Onward to the Land of the Incas

We are preparing for a visit to Peru next month.  During this trip we will be traveling to the interior and visiting the heartland of the old Inca civilization, including the ancient city of Cusco.  We are looking forward to this visit.

I have been doing some reading in anticipation of this trip.  The first book that I read was ‘Turn Right at Machu Pichu”, by Mark Adams.  This book, first published in 2011, weaves two different story lines.  The first is Mark’s experience of traveling the region, following in the paths of earlier explorers, including trekking the famous Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.  Mark interweaves this narrative with an account of the history of the region, some of it very brutal, mostly centered around the time of the Spanish conquests of the area.  He talks about the “discovery” of Machu Picchu by Hiram Bingham III, a somewhat self-serving American explorer in search of fame, in 1911.  But Machu Picchu was never really “lost”, especially to the people who are from the region!  In any case, the stories are interesting, even if the details of the book are difficult to remember just a few weeks after reading it.  My memory is not what it used to be.

The other book I read more recently was “The Old Patagonian Express”, by Paul Theroux.  This book was first published in 1979.  It is an account of Paul’s travel from Boston, Massachusetts, to Esquel in Patagonia, mostly by train.  The travels took the author through Peru, and specifically Cusco and Machu Picchu.  I have a copy of the book that I had bought in June of 1985, when I was about to graduate with my doctorate degree.  It was time to open the book once again.

The spirit of the somewhat arduous trip taken by Paul Theroux (it took a few months to complete) is something that I can appreciate.  It is an undertaking that seems to have been driven mainly by the author’s sense of curiosity and adventure, and his need to leave his zone of comfort in the process.  It is about the thrill and the romance of travel.  You do it because you want to see, experience, and learn about new things, new places, new people, etc..  You are not looking for the familiar place or face.  You do not have a complete plan in place to handle the situations that you will encounter.  And it is more significant than that – you willingly open yourself to the unexpected and let yourself become more vulnerable. And in all of this, you manage to learn something more about yourself.

One has to remember that Paul Theroux’s book was written in the 1970s.  I now find that his attitude towards the kind of people that he encountered, especially the locals, seems to be somewhat condescending, or maybe it is just a general sense of superiority.  I wonder if it is actually a sign of the times that Paul Theroux lived and traveled in, or if it is a somewhat generic attitude taken by folks who are out on voyages of discovery, including most of the explorers of times past – especially those from Europe and North America.  They always thought that they were better off than the others, and that they knew what was good for others. Perhaps they were really better off from a materialistic point of view, but did they necessarily know what was good for others?

Paul talks a lot about the poverty he encountered in Peru, especially among the natives.  The power structures in place in government in those days did not seem to be geared towards improving the lives of the common man.  Perhaps it is all true.  My problem, reading Paul’s work at this time in my life, is the feeling I have that he does not seem to have gone beyond the superficial in trying to understand the lives of people.  He does not seem to have had the conversations that someone who is undertaking this kind of effort should be having.   Maybe he did not have enough time.  Maybe he did not think his book was meant to be read by somebody of Inca ancestry.  In my mind, he comes off as being quite opinionated in this regard.  He might have thought that he was be brutally honest, but I think the problem is that he did not make the attempt to have a more complete perspective. He really did not complete his homework.  Perhaps, this is a general problem with the attitudes of too many explorers.

Anyway, here we are, more than 40 years after the time of Paul Theroux’s travels to South America, and we are on our way to South America once again (we went to Ecuador two years ago).  I wonder how the country of Peru has changed since the 1970s.  We are not adventurers like Paul Theroux.  We are going in an organized tour group, and everything is going to be taken care of for us.   We will probably be shielded in some way from the locals.  Paul Theroux had also traveled through Ecuador, and he talks about the poverty in that country, but our exposure to those circumstances a couple of years ago in the tour group in Ecuador was minimal.  It could be that the situation has changed since the 1970s, but it could also be that we were just shown what would be tolerated by “tourists” like us – things that were unlikely to cause us distress, or show the country in a poor light.

It seems like the town of Cusco was geared somewhat towards tourism even in the 1970s.  It is in all likelihood even more so today.  You only have to see all the information on the Internet in this regard to sense that this is the case.  You would also be led to believe that people are generally much better off in Cusco today than 40 years ago, but how can one be sure without having the complete experience?

As I said before, since we will be arriving in Peru as tourists in a tour group, almost everything that we do will be according to a plan and a schedule.  But the explorer in me feels that perhaps some of the more remarkable and memorable moments of the trip could happen outside of the script.  One just has to be open to the possibilities.

One final note about the trains that Paul Theroux took many years ago.  Even in those days, there was no way to do the entire trip from Massachusetts to Patagonia solely by train.  Looking at the available train services today, this situation has gotten even worse.  Passenger train services are available in much fewer places today.  Common folk have to depend more on the buses than they used to do in times past.  In a few places, the trains have been saved by running services over short distances just for the tourists.  But this is not the real thing!  The romance of the railroad is not what it used to be.

 

 

 

The Mountains Are Calling

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Canyonlands National Park, Utah

There is something about the nature of the hills and the mountains that has drawn me to them over the years.  I am not sure how this happened.  My first remembrance of such feelings was when I would visit my aunt and her family in the hills of the Western Ghats in Kerala.  From the front porch of their house, in what was then the little village of Dhoni, one could see a hilltop that was untouched by development.  We, the children that we were, made one or two explorations into the hills, trying to follow the informal trails that other like-minded people had created over time.

Years later, I still feel like reliving that feeling, and that moment in time, but the world has probably changed in the meantime for the people of Dhoni and Palakkad.  Also near my aunt’s house was another forested hilltop which was a part of the forest reserve lands of the State of Kerala.  I never made it there, but it has always been a part of my imagination.  I am not sure exactly what lay there, and what remains now.

It was only as a graduate student that I was finally able to actually respond to the call of the hills.  We were able to drive from the university to the Bear Mountain area in New York State for day hikes.  About four or five miles of hiking and we would be completely exhausted because we were completely out of shape.  But it felt really great, especially relaxing with a bottle or two of beer after the whole effort.

And then there was the downhill skiing that I discovered when in graduate school.  When you are standing on top of the mountain – with the wide open snow-covered slopes lined with evergreens in front of you, with a panoramic view of the landscape all around, with the little chalet that is your destination way, way, down below you, you are in a kind of heaven on earth.  As you prepare to launch yourself off the flat top and on to the slope, you take a measure of the nature of the challenge, and the slope that you are about the conquer. As you start your way down the hill, the exhilaration  increases to the next level.  You have a smile on your face and you are whooping with happiness as you speed downhill (carefully!) – even as the icy cold wind blows across your face and freezes the tears that flow from your eyes.

I ski very rarely these years – there is a chance that the joints will not take the pounding.  But I am absolutely certain that if I were to get to the top of that hill on my skis the feeling of happiness will be renewed instantly, even if it is for a short while.  It would be as if I was experiencing all of the thrill of skiing, and of the mountaintop, once again for the first time.

I was diagnosed with CAD many years ago, and at that time I had to undergo a couple of procedures to address the problem.  A good friend from childhood called me then to chat and cheer me up.  We were talking about possible restrictions on my lifestyle in the future, and he mentioned, somewhat jokingly, that perhaps I would not be able to climb  mountains like the Himalayas in the future.  My response was – why not?!  My response was not based on reality, but even if I do not make it to the Himalayas themselves, there are plenty of other doable challenges all over the world.

Meanwhile, the mountains continue to call.  Every time I see a picture of a mountain, I wonder if there is a way to get to the top.  (And I mean get to the top on foot!  Driving a car to the top of a mountain, however high the mountain may be, is not as much fun!)  And every single time I go to a national park, I get the urge to see and experience that trail in the park that can lead to the top of its highest peak.  Of course, that does not happen most of the time these days due to many reasons.  And even I know the risks of trying to tackle a trail like the Angel’s Landing Trail in Zion National Park.  (I do have a natural fear (perhaps healthy) of narrow open spaces at great heights.  My knees get weak even looking at the pictures!)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Bright Angel Trail, North Rim, Grand Canyon

But the good thing is that I am still able to hike today. And I can walk a trail, and climb the hills, for miles and miles – to get to the highest destination, that mountain top where my expansive view of the world awaits.

I have to continue to answer the call of the mountaintop until I am physically unable.

Colorado, Utah, and Arizona by Car – The Epilogue

(You might notice that the subject line for this sequence of blogs has finally gotten corrected in the last posting of the series!  It’s the least I could do.)

It happened when we were in Kanab, UT.  It had been a while since we had gone to a Chinese Restaurant.  Luo’s Cafe was close enough to the hotel for us to walk to.  The food, and especially the hot soup, was welcome on a cold evening after the active day in Zion National Park. We got fortune cookies at the end of dinner.  The one I opened up said “In the near future, you will discover how fortunate you are.”  I have thought of myself as very fortunate for many years of my life.  So this message about making a “discovery” was incorrect in a way, but considering the nature of the trip that we were making, it was still interesting, and perhaps timely, anyway.  The other fortune cookie had the message “It is better to have beans and bacon in peace than cakes and ale in fear.”  Please contact me if you can figure that one one out!

Here are some stats from the trip.
According to the odometer in the car, we covered 2579 miles during this trip.  This might be equivalent to driving across the country.

The places we stayed in were Denver, Estes Park, and Parachute, in Colorado; Moab and Monticello in Utah; then Monument Valley and Page in Arizona; back to Kanab, Cannonville and Torrey in Utah; and finally Red Cliff and Denver in Colorado.

The National Parks we visited were Rocky Mountain, Arches, Canyonland (two different sections), Mesa Verde, Northern Rim of the Grand Canyon, Zion, Bryce and Capitol Reef.  Places visited also included Monument Valley, Pike’s Peak, Four Corners, and a few state parks.  We passed through numerous interesting little towns, including places like Escalante in Utah, and Parachute, Red Cliff, and Leadville in Colorado.  We did drive through a town called “No Name”, and drove past a restaurant called the “Bla, Bla, Blah Cafe” towards the end of the trip.

Most of the travel was on the Colorado Plateau.   We started off at an elevation of slightly over 5400 feet, in Denver, and probably stayed at an altitude above that most of the time, finally hitting over 14,100 feet at Pikes Peak.

The weather cooperated for the most part.  Even when it rained in the night or in the morning, it would clear out in time so that we could do something outside.  We had some really cold mornings, even around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, but it usually warmed up enough for us to get going.  We always dressed in layers, and the outerwear would go into the backpack as we warmed up during a walk.  The snow that we experienced was not significant enough to cause problems, but it did bring an additional element of beauty to our travels.

One of the surprises for me was the fact there are still cowboys in the west, and that cattle still roam the open range in Utah.  There is definitely still a western culture.  Another delightful surprise was the discovery of the town of Red Cliff in Colorado.  I could have spent more time in that area, including a drive through Shrine Pass.  I could probably have also spent some more time at places like Cortez, Escalante and Leadville.  But we had other places to get to.

People we encountered were generally nice and helpful.  Conversations were not very deep. Politics never came up and that helped us stay out of trouble.  The servers at the restaurants were mostly  genuine and hardworking, and we ended up talking to some of them, and even tipping more than usual.

There were many tourists from Europe.  I  noticed very few black families in the parks.   This is unfortunate. On the other hand, the number of oriental tourists we encountered was staggering. For a reason I cannot fathom, tourists from India are found in large numbers in Page, AZ.

It took me a significant amount of organizing effort to make sure that we had a place to stay every night of the trip, and that these places would be suitably located relative to things that I thought were good to experience.   There was no issue with any of the hotel reservations, and some of the facilities had their own character and were interesting in themselves.  There might be one or two changes that I would make if I had to do this again, mainly related to location, but things worked out nicely for the most part.  I had also created a list of things that sounded interesting to see and do for every place that we stayed at.

I did all the driving, but Teresa worked out all the details of packing and unpacking and managing the stuff that we carried during our hikes.  My outerwear to handle cold weather stayed in the back seat of the car for the most part when I was not wearing it.  I spent significant amount of time every evening, and the next morning, working on the blog for the day.   I used to wake up very early in the morning and slept less than usual overall.  It must have been the difference in time zones that I never adjusted to.  But I have also noticed that something like this happens to me every time I make a trip like this.

We jointly decided what we would try to see and do on a particular day, and it mostly worked out.  We were flexible in planning and adjusting when things did not go exactly as planned, especially when it rained.  Sometimes the advance planning was minimal.  We did not see everything we would have liked to.  There was not enough time.  We did most things together – there were a couple of occasions when I did a little extra on the trails.  We managed to not get on each other’s nerves too much.  It was good teamwork.  Teresa actually started proof-reading my blogs after the first few days.  I know it helped, but I suspect that a bunch of editorial stuff still needs to be addressed.  I will try to fix errors as I find them.

The return to Gaithersburg and reality was smooth but I would not call it pleasant.  The election season is upon us, and it is the season of lying and spreading fear.   But a day at the Manna food bank revived my spirit somewhat.

I did manage to rescue the jacket that I had left at the security checkpoint on our way out of Dulles Airport on the 6th.  Some people may not be happy about that, hoping that this rather tattered piece of clothing would disappear.  But I think there is something to be said about being sentimental about old things.

Here is the link to a page that lets you access all the blogs for the trip in the correct order.

By the way, this is an amazingly beautiful country!

 

 

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 14 (To Pikes Peak and back to Denver)

This was the day the adventure finally came to a end and we returned to reality.  No, we are not home yet, but we started the morning in an unknown little mining town in the middle of Colorado, and ended in the bustling city of Denver.  We spent the night in a Hampton Inn hotel in the busy city, and we fly back home today.  The mood has already shifted.

This was the scene outside our hotel room at Red Cliff in the morning.  A light snow had fallen overnight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff in the distance, the sun was trying to break through.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff to the east, the sun lit up the snow-covered evergreens.  This was the direction of Shrine Pass and the road that was not taken.  That may remain a dream.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe headed up the hill and out of town to get back on to US 24.  This road did not seem as narrow as it did to us the previous evening, except at the point where it hit the highway, where they seemed to have had to cut down a little bit of the side of the mountain to create the entrance to the road.  There was an overhang that seemed like it would be nasty for tall vehicles.

Then it was back on US 24 East.  There was more snow around, but the road had been cleared pretty well by that time, and it had stopped snowing. Nevertheless, one had to be extra careful when driving.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe arrived at the town of Leadville and stopped to fill gas.  Next to the town were the Sawatch Range of the Rocky mountains.  Mt. Massive is the closest high peak, over 14,000 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had selected a route that went through Leadville because I had read about this somewhat less known, and perhaps unremarkable to some, town in a book on running.  This is the location of the annual Leadville Trail 100, “The Race Across the Sky”, an ultra-marathon where runners covered 100 miles in the Rocky Mountains.  I do not think I am going to do that any time soon!

The town itself had a western feel to it, a feeling that we have gotten very used to during these travels.  Outside this little cafe you could hear the kind of music that one might have heard in an old western movie, typically in a saloon.  (If I remember correctly this sometimes happened before a gunfight broke out.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture from the middle of the road.  I was ready for a shootout!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are more pictures of the town.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we were out of town, driving further south in the shadow of the Rockies.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the snow behind after we left town.  As we drove further south, we saw signs for Mt Harvard, Mt. Yale and Mt. Princeton, all mountains higher than 14,000 feet.  What an elitist bunch of folks, the people who named these mountains!  These are also called the Collegiate mountains.

The road headed south for a long time, and then turned east just beyond Buena Vista, a somewhat sizable town.

Then we were headed east, on a big plain, on a road that ran straight and true for miles and miles.  There were fields beside us with cows and horses, and then we saw some animals that we did not recognize.  I think they were some kind of deer.

We climbed out of plains into parkland area.  The scenery was still beautiful, but not as compelling as what we had experienced in the last few days.  But to somebody who was seeing this after having spent all their lives driving in suburbia, this could also seem remarkable.

We passed a little outpost where I finally stopped to take some pictures of buildings that had a western feel to it.  This was not the best we had seen during our travels, but this was perhaps the last time we would see such buildings during the travels.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was when we entered the town of Ute Pass that we knew that we were back in civilization as we have known it all our lives.  It was a bigger place with a lot of people, a lot of commercial buildings typical of suburbia around us, and names of stores familiar to us.

Shortly out of town, we arrived at the start of Pikes Peak highway.  There were already lines forming to pay the fees and enter.  You have to drive about 20 miles to get to the top.  This picture was taken at mile 10 where we decided to stop for some lunch.  We might have sat at the picnic benches had it not been for the description they had at the place for black bears.  We ate in the car.  You can see the top of Pikes Peak towards the left side of the picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe left the forest of evergreens as we climbed.  The trees thinned out and eventually disappeared.

The last phase of the climb involved a lot of short and sharp switchbacks up the bare face of the mountain.  You had to be really careful.  We ended up behind a very slow driver who allowed a convoy of about 20 cars to form behind him.  The directions for driving this road clearly state that one should pull over and let others pass if there are three cars behind them. (I am told that it is not good to called people names in a blog. So I will avoid doing that.) We reached the top of the mountain in this fashion, in a convoy of slow cars.

We were actually a little disappointed when we got there.  There is a wide flat area on top, and the area that we were entering through was blocked off with a lot of construction equipment.  Additionally, there were a lot of cars and people around.  There was a guy who was helping people get parking.

Here is a view of a vista at the top of the mountain (click on the picture, as usual!).OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were at a height where breathing could be difficult if you were not prepared.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter stopping in the cafeteria for their world-famous donuts and a cup of hot chocolate, we stepped out behind the gift shop to take in the view.

The pictures below show the place where the cog railroad used to end.  This railroad actually operated until recent times, but is out of commission because there is extensive maintenance work needed, and it is going to be tough to get spare parts and fix something that is not a mainstream product these days.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a guy who has taken off his shirt.  The temperature was below freezing!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe lake blow is called Crystal Reservoir.  It serves the city of Colorado Springs close by.  We will stop by this lake on the way down the mountain.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can walk the trail down the mountain.  In fact, there are supported bike rides you can do down the mountain on the road.  Can you imagine how hot the brakes are going to be as you proceed downhill!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe made a few stops on the way down.  Here is a picture of the road at one of these spots, of the direction we had come from.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis car looks like it is too close to the edge!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the road going down the mountain in one of the steeper sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture was taken from Crystal reservoir, where we stopped for an extended break.  You can see the building at the top of Pikes peak.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe blue color of the clear water was remarkable.  Pikes Peak is to the left of the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe ripples in the water stopped at some point, and I could take the following picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe realized that we had taken much less time to explore Pikes Peak than what we had been led to believe would be needed.  The evening was still early, and we had to figure out what to do next.  We opened up the AAA tour guide book to the pages for Colorado Springs.  It seems like The Garden of the Gods was the topmost on the list of things to see.  That was where we headed.

The GPS device told us to go in one direction to get to the park, whereas the instructions on the city streets gave us a different direction.  We followed street signs.  It was the wrong decision.  Instead of the Visitor Center, we ended up at the Trading Post.  We parked there anyway, thinking that there might be a visitor center hidden somewhere.  It was at this point that an overwhelming sense of tiredness overcame me.  I was running out of energy.  It was time for a Clif bar. We went in to get directions for hiking and were given a map and some somewhat vague directions.  We decided that we wanted to head for the Siamese Twins.

We headed down a trail that seemed to be the right direction.  A park ranger who had been driving on the road next to the trail stopped and gave us us an official trail map of the park (which was different from what we got at the Trading Post).  We had been going in the wrong direction.

We did make it to the Siamese Twins.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is a picture of the Trading Post as we walked back to the parking lot.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had initially wanted to also walk in another section of the park, but I realized that I was too tired.  It must have been all the driving.  We decided to head out to our hotel in Denver right away.

On the way out, we passed the place where we had initially wanted to also walk after seeing the Siamese Twins.  It was actually the more interesting part of the places in the park, with its huge rock formations.  It was the place we would have ended up in if we had stopped at the actual Visitor Center. That is the way it goes.

We joined the traffic heading north on Interstate 25 towards Denver.  It was rush-hour time on a Friday evening, and there was construction on the road.  Welcome back to the trappings of civilization.

We went out for dinner soon after we checked into the hotel.  There was a Thai restaurant within walking distance.  The food was good, except that the chef had probably mixed up the dishes that were supposed to be very spicy, and I got more than I had bargained for.  Some Chang beer from Thailand helped cool things down.

Back at the hotel, I downloaded pictures from the phone to the computer, but that was as far as I got before an overwhelming urge to sleep overtook me.  I conked out the minute my head hit the pillow.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 13 (Capitol Reef NP to Red Cliff, CO)

It was around freezing temperatures when we woke up, but the light breeze made it feel colder.  My fingers froze the moment I stepped out to take a morning picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were down for breakfast as soon as the place was open.  The food was the standard fare, but it was very good in spite of that fact.  The bread and the pancakes were outstanding.

And then it was off to the Capitol Reef for a morning of hiking.  We would be leaving for Red Cliff, CO, as early in the afternoon as possible.  The cold weather would not stop us hiking, but there was the slight chance of rain that could.

This picture was taken from the car as we started descending from the rise in the road.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove past the Fruita schoolhouse.PA180031.jpgThe next stop was at a roadside display for Petroglyphs. What we saw here was not as impressive as the one in Newspaper Rock Historic State Monument.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe also passed a few orchards along the way.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe finally arrived at the trail head for the Grand Wash Trail that we were planning to do.

For those who do not know, a wash is a path that water flows through naturally only when there is excessive rain and flash flooding. We had never walked a trail in a wash before.

This particular wash was a path for the water flowing between cliffs of mountains. Essentially, the wash was in a canyon, and the path of the water depended on the nature of the canyon. An obstruction in the way because of the presence of a mountain would cause the wash to change direction.

This picture was taken near the beginning of the walk.  For the purposes of the hike, you could walk anywhere in the wash.  The surface was covered with small rocks of all kinds.  It was also muddy because of the rain the previous day.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt began to drizzle as we started our walk, but we continued.  There seemed to be no danger of flash flooding.

When the water encounters a barrier and changes direction, it actually eats into the rock and weakens it.  You can see this happening in the picture below.  Eventually the rock will have to collapse as more and more of it is eaten away.  This is the way of nature.  Nothing lasts forever.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis picture shows how the position of the mountain changes the direction of the wash.  The tall cliffs in front are a barrier to water flow.  The wash changes direction to the left of the picture.  The direction of this wash kept changing direction every few hundred yards.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe distance between the cliffs got reduced significantly in the narrows section.  Imagine the waters of a flash flood encountering these sections.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe water has cut deep into this rock as it changes direction here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the narrows section of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe wash did widen out after a while.  The rocks had interesting shapes and towered over you, all around you.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe depression in the rock in front was huge.  I am not sure what caused it, but it is in the way the water changes its direction.  It could be that a slab fell out.  It looked like an amphitheater to me.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw rocks of all kinds of color in the the bed of the wash.  I did not get a picture of the orange ones.  All of these pieces are carried by the water when there is a flash flood.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the other end of the trail.  You can drive on a dirt road to this point on the scenic road that I took pictures of in the previous blog.  There is even a basic restroom here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese pictures were taken on the way back.  Look at the shapes that the water has carved on the rocks near the canyon floor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture just to capture the beauty of these massive rock formations.   You can see that this mountain is a barrier to the flow of water and changes the direction of the wash.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is all created by flowing water!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we had the sighting of the bighorn sheep!  We had been waiting for something like this all through the trip, and it finally happened on our last day in Utah.  You should have seen this guy navigating the rocks.  They are very surefooted.  We have to thank the couple who were hiking in front of us for directing our attention to the animal. We could have missed it completely!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI took this picture just because I was imagining what this rock face looked like.  There are a lot of faces in pain looking down on you!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the end of our walk in the wash after a couple of hours.  It was around noontime. My not-so-trusty GPS said that we had walked 6 miles, while the sheet of paper in my hands said that we should have actually walked 4.4. miles.  I think the distance we covered is closer to what the GPS device says.  We stayed on the bed of the wash even when there were shortcuts beside it.

And then we continued our drive through the park to head out of town, and on to Red Cliff, Colorado.  We had a long drive ahead of us.  As we hit the east end of the park we encountered some very dark rock formations that were also quite pretty. This picture was taken from the passenger seat.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove on Interstate 70 for hours with only a short stop to use the restroom.  A lunch of trail mix and apple were consumed as we drove.

We arrived at the exit for Red Cliff near the town of Vail and took US 24 heading east.  The GPS device said that we had to drive 9.9 miles on this road to arrive at our destination, but it was also turned off at this point because it was giving me bogus directions as we drove.  (Bad software can do terrible things!)

Anyway, we passed a small little town called Minturn, quite cute, soon as we exited the highway, and then the narrow road that we were on began to climb through woods along the side of a mountain. We climbed and we climbed for a while, until we crossed a marker that said that we were about 13,000 feet!  It seemed that we had been driving on this road for a while and, with no signs of civilization around,  I was beginning to get nervous.  There were other vehicles on the road behind us who seemed to be surer of themselves.  The road was descending rapidly at this point.  I decided to pull over to the side so that we could get our bearings.

I took this picture of the green bridge crossing the valley below as Teresa turned the GPS device on.  (You could not use a smartphone with GPS in these parts because there was no signal!)  She told me that we were a couple of hundred yard from our turnoff for Red Cliff.

Sure enough, when we reached the bridge, just before the start of the bridge, off on the left side, was this narrow road to Red Cliff.  You can almost make out the marker in the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere was barely place for two vehicles to pass on this narrow road set against the cliff.  It  was descending rapidly.  In the valley you could see a little town with old houses and even a railroad track.  There was no way to pull over to take pictures.

The village below us was Red Cliff.  We had arrived. This is the Green Bridge Inn that we are staying at.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view from outside our third floor room.   The room was very nice, with all the modern fittings, but it also had its own character.  Rooms like this are much more enjoyable that the cookie-cutter rooms of the big hotel chains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was taken by the look of this small village.  When checking in, I asked the girl at the counter questions about the place.  She was from that town.  She gave me a small slip of paper with some information about the village. It was at 9000 feet! It is the oldest town in the county, formed in the late 1800s, when silver was discovered locally.  At the turn of the 20th century, it boomed as a mining town, with saloons, brothels, bank, sawmills, and even an opera house.

The girl at the check-in counter also told me about a road from the village that went over the Shrine Pass, at 13,000 feet.  She said it was a dirt road in parts, and that we could turn back and return to town any time we wanted.  There is a small sign in the village pointing to this road.  I wish we had time to do this drive, but it is not going to happen.  We have places to go.

There was a walking tour one could do, and the two of us set out on a walk after putting our stuff away.  I was told that you could get a good picture of town from the cemetery on top of the hill.  That was where we went. We were breathing hard in the thin mountain air as we climbed, but we did get there.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou can see how high we had climbed above the village from the picture below.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe pictures of the village itself that were taken from the cemetery were not clear because of things in the way.

The houses in this village were all different from each other and they looked like they were all in different conditions. Some of them were pretty. I don’t think there is a concept of zoning.  Here is a picture of one of the houses.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPeople have to depend on satellite signals to connect with the outside world.  We saw people taking walks with their dogs.  The dogs were usually running free.  We could hear people talking to each other outside the homes.  You crossed a bridge to get from one side of town to the other, and below the bridge you could see a stream and the abandoned rail tracks of the old Denver and Rio Grande Railroad.  The trains ran through the valley in these parts during its heyday.

It snowed lightly when we were walking up on the hill. It also felt very cold but I did not know how cold it actually was.  Being up in the mountains, I imagine that temperature can be really low.

We had to find a warm place when we returned from the walk. We walked into the only eatery in town.  It was called Mangos.  This place is not open every day of the week.  We were fortunate about the day of the week we had arrived.  The inside of Mangos turned out to be very modern.  It was primarily a bar and most folks were at the counter, drinking and watching American football or hockey on the big screens.  Our waitress/bartender was very nice and the food was excellent.  In general, we have been very fortunate about the food we have been getting for dinner during this trip.

It had turned dark by the time we were done. Other than a few lights in the houses, the only big source of illumination were the lights from our hotel across the road.  There were no street lights and it felt dark.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI had a slight headache when I went to bed because of the altitude.  We have been taking diamox for the last couple of days to adjust to the altitude.

Our overnight stay in Red Cliff turned out to be a somewhat unexpected treat.  Today we go to Pikes Peak.  It is at an elevation of over 14,000 feet.

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 12 (Utah Route 12 to Capitol Reef NP)

It was raining when I woke up, and it would occasionally rain heavily enough that you could hear it quite loudly.  This part of the ride had been planned carefully.  We had been told that the drive on Utah Route 12 to Torrey and Capital Reef was especially beautiful, and that we should drive this stretch in the morning.  It seemed that all this planning was going to come to naught.  It did not look like a promising start to the day.

I took some more pictures of the Grand Staircase Inn before we departed Cannonville.  It was raining as I crossed the highway to take a few pictures.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a short while we began to see snow on the mountains in front of us.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we climbed into the mountains, the temperatures began to drop, until they were below freezing, and the rain also changed to a steady snowfall.  The snow continued for a while.  We even passed a snow plow.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a while, as we were driving through a valley between mountains next to a dry desert wash, the snowfall stopped. We could even see the sky brightening up in the distance.

All this while our drive had been alternating between the lands of the Dixie National Forest and the Grand-Escalante National Monument.

In a short while we arrived at the town of Escalante and the offices of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of the US Department of the Interior that runs Grand-Escalante National Monument. They had a museum dedicated to the National Monument.  Although it was a small museum, there was a lot of interesting information to be found.  The mission of the BLM is to preserve the land and the environment of the National Monument, and to do research and learn more about the land. There are scientists of all kinds who go out looking for, and cataloging, the natural wonders, and the plants and the animals of that region.  They study the geology of the land, and do archeological studies.  The Hopi and the Paiute Indians used to live on this land.  Ancients artifacts of life from their times are discovered and catalogued. And then they look for fossils.  They are finding fossils of animals from really old times, including that of dinosaurs, some of them new types of dinosaurs, and some of them of really huge animals.

I thought that the movie that they showed in this museum was the best we had seen so far during this entire trip.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove through the town to Escalante.  It seems to be a developed place with a lot of amenities of modern life, but it also felt like we had stepped back in time when one looked at the setup of the town, its buildings, and its decor.  We even passed a motel called the Prospector Inn.

It also looked like the place where people who are interested in the outdoors use as a base for activities like hiking and biking.  I wonder if this is a place we would think about coming to for an extended period of time some day in the future.

It did not take too long to drive through the town.  It was still raining as we drove into the wilderness again. We arrived at an overlook into a valley where we, once again, saw clearing skies in the distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABelow us, we could see the road that we were about to take into the valley.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs we crossed another mountain range you could see the green trees below us where the Escalante river was flowing.  We are going to get to the road you see in the valley!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe road dropped to the level of the river OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAbefore starting to climb again.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASoon the road was running on a high mountain ridge with steep drop-offs on both sides. It was a little scary.  Fortunately, there were pullouts where one could stop to take pictures like this.  The skies had cleared by this point.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe presence of the trees between the mountains showed that there was water flowing at the bottom between these mountains.  One of these flows is of the Escalante river.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe descended from the mountains into a lower area where Boulder was located.

And then the road started to climb once again.  We started to see cows wandering beside the roadside.  Apparently, they are free to graze in the open in these parts. I think this was mamma cowOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwaiting for her little one in the picture below to cross the road and join her.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd then we saw the cowboys herding the cattle on both sides of the road.  We slowed down to let them pass.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is quite clear that we are in a part of the west that was captured in the western movies of a time gone by.  This is John Wayne country! The towns that we are passing through, the local hotels that we are staying in, the food, and the way of life here is from another time and place.  Wow!

The road continued to climb until we reached a point where we began to see snow on the roadside.  It had snowed recently.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe crossed the summit of the road at an altitude of 9600 feet.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe then started descending through a winter wonderland.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat was when we encountered this cow that looked lost. I wonder if the cowboys had lost one of their cows.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe cow actually crossed the road in front of us to the side with a drop-off that looked somewhat steep.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe think the cowboys lost one of their cows.  Hope it made it home safely!

There was more snow on the way down.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn a while we dropped below the snow level.  As we approached the town of Torrey near the Capitol Reef National Park, we could see the distant mountain cliffs with sections lit up by sunlight.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ended our unexpectedly eventful and exciting drive on route 12 at this point and turned east on to Utah Route 24 to head into the park.  This part of the drive had taken much longer than I had anticipated, but we had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  In fact, one is tempted to dedicate an entire blog to that topic.

Capitol Reef is quite close to Torrey.  It was afternoon by the time we arrivedOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAand it was raining as we went to the visitor center.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe drove to a picnic area for lunch after watching the movie at the visitor Center.

Because of the weather, we were not sure what we were going to do the rest of the day.  With all the water on the ground, the red sandstone mud was becoming sticky and slippery.  It stuck to your shoes and tracked into the car, and any other place you walked into.

We decided to drive to the end of the scenic road in the park, and follow the dirt road at the end of this paved road for a couple of miles to a trail called the Capital Gorge Trail.  The unpaved road ran through a narrow canyon between two mountains.  The trail was into a deep canyon.

It started raining somewhat heavily as we were driving on the paved road. An interesting aspect of this road was that it crosses a large number of desert washes that fill with water when there is flash flooding, and that the roads did not use bridges to cross these washes.  You essentially forded the washes.  You had to keep off the road if there was flooding.

It was raining somewhat heavily when we got to the end of the paved section of the road. There was some nervousness about entering the canyon under these conditions.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo we turned to head back towards the Visitor Center. There was nothing to do but to take it easy the rest of the day.  On the way back, we crossed another dirt road that led to the trail head for a different canyon walk.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe vehicle in the picture below sped its way past us on to the dirt road, splashing through the red muddy water that was already pooling on its surface.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis park seems to be a somewhat laid-back place.  At the center of the park is what used to be the town of Fruita, a place that was occupied by the Mormons in the first half of the 20th century.  They used to farm the land.  Some of the artifacts of life from those days are still around, and some of them are still used. They still have fruit tree farms and produce canned goods like jams and jellies, and have other items for sale.  You can buy some of this stuff at the Gifford House.  We consumed some locally made ice cream while sitting in our car.  It was too damp ans cold to sit outside.

The barn in the picture below is what you will see in a lot of articles about Capitol Reef National Park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were going to leave the park and check into our hotel early because of the weather.  We decided to stop at the Goosenecks Overlook, and also take the Sunset Point Trail at this location, on our way back.

This turned out to be a good decision.  The skies actually began to clear up in the distance as we approached the viewpoints.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next picture is from Goosenecks viewpoint.  You can see why this name was chosen. The Sulphur Creek flows at the bottom of this canyon.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThese are pictures of the canyon from the Sunset Point trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I thought the green layer running through the mountain range was striking.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere are more pictures of the mountain range that dominates Capitol Reef National Park.  These are also taken from the Sunset Trail.  (Click on the picture!)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a close up of one section of the range.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe sun had popped out of the clouds by the time we arrived at the Broken Spur Inn and Steakhouse, the place that we were staying.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe property also includes a section where you can spend the night in a covered wagon.  We did not do that!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was an early dinner at the steakhouse.  The place was quite busy.  Beef dominates the menu list here.  For dietary reasons, we generally do not eat beet.  We were able to find something else.  The food was top-notch!

I have to note that I have been drinking only the local beers during this trip.  Many of them seem to come from Salt Lake City.  They are pretty good.

We plan to spend the morning today in the park if the weather holds up.  We then head east towards Colorado.  We are headed towards the tail end of our trip!

Colorado and Utah by Car – Day 11 (Bryce Canyon NP)

When we went down for breakfast at about 6:30am, we were greeted by a crowd of Chinese tourists finishing their breakfast. They had their luggage with them.  They were about to board their bus and be on their way to their next destination. They all looked sleepy. They must have arrived at the hotel after us. In fact, the lady in Luo’s Cafe had been preparing the dinner tables for about 30 tourists the previous night as we left.  It might have been for these folks.  I was wondering if it was the same noisy crowd we had encountered at Horseshoe Bend the previous day.  And we did encounter another noisy crowd at Bryce Canyon that evening, shattering the quiet of the evening with their constant chattering and rushing hither and tither to take all kinds of pictures.

We left Kanab for Bryce Canyon National Park by 8am.  It was a relatively early start for us. We had a somewhat long drive of an hour and a half before we reached our destination.  According to the thermometer in the car the temperature outside was around 20 degrees Fahrenheit, below freezing.  It was cold!  The drive was uneventful.  On our way we passed Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon.  We drove through this tunnel of red rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWhen we reached Bryce, after the obligatory picture at the entrance,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAwe went to the Visitor Center and talked to the ranger to set up a plan of action.  After watching the documentary about Bryce, we took the shuttle bus to Bryce Point for our first view of the hoodoos.  (It turns out that we did not need to have used the shuttle.  There was ample parking available at the different viewpoints.)  It was still cold outside, but in spite of that there were a lot of enthusiastic fellow tourists with us on the bus.  It did become comfortably warmer later in the day.

Until you come to the rim of the Canyon you have no idea about the natural wonderland that lies below you.  We walked on the trail along the rim of the canyon, stopping at viewpoints along the way, soaking in the dramatic scenery below us. It was like another alien land. Here are some of the many pictures I took.  The primary feature of this park are the hoodoos that dominate the canyon floor.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe passed Inspiration Point and then stopped at Sunset Point for some lunch.  After lunch, we walked further along the rim to Sunrise Point, and then took the Queen’s Garden Trail down into the canyon valley to walk among the hoodoos. The way down was quite steep, and we could see people going the other way having a hard time with their efforts coming up.  This looked even harder than our climb in Zion National Park, but, fortunately, it was only about 600 feet.  At the bottom of the canyon we walked among the hoodoos and the evergreens.  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe minerals were a light color when seen closeup.  There were lots of signs of heavy water flow and erosion.  Birds and chipmunks abounded.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe saw people riding horses on the horse trail.

There were a lot of people walking on the trails.  It was great to see the families with the little kids.

We had gotten on to the “Wall Street” section of the Navajo trail at the bottom of the canyon to make our way up to the top.  As we walked this trail, we entered a slot canyon. Ahead of us were a series of switchbacks that took you straight up the canyon wall.  It was a challenging and fun climb.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe were tired at the end of the climb, and this, and the noisy Chinese tourists, were signs for us that it was time to quit the hiking. We had walked over 6 miles, some of it under challenging conditions, by then.

We took the bus back the Visitor Center, and hopped into our car for a drive to the viewpoints at the far end of the park.  Yovimpa and Rainbow Points, at the end of the road, were the highest parts in the park (over 9000 feet), and the coldest. I was not able to get a good picture here, but at the next stop, at Agua Canyon, we saw these colorful formations,OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAincluding a rock that looked like it was balancing.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture at Natural Bridge viewpoint.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThen it was on to our hotel in Cannonville, UT, a few miles away from the park.  We were quite tired and left the park relatively early.

Cannonville turns out to be an interesting place in the middle of the countryside.  To get here, you first pass the little village of Tropic, with its old fashioned General Store, restaurants, gas station, and motels, and with quite a few tourists, perhaps mostly European.

Then you arrive at Cannonville, and this motel is the only big building in town that you see as you turn the corner on Route 12.  There are gas pumps in front of the building, and you walk into a small country market where the lady who is handling the counter checks you into the hotel.  It is all owned by the same people.  The rooms in this motel are huge and comfortable and have modern facilities, although they have older furnishings.  The place is very nice, and it seems to have gained some popularity even though it is in an isolated space.  There were a couple of bicycles parked at the front of the building when we checked it.  This was a good find!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had dinner last night in Tropic in a small western themed restaurant called Rustlers that was attached to the General Store.  The food was good.  Everything was fresh. The waitress had an East European accent, which was strange to encounter in a place like this.

I think it is going to rain steadily today as we make our way up to Capital Reef National Park.  Perhaps one should take it easy.