I quickly learned when I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa that my reality was substantially different from that of the tribal students I was teaching. It was a lesson that has served me all of my life. The human mind is incredibly flexible and our reality, to a large extent, depends upon what we are taught. Given my 1965-67 experience in Liberia, I can’t even start to imagine what people believed 7,000 years ago.
That’s when humans first started wandering the area now known as Zion National Park. They started with Archaic peoples, moved on to the Anasazi and Fremont cultural groups, and, in turn, were followed by the ancestors of modern day Native American Paiutes. Any or all of these groups may have left petroglyphs in the slot canyon Peggy and I explored in the eastern section of the Park. And all of them reflect thinking that we can only guess at.
Peggy and I are fascinated by petroglyphs, both from the connection it gives us to people from hundreds or even thousands of years ago, and from the unique look of rock art. We have visited sites throughout the Southwest. There is a certain commonality to the rock art depending on the culture represented. We have also found a similarity to sites selected by the ancients to leave their messages. Not surprisingly, they tend to be near water, which is where the people lived. But there was also an inclination to select locations that stood out from the surroundings. Possibly it gave a sense of sacredness to the area.
The site we visited was an excellent example of this, as our photos show. The strangeness, however, started with the directions to find the site. As I remember them: “Go down into the canyon and find a sand wash. Follow the wash up the canyon until it comes to the tunnel under the road. Go through the tunnel and follow the wash until you come to a trail to your left.” There was as much room for interpretation in following the directions as there was for interpreting what the petroglyphs meant!
Our photos start with the tunnel.
There were many other petroglyphs. At the end of the panels, Peggy and I found steps carved into the canyon wall leading up to a ledge.
Wandering up the trail in search of more petroglyphs, we found a dead big horn sheep that may have slipped while climbing the walls. Or been taken out by a cougar.
It did not look very happy. Peggy wondered why I wanted to photograph it and decided it was a sign that we should turn around. Admittedly, it did look a bit Satanic…
I couldn’t help but think of William Least Heat-Moon’s book, Blue Highways, this morning. If you have read his classic travel adventure, you will remember that he would go out of his way to find small towns with unusual names, like Dime Box, Texas. We are in Accident, Maryland today and I’m pretty sure it meets Heat-Moon’s classification of an unusual name. I was also amused to learn that people from the town are called Accidentals. I feel a connection. My parents always told me that I was an accident.
This is the last stop on the first segment of our full time travels. Tomorrow we will arrive at our daughter Tasha, her husband Clay and our grandsons Ethan and Cody’s home in Waterford, Virginia outside of Washington DC. They have an attached efficiency apartment that they are insisting that we use as our base. It’s Tasha’s way of assuring that we will be around on occasion. It will take a few weeks to set up the apartment, but first we will be dashing off on our Rhine River Cruise.
In the meantime, I will keep the posts from our national park and monument visits in the Southwest rolling out. After Zion there is Bryce, Escalante, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde plus our other adventures along the way. I have enough to produce posts until we are once again on the road. More than enough! On the small chance I run out, there is the Rhine River Cruise. 🙂
Zion National Park promotes Kolob Canyons as its best kept secret. Other web sites follow a similar theme. It’s not surprising considering that the canyons are located in the remote northwestern section of the Park, 45 miles away from Zion’s main attraction.
Given the distance, many people ask is whether it’s worth taking half a day to visit. (This assumes they are even aware that this section of the Park exists.) Peggy and I would like to answer with a resounding yes! It meets our three criteria: It’s unique, beautiful, and not crowded. There are also a number of hikes visitors can take that we couldn’t squeeze in. A fairly challenging one provides hikers with a view of the world’s second longest arch. Next time.
The curvy five-mile drive climbs a thousand feet. It can be accomplished in a relatively short amount of time, but— if you are like us— you will want to linger and admire the fantastic views of towering Navajo Sandstone cliffs and deep finger canyons created by runoff from the plateau above. There are a number of pullouts along the way. Each one provides a different view or perspective and each is worth a stop. The following photos reflect what Peggy and I saw.
Some other views of the Kolob Canyons from our visit:
The thunder rolled in with an unending rumble and the wind shook our trailer until I thought it might tip us over. We are in Kansas and I couldn’t help but think of Dorothy and her faithful dog, Toto. I half expected to hear the tornado sirens go off or see a wicked witch fly by on her broom. It was not conducive to sleep. Instead, I watched the lightning dance across our skylight while Peggy slept soundly. Maybe she thought I could worry enough for both of us. “Oh, was the wind blowing last night?” she asked me the next morning.
We’ve now left the backroads, mountains and mesas of the Southwest behind. It will be mainly freeway from here on out as we dash across the country to catch our Icelandic Air trip to Amsterdam— except it isn’t that much of a dash. We’ve simply eliminated our 5-7 day layovers between travel days. We still only plan to travel around 200 miles a day with every other day a layover. I’ve never had a sense of humor about driving 4-5 hundred miles straight. And it certainly hasn’t improved with age.
I may change my mind if this weather continues, however. We are under severe thunderstorm watch again tonight. We could be at our daughter’s in Virginia in four days instead of the two weeks I am planning. I have even less tolerance for tornados and golfball size hail than I do driving long distances. Tempting…
Meanwhile, my blog is still in Zion. I have at least three more posts on it, maybe more! 🙂 And then there is Bryce and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Mesa Verde, and the Rockies, and dinosaur tracks, desert wildflowers and petroglyphs. Will it ever end? 🙂 Peggy and I have taken at least a thousand photos. I’m afraid to count them. But don’t worry, we won’t subject you to all of them.
Today, my focus continues to be on the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. After some very winding roads we made it to the top of the Terrace. The views continued to be spectacular.
Following are several more photos of the scenery that Peggy and I saw up on Kolob Terrace and on our drive back down.
We are continuing our exploration of the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park as part of our full-time experience of living on the road.
I am always curious about how things get their names. I wasn’t familiar with Kolob. Was it a Native American name? Was it the name of an early explorer or pioneer? Turns out it comes directly out of the Book of Abraham, a sacred text of the Mormons that Joseph Smith supposedly translated from an Egyptian papyrus scroll. I wonder if he used his rose colored glasses. I should have guessed the Mormon connection. Utah is Mormon country and has been ever since Brigham Young brought his band of followers into the state in 1847 to escape religious persecution in the east. Kolob is either a star or a large planet in the center of the Milky Way Galaxy close to the throne of God. Some Mormons believe that is where they go when they die. It shows up in the Musical, The Book of Mormon where the lyrics proclaim “I believe that plan involves me getting my own planet.” The modern church has challenged the assumption.
Imagining Kolob to be a rather pleasant place from a Mormon perspective, I can understand why the early pioneers gave its name to the terrace. Peggy and I also found it pleasant. Actually, I’d much prefer to go there when I die rather than the biblical Heaven where the ‘streets are paved with gold.’
We pulled off the road frequently to take photos on our way up and down.
More photos that I took on our way up to the terrace…
Today, our full time RV adventure of exploring North America takes us to Zion National Parkin Utah.
Peggy was reading an article in the Washington Post a few days ago on Zion National Park. Bring your patience, the article urged. Over 5 million people are projected to visit in 2022. The majority will be from April through September. Expect massive crowds if it is on your vacation itinerary. Parking spots will be difficult to find. Shuttles will be full. There will be long lines to get in, long lines at the restrooms, long lines to visit major sites, and long lines to get food. Finding a place to stay in or near the park will be close to impossible unless you already have a reservation— or get lucky.
It’s my idea of a nightmare.
Peggy and I were fortunate to arrive in late April for our visit. But even then, the crowds in the canyon exceeded my ideal by a factor of 10, or is that 100. Grin. I’ll tell that story at the end of my series on Zion. (Spoiler alert: it was still worth it.) But, for now, I am going to let you in on a little secret, there is more to Zion National Park than Zion Canyon. A lot more. And much of it matches and may even surpass the canyon in beauty. Peggy and I are going to take you on three short road trips to various sections in the park outside of the canyon to prove our point: Kolob Terrace, Kolob Canyon, and the east side of the park. Plus a ghost town.
I am going to start with the Kolob Terrace. Peggy and I were staying at an RV campground on the Virgin River in the small town of the same name 14 miles from the canyon. The road into the terrace was less than a mile from where we were camped. We drove up it for 15 miles before turning around, stopping frequently on both our way up and back. We met a dozen cars along the way. There may have been 30 parked at the various trailheads and overlooks. Compare that with the 14,000 or more people who were exploring the canyon on that day! Following are the photos Peggy and I took. I am going to divide them into three posts since there are too many for one. (Note: I take five times as many photos as Peggy. :))
Our house is in the final stages of being sold. We signed off on it today. The buyers will complete their part by the end of the month. “We’re homeless,” Peggy declared. “No,” I suggested. “our home is wherever we happen to be.” So what if it happens to be 22 feet long and is pulled by a F-150 pickup.
Right now we are in Flagstaff, Arizona.It’s a lovely community filled with friendly people, great restaurants, a fascinating culture, and bookstores. The Grand Canyon is an hour’s drive north. Sedona is an hour’s drive south. A five minute trip out of town yesterday found us scrambling up and down steep canyon walls searching for thousand year old petroglyphs left behind by the Anasazi, ancestors of our modern Southwestern Native Americans.There are certainly worse places we could be.
But as delightful as this area is, we will be out of here this week. We are modern day gypsies, full-timers as they say in the RV world. The freedom of the open road is ours. We aren’t rookies at this. Once Peggy and I wandered around North America for a year. Another time it was for three years. We don’t know how long we will be this time. Our goal is something like ‘as long as we can get away with it.’ Given our combined age of 151, who knows...
Our focus will be on the wild areas of North America. Once again this will include the National Parks of the US and Canada. We’ve been to most of them, but this time we want to explore places we haven’t been, places where the vast majority of tourists aren’t. Today’s post on Mosaic Canyon is an example.
I’m not a huge fan of Sunset Campground at Furnace Creek. It’s a huge parking lot. The advantage is that it rarely fills up, which is not the case for the more desirable sites in the valley. I’ve used it three times over the years, mainly because my trips are never planned months in advance when registration opens up. When Peggy and I arrived, I expected that most of its 270 sites would be full. It was Easter weekend. What we quickly learned was that the campground closed for the season in four days. There were a half a dozen other vehicles in the huge area. When we left, there were two. In addition to normally being available, there are two other plusses: its close proximity to all of the services at Furnace Creek— and the views.
Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.
The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)
While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!
Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.
Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.
But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.
The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.
Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.
Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.
When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.
Or, the question going through your mind might be, “Why in the heck is Curt asking this question when his post is on Death Valley?”
Well, it started when I was doing research on Death Valley’s well-know, historic 20 Mule Team. Given that I am featuring the 20 Mule Canyon on my post today, I wanted to provide some background information, which I will. But the first thing I learned (or relearned) was that it wasn’t a 20 mule team that was used to haul borax out of Death Valley from 1893-96. It actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses. All of the animals had very specific tasks. Some required more intelligence than others.
Luckily for me, the town just up the road from where we camped near Bryce Canyon (Tropic) had a Mules Days event going on and there was a horse corral just across the road from us in Cannonville. I was able to persuade a mule and a horse to pose for me.
There is a ton of information on the twenty mule teams. This may seem like a lot until you take into consideration that the 18 mules and 2 horses were actually hauling close to 9 tons of Borax at a time out of Death Valley in temperatures that sometimes exceeded a 100 degrees F. (Operations were halted over the hot summer months.) They started their epic journey from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek and traveled for 165 miles over primitive roads to the railhead near Mohave. As you might imagine, it was quite the challenge. It required close to a heroic effort on the part of the mules, the horses and the muleskinners. Millions of dollars could be made if the venture was successful, however, and it was. Borax has lots of uses.
Still, all of this would be a mere note in the history books except for a couple of factors. One, Borax Soap featured the mules in a very extensive advertising campaign. The second was the radio and TV program, Death Valley Days. For those of you who are old enough to remember the 50s and 60s TV show, you may also remember that Ronald Reagan hosted the show in the mid 60s just before he jumped into his campaign for California Governor.
I found a rather amusing, imaginary discussion with a muleskinner on the Death Valley National Park site. The greatest challenge he noted was in getting around corners. He used a diagram to describe the operation. An 80 foot chain connects the lead mules to the wagon.
Here’s what he had to say about the process: “Now I’ll tell you just how smart my mules is: it’s one thing drivin’ along a straight road; it’s a whole nother thing turnin’ corners on a mountain pass. My 2 lead mules, both mares, are about 80 feet ahead of me–so far away I can’t even begin to use my 9-foot long whip on ‘em. I’ve been known to throw pebbles at ‘em to get their attention. Aim’s good too. Back to gettin’ around corners. The next 5 pairs of mules are my “swing teams”, they ain’t real smart, they just know their names and what ‘pull’ and ‘stop’ means. Now the next 3 sets of mules behind the swings are my “pointers”. These mules are trained special to jump over that 80-foot chain and side-step away from the curve to keep that chain tight and my wagons goin’ ‘round that corner right. Next comes the 2 big horses. They’re strong enough to start my wagons rollin’, but that’s all they’re good for. A dumb mule (and I ain’t seen one yet) is a whole lot smarter than a smart horse.”
So, there you have it— which animal is smarter. At least from the perspective of a muleskinner. I’ll allow that a horse lover might have a different point of view. Grin. And now, it’s time to get away from all of the words and take you through 20 Mule Canyon in photos. The canyon starts no more than a mile above Zabriskie Point. And even though the road is dirt, cars with two wheel drive seem to handle it easily.
To bring you up to date, Peggy and I have now spent a week in Zion Canyon National Park and a week in Bryce. We are now in the small, but fun community of Kanab, perched on the border between Utah and Arizona. Here’s a photo we took last week to give you a view of things to come.
Today’s post marks the beginning of Peggy’s and my journey around North America. We will be sharing our insights into what it’s like to live full time on the road plus our adventures along the way. A special focus of the blog will be visiting some of the most spectacular wildlands remaining on our continent.Death Valley is up first, starting with an overview and featuring Zabriskie Point.
Peggy and I were greeted with this sign when we stopped at Death Valley National Park Visitor at Furnace Creek on our recent visit. As noted, Death Valley is a land of superlatives. The word I use is extremes. I reserve superlatives for the scenery. It’s why we have returned to Death Valley over and over again.
I doubt that the Death Valley people included the price of gas as either an extreme or superlative, but we found it amusing. And we weren’t the only people taking photos of the sign. We made sure that we filled our tank in Bodie, a small Nevada town just outside of the park. Adding serious injury to insult, the price of a six pack of beer was $20 at the Furnace Creek store! Now that’s something worth whining about.
But let’s get back to the hottest, driest, and lowest. By hottest, they mean the hottest place on earth. It holds the world record at 134° F (57° C). Death Valley is not a place you want to visit in the summer if you can help it. Here’s the bad news. It’s getting hotter. We can thank global warming. The following chart sums it up.
The normal definition for a desert is a place that gets under ten inches of rain a year and has an evaporation rate that exceeds its rainfall. Death Valley averages under two inches and has an evaporation rate that is 75 times its rainfall. Sit in the shade doing nothing for a day and you can lose up to two gallons of water. The Valley holds the record for being the driest place in the United Sates. There is a reason why the Park Service always warns people to carry and drink lots of water when they are visiting.
And finally, the lowest. At its lowest point, Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level, which just happens to be the lowest spot in North America. On an earlier trip, Bone was proud to pose on the Bad Water Basin Sign announcing the low point.
I’m going to add another extreme. Wind. Death Valley doesn’t hold any records here as far as I know, but when I bicycled across the Valley on my 10,000 mile solo trip around North America, I remember being out of the saddle in low gear, and working my tail off— pedaling downhill. When I got back to camp, I discovered my tent had been blown a half mile away and was totally trashed. This time the wind was blowing so hard Peggy couldn’t get her door open on our truck! It took all my strength to force mine. Back at camp, I took a photo of “Cousin It.’
As I noted earlier, Peggy and I have returned to Death Valley many times, always in the fall, winter or spring. Each time we try to include something we haven’t done before. This time it was going in search of the rare and endangered, but not so elusive pup fish, and hiking up Mosaic Canyon. We also returned to some of our favorites: 20 Mule Canyon, Zabriskie Point, and the Artist’s Palette. Peggy and I were busy with our cameras the whole time. I’ll let our photos speak to the beauty of the park.
I’ll start with Zabriskie Point, a quick 15 minute drive away from Furnace Creek and the Park Visitor Center. Named after Christian Zabriskie, an early manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company, it is probably the most photographed site in Death Valley. For good reason. It was once the site of an ancient lake where various sediments sank to the lake bed, giving the area its rich colors today. Early ancestors of both modern day horses and camels left their tracks along the shorelines. Tectonic plates moving beneath the valley lifted the mountains and dropped the valley, giving rise to the erosion which has done such an impressive job of carving out the ‘badlands’ shown in the photos below.
NEXT POST: We will visit Artist’s Palette at Death Valley and then go in search of the rare pup fish at Salt Creek.
My blogging friends Linda and Karen from Texas called yesterday and wanted to know where in the world were we. It was special for them to check up on us. They caught us between Death Valley and Las Vegas.
Peggy and I hadn’t dropped into a black hole and simply disappeared from WordPress as people sometimes do. We had forgotten how much work goes into moving and selling a house. It’s number three on the top-five list of stress producers— right after the death of a loved one or divorce, and before having a major illness or losing a job! There was no time for blogging during the day, and by night, I had reached zombie status. Sitting and vegging were about all I could muster. I had gone beyond couch potato; I was a couch turnip.
Anyway, long story short, two weeks ago, Peggy and I made a final walk around our house, hooked up Serafina, the trailer, to Iorek, the truck, and drove up our road, honking as we had promised our neighbors we would in a final farewell. Beep, Beep, Beep-Beep, BEEP—BEEP.
Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. We had lived in our little home in the woods for 11 years— longer than either of us had ever lived anywhere since heading off to college. We had come to love the five acres we were responsible for with its irrepressible wildlife and even gotten used to the deer pressing their noses up against our windows to see what we were doing inside. Or leaving their babies sleeping on our porch as the moms went off to browse. That speaks to how much the deer trusted us. It gave a whole new meaning to baby-sitting. Then there were the squirrels and foxes and bob cats and cougars and bears. Oh my! Bald eagles flew up and down the canyon and soared into the air where they were joined by osprey and hawks. Numerous other birds lived on our property or stopped by on their way elsewhere. Watching them gather at our bird feeder and determine who was boss provided endless entertainment. Having a national forest in our backyard and a river in the front yard wasn’t half-bad either. Nor were the views of the Siskiyou mountains, a scant ten miles away with their snow-covered peaks and incredible sunsets.
Last, but certainly not least, Peggy and I had great neighbors. They were a diverse group that came from widely different backgrounds but genuinely liked each other, almost a miracle in this age of irreconcilable differences. On Friday we had them all over for a going away potlatch party, which, in case you don’t know, was a tradition of the Northwestern American natives where the chief would call everyone together and give away most of what he owned at an opulent feast.
Our potlatch didn’t quite qualify. For one, we weren’t chiefs; for two, our opulent feast was a beer, wine, booze and pizza party. Papa Murphy’s did the honors on pizza and we cleaned out our liquor cabinet for the beer, wine, and more serious alcohol, like 98 proof rum and Tom’s Blackberry Surprise. The surprise was the amount of vodka he added to juice from the five-gallons of blackberrys we had picked last summer. Drink a little and it tastes good; drink enough and it is the best concoction you had ever downed. There was plenty of alcohol to make everyone happy. An opulent feast wasn’t necessary and the pizza was scarfed down.
And finally, we didn’t give everything away. Hardly. We’d already sent a 16’ x 8’ packed moving pod off to our daughter’s home in Virginia with our treasures— mainly books, book cases, a buffet, art, a couple of comfy chairs and some heirlooms. We had also made numerous trips to Goodwill and the dump. And, while we had shipped 30 boxes of books to Virginia, we had also given 15 to Friends of the Ruch Library to sell to benefit the library. Peggy had been the president of FORL for six years. To top it off, Serafina and Iorek were loaded to the gills with everything we might need for the road— Plus. Peggy kept stuffing things into Serafina or showing up with bins for me to find room for in Iorek. Even with all of that, none of our neighbors went home empty handed. There were still couches and beds and chairs, and kitchen supplies, and lamps, and food, and sporting equipment and left over alcohol. There was even a 24 roll pack of TP from Costco. That would have brought a fortune at the beginning of the pandemic. People would have killed for it. We could hardly give it away.
As tough as saying goodbye was, Peggy and I were more than ready for our new life of full-timing. After all, the name of this blog is Wandering Through Time and Place!
With two weeks on the road behind us, we are almost human again. What we did, actually, was drive down to Reno where we camped out for a week while we relaxed and reacquainted ourselves with life on the road and our new trailer. And then we drove on to Death Valley, getting there four days before they closed the campgrounds for the season. A blog is coming.
We’ve now moved on to Las Vegas and are getting ready for our next National Park, Zion Canyon. We have four travelling companions along: Bone and Eeyore of course. They’ve travelled with us for over a quarter of a million miles. This time, however, they have been joined by Goofy and Iorek’s avatar. Goofy has been hanging out with me since the 70’s when a friend learned that one of my in-law relatives had been responsible for the creation of Goofy and, I might add, Bozo the Clown. I identified more closely with Goofy. Yuk, yuk. Iorek’s avatar was sent to us by Chrystal Trulove, one of our close blogging friends, as a Christmas Tree ornament. He told us that he would much prefer to be on the road with us than be packed away in a moving pod.