Monthly Archives: May 2011

Landscape: Castleton Valley Color

There are a few stretches of road that call out to me more than any other, and Utah’s State Route 128 from Moab to Cisco is one of them. On a recent Canyonlands backpacking trip, we left Moab and followed SR-128 through Castleton Valley in search of a campsite. The evening light made Castleton Tower, the Fisher Towers, and the surrounding red rock formations come alive with color:

We stopped the car, got out, and stood there in the wind to take in the enormity of it all. Red dirt roads like this are out there, waiting to be explored—

The reds, blues, and greens this eve were intense…

…intense like the desert, intense like everything I love about this place.

Literature: The Writer’s Almanac

Since I started living in the cabin, The Writer’s Almanac is one of the things I look forward to hearing each morning at 9:35 on KUNC, my local National Public Radio broadcasting station. I don’t know why I haven’t been turned on to this program previously—I don’t think I ever heard it before I came into KUNC range. The first time I heard The Writer’s Almanac a few weeks ago, I was driving in my car and flipped to the station just in time to catch Garrison Keillor reading William Wordsworth’s “Daffodils.” For those of you who know me—a fan of all things British Romantic—this moment had me hooked. Now I hover around my radio until the program begins, and then of course I have to sit there in deep, silent thought for a few minutes after it’s over. Maybe public radio poetry is becoming, like, my form of prayer.

The Writer’s Almanac is a five-minute radio program that begins with Garrison Keillor offering some important milestones for the day—birthdays of famous writers, for example, or the day’s important historical events. He reads a poem, offers some closing comments, and then always says: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

In the past few weeks, I’ve been introduced to the poetry of new writers and reconnected with some of my favorite voices. Keillor reads a range of poetry—classic, experimental, modern, brand-new. If you haven’t yet become a devotee of The Writer’s Almanac, now is a good time to start tuning in. You can listen to the day’s audio on The Writer’s Almanac website: and even download a daily podcast.

Today’s poem? “Flannery’s Angel” by Charles Wright. Check it out at

Photo credit: National Public Media

Life: Canyonlands Camps

One of my favorite things about being in the Utah desert is hanging out in camp. Yes—the climbing/biking/backpacking is all great the desert, but there’s something about being in so much wide-open space that calms the soul. I get this sense more in camp, especially at night, and especially when there’s a campfire burning.

On Night One of the recent Canyonlands backpacking trip, we camped for free in a (mostly) climbers’ campground near Bridger Jack Mesa in Indian Creek (pictured above). Memories of my time here learning to crack climb came flooding back, and I stayed up after the sun went down to watch the nightlife come alive. Mice darted around while the Spaniards next to us got louder, and the campsite across from us became animated with singing and guitar playing.

We camped at Bridger Jack so that we were close to Beef Basin Road, which we drove down the next morning to access our trailhead at Cathedral Butte. On Night Two, we set up camp and watched the storms roll in. We woke up the next morning wind-worn and decided to hang out in camp while it hailed. Cathy laughed out loud as she read Bill Bryson’s Thunderbolt Kid

…I wrote in my journal and re-read underlined sections from my copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

We took a leisurely pace the next day and spent most of the afternoon hanging out by the watering hole near Kirk Cabin before retiring to our Night Three campsite in the cliffs. We had to get a backcountry permit to camp in this area, and this campsite—known as SC1—was available by reservation only.

We were the only ones at SC1, and I felt like it was a place from another time. On this trip, I was in charge of all details related to the route/routefinding, and Cathy was in charge of food. She and her husband are known for spectacular hut trip culinary displays, and I wasn’t disappointed with our fare on this trip, quite colorful here, eh?

On Day Three, we hiked back to our car at the Cathedral Butte trailhead. After two nights of scrambling to set up the tent in wind, sleet, and rain, we opted to do the ultimate car camp on Night Four. Really—we camped in the car. I believe that vehicles are useless unless you can sleep in them, and this night reminded me how comfy sleeping in my Subaru can be.

(BTW—what am I wearing there? It’s like a combo dress-pants-winter-spring-hiker-climber ensemble.)

Even car camping like this in the desert is fun. With red rock cliffs and golden evening light as the backdrop, I’m perfectly content to sleep in a car, or a tent, or right out there in the open on sandy ground.

Landscape: Canyonlands and Salt Creek

I returned at the end of last week from five days of Canyonlands bliss. A true desert fix. My Boulderite gal-pal Cathy (at right) joined me for three days in Canyonlands National Park’s Needles area along the Upper Salt Creek trail. Instead of sticking with the normal route—a 22.5-mile trek along the creek wash—we decided to go adventuring and leave the main Salk Creek Trail at Big Pocket to link up with the Lavender Canyon Loop. But…due to lack of water in that area, we backtracked to Cathedral Butte (below), the namesake of the remote trailhead where we started. We drove nearly 20 miles of washboard-dirt road to arrive there on Day One.

From Cathedral Butte, we hiked down a steep, technical section before reaching the Salt Creek wash, a big sandy opening in the surrounding landscape.

The sand gave way to reeds as we passed through a marshy area. I’m not sure our boots will recover from the red-sand-grime we mucked though.

Despite the lack of water we’d encounter on Day Two of our proposed hike, we found this area to be lush. Pretty green for a desert, eh?

A fantastic watering hole with cascading pools explained the amazing greenery we encountered along this portion of the trail near Kirk Cabin.

Soon enough, we reached Big Pocket, where we left the main trail. This is what I come to the desert for: Big. Wide. Open. Space.

We set up camp in an at-large camping area at the border of Big Pocket and Lavender Canyon.

It gets cold quickly in the desert at night, so we piled on the layers and cooked in the wind. All food in the desert gets tainted with sand. No coyote howls this eve—instead it was so windy that sand got forced through the tent netting, and we woke up to sand gusts all night long.

Literature: Into the Wild–With Edward Abbey

As I’m rushing around this morning getting ready to go to Utah for a backpacking trip in Canyonlands National Park, I’m trying to decide which books—and how many—I can sensibly carry with me into the wild. The book I’m currently reading? The upcoming book I’m supposed to be reading? Or maybe just my journal—and a classic. The latter will probably end up being what I choose. I’ve pulled out my copy of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, a book that has inspired several of my previous journeys to the Utah desert. It’s full of underlined sections and notes in the margins—affirmations like “Yes” and “Right On” and “Yeah.” As in—“You said it, Mr. Abbey, and I hear ya.”

I spent a good chunk of time going through this book last night, and the “Episodes and Visions” essay-chapter is the one that sticks out to me most. It’s Labor Day in The Park, and Abbey is its desert-anarchist-ranger. He’s abrasive, and curmudgeonly, but at least he’s not afraid to say what he really thinks to the tourists—stuff such as:

“Yes sir, yes madam, I entreat you, get out of those motorized wheelchairs, get off your foam rubber backsides, stand up straight like men! like human beings! And walk—walk—WALK upon our sweet and blessed land.”

Walk, walk, WALK—that’s what one of my girlfriends and I propose to do for the next three days on an out-there loop in the Needles area of Canyonlands. Hopefully, we’ll find water, we’ll hear coyotes singing at night, we won’t get lost too many times, and we’ll come back without blisters. These are ideals. And one thing’s for certain—Abbey will be there with me, whether or not I carry Desert Solitaire in my pack.

Here are a few more of Abbey’s “Episodes and Visions” that I hope to inspire this journey:

“Despite its clarity and simplicity…the desert wears at the same time, paradoxically a veil of mystery. Motionless and silent it evokes in us an elusive hint of something unknown, unknowable, about to be revealed.”

“There is something about the desert that the human sensibility cannot assimilate, or has not so far been able to assimilate.”

“Where is the heart of the desert?”

“I am convinced that the desert has no heart, that it presents a riddle which has no answer, and that the riddle itself is an illusion created by some limitation or exaggeration of the displaced human consciousness.”

And…I’ll close with one of Abbey’s “Episodes and Visions” that I hope will also inspire you to get out there, here—in America, even in Utah—this summer:

“So much for the stars. Why, a man could lose his mind in those incomprehensible distances. Is there intelligent life on other worlds? Ask rather, is there intelligent life on earth? There are mysteries enough right here in America, in Utah, in the canyons.”

Life: Adventures in…Marriage?

I recently took a weekend away from my still-snowy life here in Colorado to attend a still-snowy wedding location near Sierra City, California. This wee mountain town is just north of Tahoe. Patty—an American friend I met in Chamonix, France—married Phil—a Scottish guy I also met in Cham (Phil, at right—in kilt). I haven’t been to many adventurous weddings, but this one definitely falls into that category. Wedding guests skied, snowshoed, or snowmobiled into the ceremony location at Sardine Lake.

Skis were lined up all over the place, and guests wore comfy, casual outdoor clothing for this part of the day. One guy even set up a camping stove to make much-welcomed mugs of hot cocoa and coffee.

Bride Patty in her sparkly-studded ski suit looked like a mountain-girl rockstar, right at home in this spectacular Sierra landscape.

After exchanging vows, the newlyweds posed for photos while guests ate sausage sandwiches…

…and then Patty revved up the sled for a ride back into town.

Later that evening, guests gathered at the Sierra City Community Hall to celebrate.

The Community Hall had been transformed from a small-town meeting place to a fancy dining establishment with a live band.

For this part of the evening, guests wore their best, and Patty looked amazing swirling around in her long white gown.

Everything about this wedding felt like a grand adventure—traveling to and fro, exploring a tiny mountain town, staying in a backwoods cabin, drinking coffee with friends at the only open café. But—what sticks with me now even more than the adventure of it all is this: LOVE.

For more on Patty and Phil’s Sierra Ring Swap, including some amazing photo albums, check out their wedding site: