Saturday, June 30, 2007

Telluride & Ouray

After Mesa Verde, we finally left the desert and headed into the mountains. We spent the night in a campsite near Telluride, CO among aspen trees and with a great view of a couple of fourteeners right across the valley.

The next day we hiked up Lizard Head Trail, half of which was above tree line. On the way back we heard some unidentified rustling and growling sounds coming from amongst the trees on both sides while we were taking a short break, and decided it was probably time to keep moving. Later while we were watching “Planet Earth” we decided that the sounds were probably just some deer being vocal.

After the hike we headed over to Ouray, CO which was a cool little town nestled in among several steep mountains. The campsite we stayed in was on one of the slopes of the valley, and had no showers again, so we bought 3-day passes to the local hot springs. The town made some swimming pools of varying temperatures heated by the hot springs, complete with lap pool and water slides. They had showers too, and it was a great place to relax after hiking all day.

We went on several hikes, all of which were very cool especially since we were back in the mountains where there were some trees around.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Mesa Verde

We spent the next two days exploring Mesa Verde National Park… and it was really awesome. A lot of the park is not accessible to the general public because of the fragile state of many of the ruins (which I can understand) and other parts can only be seen if you go on a guided tour. Kimbal and I decided to go on two tours: the balcony house and the cliff palace tours. Our cliff palace tour was packed (well over 40 people on the tour) and you more or less walk around the outside of the cliff dwelling. It was still really cool, given that the dwelling is in such good condition (about 70% is untouched original) and its immense size! The guide said that the current theory is that the dwelling was more of an administrative center for the community (maybe where they store and distribute crops), rather than people’s homes.

The balcony house tour was really neat because we were able to walk throughout the dwelling and we were lucky to be in a small tour group (only 8 people). The tour required climbing up and down a bunch of ladders and stairs and squeezing through tight spaces:

Our guide also believed that this dwelling was not your normal cliff dwelling home, but, instead was a spiritual center where they observed the moon, which dictated the growing season. There were several circular depressions in the floor, and on the solstice the moon beam through a window outlines the depressions (or something to that effect). It was really, really cool. And, because the dwellings are in such good condition, with a little imagination, I could picture what the community must have been like.

We visited a few more cliff dwellings and pit houses that were open to the general public. They were ok, but nowhere near as cool as the guided tours. Our last stop in the park was a hike out to some well preserved petroglyphs, which archeologists think describe the migration of the native people from their entry into the world (through a mystical hole in the Grand Canyon) and their break-up into different tribes. My favorite was the goat tribe, shown in the photograph below.

More Moab

We continued our Moab adventures with a guided duckie (single inflatable kayaks) tour down the Fischers Tower section of the Colorado River. Overall, it was a pretty mellow day; however, there were a few sections of decent rapids (class 3). Kimbal is pretty at one with the water and gracefully executed all of the rapids. I, on the other hand, was not as confident and pretty excited/nervous for each of the rapids. I got through most of the rapids a-ok, but managed to take one dip in the river at the most challenging rapid, as you can see below.

The next day we rounded out our stay in Moab with a nice morning hike in Canyonlands National Park. The hike took us through some beautiful fields and to the rim of the canyon. It was really beautiful, and we were out there all by ourselves, which made it even more spectacular.

Friday, June 15, 2007


We started out our day by fueling up for our days activities with a yummy breakfast at Jailbirds. After breakfast, we went on a mountain bike tour up Klondike Bluffs…. and had a BLAST! There were only a few of us on the tour (Kimbal and I, one other couple, and a guide), which was nice. It was also nice that we went early in the morning, to beat the heat. I hadn’t been mountain bike riding in over 5 years, and I forgot how much fun it is. Fortunately, I did not forget my skills, and I totally rocked the rock! (The trail was mostly slick rock, with some dirt road portions) Kimbal did pretty darn good too, especially considering he dwarfed his rental bike. Also, dual suspension is great. I’d only ridden bikes with front shocks before, so that was a nice treat. Once we got to the top of the bluffs, we had a nice view of Arches national park. The temperature started rising on our way back to the truck, but luckily it was all down hill from there.

We attempted to escape the mid-day heat by sacking out in our motel room for a few hours. But, before it could cool off, I got antsy and wanted to do some more exploring, so I woke Kimbal up from his peaceful nap to go do the Arches scenic drive. The drive was good, and we stopped at a couple of places to hike out to various arches and balanced rocks. We probably would have hiked even more, but the temperature (105 F) and our grumbling stomachs held us back. We rounded out the day enjoying some air conditioning while having an indulgent meal of all you can eat pizza at Zax. Yum.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Car Solutions

Well it turns out that the starting problem was caused by a short in the battery, and another fuse wiggling its way out a little. With that fixed, and new rear shocks due in tomorrow, we should be ready to roll. In the meantime, we’ve signed up for some mountain biking tomorrow morning, and some river rafting on Saturday. We got some new sunglasses as ours have been falling apart, Becca got a new pair of shoes, and we got new sleeping pads to replace the ones that we apparently put holes in a few nights ago when we were camped out on Lake Powell. Between all that, a nice shower, good food, and perhaps a movie in an air-conditioned theater tonight, we are feeling as good as new.

Car Problems

Well, that same 26-mile washboard dirt and gravel road that we had to drive over on the way in to the slot canyons gave us some trouble on the way back out. First, we got the car bogged down in some fine sand, but after digging out the wheels, and getting a push from the people we were blocking in, we were soon out of the sand and on our way again.

The bigger trouble showed up when we had about 10 miles to go before we got back to the main road. We went over a particularly big bump, and I thought I saw something come out from under the car, so I stopped the car, and it immediately died. Not good. I went back to where I thought I saw something come out from below the car, and there was nothing to be found, so I got back in the car, and tried to start it. No dice. It didn’t even turn over. Fortunately, we were lucky enough to have stopped the car pointing downhill, and since it’s a manual, I tried compression starting the thing just to see what would happen, and it started right up. Phew.

With the car started, we headed the rest of the way down the dirt road without incident, and headed straight for the closest town of Escalante, UT to figure things out. We stopped the car in the Escalante High School parking lot across from a gas station, and popped the hood in a futile effort to see if we could diagnose the problem ourselves; of course not. So, we hopped back in the car, and it didn’t start again. Since I had the stick-driving experience, Becca was relegated to pushing the car on the flat parking lot so that we could drive across the street to the gas station. How chivalrous of me. Again, the car started fine using a compression start, and we left the car running while we looked up the closest Nissan dealer, which happened to be in St. George, UT on the other side of Zion. Well, we had just come from that way, and we didn’t want to go back, so we decided to head on towards Boulder, UT where we had intended to stay the night.

When we pulled out of the gas station in Escalante, we discovered another problem with the car – apparently the washboard road wasn’t too great for the rear shocks with 500-lbs of food, clothing, books, and camping equipment in the back of the car. The back end was awfully bouncy so we took it nice and slow.

We made it to Boulder fine, and it being a small town and without an auto repair shop, we thought it would be best to keep going while we could, and head for Moab. We passed through Capitol Reef and a few other places that would have been cool to see if the car was alright, but getting the car fixed took precedent and we passed them by.

Eventually we needed gas, so we stopped to fill up and turned the car off. Naturally that meant that we would have to turn in back on again, and again Becca (with the help of a nice gentleman that happened to be there) valiantly spurred the car to life again, whereupon I almost immediately killed it, and the nice gentleman wasn’t interested in helping again. So yet another time, this time all by herself, Becca saved the day, pushed the car back to life, and we were on the road to Moab once more.

After about 5 hours of nursing the car along and getting passed by an endless string of cars and trucks, our back end bouncing to the rhythm of the road, we finally arrived in Moab, we found ourselves a nice motel with soft beds, a nice shower, and only a block from a good auto repair place. We went out to dinner, had a couple of margaritas, and considered ourselves lucky as it could have been a whole lot worse.

Slot Canyons

After Bryce, we headed east to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Good ol’ Bill made it a National Monument in 1996, and just about every road in the place is a washboard dirt and gravel road, with the “Hole in the Rock” road being no exception. That’s the road we took for 26 miles south to Dry Fork where there were some slot canyons that needed some exploring.

The first canyon we went down was called “Peek-a-boo Canyon

We had to scramble up about 12 feet to get into the opening of the canyon, and from there it was another half mile or so until we got to the other end. Here are some more pictures from Peek-a-boo Canyon:

Next, we headed down to Spooky Canyon, which was much narrower and much longer.

About halfway down Spooky Canyon, it started to get REALLY narrow, and Becca got a little claustrophobic, so I continued on a ways farther by myself until I got to a backup of about 8 or 9 people that were trying to get through one particularly tough part. With all those people around, I started to get a little claustrophobic myself, and I was practically at the end anyway, so I decided to turn around and enjoy the canyon in some peace and quiet.

I met up with Becca on my way back, where she jumped down from a ledge and scared the daylights out of me, and then we headed out the canyon and back to the car.

Fire in Bryce

Our next stop was Bryce Canyon National Park. I’m not sure why, but this park didn’t really light our fire. Maybe it was the fact that our lifetime guarantee camping mats had failed and deflated, so we weren’t sleeping well… But, nevertheless, Kimbal and I still made a go of it: we camped in the park for two days, went for some decent hikes, saw the hoodoos, observed the wildlife, and ended up enjoying ourselves. The coolest part of our trip into the park was that there was an active forest fire in the park. The fire was pretty tame, nothing like what I pictured when I think of forest fire. Logs, stumps, and trees were smoking right on the road, and we even saw a couple of flames. It was remarkable how some areas were completely untouched by fire, while 20 ft away the ground and first couple feet of the tree trucks were black and charred. Also, when we woke up our last morning in the park, there were some deer less than 10 feet from our tent. Being as sleepy as I was, I think I was more started than they were. We also got some cool pictures of a grazing marmot.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lake Powell

Saturday morning we went to the Lake Powell boat rental site at the Wahweap Marina, and we picked up our 19-ft motorboat with a broken gas gauge and headed out for adventure. Unfamiliar with the lake, we weren’t entirely sure where to go, and with the water level constantly changing, creating islands out of peninsulas and vice-versa the crude map only helped a little. After a few wrong turns into dead-end bays, we finally got our bearings and made our way upstream.

Lake Powell is formed by the damming of the Colorado River, and the filling of Glenn Canyon. Somewhat similar to the Grand Canyon, there are many smaller canyons off to the side of the main channel, and we spent our time exploring those.

The weather was about as perfect as you could ask for with sunny skies, highs in the lower 90’s, lows in the 50’s-60’s, and water temperature of about 70 degrees. When we got hot from being in the sun, we simply found a nice spot, turned the motor off, and jumped in the water.

After going down Navajo and Antelope Canyons on Saturday, we headed farther upstream to Gregory Butte at the end of Last Chance Bay, and we found a nice beach to spend the night on. In one direction, we had a view up the river for about 6 or 7 miles, and there were beautiful mesas, buttes, and mountains in every direction. We cooked up some dinner, had some beers on the boat before heading up the beach a little ways to lay out our sleeping bags, watch the end of the sunset and the bats flying and swooping every-which-way, listen to the coyotes howl, and fall asleep without another person in sight. In the middle of the night, we both woke up a few times to some strange noises, slightly surprised to find we weren’t in a tent, but then we’d look up at the stars and the big, clear Milky Way streaking across the sky, and drift back to sleep.

We awoke the next morning before dawn, pleasantly surprised to find that the boat was right where we left it. I wanted to document all this with pictures, but alas, I only took a couple of pictures of our boat on the beach when the batteries died, and without any spares we were left pictureless on Sunday. After packing up our belongings and having a quick breakfast, we headed further upstream.

Our first stop was at Rainbow Bridge National Monument, the largest natural bridge in the world, measuring over 300-ft wide, and over 200-ft tall. The only way to get there is by boat, followed by a short walk up an easy trail; otherwise it is a very long, very hot trek through Navajo country. Since we got there early, we had the place to ourselves, which was quite nice considering the canyon has quite an echo, which I happily made full use of.

We spent the rest of the day going down other narrow canyons, seeing how far we could get while marveling at the steep, red, sandstone walls that jutted straight out of the water. I thought the best one was Secret Canyon – so named because it’s a little tricky to find I guess, and not marked very well on the map. In any case, it was very narrow, and we eventually had to stop, not because it got too shallow, but because it got too narrow. We reached a point where the boat was touching the canyon walls on both sides and could not go any further, so we backed out for almost a quarter mile before I could use my superior boat-handling skills, and make about a 16-point, Austin Powers style turn so that we could go forward again.

We eventually made our way back to the marina, never having run out of gas, and having had a lot of fun. Rafting down Glenn Canyon before the dam was there must have been truly spectacular.

Leaving the lake, we stopped by Glenn Canyon Dam, and took the tour.