Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Desert of the Heart - Book Review

Karen Chamberlain's pretty prose describes the wild desert in simple and bold words. Her hiding place was discovered by many zany and worldly live-in visitors, adding invigorating life to this memoir. After reading Karen's reflections on winter's solitude ("hear the music at the heart of existence"), I now rejoice the cold quiet months in the desert. This short, sweet novel left me wanting more.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Living My Dying

I had a vivid dream last month that I veered off a high mountain while I drove a car, took a huge gasp (knowing I was to die), and was suspended in the air when I woke up. I think of this dream every time I drive or ride my road bike down Highway 12 from what the locals call "Head of the Rocks." This section of the road takes a wide right swing, descending a 12% grade over-looking mottled white and red slickrock. The Henry mountains loom in the background. If I gaze over the mounds of slickrock while the centrifugal force from the curve is on me, I can feel that same suspended sensation from my dream, like being cradled in a half-moon's lap. Next time you are traveling from Escalante to Boulder, see if this part of the road takes your breath away too.

Monday, October 15, 2007

You are Welcome

Listening to Don Montoya's archaeological and culture speech at Escalante Canyons Arts Festival last Friday, I finally felt welcomed. We built our first house over eleven years ago as a vacation home here in Escalante, Utah. Now its been over two years of living full-time in our original abode and renting the new La Luz vacation home to tourists. People of all clans throughout history have visited our Colorado Plateau for thousands of years. And then vanished. Like the pioneer families that came to Escalante in the 1800's, second and third generations have to move from Escalante for economic reasons. Its hard to make a living here. Travelers passing through as migrating birds do, are well-received in our community. Surrounded by millions of public lands, we're all visiting temporarily.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Fall Equinox

I sensed the changing intensity of the sun's rays as we set off on our trail run yesterday. Not only from the double rainbow in the west, but I was able to run comfortably in the late morning. It was as if five pounds were lifted off me. The sun wasn't hot. I even carried a rain jacket and wore a pumpkin-color long sleeve tee-shirt. Orange, or any derivative of that color, is my favorite autumn shade to wear. Seasons do dictate what I wear, when I'm active, where I go and even the food I consume.
Tis the season to eat and eat and eat..vegetables. Our prolific garden has yielded peppers, tomatoes, squash, potatoes, and of course, pumpkins. Chop, peel, cook, freeze are my dominating activities lately. I appreciate the abundance, but not all at once.
It was the SUDDENNESS or impatience that surprised me during this fall equinox day. There were early clues: Aspen trees on Boulder Mountain freckled with gold, sunrises and sunsets arrived later and sooner, the flies disappeared, I shut my bedroom window at night. Autumn in the desert wants to be noticed.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


Its been an interesting summer for sky-watching: Lunar eclipice, meteor showers, finding the north star, seeking Uranus moons.
I had a perfect position to view the Perseids meteor shower. We camped on a peak with a 240 degree view of the sky high above tree line to watch the show. My portable chaise lounge supported me along with a minus 15 degree sleeping bag to see the spectacle in the wee hours before sunrise. I counted 53 falling stars. The streaks came from all directions and time intervals. After each falling star I'd make a wish: peace in the middle east, I'd lose five pounds effortlessly, our front road be paved, see more falling stars... Fifty-three was a good number to crawl back into the tent on.
I regret not taking a photo of the Lunar eclipse. The moon looked like an old picture of red Mars. Eerie. Being awake in the dead of night is spooky too. Coyote howls seemed to be only ten feet away. Bushes rattled as if creatures were convening on how to attack me. Paranoid thoughts ruled during the slow, shadow moon show.
Lately I've been using the binoculars to locate Uranus moons in the southeast sky in the early dark evening. Clouds or my forgetfulness has prevented my newest discovery in the heavens.
The persistent north star or Polaris, has been chased by the Big and Little Dipper for centuries. I've only recently noticed there are other worlds to unearth out in the dark skies.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Up or Down?

Lightening sparked our debate as to where to backpack last week. Canyons or the mountains? We could wear our shorts through the night in the desert canyons. Recent rains would have filled water-pockets for all our water needs. Cottonwood trees are in full-leaf and would shade us. Those pesky fears of flash-floods made us look upward toward the high mountains. Water is plentiful in the alpine lakes and streams. The nights are cold enough to zap the blood-sucking critters. It would be a relief to be chilled after the desert heat. Then I thought of the time my hair stood up during a close thunder and lightening storm in the high mountains. No place to hide except under a tall, scorched dead Ponderosa tree.
We compromised and backpacked on the head of a narrow canyon. We hiked across slickrock a couple of miles and erected our tent on a sand island under a pinion pine tree. We heard and watched thunderclouds burst all around us. South, Lake Powell was was having its own electric light parade. The city of Escalante was shrouded in gray sheets of rain, hidden in it's own drama. Big anvil clouds swallowed up the Henry Mountains. We toasted to our clear donut hole sky and watched a rainbow travel through time.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Little Big Rain

As I set off for a casual mountain bike ride, I didn't believe it would rain. How could rain come from such puny far-away clouds? Two miles down the dirt road big fat drops plopped on my bare arms. I welcomed any moisture and charged forward in the cooling wetness. Then I relented and put on my nylon "water-resistant" jacket. The sky above me was still blue. Thunder cracked above the side canyons. I found some shelter under the canopy of an old Juniper tree. The huge raindrops turned the dirt road into a bubbling mass of miniature suction- cups. I smelled the steamy mud. Twenty feet away a new channel of foamy water gushed over the road to force its way to Alvey Wash. This new water-channel was like a hunting dog on a scent. Nothing would deter its course. I waited for the rain to let up.
Ten years or so ago, a big monsoon rainstorm hit our desert home. Our boys played in the mud and tried to block the waterways that played havoc through our yard. The trenches still exist. During the storm we raced to Alvey Wash and was rewarded with red rapids of churning water. Debris of tree branches, pine needles, boulders, plowed through the once dry bed. It took out chunks of the banks as it curled around corners. Expert kayakers would have had a hard time navigating through this force of water. We were in awe.
Twenty wet minutes later I ventured from beneath the Juniper and pedaled my way back to the house. It was like parting the red sea as my fat bike tires split the water. A newborn river crossed my pathway that had taken out part of the road stopped my passage. Patience. I walked up and down this new watercourse to find a way to jump it. Ten minutes later I forged through this brooklet. I made it back home, albeit muddy and soaked, pleased the monsoons have arrived.

Monday, June 04, 2007

The Lost Birthday Wish

Ever gotten lost? You know that disorientated, heart-racing surge of where-am-I doom feeling for hours? You probably haven't if you've stayed on the designated trails.
Yesterday I left the known path and crossed down boulder fields to reach an alpine lake nestled in pines and cattails. Just a little side adventure. I wanted to help fulfill my friend's birthday wish of swimming in an alpine lake. After the icy plunge, we climbed over the dumpster-sized boulders back to our Great Western Trail. Thirty minutes later we still hadn't reached the well-marked GWT path and decided to return to the boulder field. We never did find those particular rocks. The downed dense timber slowed us but we persevered through thick folage as evening descended. I realized we were walking in circles because my shadow followed me from different sides. Finally we stumbled on a creek and we hacked our way down the stream until it became a marsh.
I took stock of what I had on me to survive the night: small knife, a tarp, quart of water, some jerky, fleece headband and my dog. Knowing I could live through the night kept me calm and moving.
Back up the creek, we crashed through twisted branches and soft satuated soil. We didn't know where else to go but higher to spy any landmarks we knew above the trees.
After three hours my girlfriend got her birthday wish: She found the Great Western Trail after her swim. This is her lost birthday present. Next year will be the year of the compass and map.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Echo Effect

I remarked last week to my husband as we slogged up the Esplanade in the Grand Canyon, how the Escalante canyons could look like this without the cows.
We can drive to the pristine North Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2 hours SW from Escalante. Grand Canyon is a national treasure with it's untrampled cyptrogamic soil, indigenous plants and critters, and relative low tourist impacts. Yes, the springs that spout from rock walls have visitor damage from the Colorado River's easy access. Five days of hiking in and out the North Rim is only the tip of the Grand Canyon.
To the north of Escalante (hour and half away) the girls from Colorado and I road biked though another National Park - Capital Reef. The Fremont river cuts through sheer stained walls with its own set of canyons. Capital Reef is surrounded by pinnacles and castles and a few gargoyles. I broke my personal fastest record riding down to the visitor center: 40.9 MPH. I almost fell off my bike going up the same hill, pedaling too slow: 3.5 MPH. At least I was slow enough to see blooming Desert Paintbrush and Penstemons.
Bryce National Park surprised me last winter to have been able to skate-ski through vast pine forests. Only 45 minutes west of Escalante, Bryce's red canyons and forests are obtainable year-round. This is the most photogenic park with its endless hoodoos.
I'm listening to the echo effect from the other national parks as the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument develops it's own voice.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

How You Know When it's Cold

At a yoga class my backpacking buddy was asked about her purple middle toe. That's when I knew it was COLD crossing the Coyote and Escalante rivers a few week-ends ago. We plowed through the penetrating FREEZING ankle-deep water to hike the other shoreline. The sunshine was heaven and hell: the joy of the warming rays to piecing pain as my feet rapidly de-frosted. The group agreed to find a higher route to Stevens Arch Canyon and stay out of the streams.

We found a faint trail high-up with the tops of hoodoos and an orange monolithic locomotor. We followed a winding single track and filled our bottles with sweet spring water. Our original Stevens Canyon destination was below us, shrouded in dense shade and unmelted snow. Our sunny side was the place to be in the beginning of March. We'll save Stevens Canyon for a hot summer day when the cool water is welcomed and after our war-wounds have healed.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Finding Inner Peace in the Desert

As I flipped over my January calender page, I read the inspirational message by Erkart Tolle: "All the things that truly matter- beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace - arise from beyond the mind." The desert brings me pleasure and inner peace. If I think about the loveliness of the wilderness I'm not getting Tolle's point: going beyond the mind. I do sense the timelessness yet ever changable characteristics of the desert. Rocks are alive, absorbing the stillness. Clouds come and go, never the same. Animals enjoy eating succulant plants and hording food for upcoming seasons.
At times I may see heat waves shimmering and undulating in the distance. This maybe what Buddhism calls "dissolution." This is where elements begin to dissolve and flow into each other: earth into water, water into fire, fire into air. Here I go again, into my head. Out in the unpeopled desert I just try to be. Later I reflect on the beauty and my love for the untamed wilderness here at my doorstep.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Ricki Bagged Zebra Canyon

I have this fantasy of leading a trail running group to Zebra slot canyon and back. The problem was I couldn't remember how to get there. My initial approach to Zebra was different. Ricki, my husband, wasn't with me when I bagged (conquered) the twenty yards of Zebra-striped slot canyon years ago.
Ricki and I tried different routes. Once we went over the mounds of slickrock and discovered acres of Moqui marbles but not the treasured banded canyon. Another attempt we went deep down Harris Wash to other interesting side canyons worth more exploring. Others ventured with us but water pools stopped us.

When I entered the twisty tunnel the walls progressively became tighter and more streaked. At one point I had to squeeze through a close slit that opened into an obstacle to climb. The others wedged their agile bodies up and over. I was stymied. I couldn't get my butt up to scoot across the tall wall while bracing my feet against the opposite wall. Several scrapes and bruises later I rammed my backside along one wall as my feet supported me against the other wall.
I scooted horizontally across the walls until I reached the famed stripes of Zebra. The effort was worth it. Symmetrical bands wound through the wavy slot canyon. Another difficult climbing hurdle stopped me from going deeper. I went back through exotic Zebra-land and up and over my previous climbing challenge with confidence.
I'm now closer to fulfilling my trail running group fantasy.