Mesa Verde

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloans, Colorado

Cliff Palace Sunset : Prints Available

Our last stop of our desert road trip was to visit the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, in southwest Colorado. We toured the Cliff Palace – the largest cliff dwelling there, with more than 150 rooms. The cliff dwellings were built around the year 1200 A.D. by the Ancestral Puebloans, who farmed on the mesa above the dwellings.

Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde, cliff dwellings, Ancestral Puebloans, Colorado

Cliff Palace : Prints Available

What a fascinating place!

Cliff Palace, ruins, Mesa Verde, Colorado

Cliff Palace Building : Prints Available

Election Night on Cedar Mesa

Evening on Cedar Mesa, Utah
Election night festivities.

After our time in Page, we realized that circumstances were pulling us back home and our long desert trip was coming to a close. For one final night in the desert on the way back, we car camped on the edge of Cedar Mesa, with a commanding view spanning all the way from the San Juan Mountains on the far eastern horizon to Monument Valley far to the south.

Being November 6, we fortunately had just enough cell reception up there to check the election results – the suspense would have killed me otherwise. I’m not going to say much about it here, except that I’m proud to be a Coloradan! For the half of the population that is sorely disappointed, well, now you know how I felt in ’04. Life goes on, hopefully for the better.

Cedar Mesa, Utah, Goosenecks, San Juan River, sunset, panorama

Cedar Mesa Panorama : Prints Available

Panoramic evening view from the southern edge of Cedar Mesa, overlooking the Goosenecks of the San Juan River - November.

Hazy and Lazy on the North Rim

North Rim, hazy, Grand Canyon, Arizona, burn, November

Hazy Grand Canyon B/W : Prints Available

Smoke from a large scale prescribed burn on the North Rim fills the Grand Canyon with haze on a November day.

Exhausted from our strenuous trek into the Grand Canyon, we needed a day of relaxing to recharge our batteries, so we camped at the North Rim campground and enjoyed the viewpoints from around there. The campground was virtually empty, aside from a large group of firefighters who were conducting a seemingly large-scale prescribed burn in the forests along the North Rim. The smoke from the burns drained into the canyon, filling it with haze and making for some strange atmospheric conditions.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, Bright Angel

Claudia enjoys the view from up close.

Grand Canyon, Arizona, sunset, Bright Angel, North Rim

Bright Angel Sunset : Prints Available

Sunset over the Grand Canyon, as seen from the Bright Angel Trail on the North Rim.

Point Imperial, Grand Canyon, Arizona, haze, sunrise

Point Imperial Sunrise : Prints Available

Sunrise light beams through the haze of prescribed burns along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, as seen from Point Imperial - November.

Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon

Tapeats Creek, Grand Canyon, Arizona, hiker

Looking into the Tapeats Creek canyon, a side canyon of the Grand Canyon.

At the beginning of November, Claudia and I were excited to go on a backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon, which neither of us has seen before. It was a great introduction to walk down all the way down into the heart of it, and WOW, we were impressed!

Our loop route took us down from Monument Point on the North Rim, down the Bill Hall Trail, over the Esplanade, across Surprise Valley, down into Tapeats Creek, along the Colorado River, up the Deer Creek Trail, then back up to the top again. All in all, more then 5,000 feet of elevation drop, and then back up again! Along the way we saw some of the most incredible sights, springs, and waterfalls we’ve ever seen in the desert.

Deer Creek, waterfall, Grand Canyon, Arizona

Deer Creek Waterfall : Prints Available

The spectacular waterfall of Deer Creek that pours out right near the Colorado River at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.

Below are more photos of a few of the many highlights along the trek! Continue reading “Backpacking Into the Grand Canyon”

Vegas

Las Vegas, Vegas, Nevada, Strip, Eiffel Tower

The bright lights of the Las Vegas strip, as seen from the observation deck on the Eiffel Tower at the Paris hotel.

In a ridiculous contrast to our two previous solitary nights in Death Valley, we spent a night in Las Vegas on our way to further desert adventures. One night in Vegas is enough!

At the Racetrack

Watching the race at the Racetrack, Death Valley National Park, California
Watching the race. Not quite NASCAR.
Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park, sunset

Sunset at the Racetrack : Prints Available

The Racetrack is a mysterious and fascinating location in Death Valley National Park – a flat dry lakebed playa in a remote desert valley where large rocks seem to have moved around by their own volition, leaving random tracks in the dry mud revealing their path. How did these rocks move?

Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park

Moonrise at the Racetrack : Prints Available

The theory is that given just the right conditions, rain will flood the playa, then freeze, and then once the ice starts melting a little, strong winds will blow the ice-bound rocks around on the slick mud underneath. It’s hard to believe, but the tracks are there – something made these rocks slide all around the playa!

Racetrack, Death Valley, California, National Park, moon

Racetrack Curves : Prints Available

These particular tracks – illuminated by the setting moon – are especially interesting. At first glance I assumed that they were car tracks – that some idiot had driven his car out there. Upon closer inspection, it’s clear that no car in the world could make tracks like this! Even more mysterious is that about a hundred feet away from these tracks are an almost exactly identical pattern, but aligned facing a different orientation. It boggles the mind!

Eureka Dunes

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley, California

After leaving Bishop, we headed to Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park. These dunes are just about as tall as the Great Sand Dunes in Colorado, but are basically one single big dune, instead of an endless repetition of them. Another striking characteristic of the Eureka dunes is their absolute pristine remoteness – there is nothing out there in that valley! No lights, no distant towns, just one dirt road and absolute silence. Very cool.

Eureka Dunes, Death Valley, California, October

Eureka Dunes : Prints Available

Dusk light atop Eureka Dunes - October.

Any regrets about leaving the cold and snowy Sierras vanished as we enjoyed a perfectly calm and warm desert evening atop the highest dune, with our bottle of wine and my camera of course.

Ancient Bristlecone

Bristlecone, Pine, White Mountains, California

Ancient Bristlecone : Prints Available

The last rays of sunset illuminate a bristlecone pine, the oldest living organism on the planet. These trees can be nearly 5,000 years old; their wood is extremely dense and resistant to insects and fungi, and rather than suffering rot, the wood erodes like stone due to wind, rain, and freezing.

For a little field trip from Bishop one evening in late October, we drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, a high and dry mountain range on the east side of the Owens Valley. It’s a special feeling to walk amongst these statuesque trees, knowing that they have been standing there in this barren landscape longer than any living being on Earth!

Bishop

Rock Creek, Sierras, California

Next up, we headed to the town of Bishop, in the shadow of the mighty Eastern Sierra, to visit some friends who recently moved there from Colorado. We spent the better part of a week there, relaxing and checking out the area, and enjoying our friends’ generous hospitality.

Sierra Granite

When I was a kid growing up in San Diego, my dad used to take me on fishing trips around Bishop, but I don’t remember much about the mountains from then, except for the memories of the things we did. Back then, mountains were just mountains to me; I didn’t have the appreciation of different ranges that I do now, and I cared more about shooting my BB gun and throwing rocks into the lakes (which pissed off the fishermen to be sure!). Anyhow, when I see the Sierras now, I can’t help but be impressed, especially with fresh early season snows dusting the rugged peaks!

The mountains were calling my name loudly and I was dying to do some “serious” mountain photography while we were there, but we didn’t have winter hiking or camping gear with us, and besides it was windy as hell in the mountains and would have been admittedly miserable camping up there. So we just took it easy, went on a snowy day hike up the Rock Creek valley, and soaked in one of the wild hot springs near Mammoth.

We’ll be back for sure in another season for some summer trekking through the range. The Sierras are not only calling my name, but Claudia’s now too!