Friday, August 15, 2014

Grand Canyon, Magical Canyon

It would be so very easy to overwork the word magical around here, so maybe I'll use it one more time and then try to give it a rest.

I worked from home on Wednesday. I woke up feeling a little punk, it was raining, and I said to heck with it. I have enough work loaded onto the computer to keep me busy for a long time, and I got more work done than I would have had I gone in.

Being home, too, gave me a better view of the weather than if I'd been at the office. It rained and it rained and fog moved in and out of the trees all day, making me think I was back in the Pacific Northwest. Even so, I kept thinking I should go down to the canyon and see what was happening. I've seen some slides of something called an inversion, a term I'd never heard before, and thought conditions might be ripe for one; that is, where clouds are sunk into the canyon and only the peaks of the formations break through. But it was raaiiinning and I just couldn't work up the motivation to drive five minutes down the road, until it quit raining late in the day. Then of course I kicked myself for not going earlier.

Many people were gathered to watch and were treated to a show of clouds constantly changing and moving through the canyon. There have been many times I've looked at scenery and known, just known, that it would not translate to a decent photo, and this was one of those times. So what follows are my paltry efforts to capture the magic that had people speaking in whispers, almost reverentially. 

At the bottom and off to the right of this first photo is the Transept Canyon, a relatively small box canyon that the Widforss Trail skirts. Fog billowed up from the bottom so continually it was though there was a machine cranking it out.

Then, in a matter of a very few minutes, it cleared.

This scene is just to the left of the one above, with fog streaming along its base.

I didn't expect to see a circular rainbow here but I've seen one before, when I took a aerial tour over a fjord in Alaska. Lots of clouds there too, and I saw this kind of rainbow with the shadow of the plane in its center; that's obviously not a plane, but moi in the middle. Maybe you can see it's actually a double rainbow. Makes me look good, kind of framed in light, doesn't it?

At times the Lodge was completely obscured, a strange, isolating feeling, and then just as they continued to do, the clouds moved on.

Clouds capped the peaks and stayed there for a while, but we still had the drifting patches in a colorful canyon.

I love this phenomenon, just as it happened at Cape Royal, where the setting sun drains the color from almost everywhere but the sky. This is the same formation as the top two photos.

More of the same area, with a look up the Transept Canyon, the source of the fog machine.

I don't see many Grand Canyon sunsets, but I manage to catch spectacular ones when I do.

I mentioned the heavy overcast on Wednesday and its similarity to Pacific Northwest winters. My last couple of winters there were so depressing that the psychotropic drug I've taken for decades wasn't keeping up. On my doctor's recommendation I bought a full-spectrum light box that I sat in front of every day, which made a world of difference in my mood. It further made me think of Robin Williams, that brilliant comedian and actor, and what his depression drove him to do. I've tapped at that door myself and have the utmost compassion for anyone who pounds more heavily on it. 

It can be safely said that if you haven't experienced unrelenting depression you can't understand how it holds you in what I call The Pit, how it drains color from your life, removes all motivation to do the most basic things, and makes you just not care about anything. It can't even be described as a wasteland; there is nothing but a void. There's no pulling oneself up by the bootstraps or thinking happy thoughts or snapping out of it. 

I've lived through my times in The Pit but I couldn't tell you how. Maybe pure luck and it wasn't my day to die. I don't know, but what I do know is the sorrow I feel for those whose despair was so consuming that they couldn't hang on any longer.


Thought of the day:

I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures. - Lao Tzu

Friday, August 8, 2014

Cape Royal sunset

Sunsets aren't as easy to come by here as they were at Petrified Forest. I can't just walk out my door to take a photo when I see color in the sky, partly because I don't see much sky, but also because a wide open view is a 10-minute walk or, in the case of these photos, a 45-minute drive. One day my next-door neighbor asked if I'd seen the sunset the night before; the sky was a kaleidoscope of color due to smoke over the canyon from forest fires, and she'd seen it down near the rim. I didn't see one speck of sunset and felt cheated.

A couple of afternoons later I was peering through the trees at clouds collecting in the west, so with hope in my heart, HH and I hopped in the car and sped off to Cape Royal. As the crow flies, it's probably two miles, but by road it's more than 20. The road is narrow and winding so it takes a while, and then there's a bit of a walk to get to the point. I hustled down the trail and got there just in time. If I'd done the speed limit I would have missed it. Don't tell anyone.

I was amazed when I processed these photos. The color, or lack of, was seen by the camera but not by me.

The formations to the south held a rosy glow for a while.

In the west, highlights of magenta were all that was left when the rest of the canyon went gray...

...then, when the sun was just about gone, nearly all color departed. It makes me think of Mordor.

Finally, an unexpected blaze of color in the sky and on plants in the foreground, thanks to light reflecting off the clouds. I did not see this through the camera. You can draw a line from the sun to where it bounces off the cloud, then down to the plants. What a phenomenon.

When the sun was gone, a near-monochromatic hue remained, fading into dark for the night.

I drove home at a more sedate speed, mostly because we were behind what I could see was a new motorcyclist, but also because I thought I'd stressed HH enough. I could tell by his reaching for an imaginary brake or bracing himself on the dash that he was a little uneasy on the way up but, really, I wasn't going that fast.


Thought of the day: 

A sunset is life's way of saying, Good job! You survived another day! Here's something pretty. - Anon.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The beat goes on

A 47-year-old man died of heart failure on the North Kaibab Trail a couple of weeks ago, just above the Supai Tunnel, which is the farthest I've ever gone down that trail. I've called it a killer trail and it really is. This started a conversation with my HH.

HH monitors his health very closely and I think is frustrated with my c'est la vie attitude toward mine. I grudgingly take prescription drugs but am in general pretty smug about my good health and fitness level, which I think is the best I've had, ever. However, that man's death made me listen to HH a little more, and to take his advice to carry (and use!) an oximeter - a little device that goes on your finger and gives you bad news - when I go out walking. Using it is an eye-opener, especially considering his doctor's comments regarding hypoxia, low oxygen levels in the blood.

To keep this from being altogether boring, I'm tossing in some photos I took on Sunday at a place called the Basin, here in the park. Last week it was glorious with wildflowers so we went again to see the effect of some rain we'd had. The flowers were past their peak but the rain was still evident, and its effects were magical.

Lupine leaves.

I don't know the name of this one. The flowers are clustered on a stalk which is only a foot or so high.

Look at the surface tension holding the water between two blades of grass.

I have one kidney and HH told me about some poor guy who also had only one. He was in an accident and his kidney was damaged to the point it was removed, without anyone realizing he had just the one. He didn't live to tell about it. So I now have on my phone's home screen a notice not to remove what I have left, no matter how badly it might be injured. This leads to what HH's doctor said about hypoxia: that a blood oxygen reading of 85 or below is a sign of hypoxia and the first organs to be affected are the kidneys. That's what opened my ears and softened my resistance to paying better attention to my exertions here on the North Rim, at 8,500 feet, and at places like Cedar Breaks, 11,500 feet. Walking faster than an embarrassingly slow pace or up any amount of incline at these altitudes easily lowers my O2 to below 90. I've seen it at 83 and if that won't make me start deep breathing, nothing will.

How does hypoxia happen? Like everyone, I'd heard it said that the higher the elevation, the thinner the air, but what does that mean? There's a neat website that will calculate how much oxygen is available at whatever altitude is entered. At 8,500 feet, just 74% of sea-level oxygen is there for you to use. At 11,500 feet, it's only 63%. At the elevation of Cedar Breaks, then, there's less than 2/3 the oxygen you're breathing in standing at the ocean's edge. The next question is, how does your body compensate for this? Another informative website says (and this begins at 8,000 feet), "When we breathe in air at sea level, the atmospheric pressure of about 14.7 pounds per square inch causes oxygen to easily pass through selectively permeable lung membranes into the blood.  At high altitudes, the lower air pressure makes it more difficult for oxygen to enter our vascular systems. There is an increase in breathing and heart rate to as much as double, even while resting. Pulse rate and blood pressure go up sharply as our hearts pump harder to get more oxygen to the cells." It goes on to say that over a period of time the body acclimatizes but never reaches its sea-level capacities for physical and mental fitness.


Now that I've been checking on heart rate and O2, one of my experiences on the North Kaibab Trail scares the dickens out of me: at one point my chest felt so tight I could barely breathe. I felt I was strangling. At that time I was still in the scoffing stage of resistance. Not any more.

This is a kind of grass. Even when it's dry it has beautiful lines. 
The same grass.

See the drop on lower right inverting the horizon? Cool!

The other issue is heart rate. You've heard of target heart rate, the range of beats per minute you should aim for if you're interested in a good cardiac workout. You arrive at that number by subtracting your age from 220, then multiplying that by 60% for the low end, and 80% for the high end. Some people say 85%. For me, in my decrepidity, that gives me a range of 96-128 beats a minute. Going over the 80% or 85% number is not recommended. What I've discovered here is that it doesn't take much to tip me over the 128.

Blue flax.

Of course, the younger you are, the more you can exert yourself. A 25-year-old's range is 117-156 beats a minute; a 40-year-old has a range of 108-144. I can hit 108 just walking around the house. I feel ridiculous, old, and feeble. I won't be going down the North Kaibab again, or the Widforss, now look for level routes to take on foot, and I will be taking the oximeter with me wherever I go. I hate this getting old.

Parry's bellflower

Common yarrow. There are also white versions here.

I don't know this one but want to extend my heartfelt thanks to HH, who remarked that it looks like a duck. Now that's all I see.

The next couple are the same flower which looks like a member of the pea family to me.

 No idea. The lavender is the extent of the flower and it's about 1/2" long.

Phlox, I think. I saw carpets of these when we first got here but it looks like they're in a second, lesser, bloom.

 Another one I don't know. Gorgeous color.

A view to the north in the Basin. There is still color in the fore- and middle - ground from the wildflowers.

Like every other getting-older malady that I've forbidden from approaching my body but losing those battles regardless, the effects of this high altitude at my age is a real thing, not some theory to argue over. C'est la vie, indeed.

Thought of the day: 
Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art. - Eleanor Roosevelt

Friday, August 1, 2014

Cedar Breaks

This post would have been up days ago but for the completely inadequate internet here. HH and I had been doing very well at Petrified Forest with a Verizon add-on through a third party that gave us decent service. Well, that requires actual Verizon service and to that the North Rim says Ha!, so we had a satellite dish installed behind the house and thought we were covered, but it works when and how fast it wants to. 

We can get only 10 gigs a month, daytime, and another 10 at night which is defined as something like 2am-8am. If we use up the 10 daytime gigs we're not cut off but it slows to less than dial-up speed for those of you who remember that (and remember how we thought that was the cat's meow, just to have internet?). The night gigs are supposed to remain at full speed even if we go over but there's not a lot of interneting going on during those hours anyway. If there's a cloud in the sky somewhere in Arizona or if the wind blows or if a tree drops a needle, service slows. I couldn't get any work done on the blog because, I admit it, I don't have the patience to wait 3 or 4 minutes for a photo to upload and then be told over and over that my Save isn't working. Right now I can't see a preview of the post, only the draft version, so I have to publish without that final proof I do. Let the reader beware.


Here is Cedar Breaks, finally.  To get there, to get anywhere, as I've said before, you have to drive through Jacob Lake where there's a cookie-magnet phenomenon going on. I was strong and just kept driving. I was so, so strong.

I headed north on Highway 89A, a dotted (scenic) road on my map. Even with three stops for road construction and the fact that this was my third or fourth time driving it, it's a lovely road to travel. There aren't more than a couple dozen camping spots at Cedar Breaks, some reservable and some held for walk-ins, so I left home early to better my chances. This is the spot I got, primary considerations being the view of the meadow and in deference to my age, its proximity to the loo.

Cedar Breaks National Monument kept the name given to the area by Mormon pioneers. They saw all the junipers and thought they were cedars, and the word breaks was commonly used as another term for badlands.

Note: Anywhere there's a description of the flowers that sounds like something I wouldn't normally know, which is mostly all of it, it's because I copied it from the Monument's website.

I got set up after considerable references to the directions for putting on the rainfly, and headed out for a ranger-led wildflower walk. Aspen bluebells were going strong along the trail. According to the park's wildflower identifier, these bluebells are favorite fodder for cattle and sheep. The reason they're abundant here is because there aren't any sheep or cows.

I've seen what I thought was this same purple penstemon at the Grand Canyon, but the species at Cedar Breaks, the Markagunt Penstemon, is endemic to Utah’s Markagunt Plateau. Here's something I learned: The scientific name Penstemon refers to the fact that the flowers have five stamens. Another common name for this group of plants, beardtongues, refers to the fact that one of the five stamens does not bear pollen but is covered with hairs or is bearded.

The butterfly was so busy feeding that it didn't startle away even with people moving all around it. The flower might be a showy goldeneye.
It's not all about the flowers here, although they steal the show for a good part of the summer. The canyon reminds me quite a bit of Bryce Canyon, just on a smaller scale.

I don't know about this one at all.

Shrubby cinquefoil, low-growing, and a member of the Rose family.

There are so many of this kind of flower in bloom that I can't tell them apart. It may be Orange Sneezeweed. As with other members of the Aster family, the flower heads are actually a composite of many central disk flowers surrounded by petal-looking ray flowers. In other words, the petals aren't petals.

Some kind of larkspur. The one listed on the Monument's website is called Subalpine, but I can't tell from their photo if it's the same flower as this.

A stand of larkspur with a backdrop of canyon.

This is another penstemon, a Rydberg. The genus Penstemon is one of the largest in the US, with about 100 species found in Utah alone.

Mountain deathcamus, highly toxic but apparently not to pollinators. The flowers are about the size of my fingernail.

This species of Colorado Columbine occurs throughout the Rocky Mountains where flowers are typically blue and white, hence the name, caerulea, from Latin for blue. Many of the plants at Cedar Breaks, however, have flowers that are completely white. The petals of the Columbine flowers have long spurs that contain nectar as a reward for pollinators such as bumblebees and hummingbirds. Some insects that don’t have tongues long enough to reach the nectar, however, will steal it by biting a hole at the back of the spur and get the reward without doing the work of fertilization. I saw a bee doing exactly that.

Lupines and columbine at the side of the path.

The bright red color of Paintbrush “flowers” is actually not from petals but from specialized leaves called bracts (like poinsettias) that surround the obscure, light yellow-green flowers inside. The red bracts do a good job of attracting butterflies and other pollinators to seek the nectar reward at the base of the tubular flowers.

Paintbrush species are known as hemi-parasites. While the plant’s leaves and stems contain chlorophyll and photosynthesize, their roots also can graft themselves to those of their neighbors and steal nutrients.

Richardson's geranium, very common.

This dragonfly stayed put long enough for me to get a few shots. This is one of my favorite photos of the trip.

This moth was the same, not moving much at all on the thistle. Another thing I learned is moths tend to pollinate white flowers, hummingbirds red, bees will do anything, and flies go to stinky ones.

These might be asters. The color!

The one road cuts around meadows, under a wide blue sky.

Elkweed grows as a rosette of leaves for years until it stores enough energy, and the growing conditions are right, for it to bloom. Like agave, once they bloom, they die.

The stalk is about 3 or 4 feet tall.

The flowers grow all up and down and around the stalk.

I'm fascinated by all the insects so intent on their work, except for one gigantic, threatening monster that landed on me at Bryce Canyon. Thankfully there was a teenager there who, although freaked out by the whole episode (and if anyone should have been freaked out it should have been me, don't you think?), brushed it off my shoulder before it could attack. I don't care who you are, that thing's scary.

 Another view of the hoodoos.
Evening primrose.

I went walking to see the Monument's bristlecone pines. They live on the rim here, under harsh conditions at 11,500 feet, growing very slowly. They're like junipers in that they allow parts of themselves to die off to direct energy toward survival of the rest of the plant. I took the photo below to say, "I didn't go there," but I actually had to because the pines are at the end of the peninsula.

In 1964 scientists cut down a bristlecone in Great Basin National Park, not far from Cedar Breaks, for study. It turned out to be 4,900 years old, probably the oldest living thing on the planet. Explain that to your supervisor.

This is the cone from the tree, the bristles giving the tree its name. Its needles are in clusters of five, just like limber pines that also grow nearby, but limber pines' needles are longer. They get their name from the flexibility of their branches; a ranger said they can be tied in a knot.

 Almost there on the trail that skirts the canyon.

This is one of the largest one I saw, about 1,500-1,800 years old. A two-foot sapling is thought to be about 200 years old.

 This is fireweed, common as anything, but just beautiful.

And, finally, my two other favorite photos from the trip. The twist in the log that makes up the top rail of this fence caught my eye just as it was reflecting the light from the setting sun.

The visitor center was built in 1937 by the CCC and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

As I said, I was so, so strong on my way to Cedar Breaks, driving past Jacob Lake cookies with determination. Well, I did the same on the way back, exhibiting such control I would have wondered who I was if I hadn't already stopped at Dairy Queen in Cedar City for a Peanut Buster Parfait (with caramel sauce added). One can be only so strong.

Thought of the day:

It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end. - Leonardo da Vinci