Posts Tagged ‘desert’

The Wonder of All Things Great and Small

25th April 2011 by Paul

2011 01 29 (10) - Canyonlands - views from Island in the SkyLockheart Basin Trail, Canyonlands, Utah

This morning, as the blackness of sleep lifted from my mind and the feint awareness of day began to wash over me, I became aware that I should make a decision.

The teeth in my upper jaw ached.

All of them.

The frigid cold bit deep into my jawbone, making the nerves scream.   The exposed flesh above my cheekbones stung horribly, and each breath burned the inside of my nostrils.   The discomfort of waking had already visited me three or four times during the night, but now I could sense the early morning glimmer that heralded sunsrise.   But there was an hour yet before I needed wake Helen and begin the ritual of camp life in the cold.   So the decision had to be made.

Should I keep my upper face exposed and endure the discomfort, or bury my face inside the sleeping bag, where my breath would condense in the down fill, and freeze there, lowering the insulation?

Neither held much of a motivation for me, and in the end, I chose a halfway solution which, I suppose, was no decision at all.   Bury my face until my face warmed and the aching stopped, and then expose my flesh again until I could bear it no longer, then, repeat.

In the dark warmth of the bag, hood pulled tight around my face, I drifted into that place of creative half-sleep where great ideas seem to form.   I vascilated between the pragmatic and the idealogical – how to best design storage solutions on overlanding vehicles, and the kind of leadership the world would need to right some of its chronic social problems.

Later, as the sun warmed the tent, small droplets of melting ice water plopped intrusively onto my closed eyelids, waking me from my half sleep.

2011 01 30 (58) - Grand View Point, Island in the Sky, CanyonlandsI rose first, allowing Helen her customary ten minutes of ‘extra time’, and slipped on the chilled day clothes I had lain out carefully the night before to keep the draughts in the tent to a minimum.   I suppose it was the slight smell of woodsmoke from my clothes that awoke my sense of smell, and as I pulled on my trousers, I noticed a faint whiff of two-day-crotch, and resolved to change my underwear before I smelled any more like a feret hutch.

Swinging down from the tent, I unlocked all the doors, took the shovel and headed uphill towards a bluff, where the sand banked deeper, and I knew I’d stand a chance of digging a decent latrine.   A few minutes later, appropriately relieved, I took a few photos of camp as the rising sun began to cast its fiery glow on the mountains across from the canyonlands.

I wandered further afield, exploring the place we had camped in failing light the evening before.   The air was cold, but there was not a breath of wind nor a sound beyond the slight crunch of my own footseps

2011 02 04 (5) - morning views of campsite on Lockhart Basin RoadClambering over broken layers of Moenkopi rock formations, I ventured deeper into the canyon.   As I walked carefully between the rocks, my feet sank into the fine soft red sand eroded from the surrounding sedimentary rock layers, and over 15 million year old.   In places, the ground crunched underfoot, marking my sudden violation of a paper thin cryptobiotic crust that had taken a hundred years or more of microbiotic activity to form.

I became aware that I was in a sacred place.   A place so huge, and ancient, and remote from human life as to almost defy comprehension.   And yet a place so fragile, so untouched, so delicate in its ecology, that the evidence of my presence here would take two lifetimes to erase.

As the sky brightened and turned blue with the rising sun, I took two more photos in memory of my visit, and retraced my steps back towards camp feeling a little ashamed that I had stumbled so thoughtlessly through nature’s display of wonderous patience, perfect design, and harmony.

Turning to look out once more into the harsh, yet beautiful vastness of the desert, dancing red and orange in the early morning sun, with my mind half distracted by the thought of clean underpants, my soul danced and was uplifted by the wonder of all things.

Staying on in Tucson

7th April 2011 by Helen
Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

After a long weekend at the Overland Expo in Amado just south of Tucson we are currently staying in Tucson.  When we met Heath at Land Rover Marin, he was also there promoting his company rangeroverarmour, who fit luxury accessories to new Range Rovers.  Anyway, Heath kindly volunteered his parents to put us up for a few days and act as tour guides while we are in Arizona!  Fortunately, they were up for the offer and here we are.

Monday was a recovery day – chilling and hoovering some of the Arizona desert out of the car.

Sabino Canyon

Sabino Canyon

Tuesday Paul & Jean took us for a walk out to Sabino Canyon, where Paul & Jean explained some of the plants of the desert to us.  I learned why some of the sagauro cacti look so battered – woodpeckers make their nest in them!!  The buds are just coming out and the cacti will soon be in full bloom.  Such a rare sight in England where even one flower is celebrated as a miracle!! Paul also saw a real wild snake up close and we all saw a Gila Monster right beside the path.  Young fish were swimming in the little bit of water that is currently running through the canyon, but as the summer continues this water is likely to dry up leaving the fish with nowhere to go.  With the drying of the river the verdant scenery along it’s path will also go.  Much to our surpirse a lone duck was swimming around looking for a mate and food and finding neither.  It really was a very lovely place to go for a walk, although only early in the morning before the temperature gets too hot.

view of just a small part of the airplane boneyard

view of just a small part of the airplane boneyard

On Wednesday Paul & I took a tour of the Pima Air Museum and Airplane Boneyard.  Even though I don’t really understand mechanical stuff too well I’m still fascinated by it.  To me it’s just such an important part of the transformation of society that happened with the Industrial Revolution.  And at the human effort that went into much of the development, such as the millions of rivets in each plane, each one of them put in by hand by armies of women working in the factories.  All of the planes in the ‘boneyard’ fall into one of four categories – flyable storage (temporary for up to six months before going back into flying service), long term storage (may fly again one day), being slowly stripped for spare parts, or awaiting destruction.  Just about everything is recycled in some way and the ‘boneyard’ makes quite a good profit back for the military.  It was a fascinating trip and really good value.

On the way back we stopped off to pick up a new, donated, battery, as one of our original batteries is no longer holding a full charge since it went completely dead in freezing Montana!!  Much appreciated and a weight off our mind for the next part of the Americas leg.

Thursday was back to work again, with Paul getting some of those niggly little jobs done on the car, while I caught up with some more jobs on the laptop – boring stuff like getting the back ups done before we leave the US.

Death Valley

28th February 2011 by Helen
Outside the general store in Shoshone

Outside the general store in Shoshone

Having ‘camped’ just outside Shoshone last night we went into town to fill up with fuel before heading out into Death Valley (25th).  The town sign says the population is 100 – the woman serving in the garage said they might have reached that many by now!!  She happily told us that the town is owned by Susan Brown, granddaughter of Senator George Brown.  Although the town has its own museum there are also artefacts everywhere else – an old range in the garage, a couple of cupboards, old fireside tools, etc.  Even the post office had artefacts on display.  Probably the work of Susan Brown who apparently also takes the trouble to make sure the shops stock interesting and varied souvenirs, and none of them were tacky.

ruins at Ashford Mill

ruins at Ashford Mill

Once inside Death Valley we visited the remains of the old Ashford Mill.  Death Valley has several disused mines.  Although gold and silver were mined here, so too were a number of other minerals, including Borax and Bakelite.  The first mine we explored was the Queen of Sheba mine, where an old bunkhouse and shower block are still standing.  Some of the buildings have collapsed but much of the machinery is still recognisable and we followed the lines of pipes and machines, working out how the old mine had worked.  While the Mill was on the main road through Death Valley, the mine was at the end of a long ‘4×4 road’ to the side of the main road, and we saw no-one else out there.

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Salt Formations and Devil's Golf Course at Badwater at lowest elevation in Death Valley

Passing through the middle of Death Valley we reached the lowest recorded point in the US, where our Sat Nav read that we were over 300 feet below sea level at one point.  Here is the remains of a river running through, but it is almost solid with salt deposits.  Here too are strange mud formations, encrusted with salt, and nicknamed Devil’s golf course.  To say it was windy would be an understatement.  Paul tried to get out of the car to take some photos and could hardly shut the door again against the wind.  In this there were cyclists, fortunately going in the same direction as the wind – I doubt anyone could have cycled against the wind.  Cycling is pretty popular here for some reason, not quite sure I could fancy it.

There are numerous canyons inside Death Valley’s mountain ranges and on our first night here we camped in Echo Canyon.  By now the wind had died down and it was as calm as calm could be.

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

one of the huts at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

The next morning (26th), after a night of high winds, with me lying in bed imagining the early scenes from the Wizard of Oz, where the house is picked up by a tornado and poor old Dorothy ends up in Oz, we explored more of Echo Canyon.  Further on from our camp we found the disused Inya Mine.  Here too were some fascinating examples of old machinery.  An open air museum almost.  Paul marvelled at the inventiveness of some of the early machinery, using what looked like car parts in places, the whole mechanics of everything.  Me, I just marvel at the transition from the agrarian age to the industrial age, marvelling at the creativity of invention.

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

derelict machinery at Inya Mine in Echo Canyon, Death Valley

Travelling back down Echo Canyon we took a diversion off along the road towards Amargosa Desert.  The road came to an end (my version), slightly rockier patch (Paul’s version), but I really didn’t want to chance going any further and so we turned around.  It was then we noticed, next to what appeared to be the remains of some kind of ruin, that a wire ran up the mountainside, along what appeared to be a smooth path.  Paul followed the wire up, probably 1,000 feet, and over the crest, only to find the upper reaches of the mine we had explored earlier – and more examples of early machinery.  How they got it up that far we can only guess at.  Determination.

And so, as it’s possible to camp in most of Death Valley (as long as you are more than two miles away from the main road), we headed out towards Cottonwood Canyon for another night in the tent under the stars.  No wind this time.

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

Chert (flint) in the rock in Marble Canyon in Death Valley

It was a bit warmer when we woke up the next morning (27th).  Continuing to follow the Cottonwood Canyon Road we turned off towards Marble Canyon.  There we came across a couple of tired looking hikers who turned out to be two members of a group taking part in a geology field visit to Death Valley.  We gave them a lift right into Marble Canyon, with them riding our ‘tree sliders’ and hanging on to our roof rack for as far as the road would go.  Then we hiked into the canyon together.  They enjoyed the ride and we had the advantage of some expert information as we travelled.  Needless to say a lot of the rock was marble!  The geologists pointed out geological features.  Then we spotted some strange rock.  Dark grey with black circles of another rock embedded in it, making it look like the rock had a bad attack of the measles.  Turned out the darker embedded rock was Chert (or Flint as we would call it).

After leaving Marble Canyon we stopped to admire the well trodden Mesquite Sand Dunes before hitting the road to head back out of Death Valley.  Not before one more night of camping under the stars!!

Finally, the next day (28th) we explored the road to Chloride Cliff where we found some of the workings to the closed Keane gold mine.  Overworked to the point of being in danger of collapse the mine area is closed to the public.  Our final stop was at the ghost town of Rhyolite (with seated row of ghosts at the town entrance) where we met a group of photographers just starting a short break in Death Valley.  Just past here were a small group of Burros.  The Burros had been introduced to Death Valley, presumably during the height of the mining in the area they are now being rounded up and removed because they, along with the horses, are not native to the area.

We finished the day many hours and a long drive later just short of Reno in Nevada.  Once again in the cold and snow we found all the forestry roads had been closed because of the winter weather and we were unable to find a campsite.  Eventually found a tiny roadside layby.

Campsite – just outside town of Walker, Nevada

Distance travelled – 503