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Showing posts with the label topography

Building Character in a Canyon

I had a rematch with a complex canyon system recently. Would it still be interesting -- even after hitting it pretty hard the last few years? Proceeding through the canyon, the experience became more subjective and internalized. What could I do differently from the past? Or should I forget about myself and "externalize?"

Indeed, something was quite new this year: instead of walking the canyon, I was mountain biking it on my new bike, with 3 inch wide tires. These "plus" tires do quite well on the rubble and sand. I highly recommend that anybody in the market for a new bicycle go with 3 inch tires.

The experience also seemed new because biking is faster and cooler than walking. Walking is so slow that it almost numbs the mind. And it is warm.

The canyon has a badlands type appearance because much of it is rather soft and easily eroded.

The trick is to focus on it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Think about the variety of interesting shapes, and how they got th…

Bringing a Cliché to Life

Why do certain phrases annoy, in a vague sort of way? For instance, 'scudding clouds.'  'Scudding' is an interesting word.

Currently I disport on a mountain bike in the sage hills near Gunnison, CO. The monsoons have survived until now. Sometimes this area is hit with showers and wind on these open, sagebrush-covered hills. Once again I thought of 'scudding clouds.'

I wanted to be inspired by the phrase, but it still seemed flat. What was I missing? Perhaps I needed to stop worrying about beauty, and think about ugliness, instead. Some of that was readily available: power lines bisected this area.

But are these power lines really ugly? One could think of the power lines and towers as noble pieces of triangular architecture, like the ropes and masts on a ship at sea. This area, with its lonely rock skerries in the midst of a 'sagebrush sea,' (another cliché!) brings to mind the place where 'scudding clouds' is typically used. The mountain bike bec…

Outdoor Perfection

I actually got a picture of both of them disporting on the ridge, but it isn't worth showing. After all, that is the whole point.

Chilly, dry air. A mostly blue sky, with a few puffy clouds. And just enough cool breeze to stimulate without annoying. But I wasn't the only creature to respond to the breeze. A turkey buzzard was using ridge-lift to fly along, almost effortlessly.

A mountain bike, a dog, and a turkey buzzard. I thought my dog was tired until she saw that turkey buzzard. Then she blasted across the ridge, using the trail as her route -- quite surprising. The turkey buzzard was curious about her, but didn't taunt her as much as a dastardly raven would.

It doesn't get any better than this. But you're not telling us anything new, the long-suffering reader is thinking. But I don't care. I'm not trying to invent something, I'm merely trying to wallow in something good.

Navigating by Feeling the Topography

Do you suppose there are people in this racket (RVing) who aren't map/geography nerds? Anything is possible I suppose. At any rate, such a person would not like this post.

I had to drive from Quartzsite to Havasu to find a veterinarian to remove some infected cactus spines from my dog. The job was successful, so I was in a good mood driving home. Perhaps that had something to do with my sudden appreciation for the road design in that town.

Yes I know: it's not something that you think too much about, or would deem worthy to write about. But I tend to write about things that seem unusual; and enjoying the 'town planning' of any place is unusual, especially after disliking the road layout of Havasu in the past.

The road system was a grid of approximately orthogonal lines: one set of streets went roughly uphill, along the steepest gradient, away from the Colorado River. The orthogonal set of streets ran along isoclines, more or less, which eventually fell back down to the ma…

The Mark of the Beast

You would expect something bizarre when you are traveling in the greatest volcanic explosion in Earth's history. Something unearthly. And sure enough, we found it. 

In case you didn't catch it the first time:

Back to Marvelous Dirt Road Mountain Biking

Going back to mountain biking on dirt roads -- rather than single-track trails -- is a straightforward opportunity to think independently of the System, and to reap rewards. Surely, this is easy to preach and hard to practice.

If you limit yourself to areas with networks of single-track trails, you will tend to pin yourself down in more touristy areas. The more uncrowded areas, with the best dispersed camping, have no single track trails, but they have manyregular ol' dirt forest roads. 

New Mexico is under-rated as a place to mountain bike on dirt forest roads. The best feature is the balance between scenery and rideable topography. Look at this photo:

The cliff is pretty high and steep, and therefore fun to look at. But imagine there were a road along the top of the cliff. It would be challenging enough, but at the same time, not too steep. Those are the magic words for enjoying mountain biking, "not too steep."

The land was cooperating with me. Have you spent a little too…

Resurrecting a Tired Old Figure of Speech

A multi-fingered canyon system is just as interesting to explore at the top as at the bottom.

You can walk out on the peninsulas to the point where two canyon fingers join. But you can get a bit nervous with these mudstone (?) walls:

I keep a safe distance between myself and the cliff. But how can I know what that distance is?

One day I looked across the canyon and saw a crumbling isthmus on the adjacent peninsula. (The peninsula widened out again as you passed over the isthmus.) I became obsessed with knowing whether the isthmus was continuous and walkable. But I am always developing these little obsessions.

It turned out to be not quite continuous, but still walkable. You are on a narrow finger of mesa cap-rock that separates two separate fingers of the canyon system. So you must step carefully.

Talk about the 'slippery slope' metaphor/cliche made real and fresh! When I walk along places like this I wonder how far off the high spot you could step before you slide on crumbling mud…

A Belvedere Over Windy Badlands

I won't apologize for my long-standing fascination with desert arroyos, especially when they develop into small canyons. Of course, readers should be warned that you should begin by hiking 'upstream', with the main branch resembling a forearm, which then subdivides into fingers, which further split into sub-fingers. At some point, you turn around and return to your starting point. It is mathematically (topologically) impossible to get lost.

Ahh, but what if you are camped on a mesa that lords over eroded badlands? Then you start walking downstream. A mistake.

Normally I feel an urge to dismantle rock cairns. What gives people the right to rob a route of its mystique and aura? But in this case, I was happy to see two cairns, at the first important junction on my first downstream walk. After all, I was out of practice.

The technique that works for me is to renounce the mindset of a tourist. Stop calling things 'beautiful' just because they are freakishly large and ve…

Can Land Be Too Steep?

Although Mother Nature might not be friendly to me in the San Juan mountains of Colorado, there is a way to partially win. It isn't my favorite place for camping or recreation. The land is just too steep for dispersed camping and mountain biking. There are too many ATVs and Jeep Wranglers on the dirt roads. The tourist-boutique towns are over-priced and gimmicky. It is the best tourist scenery in Colorado, but you know how long that lasts.

Hiking works better on harshly steep land. The ascent is always a fun aerobic blowout; the descents are simply drudgery and trudgery that must be tolerated. But I am addicted to looking forward to descents on a mountain bike.

I have found a trick of the trade that helps me, and it might be useful to some of the readers. Rather than focus on achieving some goal on an outing -- and thereby talking yourself out of going, altogether -- focus instead on being defiantly lazy on an upcoming outing. Think about your dog, camera, clouds, or wildlife. To he…

Some Big Wings Soar

Sometimes I think a person who has escaped the cubicle and the rat race can undermine their own cause by puffing up with expectations that are too grand and romantic. No matter how you envision the perfect lifestyle, daily life still has to be built one humble brick at a time: perhaps a better diet, working on your rig, taking the dog for numerous walks, watching thunderstorms build up, reading and writing, investing, or keeping a keen eye for wildlife and birds. 

Lately I have drifted away from photographing birds. The great advantage of being a bird watcher is that it can be done anywhere and almost any day. But that is looking at life the way a Baron d'Holbach or utilitarian philosopher would. There are advantages to their approach, as I was writing about last post.

Or there is that other utilitarian, Benjamin Franklin, who wrote a classic line in his autobiography: "Human Felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by little advant…

A Tree Island in a Sagebrush Sea

It doesn't seem like such a great idea to camp on a bare ridge of sagebrush during the monsoon season. Lightning can be pretty scary. It seems better to have some trees nearby. But I don't want to go into a thick and gloomy forest.

That is the value of a tree island near the higher end of the sagebrush, and just below the lower tree-line. It is pleasantly surprising how attached you can become to a tree island. By luck there was a two-track road ascending the ridge-line behind my dispersed camp in this photo. It looks like such easy pedaling in the photo, but I had to push the mountain bike in a couple places:

There is an entrapment pond on the far side of the tree island. But it is so close that it provides an entertainment show for me. I saw my first weasel. Disgusting little creature: a snake on wheels. 

Something strange happened when camped near this tree island. The wildlife became individuals, with quirks that identified them as the same individuals, day after day. A rapto…

Giant Waves on "Ugly" Sagebrush Hills

It has been a couple years since I rode a unique trail near Gunnison, CO. I probably praised it back then. It might amuse readers to hear a 'small-government' man actually say something good about a federal land-use agency, the BLM.

Seriously, this is a great trail. How many people were key in making it a reality? What were their job titles? Was it really so superhuman that it couldn't happen more often? I'll probably never know any of the answers. All I can do is ride it and praise it.

It starts off the way a -- literally -- civilized trail should start: at the edge of town. It should lure people out from their mundane townie existence to the underutilized public land around them. The trail should be non-technical at the beginning, so that it welcomes a broad cross-section of townies, not just 20-year-old male super-jocks and racers. The number of people should be so large, and they should use the trail so frequently, that it becomes an integral part of their lifestyle,…

Thirsting for a Special Type of "Beauty" in the Badlands

Reserve, NM. I was up to my old tricks on a hike when I became aware of an unusual thirst and satisfaction. By 'old tricks' I mean choosing hiking over mountain biking on unusually cold days, leaving early, walking up canyons with my dog, and avoiding marked trails. Obviously I never take my GPS gadget or study Google Earth before going on an outing: no cheating is allowed!

What was unusual was the badlands topography: one arroyo and ridge, leading to the next. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I had never noticed before how extreme randomness in a landscape creates a desperate thirst for some kind of order or pattern. 

Looking at badlands has somewhat the same effect as looking at "Medusans" in an episode in the third season of Star Trek: the Medusans were reputed to have the most sublime thoughts in the galaxy, but their bodies had evolved into a formlessness so ugly that the mere sight of them would drive human beings insane.

For awhile the only …

Balanced Scenery

'Balance' is a subtle form of beauty in a landscape, but it is a real one. It is also a rare one in the West. When people show postcards of western scenery and describe it as 'breathtakingly beautiful', they are being narrow and philistine. What they mean is that something in landscape -- hopefully reddish -- is freakishly large and vertical.

The truth is that much more balanced scenery exists in the East and the South, and a little bit in the Great Lakes region. Imagine a place that actually has pretty forests full of a variety of trees that have leaves (!),  a creek, a barn, and some productive fields. In most of the West (other than the Willamette Valley in Oregon) forests are nothing but dreary monocultures of some species of needle-tree.

The lack of balance and variety in the West just means that I have learned to appreciate those rare places where it can be found. One of those places is southeastern Arizona. That is the theme of today's postcard.

A Different Kind of "Open Range"

After sermonizing about grasslands in the last post, I started wondering whether this could be just one example of a general urge that some people have...

It all started when my Patagonia AZ host tried to make an "honest man" out of me.  No more driveway mooch-docking and eating delicious leftovers from her catering business: now I had to earn my keep with a "small" repair project in her house.

How lucky this turned out to be! It made me furious. All it required was a bit of electrical wiring, and then mounting something to the ceiling with four screws. Sounds tough, eh?  But it was enough to remind me how frustrating it is to find something solid to sink the screw into! That is true of stick-and-brick houses as well as standard RVs. 

I have been infuriated with this all my life, until I converted a cargo trailer into my new trailer. In a way I don't want to lose the ability to become enraged when the Half-Insane is widely accepted as normal. 

The desirability of …

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 Hal…

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.

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. M…

Walking off Trail

I love the geology and topography of this spot, on the eastern edge of the San Juan's, near Little Mexico, CO. It's a land of decomposed laccoliths, with just the perfect balance of the Horizontal and the Vertical; of partly cloudy September skies; and of cliffs and ridgelines in the foreground, and big mountains in the distance. Even the vegetation is balanced between grass, small cactus, and junipers. 

My dog was picking up stickers the first day or two, but then she learned how to avoid them. How is that even possible? Dogs are gifted animals when it comes to any kind of motion.

As is often the case, I imitated my dog. There are no hiking trails as such around here, and the mountain bike was in the shop getting new brakes, so I decided to go bushwhacking across the grass/cactus fields. It was cool enough on these September mornings that I wasn't too worried about rattlesnakes. Over 80 F they are a consideration around here.

There is something liberating about walking off t…

The Sun Winds Down

It was better than a colorful sunset. Surprisingly I had never done this before: drive out of my way to a spot where the mountains didn't block the last hour of the sun. Then I made a cup of tea and sat on the front step of the RV and watched the sun set. What did I think? That if I sipped the tea slowly the sun would slow in its descent, and I could suck out another five minutes of daylight?

But the leisurely sipping seemed to honor the sun and season. It is that time of year again, when I always getting a funny feeling in the stomach and a lump in the throat. It is time to retreat from the highest altitudes. No matter how many times I have done this, it still seems significant and dramatic.

But why does this funny feeling only come at the beginning of autumn? It never feels this way in the spring. Shouldn't it be symmetric?

My best guess is that we gringo/palefaces have a tribal memory of winter: winter is dangerous, winter is suffering. To escape winter by heading downhill and…