Skip to main content

Part 3, Beyond Postcards: Gulliver Goes "Break" Dancing

Earlier I posted about learning that I lacked the 'right set of balls' for exploring some BLM land near Socorro, NM. Something else happened that day.

It was an area called the "breaks," which I take to mean interesting topographies carved out by side streams of the Rio Grande. It was a fascinating area. It made me regret not seeing the Missouri Breaks in Montana before I gave up on going north in the summer, after the cost of transportation got so high. 

As always, I doted over the vertical sidewalls of the arroyos:

Although only 12 feet tall, this sidewall was as vertical and red as any cliff in XYZ National Park that is gawked at by 4.6 million visitors per year when doing the obligatory "auto loop tour." (Wasn't it Edward Abbey in "Desert Solitaire" who griped about a new loop being added to the park where he was a seasonal ranger?)

Conglomerate is a surprisingly durable material:

Further upstream I saw a 'first' for me: a miniature mesa caused by a plant and differential erosion:

The 3-dimensionality does not register well in this cursed 2-dimensional medium, but the ground under the cactus was 4 inches higher than the surrounding ground, presumably because the roots of the cactus offered some fiber-reinforcement, thereby slowing its erosion.

Soon the arroyo split finger-like into smaller and narrower streamlets, which Coffee Girl and I walked unworriedly towards the mountain range that would soon put an end to the "breaks':

The walking was "unworried" because it is topologically impossible to get lost as you walk upstream. Sometimes I actually try to get lost by jumping out of the arroyo and crossing over several others. But they will all come back to the same point, although it might be a quarter-mile down the road from where you started.

Along the way there was every shape you could imagine, if you are willing to put the effort into such small shapes. I tried to imagine what they would look like at different sun angles. Each of these features would be world-famous if it existed in some national park and was 100 times larger. Consider what a hackneyed postcard this one would be:

Imagine the crowds, the brown signs, safety warnings, and guardrails if this were in a national park and if it were 700 feet high instead of 7. It would be on calendars, coffee cups, tee-shirts, and screen-savers. Every now and then there would be a suicide from it that would make Yahoo news. The notoriety would redound negatively to the park service and soon it would be locked off with a razor wire fence and surveillance cameras.

Eventually the arroyo streamlets devolved into narrow slot canyons, which of course caused my claustrophobia to kick in. Long-suffering readers have heard me praise phobias and obsessions, not to the point of debilitation of course, but at least to the point of "flavor enhancement" of the experience. A phobia will keep you from being complacent and settling for an experience of trivial visual entertainment. 

The small, slot canyon-like streamlets, eventually narrowed to shoulder-width and shoulder-height. I could just see out of them as I walked through them and Coffee Girl ran on the high ground just outside them, her usual preference.

It was starting to seem like I had arrived in a BLM version of Gulliver's Travels. But there was one thing that was getting in the way of making the most of this opportunity: the conventional notion of 'beauty', the postcard mindset, was undermining my efforts to appreciate the small things that I was seeing here. The postcard mindset calls things 'beautiful' when it really just means 'freakish and large'.

At one point I called my dog over to the vertical edge of the slot canyon-like streamlet, grabbed her, and lifted her down to the bottom. She doesn't like to be carried or lifted, so she scratched frantically at the slot's sidewalls -- so much so that it caused a dust storm in the slot. There was no wind. The dust just hung there, obscuring the slot, which became fatally glamorous in my (slightly claustrophobic) mind. Sun and dust. I couldn't see the slot anymore. But Coffee Girl plunged forward, valiantly, into the unknown...

We all know how some people talk around babies, how every grandparent talks around the world's cutest grandkids, and how most pet owners talk around their beloved fur-balls. Can we agree that, although all this is natural and expected, we can be glad for not having to listen to too much of it?

There must be zillions on non-dog-owners who think that people like me are just doing the same with their dog. I'd like to convince them that something else, something far more important, is happening; that my central nervous system is reaching out to the dog, to its paws and nose and happy running; and that my eyeballs are ceasing to be my main sensory organ.  

The dog has become a bridge to the rest of the world around me. Once pulled outside the sharply-defined and puny object called "me", the central nervous system just keeps expanding until, as the old saying has it, I don't know where "me" ends and the rest of the world begins.


Ed said…

Would you take a look at the last picture on this page

Is that what you call conglomerant? I never did determine what to call it but it did look like it was formed as a sediment rock somewhat like sandstone. Although durable, you can see that erosion will happen and with some interesting results. The other pictures on the page were some of my 'postcards' of the 'freaks of nature'.
Ed, I'm not used to seeing conglomerate from the top view, looking down on it. Usually I can only identify it in cross-section. But I guess the last photo on that page could be conglomerate.
You are truly a man on a "mission," the antichrist of "Postcards," sermonizing on the evils of natural wonders like they are Harlots of the night.

While I can appreciate your love for understated landscapes, and your ability to extract joy from ordinary, I do not understand why you feel compelled to repeatedly pee on anything and everything that approaches grandness.

You demonstrate outright distain for our treasury of National Parks... crowds of people "gawking" at wondrous features. I can tell you this, that after a month in Zion, we were alone on most of our "walks" and bike rides... alone, I tell you, simply because of a choice to go off-season, and explore off the beaten track. Have you been to "Redwoods" or "Sequoia?" Did you just yawn and roll your eyes standing among those "freaks of Nature?"... some dating back to Christ?

Of all the things to make your "trademark," blandness and ordinary and beige and small...
Maybe you should reconsider our invitation to meet in Zion, and give it another try. I know their beats a heart in your kaki covered chest... it started to show a little when you were here i Lovely Ouray the last couple of years.
Box Canyon Mark

I don't know who is the "freak of Nature," you, or me.
Mark, you are incorrigible. But one of these days I will convince you to photograph small stuff, and the world of photography will be a better place for it.

An interesting shape, color, contrast, or texture are interesting regardless of their size. One of the great advantages of a camera is that the size of the object is irrelevant, and yet you won't cash in on that advantage!

A 10 foot high cliff looks the same to a camera that is 10 feet away as a 1000 foot high cliff from a 1000 away, so what good is size?

There are many red arches that are miniature-poodle size. Is a geometrical object or color more interesting because the object is huge?

Furthermore, there are fees and restrictions in national parks. The only activities allowed are dogless hiking (yawn), driving the famous auto loop tour, and standing in line at a gift shop.
Mark, and furthermore...

I've been an outdoorsy full time RVer for 15 years. I am NOT ON VACATION!

If all I do is act like a vacationer, the reader has a right to ask me what the hell have I actually been doing with my brain for the last 15 years! What do I have to show for those 15 years if all I want to do is be a massenMensch tourist?

Unlike SOME RV bloggers (grin) I am trying to perform a service to Wannabees and Newbies by dispelling certain escapist myths about being a full time RVer: if you think that a full time RVer lives in some kind of Paradise of Scenery, Scenery, and more Scenery, you are in for an unpleasant surprise. The scenery buzz will wear off in a couple years and you will soon be sitting in an RV park, watching satellite TV 16 hours a day, and dreaming about the next potluck.
I must agree a small arch is grand... and yes, maybe an arch twice as big is not twice as grand. But (you knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?)

I moved to Colorado in 1976 in order to live in the scenery. Guess what? I'm still here.

In fact, we moved from Montrose to Ridgway in order to get closer to the scenery. Then we moved form Ridgway to Lovely Ouray... yes, in order to get even closer to the scenery. And along the way, we sometimes full time RV and camp in the middle of scenery. Still not tired of it... still not watching satellite TV 16 hours a day... nope, we're out playing in the scenery.

Scenery actually does the exact opposite of what you claim it does. Scenery pulls me out of my chair in front of the TV... out of my foul moods... lifts my spirits... and I can't wait to go do it all over again the next day. If that a full time vacation, I'm ON IT. Maybe you forgot those days in the cube, but I sure haven't... I'm hell bent on making up for every one of them.
Sorry Pal,
Box Canyon Mark
Unknown said…
Jeesh. This back and forth sounds like the makings of a religious war. We are all individuals. What I read is nothing more than personal opinion and personal experience. And should be viewed as such.
Lloyd, there might be a truce in the religious war since Mark's last comment, "and yes, maybe an arch twice as big is not twice as grand", made the crucial admission that the Benefits-versus-Size graph is CONVEX, that is, the point of diminishing returns has already been reached when natural objects are small.

Far be it from me to demand unconditional surrender. Now I can just declare victory and move on.
Ed said…
Mark, it was I that threw in that 'freaks of nature' description. I don't think Boonie has used that term and I got it from a quote by John Steinbeck in Travels with Charlie. He was even more opposed to visiting National Parks than Boonie is and did not visit a single one in his travel around America.
Well, there is something to be said for being in good company :)

I read Travels with Charley as a teen, and had forgot that J. S. eschewed National Parks.
Ed and Mark, I also remember Steinbeck inveighing against national parks.

William Least Heat Moon, in "Blue Highways", went even further and avoided touristy areas, let alone national parks.

This should convince Mark that he is out of the mainstream consensus in the travel writing racket. But it takes a big man to admit his errors and reform.
I'm six foot three on the outside. Does that count :))
You must at least understand this: We go where the people aren't, for the most part in National Parks... into the backcountry, often bushwhacking (shhh, don't tell anyone).
And even on the main trails you should know by now that 90 percent of the "tourists" only go the first couple of miles, if that. There is no shortage of solitude in National Parks if that is what's you want. And frequently there is National Forest or BLM lands surrounding National Parks that offer minimal rules, fewer people and free boon docking. You can still see the "show" without going with the flow.
But I realize I'm wasting my time, here. Now I'm just trying to defend my honor.