Friday, September 30, 2011
The scenery is unusual here to say the least. 67 monolithic stone spires called sedimentary pipes dot the landscape. Apparently these pipes grow from the bottom up, getting taller as time passes. They are easy to distinguish as they are white stone as compared to the red sandstone layers all around them. The color and beauty found here prompted a 1948 National Geographic Society expedition to name the area Kodachrome after the popular color film.
As Marc and I hiked through the park, Our first association was not Kodachrome film ...
Marc decided the park should have been called "every woman's wildest fantasy". I, on the other hand felt that "penis envy" was much more appropriate!
Any ideas? If you send me your suggestions, I will send them along to National Geographic and maybe we can get them to throw in a free subscription for the winning name!
Thursday, September 29, 2011
The geological formations you see at Bryce Canyon are called hoodoos. If you try to find a definition for the term hoodoo, you will find many conflicting stories. The one I find the most interesting is the Paiute Indian myth where the animal legend people who lived in the Bryce Canyon of long ago, displeased the coyote. The angered coyote, decided to turn all the people into rock to punish them for their evil deeds. Sodom and Gemorrah Paiute style.
When you walk between the hoodoos in the canyon or simply gaze upon them from the walkway on the rim of the canyon, it is impossible not to be affected by the spirituality of this place. Whether it is the wind and rain that have shaped these beautiful amphitheaters, or the gods, is really secondary.
We spent two days exploring Bryce Canyon. We learned about the Paiute myths and about the fact that Bryce Canyon is not really a Canyon at all, but Instead a series of breaks in fourteen enormous amphitheaters that extend down one thousand feet and span twenty miles long, encompassing 36,000 acres. We partook in the buffets at Ruby's Inn (such an institution in these parts that it is actually on our Road Atlas map as a city!) and took millions of photos of the incredible shapes and colours of this place.
Hoodoo or Voodoo? Like looking at clouds, abstract shapes suddenly transform into human or animal forms. And the eerie thing is that nothing stays the same here. Each day new hoodoos are being born and old hoodoos are dying. The landscape and the experience is always in flux. What an amazing place!
|Cedar Breaks National Monument|
We had a very pleasant overnight in Hurricane, and headed for Cedar Breaks National Monument the next morning. The Monument, which is a gigantic amphitheatre the size of a mountain, would be our first taste of what awaited us in Bryce Canyon National Park. The young Ranger intern who explained the geology of the vista in front of us, was very passionate about the place and it came through in his talk.
The road up to Cedar Breaks took us again to 10,000 ft, where the trees are stunted and the vegetation looked weathered and wizened. In addition to the geological information he passed on, the Ranger also told us the tale of the Bristlecone Pines here. They are suffering from some kind of beetle infestation, probably brought on by global warming and may not survive. We listened intently feeling quite attached to the Bristlecone Pines, after our visit to the Forest named in their honour. We also wondered why the place was called Cedar Breaks, when the trees were Bristlecone Pines (!). Probably a question we should have asked at the time …
Being up at 10,000 feet, the cooler temperatures mean the season is ready to change a bit earlier up there. The ride down from the Monument made that very apparent. We hit grove after grove of Birch trees with their white trunks and multicoloured leaves. Quite a sight.
But nothing like the sight awaiting us just a few minutes later.
There were many cyclists on the road, and we noticed, as we were quickly approaching them, that they all had their hands in the air alerting us to come to a full stop. They were laughing, so we knew there was no emergency, but we couldn’t see until we got a bit closer, what all the fuss was about.
Within moments we saw a herd of sheep clogging the highway for as far as the eye could see. And in the middle of it all, a grizzly looking cowboy right out of a John Wayne movie screaming at us (the people in cars on the highway) to get the hell out of the way. We were a bit confused as to why it was our fault that he and his thousands of sheep were on the highway, where we were supposed to be, but we all did as we were told and got the hell out of their way!
There was a lot of laughing and picture clicking, as the grumpy cowboy finally got his herd and his sheep dogs under control. With all of the excitement, the sheep decided that the highway was as good a place as any for a bathroom break, so by the time they had all mosied on by and the highway was ours once again, there were several miles of sheep poop for the cyclists and the rest of us to maneuver through.
The laughter — and the aroma of the unique experience was with us all the way to Bryce Canyon, and frankly — the air quality in our car/motel has never been quite the same!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Almost from the first moment we crossed into Utah, it was very clear to me why the Mormon pioneers that originally settled here, fell in love with this place. We left the purple mountains of Death Valley behind for a landscape of terracotta and burnt sienna. The combination of rust coloured sandy mountains, blue sky and the greens of the vegetation dotting the landscape, are so inviting, it is intoxicating.
Zion National Park is postage stamp sized compared to Death Valley. Yet there seemed to be an endless number of activities on Marc's list for the three days we had allotted for this park. Because Zion is so small and so popular, a shuttle system was instituted several years ago, dropping you at trail heads and sites throughout the Park. It is both convenient and instructional, as your ride around the park includes commentary about all of the areas you are visiting. We parked our car each day at the Visitor Centre and took full advantage of the shuttle system.
We managed to fill three days with a multitude of interesting walks, drives and hikes. Although everything we did was memorable, two of the experiences stand out as being truly amazing.
On our second morning we nervously set out to hike Angel's landing. We had been told it was one of the most difficult hikes in the park, and if you have fear of heights, to think carefully about attempting it. This short description will give you an idea of what we were getting ourselves into:
The Angels Landing Trail is one of the most famous and thrilling hikes in the national park system. Zion's pride and joy runs along a narrow rock fin with dizzying drop-offs on both sides. The trail culminates at a lofty perch, boasting magnificent views in every direction. Rarely is such an intimidating path so frequented by hikers. One would think that this narrow ridge with deep chasms on each of its flanks would allure only the most intrepid of hikers. Climbers scale its big wall; hikers pull themselves up by chains and sightseers stand in awe at its stunning nobility. The towering monolith is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the Southwest.
Although quite nervous, we were both feeling confident about the first part of the hike. As far as the intimidating second part, we decided we would play it by ear. The switch backs are called Walters Wiggles and they were really steep, but definitely doable. after the switchbacks is the hard part — the scramble to the top of Angel's Landing. When we got to the start of the scramble, we took a look at all of the people ahead of us already scaling the side of the mountain, looked at each other and said "let's do it!"
The scramble to the top was both challenging and exhilarating. It took about an hour to do the deed, with the help of chains embedded into the rock and guide rails to hang on to. There were a large number of other like minded visitors (all sizes and shapes I might add) climbing with us, which made it a lot less scary!
The view from the top was worth every perilous step. We took a few minutes to take in the view, had a small lunch and prepared for the hike down. Round trip it was about five hours, and of course the way down was a piece of cake after the climb up. We felt really elated by our accomplishment and were ready to take on the world.
The next morning we had another adventure planned. Completely different, but just as challenging. The name of the hike was called the Narrows.
Hiking the Narrows can be done in several ways with varying degrees of difficulty. From the top down, from the bottom up and a third option (the easiest) which is from the bottom going as far as you feel you can and then turning around. This is what we decided to do. The Narrows by the way, is no ordinary hike — it is a hike through a river that is running between two narrowing walls of a canyon. The deeper you go into the canyon, the narrower the space between the walls.
I rented water shoes and socks and a walking stick. The shoes and socks to keep your feet warm and the walking stick to navigate the river which at it's deepest comes to your shoulders and is 55 degrees F! Marc had water sandals with him and he picked up a walking stick at the side of the river, so we were both geared up and set to go.
Are you still with me?
The mornings in Zion are cool and windy, and the Narrows is at the top of the park where temperatures are cooler than at lower elevations, so we decided to wait until 9:30 to begin the trip. The idea of being in freezing water up to our shoulders any earlier seemed a bit too much even for Marc!
What can I say? The whole thing was amazing! We got past the first dip to our shoulders in as little clothing as possible, and then put on our fleeces and carried on. There were a large group of people in the river when we arrived and as the day progressed, we saw many people ahead of us, many on their return trip, as well as many starting their trip behind us. Every step was thrilling and by the time we decided to turn around and retrace our steps four hours had passed! So eight hours later and enough memories for a lifetime, we concluded our third day in Zion National Park.
Zion is a small park, packed with activities for every level of fitness. We took advantage of everything the Park had to offer and were rewarded with a very memorable experience.
We left the park that evening, headed for Hurricane, Utah for the night, with a full day of activities the next day, which would land us in Bryce National Park by night fall.
But that my friends is a story for another day!
We are sitting in our wonderful hotel room in Bryce Canyon, after a glorious day in this amazing National Park. As the sun sets tomorrow, the eve of the Jewish New year, we will dip our apples in honey and wish all of our friends and family a sweet, prosperous and healthy New Year. And hopefully before that, I will find the time to finish my blog posts covering the last 6 days! Oy!
May the new year provide me with the time and energy I need to document this trip of a lifetime —and provide all of you, with the patience to read it all!
Friday, September 23, 2011
We had a bad start. The route we chose (our GPS’s choice) from Death Valley to Vegas was fraught with problems. Almost immediately we were sitting for half an hour at a one-lane road construction zone. Did I mention it was 108 degrees outside and keeping the car running for that length of time would cost us a tank of gas, never mind the damage to the ozone? Lovely. We got past that and it was smooth sailing until we hit the outskirts of town. That is where we hit more construction and an accident on the exit just before ours. The last 5 miles took an eternity. Finally out of the mess, we were hit with the metropolis that is Las Vegas head on.
We were booked at the Flamingo, one of the original casinos, from when Vegas was about half the size. It ended up being a perfect choice as it was really cheap, but centrally located so that we were steps away from the Bellagio, MGM Grand, Mirage, Wynn, Mandalay Bay, Venetian, Paris and Caesars Palace. But somehow the noise and the hustle and bustle of this crazy place was more than we could digest. Maybe it was the past two weeks of communing with nature. Not sure. Needless to say the rest of that first night in Vegas definitely stays in Vegas.
Our room was spacious and had a view of the pool area and the real flamingos. The hotel was full of ordinary people (which was great) here for a holiday. The casinos were not packed, but there were multitudes of people everywhere, sipping margaritas in all sorts of shaped glasses. All the lounge chairs at the pool were filled with people also sipping something or other, with a cigarette in the other hand. Surprisingly, you could almost not smell the smoke anywhere. Not sure how they manage it. We realized that we were actually inhaling the second hand smoke, but at least we were not gagging.
BTW we woke up just fine and back to ourselves on day two.
First thing on our list was finding a coin laundry that didn’t take us back onto that crazy highway. Cora’s coin laundry fit all of the criteria and we plugged the coordinates into our trusty GPS. Within 5 minutes we were transported to the 1950’s. Cora’s must have opened around then. The pink wall of dryers was certainly installed when they opened and they looked as shiny today as they must have then. The man behind the Formica counter assured me this was the cheapest coin laundry in Vegas. $1 for each load and $1 for each dryer. By far the best deal in Vegas! And of course, since it was in Vegas, there was a row of slots for anyone wanting to pass the time.
We thought cleaning the car was a much better use of our time, and we tasked ourselves with cleaning two weeks of shmutz out of all of the creases and crevasses of our car. We left Cora’s clean through and through, smelling like oranges (thanks to the car air freshener we bought at Von’s!)
Dressed like normal people and smelling like clean people, we spent the second night frequenting the upper class casinos. We dined at the Bellagio and were treated like people who actually came to Vegas to spend their money. It was fun, and we had a lovely dinner. At 8:00 we watched an amazing water show in the artificial lake outside the Bellagio. We both agreed that the Bellagio is by far the classiest Casino on the strip.
So here’s the deal. I don’t know. After spending the past two weeks in the most authentic of authentic natural surroundings, this place really seems like an abomination. Knowing that all of the water in that artificial lake has to be piped in from somewhere (we are in a desert remember!!!), and that there is another casino that sinks the Titanic every night (we were told the number of gallons it takes) — and that they still allow smoking everywhere, when it is illegal everywhere else in the free world — and ordinary people who may even be unemployed, sit in front of blinking machines and pour their money into them for hours, well I’m having a hard time with all of this.
Bottom line, we are part of the problem. We had no trouble with the room for $40 a night. It was a great place to get clean and reorganized. God bless America!
Posted by Naomi at 10:00 PM
|Sunset in Death Valley|
My first experience with a desert landscape was in February 1975. Marc and I had known each other exactly six months and kibbutz Beit Alfa, where we had been studying Hebrew, was taking us all on a trip through the Negev Desert, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea and the Sinai Desert all the way to Sharamel Sheik. It was a reward of sorts for working hard and doing our homework. It was also the end of our intensive Hebrew course, and our last couple of weeks together before leaving Israel for our respective homes (me back to Winnipeg and Marc back to Chicago). We decided to extend the organized trip with a trip of our own. Our plan was to take a bus to Dahab and Neubah before returning to Beit Alfa and our flights home.
Looking back, I guess it was our first adventure. As we started our extended trip, there had been a flash flood and the roads had been washed out, and the buses stopped running at the end of what once was a road. So we had to walk most of the way, ending up in an abandoned Bedouin village, where we spent the night on the beach with only candles for light.
It was terribly romantic, and I think for both of us it was the beginning of our love affair with the desert.
Death Valley, when we first arrived at sunset, brought back all of those fond memories of the Sinai. Even with inhuman temperatures, the scenery takes your breath away. We spent three days in this sun baked sculpted landscape, marveling at every vista.
|Golden Valley, Painter's Palate, Death Valley|
Our tour of Death Valley included (I am probably missing a few spots ...) a sunrise walk to Darwin Falls (yes a waterfall in the desert!), a walk in the Mesquite Flats sand dunes, a visit to Scotty's Castle, a very hot walk through Titus Canyon, scenic drives through Artists Palette and Artists Walk, a walk through Golden Canyon and a drive through a Twenty Mule Team Borax route (as well as a visit to the mine), a sunrise walk on Badwater Salt Flats and Devil's Golf Course flats, as well as a visit to Ubehebe Crater and a scenic drive to the Zabriske Point (not necessarily in this order).
|Golden Canyon, Death Valley|
All of this, as we watched the thermometer hit 108 degrees!! As I listened to our water bottles, compressing and popping from the drops in altitude and the heat, I was wondering how our internal organs were feeling about the conditions we were putting them through! But not to worry, we followed all of the rules and drank gallons of water, and aside from me sitting it out in the shade while Marc explored Titus Canyon (108 degrees at 5:00 pm), everything else was quite doable.
|Zabriske Point and Golden Canyon|
Fifty-three miles from the Furnace Creek Resort and within the park boundaries, Scotty's Castle stands as a tribute to friendship. In the early 1900's, Walter Scott (Death Valley Scotty) convinced Albert Johnson to grubstake his gold mining expeditions. The gold never materialized but Johnson fell in love with Death Valley and took a liking to the colorful Scotty. Johnson and his wife, Bessie, built this two-million dollar home with luxurious appointments and Scotty claimed it was his and was building it from the profits from his gold mine. Owned today by the National Park Service, daily interpretive tours are provided year round.
We didn't know exactly what to expect when we arrived, but were pleasantly surprised to find a perfectly intact and beautifully appointed "castle". The story of Death Valley Scotty and his relationship with Albert Johnson was told to us by a lovely park ranger dressed in period clothing as we walked through the rooms of the castle. Extremely well done and the story, if you believe it is really astounding. It was a bit of an effort to get there, but we were both really happy we had made this a priority. The desert is so mysterious, and this tale, adds just a pinch more spice to the already tasty experience.
|Golden Canyon, Death Valley|
As we were walking through Golden Canyon, we both kept commenting on the colours of the canyon and how much we loved them. I realized at that moment that we have been surrounding ourselves with these exact colours for the last 36 years. The colours we painted the walls of our homes, and all of the artwork we have bought together, are shades of the rock formations we were admiring. Kind of comforting, now that we do not have a home, that we can always feel at home in the desert!
As a closing footnote, while we were coming out of this amazing canyon, we met a young couple who stopped us and asked "Excuse me, is there anything at the end of this canyon besides these rocks?" We could see that the beauty of this natural environment was completely lost on them. We smiled politely and assured them that it was worth their while to continue on. Different strokes for different folks!
|Badwater Salt Flats, Death Valley|
|Devil's Golf Course, Death Valley|
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
We left civilization behind Sunday morning. I am not sure how Marc has managed this, but since leaving Sacramento, we seem to have landed on another planet. Actually we may even be in another galaxy! I am starting to wonder if I have been abducted by aliens …
You be the judge.
|Mono Lake, California|
Our first touchdown was Mono lake, which like the Dead Sea, has very high concentrations of sodium. Except unlike the Dead Sea in Israel, this lake is quite alive. It is full of teeny tiny transparent shrimp the size of a grain of sand. It is also the home of a certain kind of fly that loves the salty habitat and reproduces in the gazillions. This brings flocks of seagulls to the lake, who, feast on the flies and the shrimp. In fact 80% of all of the seagulls in the state of California make their way here to mate. And to top that, the salt in the water forms into these amazing structures like stalagmites you would see in a cave, but there is no cave, just the open lake. And the water is PURE blue and is absolutely stunning. I have never seen anything like it. Maybe I was dreaming …
|Dukes Bar, Sierra Nevada Lodge, Mammoth Falls California|
|Sierra Nevada Lodge, Mammoth Falls California|
|Bristlecone Pine Forest, California|
Next thing I remember, we were in a forest of ancient Bristlecone Pine trees, some of which are the oldest living trees recorded. Interspersed within the forest, were those trees, that had not managed to survive for 4,000 years, but they still stand twisted and weathered, demanding our respect. Those that have managed to live thousands of years, look like they have been through hell and back, and according to the information we read, this is not far from the truth. Winters at this altitude are so severe that these 4,000 year old seniors, have to endure ice storms and severe winds. Walking amoungst these stunted, grizzled, twisted, ancient trees, was both spiritual and eerie at the same time. If I saw this scene on Star Trek, I would say it was fake!
|Panamint Springs (Resort (!)), Death Valley|
|Darwin Falls, Death Valley|
BTW, somewhere along the line, we also found ourselves at Tom’s place, a California institution. Originally built in 1917, as a much needed gas station for people exploring the Sierra’s. Soon, a cookhouse was added and a store and before long Tom was packing supplies for groups traveling into the mountains. The restaurant has changed hands several times, the buildings have been moved once or twice and there has been at least one fire, but the institution has remained and everyone knows where it is and what it represents. We stopped in to have a look see. We had already had breakfast, but enjoyed the experience of being there.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
|Pitstop in Oakdale California|
Our time in Sequoia, Kings Canyon and Yosemite was everything we hoped it would be. Even with rain and thunder and lightening, we managed to see most sites on Marc's itinerary and felt we had accomplished what we had expected to accomplish. It would have been really easy to continue on Tioga road to the other side of Yosemite and save the 8 to 10 hours of driving to Bishop from the west side of the park, but we had our priorities straight. We had friends in Oakland and Sacramento to visit. So we retraced our steps to the north western exit of Yosemite and headed first to Oakland California to visit Michael, one of my oldest friends.
Mike and I met in 1971. He was president of his USY (United Synagogue Youth) Chapter in Lincoln Nebraska and I was president of my USY chapter in Winnipeg Manitoba. We both ended up in Sioux City Iowa at a president's council — and the rest is history. Too many details to get into right now, but needless to say, we have been friends for 40 years. We do not see each other often, but when we do, it is as if time has stood still (except for the gray hair, which we both have, even though mine is conveniently covered).
We stopped for lunch in a kitschy cowboy themed cafe for lunch before arriving in Oakland. We both enjoyed our diner style choices and were satiated as we arrived at Mike's late that afternoon.
Marc and I had a great time with Mike and his very handsome son Alex (who has an amazing resemblence to Bob Dylan when he was a young man). Lots of reminiscing and catching up. And aside from the flat tire we had on the way out, I think we can both say it was a perfect visit.
From there we were headed to Sacramento to visit dear friends Sara and Yossi, who we have known since our time on Adamit. These are friends we also do not see very often, but the connection is so deep, that the minute we finish hugging, it is as if we have always been together. We arrived Friday afternoon (a bit later than expected due to the flat tire ...) and had the chance to spend Shabbat with them and their two children, Brenna and Issac. Sara prepared a wonderful dinner, and after Sara blessed the candles, Brenna led us in the Friday night service around the table. Good wine, great food and good friends. Priceless.
|Sacramento's Saturday Farmers Market|
Saturday morning we set out for the one of Sacramento's farmers Markets and picked out an amazing selection of fresh produce. The market was a real highlight of our visit. Our diet while camping has been less than fresh, so just salivating over the fresh produce made us feel healthy even before we actually ate any of it!
|Sara's delicious roasted vegetables, and Yossi's amazing breakfast spread.|
Sara and Yossi and their kids, spent three years in India. So our visit was peppered with all sorts of advice and stories about their India experience. Sara is an amazing story teller, and we were in stitches almost the whole time we were there. Needless to say we are better prepared (and a bit terrified ...) for the reality we will be facing come December!
Leaving these guys is always extremely difficult. We decided to stay an extra day, but even then, the final hugs were teary and we spent the first couple of hours of our drive to Mammoth lakes, reliving the visit.
Three days back in the an urban environment with great, and life long friends has been an amazing treat, and a great compliment to the majestic and awe inspiring scenery we have been experiencing in America's National Parks.
On the road again this morning, we have a full agenda ahead of us, and great memories behind us.
Big hugs, much love, and heartfelt thanks to our dear friends for welcoming us into their lives for much too short, but perfect visits.
A flat tire.
We were leaving Oakland California after a great visit with our good friend Michael and his son Alex. We and our clothes were clean and we were heading off to Sacramento to visit Sara and Yossi and their kids Brenna and Issac. All was tickety boo and we were back on the highway (7 lane highway) when the low pressure light and beeping alerted us to the problem.
Within seconds we heard the sound you do not want to hear, going 55 miles an hour, knowing there were still 7 lanes of trafic to navigate through. Safely off at the next exit, we found a gas station and started the process of changing the tire.
The tire as you can imagine was a mess by that point and a new tire was required to carry on with our trip. Funnily, we had been commenting in each town we have passed through, how many car repair shops there are. It all made sense now! We were organized in no time at a Firestone Tire, with a very nice young man who looked after us with a smile, and assured us he would check all of the other three tires and fluids and we would soon be on our way.
Off we went to find a coffee shop with wifi to debrief. The coffee was great and we were able to thank our lucky stars that we were in the middle of civilization, where tire stores are a dime a dozen and not at the top of some windy mountain highway with no shoulder!
Nothing like a flat tire to ground you and make you realize that you are indeed vulnerable. Back on the road a couple of hours later, with our new AAA membership paid for and activated, tire pressure and fluids checked, we were ready again to take on the world!
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
Once I got over thinking the site manager at Dry Gulch may be an ax murderer, I managed to catch some shut-eye. Marc slept soundly. Our plan Tuesday morning was to drive back to Yosemite Valley, for the 8:00 sign up for campsites. We arrived a bit early and managed to be second in line! Translation: although all of the campsites are full, there are always a few cancellations. Being second on the list was a good omen and we felt sure we would not be homeless that night.
In the mean time, we had most of the day to explore with a deadline of 3:00 to be back at the reservation desk to secure our campsite.
Now here is the irony. For the first time so far this trip, we actually knew where we were sleeping. We put our tent up and cleaned ourselves up in the campsite facilities. We couldn’t believe how organized we were, and so early! And we were quite excited about sleeping in the tent that night! That's where the irony kicks in. Just as we finished all of our preparations, there was a large clap of thunder and the skies opened up and dumped so much water that all of the roads and parking lots and campsites in the entire valley were flooded almost immediately.
We sat in the car for a while, with the rain pounding on the windshield, our tent drenched, then decided to head for Curry Village (Just like Whistler Village, except not at all like Whistler Village. Only two or three restaurants, and one grocery store.). In the middle of the small strip of eateries was a lounge. People were sleeping on couches, working on their computers, drinking beer and eating all sorts of take out food. A sign on one wall said “complimentary dryers across the street at housekeeping”. Many languages could be heard, and several tables of friends were playing cards.
When we arrived back at our campsite, our tent was still there, but a little worse for wear, having been splashed with mud from the downpour. At this point, the car was looking pretty attractive! So even with the best of intentions, our tent has yet to be used. We found ourselves once again Tuesday night tucked in, in our carmotel, happy as clams.
PS: Wednesday morning now. Night passed without incident. Our tent fared well on its own in a beautiful setting. We are now eating breakfast at the Curry Village buffet, which is packed with campers like us ready for a hot meal. The sun is shining and it should be a great day!
|Pinewood Campground at dawn, Yosemite Valley|