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.

 

 

 

 

 

Coyote Canyon

I’m so lucky to have found and married somebody who shares my love of hiking in wild desert places. I’d been wanting to take Kristina to a little canyon in the area I call “the land between” and we went there for our most recent hike. It’s a place I remembered fondly even though it had been a few years since I’d been there. I told Kristina that the place didn’t have a name and that I was calling it “Chad Canyon,” and I asked her if it would be too narcissistic to call it that. I wouldn’t really name a place after myself – even if it’s a place that’s special to me and even if, as is the case with so many of the places I hike, I never see anybody else there.

We hiked down an old road and came to a place where there used to be a bridge. There’s a well-built structure on either side of the wash that it crossed, but the bridge itself has long-since vanished. I told Kristina that I like seeing things like that – things that show a lack of permanence of human-made structures – and she responded by saying “wabi sabi.” “What’s that?” I asked, and she told me it’s a Japanese term for something impermanent. For example, in Japanese culture it could refer to a cup with a chip in it. The old roadway we were walking on was a good example of that because it showed signs of once having been covered with pavement but was now just a two-track with desert vegetation growing in it.

After a while we left the old road and headed east toward the canyon, and as we approached it we saw some pronghorn antelope in the distance – at least five of them. We watched them as we walked down a gentle slope to a flat sandstone area at the rim of the canyon. We’d been waiting for a good place to eat the snacks we’d brought with us (earlier we’d joked about staying in our car to eat them instead of hiking, but this was much nicer). It felt so good sitting on the slickrock in the warm sun. The temperature was great, and so was the view around us. We seemed to be at the point of transition from shallow wash to canyon.

After eating our snacks and relaxing on the rim we hiked down into the little canyon, which gradually got deeper and deeper, with a series of steep drops. In some places the canyon dropped over sandstone bedrock that had been eroded to form interesting holes and pockets by the action of the occasional water that flows through the area when there’s a big enough storm. There were also huge chunks of sandstone that appeared to have fallen from the cliffs on the sides of the canyon. They made a great place for doing wild yoga, and we enjoyed doing some poses there.

This is my kind of area! It meets three of my criteria for a really awesome place: no stumps (easy because there are no trees), no ATV tracks (too rugged for them), and no sign of cows (evidence elsewhere but not down in the canyon). What we did see a lot of was rabbits and rabbit tracks.

We also saw a lot of coyote tracks. In one place there were a bunch of their tracks next to a little pool of water left from the most recent rain storm. It had been a few days since the storm but the canyon walls and rocks had sheltered the water from the sun and kept it from evaporating, and the coyotes were coming there to drink. Kristina noticed those tracks first, and as we looked at them she commented that with all of the tracks we were seeing maybe we would get to see a coyote, and I replied that I certainly would enjoy that.

We saw more cool rocks, did more yoga, and admired some cliff swallow nests built on one particular cliff. We also admired a beetle, and marveled at some vegetation that was barely hanging on despite the erosion around it. We got to the place where the little canyon joins a big wash and we stopped there for a break before continuing our journey. As we hiked up out of the wash I was busy taking pictures of the view of the below us when suddenly I heard Kristina say, “Look, a coyote!” I looked up just in time to see a beautiful coyote run up the slope above us and over the horizon. I was reminded that sometimes getting caught up taking photos of one thing can let you miss, or almost miss, another thing.

I was hoping for another view of the coyote as we came out onto flat a area above the wash but Kristina thought the coyote would be long gone – and she was right, because we didn’t see it again.

“I can understand the coyote taking off since it has fifty dollars hanging over its head,” I said and explained that in Utah taxpayer money goes to pay fifty dollars for each coyote a person kills. It’s done in the name of keeping deer numbers high, even though a brochure published by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources points out that coyotes don’t actually have any effect on the state’s deer population.

The coyote that we saw was the first one Kristina has ever seen and one of the few I’ve seen. It was a fleeting moment, but one neither of us will forget. In honor of the coyote, I’ve decided to give up my namesake. We both decided “Coyote Canyon” is the best name for our secluded little canyon.

     

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.

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.

Mountain Yoga

It was time for another adventure, and since our previous hike had been in a desert location, I suggested we go to the mountains this time. On a previous trip we’d driven around Elk Horn Loop and I’d told Kristina that I wanted to come back to one particular part of the loop – the Pole Creek area. My first thought was to take her south of the road to the see the stream, but then I decided it would be fun to hike on the north side, where I hadn’t hiked before, so it would be a new place to explore for both of us.

Shortly after we started hiking we saw a couple of old dead pine trees, which we both found intriguing. Along with being pretty, dead trees are great wildlife habitat and are an important part of the ecosystem. Nearby were some curvy aspens, and Kristina mimicked their curves with curvy yoga poses.

Moving on I noticed an overturned rock and explained to Kristina that it was evidence of a foraging bear. Like dead old dead pines and curvy aspens, and Kristina doing yoga, evidence of bears makes me happy. As we hiked along, though, I also saw some things that make me unhappy – stumps, cow pies, and an unauthorized ATV trail that looked like it was never going to end (Kristina patiently listens when I grumble about things like that). The ATV’s had ridden on what appeared to be an old logging road – and the berms that were supposed to stop traffic seemed to be nothing more than fun-hills for the riders.

We stopped and did some yoga in an area dominated by aspens and then, when it was time to move on, I asked Kristina if it was okay with her if we left the draw we were in – to get away from the ATV trail – and hiked up onto the ridge to the east of us. She concurred, and up we went.

When we got to the top of the ridge there was a pretty little aspen stand surrounded by open sagebrush meadow, and I noticed old bear claw marks on one of the trees and showed Kristina. The view from the ridge was spectacular, and Kristina commented that the lighting and fall colors made the area look like New England.

As we hiked to the south I was amazed at the beautiful combination of the trees on the horizon silhouetted against a cloudy sky. I held back while Kristina hiked ahead and became part of the silhouette, and after taking some photos I hiked up and joined her at the point where the ridge drops off into the valley below. There’s a beautiful rock outcrop that makes a great vantage point from which to view the surrounding countryside, and is also a great place for wild yoga poses.

After enjoying the evening light from our vantage point we scrambled down the east side of the ridge to the Elkhorn Loop road. We paused for a tree-pose, and then enjoyed the view of aspens silhouetted in front of a beautiful sunset. We hiked the rest of the way back to the vehicle and drove away feeling happy and refreshed.

Read Kristina’s take on this adventure

Bear Hike At Pole Creek Canyon

For our latest weekly adventure, Chad took me up to a place called Pole Creek Canyon.  We started our hike off-trail through some lovely Aspen forest, Chad pointing out bear claw marks on trees, and rocks overturned by bears looking for ants. Being pretty new to this type of hiking, that is, hiking in territory occupied by large carnivores, the bear info didn’t exactly make me feel relaxed.

Chad let me pick our direction so I took us toward a clearing, where we found a dirt road. We decided to follow the road (recently used by ATV’s, much to Chad’s dismay) through more Aspen forest. We kept waiting for the road to end, but it didn’t so we decided to leave the path and clamber up a hill, following a rocky path blazed by cattle (cow pie, anyone?).

As I emerged onto the top of the hill a beautiful vista opened up. I stood and looked around me, realizing that the mountains in every direction were all wild country. I noticed a recurrent theme to these hikes – my concern about being off trail in wild animal land would be washed away again and again by the beauty of the landscapes. I thought about the bear signs we’d seen and realized that even if there were, most certainly, bear in this area, there weren’t many and our chances of running into any were small. However, this didn’t stop me from considering my emergency bear encounter plan: sing opera, really loud.

After hanging out to do some yoga poses and take some photos on our little summit, we started walking back in the direction of our car. Chad noticed some interesting rocks, and then something even more interesting: seashell fossils in some limestone. Whoa Nelly! This was exciting stuff for me, my first wild fossil, out here in the middle of nowhere. There were actually 3 little shells in the rock. It’s mind-blowing to think of the passage of time, that this area was an ocean or inland sea millions of years ago, and that these little signs of that past epoch were still up here on this hill, revealed by ancient erosion, but untouched. And putting it into context like that, my bear fears became very, very small.

Read Chad’s chronicle of our hike and see his amazing photos.

Going west

IMG_2960Around a year ago I went to the airport to meet in person, for the first time, a man who I’d met online and had been writing to for a little over two months. Our letters to each other made me feel like I’d found the friend I’d always longed for and the romantic partner I’d craved. That first meeting was not without its awkward moments. But it was mostly full of fun, laughing, long talks, and feeling the exciting bloom of new love. We realized what we had not been able to tell quite as well through our letters, phone calls, and Skype conversations: we shared a sense of humor. And even better, we felt a surprising physical comfort and compatibility with each other that drew us even closer together. Chad and I visited each other once a month over the next several months, decided to get married, and I decided that the most logical step would be for me to move out to Utah with him. So here I am now, enjoying a wonderful relationship while I discover an amazing area of the country.

Desert hike in the Uintah Basin

For labor day we decided to go for a hike in one of Chad’s favorite desert canyons. He’d been telling me about this place, but I’d been slightly put off from getting excited about it because of a big stretch of power lines that were near the entrance. His enthusiasm for the location, however, convinced me and I knew I would have to at least give it a try. Happily, it wasn’t long before we were out and away from all signs of power lines. This was a fun hike that got my heart thumping and made me feel alive. We saw a hoodoo (my first, up close!) and a great horned owl. And didn’t see anyone else for our whole hike. We did some wild yoga along the way. Chad followed our progress on his map and let me choose the way back. There is no comparison to hiking in such wild, remote and beautiful areas.

Cool night in Mancos

Waking up in Chaco was hot, really hot, so it was a relief to finish out the day in the cool evergreen forest at Mancos State Park, Colorado. The next day before we hit the road we had a fun time doing some yoga, taking photos and relaxing. As ready as I was to get to our destination and get our dogs and cats out of the RV and into a more permanent living situation, I had a lump in my throat as we took down our tent and prepared to leave. The soft forest floor of Mancos had been so inviting!

Drive through Southern Utah

As we made our tired way along the last leg of our cross-country odyssey (day 10!), I was thrilled to snap photos of the amazing scenery in Southeastern Utah. These landscapes always make me feel that I should be seeing big cats roam along them, as if they belong in Africa or southeast Asia. Beautiful scenery to end our trip with!