The Mountains Are Calling

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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!)

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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 and Utah by Car – Day 10 (Zion NP)

The visit to Zion National Park today was one of the great experiences that I hope to never forget.   It was an amazing day!

We have a general tendency to avoid the obviously touristy places and their crowds, but Zion was the place that showed me that it is possible to have a great experience even when the place is packed with tourists.  In this case, the park has set itself up to serve the tourists in a very effective way, dealing with the bottlenecks of crowds arriving in large numbers at peak times, and also having most of these tourists passing through a couple of points of entry and through a single visitor center.  There is a shuttle bus service which ensures that you do not have to rush through the park in your car causing unnecessary pollution and also frustration in finding places to park during the day.  Furthermore, the type of people who come to these places tend to be outdoorsy types, respectful of the space that they are in, and respectful of other people who are visiting.   They all also seemed to be well prepared for their outdoor activities with what they were wearing and what they were carrying. Once people get dispersed to the various spaces in the park and take to the longer and more challenging trails the crowds dissipate, and except for the popular trails, all is good.  The system seems to work in spite of the volumes of traffic.

The day started out with very cold temperatures.  We had packed warmly for the outing.  We need not have been concerned about the weather.  Once we got to the park and got moving everything turned out well.

We headed north out of town on US 89. We reached Zion taking Utah Highway9 from US 89.  At the entrance to the park the color of the road surface actually changed to a shade of brown. I do not remember seeing such a surface anywhere else.  The speed limit dropped as the road began to wind through the hills.  We began to see the mountains on the east side of the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe reached the 1.1 mile Mt. Carmel tunnel that takes you across the mountain to the western side of the park.  The tunnel was completed in 1930 and provided a way through the mountains in this section of the mountains for the first time.  The tunnel is quite narrow.  They were running one-way traffic when we arrived, probably because a bus and an RV were trying to get through.  They would take up both lanes.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn the picture below you can see one of the holes that was blasted in the side of the  mountain to provide a view point from the tunnel.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAs soon as the road crosses the tunnel, it switchbacks it way to the bottom of the canyon in a very dramatic way.  You can pull over to the side of the road in many places and you can get views like this.  These colorful mountains tower over the narrow canyon.  It is awe inspiring.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe went to the Visitor Center to get ourselves oriented and figure out where we were going.  We decided to take the shuttle bus to its last stop, The temple of Sinawava, to take the Riverside Walk.  You get a lot of information on the bus during this 40 minute ride, and you can enjoy fabulous views from the bottom of the canyon, including this picture of the mountains called the Patriarchs, including the three peaks, Jacob, Abraham, and Issac.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou also pass the a peak that is probably called Angels Landing.  It is the terminal point for the Angels Landing trail, a climb of 1488 feet over really challenging terrain that is not for the weak of heart.  A one point you will be climbing and walking on open rock high over this open space, completely exposed, with only a metal chain railing to grab on to.  Other younger people in the family have done this trail in the past.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAZion’s canyon was formed by the Virgin river that flows along its bottom.  Over millions of years the river has cut its way down through many layers of rock.  The place can become dangerous when the river floods.  The river was calm during our visit.  The riverside walk was very crowded, but there was always the opportunity to go off the trail and find a calm space beside the river itself.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the end point of the trail, one can proceed further into the canyon by walking in the river itself.  You can go for miles, and many young people had come prepared to do this.  It sounded like fun, but not something we could indulge in today.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had something to eat as we sat by the river side.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter this hike we took the bus to the stop for the hike to Weeping rock.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe hike to Weeping Rock was short but it was quite challenging in parts.  At the end of the hike you find yourself in a rock alcove with dripping springs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe next hike started at the same place.  We climbed up the mountain you see in the picture below on the East Rim Trail to Echo Slot Canyon.  We had to climb up to the trees that you see in the picture below.  Basically, one is going up the face of the mountain that you are looking at using extended switchbacks.  You have a view of the valley below as you are climbing.  This proved to be a very challenging effort but quite rewarding. We took it slow and easy, with plenty of stops.  Lots of young people passed us on the way up, but speed was not the goal here.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley as we started the climb.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a picture of Weeping rock, the place we had gone to earlier, as we climbed the East Rim Trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis is a view of the valley when we finally reached the top of this section of the trail.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe trail then continued on the other side, behind the open face of the mountain, in an opening between two cliffs.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAYou could see the slot canyon below you in places.  They looked difficult to navigate, but it apparently can be done.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter passing through the gap in the mountains, you arrive at an open space on the other side.  We declared success at this point and turned to head back to the trail head. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy GPS device was having all kinds of issues during this climb, either because of the terrain, or because of a bad software download.  So I do not know how much ground we covered.  The hike took a couple of hours. We probably walked only about three miles in all, but we might have climbed about a thousand feet.

We were exhausted after this hike, but it was quite exhilarating to have done it.  The rest of our stay in the park was just icing on the cake.

The next walk was on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail.  It was somewhat unremarkable.  The trail was crowded.

We took the shuttle bus back to the museum to watch the movie about the park, and then walked back to the Visitor Center on the Pa’rus trail that ran along the canyon floor close to the river.  These pictures are from the walk.  We walked amidst the mountains.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere are plenty of camping sites at Zion National Park, and it looked like all of them were occupied.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe last stop was at the gift store to get a replacement light jacket for the one that I had left behind at the security check at Dulles Airport on the way in.

Then it was time to head back to Kanab for the night.  It took a long time to get out of the park because we were stuck in a long line of cars, slowed down because of a couple of drivers who did not seem to have the good sense to pull over when they got a chance to let the others through.

We walked over to Luo’s Cafe, close to the hotel that we were staying at, for our first dinner of Chinese food during this trip.  It all went down quickly because we were very hungry.  Back at the hotel, we took our baths and crashed out.  I, of course, spent some time processing some pictures for this blog.

We are heading north to Bryce National Park today.  It is going to be colder today than yesterday!

Cherries in the Snow: The Legend of Mary Pinchot Meyer (2/17/2008)

I was reminded of this old email that I had sent to family and friends because of some recent news that I blogged about.  I will explain at the end.
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Ok, I am being overly dramatic! It is not a legend. It is merely a curious story. The particular name in the title has the remote possibility of attracting the attention of suspicious people who like to keep track of activities on the Internet – even though the story is quite old at this point. Anyway, back to the story.

If you were running along the C&O canal near Washington, DC, (just north of mile 1 on the towpath), you might come across a small white cross leaning against a tree trunk beside the trail. On the cross is a card. The card indicates that this is a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer.IMG_4171IMG_4172IMG_4173The cross appeared on the trail some time last year and is at the location where she was killed while walking along the towpath in 1964. She was 43 years old when she died, and the cross appeared on the towpath 43 years after her death. Nobody has yet admitted to putting the cross there. Who was Mary Pinchot Meyer? She was John F. Kennedy’s mistress at the time of his death. If you look it up the Internet, you will find a few conspiracy theories surrounding her death. She apparently used to keep a diary that included an account of her affair with JFK. Various people were interested in this diary after her death and went looking for it. Her ex-husband, Cord Meyer, was a higher-up in the CIA and was involved in the search for the murderer. The person who was brought to trial for killing her was acquitted. Just another story on the towpath…

By the way, if you are interested in a really good (but completely humorless) movie about the kind of people who came together to form the CIA during that time, I would recommend The Good Shepherd directed by Robert De Niro.

I finally worked up the courage to do the Potomac tour on foot in the area of Washington DC this morning. Basically I ran on both sides of the river at Washington, DC. Working my way south on the towpath from Fletcher’s Cove,

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Early morning on the Canal near Georgetown

I crossed over into Rosslyn on the Virginia side of the river at the Key Bridge (named after Francis Scott Key),

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Early morning view from the Key Bridge
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A view of Roosevelt Island from the Key Bridge
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Crossing the George Washington Memorial Parkway to the Mt. Vernon Trail in Virginia

and then followed the Mount Vernon trail south, past Roosevelt Island and the various bridges that span the Potomac.IMG_4182IMG_4189IMG_4190I followed the trail as it paralleled the George Washington Parkway all the way to Gravelly Point Park at the end of the longest runway for Washington National Airport.  I spent some time at Gravelly taking pictures and watching the planes landing and taking off.IMG_4195On the way back, I crossed over the river at the 14th Street Bridge into Washington DC.IMG_4210IMG_4212I got off the bridge close to the Jefferson Memorial, and then worked my way back up north along the river, past the Lincoln Memorial, the Kennedy Center and the Watergate buildings, to the beginning of the towpath. I then followed the canal back to Fletcher’s Cove.IMG_4222Next time I come to this area I will try to explore the trails on Roosevelt Island, and also try to find the trail along the edge of the river north of Key bridge on the Virginia side.
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Today’s Postscript: Coming back to Mary Pinchot Meyer, mentioned in the first section of the above email, the cops tried to pin her murder on a black person, Ray Crump, who happened to be in the general area.  Dovey Johnson Roundtree, the subject of my previous blog, was the one who was able to get Ray Crump acquitted of the crime.  It was quite an achievement for a black woman lawyer in those days!

Since I wrote the original email, I have been to this area, and traveled this path, several times on a bicycle.  I have taken the 18 mile long Mt. Vernon trail all the way to Mt. Vernon.  I have however not been to Roosevelt island yet!  I have also walked the trail on the Virginia side of the Potomac up to the Chain bridge under very trying conditions.  That was the subject of another email blast, an email that I might rediscover some other day.

By the way, I have not seen a memorial to Mary Pinchot Meyer in subsequent years at that location, but this could possibly be because I have not been on that section of the towpath at the right time of the year.

The Spider’s Web (8/19/2007)

Jeff French and I were lifting this ugly piece of furniture over the stairs at the entrance to the apartment building. It was an oddly shaped green table, with a backsplash and long legs, and it was also quite heavy and ungainly to carry. We were going to Apt 13 on the ground floor, but the brilliant designers of the particular apartment building had put in steps to first take you up about half-way to the next floor and then back down again to the level of the apartment. (The thinking process behind such a design is mind-boggling!) So, here we were lugging this monstrosity up the stairs – when the backsplash that I was holding on to (which I should not have been doing in the first place) separated from the table. I lost my grip and the table landed on the steps. Luckily it did not have too far to go. It hit my thigh as I fell back against the steps and sat down. Never mind – not much harm done other than a bruise and some soreness in the thigh.

We then somehow got this thing into the apartment and were greeted by the fellow who lived there. He seemed to be somewhat incoherent. He had bandages on this foot, had some trouble walking, and was apologizing profusely about not being able to help. Jeff thinks that the person was doing this because his pride had been hurt because he could not help, but I think that this dude was still drunk from the previous night (or maybe he also had something that morning). His wife kept telling him to get out of the way, but he kept on getting in the way, until he had to stop because of the pain.

The couple tells us that they want this huge table in their small kitchen. We manage to get it in there, but there is not enough room. When we finally get the table against the wall, we see that there is not enough space to open the door of the fridge completely. (The dude is going to have a hard time getting that beer from the back of the fridge!) There is nothing more to be done about it, and Jeff tells the guy not to call us later to take the table back. We then also deliver a computer table to the folks. We barely manage to get this other rather forgettable piece of furniture into the apartment, this time without it falling apart in our hands. The thing is very heavy because it is made of particle board, but unfortunately it is not very strong. I wonder how long the table will last. Fun times at the furniture program!

I was out in the back yard yesterday afternoon, standing on a ladder trying to take pictures of the beautiful white flowers on the Crape Myrtle tree,IMG_2146when I noticed the robin standing on the lawn.IMG_2136I got down from the ladder and tried to walk across to the other side of the bird to take its picture with the right lighting. But the bird did not cooperate. It kept moving in the same direction that I was moving in, parallel to me. Eventually I had to give up. It was when I looked back towards the deck that I noticed a nest under the deck, on top of one of the beams that held the deck up. I could see the tiny beaks of the babies facing upwards in the nest, as if expecting some food to be delivered.IMG_2140I was convinced that the bird I had encountered had in fact been trying to lead me away from the nest. Anyway, when I came back later the bird was in the nest trying to feed the young.IMG_2154Another robin was sitting on the neighbor’s fence with stuff in its mouth, but it flew away when it saw the humans. The first robin stayed put in the nest looking at me. It was not about the abandon its young that easily. Another cycle of life begins under the deck.

I have been trying to get some inspiration to write during the past few weeks, but all I see in front of me when I sit down in front of the computer has been a blank page. There are too many cobwebs in the mind, and it is difficult to escape the spider’s clutches. My mind is out of whack. Anyway, I did a run on the C&O Canal towpath from Brunswick to Harpers Ferry this morning in an effort to loosen some of the cobwebs. It was a cool cloudy morning, and it was positively cold on the bridge at Harpers Ferry with the wind blowing between the cliffs.IMG_2160The waters are low on the PotomacIMG_2161and there were a few intrepid folks who were making their way towards the middle of the river by trying to climb over the exposed rocks.

Much of the murky green water that is a fixture in this section of the canal is gone but not all of it. It is a good breeding ground for skeeters, but none bothered me during this run. (What in tarnation are skeeters, you ask? You will have to find out yourself.) I had company from the freight trains on the other side of the canal, including a monster train led by 5 or 6 diesel locomotives pulling more than 130 cars (yes, I stood there and tried to count them all!). I still feel a rush when one of these trains roars by blowing its horn, shaking the ground, and causing dry branches and other things to drop out of the trees. This is what you call POWER, baby! I managed to even get myself in position to take a picture of a locomotive rushing out of the tunnel at Harpers Ferry.IMG_2168OK, so I get my kicks out of some very simple and perhaps silly things! What is the harm? I need to get my laughs before the spider gets back….

Visit to Camden Hills State Park in Maine

We had the opportunity to visit the Camden Hills State Park in Maine during our trip to New England earlier this year, and the chance to hike a couple of mountains (or perhaps they should be called hills!) in the park.  I got to take pictures from some locations that took into consideration differently scaled perspectives of the scene in front of us. I did this by zooming into the scene in front of me to different extents to change the scale of the shot.

Here is a panoramic rendition of a view from Ocean Overlook on the Megunticook trail in the park.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA (You can open the picture in the intended resolution for viewing by clicking on it.  The picture should open in a new tab.)  If one were to take a different picture of the same scene with a different scale factor, you can zoom in on the details of the bay on the left hand side of the original picture.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA further scaling would reveal the town of Camden at the right side of the bay.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFinally, if you scale the picture even further, you can even see the individual boats on the left side of the bay.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA If you take another look at the panoramic picture (preferably in its full resolution), you can also see Mt. Battie (a smaller hill) at the center of the picture.  If you look at this part of the picture zoomed in, at a different scale, you can see the road up to the top of Mt. Battie more clearly.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you continue to scale the picture, you can make out the tower on Mt. Battie a little better. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHere is another example of the effect of scaling.  If you were to take a picture from Mt. Battie of the Ocean Overlook on the Megunticook trail, it can look like this from a distance.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you zoom in to a different scale, you can see the details of the people sitting at the overlook.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt is clear that one needs to have a closer look at the picture in order to be able to make out the details and make any definitive statements about them.

If you have not done so, you should see this short video about scaling in the context of the universe that we live in.

From a philosophical perspective, one can see that you are likely to make mistakes if you do not have the right perspective on what you are seeing or experiencing. You should not accept any statements regarding such details from a person who has not done the necessary homework in this regard.

If it’s Tuesday, we must be on our way to the White Mountains of New Hampshire

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Morning at our motel near Acadia (sunrise happened too early for us to be able to make it to Cadillac Mountain)
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Hike for the morning in Acadia National Park
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A section of the climb up Champlain Mountain
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Beaver Dam Pond, The Jackson Laboratory, Bar Harbor and Bar Island as we climb
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On Champlain Mountain
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Following the cairns for the trail on the way down (the trail head is next to the pond)
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Section of trail on the way back
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Lunch stop
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Stormy sky on the way to the White Mountains
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Our place for the night

And if it’s Wednesday….

If it’s Monday, we must be visiting Mt. Desert Island

Spent most of the day in Acadia National Park.

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Breakfast from a nearby bakery consumed in the park on Thomson Island
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The Beehive Trail that Angela took
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View of Otter Cove
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On Gorham Mountain
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View into Newport Cove
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Otter Cliff in the distance
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Hiking down Gorham Mountain
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Hiking down Gorham Mountain
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Near Thunder Hole
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Otter Cove
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Jordan Pond
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View from Acadia Jordan Pond House
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Northeast Harbor
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View from Bass Harbor Head Lighthouse

And if its’ Tuesday