Monthly Archives: October 2009

Landscape: Back at Bridger Jack

Bridger Jack 1A few days ago, I returned from a four-day/five-night camping and rock climbing adventure in sunny Utah. But as I was unloading my gear back home in Vail, Colorado, it started to snow. The snowstorm ended up being the first big storm of the season here in Colorado, blanketing the hills and finally covering the ski slopes. I can’t say I’m much amused. Yet. In order to prolong my denial that winter’s fast approaching, I’m devoting this post to the sunny skies I just returned from in Utah. To days out climbing in a tank top with the sun on my back. To golden desert sunsets. And lizards, and other creatures who can’t deal with the cold.

After camping for a few days near Hamburger Rock, I moved into a site with a friend at my favorite place, the Bridger Jack Mesa, at Indian Creek. Indian Creek is about an hour southwest of Moab, Utah. It’s a spectacular place for crack climbing, and the Bridger Jack Mesa cuts impressively into the skyline:

Bridger Jack Day

The shifting light makes this mesa change forms. In the morning, a beautiful gold light floods the rock, and in the afternoon, the shadows turn blue, then purple, then black:

Bridger Jack Afternoon

By the time the rock faces are completely covered in shadow, it’s time to cook dinner and watch the evening sky settle in.

Bridger Jack Eve

After the lavender skies, all turns an inky blue. And then if you’re lucky, it all goes black with diamonds for stars.

Life: Weekend Warrior

Traci Macnamara Weekend WarriorWorking for the weekend? You’re not alone. Being a bit more restless than usual, I’ve been plotting weekend getaways like no other. Since my first autumn trip out to Utah’s canyonlands two weekends ago, I’ve been making plans to return. This time, for an extended weekend getaway. So for the next five nights, I’ll be out of cell phone range, out of email range, out of warm shower range. I’ll be camping in one of the places I love most in this world: Indian Creek, Utah. Indian Creek is about 45 minutes by car southwest of Moab. It’s perhaps best known by rock climbers of the trad variety. Canyon after canyon of perfect Wingate Sandstone splitters rise out of the red dirt here. Coyotes howl at night.

Got any exciting getaway plans this weekend (or upcoming)? Leave a comment to inspire us all. And see you back on “Down and Out” next week…

Literature: Roselle’s Tree Spiker

Title: Tree Spiker // Author: Mike Roselle with Josh Mahan // Publisher: St. Martin’s Press // Pub. Date: September 29, 2009 // 272 p.

Roselle Tree SpikerMike Roselle teams up with Josh Mahan to write Tree Spiker, the latest in the area of nonfiction enviro-action-adventure (if such a category exists?). This book’s lengthy subtitle—From Earth First! to Lowbagging: My Struggles in Radical Environmental Action—gives a good overview of its contents. Roselle’s tactics as an environmental activist make him loved by some and despised by others. This man has stood his ground in front of charging bulldozers to prevent the logging of old growth forests. He’s been involved in high-profile protests against acid rain and crook timber lords, hanging banners from Mount Rushmore and the Golden Gate Bridge, respectively. And as one might expect, he’s been arrested many, many times. The co-founder of Rainforest Action Network, Earth First!, and the Ruckus Society, Roselle has devoted his life to environmental causes, and this book takes a good look at the trajectory of his (sometimes) dangerous yet purposeful career. Roselle’s been around long enough to see protests turn violent and witness a new breed of eco-terrorists in action. But in Tree Spiker, he explains why he ultimately supports environmental protest that remains rooted in the tradition of nonviolent, civil disobedience. Roselle writes with environmental journalist Josh Mahan to produce this book that will be at home on the shelves of every muckraking, monkey-wrenching nature lover out there, and it will certainly inspire many of its readers to action.

Want more from Roselle and Mahan? Visit them at

Photo credit: St. Martin’s Press

Landscape: Canyon Country Calling

“…I can foresee myself returning here for season after season, year after year, indefinitely.” –Edward Abbey, in Desert Solitaire

Utah State Route 128You’re either a re-visitor, or you’re not. Edward Abbey was a re-visitor. He returned to Utah’s deserts season after season to work as a park ranger at Arches National Monument, before it turned into “Arches Natural Money-mint,” as Abbey calls it in his Desert Solitaire polemic on industrial tourism. I’m a re-visitor, too, meaning that every once in a while a place gets stuck in my consciousness, and then I dream of returning to it again, and again, and again. There’s Trof, my favorite diner in Manchester, England. Otto, my favorite pizza joint where I hang out with my sister in New York City. Mount Sanitas, my favorite hike/trail run in Boulder. MBC, my favorite micro brasserie in Chamonix, France. And then, on a much grander scale, there’s Utah’s canyon country.

I first drove through southern Utah in the summer of 2003, when I took a van trip from Colorado to California. At the advice of a friend, I exited off of I-70 onto Utah State Route 128 at Cisco. Cisco to Moab on SR-128 is one of the most spectacular stretches of road I’ve ever traveled, only because it winds through some of the most wowing landscape I’ve ever laid eyes on.

Fisher Towers Big Sky

Last weekend, I got the itch for a trip and went out to Moab on a whim. The sunset was just lighting up the red rocks as I rolled past the Fisher Towers. I got out of my car, took a deep breath and thought, yeah: this is the America I happy to return to again and again.

Literature: Cokinos’s The Fallen Sky

“…the fallen sky can reveal secrets not only of the solar system but of our hearts. That is why this is an intimate history of shooting stars. We go out hunting meteorites, and some of us find ourselves as well.” -Christopher Cokinos, in The Fallen Sky

Cokinos The Fallen SkyTitle: The Fallen Sky // Author: Christopher Cokinos // Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin // Pub. Date: July 2009 // 528 p.

Christopher Cokinos’s The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars is one of the more intelligent-adventurous-thoroughly researched-and-literary books I’ve read lately. And in the past two months since this book’s publication, it has been getting a lot of (deservedly) good press. The Fallen Sky is more than a book about meteorites. It’s about the passions and desires of those who hunt them, this book’s author included. Cokinos weaves personal and cultural history into his more scientific subject matter, and the result is a book that’s a pleasure to read on many different levels.

I met Cokinos while he was researching in Antarctica for this book. He got to spend his time down there out on an ice shelf, buzzing around on a snowmobile–canvassing for meteorites in the great flat white. In this part of the world where fun is relative, I was probably in McMurdo the entire time shoveling snowdrifts and wishing I were out on an ice shelf searching for meteorites.

To read my NewWest interview with Christopher Cokinos, click here.

Photo credit: Tarcher/Penguin.

Life: Welcome Home!

West Vail Shell TowWell, here I am back in Vail, Colorado. I’ve nearly unpacked all of the things I stuffed into a storage unit for the summer and am slowly working my way through a mound of mail that accumulated in my absence. When I found a check for $148.00 with a “void after 90 days” stamp on it, I wished I had made an effort to put someone in charge of my mail while I was away, as it’s beyond the 90-day limit on that one. The guy who sublet my apartment kept it in great shape, and the guy I asked to look after The Old Lady kept her running. For those of you who don’t know, The Old Lady is my 1970 Volkswagen van. Mostly, this vehicle gives me fits. But I’m attached and can’t bear to get rid of it. Lately, The Old Lady has been running pretty well, but it has ongoing electrical and fuel system issues. I started it the other day, put on my headlights, threw it in neutral, and hopped out to see if my taillights were working properly. But when I walked around to the rear of the vehicle, I saw gasoline (!) spewing out from somewhere, forming a glossy puddle on the black pavement. I switched her off ASAP and walked over to The Vail Garage to consult Peter, my mechanic. The photos will help illustrate how I ended up getting The Old Lady to the garage:

Tow 1

I haven’t had to get a tow in quite a while, but I decided that it was necessary—with fuel gushing out right near two backfiring tailpipes. The tailpipes were actually smoking while gas was pouring out on the second time I attempted to drive it over to the garage.

Tow 2

I think it would be fun to be a tow truck driver. They probably get to hear lots of good stories, and they get to spend time on the road. Jason, from West Vail Shell, came to my aid here. I sat up front in the cab for the two-minute trip, which reminded me of the other longer journeys I’ve spent in the front seat with a tow truck driver with The Old Lady strapped onto a flatbed behind us. AAA-plus allows up to 100 miles of towing for free, so once when I broke down in the Mojave Desert, I got towed more that 90 miles from Barstow to Riverside, CA.

Tow 3

And then there was the time I got towed in Santa Monica when my clutch cable snapped, and the time I got towed when the electrical system failed on the highway to Pasadena, and the time I got towed in Limon, Colorado after I watched a guy start my air filters on fire with starter spray that ignited…ahhh. It’s good to be home.

Landscape: Envers des Aiguilles

Tour Verte La PiegeI’m back in Vail, Colorado now after spending the summer in Chamonix, France. Overall, it was a good and productive summer of writing, collaborating with others, climbing, biking, exploring, etc. I spent four days during my last week in the Alps climbing from the Envers des Aiguilles hut with Kristy, Mark, and Cedric. Kristy had been planning this trip all summer, and I must say that it was more than a fantastic way to spend a final week in the place I love. Cedric and I sport climbed a bit below the hut after our hike in on the first day, and then we all set out together the next day to climb a route called La Piège, on the Tour Verte (2670m)—pictured at right. Kristy and I climbed together with the guys ahead of us, but both teams had difficulty route finding, and Kristy and I ended up on the summit with them just a pitch behind. Here’s Kristy, relaxing on top:

Kristy on Summit

The needle peaks and glaciers all around are what make this place so special. Aiguille means “needle” in French, so “Envers des Aigulles” means something like “in the area of the aiguilles (needles).” From the summit of the Tour Verte, the view looks like this:

Piege summit View

The standout, superstar-looking peak on the right is the Dent du Geant. While up in this area, it’s the peak that I find myself looking at the most. I’d glance over my shoulder while belaying or look up while hiking just to take it in.

Dent du Geant

Later in the evenings, while we were cooking dinner out on the hut’s deck, the Dent du Geant dominated the skyline and became even more beautiful in the alpenglow.

Dent du Geant in Mist

Even when the mist covered everything, I’d look across the glacier towards the Dent du Geant and see it’s distinctive summit sticking out of the clouds.

Kristy on Rap

On the third day, Kristy and I spent a long day out climbing a route called Guy-Anne on the Nantillons, premier pointe, (2921 m). I managed to get us off route, and we decided to climb our way back on…four super-difficult pitches and a big roof later. I took the above photo of Kristy rappelling down the final pitch that day, full of thanks that we had made it safely back on solid ground. That sensation of relief was similar to what I felt upon returning to Vail last week. Vail may not be the place I love most in the world, but it’s the closest thing to a “home” I have, for now.

Literature: Hyde’s Canyon

Title: In The Heart of the Canyon // Author: Elisabeth Hyde // Publisher: Knopf, July 2009 // 336 p.

Hyde Heart of the CanyonThe weather’s turning cooler, and while that might excite a bunch of us (snow!), others are lamenting summer’s slow slipping-away. If you’re the kind that tends to hibernate during the winter, I’d suggest stashing away some sort of a rip-roaring summer adventure book for mid-winter reading. It might just boost your spirits…or at least remind you of warmer weather. One book I read recently might be a good choice: Elisabeth Hyde’s In The Heart of the Canyon. In her latest novel, Hyde brings together a motley crew of fifteen folks who pile into inflatable rafts and float the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. Hyde’s adventurous characters include an uptight university professor, a couple from Utah and their two kids, a mother and her overweight teenage daughter, and a twenty-seven-year-old guy who crushes hopelessly on Dixie, one of the trip’s sassy young guides. Hyde’s characters are interesting, and she brings the natural beauty of this place alive through some great visceral descriptions. The book’s surprise ending might seem too sensational for some, but the overall story is one that readers will cling to even after these rafters have packed up camp on their trip’s final day.

To read my more formal-type review of Elisabeth Hyde’s In The Heart of the Canyon in NewWest, click here.

Photo credit: Knopf.