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...

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...

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

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...

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.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013


Antelope Island State Park sits in Great Salt Lake to the west of Salt Lake City. It's all that remains of a large prehistoric landlocked sea.  As a consequence the beaches of Antelope Island are a combination of light-brown sand and salt.

Because it is so shallow -- only about 30 feet at its deepest -- there are very little waves or currents. The result is that the smooth surface reflects like glass, an effect that shows up best near sunset when it mirrors the glorious oranges and pinks of the setting sun.

The salt concentration in the water is so high that a person can easily float on the surface with no treading of water required.

Monday, September 9, 2013


Why did the buffalo cross the road?
He was following a chicken.

Okay, completely stupid joke...

My wife and I recently completed a three week trip to the Grand Canyon and back so this blog is going 'on the road' for awhile.

Our first major stop was Antelope Island State Park outside Salt Lake City in Utah. We first camped here ten years ago and always wanted to return to it. The island is surrounded by Great Salt Lake and connected to the mainland by a 14 kilometre causeway.

The island is an antelope and buffalo preserve and they have complete run of the island. In theory, you could find a buffalo strolling through your campsite, however, the closest they came to us was to a field at one end of the campground.

Through my binoculars one morning, I watched a group of people heading down to the beach.Through the tall grass they couldn't see the buffalo that was grazing along the beach blocking the path. When the group of four encountered the buffalo they paused, unsure what to do. One of them broke away from the group and approached the buffalo, presumably to 'shoo' it away.

The buffalo paused from grazing long enough to lift its big head and curiously eyeball the small monkey waving its hands about. I imagine Buffalo was thinking along the lines of: "Seriously? You wanna step up on ME?". I watched as the 'buffalo whisperer' wisely decided to retreat back to his troop and they all headed back up to the parking lot to search for an alternate route to the beach...