Monday, May 28, 2012


Hurricane, Utah, is a kind of gateway town to Zion National Park, and is close to the city of Saint George. It was a good place to spend a few days to re-supply from the relative remoteness of the last three stops. But, with Zion nearby, there were still plenty of opportunities for adventure.

Firstly, we found ourselves a short distance from a well known mountain bike trail: Gooseberry Mesa. We headed out on our first morning, to beat the heat of the day. We drove up and out of the valley on the paved road and skirted the mesa. Then we turned onto a packed dirt road, and were thankful that it was relatively smooth, after beating the truck up so badly in Escalante. But we were in for another pounding. Another turn, and the road up to the mesa top was vehiclular torture. It was too rough to take at speed - we just had to suffer each and every rut, washboard, ridge and pothole. After five or six miles of truck abuse we at last arrived at the trailhead, about 2000' higher, and 10 degrees cooler, than town.

We struck out down the Jeep trail that bisects the mesa and rode until Nancy felt "half-done", ready to turn around. But first we took a side trail to an overlook on the north edge, looking towards Zion National Park:

I rode on from there, taking on the single-track trails that make Gooseberry Mesa a destination for mountain bikers. New favorite trail! Sinuous, technical, through desert scrub, over vast areas of slickrock, and along jagged cliff edge with 1000' dropoffs. It was challenging, but 100% ridable, with a huge fun-factor and amazing views. Damn near perfect!

The trail follows the razor edge of the mesa:

At the top of the Goose:

We also went out for walks with Toby. On one of them we found our way down to the Virgin River, hoping to dip our feet, and for Toby to swim, in its cool waters. Nope. Firsly, we were tormented by biting flies, the first insect pests we've encountered since crossing the Mississippi. Secondly, the river water was HOT. Not tepid, not warm. Hot. Apparently a hot spring bubbles up into the river just upstream, and I estimate the water temperature was around 100 degrees. Not refreshing AT ALL! Pretty, though:

For another walk we scoped out the trails on Hurricane Rim, hoping to find more Nancy-friendly mountain bike trails. These weren't, but we enjoyed a good hike with views of the valley, towns of Hurricane and La Verkin, and the mountains beyond:

A drive up along the freakishly blue waters at Quail Creek State Park...

...and into Red Cliffs Recreation Area brought us to a creekside trail up into a deep canyon:

Many people hiked up in there to a place where the creek had carved a natural waterslide into a deep pothole, and they could slide and jump into the deep, cool, green waters. It was water-park crowded and crazy up there, so we sought out the more peaceful corners where we could wade, and Toby could swim. Very nice.

And we couldn't well spend time in this area without a trip into Zion National Park. To escape the heat and the Memorial Day weekend crowds, we instead drove up Kolob Terrace Road, a much less visited part of the park. The road climbed up to 8000 feet, where we turned off to stop at Lava Point Overlook. It was refreshingly cool up there, 30 degrees cooler than in the valley, and very windy. It was beautiful. All of Zion is beautiful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


Another re-visit occurred at Bryce Canyon. A quick hour's drive from Escalante, we took a spot back at Bryce Canyon Pines, where we'd stayed before and where we made the happy acquaintance of Tommy & Danielle.

First thing I did when we arrived was suit up to take another crack at riding the Thunder Mountain trail in nearby Red Canyon. Last year I was unable to complete this loop because of evil sticky cement red mud from hell, which I still find remnants of whenever I clean my bike a year later. This time the trail was bone dry, and we all know how dry bones are. Once again I endured the four miles climb on paved bike path, and the two miles climb on gravel road to get to the trailhead. Once again I enjoyed the sinuous singletrack as it threaded in an out of countless minor canyons. Once again I took joy in breaking out into the open to see the hoodoo-encrusted Red Canyon laid out before me. But this time - no malevolent mud - and I finally got to enjoy the downhill run that I'd twice climbed out to seek. This red ribbon of singletrack stands out as one of my most favorite pieces of trail - expertly routed along spines of earth, along dizzying dropoffs and postcard vistas; swooping turns, nearly impossibly tight switchbacks, through towering hoodoos - really awesome!

When the adrenaline-fueled downhill bomb-run was complete, the trail became smooth and buff, but still nice and narrow, and pointed downhill just enough to let mother earth's ever-present pull of gravity propel me forward. As my speed approached that of a proton in the Large Hadron Collider even slight turns became hairy, so frequent braking was required to keep me out of the woods. What a finish! I'm so glad that we returned so that I could succeed in completing the fabulous Thunder Mountain trail!

Nancy and I returned to Bryce Canyon National Park to hike again the Queen's Garden and Navajo trails which we so enjoyed last year. And despite having seen all of these natural wonders before, we were still captivated, and couldn't resist taking dozens of photographs. The only amusing downside to this visit were the busloads of French-speaking persons who streamed down the trail towards us, filling the air with their righteous indignation, reluctant to make space for us to pass. Still, their presence could not detract from the astounding beauty of the hoodoo-studded canyon:

Monday, May 21, 2012

Playing the Slots in Escalante

We don't usually play slots, but in Escalante we made an exception, and won big!

Back home in Connecticut slots means slot machines, one-armed-bandits, lined up in countless rows at the Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun casinos, often guarded by retirees feeding then coins with one hand, grasping a cocktail in the other, a cigarette dangling from their lips. Here in Escalante, Utah, slots are so SO much better. These are slot canyons, sandstone alleyways carved by water and wind. Instead of being sad machines bleeding life from their victims, these slots are natural and magical.

Getting to Escalante from Moab took us across the Utah desert, then through gorgeous Capitol Reef National Park, and on down Rt. 12, where we climbed all of the way up to 9600' before making our way to the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument. The stretch of 12 from Boulder to Escalante stands out as one of the most beautiful and exciting drives in the country. Spectacular scenery from a road that clings precipitously to the landscape, with grades up to 14% working engine and brakes. Drive it if you can.

Speaking of driving, to get to the Peek-a-Boo and Spooky slot canyons that we wished to hike, we first had to drive 26 miles on the Hole in the Rock road. This was easily, far-and-away the roughest piece of road we've driven. It was pure washboard; pure rattle your bones, loose your fillings washboard. Brutal. After a few miles of abusing Gigantor at 20mph or so I pulled over to let some air out of her tires. They were pumped up to their limit at 80 psi. I bled them down to 60, and in retrospect wish I'd gone lower. This helped, but it was still a nearly hour-long trip of punishing ourselves and poor Gigantor, a cloud of dust and truck parts in our wake...

But we made it. Poor Toby, who endured the roughest ride of his life, had a quick sniff, and then got set up in the truck with windows open, and a tarp stretched over to keep out the hot sun. Nancy and I descended into the wash, and slogged through deep, soft sand to reach our goal: Peek-a-Boo slot. Right away we loved it - immediately we stepped out of the searing sun into a cool, quiet wonderland. The red sandstone glowed in the filtered sunlight. As we walked we heard only the sound of the sand crunching underfoot and the occasional whoosh of wings as a raven flew over the slot, 60 feet above our heads. We instinctively lowered our voices, and walked on and on, amazed.

Entrance to Peek-a-Boo slot:

We came back out of Peek-a-Boo and walked, practically waded, through the deep sand down-canyon to get to the Spooky slot. On the way we heard high, thin squeaking, and I looked up into a crack in the stone into the faces of dozens of bats! We watched them for a few minutes as they jostled around, bathing each other or whatever bats do as they wait for the sun to set.

Entering Spooky slot felt so good as we were getting baked by the unforgiving sun. Within seconds that was all forgotten as the world we entered was like no other. This slot made Peek-a-Boo look like a boulevard! At times less than 1 foot wide, the only way to move was to scootch sideways. I couldn't turn my head to look back without bumping the brim of my ball cap! It was awesome! We went until the flat, sand floor gave way to a 3-dimensional canyon, requiring technical and contortionist moves to proceed. I went ahead just far enough to know that it was beyond Nancy's level. But wow, what a great experience, worth every second of that tortuous drive.

Actually, the way back wasn't so bad. I tested a theory that faster might be better, and it worked. We careened down the road at twice the speed we'd come down at: 50mph instead of 25. I guess the tires didn't have time to descend into the space between the washboard bumps, and the ride smoothed out considerably. So, it was easier on us, easier on the truck, and took half as much time. Win. Win. Win. This is a road best suited to a plush off-road 4X4 with low-pressure tires, not a monster dually one-ton with pumped up street tires. Next time.

Before leaving Escalante Toby got to go on a nice hike too. We took him down to walk a trail along the Escalante River. It was perfect on a hot day, with a canopy of trees overhead, red-rock canyon walls, and cool waters to wade in. One of Toby's all-time favorite hikes, I'm sure.

There's so much more to see and do in this area. You can be sure that we'll go back some day.

Friday, May 18, 2012


I think Moab must stand for Mega Outdoor Adventure Bonanza! This place was near the top of our "places to re-visit" list. Here we wanted to re-live some great moments and add some new ones. Mission accomplished.

It got very hot in the afternoons, so our adventures took place 1st thing in the morning, or in the evening. Afternoons were spent in the air conditioned comfort of The Whale, bathed in the blue glow of computer monitors, getting work done.

Before I get into the outdoor stuff, first a few words about the campground: It was low-rent, a trailer park on one side, campground on the other; a dustbowl strewn with tired old campers housing full-time residents. We would have left, but there were rally's in town that week, and site availability was scarce. So, we squeezed into our site, our living side shared with perhaps the most dilapidated old truck-camper (sans truck) that we've ever seen. Dirty aluminum siding, sitting on blocks, a blue-tarp bungeed in place to keep the rain out...

Nice, eh? The occupants were a very nice young woman and her lovable dog. She emerged wearing black tights, a tank top, and a head-dress of long, purple woolen braids. Her dog appeared au-natural, looking like a pit-bull played a role in his conception. But we discovered her to be a very nice person, a fire eating/throwing/spinning pyrotechnic acrobat performer, and her dog turned out to be a docile and lovable animal (although his attitude towards me may have been influenced by the treats that I have him when his mommy was off spinning fiery hoola-hoops around her purple dreads). On our other side a truck camper pulled in about 6 inches away, so close that the driver had to scooch over and exit her rig on the passenger side. A Whale in a Sardine can!

So, the first morning I went out to ride Moab's famous Slickrock trail, which I had enjoyed immensely last year. Once again I was thrilled by the uniqueness on the landscape and the joy of the demanding terrain. Love it or hate it, there's nothing else like it. I love it, and we all know that I am always right...

In the evenings we'd drive up onto the Sand Flat Recreational Area, where the Slickrock trail is, and go for a walk. Here is Gigantor on slickrock:

We saw some beautiful sunsets up there, and enjoyed nice walks.

The next morning we headed up to Arches National Park, and drove to the end of the park road to Devil's Garden, to hike out to Landscape Arch, which, at 290 feet may well be the longest in the world:

The trail along the way passed through typically gorgeous Utah scenery...

...and among flowering cacti:

The morning of our last day we drove up to Dead Horse Ranch State Park, 2000' above the valley floor and the Colorado River which carved it. The view from up there is spectacular:

We went there to ride the excellent mountain bike trail that sweeps through the scrub on the mesa-top. This is where Nancy rode last year, and was the inspiration for her getting her own proper mountain bike. Here she is ripping up the trail:

And here I am climbing one of the short, steep hills on the trail:

I continued on to do a longer loop than Nancy was up for, and it brought me to an overlook on a cliff with a sheer dropoff. I couldn't resist the photo opportunity, which I wouldn't have been able to do had Nancy been there!:

Our last evening we joined a "Jeep" Tour, which was actually a Hummer tour, with High Point tours. We piled into a Humvee that had been modified to seat 10, including the driver, Josh. We drove up to the salt flats, and pulled onto the Hell's Revenge 4X4 trail. This challenging jeep trail has a natural "filter" at its start - a 90 degree turn up onto a ribbon of sandstone with sheer dropoffs on both sides, requiring a serious four-wheel-drive vehicle with high ground clearance and very short overhangs. It filters out the wanna-be's, allowing only serious, trail-rated vehicles to pass. Here we are descending this same feature:

On our tour we climbed and descended slickrock formations so steep that they seemed impossible for a wheeled vehicle to navigate. The Humvee's impressive off-road abilities were truly demonstrated. It's ability to approach and climb up nearly vertical walls of rock were indeed awesome.

And not everyone who attempts this extreme driving makes it out. Here is a Nissan Pathfinder carcass which serves as a reminder to those unexperienced drivers who think they can take their stock vehicles on Hell's Revenge:

We enjoyed the tour immensely - it's a far cry from what we would have attempted had we rented a stock Jeep Wranger and explored on our own. Good stuff!

So, once again Moab impresses us with the variety and quality of outdoor pursuits available, and with the spectacular sandstone landscapes. Definitely worth a visit or several.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Durango Revisited

Ah, Durango. We loved this town last year, and were happy to call it home for two weeks this time around.

We drove up from Gallup, and we had a pretty rough couple of days to start us off. Kinsey was not well when we left Gallup, and did not improve. We took her to the vet in Durango, and were prescribed some medications to help her little heart keep pumping. The medications caused incontinence, so we had a messy, miserable day, and she died in the night. At least she didn't suffer for long.

Rather than sit in the Whale and mourn, we tried to keep busy, and enjoy this wonderful town and the surrounding countryside. We hiked up Animas Mountain, affording us views of the valley and of Durango:

Along the trailside this little lizard posed for a photo:

We strolled downtown, stopping for lunch and pastries at Jean-Pierre, walking Toby along the Animas River which flows right through town, and which is popular with all manner of watercraft enjoying its rapids:

We went for a mountain bike ride on the Rim Trail, which clings precariously to the edge of the mesa on the east side of town:

And we went for a white-water rafting trip on the Upper Piedra River with Mild to Wild. This was an all-day adventure, starting with a 45 minute drive to a rendezvous point, then 1 1/2 hours in a bus with the guides and other customers to the put-in point. We floated for about four hours, with a stop for lunch along the way, and we splashed, lurched & bounced down fast-flowing snow-melt water, through rapids from class I to class IV. It was nearly constant action, and great fun!

Because of the very cold water we were each dressed in a heavy neoprene wetsuit, jacket & booties, with a splash jacket over that, and a helmet. Our trip ended in a surprising manner: the guide spun the boat to back into the take-out area. He mis-judged his position and struck a rock, sending us all flying. I found myself on the other side of the boat with my arm underneath the young woman who'd been paddling beside me. I wiggled my arm to get free before realizing that my arm was trapped in her most private and sensitive of areas! I can only assume that it was with great reluctance that she raised to release me. Talk about a wet suit!

Anyway, speaking of riding...I also got out for a good mountain bike ride up into Horse Gulch, on the Telegraph trail, which took me from town, on the valley floor at 6600' to a high saddle at 7500'. I then plummeted back down, did a loop on Stacy's and Mike's trails, and went home tired and happy.

We headed back into town on Sunday afternoon for the Irish music jam, or ceiligh, at the Irish Embassy:

Monday I had to fly to Indiana for the week. There I put together the first batch of circuit boards and metalwork of the new Mark Levinson No52 preamplifier that I've been working on with the team at Harman Luxury Group. I flew out of Durango's LaPlata Airport, which is so nice, small and friendly.

While I was gone Nancy took Toby for walks, rode her bike on the Animas River trail, and dodged the thunderstorms that pestered the area while I was away.

When I returned I settled down to relax with a cup of tea and the latest Durango Telegraph newspaper. I opened it up and there I saw a picture of a guy I haven't seen in 30 years: George Schmidt. We saw George's father Jim in the fall on our way home for winter, and heard that George was spending a lot of time in Durango. This confirmed it, and I promptly Googled George, found his phone number, and gave him a call.

We made a plan to go mountain biking the next day. After Nancy and I checked out the Durango Farmer's market, I rode over to meet George and his lovely girlfriend Amber at the house that they are renovating. From there we hopped in George's Ford euro-style van, affectionately dubbed the Pugfish, and drove over to the west side of the mountains to the town of Dolores, and to the Boggy Draw trailhead. We enjoyed a great ride, uncommonly smooth and fast for Colorado mountains. It was a good workout, too, being that we were riding between 7600 and 7900' elevation.

We got back late, retired to our quarters to clean up, then all four of us met for a tasty New-Mexican meal at Gazpacho.

Our last Day in Durango was Mother's Day, so I went out early to poach some blooms from a lilac tree, then prepared biscuits and gravy for Nancy's special breakfast. We worked that sinful goodness off by biking top-to-bottom-to-top of the Animas River Trail. It was a cool day, but got sunnier and warmer as we pedalled south, but when we turned around to head back we were buffeted by strong headwinds, which got stronger and colder as we labored along. By then end of the ride I was very chilled, and happy to get back to the Whale for a cup of hot tea.

We finished off our Durango-time with a soak in the Trimble Hot Springs with George and Amber. It was great to relax, unwind, and get all warm in the hot mineral waters. And it was great to have one more visit with George and Amber before moving on. We certainly hope to see these two great people again someday.