Milky Way over Courthouse Towers will make its debut at The Salmon Creek ArtWalk on November 2nd & 3rd. Special orders are available. At the show will be a 16x24 metal print. A 12x18 and 8x12 print on metallic paper with mat.
Skyline Arch Night Sky photo will make its debut at The Salmon Creek ArtWalk on November 2nd & 3rd. Special orders are available. At the show will be a 16x24 metal print. A 12x18 and 8x12 print on metallic paper with mat.
Day 19. Wed 10/9/19. Furnace Creek Death Valley
Desk bound and working at the Ranch of Death Valley hotel, I am directly in front of the air conditioner blasting cold air for 9 hours. I take to wearing a down jacket though it is stifling hot 4 feet from my desk and 90 something outside with a blustery hot desert wind. Francesca periodically brings me food stuffs while I stay riveted to the computer.
While I was huddled in the hotel, we learned of weather mayhem - high winds forcing us to stay another day here instead of traveling to Mammoth Lakes and a terrible fire at Yosemite forces us to abandon a much anticipated last leg of our trip. We will need to go a more hospitable time. Meanwhile, life continues to play havoc. PGE is shutting off power in Sonoma County. It is clear that we need to improvise the rest of the trip and navigate through wind and fire to get back to the waterside.
For now, we hunker down at the resort, eat expensive sub-par food and then I torture myself by watching the Dodger’s game. My only consolation is an excited little kid in the next room who squeals happily whenever true blue does something “good”. At the end, there is nothing but another lost season of unfulfilled promises and heartache as we lose game five to the Nationals.
Day 20. Thu 10/10/19. Furnace Creek Death Valley
After a sunrise as Zabriskie Point where we jockeyed with other photographers and Instagram “stars”, we drove to the Bad Water Basin Salt Flats – the lowest point in North America. Large expanses of dirt and rocks yield to shimmers of white. There is an ancient lake here which still pools water. Amazingly, the water doesn’t completely evaporate. Awhile back, an old pioneer tried to get his mule to drink the water. When the mule refused, the pioneer wrote Bad Water on the map and the name stuck. Beyond the pond is an ominous stop sign warning tourists not to walk onto the flats after 10 am lest they become a crispy critter or worse, meet their end in Death Valley.
The land here is separating – geological forces pushing the basin from the distant mountain ranges. At first, walking to the flats, the ground is a bit spongy but it hardens soon enough and then salt veins start to cross loosely and then tighter and ever tighter. It is like a circulatory system. There is a salt ridden capillary, vein and artery network all intermingling and sustaining the beast we call earth.
People have made their mark here. Literally, there are carved names. To Mark, Luis and K&K, knock it off! Stop vandalizing the earth’s artwork.
Like many others, we walk taking care not to disturb the salt ridges. It is beautiful here. At 9:15 am, we start to head back to Tiny. We do not want to be a statistic. We get back to the parking lot just before 10 am and see others heading out into the salt flats amidst the heat and ignoring all warning signs.
A short drive later, a lunar landscape gives way to large, fantastic sandstone rocks of varying colors. Not content with beige, red and brown, there are greens and peaches. We are at Artists’s Palette. Some 5 million years ago, geologic compression and off-gassing created different minerals like red hematite and green chorine. It’s as if a giant used a big water color brush to paint the rocks. It is random and spectacular. Beyond the painted rocks were large black igneous rocks – the result of volcanic activity so many millions of years ago. Some of the rocks looked like modern busts, others are large spherical orbs and boulders. They are all the dark, dark color of the earth’s core. It seems the earth is sharing it’s soul when these rocks are in view.
In the evening, we went to the see the stars which were not particularly bright because the moon was quite full. Still we went out, ate sandwiches and talked while we waited for astronomical twilight to wane and night to officially announce itself at 7:44 pm. After a few photographs, we drove “home” as the sky was a bit too bright. At the door to our hotel room, we tried our keys which no longer worked. Drive to the front desk, chat with clerk, re-key cards, drive back, get into room. A few moments after arrive, we realized the refrigerator in Tiny was not plugged to the generator. I went out to get this fixed. Push buttons, no lights, go to room, get more instructions, repeat and repeat again. Thankfully, Francesca was able to get it fixed.
Some nights you can’t get the perfect shot, can’t get the hotel key to work and can’t get the appliance to work. Note to self – be happy anyway. Life is short.
Day 21. Fri 10/11/19. Furnace Creek Death Valley to Mammoth Lakes – 197 miles
We drive out of sea level to other elevations with a vague idea of where might want to stay. En route, we pass cracked skins of earth with its dry itchiness. We spend the morning at Mesquite Dunes where we filled our shoes with sand after only a few feet of walking. We continued to walk into the expanse of wind swept dunes. Along the way, we saw small burrows in the sand and dragon skin patches of unfired clay. Life affirming scrub dotted the moving hills. Snake tracks, a lizard slipping into it’s lair and a large burrow entrance were all the evidence of desert life we witnessed. This is an unforgiving inhospitable place with long stretches of sinuous dunes stretching across the basin and the hills beyond. Sometimes the dunes give way as though it was liquid. Other times, it is hard and compacted. Unpredictable, the dunes are mercurial and deadly.
On the drive out of the valley, we see groups of bicyclists pedaling toward Death Valley. There are piles of black, red and white rocks on the narrow roads of 190W. On the right, a cliff’s edge promises mayhem to the unskilled. White granite with layers of horizontal bands of green rock greet us. Other times, the green rock have deep bands of red running through it. All these mismatched colors like someone went wild with earth colored play dough which was then baked into place.
One of the first towns out of Death Valley is the near dead town of Keeler in the Owens Valley. From the road, it is a series of ramshackle buildings and cars which have seen better days many decades ago. It is on its last leg. There are streets like Dolomite Loop nearby which profess to a heyday moment of prosperity. In 2010, there were 66 people who lived there. I suspect many wished they were anywhere else. This is a town whose residents live a bit in our “normal” world but I think mostly, they live in a wilder land where there are no rules. They are on the edges of society. We see an older woman throwing pieces of timber from a vehicle onto her property. There are stacks and stacks of wood. We drive past a post office and see the clerk walking to his car as if to drive away from this forsaken place. There are old ramshackle buildings - a depot, an automotive repair shop, a bar, a grocery store – all in varying states of dilapidation. It is a dystopian scene where Rod Serling would feel at home.
We drive through curious towns, cute kitschy towns with charming neon signs, sprawling towns and end up finding a campground in Mammoth Lakes. Elevation 7881. We go to bed right after dinner. It will be 17 degrees tonight.
Day 22. Sat 10/12/19. Mammoth Lakes to Truckee – 173 miles
It is 30 degrees in the morning when we wake up. We survived our last night of camping. To celebrate, we go to Starbucks, drink bitter coffee and eat hot food stuffs. We spend time at Twin Lakes with its beautiful placid lake and meandering creeks. We drive on 395 towards Truckee where we will be seeing our friends Lesley and Michael. We drive the highway abutting the beautiful Walker River which meanders through the changing landscape and nourishes us – water! Soon enough we are in Truckee. Our evening is spent catching up, eating and drinking. I go to bed tired and content.
Day 23. Sun 10/13/19. Truckee to Jenner – 220 miles
We say our goodbyes to friends and meander down the road. Driving home, the valleys are all steeped in a sickly gray smoke. The sun penetrates the haze casting a hue that one can get used to but shouldn’t. The air does not clear until we get to the coast. Soon enough we are home - some 4000 miles after we started our hearts are full. Tonight the moon will be full too.
Day 12. Wed, 10/2/19. Monument Valley Navajo Nation to Zion Ponderosa Ranch – 182 miles
On the way to the Ranch, we had a leisurely lunch at the Wild Thyme Café in Kanab where our good food was brought to us by an older waitress with lots of gold sparkly glitter eye shadow, large false eyelashes and shock of all shocks, she was a real she. It was upside down confusing and a bit odd considering we were in Mormon territory. But I’m all for free expression.
Many miles later, we found ourselves in front of our Conestoga wagon accommodations. Picture an old timey pioneer wagon with a canvas roof and instead of a door, a zippered opening. What was a fun, folksy great idea in Jenner was not such a brilliant idea now. How will we survive? Thankfully, there is electricity and with it, air conditioning and heating. The temperature went from sweltering hot to frigidly cold in our little wagon. The heater? Insufficient. We have three nights here.
More than half of our trip is done. We’ve seen mostly Anglo and Asian tourists. Literally three African Americans and two Hispanics. This trip was not the diversity tour. Whether it’s interest or economics, the demographics does not speak well for our already divided country.
Day 13. Thu, 10/3/19. Zion Ponderosa Ranch to Bryce Canyon – 152 miles round trip
After days of relentless heat, we woke to a 37 degree morning. From sea level in Jenner to 9,000 feet in Bryce Canyon, the changing colors of aspen trees called for warmer jackets and an appreciation of the Moab heat which we recently left.
Bryce Canyon has magnificent red peaks of varying states of erosion. Intermingled in these tall columns of stone were spots where a pine seed settled and began to grow. In 1000s of years, the canyon would be covered in pine trees and the wonderful edifices would be a part of earth’s history. As we age, it ages. Consciously or subconsciously it reminds us of our mortality and the persistence of a sapling to adhere to any bit of earth is simply inspiring. Life is in a changing state of impermanence.
In between fantastic panoramas is devastation – vestiges of blackened trees from fires. Felled pine trees and scrubbed earth which is trying to recover. It is a cycle of death and renewed life.
For the Native American tribes Bryce canyon is a gift from their ancestors. For us, often it is a selfie stick portrait and an “I was there moment”. We are feeding the Id rather than our true higher selves. A place can resonate with one’s being if only we allow it inside. And if we are distracted by the other, how can it resonate?
Day 14. Fri, 10/4/19. Zion Ponderosa Ranch to Zion and Grand Canyon North Rim – 112 miles
Tired of our zippered door and the cold nights at our Conestoga wagon, we decided to skip the 3rd night and improvise a night’s stay instead. But it was morning and time for another adventure – to Zion! On the way to the park, we saw a fox go into the road and then do a quick turn about, a rafter of turkeys were grazing as well as deer, two pheasants and a herd of wild bison. As we entered the park, I saw the unmistakable curves of big horned sheep! A herd was grazing not too far from the road. Francesca was able to capture the moment.
Zion traffic and congestion was a mess. A bit like being in Disneyland. It didn’t suit either of us and instead of spending more time at the park, we opted to drive to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
After miles of scrubland, Francesca stopped at LeFevre pull out so I could survey landscape opportunities. I got out of Tiny walked around and got the absolute creepiest vibe. No photo op here. Just a profoundly creepy vibe. We left.
Closer to the Grand Canyon, we found a campsite – De Motte Campground in the Kaibab National Forest. For $10, we got a campsite. A place to sleep secured, we went towards the North Rim and saw cattle grazing next to the road with yellowing aspen trees. We then saw our second herd of wild bison of the day. This time, the male bison was near the road while the females were in the field with the young lighter colored calf feeding. The male bison strutted onto the roadway. Tiny was a respectful distance away when the bison looked both directions as if to cross the street. He was the boss and he knew it and we did too. Once that was firmly established, the male did a happy hippity hop away from the street and back toward the field. The females did not notice.
Entering the park, Smokey Bear had a sign which said the fire danger was “Very High”. He was right. After dinner and sunset, our drive back was very smoky. Undoubtedly an active fire was in the valley. Sleeping proved difficult. Francesca thought it was because of our particularly active day but I think it was a flight or fight response to danger. It’s smoky outside therefore you should be leaving the premises and not trying to sleep. After a bit of tossing and turning, my flight or fight response succumbed to slumber.
Day 15, Sat, 10/5/19. Grand Canyon North Rim to Grand Canyon South Rim – 197 miles
After a smoky evening, morning at the campground was thankfully clear. The yellow aspen leaves shimmered in the breezy morning sun. Driving into the South Rim, we were greeted by a large white raptor who flew overhead. A hospitable sign! A few campsite loops later, we had just parked Tiny at our new home. I went to the front of the van, when I cried “Moose! Moose!” Only, they weren’t moose, they were elk! A gang of elk were scarcely 10 feet away from me. And there was a younger elk who was crying like a high pitched, loud bird. The gang lumbered slowly but purposefully away.
I like the Grand Canyon.
Day 16. Sun 10/6/19. Grand Canyon South Rim
In driving through the canyon, we saw a small coyote slink across the road like a cat; two Abert’s squirrels who have white backside tails they use to hide their bodies from predators in the snow; and a couple of violet green swallows.
I spoke to Gretchen the ranger who told me I might see hoards of tarantulas – apparently it’s mating season and rattlesnakes were in full force and of course, scorpions. Gretchen was a kindly negative Nancy. And no, I did not see any of these creatures.
I went up to see the Desert View Watchtower which is several spiral staircases high all festooned with artistic interpretations of ancient Puebloan art. I was greeted by a Raven who sat steadfast in a tree while throngs of tourists went about their day all around him. I saw “milk duds” strewn on the parking lot. And then we went to the laundry mat to wash clothes and see Tom and Jerry cartoons.
The evening was spent chasing fire smoke in the canyon and watching the stars.
Day 17. Mon 10/7/19. Grand Canyon South Rim to Lake Mead – 255 miles
We were having coffee in the morning when Francesca saw a female elk. I then spied a younger elk who cried like all little ones when trying to figure out the world. This one was contemplating a “one way” traffic sign.
Stopping at the visitor center on the way out, Francesca got me a big horned sheep plush toy which I promptly named Beatrice.
The drive to Lake Mead was uneventful and mostly scrubland but we were surprised to see Joshua trees with flowers still on the stalks. We arrived at Lake Mead, enlivened by the placid water. A gray hummingbird with a red dash across its neck swept around Tiny and greeted us. At night, we slept with the back doors open to let the breeze waft across us. Murderers be damned. Coyotes yipped through the night to warn bad actors away from us.
Day 18. Tue 10/8/19. Lake Mead to Furnace Creek Death Valley – 143 miles
The gray hummingbird came again today, this time to say goodbye. Coyotes yipped excitedly along the low hills surrounding the lake. Early morning is a beautiful time of day even when I have to work.
We learned of fires in Yosemite which may change the trajectory of our trip. And learned of red flag warnings and a possible PGE shut down to our home in Jenner. But we can do nothing about any of these things. Instead, I worked though I would have liked to stay an extra day to go on a boat ride and possibly have a popsicle.
While I am on work email, we travel through smoky fire ridden lands and go through the sprawling sameness of Las Vegas and my heart sinks a little bit.
Then the landscape changes – leaving Pahrump (got to love the name), the undulating hills are striped with green, brown and beige. Dirty pebbly earth with greenish, brownish scrub. This is our Gobi desert, our Australian outback. It is our Furnace Creek Death Valley.
I can’t imagine being the first to cross here. It is other worldly especially for a coaster like me.
Day 1. Sat, 9/21/19. Jenner CA to Verdi NV – 241 miles
A few days before our Tiny adventure I got the flu. At first I was sleepy and then I lost my appetite (<- something wrong…). Two days we were to depart, my fever broke. Luck was on our side, kind of anyway. We picked up our modified Tiny two days before the start of an 18 day trip with a dead battery. A trip to the dealer later, we were able to pack a day before the grand adventure. Not ideal…
Despite a 5 am wake up call, we weren’t able to leave Jenner until 8 hours later. Another 5 hours of driving, we arrived at our first overnight stop – Verdi NV at 8:30 pm bone weary. Checking in at the store, we drove to our designated space – 56. Lo and behold, an interloper RV was parked in our spot!
Back to the store, find the manager, explain the situation, manager gets the security guard, they talk to interloper… All of this takes time but eventually, the bad guys left and we slid into our designated spot. We both fell into bed at 9 pm too tired to brush our teeth. We were in survival mode.
Day 2. Sun, 9/22/19. Verdi NV to Jordanelle State Park UT – 560 miles
There is a sameness here in the hard scrabble brush and low hills of 80E. The parched earth shimmers in the sun. So water-like and not. Living by the ocean, the waves move and we admire its beauty. With the desert, the wind creates the movement.
Dry persistent gales bounce off Tiny buffeting us as we drive the lonely highway punctuated by prisons, dead coyotes and mining operations. In this empty landscape there are moments of beauty – pretty native grasses and flowers in deep purple and yellow were a welcome, rare treat.
After a harrowing drive, we entered the salt flats and drove the windy roads to Jordanelle UT thankful to be there.
Day 3. Mon, 9/23/19. Jordanelle State Park UT – Dinosaur National Monument – 153 miles
In the morning, a lake and magpies greeted us. But we were not long to linger – dinosaurs were waiting for us! The wall of bones also known as “bone jam” in the Carnegie Quarry was a gem. Literally 1000s of fossilized bones identified and classified but left as is. It is a random assortment – a Stegosaurus scale here and a Camarasaurus skull there and in between an Apatosaurus femur. It was all very captivating.
Day 4. Tue, 9/24/19. Dinosaur National Monument
After sleeping in, we went to the Vernal Natural History Museum where we saw a Dolichryrhinos – a giant saber-toothed herbivore! It captured my imagination and scared me at the same time. There were several dinoramas that I couldn’t even look at for fear they would turn around and eat me. Of course, I knew that wouldn’t be feasible. #1 - the ones I’m scared of are herbivores. And #2 - they are extinct.
At the museum there were artifacts from the Ancestral Puebloans (formerly known as Anasazi) including an eagle’s head amulet and several clay figures which reminded me of Cycladic idols.
Later we went to see petroglyphs which the Fremont people carved. I sat in Swelter Shelter a small cave which has been inhabited by humans for 8000 years. Seeing the vista from that vantage point, I could see the advantages of its location. The carved art was haunting and spiritual at the same time. These figures spoke. And despite the distracting modern graffiti carved next to these 1000 year old pictographs, the Fremont images continued to speak loudly.
Nearby, a large lizard bridged the rock edge between light, the hot sun and dark, the cool shadow. Motionless and yet very present, the lizard stood as a sentinel.
Day 5. Wed, 9/25/19. Dinosaur National Monument to Dead Horse Point State Park – 197 miles
Covering so many miles and going from one place to another means unpacking and packing boxes full of kitchen supplies, clothing, toiletries and camera equipment. Not having a shakedown trip after a modified Tiny meant there was quite a bit of “Why did we bring this?”. While second guessing and the constant packing and unpacking is like a “Ground Hog’s Day” movie where the outcome is the same – we get to be in a fabulously new environment seeing and experiencing things we would not have if we were gazing out into the ocean at our Jenner home.
Driving into Colorado, “Look! Deer! No! Antelope!” Three Pronged Antelope stood beside the road and Francesca obliged them with a family portrait.
Stopping at the Canyon Pintado Trail, we admired the petroglyphs. Crawling up on the rocks to get a closer view, there was an insightful tableaux to Kokopelli’s left. I recognized, one figure – a deer. Then another, a hunter. There was a large leaf-like bridge and a spirit like apparition. Then I looked at the picture as a whole and a wave of emotion washed over me – I understood what they were trying to say. It all made sense to me.
Dead Horse Point is a vast park with large flat rocks and deep valleys. After Francesca’s photo shoot, I went to the parking lot and saw a desert fox. White and beige, the small fox trotted by purposefully. It’s face and body perfectly coiffed and ready for the evening.
Day 6. Thu, 9/26/19. Dead Horse Point to Moab Utah – 33 miles
Francesca woke up in the middle of the night in our Moenkopi yurt with a view of the big dipper. We got up a few hours later and enjoyed beautiful sandstone vistas carved in pink and beige. As the morning continued, the wind picked up.
This place has no water, no streams, no river, no lakes – nothing. Lore has it that cowboys prodded wild horses to the point, then closed off the opening with brush. Picking the best horses out of the herd to later domesticate, the remaining ones were left in the corral to succumb to the punishing heat. Horrifically cruel, this is the legacy of place. Laughter now abounds as cheerful tourists enjoy the vistas. And I am one of them. We are helping create a new legacy.
Later in the day, we went to Canyonlands National Park. A smaller “mini me” of the Grand Canyon. It’s a small canyon with all the geographic wonder of its brethren. In the Utah heat, I admire it’s solemn beauty.
Day 7. Fr, 9/27/19. Moab Utah
5 am wake up, 6:15 am pick up, we were on the road with Dan our guide. We drove on paved roads, went four-wheeling and generally went where we wanted because we could. We caught early morning at Marlboro Point, watched dust devils kick up spirals of dirt and grit at Mesa Arch and admired the Barrier style pictographs at Barlett Rock Art. The pictographs were dark red and black anthropomorphic figures with veritical lines. Standing directly under the paintings it was clear a lot of the ground had eroded over time.
A few hours at our RV park “home”, we were off on Danventure part 2. We went to Arches National Park which is absolutely beautiful. Sweeping arches and pinnacles arising out of red rock. It is striking. The sky was cloudy and a colorful sunset was obscured by darkening clouds which later turned to showers. While it wasn’t a photographer’s evening. It was still our evening in a place of red magic.
Day 8. Sat, 9/28/19. Moab Utah to Goblin State Park to Capitol Reef National Park – 148 miles
Dr Seuss meets free-thinking potter in Clay-land. There are flushings of mushroom inspired clay outcroppings as far as I can see. In the backdrop are operatic monuments that look like Babylonian inspired clay fortresses. The geology here is varied with the very round and globular to angular sheered posts. Francesca’s drive to the park was a very windy one. Without the wind, there would not be the sculpture of place. One does not exist without the other.
In the evening we went to a lecture on the Fremont people at the outdoor amphitheater. Bats wove in an out snacking on the insects drawn to the lights… It was a great event.
Day 9. Sun, 9/29/19. Capitol Reef National Park to Dead Horse Point State Park – 148 miles
We woke in the middle of the night to a light rain. Cozy in Tiny, we hugged the down blanket until it was time to get up. Later that morning, a mule doe came by with her two fawns. They regarded me and then went on their way. Awhile later, there were three bucks all laying near a fence no more than a few feet apart. Apparently it was bachelor day for the bucks.
The day was another fantastic day of vistas and hikes. I picked apples at the Fruita orchards and Francesca drove us safely back to Dead Horse Point State Park.
The wind came in the afternoon and stayed with us in the evening. Still howling through landscape as we made our way to bed.
Day 10. Mon, 9/30/19. Dead Horse Point State Park to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks
Woke up multiple times during the night to howling winds and gusts to our yurt. Visions of impalement featured heavily in my thoughts and am surprised I managed to sleep at all. We later learned the winds were 45 mph. Tired and travel curious, we went through the Canyonlands enjoying the vistas then the Arches. The Devil’s Garden was a favorite. I saw Elephants on Parade, Queen Nefertiti, a sleeping dragon and numerous titans, muses and arches. One of my favorite activities was a walk to the Ute petroglyphs – etched in stone were big horned sheep, horses with riders and an older etching of a hunter/shaman.
In the evening was Danventure 3. We met up with Dan to do a photo trip that was aborted the last time we were here. Francesca was able to do some night photography. Yay! A clear night sky allowed the stars and milky way to shine brightly. Driving back to the Wingate yurt, we saw a kangaroo mouse skitter across the road. Shortly after, a windless night gave us a chance to get some much needed rest.
Day 11. Tue, 10/1/19. Dead Horse Point State Park to Monument Valley Navajo Nation – 236 miles
On the way out to Monument Valley, Francesca took a detour to Newspaper Rock at Bears Ears – well worth it! A large panel of petroglyphs awaited us. Etched on a large boulder were images of everything from hunters to hands to deer to a spoked wheel and waves. A real marvel accomplished by generations of rock artists.
Miles before entering Monument Valley the landscape changed to red dirt spotted with bright green brush and of course, the majestic rock monuments which towered sentinel-like. The roadside was strewn with trash – beer bottles, cans and cardboard. People are a strange species…
After Francesca’s long drive, we met with Leslie our Navajo guide who showed us the arches, monuments and petroglyphs of Monument Valley. Also, we saw hogans (traditional mud dwellings) along with juniper trees thousands of years old.
During sunset, watching the monuments turn orange, there was silence in the canyon save for ravens chasing one another - flapping their wings in the very still early evening.
At night, Leslie took us along the cliff side where we hiked with headlamps on, wary of each step, lest we fall, as we searched for the milky way and its trail of bright stars.