Sunday, April 27, 2014

Utah's complementary colors

My HH took me to Monument Valley in Utah for my birthday. It was a perfect gift and we had a very good time. I was there for an hour or so a couple of years ago, but staying overnight made all the difference in seeing the place.

I had been checking the weather for a few days, mostly because it's been so changeable here, and on Wednesday or Thursday I saw there was a wintry storm predicted for Friday and Saturday. Lots of wind and rain, and if we were really, really lucky, some snow. Spring used to be my favorite season, but it's beginning to wear out its welcome. I checked the hotel website for its cancellation policy and it was 72 hours, so come hell or high water, or snow and wind, we were going.

Friday turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It was windy but warmer than we expected and we even had blue skies. Who would ever think blue and orange would be so gorgeous together?

The enormity of the rock formations is so hard to show, so I try to find something to put them in scale, like the horses in the foreground of this monolith we passed on our way to the park.

The valley is on Navajo land, not part of the National Park Service. There's a fairly new hotel that was built on the edge of the valley, and I mean on the edge. I have a photo of it coming up. This is the lobby with a tall fireplace decorated with kachinas. For some reason I thought kachinas were exclusively Hopi but apparently not.

The View Hotel is one room and a corridor deep, so every room of its three floors faces the view. Hence the name. Our room was on the top floor which features something they call the StarView for great views of the night sky, perfect for long photographic exposures. We wondered what StarView meant, exactly, going so far as to speculate the ceiling was glass, so when we walked in we were disappointed to find a plain old ceiling. What it meant was the ceiling of the balcony was not as wide as the bottom two floors, which gave a wider view.  And how could we complain with a view like this one?

There is a four-mile hiking loop that goes down 900 feet to the valley floor and around the west mitten, the one above on the left. I set out while my HH went to get lunch and turned around pretty soon because the wind was blowing sand everywhere. I put off my hike until the morning so I could see the sunrise from down below and be finished before the wind started. I will spare you the suspense and tell you right off that the spirit was willing and all that.

Instead of the afternoon hike, then, we drove the 17-mile loop road that you can see in the lower left corner in the photo above. There were a lot of cars down there just creeping along and we soon learned why. The road shown in this photo below was as smooth as a highway compared to the other 99%, which could kindly be described as washboard. The speed limit is 15mph and that would have been flying had we been able to achieve it. The only vehicles that managed it for any length of time were the open tour buggies which passed on the right, passed on the left, and left a cloud of dust in their wake. Some of their passengers were wearing masks or bandannas to avoid breathing it all in.

There is the hotel on the rim. On the right is the restaurant and gift shop. There is no bar and they don't serve or sell alcohol. There is also no pool here, something one might expect in a desert destination, but it was explained in the hotel's literature that not installing one was not just because of an ecological perspective - it is the desert and water is a scarce resource - but also honors the elders who live in the valley with no running water. There was a pickup on the road ahead of us with a gigantic tank in its bed, sloshing with water, and I thought I would not look forward to making that trip on that road with any regularity.

But the views were spectacular, of course. This is Merrick butte, named for a prospector who discovered silver in the park. I never knew the difference between a butte and a mesa until I came to Petrified Forest. A butte is taller than it is wide, and a mesa is the opposite. When I realized that mesa translates to table, it all made sense.

The three sisters formation is in the background; it's supposed to resemble a nun facing two pupils.

This is just a part of Rain God Mesa. It's so immense I couldn't get back far enough to fit it all in the frame. The sign in the lower left is maybe four feet tall, so that gives you an idea of the size. Formations in the park are from 400 to 1000 feet high.

Totem poles.

This view is called North Window. Pretty.

We continued to shake our kidneys loose and made our way back to the hotel. The wind got stronger and blew a lot of sand, but it made for some atmospheric views. This might be Mitchell Mesa, named for another silver prospector, and it was to the south from the balcony. The dust casts a haze over the formations beyond.

Clouds accumulated pretty quickly as night approached, which I think are much more interesting to look at than a plain blue sky, as nice as it is to have. Below is West Mitten, East Mitten that looks more like a teapot to me, and Merrick Butte. The curve of the restaurant's patio is on the left.

This was an interesting phenomenon yesterday morning. Haze softened everything and I waited and waited for the sun to go behind a cloud so it wouldn't entirely blow out this view. It's still pretty bright but I like the watercolor rings of color that surround it, not to mention the incredible shadow falling down the face of the mitten.

We got on our way in driving sleet, in late April mind you, but there's a tradeoff for everything, like these dramatic views.

We made a bit of a detour on our way home to Navajo National Monument, and ran into snow there and even more farther south, almost back to Petrified Forest. Today is windy. Again. With sustained winds of 20 to 25mph. With gusts to 45. Are you reading a big sigh between every sentence fragment, because that's what I surely intend.

I got here a year ago yesterday, if I remember correctly, doing a lot of whistling in the dark, pretending to be brave, determined to be brave. I'm not going to belabor the point of how far I've come, literally and figuratively, again, but it's another anniversary that is remembered, another one to line through on the calendar.

Thought of the day:

Thank God, they cannot cut down the clouds! - Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 24, 2014

And lived to tell about it

The park is opening wilderness areas to hiking, areas that were part of recent park expansion but not accessible to the public until they'd been surveyed for archeological and paleontological evidence. The surveys are done and now the park has a few more hikes that are more challenging than existing ones because they're somewhat longer and are over wide open areas, not on paved paths. They fall under a hike category called Off the Beaten Path. 

One of the areas is called Devil's Playground and access is restricted to five permits a month. Sunday's weather was as perfect as it has been in a long time, so as soon as the Visitor Center opened I headed over to get a permit, only to find out that the allotment had already gone out for April. Bummer. My next choice was a repeat of the Red Basin hike that I went on when the trail was being plotted a while back. I'd already loaded the coordinates into my GPS and this one doesn't need a permit so off I went to Blue Mesa to park near the trailhead. On my way south I spotted four pronghorns not far off the road. Some people here see them frequently but this was only the second time I have. I couldn't get all four in the frame but these two are beauties even though it looks like they're shedding their winter coats.

I parked at Blue Mesa and walked back about a half mile to the start of the trail and almost immediately went off Off the Beaten Path. My track wove here and there, following whatever looked interesting, not much keeping to the directions on the trail flyer, when I found this piece of petrified wood, below. It looked like an arrowhead to me but what usually happens when I find what I think is something good is that it turns out to be just a rock or just a piece of petrified wood. I marked the spot with the GPS even so and took several photos of it to show to the archeologists.

It's not an arrowhead but what they called a biface, a tool used as a knife. It apparently was about twice as big at one time as what's in my hand, being a more symmetrical triangle, but it broke along the edge nearest my fingertips and this is what was left. Score! A real artifact!

The colors and textures here continue to amaze me.

The country is spectacular. If not for my camera, I would have no way to describe what's out there and have anyone believe me. Do you have the vocabulary for this? I don't. There are geometric forms like those in the background, and organic ones like those up front, within yards of each other. How does this happen?

Prickly pear cactus doesn't grow to the huge size here that's seen in the Sonoran desert but it's no less formidable. There was a new bud growing on one paddle and the whole thing was more than protected by a vicious maze of spines. This plant stood about a foot tall.

By now I've seen a good amount of petrified wood but only an occasional knot.

The view behind me, again with the incongruity of shapes, and a snip of serendipity with the lizard sunning on the rock.

 Here he is again. Look at that sleepy eye.

 More petrified wood, in luscious, not-to-be-believed colors.

Off in another direction was this slope slick as ice with tiny stones.

Still more petrified wood. The top edge of this piece is what first caught my eye because it looked like a chunk of charcoal. When I picked it up for a closer look, the translucent white blade, about twice as long as shown here, revealed itself.

This is an interesting conglomerate. Others I've seen have been just rocks glued together, but you can see this one has petrified wood pieces in it as well.

I was dallying and hadn't gotten very far at all on the six-mile trail, but everywhere I looked was something that stopped me in my tracks. These rocks were a foot or two across, not the pebbles they appear to be here.

This is my favorite sighting of the day. Two flat-bread shaped slabs, fitted together like peas in a pod, and elevated off the earth with a few pebble offerings carefully settled between them. It was contemplative perfection.

An endless supply of incongruity. Who thinks up this stuff?

This is more of what I expect a conglomerate to look like. The stones look like it would take just a nudge to break them free, but they're cemented in place.

 A robber's roost or hoodoos in the making?

Getting to the gap in the fence, according to the trail directions, was supposed to be early on in the hike, but because of my wandering I was nowhere near it. I decided I'd better put a hustle on and skipped the coordinate for the gap and inched my way under the wire in another place. As I was about to stand I saw this view from my belly and had to take a picture of it. I did not take a picture of all the little bunny poop inches from my nose. At least they're vegetarians.

Hoo, boy, this was amazing and it just doesn't show as I wish it would. I've been many, many places in the park where bluffs and mesas have shed boulders and I've not really given much thought to standing under them, but this one was sending out danger vibes. There was something so unstable about it. It could have been the accumulation of the boulders close to the base but also tumbled off at a distance or because the very top stones looked as though a breeze would send them down. I couldn't put my finger on what was unsettling about it but it wasn't a place I'd pick out a rock to have a picnic on.

That is, until I saw this shell shape and had to get close just long enough to get a picture. Then I hustled myself away.

This is a close up of the base. Stalactites, right? I've never seen them out of a cave. And look at the river of debris spewing out from within. It's like something out of a fantasy.

The hike leads to clam beds that go back about 200 million years, if I remember right. I showed pictures of them before but not like these. Gorgeous.

This is the sand castle at the entrance to the slot canyon of Red Basin. It was such a beautiful day.

Another view from the opposite direction.

This explains pretty well why it's called Red Basin. There was no standing water in the wash but we'd had some rain a few days earlier; there was a section where my shoes sunk about three or four inches, which immediately made me think of Tarzan movies and people dying in quicksand. The mind is a marvelous thing, isn't it?

 An artist's dream. I wish I could paint.

The turning point for the hike, which takes you back to the start, is right after a gigantic petrified log broken into several pieces, so large it can be seen from way up on Google Earth. The diameter of one of the sections is about shoulder-high on me. I stopped there for a quick lunch and then quickly proceeded to get lost. 

The hike directions say to go north and then go west, and then you should see the fence line that takes you back to the start. Really? How far north? How far west? What freakin' fence line? The only fence I saw was down and in a tangle. I explored out in a few directions but definitely not west because it led directly into badlands (and did it mean west-west or north-west?). East-west made as much sense as anything else. And, joy, I was getting low on water. 

I'd been out about five hours by then and got a text from the HH asking where I was. Oh, lost, I said and when he asked if I need help I immediately shouted, as much as one can shout via text message, NO! I'm well aware when I'm out in the hinterlands that I'm there alone and am very careful as to where I put my feet, but the pain of breaking a bone would be nothing compared to the humiliation of having Dispatch send in the troops to rescue me. I could only imagine the humiliation of having someone drive say a quarter-mile off a road that would be obvious to a blind person to come pick me up on Sunday. No thanks. I have to work here. I see these people every day.

My plan was to navigate back to the gap in the fence that was the first or second coordinate listed for the hike and off I went, very happy to see the GPS say it was only a mile or so away, but at the same time wondering just how much zig-zagging I'd done because it should have been much more than a mile. Well, yes it should because where the coordinate took me was about 100 feet from the sandcastle shown above, nowhere near the start of the trail, more like near the end. It was an incorrect coordinate. Crap-a-mighty. What now?

Did I mark the location of the car when I parked it, as I usually do? How about the trailhead, did I mark that? Nooo!!! I forgot and really thought the directions would work. I will never make that mistake again.

What I did was navigate back to the artifact I found, the thing I thought could be an arrowhead, because I knew the coordinate was right and it was near the start of the trail. I had to go cross-country about a mile and a half, over hill and down dale, through knee-high shrubby grass, all the while looking for snakes because they live here too and it was a warm sunny day, the kind they like. 

It was all I could do to pick up and put down my feet when I came across this jackrabbit which did not move other than to lay its ears flat on its back as I made my way around it.

I was interested, still, in Making Art by taking more photos as I neared the trailhead, but what it really was was an excuse to stop for just a minute. My last shot of the day:

That last half mile or whatever ungodly distance it was from the start of the trail to the car was unending. I saw all kinds of happy park visitors frolicking among the petrified wood and curled my lip at them. Didn't they know I almost died?

Thought of the day:

I have a deeply hidden and articulate desire for something beyond the daily life.  - Virginia Woolf (thanks, Laura!)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Life is good

The weekend here was so beautiful. On Saturday I went for a hike to see some petroglyphs I'd seen before and discovered new ones. On Sunday I re-hiked the Red Basin trail, the trail for which I'd been the geriatric tester. I got lots and lots of photos from both which I'll inflict on you soon - 280 taken on Sunday alone, whittled down to a mere 80 as of yesterday.

Last night, my beloved HH and I had some friends over for dinner and the evening flew by. Great friends, good food, a little wine, and an Indian Country map annotated for fun things to see when we head to the Grand Canyon in June (!!!) made a delightful evening. I say all this because I was amazed to realize late last night that today is the one-year anniversary of my divorce becoming final, and my reaction was.... nothing. I'd had an idea that it would be anticlimactic, that the traumatic anniversary was of the day I left my house, but even that day glowed with unexpected insight and awareness. And today? I hadn't dreaded today's arrival or even thought about it more than in passing.

I love my life. I have good friends I would never have known, I've seen places and done things and grown immeasurably, and none of it would have happened if I'd never left my house. I'm leaving the bitterness and anger behind, little by little, and am continually grateful for what I have. Life is so, so good.

Thought of the day:

There is no scatheless rapture. - Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons

Friday, April 18, 2014

The butt of all jokes

For some reason I made it to 61 without having a colonoscopy. I've had two sigmoidoscopies. (I have to interrupt myself here. I got the dotted red line under sigmoidoscopies that indicates a misspelling so I right-clicked it and the suggested replacement word was kaleidoscopes. Now that's funny.). 

So I've had the two sigmoids, as I call them, like they're intimate friends and I've given them nicknames, but my new doc in Show Low kinda put his foot down about this test and said, Go! Because I always do as I'm told I made an appointment in Flagstaff and today was the red letter day.

I'm sure everyone has heard every horror story out there about colonoscopy prep. I know what I went through with my sigmoids. The enemas were dreadful. Ee-yuk. And that was only to look at the last foot or so of the colon. The colonoscopy goes, what, three to five feet which must make the prep three to five times as bad, right? I think it's a logical conclusion. I was not looking forward to it at.all. Lately, however, like in the past year, one of my mantras is one does what one must, so I researched who my insurance company would pay for and found a likely candidate in Dr. Andrew Overhiser of the Forest Canyon Endoscopy and Surgery Center.

The prep started on Tuesday, when I was told to stop eating high-fiber food. The next step was on Wednesday. At 5:00 I was instructed to take four doses of the over-the-counter laxative Miralax. Do you not just love the names the advertisers come up with? Miralax, like it's a miracle laxative. I can't attest to the miracle part of it, and somewhat protest the presumption that it is a miracle just because it works, similar to every kid on the soccer team getting a trophy, but yes, it worked. That also started the fast. I celebrated this much-anticipated event by eating two pieces of pizza, swallowing the last bite at 4:59. I'll go out on a limb and say there is 0 fiber in pizza.

Thursday, the direction was to drink 64 ounces of water, a walk in the park. At 5:00 I started the heavy-duty laxative, wherein I became an alchemist, albeit a low tech one, and mixed two packets of a product called Movi-Prep, another twee name, into a liter bottle of water, and swallowed eight ounces of it every 15 minutes until it was done. It had a mildly salty taste, so after the first swig I added two little packets of lemonade mix, but really, the salt wasn't much different from the salt on a margarita glass. Just think of it like that. Then had to drink another 16 ounces of water. The doc wanted things flushed out.

At 9:00 I repeated the alchemy. In between 5 and 9 I kept the loo in friendly proximity, but honestly, truly, and really, it was not bad. I didn't have to live in the bathroom. I didn't have to set up a station with my cell phone, iPad, cold baby wipes, and Desitin to survive the ordeal, as some people on the internet suggested, because there wasn't an ordeal. The prep for this procedure was far, far easier than for the sigmoid.

I was up maybe three times to use the loo during the night and that was it. This morning the HH drove me to Flag where I met the doc and the nurse anesthetist, who treated me like I was the only person on the schedule for the day. They told me exactly what would happen, what they were doing at every stage of the pre-anesthesia prep, turned me on my side, covered me with a warm blanket, and gave me happy gas. Actually it was an IV, but happy gas sounds more fun. The next thing I knew I was waking up. There was a little bit of tootiness but, once again, much, much less than with the sigmoid.

Why am I giving too much information? My test showed a healthy, pink colon and I don't have to go back for ten years, but I would have had no way of knowing that until I had it done. Colon cancer is so preventable and people are scared off being scoped because they've heard how awful every minute of it is. I'm here to talk about this icky subject because being open about how our bodies work is important to staying healthy. Remember when no one talked about breast cancer, god forbid they should even say the word breast? Now it's common conversation. Go get tested, people of a certain age. It ain't no big deal.

Now here's your treat for sticking with me to the end. My very own colon, on the internet for anyone to see. BTW, that black thing in the last picture is the end of the scope.

Now just do it.


Thought of the day, something I found on Pinterest:
So you're getting a colonoscopy? I've totally done that. Seven times.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Here, fishy, fishy

My good friends from near Phoenix, who I stayed with for a few days last year before coming to Petrified Forest for the first time, have parked their travel trailer near Payson, Arizona for the summer. Payson is at about 6900 feet and as hot as it was in the valley where they live, when I visited them in Payson on Saturday it was jacket weather. It's just what they're looking for to escape Phoenix summer heat.

We met in 1979 when my first child and their second were born and Judy and I shared a hospital room. I hadn't seen them since the early 1980s when I stayed with them last year, but they're the kind of friends who make it so easy to pick right up where we left off 30 years ago. Saturday was no different and it was a wonderful visit.

This location of theirs is new to them and when we went exploring we found a state fish hatchery. It was interesting, really.

That part of the state is so different from where I am. Tall, tall conifers, towering cliffs, and happy little streams mark the landscape.

We got to the hatchery about 25 minutes before it closed, just enough time to see all the raceways that hold the fish. Tonto Creek feeds the hatchery and lends its name to the operation. It's spring-fed, beginning about a quarter-mile higher up and ends 60 miles farther down at Roosevelt Lake. At its headwaters, the water temperature is ideal for raising trout.

The hatchery was built for the Arizona Game and Fish Department in the early 1930s by the Works Progress Administration on property leased from Tonto National Forest. The land was homesteaded in the late 1800s and was headquarters for one of the first ranches in the area.

Trout eggs are sent from various locations in the western states. They're hatched here and grown to fingerling (3") or catchable (9") size, then are stocked in waters throughout Arizona.

The visitor center was not staffed but it had some incredible mounted specimens of fish taken in Arizona waters. No pictures of them, but one I did take was of this backpack stocking can. So if I understand this, somebody tromped along streams with this thing full of fish and water strapped to his back. Would everything be dumped at one location, in which case the poor guy had to find his way back to wherever he got the load in the first place, fill it, and set out again? Or would he parcel it out, little by little? Neither option sounds like fun.

There were signs along the raceways, asking visitors not to put their hands or anything else in the water. If not for the signs I would have probably done so. These pictures miss the mark on the sleek, satin texture gliding through the water.

I'm not a fan of trout as a meal, but these were really beautiful creatures.

They were, of course, constantly on the move, but every once in a while one would go ballistic and zip zip zip through the tank. It reminded me of my cats when, out of the blue, they become insane and tear through the house like it's on fire. Then they're done.

Fish food was for sale for .25 but none of us had any change. We took a cue from a little girl who was picking up pieces of it, which looked suspiciously like cat kibble, from where it was scattered on the ground around the gumball-like dispenser. The resulting feeding frenzy - and now I understand where the phrase comes from - was almost vicious. That's a kibble floating on the surface at lower left.

When I felt I'd imposed myself on my friends long enough, I headed home. I'd caught a quick look at the view below when I was heading their way, but didn't have enough notice to turn in to the viewing spot. I kept an eye out on my way home and was rewarded by this. This is the Mogollon Rim. Go ahead, try to pronounce it. I figured it had a Spanish pronunciation: moe-go-YONE. Nope. I've since heard it said like muggy-oan or mug-you-own. 

This is what Wikipedia says about it: the Rim is an escarpment (I had to look that up: a steep slope or long cliff that occurs from faulting and resulting erosion and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations) that defines the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. It was formed by erosion and faulting, and dramatic canyons have been cut into it. Its name comes from Don Juan Ignacio Flores Mogoll├│n, the Spanish Governor of New Mexico from 1712 to 1715. I stick by my pronunciation. I once heard someone pronounce it muh-gollen and suspect there are dozens of interpretations.

That's what the weather looked like on Saturday. On Sunday, the wind gusted to 50 mph. It's tiringly windy here in the spring and I'm ready for it to stop. I stayed in all day Sunday until I looked out my kitchen window and saw this wall of dust and sand over the Painted Desert. I went out long enough to shoot two pictures and went back inside.

It's amazing how quickly the dust settles once the wind stops. Today was cold but clear and I have my fingers crossed it will stay clear for tonight. I have designs on the eclipse that starts about 1:00 and need the clouds to stay away.

Thought of the day:

I also think pronunciation of a foreign tongue could be better taught than by demanding from the pupil those internal acrobatic feats that are generally impossible and always useless. This is the sort of instruction one receives: 'Press your tonsils against the underside of your larynx. Then with the convex part of the septum curved upwards so as almost but not quite to touch the uvula try with the tip of your tongue to reach your thyroid. Take a deep breath and compress your glottis. Now without opening your lips say "Garoo".' And when you have done it they are not satisfied. 
- Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men on the Bummel 

(If you have not read Jerome's Three Men In a Boat, you should)