Thursday, November 21, 2013

Back into the Matrix

End of September 2013

After taking leave of the Zion there was one historical site I decided to check out before  reinserting myself squarely back in to the matrix. The old ghost town of Grafton seemed like an appropriate reentry point. 

Ghosts drive this tractor now!
The old shell of a town lies just outside of Zion National Park down a rough and dusty dirt road alongside of the Virgin River. Settled by Mormons in the 1860's they enjoyed the fertile farm lands adjacent  to the river for a spell only occasionally suffering through some local flooding.

However, it was the increasingly numerous conflicts with the native locals which eventually caused a few deaths and consequently the death of the town when elders rallied the town's people to all move to nearby Hurricane where there were safety in numbers. 

Ghostly Grafton Graves
The town's people returned to work their fields daily for a while, but the small graveyard lies as testament to the rough life and hardships which eventually caused the town to fade like a half seen apparition. 

Closing the chapter on Utah I headed into Arizona where just south of Page, AZ there is a geological wonder known as Horseshoe Bend. This should not be confused with a recent mysterious "geological event" which has forced a big detour from Rt. 89 leading to the Bend when a large section of the highway buckled due to yet unknown forces. 

Horseshoe Bend

Although it is the Colorado River, Horseshoe Bend isn't technically part of the Grand Canyon. At least not officially as it lies a few miles outside of the park. However it is a spectacular and unique view which I recommend adding to your Grand Canyon excursion if you have the chance. 

East End of Grand Canyon

Following the detour I wound up in the Grand Canyon just in time to catch a chilly sunset. Another day was coming to a close as the Sun's golden rays subsided while the shadows of the canyon floor crept up the canyon walls and enveloped one of the largest holes on the planet as it does just about every diurnal period.  Amid the throngs of people gawking and photographing the G.C. I found a spot, got a few shots and decided that as grand as it is, I felt the call of the San Diego stronger.

Museum&Gift shop Grand Canyon Style
In the morning I would tour through the beautiful and highly charged Sedona before making one more stop in Joshua Tree before diving back into the pacific ocean and the wavy waters of north county San Diego. And with that the trips comes to an end. Sort of.....

Watch your Step!!!

For Photos and Videos please check out the following links:
Facebook     (A sampling  before someday posting to my Photography website)

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Red Pill or Blue Pill, Searching for Zion- Sept 23-28

The Road to Zion

    I awoke groggily. The dream was so real. Too real! One of those dreams that is so convincing that it takes a while to figure out whether or not you are still dreaming.  It seemed like years, but it could only have been a few moments until I was coherent enough to realize that it was, in fact, a dream. But that it was also a dream within a dream. With a sudden strikingly lucid thud, its full impact materialized and I knew I had to extricate myself from the matrix. There could be no other way, I had to find an exit. Unfortunately, these days finding an exit is becoming very near to impossible. I needed help.

Checkerboard Mesa
"Link, I need an exit."

"Continue on Rt. 9 for 10 more miles through the East Canyon. Follow the labyrinth of vividly colored sandstone cliffs rising towards the sky and on past Checkerboard Mesa. "

"Sounds nice, if only I had time to completely explore those wonders of nature."

"You said you want an exit! Don't get distracted. Let me know when you've reached the tunnel."

The Tunnel to Zion
It takes a massive amount of determination to travel through the maze of towering, mesmerizing cliffs without pause and without haphazardly driving off one of them in distraction. 

"Ok Link, I'm at the tunnel."

"Go through the tunnel, follow the switchbacks and for heaven's sake don't stop for the countless photo ops. At Scenic Drive head south to the Visitor's Center."

"Copy that, I'll let you know when I'm there."

Links directions are clear, but what was unforeseen was the cunning adaptability of the matrix. Suddenly thrown out before me is an obstacle I powerless to resist, even now that I'm awake. Unable to control myself I pull over to shoot the gang of Big Horn Sheep who unabashedly pose for me on the cliffs just overhead. Are they real or not? My clarity vacillates. Jolting back to reality and the mission at hand I tear myself away from the aberrations of the matrix. I must get to the exit point, I must get to Zion!

"Link, I'm pulling into the parking lot now."

"The exit is on the northeast side of the building."

The "Exit" from the Matrix
Carefully making my way through the maze of informative exhibits describing the history and the geology as well as the biology of this wild place I reach for the phone and put it to my ear and hear, "Operator!....."

"Link, get me out of here!"

Moments later as the fiber optics are removed I find myself conscious in the land of Zion! Awakened from the dream within the dream. "Zion", the Hebrew word for refuge or promised land. Throughout the land of Utah "cairns" or rock piles are used to mark the path you are to follow. In the Jewish tradition cairns are left in places to indicate one's attendance at that spot. Here in Zion the cairns appropriately do double duty signifying both presence and direction.

In the movie The Matrix, Zion is "the real place", the stark and drab reality you awake to when Morpheus' crew yanks you out of the machine created matrix. Here in Zion National Park things can appear so surreal that it isn't hard to imagine that you are stuck inside a bizarre holographic computer program. From the beginning of time people have gravitated here seeking sanctuary from the dry dessert's vast reaches in this relatively small area where the vitality of the Green River has shaped the area for time untold and continues to do so. 

The Watchman over Virgin River
Continually changing, Zion is a refuge, but the Machines of the Matrix are abound and you still have to stay away from the sentinels. I guess that's why you aren't allowed to drive on Zion Canyon Scenic Drive during daylight hours, it's just too risky. However,  I was able to procure a night permit gaining me access to shoot scenes as long as I was out before first light. Bidding my time I set up to shoot the iconic Watchman standing guard over the Virgin River during sunset. Later, running in silent mode I perched myself in front of numerous other Zion features such as The East and West Temples, The Tower of the Virgin, The Sentinel, The ominous Altar of Sacrafice and the majestic Court of the Patriarchs all under the cover of the night sky. 

Weeping Rock
Daytime is presumably safer for travel, although you still are required to take Zion transport up and down the Scenic Drive. Not wasting any time exploring this new world I took in the sites and the ambiance of Riverside Walk, Weeping Rock, Zion Lodge, The Emerald Pools,  and also paid my respects at the Temple of Sinawava. As evening fell I once again ventured into Zion under darkness. I had gained confidence the first night having stayed under the radar of the machines, but I wasn't as lucky the second night. Late in the evening I was viciously attacked by an automated sprinkler system and had to make a hasty retreat back to the van after suffering some superficial sprinklings. 

Court of the Patriarchs
After that close call with the machines I decided to move on to the sparser middle section of Zion and traveled up Kolob Terrace Road which is the jumping off point for the popular destination known as The Subway. However, another permit is needed and only a certain number are available each day. Not able to get said permit I was properly "bummed" that I wouldn't be able to see firsthand this eerily beautiful section of Zion, but decided that I would leave it as a definitive reason for having to come back in the future. 

Riverside Walk
Kolob Terrace Road View
Apparently the sentinels are rampant everywhere, even in the very Northwest of Zion where I once again had to get a permit for a backcountry stay. After doing so I hiked the Taylor Creek Trail, crossing the creek many times to reach the unusual Double Arch Alcove. A huge lower alcove with interesting water streaks, greenery and a large brim overhead with the second arch or alcove very high up, capping the lower one. Hiking back out you could feel the chill in the air and understand the warnings that the higher elevations might get snow that night. 

Heading deeper up Kolob Canyon Road I started to grow weary and really annoyed as I drove towards my camping spot for the night. The problem was I couldn't drive more than 50 yards at a time without having to pull over to get some really great shots of the Finger Canyons. It took forever to drive that last 1/2 mile!

The last official item on my agenda was to return a lost human communication device which I had found along the way. Then, before leaving, I got word to Morpheus that I was heading out of Zion, but that someday I would return.......

For Photos and Videos please check out the following links:
Facebook     (A sampling  before someday posting to my Photography website)

Friday, October 25, 2013

Utah's Capitol is a Reef?? Sept. 20 -22

 Before leaving Moab I had to get one more classic slickrock ride in the bag. The Klondike trail was one of the original trails in the area and lately there has been a lot added to it so I thought I'd be remiss if I didn't explore there. The old Klondike trail is actually a 4x4 jeep route, but it's still a worthy bike route too. A little sandy at the very beginning, but then it alternates between dirt and slickrock. 

Holy Crow, actually a Ravine
Unfortunately, it's not the smooth red kind of "hardtail friendly" slickrock, but the hard, bumpy white "full suspension friendly" kind. Great for anyone who thinks they are a real "hard ass" and wants to put that to the test! 

Anyway, if you take the trail all the way to the end you should definitely take a break, park your bike at the bike rack and take the short hike to peer into the northwestern corner of Arches National Park and get a beautiful view of the Klondike Bluffs. And don't forget to look for the cairns which in this case don't necessarily mark the trail, but actually mark the locations of petrified dinosaur footprints! You don't see that everyday!

After taking in the view, there are many newly added options for continuing your ride and I thoroughly enjoyed the parts I rode, but I just want to touch on one section I experienced. From Klondike you can hop on to the double black diamond trail called Baby Steps. It's named that because you have to take baby steps to survive it, not because it's baby friendly! To warm up you get a seriously technical, short steep climb and then the adventure begins with a super duper, stupendously technical and steep descent. So bad ass is this section that I had to pass a 4x4 Jeep that was hung up and very unsure about how to proceed. The angle of decent put's your butt higher than your head and it has millions of treacherous rocks, both fixed and loose, large and small. And  wouldn't you know it, one of those rocks had my name on it! No skin off of my chinny, chin chin, but I did lose a few layers of skin off of my thumby, thumb thumb! After that horror show the descent mellows to a nice double track and from there you can happily continue once your heart descends back down out of your throat!
Capitol Reef

Surviving that ride was enough for me so I traded two wheels for four and drove down to Capitol Reef National Park ( The whole drive down I was wondering what the deal was with the name? It wasn't the capitol of Utah. (Does Utah even have a Capitol? ;) And there sure as hell aren't any reefs in the desert, so what's up? Well the terrain has features resembling "Capitol Domes" so that's the first part explained. The other half of the name came from the first explorers to this rugged area who had a seafaring background and likened the treacherous land, which was nearly impossible to make your way through, to reefs in the sea which would often trap ships. In fact, this land is so rugged and remote that the nearby Henry Mountains and Escalante River were the last mountain and river to be surveyed in North America!
Fruta School for grades 1-8

On approach to the park I stopped to check out the Fruta school which belonged to the Mormons, housed grades 1-8 and measured about 20 feet by 20 feet! I guess things like crowded classrooms never change! Entering the park I found that  two of main scenic spurs were closed due to flood damage so it didn't take me long to get through the north end of the park. I spent the darker hours of twilight and evening in Dixie National Forest which has a rich green moistness to it which I found a welcome and pleasant contrast  to the predominately arid red desert climate of Utah. It was there that I welcomed the Autumn Solstice. 

The next morning, as if on cue, it really started to look and feel like Fall, at least at that higher altitude. There was a colder breeze blowing through the Aspen trees. This causing them to gently sway and seemingly  trigger the immediate release of their fall colors, bathing the forest in bright orange and yellows. 

Descending back in to "The Gulch" part of Capitol Reef the high canyon walls to each side which blocked the sun gave off alternating feelings of coziness and claustrophobia. The closed in feeling brought to mind an apocalyptic Hollywood type scene of trying to outrace a wall of flood waters as it rushed through the canyon lapping at Mage's bumper and threatening to envelop all in its path.

Road to Capitol Reef
Nearing safety from biblical type flood waters as you exit the canyon, your next obstacle is to carefully traverse the tight switchbacks which lead you into Strike Valley and the Waterpocket Fold which is the main geological feature here. It's also where the off road fun starts with a long romp through the east side of the park where you can view the giant buckle in the Earth's crust. Created 65 million years ago it also spawned the parks colorful cliffs, domes, soaring spires, monoliths, canyons and even an arch or two.

That evening I set up camp in the Studhorse Peaks with great views of Muley Twist Canyon, Strike Valley, the Waterpocket Fold and Henry Mountains off in the distance. There were also bonus views of two rainbows which was nice except that the rain which brought them forth also brought back nightmarish thoughts of rushing flood waters.

Bryce's sole arch
Exiting the park I made a short pit stop at the Anazazi State Museum before picking up a hitchhiking bicyclist and continuing on down to Bryce National Park ( The biker was younger (seems everyone is these days!) but we actually had a lot in common. For one thing he was pedaling around the country which is something I have thought about doing. But besides my wild fantasy of being able to pull that off, he also enjoyed writing , photography and was a musician to boot. The similarities ended there abruptly when I found out that his musical prowess was playing the bagpipes! I didn't see that one coming! I couldn't help asking if he was Scottish, to which he replied, "a little bit". And yes, although traveling lightly by bicycle, he did carry his instrument with him. After lugging my drumset around heaven only knows how many times over the years I always swear that in my next lifetime I'll play the flute or harmonica or something of the like just for convenience's sake!

Bryce is the famous home of the Hoodoos.

Hoodoo [hoo'doo] n. 1. A pinnacle or odd shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion. 2. v. To cast a spell or cause bad luck. 3. Voodoo

I'm not sure if I was overly anxious to get to the next destination or just trying to avoid getting caught up in a spell, but Bryce National Park turned out to be a quick over-niter. It was one of those places which was undeniably special, picturesque and wonderful to visit, but at the same time didn't require a long stay. I was able to do the tour of the park, see everything and in lieu of camping for more than a night, continue on in search of other things.
Bryce Hoodoos
It's certainly worth the stop, but in the end, I did just that and then carried on......

For Photos and Videos please check out the following links:
Facebook    (A sampling  before someday posting to my Photography website)