Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Parking in Utah, Rocking in Idaho

I could say much about Utah, but I won't say much now because I will have much more to say in the future. But I don't want anyone to lose site of the fact that I had a great first week there in Park City. My hosts, who happened to be my good buddy Tom and his wife Chloe,  were incredibly gracious hosts. Chloe's pregnancy precluded her from participating, but that didn't stop Tommy from introducing me to some of Park City's finest MTB trails nearly every day! Park City is the first and currently only IMBA Gold Certified Mountain Bike Destination which really doesn't require any more comment except to say that if you're a d%ckhe$d mountain biker,  you might be better off making southern Florida or the Bahamas your next riding destination. 

Not only does Utah offer great mountain biking, but it also offers out of this world scenery and polygamy! Although the polygamy is available year round, I don't plan on partaking of that and so will not be commenting. I do plan on experiencing and commenting on the scenery. However, at this time of the year, Utah officials are putting in calls to Hades for advice on relieving the effects of extreme heat so I intend to postpone my southern Utah adventures until the fall.
International climbing destination.
So after getting my MTB riding legs more finely tuned I steer Mage north to the great spud state of Idaho. Just across the border is "The City of Rocks" (www.nps.gov/ciro). I was immediately disappointed since I was looking forward to looking up my two old friends Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble, but I quickly learned they were not residents. However, if you are a rock climber this place is a Mecca for you! It seems to have been built for climbing and people from all over the world make it a rock climbing destination. If you happened to be a traveler along the California Trail or the Alternate Salt Lake Trail in the mid 1800's you might think of it as did James Wilkins, one of the first wagon pioneers, "....granite rocks rising abruptly out of the ground....in a romantic valley clustered together, which gives them the appearance of a city....a dismantled rock-built city of the Stone Age."  Back then you  might have also , as many did, wrote your name in axle grease on 'Register Rock' leaving one of North America's earliest examples of a graffiti wall. 

Perhaps the U.S.'s first graffiti wall.
I don't necessarily have a fear of heights, but I do have a healthy fear of the effects that gravity has on the human body falling from heights. Therefore, since I didn't have any climbing equipment with me, I didn't do any climbing which required more than my own two feet. Native Americans supposedly also have no fear of heights, so I leave the climbing to the area's native Shoshone people and other practiced and well equipped climbers.

Moonrise over "Bread Loaves"
Before heading to the next National Park I made a slight detour to the Minidoka National Historic Site (http://www.nps.gov/miin). Visually there really isn't much to see, but the informative markers accomplish the goal of reminding us that blind optimism which breeds the attitude "It will never happen here!" is a dangerously short sighted belief and it would be prudent to guard against it. After Hitler, the world said "never again" and yet less than 30 years later it happened "again" in Cambodia. It can be argued that similar atrocities "again" happened in Serbia and even today are happening in parts of Africa and the Middle East. 

So for me Minidoka is probably the most powerful historic site in the country. It marks the time in 1942 when The United States forgot who it was in a wave of panicked hysteria.  In 1933 Franklin D. Roosevelt said "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.", but that sage lesson apparently fell on deaf ears, including FDR's own! After the attack on Pearl Harbor the U.S. was engulfed by fear.  Fear was allowed to dictate our actions instead of rational thought and it brought shame to our land.

Minidoka Honor Roll
Minidoka was one of many sites where Japanese Americans were ordered by FDR's executive order to be round up and interned for the "good" of the country. Other than the beautiful offshoot of the Snake River which meanders around the camp and must have been one of the  pitifully few things these men and woman could look to for relief or inspiration, the only other thing to really see at the site now is the "Honor Roll". It is a wonderfully patriotic and appropriate example of passive aggressive symbolism. It stands there just in front of the "V" shaped garden, which some believe stood for "Victory" and which was created and tended by the prisoners.   The "Honor Roll" proudly lists all the Japanese Americans who fought honorably next to Italian Americans, Polish Americans, Irish Americans, English Americans, etc.... in defense of this nation!  

Never underestimate the power of "Fear". It has been, in fact, the leading driver of our survival, but now in a time when the Human Races' survival is no longer in question (from a natural point of view) it is in a word the source of all our woes. It is fear that begets greed, hatred and jealousy. It is fear that paralyzes our spiritual nature and often brings out the worst in us.  It is what will lead to our destruction if not subdued. Fear like all tools is a double edged sword. It can cut one free of their bonds or fatally wound. And like all tools it is dangerous to wield it haphazardly. We must learn to control it, and all our tools, wisely and with clarity for the benefit of all concerned. 

Forgive me while I climb down off of this soapbox and climb back into the travel narrative.

 From Minidoka  I moved farther north in Idaho towards the Craters of the Moon National Park (www.nps.gov/crmo). Everyone knows that the moon has less gravity. So I figured I'd be better off climbing around there. Less gravity, less chance of broken bones! Right? Craters of the Moon is, geologically speaking, a relatively recent volcanic area of action. However it's not the typically visualized confined conic volcano like Mt. Saint Helens. It's actually a 52 mile long crack in the Earth's crust known as the "Great Rift" which erupts every 2000 years or so. The area has been described as immersed in "Black Vomit" and only fit as the "Devil's Orchard". Geologist Harold Stearns described it as "The surface of the moon as seen through a telescope." President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed it a National Monument in 1906 in order to protect what he saw as "a weird and scenic landscape, peculiar to itself."

Craters of the Moon Lava field at night.
It last erupted 2000 years ago so I was really hoping I had timed it right to get my money's worth and see a show. There was some smoke and ash in the air, but that was only from a nearby wildfire. In lieu of an erupting lava display, I joined a Ranger talk with appropriately named geologist Ranger "Emerald". While discussing the colors of the volcanic rock she innocently rocked my faith in mankind. Or at least "science-kind".

She stated, and being a geologist I'm assuming with some authority, that although they know the volcanic cinders/rocks contain Iron and Magnesium, and the blue tint is "probably" titanium they have no idea what other elements/minerals/metals are present. Curious! They boast that the area is one of the finest basaltic volcanic examples on earth and no one has bothered to do a total geological breakdown!? In this day and age it seems criminal to me that such a glaring "hole" in science exists. If scientists can't be bothered to do a basic, nearly high school level break down of the "finest volcanic specimen" examples available in the world then in what other areas is science being equally lazy and let's not pull punches, negligent. Emerald states that if you know anyone with access to a lab they would be extremely stoked to find out what the rocks are made of! Really!? REALLY!? (Where are S.N.L.'s Seth and Amy when I need them?

O.k., so if you're looking to get your Masters or Doctorate in Geology, here is your golden opportunity! But, for F%*ks sake, Seriously! This is the state of science?! In order to add some concrete (pun intended) knowledge to our understanding of nature, we have to wait for some hungry college student to perform basic tests! I know things are tight, but if it will help I'd be happy to spend the gas money to drive a few rocks over to the University of Idaho's Geology department! Scientists want Trillions of dollars to go on a wild goose chase for the "God Particle" but they won't spend a few hundred bucks to find out what is right in front of us, or more correctly, right beneath us?! Wow. It really makes you think!

Moonrise over "Devil's Orchard"
It sort of left a bad taste in my mouth. Actually that was probably the Antelope Bitterbrush seed. They are a favorite of the deer and I couldn't resist tasting one after Emerald stated they were bitter and not poisonous. She was right, I didn't get sick so they weren't poisonous and it was bitter. Very bitter! And it just got more and more bitter as time went by! "That taste will be with you for about 20 minutes" Emerald tells me. "Gee, Thanks for the heads up! You might have mentioned that before I ate the seed!". Then again, I have to admit I would have still eaten it!

Making good use of the fumes escaping from my incredulous disbelieving head I funneled them like a rocket and blasted off from the Crater's of the Moon. My telemetry is set for impact further north in the Sawtooth National Forest via Ketchum, Idaho and the Sun Valley Ski Resort area. 

Wish me a happy landing!

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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Crossing Over- Colorado to Utah

Wood Art of Gunnison Park

Down at Great Sand Dune National Monument RV'ers Keith and Shirley stopped me to chat and implored me not to miss The Black Canyons of Gunnison (www.nps.gov/blca). Who am I to ignore a fellow traveler's advice,  so I took it. Along the way I stopped to photograph "Dillon's Pillars" which were created by the fallout of volcanic activities. Yes there were volcanoes in Colorado at one time! I also wanted to check out the antique narrow gauge locomotive at the Elk Visitor Center, but the train had left the station. It had unfortunately departed off to a more private location to enjoy some much deserved restoration. 

I suffered through a little more of a delay when I got to the town of Gunnison and heard the sound of music. I followed the reverberations to a concert in the park and found, not only a decent band, but  a quaint little public park with lots of interesting wood sculptures dispersed throughout.

Arriving at the Black Canyons on a hot and steamy day, I peered down the sheer and vertical 2000+ foot walls to the river below. Toughing out the vertigo, I stared and contemplated the amount of time it took for that river to cut through so much earth. I took some nice sunset pics at "Sunset View" and decided to spend the rest of the evening resting there in the quietude and darkness which matched the blackness of the canyons. 
Part of the "Painted Wall"-Black Canyons of Gunnison

The next morning was diametrically chilly, affording me some more quiet time in virtual solitude to do some panoramas of the geological wonder known as the "Painted Wall" before moseying northwest through the state to the Colorado National Monument (www.nps.gov/colm). Or as it is known by some, "the slightly less Grand Canyon".  

Driving the 19 miles through this park on another balmy day I stopped at each of the impressive scenic overlooks and then procured a 2 day back-country permit at the visitors center. Of course, I wasted no time using those two days to photograph all the park's main attractions. From the 600 ton "Balancing Boulder" to the "Grand View Overlook" providing great views of  "Independence"," Pipe Organs", "Steeple", "Kissing Cousins", "The Island" and "Window" Monuments. All of which were once contiguous mountain ranges which have been isolated in time by erosion turning them into individual entities of immense gravity and visual appeal. 
Colorado National Monument

My last stop in Coloradan territory was to be Dinosaur National Monument (www.nps.gov/dino). I entered on the Colorado side through the town of "Dinosaur" which apparently has a bit of "dinosaur envy" since there weren't actually any dinosaur bones found in its vicinity. I'll go out on a limb and state that you still won't find any dinosaurs there unless you count the statues throughout the tiny town. To be fair, Colorado's side of the park does have some picturesque canyons to explore even if the road  does  eventually wind across the Utah border. Late in the afternoon, I couldn't resist a 13 mile off road driving experience leading to the Echo Park campgrounds along the "White River". It really didn't make any difference to me whether I was kicking up a dust trail in Colorado or Utah, it was fun all the same!

In the morning I exited through Dinosaur, Colorado driving carefully just in case there were any stray jaywalking  dinosaurs I might crash into and crossed once again into Utah to visit the visitor's center of Dinosaur Monument where they actually did find old bones and lots of them.
Once there it's obligatory to take the tram up to the Quarry Bone Exhibit Hall where you can, not surprisingly, see a bunch of actual dinosaur bones. Somewhat more surprising is that you can even touch them too! After foregoing the tram ride back and instead checking out some fossils up close and personal on the hike back to the visitor center, I started the auto tour of the park.

 Along the way are fine examples of petroglyphs which are artistic chippings into the rock walls. Someone tried to tell me they were created by some super creative and talented dinosaurs. I didn't buy it. Someone else told me they were done by Indians about 1500 years ago. I thought that was a little bit more believable, but come on! You really expect me to believe Bollywood had the funds back then to cover the production cost of doing a film in North America?! I guess we will never know the true story! (Or maybe Native Americans had something to do with it?)

Petroglyphs by Indians??
Resigned to the fact that I may never know the true origins of the park's petroglyphs, I eventually had a refreshing dip in the Green River which winds its way through the park and found it surprisingly warm. Then it was time to kick up some more dust by subjecting my 2-wheel drive van to some more 4-wheel type off roading which eventually took me to the lesser frequented Rainbow Park Campground. There were only four sites there and all were empty leaving me completely to myself, at least until the morning when the river rafters appeared in droves. The area was so calm and serene  that I was tempted to break out the fishing pole and have a go. But then I remembered that after a couple of seasons of commercial fishing I had already accrued enough negative karma with regard to slaying fish and it's probably best if I only use the rod and reel if I'm starving to death and really in need. No worries though, I'm well fed. Although, my planned outdoor cooking was put off by ominous dark clouds and rain which had me double thinking my choice of venues for the evening. Would I put to test the theory that the road was "impassable when wet" as the park's map suggested? Too late to second guess! I'll just have to wait and see what tomorrow brings. 
In the morning I'll ignore all the rafters and get some more photos of those mysterious "Indian" petroglyphs. Then, assuming the road is passable,  I'll make a beeline for Park City, Utah to meet up with one of my oldest buddies.....and his soon to be "Mother" of a wife!

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