Yellow Flower Desert

It’s really amazing how spending some time outside can make you feel so good. Spending time outside in an amazing new location is even more invigorating, refreshing and revitalizing.

We decided to take a late afternoon hike the other day and couldn’t quite find the right place. One place we tried was surrounded by massive power lines, another place led straight to a cell phone tower, and yet another was polluted by the constant racket of an oil well. We kept looking.

We finally found a place that looked pretty decent and decided to give it a go. Chad let me lead the way, and I have to say, I did a good job. We had fun walking over badland-like hills, taking pictures of all the yellow flowers everywhere, and discovering all the vegetation that had come to life in the desert.

It was just that time of day where the lighting makes everything look magical: golden hour. And then we came to a stunning overlook that opened out onto wild open land. It was so exciting that I had to do a little dance. Having grown up in the thick temperate forests of the SE United States, I am still thrilled by the exoticness of the wide open desert. The expansiveness seems to lift your entire being up into the air, and make you feel that you can fly.

You can tell by the number of photos we took that we were enchanted. The extreme close-ups are mostly mine and the beautifully composed landscapes are mostly Chad – especially the clouds. Chad is a specialist in cloud portraiture!

Discovering this place was exhilarating too because it was just off the road, was an easy hike and was very rewarding for very little effort. What a sweet interlude from spring into summer.






Shiprock New Mexico

Last year on our trek across the country, we took a detour to go see Shiprock. This plan came about one day on our trip while Chad was studying the map. He said something like, “One possibility if we go through New Mexico would be to stop and see Shiprock.” I’m sure my eyes lit up and that I couldn’t even respond with a sentence, just an “OoooOOOOO!!”

I had seen images of Shiprock while doing keywording work years ago. The idea of a huge rock in the middle of the flat desert was enticing, even worth adding extra time to an already long day of driving.

We weren’t able to get very close to it because it’s on tribal land and is considered sacred to the Navajo. They don’t want silly tourists bumbling around this amazing spot with their cameras. Can you blame them? So we kept a respectful distance and looked on in awe.



Skiing in the desest

Now that winter seems to be over I can finally write about it. I’m not one of those people who loves winter (and that’s putting it nicely). Chad on the other hand, IS one of those people. And he loves to go out cross-country skiing, and yes, I admit, I have come to love it too because it means I can be outside in midwinter and be warm. At its best it feels like a heightened form of walking to me, which I also dig. Here are a few pics from our first big cross-country outing this winter, skiing in the desert. We saw cottontails, weird vegetation, the stark beauty of canyon cliffs meeting the snowy ground… And Chad played around with the panorama mode on his camera.

Date Night

imgp7979Date night. That means dinner and a movie for a couple who already has their relationship well cemented, right? That’s what I used to think. I will admit, I used to think that it was a little sad to have to rely on date night for a couple to spend time together. Then I met Chad and most of my ideas about what it was to be a couple changed anyway, but for the better.

Even though Chad and I spend time together during the week, we felt we wanted to dedicate time each weekend for something special. So a few months ago we decided to have a dedicated date night once a week. Rather than dinner and a movie though, we decided to take turns coming up with a fun, preferably creative, idea for our weekly date night.

This really started back when we were still a long distance couple, him in Utah and me in North Carolina. In order to get to know each other we decided to answer the New York Times’ 36 questions. Rather than talking about the answers to the questions, we would email our answers to each other. If Chad sent his email before I’d finished my response, I would wait until I had emailed mine before reading his, and vice versa. It was an exercise in trust and honesty.

We got through most of the questions and then I proposed that we change it up a bit, that we take turns making up a prompt each week and that it didn’t have to be a writing prompt. The fact that we both had so much fun with this was a sign that we were very compatible.

Now that we live in the same house we have transferred this weekly call for creativity and bonding into our weekly date night. Sure we see each other every day and talk about our challenges, joys and concerns, but it is really nice to take some time to do something a little different.

So far for date night we have made origami, created mandalas, done figure drawing, responded to writing prompts, looked through seed catalogs, and (since we don’t include TV or movies as our regular routine) we have even watched a movie from time to time. Recently I came up with a prompt that was inspired by a book I was reading (Snow by Orhan Pamuk): draw a map of your place in the universe. We thought we’d share our drawings with you.

We hope you’ll enjoy getting creative with your own romantic plans. Happy date night!

Desert Wash in the Land Between

Why would you want to go out hiking in a place where there are no trails, no other hikers, and probably no signs of civilization at all? I never asked myself that question before meeting Chad, because going out hiking on trails was a rare enough treat and reprieve from my place in the noise and grit of a sprawling city.

But then I met Chad and not only was he an avid hiker, he explained to me that he likes hiking in places that don’t require you to stay on trail, better yet, in places that don’t have trails. One of the first places we explored off trail together was a certain desert wash.

I now call this wash my happy place; Chad calls it “the Land Between.” We have yet to see anyone else here (and as a plus there is no risk of running into any large, hungry carnivores). The only signs of civilization are from some markers for mountain bikers, who apparently cross through the area at some point, though not the part we hike through.

For those of you who live where water is abundant, you’ve probably never heard the term “wash” used in this way, as a noun. A wash is a creek bed that is usually empty, but can suddenly be filled with rapidly moving water during a rainstorm. The water drains into the river, leaving the wash empty and, incidentally, forming an easy trail to follow.

This time we decided to do a one-way hike, leaving a car at either end of the wash. We started hiking in the late afternoon, enjoying some unseasonably warm weather and lovely sunshine that surrounded the autumn foliage of the few trees and riparian scrub with golden light.

As we walked downstream we noticed some differences in the wash between upstream and downstream. Upstream (and at a slightly higher elevation) there were juniper and cottonwood trees, and the stones on the wash were mostly grey and gravely; downstream there were no trees and the rocks were bigger and much prettier in pinks, purples, and surprising stripes.

As we continued on our long hike, we saw the lighting and colors change as the day progressed and took a delight in knowing that we were marveling at landscapes that few others have seen.

Towards the end of the 8 mile hike my legs were aching in ways they haven’t ached in a long time, but mostly I was thinking about how amazing it felt to be out in untamed nature and to get more familiar with a place that was already dear to me.

Walking in places like this always makes me wonder how many other incredibly beautiful wild places are out there, unprotected, not part of any official wilderness area or park. And the answer to the question I asked at the beginning of this post? To know the world, to love it better.

Curly-Cup Gumweed

This summer, anytime we walked up to the end of our lane, Chad would point out a plant with bright yellow flowers growing along side it and tell me he heard it had medicinal properties. He told me it was called Curly-Cup Gumweed.

We looked it up and found out what it’s good for: primarily bronchial problems, particularly phlegmy throats, and skin problems. (On the other hand it is contraindicated for those with heart or kidney problems.) Montana Plant Life says you can make the leaves and flowers into a tea, so that is my plan – dry the leaves and flowers and store them for winter, when the inevitable sore throat shows up in cold season.

I did not go to the driveway to harvest my gumweed, since there is most likely some contamination from the cars there. Instead I headed out into the field where the donkeys are pasturing to see if I could find any growing out there in healthier soil.

When I married Chad, I became co-caretaker of three donkeys, a fact which I find at once thrilling and totally alien. Apart from one day when the donkeys broke out of their fence in search of more lush pasture, all my interactions with them have been face to face over the top of a fence. Having avoided getting kicked during the donkey break out, I was fairly confident I could go hang out with them in the pasture without any problems.

I walked into their pasture nonchalantly, and instead of running away from me, they all three came over to get their heads rubbed. After massaging three donkey noggins, I went about looking for bright yellow flowers. The donkeys followed me at first, but went back to grazing when they saw I had moved on to non-massage activities.

The first plants I found only had dried flowers on them. Leaves only would have been okay, but I was really hoping for some nice bright flowers. I was starting to think that I had waited too long and all the flowers had dried up. Then I started seeing plant after plant that had been blending in with the tall grasses in the field. I harvested a basket full, being sure I left enough for the plants to renew themselves next year.

Apparently Curly-Cup Gumweed is good externally for eczema, and I’m going to be trying that remedy out first. I have two small red spots on my face that I recognize as eczema. It’s strange how you can go your whole life without something and then it appears on your body one day, and then occasionally reappears. Annoyingly, these small spots seems to flare up anytime my stress level nudges above “Relaxed.” I’m going to try macerating some flowers into some shea butter, apply it everyday for a week or so, and see how that goes.

Curly-Cup Gumweed is a native plant, which makes it even more exciting as a medicinal, being part of our botanical heritage. Even if I don’t need them for my throat this winter, seeing the dried yellow flowers in a jar will serve as a nice reminder of a warm autumn day hanging out with the donkeys.


Autumn outing

Getting out of the house and into nature, I notice a letting go of anything I’m preoccupied with. I feel like it is a sort of mental and spiritual deep cleaning, pushing out the superfluous, reconnecting to the essential.

Doing a yoga pose or two during these moments of re-connection is invigorating, somehow more special and meaningful than doing yoga at home or in a studio. Watching my sweetie strike a pose always makes me proud of him. On this lovely autumn outing, Chad held his crow pose – on an uneven rock, overlooking a slope going down to the river – for much longer than usual. Nature can sometimes be an amazing source of support. So can knowing that if you fall, it’s really going to hurt this time.

I started out on our hike getting wildly excited about the resin-loaded pinon pines, and keeping my eye out for medicinal plants. My excitement for fresh pine nuts was overtaken when I began to contemplate a dead ponderosa pine. I looked to it first as a support for a yoga pose, then became overwhelmed by emotion at the remains of this plant-being. Even though the tree was dead, it felt like its spirit was still there. I suppose that when you open yourself up for a conversation with nature, you can’t always know which part of it will speak.

Fantastical Fantasy Canyon

It started with Goblin Valley. The name caught my attention, of course, and when I looked it up to see what it was like, I was even more intrigued. Then Chad told me that there was a place not too far from here that was similar, with strange, fragile rock formations. Fantasy Canyon, the place was called.

He warned me it was in oil country, surrounded by oil wells. That did not prepare me for our drive, going past oil well after oil well, and apparently at least one hydraulic fracturing set up as well. About a mile or so from our destination we drove past incredibly beautiful and fascinating landforms – badlands and hoodoos – that were backdrops for pumpjacks and oil storage tanks. Just the beauty of the place could have easily qualified it to be a national park; alas, it would mostly be scenery to the oil and gas crews, and the 5000 visitors per year to the BLM site.

Once arrived at Fantasy Canyon the oil wells were only visible in the mid-distance. A path bordered by rocks led us through the site to admire the strange sandstone formations. Well it kind of did. In places the path was well designated, in other places it was hard to tell what was path and what was off-limits. We walked cautiously so as not to disturb these ancient deposits, some of which were named for animals (diving porpoise) or characters (flying witch).

Visiting this site made it even more clear to me why Chad is such a passionate defender of wilderness. When land is not protected, even land of extreme geological interest such as Fantasy Canyon, instead of remaining a resource of beauty, education and wildlife habitat, it can easily become an industrial casualty. Fantasy Canyon is still intact, but with deep rock fracturing fracking operations nearby, who knows how long it will remain so?