Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Slickrock Hike/BLM Camping

This is the second of the posts I had done in draft, for Saturday, June 1.

Today(Saturday) was just another wonderful day!!  We woke up to a beautiful sunrise, and just marveled at how different the rocks looked in the morning sunlight from how they looked last night at sunset.  By the way, I’m identifying the days, since we did not have internet access in this part of Canyonlands, nor do we have it tonight where we are.  So I’m just doing these posts on the word processing program and will copy and paste whenever we have internet connection again.  I’m trying to write the posts every day if at all possible, both so I don’t get way behind, and, perhaps more importantly, so I don’t forget too much!  

Anyway, since we were dry camping in the Canyonlands campground, and we didn’t want to turn on the generator, we had delicious steel cut oatmeal with blueberries and craisins for breakfast, instead of our smoothies.  Nice to have a change of pace, and it was cool when we got up, so the oatmeal really was filling.  Then we continued on the scenic drive almost to the end, where we did the Slickrock Hike, a lovely hike mostly across the top of the rocks, with lovely views of the canyons--there are so many different and smaller canyons in this part of the park, just a wonderful hike.  As we pulled into the parking area, we pulled up behind a car from California, and the couple were just sitting down on the curb to put on their hiking boots.  We saw they had an Obama bumper sticker, so we naturally started up a conversation, and soon found we had an awful lot in common.  They were from California, near Monterey and Carmel, which is one of our favorite places.  He’s a photographer, and she’s a retired teacher, and now is a writer/storyteller, originally from South Africa--Ray and Brenda.  She was wearing a Canyon DeChelly Tshirt, so we had a long conversation about that.  Our friend Helen Lewis had told us before we left that this was her favorite of all the canyons in the southwest and that we should absolutely not miss it.  Well, Brenda not only reminded us  a lot of Helen, mainly in the sorts of ideas she has and her delightful way of expressing herself, and she regaled us with her account of their visit to this place.  She told us about an out of the way campground, off the beaten path, on Navajo land, where they were able to find a Navajo guide to show them all around, so we definitely hope to stay at this same place.  They are traveling with a pull behind trailer, and were really interested in the View, so we invited them in and gave them the tour.  We just had the best time with them, talking before we headed out on the trail.  Ray has all this incredible camera equipment, and really likes to take black and white photos a lot, so he had much more to get ready than our little point and shoot!  But we exchanged contact info and they invited us to come visit them when we’re heading up the California coast later this summer, on our way to Seattle.  We definitely plan to do that.  Meeting folks like this is one of the most wonderful parts of this adventure, and we thoroughly enjoyed this chance meeting.

Later, on the hike, as we were climbing out some high rocks to one of the viewpoints, we met another couple--Neal and Sharon--retired teachers from the Olympic Peninsula in Washington, and had a great visit with them for a while, talking about our various travels, places we each had been, and getting tips from them on particular points of interest when we’re out there.  Just a great couple and wonderful to talk to them.  In the course of the conversation it came up about our visiting Jeremy twice when he was teaching in Ethiopia and after we told them all the wonderful places and things we had seen there and the incredibly friendly people, think they were ready to put Ethiopia on their bucket list!  It was also serendipitous that we met someone from the Seattle area, since we had Seattle on our minds this whole morning--son Todd was running a marathon there today, and doing it partly in honor of his grandfather, my Dad, who would have been 99 today!

We stopped at the third viewpoint to sit on the rocks high above the canyon floor to eat a snack, for some fuel for the rest of the hike.  As we were sitting there, eating our apples and some trail mix, we were watching a raven doing arial acrobatics over the canyon, going lower and lower, and then soaring higher and higher.  Apparently he saw us and either saw that we were eating or at least figured from experience that there was at least a chance for some food when humans are around.  Anyway, he came and sat down on a rock ledge right behind us.  As I was getting the camera out and turning around to take his picture, he then moved to the ledge right at our feet and I was desperately trying to get the picture off before he got so close and so bold as to try to steal the baggie of trail mix--fortunately just made it!

As we drove back down the scenic drive, we had to go back by the visitor center on our way out, so I decided to stop and see if I could write a note of commendation on the wonderful experience we had had with Ranger Jennifer the day before.  More often than not, people tend to contact supervisors only when they’re upset about something or have a complaint, and I thought she was such a wonderful representative of the National Park Service and so helpful that she deserved to have this recorded in her record.  When I told Trisha what I wanted to do she asked if it were possible to do this, and I said I was sure I could figure out a way to get it done.  Well, when I went in to the counter, guess who was working there this morning--Jennifer.  I first asked her if she had a pen and a piece of paper, and she asked me how big a piece of paper I needed.  When I said I just needed something big enough to write a note to her supervisor, she first got all flustered and said, Oh my gosh, did I do anything wrong?  So I told her that, quite to the contrary, I wanted to write a note of commendation, and the look of relief on her face was priceless!  She had told us at the program the night before how she had quit her job of 16 years as a hearing officer with the Social Security Administration, gone back to school to get another bachelor’s degree to pursue this, her dream job, and she had only recently been hired here at the park.  So she gave me a form they have for visitor comments and I wrote her supervisor about all the ways she had been helpful and informative in the brief encounters we had with her--and how much this contrasted with our encounter with the other state park employee we had met earlier in the day.  Well, Jennifer just kept thanking me over and over again, and said that with all the cutbacks that are happening, all of their jobs were on the line, and I figured since she was a relatively new hire, she would likely be in the line of fire, so hopefully it may help her out.  Like Trisha said as we were driving out, we’ve visited a lot of national parks on this trip, but this is the first time we felt moved to do this, so she really was outstanding.  I remember when Jeremy was at Davidson, he went on this retreat put on by the Lily Foundation on vocations and avocations, and the thing that stood out was that they advised the students to find something that they were good at and something they loved and find a way to pursue these ends--the best way to make a job truly a vocation.  This woman had certainly done that!

Then we headed on to Blanding--Trisha had seen on the map a little road that looked like it would get us to Blanding a shorter way than going back to the main highway, and it was just a spectacular drive.  We went up and over the high Abajo Peak in the mountains, seeing great and beautifully green groves of aspen, with stately dark evergreens mixed in.  Just a wonderful drive!  Got to Blanding  and had a really interesting visit to the Edge of Cedar State Park Museum.  This is a state park unlike any we’d ever visited, as we had frankly expected that this may be a place to spend the night.  Well, they really only have this museum, as it is built around the ruins of ancient puebloan people, and the museum is filled with artifacts and loaded with really fascinating educational materials about all the ancients.  Really learned a lot, particularly about how different tribes view the history of ancient native people differently.  And they had a large part of the pueblo you could see out on the grounds.   It had been discovered under a huge mound,, and it was remarkably well preserved in most places.  They even let you climb down a ladder into a kiva, a round room underground where the ancients held religious services and other ceremonial functions.  They had stabilized it since its original discovery, by reinforcing the mortar between the bricks and some other ways to make it safe, but a lot of the log ceiling and wall structures were original.  Really amazing to actually go down the ladder and feel how cool it was, and how light.  When we first looked down the hole, it looked quite dark, but once we got down into it, the small hole let in enough sunlight to illuminate the whole room.    Back above ground, they also had a sculpture done relatively recently, but which recaptured a lot of the rock wall art of the ancients, as well as how they used the cast of sunlight through a narrow opening in the rock on a spiral, etched into the wall, just like we had seen at the Puerco Pueblo ruins earlier.

So we asked the woman at the desk when we finished our tour where we might spend the night.  She told us about the two commercial campgrounds in the area, but pointed us to the Bureau of Land Management land, where you can camp for free just about anywhere.  She pointed out a couple of places near washes where people often camp, places with trees and good shade.  So we followed her lead, and it turned out to be right on our way from Blanding on a circle that Jim had outlined for us, toward a Natural Bridge area.  So we found a lovely place where they had made a couple of firepits, obviously one of the places the woman had told us about, with several spots where folks had clearly camped before.  Not a soul here, which is really interesting--though we’ve dry camped several times thus far, this is our first experience with BLM camping.  After supper we sat outside in the recliners, just watching and listening to the quaking leaves of some giant cottonwoods.  Our only company here are some cows--this is land where some cattle ranchers lease from the government for grazing, but often it’s open range, and the cattle roam freely all over.  We had seen evidence that cattle had been all over this little area, but after supper I looked up and saw a cow, a young calf and a bull not too far away, just chowing down on some grass.  They looked up when I went outside to take some pictures, but then just went back to munching on their goodies(I know what you’re thinking, Jim, that we might as well go try some of what the cows were having for dinner, what with the way we’re eating these days--LOL!)  Anyway, it’s just so incredibly peaceful here, not a person around, just the night sounds, and we watched a beautiful sunset.  Just so happy to be here, and so blessed to have this opportunity.  Will put up pictures and post these whenever we get the chance, but now, think I’ll turn in--sleep tight boys and girls!

Saturday's pics:  
Views along the Slickrock hike

 Twisted trunks of some juniper trees--Jennifer had told us the evening before how the ancients would peel off this bark in long strips, make rope, crush it to make bedding, warm clothing and other items
 Biotic soil---this is all around the park, and in others we had seen as well--it looks all crunchy, but it contains many living bacteria and other micro organisms crucial for the survival of plant life which retards erosion, and supports other small wildlife as well.  They have warning signs all over the place, imploring people to stay on the trails and not to walk in this soil--a single footprint wipes out decades of growth that will take more decades to replace, yet we saw many places with lots of bootprints in this soil.  They have done such a marvelous job of making trails, it's just sad that some people won't respect this.

 More views from atop the slick rock

 It's these formations that led to the Needles name

Mr. Raven, eyeing my baggie of trail mix!
 They have these rock cairns along the rock to mark the trail

Views of Abajo Peak, as we climbed and crossed the mountains

 Yes, indeed these are ski runs

 After seeing so much of the arid environment, it was remarkable to see green grass and trees on these mountains

 Beautiful aspens

Beautiful blue iris along the road up the mountain

At the Edge of Cedars Museum State Park--statue of Kokopelli outside on the grounds.  The storyboards inside told of all the variations on the legend of Kokopelli--how he would come into a village as a trader of goods, then draw the people out to see his wares with his seductive flute playing, and while the villagers were under a trance induced by his flute music, he would run off to do various mischief with the women of the village!
 The pueblo ruins that were discovered under a mound of dirt on this site

 Entrance down into the kiva
 Looks pretty dark down there, wouldn't you think?
But here we are down in the kiva, and this light is all coming from the dispersed sunlight coming down the hole
 Stabilized walls, adding mortar
 Original pinion pine log ceiling

This is the modern sculpture, using thematics from the ancient cultures
 Trisha always loves spirals!

 This is the spiral where the sun casts a thin beam through an opening in the ceiling of the sculpture, splitting the spiral at the time of the summer equinox
 Coupla strong women, just hangin' out and holding hands!

Some other sculptures on the museum grounds

 This one is named "Man running through time"  Pretty cool
Some shots from our lovely first experience with camping for free on Bureau of Land Management property, along the Cottonwood Wash

 Our bovine neighbors--the only other souls in our little campground

Sunset at Cottonwood Wash--all in all, a pretty spectacular place to camp!

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