Moab seems cool, thought much of it is closed tonight. I’m staying in a motel tonight. Everything is super cheap this time of year.

This is definitely the red sandstone country I’ve been dreaming about. Tomorrow I go to Arches National Park. I picked up a copy of Edward Abbey’s “Desert Solitaire”, partly about his first season working there. I intend to camp out tomorrow, thought it’s damned cold.

Durango, Colorado

Spruce Tree HousesI’m leaving Durango this morning, probably for Moab. It’s been cold here (overnight lows in the 10s); maybe too cold to camp. Durango is nice: lots of restaraunts and art galleries. I’m researching buying a Navajo rug. They are expensive. Yesterday afternoon I visited the very beautiful Mesa Verde National Park. I took a tour down to the Spruce Tree Houses ruins. The ranger, since it’s the slow season, brought us into the village and we looked in the rooms and kivas. Very cool. On the way out I saw an elk crossing the road. I also saw a goshawk (I think).

Downtown DurangoI ate some genuine Southwestern food with a Southwestern family- my friend’s parents. She told me to look them up whil in town. They helped me plot out a travel route into Utah and Arizona. A good move on my part. Always take advantage of local expertise when you travel.