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From the Green Mesa to the Red Desert

Posted on November 14th, 2007 after 13660 miles by Dean Croshere.

I woke up early in the morning, determined to get as much done as possible before heading to my next destination. I was determined to get to a camping site this time, but not till after I drove to the Mesa Verde.

I’ve always wanted to see a mesa. I’d read about them and seen pictures of them. I find them to be so majestic, rising directly out of the flat earth, ending abruptly in a flat top.

Mesa Verde seemed like the place to start. I wasn’t positive, but I thought I remembered a Native American art history class that mentioned Mesa Verde was the place the Pueblo people had built their towns right into the cliffs.

I was right.

The ranger at the gate was another extraordinarily pleasant fellow. He told me the winter schedule had started that day, and there was only one “house” that had tours. The tours started at 10:00 AM, 1:00PM, and 4:00PM. They started from the museum, which was 45 minutes down the road. I smiled, thanked, and paid him the park entry fee.

I didn’t want to wait around for the 1:00 tour, as I still planned to get over to Utah and up to the Canyonlands before the sun set. As the ranger said, there was a 45-minute drive ahead of me, and it was 9:45. I made it in 20 minutes. I easily caught up with the tour group.

These cities are certainly incredible. All of the brick for the buildings, mud for the mortar, wood for the fires, food, and water had to be carried up or down the primitive stone ladders or along long paths. The cities had multiple floors and large meeting areas.

Their circular “kivas” or prayer pits, had side passages to allow the cool air to be pulled into the bottom, then spread around the outside of it, so as to not disturb the fires as the smoke escaped the hole in the roof. Rather genius.

I think I was the most surprised by how small everything was. I guess it makes sense, but I always expected the windows and doors to be about the size of the windows and doors we put on things.

After the tour, the guide pointed out an optional two-mile loop called the “petroglyph loop.”

I headed towards it with another group of 3. Being young and tall, I headed out in front. I found myself quite a ways in front of them, despite the fact that I kept stopping to take pictures of the giant valley beneath me.

At one point, when I was coming around a corner, I heard a screech. I use the word screech here, because it accurately denotes the pitch of the call. The connotation that a screech is a horrible noise could not be any less correct, though it took me a moment to realize it was a bird call. It was magnificent. It was long and high, with the pitch increasing more as the volume trailed off. The sound didn’t echo so much as it reverberated throughout the canyon.

I turned and looked through a perfect frame in time to see what I think was a giant condor gliding effortlessly through the valley. It was huge. I was transfixed. My camera was in my hand, powered on, and focused as I had just taken a picture in that direction a moment earlier.

All I had to do was raise it to my eye and press the shutter.

I couldn’t do it. I was, as I said, transfixed. Paralyzed. The bird was so amazing, following it’s arcing, swooping, gliding, path through the air before it passed out of sight.

I would rank the sight of that bird right up there with my favorite moments from this trip. It was so magical. I heard its beautiful call a couple more times on the hike, each time I turned as quickly as possible, camera at the ready, hoping to snap a picture of the beast.

It was always out of sight, never willing to have his photo taken.

I came to namesake of the trail and paused to read up on the meanings of it. It tells the tale of how these people left the Grand Canyon (the squarish spirals in the upper middle), and splintered off into various clans. The people got lost (on the far left) in the desert before the Kachina gods found them and told them the right way to go.

I had just finished reading up on all of this when I heard the other group coming up behind me. I decided to wait around to see if they were friendly enough to join for the rest of the trip.

When they came around a corner, we exchanged pleasantries, and joked around for a moment.

“I won’t tell if you don’t” the eldest of the group held something out to me. It was an energy bar. I was incredibly hungry. I took it, thankfully. “It’s almost kinda sugar free.”

Nice enough to join, that’s for sure.

It wasn’t long before I joined into conversation with this man, learning that he was 77 years old, hiking this rather rough trail with his son and daughter-in-law. He certainly loved to talk and began telling me stories of his youth, how he never drank or smoked, but still found a way to have a great time. He told me about one girl he dated, “an Indian girl.”

“Not all Indian girls are pretty” he told me, “but this one sure was, my oh my.”

He taught me how to swear in “Indian,” words he said she taught him, but I promptly forgot. I’m no good at remembering these things. I can barely remember any Spanish, and I studied that for almost 3 years.

His daughter-in-law and I stopped at all of the scenic points along the tour to snap pictures as he kept telling stories. I love the little rock balanced on the big rock on the end of the peak there.

He told me that women and old men were displaced over here by the recent fires in Southern California, “I think I’m gonna go find myself a girlfriend.”

The fires are a bit of a sore spot for me, for reasons I’ll explain when I get to So. Cal, but his comment was awesome. He sure was one hell of a 77-year-old man. He said his father died in his late 90s from smoke inhalation while he was burning the weeds from his property. We can only aspire to be as active and powerful as these men.

After finishing this hike and grabbing lunch from the cafeteria, I got back on the road. I had spent a little longer here than I expected, but I still stopped a few places along the way to take pictures of the remarkable views from up here.

At one point, a short jog from the road, there is a little landing with nearly 360 degree views that cover a remarkable distance.

If I remember anything from my class correctly, these clouds coming in from what I believe are the San Francisco mountains (no relation to the California city), carry the Kachina gods that are represented in those Kachina that are so popular in museums.

After leaving the park, I headed over to Utah and up to the canyonlands.

My first priority was to find a place to camp.

I checked the first place I had planned to try. It was out of season so there was no running water, but there were envelopes and a container to accept those envelopes. There were 15 or so camp sites with picnic tables, fire pits, and little else. There was noone else in the site besides me, and the it was five miles out along a tiny road. It was perfect, but I didn’t have any wood, and there were signs posted all about that there was a $100 fine for scavenging for wood.

I wasn’t worried about getting a fine. After all, I’d have a good 15 minute warning before anyone got here. It was more of a problem that there wasn’t anything besides shrubs to gather wood from.

I headed towards Moab, about 30 miles further along the road. I wasn’t in any rush, as time no longer had any consequence. I bought myself a couple bundles of wood, an act that was extraordinarily painful as I grew up on an overgrown Christmas Tree farm. Wood rotted before we could burn it.

I also stopped for dinner at a nice place that opened moments after I first tried the door. The waiter was incredibly energetic and happy, it put me in a better mood. I decided to have a beer.

“What’s on tap?” I asked. I noticed they had a full liquor license, and there were a couple of microbrews in town, so I expected a fair selection.

“Bud, and Bud Light.”

“Ok,” I said, “I’ll have a Bud Light then.”

He brought me my beer and my “Navajo taco,” and made the peach cobbler sound real delicious, so I had him bring me some of that too. The Navajo Taco was the same thing as the Indian Taco I had back north of Des Moines, Iowa, all the taco fixings on a big thick dense bread shell. It had to be eaten with a fork.

Stuffed to the brim, I headed back to my campsite.

There was another site 20 miles further down the road. I figured that since it was further away, it must be better. It was only 2 or three more miles later that the road turned into gravel. It had probably not been redone since the spring previous, so it was pretty badly “washboarded.”

The bumpy road made for slow going, which was probably a good thing. It wasn’t long before I came around the corner to see a large, misty-eyed doe standing right in the middle of the road. She looked at me, looked away, took a step forward, stopped, turned, took another step, stopped, looked at me, turned again, then bounded off into the darkness.

Eventually I got to my campsite. Not only was the moon new, so it was on the other side of the planet with the sun, but there were some clouds covering up a lot of the stars. I couldn’t see a damned thing. Luckily I had my flashlight and headlights.

I paid the fee, picked what seemed to be the best site, and built a fire.

I’ve never had less trouble getting a fire started than with whatever these bushes were. They had little dried leaves on the end. The branches themselves got thick real quick into hard yet hollow tubes.

I stuffed a couple of them under some of the logs I had bought and held a lighter near them.

The leaves practically exploded into flame, quickly setting the hollow tubes into a hot fire that lit my logs better than lighter fluid ever has.

I had been charging my laptop in my car on the way over; I left the hotel that morning with only half charge. Charging my computer using my car is likely the most inefficient thing I could possibly imagine.

The engine converts liquid potential energy into rotational energy. The alternator converts rotational energy into DC power. The DC power comes to the cigarette lighter where I have a DC-AC power inverter. My computers power cable is plugged into this, which runs directly to an AC-DC power brick. The DC then charges the battery, which then runs through another DC-AC inverter, which powers various things like the screen.

Whatever works, I suppose.

I grabbed this fully charged laptop and started writing by the fire. It was a really nice way to work, with the computer and the fire working together to keep my legs warm. I worked till my battery died, before I fell asleep in my car, both because there was no grass and no stars. I was right. It rained in the middle of the night, if I had been outside, I would have woken up in a mud pit.

Instead, I woke up to this.

P.S. I've been putting little bonus comments and quips under the discussion links, to encourage people to click on the link, perhaps to leave a comment. I do read those and I appreciate everything written there.

::Discuss::Permanent link::Location

The Utah Playground

Posted on November 16th, 2007 after 13660 miles by Dean Croshere.

It should say something about this portion of the trip that I do not remember taking a picture of a view this spectacular. Based on where it is in line with my other pictures, it is somewhere in New Mexico, between Santa Fe and the Colorado border.

Anyway, I woke up in the middle of the Utah desert at sunrise. I was the only one in my campsite and, even if there was someone at the other campsite, it is pretty safe to assume I was alone out there.

There were two Canyonlands overlooks, one further from the main road, and one closer. I decided to continue my belief that the further one must be the better one. I headed off in that direction.

Meanwhile I struggled to try to send a text message. I had one bar, enough to receive messages, even emails, but not enough to send them. The night before I had accidentally started a phone call, but it got disconnected before she picked up. This is when I was driving down a bumpy dark road with deer everywhere. I didn’t worry about it and just figured I’d talk to them later.

The person I called did worry. She tried to text me. Twice. It was fairly apparent that she was worried about me, and I can certainly see why. I figured I would let her know I was all right as soon as I got a signal. After all, she handled all right until now, and it was still dawn here, an hour earlier back in Oregon.

The road I was driving on now turned from bumpy gravel to a slightly muddy dirt clay mixture. Remember, it had rained in the night.

There was a couple of times where I accelerated to keep momentum up a hill so as to get stuck. Eventually I decided it wasn’t worth it. I had no way of contacting anyone, as I still didn’t have signal, and I was probably 20 (if someone was camping at the other site) to 50 (If no one was) miles from someone else.

I turned around.

It’s just as well: the closer viewpoint was amazing. I love this picture. At first glance it looks like a bunch of little piles of dirt shot from eye level. Then it comes to realization that dirt doesn’t do that on the small scale. Those spires at the end have to be around 20-30 feet tall. That dirt path in the upper right is a road.

Its not like there are these little bluffs and then a lot of desert, no, there are a lot of bluffs continuing on out through the desert. The Colorado river is out there somewhere.

A nice couple showed up while I was having breakfast (another MRE, this one was “meatloaf and onion gravy”). They mentioned that they had just come from Arches National Park. I told them that was where I was headed next, so they gave me some pointers and tips on the park. They then mentioned that they were planning on heading to the other viewpoint, I advised them against it.

This comparing of notes became commonplace real quick. The southwest is like one giant amusement park where everyone compares notes on the cool rides and how to avoid the lines.

I love of the fog disappears into the distance during a sunrise.

It layers the mountains and really shows off the depth in these mountains. It also helps that they seem to mimic each other, so they almost appear to be shadows receding into the background. The two pointy ones to the right are called the two six shooters, because they look like, well, you know. When lightning strikes them, this apparently magnifies the effect.

On the way out, I snapped a picture of what I think is another side of the San Francisco Mountains. I could be way off, and likely am, but I do know that the rain overnight had brought snow to the peaks. The snow was almost entirely gone by that evening.

Once I got back on the freeway I headed back up to Moab, this time passing through to head up to Arches.

It was still pretty early once I’d picked out and reserved my camping spot, so I decided to take the longest hike in the park. It was supposedly 7 miles or so round trip, with scrambling involved.

The first portion of the hike is pretty much inundated with tourists. They seem to be walking almost toe to toe in order to see this arch.

I wasn’t terribly impressed and the sun was not helping me out for this picture. I pushed on.

Not much further down the road is another nice arch. There was no space to get a proper picture, but the sun was cooperative.

As I hiked down the trail, it split off into various side trails leading to various arches. I chose these side trails at random and ended up arriving at one at the same time as a middle-aged couple.

“Oh, let me get out of your shot,” I said, more as a way of telling them to get out of my shot than anything else.

“Don’t worry,” he said, “I’m not taking any pictures. We’re going to be here a while, we’re having lunch.”

“And wine,” his wife chimed in.

“But we’ll get out of your way.”

I was thankful that they got the hint and snapped my shots.

“You must have planned this,” I prompted them. People don’t usually bring wine out on day hikes.

“Oh yeah, we come out here twice a year, spring and fall, and stay for a few days at a bed and breakfast in Moab. Been doing it for five years now, we’ve gotten to be good friends with the people there.”

“Sounds amazing”

“Yeah, and every time there is something else to see. Like this. We’ve never been to this arch before, so here we are, having wine and cheese.”

She offered me a string cheese. She seemed to have plenty, so I took it and offered my thanks. I never bring anything to eat on these hikes. It’s probably bad idea.

After a while, the conversation mellowed out and I moved on, thanking them for the cheese and wishing them well.

The hike wound through the devil’s garden, making sure to offer views of all of the available arches.

At the furthest point from the park, I found I had nearly full cell service. I opted to call my friend who had been worried about me the night before.

She had been to Arches before and knew right where I was. During the conversation, I started on my hike again. The call ended itself without warning. I guess this was to be expected, the tower I was using was probably some distance away.

I had my 2 liter camelback water container on my back the whole time. The biggest problem I have with it is that I start to drink out of it unconsciously whenever the hike gets a little boring. This means I go through it faster than I should and I always run out of water. Remember that I also didn’t bring any food.

It was now about 1 or 2 in the afternoon and I hadn’t eaten since that MRE I had for breakfast. I was out of water and getting thirsty and I was in the middle of the desert.

Of course, I make this sound all more dangerous and risky than it really was. It was only a 7 mile hike.

I got back to my campsite and made myself a tuna fish sandwich, ate it, a can of soup, and a can of peaches.

I figured I could either go see delicate arch at sunset, supposedly the best time to see it, or I could take a nap.

I took a nap.

After I woke, I built another fire that took me two tries. The first time I guessed wrong as to what kind of kindling I should use. I couldn’t even get the smallest sustained flame. On my second try, the grasses ignited my alternate kindling (another type of bush) perfectly.

I spent the rest of the evening writing by the fire.

::Discuss::Permanent link::Location

The Beginnings of Rock Fatigue

Posted on November 16th, 2007 after 13660 miles by Dean Croshere.

Delicate Arch was still something to see. It is the most famous arch in the world, after all.

The hike isn’t terribly long and it was entirely deserted shortly after sunrise, as I hiked up to it. The morning sun felt great and I felt pretty good. I couldn’t help but feel a little burnt out on rocks though. A couple of times I considered turning around and taking a picture of the amazing landscape that was behind me, but I simply couldn’t bring myself to do it. It wasn’t as amazing as the Canyonlands or as the Devil’s Garden that I had just left.

I can certainly see why Delicate Arch is an evening view formation. The side that is easy to see is in shadow in the morning. Still, the shadow did help to make an interesting picture.

I crawled about on the sandstone to try to get pictures from different angles, but I couldn’t really get anything. I was just about to leave when I noticed my shadow. This shot simply wouldn’t be possible in the evening.

Also, I’m sure that the evening is filled with onlookers whose shots I would be disturbing by standing under the arch like this.

As I hiked out, I passed three or four small groups of people that were headed up to see the view.

My next stop was the Monument Valley. This is probably the most famous part of Utah. It is featured in nearly every big budget “western” movie including The Searchers, How the West Was Won, and Back to the Future III.

The sheer rock sprouting out of the flat desert is remarkably impressive. I enjoyed snapping some pictures of it.

I was not the only one. I’ve never seen so many photographers in one place at one time before. Most of them had big expensive cameras. I think I saw a Hasselblad among the lineup over there.

What was most interesting to me is the way they were all facing. No one was taking pictures of the sunset. Maybe I just don’t understand enough about photography. I mean, That ledge does provide a great view.

Personally, though, I find this to be the shot.

Or maybe it was this.

I was definitely experiencing some rock fatigue. In the past few days I’ve seen a lot of rocks, and some amazing formations of dried ancient undersea geology. Here were some more rocks, and they were still amazing.

I was dying for some real face to face human contact, something that I haven’t really had since I’d switched from couch surfing to camping back in Santa Fe (and Austin, really).

I wandered about the campground and tried to interest some of the other campers in a conversation. Everyone was solo.

“Hi” I’d open.

“Uh.” They’d grunt in response.

“Beautiful evening.”

“…” In other words, “go away.”

I eventually retired to my car to try to write a little.

Instead I ended up just playing a game on my computer to try to spark a little interest. I ended up falling asleep at about 7:30.

::Discuss::Permanent link::Location

It's passion, plain and simple

Posted on November 17th, 2007 after 15080 miles by Dean Croshere.

“Drunk as I am, it’s amazing. I saw him once in ’90. And here he is in 2007.” Neil reached out and touched Boxer for what might be the 100th time of the evening. He touched the dog the same way a believer might tentatively touch the Shroud of Turin. A tentative touch, as if Boxer might disappear the moment he made contact with it. His speech continued. “I fought for him. I bled for him. And I did bleed for him. And here he is. Sitting on my kitchen counter.”

Sitting on his kitchen counter. It wasn’t the first time he’d noticed this. After all, Boxer had been sitting there since I’d arrived in the mid afternoon, many beers, many stories, a cigar, and a couple shots of tequila ago.

How weak I’ve been. I allowed myself to lose faith. I’ve worked so hard to find alumni. To hear these stories. To see this passion. And I lost interest after 15000 miles.

This man is letting me stay in his house. This man made me dinner. This man bought me beer. He does it because I’m a brother. The fact that I brought Boxer is simply a bonus.

A bonus he cannot believe. Boxer, his symbol of College Spirit, is sitting on his kitchen counter. He cannot believe that. Our conversation has moved on. He still reaches out to touch Boxer tentatively. It’s as if this time, the 101st touch, Boxer will disappear. This time Neil will wake up. It’s as if he might wake up and College Spirit was never on his kitchen counter.

I’ve run out of methods of transferring this reverence. I’ve run out of ideas to try to spark the energy. The words, “How could I live with myself if not for another picture of the Boxer dragon in front of Mount Rushmore,” continue to echo through my head.

The sentence tells me that not only are students tired of my trip, they don’t even understand what it means. The sentence tells me they aren’t even interested enough to read the accompanying article explaining why there are pictures in front of Mount Rushmore. It tells me they don’t understand why it matters. What’s more, they don’t want to understand. They don’t care.

15000 miles hasn’t made them care.

Of course it hasn’t. Why should it? My passion is not their passion. They have papers and projects and love lives and other important things to worry about. The passion of some alumni who wants to bring to them the passions of other alumni is completely irrelevant. In fact, my passions simply fill their student newspaper with mindless drivel and useless pictures of Boxer in front of Mount Rushmore.

But that’s just it. I can’t stop. People noticed. Some people were pissed. People talked about it. Some people talked about Boxer. A few people did, even if most are ignorant. I shouldn’t stop now. I won’t stop now. I can’t stop now.

I can’t be out of ideas. There must be some way of making students realize that this matters. There must be some way of making “Boxer” into “the Spirit of all the College” once again.

Goddamnit I will not give up. I will find that spirit. I will make Boxer matter. I don’t know how, but I will find a way.

Boxer is College Spirit, and forever shall he be.

::Discuss::Permanent link::Location

2 days to Civilization

Posted on November 19th, 2007 after 15080 miles by Dean Croshere.

I woke up to this.

I mean that quite literally. As soon as the sun peaked around that mesa, it hit me right in the eyes. I’ve been sleeping in my car since grass does not exist in the desert. My car has large windows and no shutters. Then again, I suppose if I wasn’t even in my car the sun would be worse.

After snapping some pictures of the sun rising over the mesas, I decided that I wasn’t going to go on the $60 “behind the scenes” mesa tour with a guy named Dean. Instead, I wanted to move on. I had this bored impatient feeling in the back of my mind.

I headed towards Flagstaff. I needed a new UV filter for my camera, breakfast, an internet connection, and gas. My waitress for breakfast was apparently Ms. North Carolina, though I didn’t find this out until just before I left. She was cute and efficient.

The only camera shop I could find was a chain joint in a mall. The guy helping me out was clueless. I asked him what the difference was between a double-coated UV filter, a haze reduction UV filter and why I should get one.

“Well, you see,” he began, “the double-coated UV filter is double-coated for better UV filtering performance.”

Holy shit. Really?

He went on. “The haze reduction UV filter is more designed to reduce haze.”

UV filters have 2 purposes. One is to reduce haze. The other is to act as a clear lens cap. I was replacing it because my previous one had given its life performing as the latter. Every lens that can support a filter should have at least a UV filter on it at all times, they are simply too cheap and too effective to not be used. Any person working in a photography store should know this.

I should be generous. I’ve worked retail at a shop like this. You aren’t really trained in everything. You are sent out on the floor and are told to read the packages to customers in an attempt to sell them what you want. At least he was courteous and entertained me. I don’t even remember which one I bought.

I also checked out the prices of getting prints of digital photographs. 8x6 prints are $.50. 10x8 prints are $5.00.

While I was in Moab, I discovered that Best Western Inns do not secure their wireless Internet. I found one in Flagstaff nd asked if I could use it. The manager hemmed and hawed for a bit before saying I could go ahead.

Getting gas was entirely uneventful, however expensive.

I also called ahead to Vegas and finalized my plans. I would be arriving on Friday and it was now Wednesday. I had two more nights of camping and I would be back to civilization.

I got back on the road and headed vaguely towards the Grand Canyon. I figured I’d find a camping spot sooner or later.

The first place I found looked interesting enough. It was Lee’s Ferry in the Glen Canyon. I figured it was a good final stop before I headed to the Grand Canyon.

It wasn’t. I had already paid for my camping spot before I realized that this canyon, however beautiful, could not stand up to the amazing things I had seen the past few days.

It appeared that it was pretty much just a boat ramp and fisherman’s hangout. I wandered down a trail for a little while before getting bored and heading back to my car.

I was so bored that I fell asleep at about 6 PM.

Then I woke up.

At 1:00 AM.

After 7 hours of sleep.

I was not tired and not happy. I was bored and stuck. Well, not stuck, really. I could leave.

So I did. I drove to the Grand canyon at 1 AM.

I have strange memories of this drive. I was in a sort of a daze. I only passed a couple of cars going the other way and encountered none going my way. The moon was now just a crescent and had long since set, leaving the night to darkness without it’s enchanting glow.

At one point, a rabbit darted out in just front of my car. He might have just made it across my lane, but he panicked and turned back. It was a decision that ended in a sickening crunch. I’d never hit anything larger than a bug before. It was not pleasant. It certainly did not improve my mood.

An hour or so later on I passed a deer by the side of the road. I do not so much remember seeing the deer as I remember remembering the deer. I’ve got this nightmarish vision of her head floating in the darkness, her body disappearing into a dark mist by the side of the road. Her huge eyes glowing a yellowed waning moon in reflection of my headlights.

It wasn’t much further on that mist began to give the road the appearance of floating on nothing. It settled mostly below the roadway on both sides. All I could see was the road, long, straight, and disappearing into the same dark mist in front of me. The sides of the road had thin fringes of weak dried grass that appeared to slope quickly downwards and away.

I’d never been on this road before. I had no idea what was down there. I had no idea if it was a huge cliff or a small bluff. I had no idea what would happen if I fell off the road.

I just remember it passing continuously in hazy repetition.

When I finally reached the Grand Canyon state park, this little illusion did not improve upon itself. The rangers were burning. Regularly dotting the sides of the road were unattended fire pits glowing and flickering through their own smoke and the settling mist.

Eventually I got to the campsite and passed out in an unattended stall, hoping that I wasn’t going to be rudely awakened by a ranger asking why I hadn’t paid anything.

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Grandpa
Carlsbad, CA
Central Ala- 'Bama
The middle of the state.
Heaven on a Bun?
Next to the CdA lake
Driving in Idaho
Just south of Coeur d' Alene