For a video of a jackrabbit by the Tufas, click HERE.
Looking at weather patterns north of Reno has brought us to alter our plans somewhat - rather than head northwest into what are still cold and rainy areas, we are going to slowly head back southwest to Los Angeles. My good friend Tony awaits us with bated breath. Currently we are doing some dispersal camping (free, beautiful, and no one else in sight!) in the Mojave Natural Reserve in California. To get here we traversed and camped in the cold mountains adjacent to Yosemite National Park (which was closed due to snow) and visited Mono Lake with its cool and eerie "tufas" (see pictures above). We then crossed and camped again at our old Death Valley site. We might stay here a few days, or head back to Joshua tree before driving to LA on Friday.
For a video of a jackrabbit by the Tufas, click HERE.
Today we drove out to the Black Rock Desert, where Burning Man is held every year in September. Carr and I have both been to Burning Man several times, and have had many fun, meaningful and transformative experiences there over the years. I've been there 7 times, the first in 2001 and the last in 2014. As I've mentioned elsewhere, I doubt I will be back - the event is still amazing but it has become much bigger/popular over the years (+/- 16,000 people in 2001 compared to 80,000 in 2014) and it feels like it is "over" (for me at least). We're planning to go to Afrikaburn next year, a much smaller burn in South Africa which we've heard retains much of the original magic.
Today we had the desert completely to ourselves, and it was glorious. Being out there made us both quite nostalgic for Burning Man and was also very cool on its own. The playa (as it is called) was mostly flooded due to the recent rains, but we were able to walk out on a wide peninsula of dry (and super cool cracked) earth to complete our pilgrimage and do a fun little photoshoot (the product of which you can see below). On our way back out we discovered that the water had actually surrounded us (!) - evidently the desert did not want us to leave. So we trudged through water in the slippery mud and got back covered in playa dust, as usual.
On the drive back to Reno we were elated, grooving on some very funky music and taking in the panoramic views. Sadly we saw a beautiful tortoise run over by a truck - rest in peace, amigo.
For a video, click HERE.
From Moab we spent a couple of long days driving west to Reno, Nevada to visit our friend Brittany. We were both familiar with the stretch of road from Salt Lake City to Reno, having driven it a few times before on trips to Burning Man. If you don't know what Burning Man is, google it (!) or take a look in my photography galleries under "that thing in the desert". It's really something. I've been 7 times - 2014 was probably my last because it felt like it had just become too big. Anyway...
We got caught in an insane rainstorm just as we hit the Utah Salt Flats, which are normally a very cool sight to behold - however when we passed through them they were completely inundated and the flats had become a shallow lake. A lake which we could barely discern, due to the mad and dangerous deluge coming down around us. We stayed overnight in a border town called Wendover at the Rainbow Casino, because the price could not be beat ($49 for a pretty nice room with a small party suite). After dinner we toured the casino, which was somewhat visually stimulating and vaguely interesting, but mostly depressing to witness.
Reno was fun. Brittany is an incredibly cool person and a gracious and generous host - we had a great time hanging out with her. We talked a lot, ate like kings, chilled out like... lemurs. Two of the highlights were a trip to the very cool Junkee thrift store and going for a walkabout in her neighborhood hunting for murals - see the pics above and in the next post.
For the past several days we have been camped beside the Colorado River in a beautiful canyon about half an hour outside of Moab, Utah. It's BLM land, but it costs $15 a night - if you want to camp here, head from Moab to Arches and take the first right immediately after the old defunct chairlift, and follow that road several miles until you get to Big Bend. If you don't get here early enough to secure a site (as we did our first night) there is overflow camping across the road but it is crowded and exposed. By contrast, our camp is very private and generally awesome - we've put up the hammock under the shade of two oak trees, and we're visited constantly by small lizards, all kinds of singing birds, wild turkeys, butterflies. Three terrifyingly massive black widow spiders live in crevasses in the picnic table, but they only come out at night - we've affectionately called them Beverly Crusher, Deanna Troi and Kes. Two robins have their nest (which they vigorously defend every morning from raids by other birds) above our tent. We watch the stars at night.
Arches National Park is tremendously beautiful and quite interesting - check out the pictures below for a better sense of it than my words can convey. As the name suggests, Arches is replete with huge stone arches carved out over the eons by the elements. It has loads of beautiful hiking paths of varying difficulties (and unfortunately loads of tourists as well, but if you get there early or you go off on less common trails you can avoid most of the crowds). On our first night we met a Hawaiian helicopter pilot named Josh at the overflow site, and we hiked with him most of the day after. Cool guy.
Canyonlands is, as its name suggests, is full of gargantuan canyons and cliffsides which are impressive to behold. You can see canyons within canyons with even smaller canyons inside them... it's almost fractal. It's farther away than Arches from Moab but well worth the trip, and has far fewer visitors. We also visited Valley of the Gods and Natural bridges, which are both great but only if you have the time and the stomach for the drive there - it requires a steep ascent of over 1,000 feet over narrow dirt road switchbacks, which afford you some amazing views of the valley below.
Moab is a pretty cool city. We liked it much more than Sedona and Kanab because it felt intelligent and fun without being pretentious or trying too hard. We stayed in the area for about a week. There was a jeep rally there which was fun to watch - jeeps jeeps jeeps everywhere. Lost River Coffee makes a great americano, and the natural food store across the street actually has great food at reasonable prices.
I have wanted to come here since I was a kid, long before I knew what it was called. I saw it in photographs and in old western movies and told myself that one day I would go there. And here I am.
We are camped inside Monument Valley, home of majestic monoliths rising from the earth toward massive skies. They are beautiful, serene and evocative, both peaceful and powerful. My heart feels happy here.
Yesterday we camped at the Navajo National Monument about an hour away. There are very cool cliff dwellings under huge cliff caves, well worth the visit. It was cold at night, around -2 degrees, but luckily not windy. In the morning we packed up and headed to Monument Valley - to get close to the buttes you have to enter the Navajo Tribal Park, which costs $20. For another $20 you can camp inside with an amazing view of the buttes, which is where we are now.
Today we hiked around one of the buttes, the so-called "Western Mitten" (on account of it looks sort of like a mitten). We had lunch then took the car on a pretty rough dirt road loop which takes you all around the monument - you can do the road with a regular car, but go slow and watch for the many large holes and dips in the road.
We headed back to our camp and had dinner as we watched the sun set, illuminating the buttes in glorious golden light. And, as Fortune would have it, it happened that tonight is a FULL MOON. So we watched the sun set and immediately after watched the full moon rise over the desert. Beautiful.
That's me on the right, in the picture of the canyon.
Not quite feeling myself today, kind of tired and low energy. Carr feels the same. Rumbly stomachs, too. Maybe it's some kind of bug we caught or the aftereffect of too many days of hiking or maybe we've been spoiled by too much insanely raw beauty (if there can be such a thing), but the area around Page, AZ (and especially Page itself) has failed to inspire us much. Or perhaps it's the howling winds and the threat of rain and the ominous skies above. In any case, we're feeling a bit blah, so we're just chillin' at our camp and waiting for the winds to change, literally and figuratively.
Years ago while traveling in Europe I heard several musical pieces by Karl Orff in his Carmina Burana series. Epic music. One of the pieces was titled "Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi" - latin for "Fortune, Empress of the World". To me this means that no matter how bad things get, they can quickly get better (and vice versa!). So just wait, and be open to change and shifts, and don't make a big story about it. The ancient Greeks called this Rhythmos - the up and down rhythm of life. To paraphrase the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: don't get too down when things are hard, but don't get too up when things are up - all of life is rhythmos.
Several cool things:
1. Our camp. When we got here we explored several expensive and unattractive options around Lake Powell to pitch our tent, none of which we found appealing. We thought of getting a hotel room. Then at the last moment - Fortune strikes again - we saw some RVs parked on a hill and found a whole area of really nice public land you can camp on for free. See below for some pictures of our camp, our green tent under a small butte or rock formation. If you're ever trying to find this place: leave Page towards the dam on the Colorado river, and take the first dirt road on the left right after the dam bridge;
2. The Toadstools, aka the Enchanted Rock Fungi. If you continue 30 min down the highway from Page you'll come across a sign for the Toadstools in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It's a pretty easy hike up a cool dry river bed to a large open area reminiscent of a Martian landscape. This area is also home to several bizarre rock formations resembling (among other things) giant mushrooms or toadstools. Check out the pictures!;
3. Horseshoe Bend Canyon. If you head out from Page in the other direction (toward the Grand Canyon) you'll come upon this impressive canyon. Not for those with vertigo, fear of heights or a faint heart - the sheer cliffs drop down 1,000 feet to the river below. Very cool place, check out the pictures.
Today Carr and I went on a nearly 14 kilometer hike (there and back) through the desert wilderness near our camp to a beautiful location the locals apparently call Peekaboo Canyon or Red Canyon. We packed a lunch and 3 liters of water and set off on a winding deep sand road which is really only passable by 4X4 ATV or by foot. There was a cool breeze in the morning and the sun was shining bright, making for a pleasant hike on the way there. The road split in several areas but with the help of our intuition, compass directions and a very basic map given to us by a kind local, we found our way. We saw no one save a few people passing by in their ATVs, and we enjoyed the solitude and silence.
We eventually reached a dry riverbed (or a wash, as they are called around here) and continued our hike upriver, observing striated red sandstone cliffs growing in height around us the further we went. And suddenly, BAM!, we entered what is known as a "slot canyon", a very narrow, beautiful, winding undulating corridor of high stone walls carved out by the river over eons. See the photos below(which again, don't capture the majesty of the place) to picture it better - my description doubtless won't be adequate. The stone is reddish and changes color with the sunlight, making for a magical and mystical feel. It's fun and moving to walk inside them. Click HERE for a video of the inside of the canyon.
The corridors are not only awesome but also surprisingly long... I believe there were three of them in total, each one longer than the last. The final one was the most intense - it became colder and darker and wetter the deeper you went, til we could actually see our breath in front of us. And then things got kinda creepy - above us we could see large tree trunks which had been lodged in place by previous flash floods, a common and dangerous occurrence in such places. Water from surrounding and sometimes distant areas can collect very quickly to flood the narrow passageways with great force, ramming detritus in its wake and humidly sweeping away anything hanging out in the canyon. We suddenly turned a corner and saw that the passageway ended abruptly - and 20 feet above us we saw where the water would be cascading down onto us had it been flowing. It had been days since it last rained in the area, but the combination of factors (being deep inside the cold cavernous passageway after seeing the tree trunks with no way out but the way we came) creeped us right out!
We backtracked and exited the canyon, and had lunch on one the walls of the riverbed. After that, we hiked back to the car - by that point the day had become much hotter and we had about 1.5 liters of water left. We decided to take a shortcut through the wilderness using a map and compass, which was cool because we ended up seeing many more animal tracks (coyote, deer, jackrabbit, lizard). Halfway there we ran out of water, but we definitely saved time by cutting through the desert rather than the ATV "road".
By the time we got back to the car we were fairly spent. We chugged some water then headed into Kanab. We ended up at a terrace/patio restaurant called Sego, which was part of the Canyon Something Something hotel. Excellent place - I had a delicious beet salad and Carr had some extremely tasty sliders along with our drinks, some gin thing I presume was made with local juniper berries and a refreshing chartreuse concoction. A great end to a great day.
Right now we are back at our camp and the sun has just set. The horizon is bright orange, pink and purple, it is kind of unreal! It's getting colder, though not as cold as the past two nights - in any case we're about to start a fire. Off in the distance we can hear a droning sound which we both assume are frogs - somewhat surprising giving the climate and terrain. In any case it's a cool sound, fun and soothing. Tomorrow we move eastward, toward Glen Canyon and Lake Powell near the town of Page, Arizona.
Carr has just informed me that today is day 42 of our adventure. We stayed warm all night despite the temperature, which dropped to -5 degrees Celcius. In the morning we headed in to Kanab, failed to win again at the Wave lottery, then drove an hour and a half to beautiful Unka Tumpee Wun-Nurrx Tungwatsini Xupakichu (the original Paiute name for what was later called Bryce Canyon), home of the Hoodoos.
Hoodoos, for those not in the know, is a "pinnacle or odd-shaped rock left standing by the forces of erosion" (I am also told it means "to cast a spell" and that it is sometimes used as a synonym for "voodoo"). Well, Unka Tumpee Wun-Nurrx Tungwatsini Xupakichu (now called Bryce Canyon) is delightfully full of Hoodoos. Mama hoodoos, papa hoodoos, little baby and ole granpappy hoodoos and everything in between. And the place does cast a spell... Check out the photos in this post (which do not do it justice) for a sample of this enchantment. Hiking around the hoodoo valley is really something.
There were throngs of tourists at Unka Tumpee Wun-Nurrx Tungwatsini Xupakichu (now called Bryce Canyon) today, which was not surprising as it was a splendid day, cool and sunny. I will admit that I am not a fan of crowds and people's screaming children, teenagers in acute iPhone withdrawal with bored/agonized looks on their faces, and tourists who can't detach themselves from their cameras or stock market conversations to actually SEE and be present to the place they are privileged to be visiting. I know this is my own judgement of the situation, and I tried to soften my harsh appraisal throughout the day. I was moderately successful in this. We did manage to find some minutes free of the crowds, and it was very cool to hear the stillness of the forest and the valley.
Back at camp now, another cold night. We're about to build a fire then turn in. I've been reading Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, Death's End by the same Chinese author I mentioned in a previous post, and (re-reading) Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut.
I am writing this with frozen fingers in our tent on BLM land about 30 minutes outside of Kanab, Utah. The sun is setting and we've just heard coyotes howling as the temperature drops. This morning when we set up our tent there were patches of fresh snow all around, and I imagine right now must be around the freezing point.
It's been a few days since I wrote and much has happened. The highlight so far has been our two days exploring the glorious Mukuntuweap, which is the original native name for what later came to be known as Zion (National Park). It is, as they say, a place of jaw-dropping epic grandeur.
Yesterday it rained all day as we hiked up the trail to the Emerald Pool waterfalls, the rain actually adding to the experience rather than detracting from it. First off, the 3 mile trail up to the waterfalls became outrageously muddy and thus sensual, amusing and (somewhat thrillingly) dangerous to hike - due to the ever present possibility of slipping on your face (or right off a precipice!). Second, the waterfalls were nourished by the rain and became more noticeably powerful as the day went on.
We finally arrived at the base of the highest cascade - a cold, wet and fantastic vertical deluge. It was beautiful. I took this video just before we left - click HERE to see it!.
I also took a brief video of the falls further down the mountain, click HERE to see it.
As we drove back it started to snow. Fortunately we had decided to stay in a hotel that night, due to the cold and the wind and the rain and snow.
Today was sunny and warmer and we returned to Zion and hiked a few more trails. We met some bighorn sheep, which were AWESOME. We sat on cliff opposite them and watched them eat bushes while we had lunch. We also met hordes of tourists. I had been wanting to climb Angel's Landing but we had arrived too late in the day for that. In the morning we'd gone to the lottery for the Wave, done some groceries, set up our camp, etc. and as such we didn't arrive in Zion until about 2.
The Wave, incidentally, is a beautiful and delicate rock formation east of here, in Arizona. Every day, 100+ people pile in to an information center in Kanab to put their names in a lottery, and hopefully be one of the 10 people allowed to go hike to the wave the next day. We put our names in today - no luck yet.
Gonna snuggle in and warm up now... good night!
Today we went for a hike down the river's edge. It was beautiful. The sun was shining and the birds were singing and we met several lizards. We came back and had lunch then lay on a blanket by the river's edge. Carr played the ukulele while I used my knife to make some carvings on some hard-packed sand on the riverbank. Now we are back at our camp, I am writing this and she is reading.
Several people have asked me for reasons for this journey, so here are the main ones:
Because I have always wanted to do this, I have felt it in my heart. I have always been a traveler and explorer, I have always felt a yearning to journey around the world, to live in different places, etc. I have wanted to see what it is like to be, rather than to constantly do and work, to see what emerges when you unplug from the default/mainstream system. I have always felt the deep beauty of the planet-that-made-us calling, and wanted to go experience it. In the words of Hellen Keller, life is an adventure.
Because life is short. As far as we know or remember, we only live once. And as much as you try to deny it, we are all going to die, and we really never know when. To paraphrase Ernest Becker (The Denial of Death), the fear of death is so significant that people often live as it they are going to live forever in order to deny it - for example, by putting things off for "someday".
Because I don't want to wait til "retirement" (aka "someday"), when I'm old. The usual formula is this: work work work and save for retirement when you are 55 or 60 or 65, then live out your golden years. Problem is, that so often doesn't happen. People get sick, infirm, injured, inflexible, they get old and then they can't enjoy it. Or they get so used to thinking in a certain way after years of working that they can't mentally shift and adjust to their "freedom" once they finally have it. This doesn't happen to everybody - but it happens to enough people. I've already started to feel the effects of aging, and I don't like many of them (whereas some of them are quite good). That being said, I've felt very inspired by meeting people who are older yet have more passion and vitality than people who are decades younger, chronologically speaking - hurray for them! And I am saddened by the "pension prostitutes" (a term coined by one of my clients to refer to himself) who give up their life and vitality working jobs that numb their souls and wear out their bodies in exchange for the promise of a pension, one day, un jour, un dia.
Because I'm not that trusting of humanity nor the state of the world, which humans are making uglier with each passing year. In the past several weeks I have felt my cynicism melt away like so much snow in spring, and that feels incredibly good. And yet since I can't pretend to know where humans are taking this lovely ship of fools, I'd rather do this now rather than wait for a possibly uglier future! If it all works out then great - nothing is lost.
Because I feel that the lifestyle our modern culture has created is fundamentally unhealthy and lacking in meaning, despite its many many perks, comforts and advantages. Metro boulot dodo. Drive this car to go to work, go to work to pay for this car. As a therapist I saw so many people who had bought into the mentality/system and who were so unhappy, often not even realizing why. And realizing that I had done the same thing in so many ways... I figure there are so many people doing the usual thing, why don't I do something different, why don't I do an experiment and see how it feels?
Because despite its many comforts I was tired of living where I was, with its snow and cold, swimming upstream of its so often bland default culture. Just not for me, though it may be for many other people. Every long winter I would ask myself "why do we live here?". I wanted sunlight and warmth and to be in places that felt more alive.
Because I can. I am fortunate enough that simply by virtue of where and when I was born, I was able to take a number of opportunities which made this possible for me. For the vast majority of people through history and in the world today, the focus is simply surviving. I have worked pretty hard in my life, yes. I I was also pretty lucky to have been born when and where I was instead of so many other points in spacetime. I recognize that many people would love to be doing what I am now, so it behooves me to actualize this yearning if I can.
Because I wanted to recharge my soul - see my March 22 entry.
Because I wanted to nourish my soul. And in turn, perhaps nourish the souls of others.
Because I have been fortunate enough, after many years of searching and much work on myself, to have met a person who is my best friend, lover, partner in crime, soul muffin and twin flame, and when we got to talking about life we discovered that we both wanted the same thing. When life gives you a gift like that, you have to accept!