Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cities, Arches, and Canyons of Rock, Nepalese Jewelry Peddlers

It's been a couple of weeks since my last posting so it feels like it's time for an update.

Since the last post I visited City of Rocks in southern Idaho, then drove more or less directly to Moab in southeastern Utah.

City of Rocks is a sport rock climbing area, in the same vein as Oregon's Smith Rock. Upon seeing it I thought the name was a good fit. It's kind of like the downtown of a mid sized city, but instead of buildings there's a bunch of rock formations scattered about. I'm not sure what elevation it's at but it must be fairly high, because it was snowing when I arrived in the late afternoon. The area is set in a high desert, surrounded by rolling hills which are actually rather high (~10,000 ft).

City of Rocks is in forest service land. The routes are very accessible via dirt roads and a network of trails. Some of the routes could literally be belayed from your car. There are many campsites and toilets in the area. The tiny town of Almo is within a 15 minute drive and has most of what you need.

As with the Bugaboos, the rock climbing season had pretty much wrapped up by the time I'd arrived. I saw one other party, which looked like some kind of school or guided group. I spent two days there, mostly hiking about and scrambling on some of the rock formations. I considered staying longer but took it as a sign to leave when it started drizzling on the second afternoon. I uploaded a couple of photos here.

Having spent much of the trip to date in cold alpine environments, often with snow, I was looking forward to a sunnier, dryer, and warmer climate. After yet another encounter with the authorities (they said I had parked in some kind of missile range) I arrived in Moab. The afternoon I arrived a thunderstorm came through, but since then the weather's been pretty much what I had hoped for. Most days it's been completely clear, with highs in the 70s. The sun gets just bright and hot enough to almost make me wish it weren't quite so sunny, but only for a short bit of time before it starts to cool off again. Nights are cold, around freezing, and usually clear.

Moab is at the center of a vast, year-round outdoor playground. Within an hour's drive are two national parks (Arches and Canyondlands), a 12000 ft mountain range (the LaSals), multiple sport rock climbing destinations (Indian Creek probably being the most well known), class V river rapids on the Colorado River, hundreds of miles of rough canyon roads for 4x4 off-road and ATV fans, and, of course, the famous slickrock mountain biking trails.

I've been here for a week and a half and feel like I've only scratched the surface. I was a but overwhelmed when I first arrived. There were so many possibilities it was hard to decide what to do first. I felt like a kid in a candy store. I decided to start exploring the area on foot. I spent a couple of days day hiking in the Canyondlands and in Arches. After that I went backpacking for six days, then scrambled up one of the LaSals peaks. I haven't even ridden the bike yet or pulled out my rock shoes.

Arches is a fairly small national park. The entrance is just two miles outside of Moab. It's very popular and has a very touristy, almost Disneyland-like feel to it. The main attraction is, of course, the high density of natural rock arches. All are accessible via day hikes and many don't even require that you leave your car for a good look. In the span of one long day I managed to get through all the day hikes in the park. I hiked into one arch late on a clear, moonlit night, which made it more enjoyable. It is, admittedly, a must see if you're in the area. Photos here.

Canyonlands is a larger, less popular park which is divided into two main districts. The first district I visited is called Island in the Sky. This is essentially a large mesa, mostly flat on top, about 10 x 10 miles in size, and a couple of thousand feet above the Colorado River on one side and the Green River on the other. On the south side of the island the two rivers merge. On the north side the island is connected to the "mainland" by a 40 ft wide neck, technically making the island a peninsula. The natives used to drive bighorn sheep through the neck and onto the island, making it easier to hunt them. Later, cowboys fenced off the neck, turning the island into a giant corral for cattle. On any side the island drops off steeply into canyons and water sculpted rock formations. The canyons look like photos I've seen of the Grand Canyon. The views from the top of the island are stunning.

My first backpacking trip took me on a loop, down the west side of the island to the Green River, up the Green River a bit, into a canyon heading east towards the neck, then back uphill on the north side of the island. For a region that gets less than 10 inches of rain in a year water was easier to find than I had expected. Trees seem to be a good indicator of a spring and pools sometimes lingered at the bottom of steep north facing walls. Some of the water admittedly looked and smelled rather foul, but boiling it will kill anything that might hurt you (so I hoped, anyway). The dead stuff might even be nutritious. It was on this excursion that I came across a rock formation called Zeus and Moses. These are two rock towers, the taller one with an overhanging block near the top. I hiked up to the base and noticed climbing gear on both towers. I later found route descriptions on the web. Moses, the taller one, has a route with 525 ft (eight pitches) of vertical. The descent involves three rappels on two 60 meter ropes. The route is rated a 5.11+, well beyond my abilities, but it looked like you could lower the grade by aid climbing some parts. I found a web page describing a mid air traverse someone had done between the two towers using 1200 ft of static rope. Island in the Sky photos are here.

My backcountry permit was good for a few more days. Wanting to make the most out of the $15 I paid for the permit I next headed to the Needles district of the Canyonlands. Although they're in the same park and just a few miles from each other as the crow flies, it's close to a two hour drive between the two districts.

The Needles are quite different from what I'd seen in Island in the Sky or Arches. I can only describe the rock formations as other wordly. I'd never seen anything like them, either in person or in photos. It often seemed like I was on another planet, maybe the desert planet in the Star Wars series. Like Island in the Sky and Arches, there were canyons and rock pinnacles, but the shapes were much rounder. Many of the formations looked like someone had taken different colored balls of dough, stacked them on each other, then waited a while for gravity to deform the balls into odd shapes. In some areas the formations were very regular, forming what looked to my eyes like a fortress of alien architecture. In other areas there were narrow canyons in the spaces between benches of rock, often with overhanging walls. Inside the canyons trees and plants grew. These canyons reminded me of the old TV series "Land of the Lost" because they seemed like places where you could hide dinosaurs without anyone noticing. Every now and then I'd come across Native American artwork and petroglyphs on the canyon walls. It only added to the feeling that I was in another, strange world. Hopefully the photos convey some of of what I'm trying to describe. I also uploaded a video clip. The photo at the top of this posting is from the Needles.

I later learned that these structures were formed when underlying layers of salt had deformed as a result of the weight of the sedimentary rock which had built up on top of the salt. The Island in the Sky canyons, by contrast, were formed by erosion.

I left the Needles planning on heading back to Moab. I expected to meet Jeff there the next day. Once I got a cell signal I discovered he'd left Corvallis a day later than planned. I headed in the opposite direction instead, towards the nearby town of Monticello, to pamper myself with some restaurant food after sleeping in the dirt for six days.

On the way to Monticello the van started cutting out intermittently. Since the engine wasn't completely dying I pressed on. Once I got into town the problem got worse. On leaving the local burger joint the engine finally died and refused to restart. I figured I might as well take a look at the engine and see if there was anything I could find wrong. After checking a few things I noticed that one of the vacuum hoses was in pretty sad shape. I pulled it off, put my finger over one end and sucked on the other. It definitely had a leak. I didn't really think that this was the cause of the problem but figured I needed to replace it anyway. Luckily there was a parts store just two blocks away. To my surprise the engine ran fine once I replaced the hose.

It was while eating a burger in the restaurant that I met the Nepalese jewelry peddler. She'd hit up the restaurant owner and his daughter first. Initially I thought she was a Native American conducting some business with the owner. However, when she was finished with the owner she came over to my table and introduced herself as a native of Nepal who was on a mission. Her accent was consistent with the region. I hadn't finished my food and for the moment my stomach had control of my brain, so I told her that I had no need for any jewelry before she had even finished opening her case. She then asked for a donation. Still eager to return to eating my food I gave her the first bill I pulled out of my pocket, a ten. She was still curious about something and asked me if I was familiar with Nepal. I rattled off what I knew about Nepal's recent history: For most of the current decade Marxist rebels had been fighting soldiers loyal to the Nepalese king in a bloody civil war. Recently they'd decided to stop shooting each other and were currently negotiating over the structure of a new government. She was surprised at what I knew, but still didn't leave. She then explained that in Nepal there are people who look like me (mentioning my hair) who are called hippies. She asked me if I was a hippie. I'd been living outside for a week in the same clothes, hadn't cut my hair in several months, and hadn't shaved since leaving Corvallis. I must have looked even more grimey and disheveled than I normally do. Still thinking about the rest of my food I searched for a response that would allow me to get back to eating as soon as possible. I finally told her that if I look like a hippie then, yes, I must indeed be a hippie. She thanked me for my donation then headed to the adjacent pool hall to look for more customers / donors. Later, after my stomach relinquished control of my brain I wished I had asked her what her mission was. The backwaters of Utah seem like an odd place to find a jewelry peddler from Nepal.

Since I had an extra day before Jeff arrived I decided to head to the LaSal mountain range after spending the night in Monticello. The turn off for range access is on the way back to Moab. The LaSals aren't an especially aesthetic range, at least close up. They're more like high elevation hills. There's no permanent snow on them and none of the routes have much in the way of exposure. Grass grows on the peaks almost to the summits. However, they form the backdrop for all the places I've mentioned in this blog entry, so I figured I'd might as well pay them a visit.

My original intent was to climb Mt. Peale, at 12.7k ft the highest peak in the range. After slogging up boulder fields, sometimes on all fours, and reaching a ridge line, I realized that I hadn't paid enough attention to where I was going. There was a steep rock chute immediately between me and the ridge that lead to Mt. Peale's summit. I had gone up the wrong gully. Mt. Tukuhnikivatz ("Tuku" for short) was in the opposite direction along the same ridge line. It was closer, and looked easier to reach. It's summit, 240 ft lower than Peale's, instantly became my new objective. More scrambling on boulders and a few small snow patches put me on top. The summit was marked with a wooden pole, a bivy trench dug into the boulders, what I think was a bear skull, and a pile of poop from some animal. It was pretty windy. Some ravens were hanging out just above me performing various acrobatic tricks in the sky. It was actually very majestic. It seemed as if they were surfing the wind, just for the fun of it, never flapping their wings. It was effortless. Every now and then I'd hear a loud swoosh as they dove and buzzed the summit. The things they did would put acrobatic airplane pilots to shame. I sat there and watched the air show until they headed off somewhere else. LaSal pictures are here.

As I post this entry I'm in the town of Moab. Jeff should be arriving later today. We'll be rock climbing and mountain biking in the area and will likely go back to the Needles for more backpacking. I should be in the Moab vicinity for at least a couple more weeks. There's still much to explore here, and it's hard to complain about the weather given the time of year.


tony_fuller said...

Maybe you should try something like that to fund your trip? Although using the out of work, just on sebatical engineering manager story may not work for this one.
Galen and I ran into a Nepalese jewelery peddler at Baja Fresh in Corvallis...her story had something to do with kids in her country...before she could finish Galen stopped her and asked her if $2 to go away and bug someone else would work. it did. sounds like a common theme...bug you while you are eating. After bugging a couple more people she was booted out.

Victorio Chavarria said...

It's funny how many different ways people try to make a living. I've been trying various ways myself lately, but I hadn't thought of a jewelry peddler. I wonder if the Nepalese would rough me up if I tried to become a jewelery peddler. Only one way to find out...

/****** Used to generate site stats *******/