Monday, September 30, 2013

... and back out again.

The crew poses at the top...
We spent four days rafting the Colorado River. At the end of it our crew dropped us off at Phantom Ranch early in the morning. We were looking at an eight mile hike out, including a one mile change in elevation with about twenty-five pounds of gear on our back.

The crew urged us to get as high as we could before the rising sun cleared the canyon walls as temperatures in the canyon can hit over 38 Celsius (100 Fahrenheit) during the hottest part of the day.

I'm proud to say that Team Canada -- represented by my wife and I -- made it to the top in 3.5 hours. It was a tough slog and the thighs were definitely complaining near the end, but it was made easier by the fact that we had deliberately trained for it. One Brazilian girl in our group made it up nearly as fast as we did but the next members didn't arrive for another three hours!
The Kissing Rock...
A river runs through it....

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Chocolate milk!!

This is the muddy Colorado River about to smack me in the face. This photo was a lucky fluke. I was trying to take a video as we went through a rapid and I hit the wrong button by mistake.

Much of the upper run is fed by side rivers such as the Little Colorado River which flood the main river with reddish-brown mud. The result is that it seems like you are travelling down a river of chocolate milk.

Colorado mud...
The first night we camped it rained, but it was a warm rain so we weren't bothered by it. The only annoyance was the fine red sand that stuck to everything.

Camping in the warm rain...

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Into the depths...

Rafting down the muddy Colorado River...
Down the muddy Colorado River...
After a brief stay in Flagstaff, AZ my wife and I took part in a four day motorized rafting trip organized by Grand Canyon Whitewater Rafting down the upper Grand Canyon. Grand Canyon National Park runs 290 miles from Lee's Landing to Lake Mead. The upper Grand Canyon rafting tour only takes you as far as Phantom Ranch while the lower rafting tour continues on to Diamond Creek.

Grand Canyon seen from the bottom...
Grand Canyon from the bottom...
The trip was well organized. The company provides everything -- transportation, food (they even prepare and serve it), camping gear...

The chief guide was the laconic Jason. He was assisted by a crew of three. What impressed me was that despite the very different personalities of the crew they were a tightly-knit team that worked together with almost military cohesion to ensure our experience was an enjoyable one.

Our laconic leader Jason...

Friday, September 27, 2013

North Rim

Sunrise over the Grand Canyon...
The sun rises over the Grand Canyon.

Sunrise seen from the Watchtower...
View from the Watchtower...
The next morning I was up early to catch photos of the sunrise from the north rim of the canyon.

Later that day I spotted what appeared to be a switchback trail coming up from the canyon below. Through my binoculars I could see tiny figures - people! - slowly working their way up the canyon wall. You'll see them if you click to view the full size version of the image below...

The trail from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim...
The North Rim trail.
Little did I realize I was staring into my future...

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grand Canyon

Continuing our summer travels after Winslow, Arizona we arrived at the north rim of the Grand Canyon. The sheer size of the canyon overwhelms you. Ten miles wide, 230 miles long and one mile deep... People gather at sunset to takes lots and lots of photos.

The Watchtower sits at the edge of the north rim. It features views, native artwork and books on the history of the canyon.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Deep Impact

Deep impact! The Arizona Meteor Crater
Bigger than it looks...
I discovered that the Arizona Meteor Crater wasn't too far from Flagstaff and we made a special trip to see it on our way from Winslow.

I had read of this crater as a kid -- had seen photos of it in some of my astronomy books -- but still I wasn't prepared for the massive scale of it.  You could drop a 50+ storey building in the middle of the crater and it wouldn't reach the height of the sides.

The meteor that caused it struck about 50,000 years ago. If a similar or larger sized asteroid or meteor were to strike today the destruction it would cause is scary to contemplate.

The crater was used by Apollo astronauts for part of their training As a movie buff, I was also intrigued to learn that the crater was used in the filming of John Carpenter's Starman.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Winslow, Arizona

Totem pole in Winslow, Arizona...
Ancient eyes watch over the landscape.
More images from Winslow, Arizona. This totem pole is part of a park that features this poem-on-sticks...

From Wikipedia:
Ancient Pueblo peoples or Ancestral Pueblo peoples were an ancient Native American culture centered on the present-day Four Corners area of the United States, comprising southern Utah, northeastern Arizona, northern New Mexico, and southwestern Colorado. They lived in a range of structures, including pit houses, pueblos, and cliff dwellings designed so that they could lift entry ladders during enemy attacks, which provided security. Archaeologists referred to one of these cultural groups as the Anasazi, although the term is not preferred by contemporary Pueblo peoples.

The description 'Anasazi' was bestowed upon them by the Navajos with whom they came into conflict. The word means 'ancient enemy' and both groups consider the word derogatory.

Park at Winslow, Arizona...
Winslow poetry...

Monday, September 23, 2013

Take it easy...

In the mid-70s the Eagles sang:

Standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona
Such a fine sight to see
It's a girl, my Lord
In a flatbed Ford
Slowing down to take a look at me...

Winslow wasn't that far from our eventual destination of Flagstaff so we made a special trip to see it. Winslow has capitalized on its place in rock history by dedicating a street corner to the song. It features a sculpture of a guitar-slinging traveller and a red Ford truck which is permanently parked there as part of the installation.

We didn't realize until we got there that Winslow was also one of the stops along the famous Route 66.

At the nearby store, Standin' on the Corner, Sandra and her niece, Nikki, are the keepers and purveyors of all things Eagles and Route 66. While there, we also bought a half-dozen Route 66 root beers. In the oppressive heat, they were much appreciated by these Canadians.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon goes on and on...
It was a cold rainy day when we arrived at Bryce Canyon. We gamely stopped at each overlook though...

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Seen in passing...

A controversial sign for a restaurant?

At one point, we passed through a small town with all sorts of signs and billboards referencing its devout Mormon character. At odds with all of this was a sign advertising the nearby Thunderbird Restaurant and its pies...

Wagon wheel outside a general store.

A wagon wheel at a general store in Utah...

A spot of colour in the desert.

Desert flower... one the few we saw...

Friday, September 20, 2013

A most interesting fellow traveller

One smart guy...
This is Nick. We met him at a Utah State Park one morning. He is an electrical engineer; he was returning to Texas to complete his degree after an internship in California.

He was the epitome of geek. I don't mean that in a derogatory sense. He was a friendly and outgoing guy, one of these guys who does things for the sheer joy of overcoming a technological challenge.

Check out that cockpit in his car. How many screens and keyboards can you count? I can tell you that there were a few more that I wasn't able to squeeze into my camera frame. They measured everything from his position by satellite to the operating performance of his car engine.

And have you noticed the solar panels on his car? Those are installed 'permanently' in the sense that he leaves them there on his trips, i.e. he doesn't remove them when he's driving.

He explained to me what most of those gizmos do, but my limited exposure to electrical engineering and electronics only let me partially able to keep up with him.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Kodachrome Basin

Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah...
There is nothing subliminal here.
On our way to Bryce National Park, we took a side trip to Kodachrome Basin State Park in Utah. From the website:
In 1949, members of a National Geographic expedition named Kodachrome Basin for its spectacular colors. Geologists believe the landscape was once similar to Yellowstone National Park with hot springs and geysers, which eventually filled with sediment and solidified. Over time, sandstone surrounding the solidified geysers eroded, leaving 67 large sand pipes. 
The park ranger at the front gate convinced us to camp there rather than Bryce Canyon because they had showers and Bryce did not. That was all it took for us to change our plans. We camped in the shadow of this suggestive structure.

That night we experienced a spectacular thunderstorm that silhouetted the canyon walls around us and lit up the inside of our tent-trailer like a stroboscope.

The colourful state of Utah...
Log cabin near Kodachrome Basin...

Abandoned gas station...
An abandoned gas station, less creepy than this one...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Needles Overlook

Leona at the edge of Needles Overlook in Utah.

Sometimes when traveling it pays to put aside the itinerary and just wing it. I like to ask locals what sites are worth visiting. In this case, a fellow in Moab (a Moabin? a Moabite?) recommended that we check out Needles Overlook.

We didn't have any grand expectations. We thought it would be a cliff overlooking some geological oddities. As we left the main highway and followed the directions all we saw in every direction was flat dusty plains and low scrubby plants.

We thought it was going to be underwhelming when suddenly this big freakin' HOLE in the earth revealed itself. It was like another Grand Canyon with views a hundred miles wide and the floor of the canyon a thousand feet or more below us.

If you're ever in that part of the States, put it on your 'must see' list.

Needles Overlook in Utah
The view from Needles Overlook

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hole n" the Rock

Hole n" the Rock near Moab, Utah

The Hole n" the Rock is one of those 'pull yourself up by your bootstrap' tourist attractions not far from Moab, Utah. The original owners built a house into the side of a rock cliff and then proceeded to build a series of gift shops and attractions -- some tacky, some high end -- around it. It's all topped off with this eye-catching title of bright white block letters painted on the cliff over his house.

Metal scupture of a bull

Utah lizard

Lizard on the cliff at Hole n" the Wall

Sunday, September 15, 2013


View through one of the rock arches at Arches National Park

Arches National Park near Moab, Utah is famous for... well, arches.

Double arches at Arches National Park

Cactus in Arches National Park...

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Red Planet

 Martian landscape

I grew up in the northern Ontario community of Sudbury, Ontario. It is surrounded by bare hills of black pre-Cambrian rock giving it a desolate look in places. This was not helped by the fumes from the local mining operations which killed off a lot of plant life until we built a super-stack in the mid-70s and started spreading it around the country.

Sudbury achieved brief notoriety in the ealy 1970s when NASA sent some Apollo mission astronauts to train there. Apparently, Sudbury is the place on Earth that mose closely resembles the moon.

If a mission to Mars is ever close to a reality, I think southern Utah would be the ideal place for those astronauts to train. The barren, red rocks and scrubby dry plants produce this strangely beautiful alien landscape. As we hiked or drove through it, I probably took several hundred photos.

Red soil of southern Utah
This collection of rocks at Arches National Park is known as the Judges

Friday, September 13, 2013

Sunrise over Moab

We stayed a couple of nights in Moab, Utah. Moab is on the doorsteps of both Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. One morning I got up early, grabbed my camera and headed into Arches National Park.

If you are a photographer the vivid colours and contrast produce by the rising sun as it strikes the rock walls are awesome to behold... it produces this almost unreal high-contrast painterly effect...

I had about a fifteen minute window to catch my photos so I would take a photo, then jump into my vehicle and race to another vantage point. The challenge was to take a photo that DIDN'T feature any of the other few dozen photographers there in the foreground also taking photos.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

I like big buttes and I cannot lie...

Famous buttes of Utah

The Merrimac and Monitor buttes are a photographic landmark of southern Utah. I had seen them numerous times over the years in images but until this trip I never realized that they are located in Canyonlands National Park.

They are named after two famous warships which battled each other during the American Civil War.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Gas station at the end of the world...

Driving from Salt Lake City to Canyonlands National Park in Utah, my wife and I found ourselves on a long straight stretch of highway. There was no sign of civilization - just desert on one side and a long wall of bare grey peaks on the other. Overhead the sun blazed. Only the occasional car passed us in the opposite direction. We had passed the last town a long way back.

Suddenly we shot past this abandoned gas station in literally the middle of nowhere. I felt compelled to take a photo so I pulled off the highway, grabbed my camera and trotted back to the gas station a couple of minutes back down the road. I left my wife to wait patiently for me in the van.

I was intrigued with the gas station because it was the perfect setting for a typical horror movie. You know the ones... where inbred hillbilly cannibals man an out-of-the-way hotel or gas station to overcome and terrorize unwary travellers.

Things got a little weird though... as I was walking back to the station a big semi roared past me, braked hard and pulled over into a pullout across from the gas station. I expected the driver to get out and stretch, maybe check his truck for something amiss...

Nothing. Nobody gets out of the truck. As I get closer I glanced across the road into the cab. I didn't see a driver at all. Did he get out on the opposite side? Disappear into his cabin behind the driver's compartment?

Ever see a movie called Duel? It was directed in 1971 for TV by a then unknown Steven Spielberg and featured a man driving in the desert terrorized by a faceless, unknown truck driver. That movie suddenly came to mind as I contemplated the driverless idling truck.

A little disquieted I turned my attention to the gas station. The property was fenced off with barbed wire. There were a few RV-style trailers around the back of it but there was no sign of movement, no sign that anyone had been there in a long while.

The listed gas prices on the sign were half of what gas sells for now suggesting the station had been abandoned for some time.

I took a series of photos. It was quiet except for the hot breeze whispering over the landscape. Finished with my photos I started back toward our van. Suddenly a black pickup truck coming towards me veered off from the opposite side of the highway, passed me and screeched to a stop in front of the gas station. I had a quick glimpse of the dark-haired man behind the wheel but -- like the truck across the street -- he too remained in the truck.

Did somebody set off an alarm somewhere? Why did these two vehicles suddenly show up now in front of this gas station at this particular time? What the hell were the drivers doing in their respective cabs?

I hurried a little faster to the van. I heard a crow somewhere and I glanced down to see the remains of some roadkill -  a squirrel perhaps, its limbs gnawed down the bones.

Gah, it's like I've slipped into a David Lynch movie, I thought. I glanced over my shoulder. Both trucks still there across the street from each other, neither driver visible. I couldn't shake this feeling that they were connected somehow. But for what purpose? I walked faster still.

When I got back to my wife and our van even she admitted that the place unsettled her a bit while she had been waiting for me. Both of us were too glad to see the gas station disappear in our rear view mirror.