Showing posts with label Utah. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Utah. Show all posts

Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Longest Day...in Frog Hollow

It is quite something how popular 24-hour races have become over the last few years. But why should that matter to anybody other than extreme athletes? 

That was the challenge before me, as I camped in "Frogtown" and volunteered at the "longest 24 hour race in the world," so called because it goes from 10 am Saturday to 10 am Sunday, over the end of Daylight Savings Time. Thus it is 25 hours long in real time, and Frog-Time.

Some "typical" scenery, mountain biking in central Utah.

Practical benefit: I learned how some 29 inch mountain bikes will accommodate the 27.5 inch (aka, '650') wheels with 'plus' sized (wide) tires.  I was leaning to the 650 Plus bikes for my next mountain bike.

Additional benefit: having my nose rubbed in the obsolete-ness of my 26 inch mountain bike. Will I even be able to buy tires for it five years from now?

When roaming free range over a wide group of people, it is so easy to begin categorizing creatures. Otherwise the human mind drowns in minute and fractured details. Here is a list of my favorite categories, stepping down to least favorite:

1. Dogs. Surprisingly my favorite was an uncropped male Doberman pinscher. I praised the owner to his face for allowing his friendly pooch to remain au naturel. 

2. Cute little girls.

3. Pretty young mothers.

Then there is a huge gap in the likability ranking.

Negative infinity plus 2. Old crones who cackle.

Negative infinity plus 1. Young boy monsters. (These may be promoted one notch, depending on the upcoming election)

Negative infinity. Males 16--30, who speak half-intelligible English, composed of the latest slang; and who wear their testosterone-crazed egos on their shirt sleeve. My goodness, how did young women ever put up with us, back then?

The difficulty of riding all night cannot be fully appreciated until you remember how deeply a younger person sleeps. They are really affected by sleep patterns that are disturbed.

Although mountain biking at night sounds semi-suicidal, remember that all riders had two powerful headlights. These have become remarkably good the last couple years.

Perhaps this experience is like that of soldiers in combat. Visualizing it thusly, and trying to put yourself into the shoes of the participants, may be the trick to making the experience interesting for a non-extreme athlete, who would otherwise laugh off the race as useless. Perhaps William James himself would have appreciated races like this as the "moral equivalent of war."

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Finally, Finding Hope in Moab

I have been struggling to make 'lemonade from the lemons' of Moab. The pressure was made worse by a Utah school holiday coming up. But I'm glad I didn't give-in to defeatism. 

Surprisingly good results can come from remembering that 'the early bird gets the worm.' There is a jeep/ATV road that is easy to see from my campsite. It looked quite appealing to mountain bike on. Should I be so foolishly naive as to try?

I started a few minutes after sunrise, when it was still chilly. For the first hour and a half, not a single motorized device passed me, despite this trail being well-signed and well-known. Then I popped out on a dirt road and had a nice conversation with a young couple who was taking their niece on a walk. My dog loves children, and vice versa.

It is not surprising that this worked, but it is that it worked so well, and in Moab! There is probably quite a wind chill factor when 'four wheeling' in an open jeep, ATV, or Texas wheelchair ('side by side'). So why would they start early?

Besides, they are on vacation. They want to sleep in, and then take the family out to breakfast at a sit-down restaurant. That takes forever. No wonder 90% of the motorhead traffic is in the afternoon.

From now on I will dress up in cool-weather-cycling clothing, and hope for the best, starting at sunrise. 


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Part 2: Hopeless Moab

What is that crazy dog up to now?! She took off running up a cliff. But I have learned that bizarre behavior on her part is usually due to ravens.  The raven sat right at the top of this strange, ugly geologic feature. 


She never learns that the raven will simply fly away before she gets there. On the way down, Coffee Girl seemed to pose for the camera, with a look of contentment in her body language. 


It seems that I am content to look at things from her point of view. 

Often I run across unpleasant and impractical dogs, and wonder why the owner was so 'stupid' as to choose that dog. But to be fair, it really isn't about stupidity. Didn't the Bard say (more or less) that 'a young man falls in love with his eyes, not with his heart.' The same could be easily said about most people as they choose their pets.

It would be better to choose a dog blindfolded. Lower your hand to its mouth for an eager, but bashful, lick. Feel its body start wriggling when you pet it. Hear the vibrato of its wagging tail.

The same thing happens with motor vehicles and RVs. Does 'Mildred' (of Fred and Mildred fame) care about anything other than the color schemes in her new rig? Later, she encounters one disappointment after another. She acts surprised.

But being a bit indifferent to the scenery of Moab doesn't mean that there aren't other things to make the experience interesting. Rolling into town the other day, I was once again amazed at how hellishly hot canyon bottoms are. A month of thermal progress was wiped out in a second. I was furious!

My years of experience with travel have taught me not to suppress my aversions, because soon, something ironic usually happens. Later that same day, it did happen. Instead of closing up the trailer at night, like you would in the high country, I left everything open. How wonderful it felt to have cooling, but still balmy, wind blowing over the skin. I could relax with my environment, instead of bracing against it, like you would in the high country.

What is most amazing is that these sense-impressions through the skin never seem to get boring, as most delights do. 

In being surrounded by hordes of scenery tourists, it helps to visualize them as a rather different animal species from myself: they process information differently than I do. So does my dog. I put up with it from her, so why not cut these clownish tourists the same slack?

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Moab Is Hopeless, But Is That So Bad?

Is there something cheerful to think about when you are in Moab, UT? Let's be playful and take it as a challenge. (And no, red rock scenery doesn't count.) So far I am drawing blanks...

1.  And yet look at all the people milling around town: they seem pleased to be here. They must be doing something right. Enjoying Moab vicariously seems like the only approach that might pay off.

To fail at this completely is still good news, if it helps me to appreciate novelists and scriptwriters. This could be a big deal to me. Just think how good they must be at putting themselves into other people's 'shoes' in order for their novel or script to be the least bit interesting!

2. Quite separate from the angle of vicarious enjoyment, there is a second approach that ties in with the book I am reading, by Siedentop. Why did early Christians choose Hope as one of their cardinal virtues? I think it is pernicious. It only leads to disappointment and disillusionment.

I came to Moab without any hope whatsoever. Therefore there is nothing to lose. It's a genuinely peaceful and secure feeling. Somehow Moab may be tricked into surprising me on the up-side.  

Monday, February 22, 2016

Understanding the Driving Force of a Movement

For a traveler of the interior West, few books are more natural to choose than Wallace Stegner's "Mormon Country." Nevertheless I had never read it until recently, after a friend put it into my hands. Stegner did an admirable job of being unprejudiced about Mormonism per se. Clearly, he was more interested in the human story of the Mormons than theological doctrines, and rightly so, considering the drama of the Mormon story.

Somewhere in the book, Stegner said (more or less), "After the faith had subsided a bit, the driving force was still there." But then he didn't say what that driving force was! That is really the question that interests me. Although the non-Mormon reader today may have no interest in Mormon theology, it was important to the Mormons of the time. Their great efforts were predicated on a theology that convinced them...but of what?

Stegner can be forgiven for not really explaining what the Driving Force was. It is difficult to look back into time and guess people's psychology merely from external actions or their beliefs-on-paper.

Cause and effect become confused here. Was there something unique in the theology that created the Driving Force, or was the theology merely the rationale for real forces that lay underneath?

One clue comes from looking at the geography of their birthplace: western New York state, a land of displaced New Englanders. Harvard didn't believe in God anymore. The thin soup of Deism and Unitarianism didn't meet people's emotional needs, which is really what religion is all about. But perhaps the Puritan DNA was looking to erupt in some new direction, and Mormonism was one of those outlets. (Abolitionism and Prohibitionism were others.)

Mormon culture took on characteristics redolent of the early Puritan settlers of New England, who had suffered persecution in the old country, and had crossed the Atlantic Ocean in an era when that was no small accomplishment. The Puritans had carved their New Jerusalem out of a wilderness; and had established a theocracy and a culture of hard work, cleanliness, and order.

But let's put aside the Puritan-American perspective in looking at the Mormons, and look for something more universal. Consider the psychology of the early days of the French Revolution or the Bolshevik takeover of the Romanov dynasty in Russia. It might seem paradoxical to compare religious eruptions to overtly atheistic revolutions. But the two extremes share more than they think: they are intoxicated by the notion that 'all things are now possible', and that the old world of vice and suffering are to be left behind. They all visualize a New Jerusalem, a shining city on the hill, and a heaven on earth.

Normally most people have more common sense than that. What would intoxicate them with the idea of Utopia becoming real? They needed to feel strong and confident because of some all-powerful outside force: Liberté! Egalité! et Fraternité! in the French Revolution, 'History' and Dialectical Materialism with the Bolsheviks. 

Here again, the Mormons had an advantage over other Protestant cults during the Second Great Awakening. The rest of them were too mainstream. Pioneering in the American West was a popular and prevalent idea for many impoverished Americans of that era. But Mormon theology was way out of the mainstream: it was a New Dispensation, a new vision, and not just a tweeking of the Protestant revolution of northern Europe in the 1500s. 

Make an analogy with the stock market: the New Dispensation of Joseph Smith was like a new semiconductor transistor stock in the 1960s, or Amazon in 1999.  Mormon competitors were like today's Intel or Hewlett-Packard announcing a new product line.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Autumn of Experiencing Nature in America

What should an experienced outdoorsman look for in a hackneyed location like Moab, UT? Certainly not the iconic red rock arches and canyons. They are justly famous, but you've seen them a hundred times in jeep commercials, cellphone commercials, nature pin-up calendars, etc. They belong to everybody and to nobody. They certainly cannot belong to you.

But that doesn't mean you should just give up, and relegate Moab to the tourist trade, as I used to do. When the weather was still a little summer-ish, my dog and I started a mountain bike ride before most of the tourists were up. As always, we wanted to beat the heat.

We started going downhill; not far, maybe 300-400 feet. I was shocked at how chilly it was getting. In fact, I wished I had gloves on! At the bottom of the canyon I was amazed to find a "crystal house" of dew, that is, preternaturally dense dew, glazed onto grasses in a little swale. 

It reminded me of the ice crystal house in Dr. Zhivago. The movie was filmed largely in Spain. The dew here and the ice crystal house there are one form of homologousness. I smiled when thinking of the larger one, between the Southwestern USA and Spain. (Extra credit points to the reader who can supply the magic quote from Thoreau's "Walking", involving ice crystals.)


The dew was so thick that I could barely see the plant that was hosting it. And on all sides of us were red cliffs and deserts. There are no tour buses coming to this spot. Its magic belongs to me -- but not for long! Thirty minutes later, it was gone, evanesced into the aridity of Utah. (Extra credit points to any reader who can supply the famous quote from MacBeth.)

On another ride, we got close to Tourist Central, Arches National Park. I am proud of my principles, and wouldn't sneak over the boundary. There were cars backed up for a mile to get into the park and see the famous red arches. What will they see other than something they already expect?

But on some un-famous land, where campers and bikes and dogs are allowed to be, I saw something that really grabbed my eye: the early morning sun was reflecting off one red surface and illuminating a not-so-red surface with its red light. (There is probably some classic quote out there that mentions 'reflected glory' or 'dressing me in borrowed robes.' What am I thinking of?)


If I've said it once...the skin is not only the largest organ in the body, it is also the most under-rated sensory organ. I hate heat. Finally it is time to enjoy the exquisite pleasure of sitting in a chair outdoors, and doing nothing but feeling the tender touch of chilliness on your skin, while you boldly face the sun, and feel that it is your ally instead of your enemy. Not a puff of breeze. Not a single flying insect.

During the recent holiday, I saw and visited with young families camped in my area. Here Junior and Pops are investigating who-knows-what, as the red humps of the park hover in the background.


It is so sad to realize that the young lad won't be able to do this kind of camping when he is even his father's age, let alone mine. But he will be able to pay who-knows-how-much for a motel room in Moab, and then park in a 5 mile long line at the entrance gate of the national park.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Ghouls Silently Dancing Along the Ridges

Many people in the USA live along the latitude of 40 degrees north. So did I for much of my life. Typically there was a nasty weather collapse near Halloween. Now living in the Southwest, I should be free of all that.

But not this Halloween. Actually I put it to good use. Blue skies can make scenic areas look too predictably pretty. And insipid. I rather like the moodiness of mesa and canyon country during storms.


Canyons also give you a little protection from blustery winds. Of course if it were raining hard, you would be wise to stay out of the canyon. So I took my dog, Coffee Girl, up some canyons that are parked right outside my camper's door.


I wonder who loves this more, she or I? But this time the experience was enhanced by the stormy weather and the possibility of rain on the walk. It sounds ridiculous to think that a little rain has become some great Malevolence to me, but I guess living in the Southwest will do that to a person.







Good luck put a little more mood into this Halloween. You see, I 'heard voices all night.' I am camped on the route of a 25-hour mountain bike race near Virgin UT. Despite the cold and the light rain, the race went on. They talked with their fellow ghouls sometimes as they rode by my trailer.

What amazing headlights these ghouls were wearing! They were visible a couple miles away, as they rose over a ridge for a few seconds, sparkling like distant and solitary jack-o-lanterns. Then, just as quickly, they vanished into the next dip. They floated along the just-barely-visible landscape, silently and eerily, like angry, wandering Souls of the Dead.



Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Mesa Minders

OK I admit to feeling a naughty grin when I looked down on the mesa where some Lazy Dazers are camped. My dog and I were on a mountain bike ride on a higher mesa popular with my breed, near St. George UT.

They are down there somewhere. I thought I saw them.

Zooming in, I can see somebody's rigs, left-center and slightly to the right of center.


An allegory popped into the mind: do you remember that episode in the third season of the original Star Trek, called "The Cloud Minders:"  a community of exalted intellectuals, musicians, and poets live in a city called Stratos that is levitated in the sky. They do nothing but pursue intellectual and aesthetic pursuits all day. Meanwhile, down on the planet's surface, live the miners who do all the grunt work that allows the elitism and luxury of Stratos to exist. 

As I looked down on the Lazy Dazers and grinned naughtily -- and haughtily -- the allegory grabbed control over my mind. Why was it so powerful? It was not caused by the visual stimulation alone, impressive as it was. Maybe it was a (musical) leitmotif that kept playing in my head.

And yet, what was so special about that leitmotif? In fact I didn't even know if it was used in the "Cloud Minders" episode. (I had heard the leitmotif in another Star Trek episode with a classical Greek theme.) Maybe that is why all this came together and affected me so strongly. 

I was being given the opportunity of combining outdoor scenery and exercise with an allegory from somebody else's story, and then combined that with some music from another context. My imagination was being teased and provoked into working. "Imagination" basically means combining things, making comparisons, or forming connections. Perhaps you could take this experience as a template for getting the most from an outdoor experience. Even better, it just seemed to happen by itself; these outside factors just seemed to impose themselves on me. 

Finally we made it to the edge of "Stratos." Here Coffee Girl looks down onto the squalor of the Lazy Dazers lowly earthbound camp.


The Lazy Dazers use a certain approach to nature that is well-intentioned, but mistaken. Every day, they visit the scenic freakishness of nearby Zion national park. Is that the way to give Nature a chance to make its maximum impact on you?

I never go with them, probably because I look "down" on their approach. I can't see the difference between what they are doing and a 7-year-old who wants food to be exciting. For him that means going to a Dairy Queen and pigging out on one of their lacto-globular sugar-bombs.

Or compare their approach to nature to an adolescent boy who masturbates twice a day while looking at genetic freaks in Playboy magazine. Meanwhile, a couple desks away from him in the classroom, there is a nice, average-looking, young woman that he won't even give the time of day to.
_________________________________________
(Must I add the disclaimer that this post was written in the spirit of raillery, at the expense of people who are doing so many things right that they can afford to be good sports about getting zinged a couple times? They are having a wonderful time together, and I am envious.)

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Time Travel in Utah's High Country

On a recent mountain bike ride near Richfield UT, they caught me sleeping. I was focusing on choosing a path between the rocks, when my herding group dog, Coffee Girl, took after a herd of sheep that we had almost stumbled into. But she was eventually scolded into returning to me, and the sheep weren't too rattled.

Hey wait a minute, weren't we only a couple seconds from an ambush by giant white dogs, screaming out of the sagebrush to protect their herd?

But none came. As we sidled up the ridge, the size of the herd became more apparent.


Where were the dogs and the human shepherd? Eventually we spotted him. But he seemed to only have a couple border collies to help him.


I waved at him so he'd notice that my dog was now on a leash, but he didn't respond. Maybe he didn't speak English, or even Spanish. Maybe he was a Vasco, that is, a Euskal from the Basque country. I'm a bit skeptical about Great Pyrenees dogs being hostile to humans, but I wasn't so sure what they would think of my "coyote," Coffee Girl, even on her leash. So we kept our distance from the shepherd, and he was spared a dozen questions from me.

We kept climbing on this rocky ATV trail. Half the time I had to dismount and push the mountain bike. You don't want to be naive about ridges. Why are they ridges in the first place? Because they are erosion-resistant volcanic rock, surrounded by easier-eroding sedimentary layers.

I was feeling inspired by the romance of the Basque High Country, and made a rare decision: to go for a loop route instead of the more typical out-and-back. Yes, loop routes are 10 times more likely to get you into trouble, especially since I don't bring a GPS or maps, or even study maps at home all that much.

We were helped by being on the Paiute ATV trail of central Utah. And I did find a loop back home, although it took 5 hours. But along the way there were those moments of Doubt and Foreboding Doom that make an outing interesting. I'm not being facetious. False summit after false summit. I yearned to hear a noisy ATV or to see the dusty contrail of a pickup truck, because that would signify that we had finally succeeded at finding the quick road back home!
______________________________

Back at camp around sunset, my dog and I heard the tinkling of a single bell. Sure enough, out on the road in front of camp, the herd of sheep was moving along, and rather briskly at that. I thought there were about 300 sheep in the herd, but was later to learn it was 1200! The herd moved almost noise-lessly as a dense pack, with barely a baah out of them. 

Was the bell on an "alpha" sheep? Was it meant to help the herd, shepherd, or the dogs follow the herd? Or was it meant to help on foggy nights?


Once again we saw the shepherd. Instead of only two border collies he had a small herd of border collies and blue heelers. Is that a walking stick in his hand? He certainly needs one. I guess they don't use those long shepherd's staffs with the rounded crook at the end, anymore.


And yes, three Great Pyrenees. How noble of Purpose they are!



This pastoral experience enriched a wonderful and difficult day of mountain biking. It made it about more than just eye-candy and aerobic exercise. It helped me appreciate, what?, 8000 years of anthropological changes: our development from hunter/gatherers to a pastoral phase with domesticated herds, to agriculture and settlements, then to cities and long-distance sea trade, to industry, and finally to our current phase, such as it is.  

_______________________________________________________________________

Let's do a movie quote from Sydney Pollack's 1994 remake of Bill Wilder's "Sabrina": the money-man, Linus (Harrison Ford), has taken Sabrina (Julia Ormond) to his "cottage" on Martha's Vineyard. They take in the view from the oceanside window. Sabrina hands Linus her camera:

Sabrina: "Don't take a picture. Just look."

Linus looks through the view finder and describes what he sees, "Ocean (yawn), ocean, ocean, quaint little fishing village...lighthouse. A guy is going into a lighthouse. There's a job for you. What must that be like? What kind of guy takes a job keeping a lighthouse?"


What kind of man, indeed. And what kind of man becomes a shepherd in the modern age? Is our shepherd (in the photo) out there all night? In the past they must have been. Imagine how cold it must have been, and how solitary. It is easy to see why there was a link between the religious and the poetical imaginations.

After a night of shivering, the shepherd awoke in the mountain fog upon hearing the tinkling of a single sheep's bell. He knew the herd was close and safe.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Make Room for Mistakes and Surprises in Your Sport

It was surprisingly chilly this morning so I switched from a mountain bike ride to a hike down some canyons, right outside my trailer door, on some BLM land near Torrey, UT. But what if they turned out to be nothing more than uninteresting gullies? 

Some rather ordinary Utah/Martian scenery outside my rig, and just outside a national park. Would this hike turn out to be fun?

This must be a surprise to the other hikers in our camping group, since I squirm out of just about every hike that they propose. But this is the right kind of hike. And once again it worked beautifully, but with a gratifying twist at the end. 

At the risk of sounding like the Judi Dench character in "Room with a View", here is the exact science of an interesting hike:

1. Start from the the trailer, early enough for chilly weather. Don't drive an hour to some trailhead; by the time you would get there, you are already lost "spiritually."

2. Choose ordinary scenery, not some tourist attraction that is written up and photographed to death in a guide book, probably entitled "Top Ten Hikes in Capital Reef National Park."

2b. As an aid to #2, consider taking said book, National Geographic-branded maps, and your GPS device; and then pour gasoline over them, and light a match.

Starting any project right is half the key to success. For a hike this means renouncing your expectations. Recall the famous line from Charles Dickens's David Copperfield:

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and--and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'

By performing #1 and #2 you have corralled your visual greed and lust; you have abandoned seeing nature as a type of upscale shopping experience: your hike is more like shopping at a thrift store or a garage sale, at least at the beginning. Of course it might surprise you, and the surprises will all be on the upside.

3. Walk off trail; that means walking down arroyos in desert country. If you see a brown stake bearing the imprimatur of some land-use bureaucracy, turn around and try something else.

4. Bring your dog of course. Even better, let the dog's wild joy infect you. Aspire to doghood, as the ancient Cynic philosophers did in Athens. 'Cynic' means 'doglike' in Greek, rather than what the word means today.

5. Don't surrender to the craven safety-worship of the modern Nanny State.  Take prudent risks, i.e., ones in which higher benefits accompany higher risks. Spice things up a bit.

6. Don't hike like a puritanical donkey, plodding away for long distances through the heat. Change course as your mood changes. Investigate. Let yourself be distracted from your goal.

If the first half of the hike is descending arroyos, and the second half is ascending back to the starting point, you are more likely to get lost than when ascending first and then descending. Put it like this:

Descend first/Ascend second = hard.
Ascend first/Descend second = easy.

That is because one route becomes two at each confluence when you are ascending back home, and you will forget the correct one. Oh sure, you could mark the route in various ways, but why not develop a sharp eye for your own hoof prints? From time to time I turned around in order to remember some navigational key.

I was sure that I would pop out of the final branch right at the front door of my trailer. But by the time I hit the road, I was off by about one mile. Magnificent!

This is one of the tricks-of-the-trade. It seems discouraging and unnatural to descend a canyon system during the first half of the hike, but it actually can be turned to your advantage.

Nearby national park scenery. (Yawn.) My Nikon camera has been repaired since it was less than one year old. They outsource this to a firm called Luxtech. The entire process was pleasant and confidence-building. I never would have believed it if I didn't experience it first-hand.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Rethinking the Tribal Dance

Normally I'm not as slow in finding some significance to an outdoor trip as in the last post. I did mention that it was the best group event in 16 years of full-time RVing, and that the little spring was the first gurgling of water that I had ever seen in the desert. But now I want to try harder.

There was a similarity between the ebullience of the dogs and gurgling of the water out of the side of the arroyo. Think of the 'irrepressibility of life.' I know, it sounds a little corny. But it's true. Perhaps it only seems like corny overstatement because we live in an age when we can take water, the stuff of life, for granted. The early explorers or settlers in the Southwest would not have needed convincing. They would have fallen to the muddy ground at the foot of the spring's trickle and prayed.

If we can't appreciate something as fundamental as water, isn't it likely that we are handicapped in general when it comes to experiencing anything authentic in nature? Maybe that is why we see Nature as a visual Dairy Queen, and nothing more.

There's something about seeing two apparently-dissimilar things, and then struggling to see a commonality. It certainly raises the impact on you. It is what thinking is all about. There are other ways to think, of course. One could see superficial details and nothing else. How empty and sterile that is! Or, in the opposite vein, one could start with generalities (platitudes, concepts) and then notice only those concrete things that confirmed one's a-priori prejudices.

A couple posts ago I was singing paeans to rockhounding as the proper metaphor for so many things in life. And then there is the little matter of actually putting the idea into practice! How hard it is for me to adopt the attitude of a rockhound when it comes to my reading. Everything that a rockhound does right, I do wrong when reading. The difficulty of sifting through the detritus of books gets me feeling discouraged and sour.

Ahh, but I have a success story to try to please you with. Somehow I stumbled onto a best-seller from the 1980s, "The Name of the Rose," by Umberto Eco. I don't understand the praise given to this book by over-zealous reviewers on Amazon. But a good literary rockhound can still find a few things of value in the book. It certainly was a clever idea to write a history book, of the Middle Ages!, as a detective story.

Consider this little speech of the main character:
"...solving a mystery is not the same as deducing from first principles. Nor does it amount simply to collecting a number of particular data from which to infer a general law. It means, rather, facing one or two or three particular data apparently with nothing in common, and trying to imagine whether they could represent so many instances of a general law you don't yet know, and which perhaps has never been pronounced."
Perhaps the reader thinks that this is a beautiful quote. Let's hope so. Still, that isn't good enough: talk is cheap. For 4 points of extra credit, let the reader describe what is in common between the pyramidal topographical entity on the left and the squared off entity on the right:


But we don't want to over-praise the imagining-of-commonality as a "positive" process, and then belittle the making-of-important-distinctions as a "negative" process. What counts is that we lean against what is too easy to think. The desired result is a set of parallel tiger stripes of clear thinking.


Monday, November 18, 2013

'Best in Show:' Wild Canids in the Canyon

The reader might be familiar with the semi-recent movie, "Best in Show." The spine of the plot is a dog show, but it is not really a 'dog movie.' Rather, it's a comedic mockumentary about their neurotic human owners.

Today's hike in Zion country (southwestern Utah) turned out the opposite: it was the humans who were acting sensibly, and the dogs who were nuts. We had five dogs in our party, eight humanoid-companion-units, and a neighborhood dawg, Blue, who tends to join any frolic taking place on her BLM land.

As we drove up, I thought my kelpie, Coffee Girl, was going to crash through the windshield with excitement when she saw all these playmates. All of the dogs, no two alike and weighing from 10 to 80 pounds, got along beautifully. I get really charged up by the frantic synergy of dogs. You could think of this walk as a linear-BLM-version of a dog park.

Vertical wall of a red sandstone arroyo. What could cause such a weird bend in the whitish layer?

Up we all went, up the arroyo towards one of the famous mesas of the area. I was surprised to see puddles and mud on the arroyo floor. After about a half mile, we saw a tiny spring fast-dripping water down into the arroyo. Upstream, the floor was completely dry. I've never actually caught a desert spring "in the act" before!

Ahh dear, if only we had had a geologist along. (And you know who you are.) We saw the remains of interesting and scary collapses of sedimentary rocks into the arroyo. How can you know how close you were to being a victim of one of these events?

Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup and fibrosis) on the walls of the red sandstone canyon?

Our little tribe of RV-outdoorsmen put a couple more clicks on the ratchet wrench today, as John and Susan (and Carli and Jake, their canine companions) joined in their first outdoor frolic with the rest of the tribe. I thought of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Remember the "Borgs", who were always trying to swallow up (assimilate) human populations? "Resistance is FYOO-tile."

Looking from the inside of a void (in a red sandstone canyon wall) to the outside.


Then the dogs started acting like aliens from outer space. Debbie's dog, Rupert (half miniature poodle/half wire-haired Jack Russell Terrier), tried serial suicide attempts. His best one was getting on top of a 20 foot high embankment that was too steep to come down, especially the last 6 feet of vertical drop. He slid down to John or my outstretched arms several times, but he just wouldn't trust us and come into our hands.

Just then, Blue, the neighborhood loaner dog, climbed up to Rupert from an easier direction. She went right to him, turned around, and made an easy descent back down to the floor, as Rupert followed her. Say what you want about goofy dog-people anthropomorphizing their dogs, Blue deliberately rescued Rupert.

I braced myself as we approached what looked like a raven resting on a wooden post, and studying all of us. We were no doubt putting on quite a show. We decided that it was a mostly black red-tailed hawk. Most unusual. My dog, Coffee Girl goes nuts over ravens and sometimes, hawks. The next time we looked in that direction, she was on top of a 15 foot high vertical bank. She leaped off, onto a steep lower bank. She made quite a kerplunk when she landed but she was not injured, probably for the same reason a ski jumper survives as he lands onto a steep slope. But my goodness, how does a dog practice a stunt like that? What gave her the idea to be so reckless. (Rupert, probably.)


Break in the morning clouds just catches the topographic curvature.

On the way out we found a weird slot canyon through some grey sedimentary layer. Mark is threatening to go back there and ride down the dry waterfall and then down the slot canyon. Once again, the Rupert-effect is twisting one of the tribal members.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Whose Voice Could Be Out There?

Is that who I think it is? I heard what I thought was Mark's voice. My dog, Coffee Girl, perked up her ears. She too caught it. But where were they?

We were resting at the high spot of a dirt road that our friends were taking from their RV park (blush) in Virgin, UT. We had biked from the other end of the road, where we were dispersed camping.

It was dead calm, so maybe a human voice really could carry through all that hum-drum Zion scenery.


You can see the road in the left semi-foreground of the photo. And here they come: Jim & Gayle, Bobbie, and Mark, raring to summit on this road. 


It was fun to watch the gang coming to us on the summit. Better yet, the "incompatibility" of boondockers (me) versus RV-parkers (them) has been turned into an advantage. 

I was promising to take them down a secret canyon, and back to the main road. It would be the first time for me, too. But I cheated a little the previous sunset, and had walked up the canyon from my dispersed campsite. When I found the ATV road out of the canyon, and up onto the mezzanine of the mesa, the sun was setting. We got back to camp at deep dusk.


There was something symbolic about the voices that I heard. They were the voices of camping/outdoorsmen friends, lost in a vast scenic area. Regardless of how scenic it was, it would have been empty without them, just as my 16 years of full time RVing was emptier than it should have been because I didn't have a tribe like this to share the good times with.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Murphy and the Mesa

Following our fearless leader up and over a crumbly cliff near Moab, I nonchalantly grabbed onto a boulder, about 2 feet in diameter. When much of my own weight was transferred, the boulder pulled out of its matrix, missed my leg by a bit, and crashed down onto a jeep road. Some day a jeeper's adventure will be interrupted by this boulder in the middle of their thoroughfare, and they will be forced to get out of the vehicle and use muscles to move the boulder. (They will then use that as an excuse to go shopping for a new GPS system or smartphone with a new app that identifies boulders on jeep roads.)

This really wasn't such a close call, but it was the largest adjustment of the Earth's surface topography that I have ever been responsible for.

Later in the scramble I was forced to wedge between two larger boulders. As I transferred my weight to one of these large boulders, I wondered how evil Murphy really was. Imagine if that boulder pulled into the other one, with my poor little body in between!

Today our fearless quartet is between St. George UT and Zion national park, and accreting a few more members soon. Almost exactly at sunrise, I heard "thunder." Huh? The sky was blue. Where did the lightning and thunder come from? There was road construction a few miles away. Maybe they were doing some rock-blasting.

I stepped outside the trailer and saw what caused the "thunder."


The camera doesn't show the cloud of red dust quite as clearly as it really was. It is about a half mile from our dispersed campsite. Wow, I've always wondered how often a big chunk came down from these vertical cliff faces. This suggests that you might not want to camp right at the base of a cliff.

And where was fearless leader? I expected him to come running out of his motorhome with his camera. But it was too early for him. (Blush.) Geesh, didn't he ever hear about early birds and worms!