Saturday, July 4, 2015

Changing Landscapes: Tetons to Canyonlands

Within a twenty four hour span I was fortunate enough to scramble through a snowy boulder field at 13,000 ft on the Grand Teton and meander along a rolling desert trail through the depths of Canyonlands National Park. Of course, the many miles between northern Wyoming and southern Utah resulted in several short excursions and visits.

This journey seemed to present Life Goal List activities on a regular basis. Objects that aided me during this phase of the journey included a long bungee chord, a canoe, a parachute, a summit pack, a White Noise Hefe, a raft, and a telescope. So, as usual, there is a lot more to the story, but because this is a public blog, I choose to hold some information for a more private crowd.

A late morning arrival in Canyonlands National Park during the month of June will present a dilemma when considering indoor vs. outdoor fun. The best time to hike in this high (4000-6000 ft) desert is sunrise when the air is cool (50s-60s). By midday the sun's intense rays have heated the rocks as if they were in a stone pizza oven, making outdoor activity less comfortable and even dangerous if proper precautionary measures aren't taken. A quick stop at the Island in the Sky Visitor Center to fill up water jugs and check the weather forecast allowed me to create a plan.

First up was a hike on the 6.1-mile Neck Spring Trail (5.8 by GPS tracking tangents). This loop trail originates from a roadside trailhead just south of the visitor center. It drops a few hundred feet into Taylor Canyon without venturing far from the main park road and its traffic, which can be seen and heard at times. The constantly undulating and winding trail was well designed, giving hikers a grand tour of this desert ecological system. The path varies from a single track through dirt to a cairn led path over stone. A few cottonwood and pinyon pine trees near the springs offered short breaks from the hot sun while cliff edge vistas offered spectacular panoramic views.

As per my style, I moved swiftly while taking in as much in as possible, stopping to "smell the cacti" and to ponder a life that people have carved out in those arid and harsh living conditions. Animals I saw included a mule deer, dozens of lizards, various birds, jack rabbits, a rattlesnake and a kangaroo rat. I also saw bobcat scat on the trail, which I have come to believe is their taunt at us humans who rarely actually see then. Most of these sightings were in the shade near water sources. Life is abundant in the desert, even midday at 101 degrees.

Near the end of the hike I came upon a man and woman who had also chosen to hike in the heat. The man, who I learned during conversation after, was 68 years old. He was an avid hiker, but he had chosen to hike the rocky desert trail in a worn out Five Finger "shoes."  His feet were bruised and aching. Furthermore, the pair had run out of water with a mile to go. Because I had fueled up with salt water before and during the hike/jog I felt fine, so I offered them my remaining unopened bottle of water. He declined. I offered again. He declined again saying the trailhead and their car was just ahead. I offered again and he seemed to get irritated with my offering, so I wished them well and walked on. I was enjoying a beer and a veggie burrito on the lip of Shafer Canyon (opposite side of The Neck from Taylor Canyon) when he eventually staggered past me. He called out that he was glad that he made it back. So was I.

Four hikes later I had seen Anasazi cliff dwellings, arches, domes, and the ever carving yet constrained Green River. I drove out of the northern section of Canyonlands NP feeling inspired, irritated, and with a new item on the Life List. I've got to stop reading the writings of Ed Abbey while I'm in his field.

I next visited some of the sites in Arches National Park, which is basically "across the street" from Canyonlands. There were a few rock formations that I wanted to see at sunset to get the light from another angle while once again trying to comprehend the making of those massive the formations and arches. (Did you find the family in the photo of Balanced Rock at the top of this post?) I've seen those arches enough now that I really just visit to reflect on life, science, and theology. This reflection was continued during a multifaceted conversation with several people while being reenergized by tasty brews at the Moab Brewery. A high action twenty two hour day ended at Drinks Canyon Campground next to the Colorado River northeast of Moab. Little sleep was had, though, as I gazed wide eyed at the billion star blanket of lights in the clear black Utah sky until just before dawn.

A long meandering drive from desert hot (102F) Moab would lead me to the cool (56F) rim of the Grand Canyon by nightfall, but that is another story. ST

Shafer Canyon
Shafer Canyon Trail - the road to the bottom
First picture taken from horizon center in this one
Neck Spring Trail
Desert Forest

Abundant life near every survival source

Follow cairns to the top

Neck Spring Trail rock scramble

Mesa Arch
Looking through Mesa Arch into Buck Canyon
Pinyon Pine - how old is it? Older than you are likely to guess
Green River in Coleman Spring Canyon
Anasazi Cliffside Food Storage
Landscape Arch at Sundown - would span a football field

Arches NP Magistrates

Sipping yerba mate latte next to the Colorado River
knowing Arches NP is beyond the other bank
One last morning hike to Delicate Arch

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