Monday, July 25, 2016

Heating Up In The California Desert

While slowly driving towards our happy place in Baja, we hit Mojave National Preserve and Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave desert of California. You would not want to visit these hot, dry places in the summer - we were even pushing it visiting them at the end of May.


We climbed the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve as the sun was setting and were stunned by the views, lighting, and of course jumping opportunities (pictured below).





The weirdest surprise was the sound we heard while walking at the top of the dunes. It has been termed "singing sand" or "booming dunes". As you walk across the sand, it sounds like a loud, roaring, low-pitch rumble - like a large aircraft is about to crash land on your head. Apparently this happens in only 35 desert locations across the world.



Joshua Tree NP is famous for the copious amount of places to rock climb and of course, the Joshua Tree (pictured below). The name "Joshua Tree" was termed by traveling Mormon settlers in the Mojave Desert in the mid-1800s. The tree's unique shape reminded them of a Biblical story where Joshua reaches his hands up to the sky in prayer.






We worked our way south towards San Diego where we picked up our summer toys (surfboards, kiting gear, wetsuits, etc.) from a storage unit. Stuffed with toys and good beer (well-hidden of course), we crossed the border to spend a couple of months at Punta San Carlos, Baja.

All of that needs to fit in the box?!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Zion National Park, Mormons, and Gooseberry Mesa

Like so many National Parks in the USA, Zion National Park is a must-see. The towering granite walls of Zion canyon attract 2,000,000 (!!!) visitors a year to hike, wade through water-filled slots, and rock climb. With our heads cranked skyward, we found some of the best views through the skylight vents of the shuttle bus on the way to our hikes. The view from within the canyon is spectacular, but we also chose a couple of hikes that climbed to the top for a well-deserved view from above.

Both hikes were strenuous, and the popular Angels Landing hike was quite crowded, but it was well worth it. The large scale of the place makes it hard to photograph. Here are just a few pictures from below and above:












Near Zion is one of our favorite mountain biking desintations, Gooseberry Mesa. It's not easy to get to, and happens to be near the heart of FLDS country. This fundamental sect of Mormonism is most notably different from the LDS church because they believe in polygamy. One of the more recent leaders, Warren Jeffs, is serving a life-sentence for incest and child endangerment. After his father died, he married all of his father's wives (except for his mother). It is reported that he has 60 wives. Wikipedia tells me that half the population of the area is descended from only two men. As such, it has the highest incidence of a rare genetic disorder due to all of the cousin marriages.

Warren Jeffs and his wives

During our drive, my mouth hung open as I gawked at the women with coifed hair toiling away in the field in 90 degree heat. They wore prairie dresses over pants in addition to the traditional Mormon long underwear (I'm assuming the underwear part). I'm not sure who gawked harder, me, or the poor little boys in the grocery store who couldn't take their eyes off the skin of my legs, arms, and shoulders.

The mountain biking and camping at Gooseberry was just epic. Our first morning camped there, Scott stepped out of the truck and said, "I feel like we're on our own planet". It was truly one of our favorite camping spots ever - the views and isolation were priceless. Pictures below.






The mountain biking is slow and relatively technical. The trail is mearly a series of white dots on the rocks. In places the trail seems impossibly steep or rather torturous, but somehow you're able to make it up, down, and around almost everything. It doesn't take long to realize how grippy the Navajo sandstone is. The big faint white dots of the "trail" are visible in most of the pictures below.











From here, we made our way towards Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave National Preserve in California for some more excellent camping and desert isolation - next post!

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah

In our last post, I mentioned that visiting The Wave was a great birthday gift... but it didn't end there.

Situated in between all of the National Parks/Monuments between Utah and Arizona is a place called The Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. Scott happened upon it while reading about Kanab, Utah - the little town nearby. It's the largest no-kill shelter in the country, located on gorgeous property just outside of Zion National Park. The property is BIG - you need to drive between animal houses. They have more than 700 cats, 500 dogs, pigs, 100 parrots, bunnies, horses, etc. They have gotten worldwide press because of their work after Hurricane Katrina, their care for Michael Vick's fighting dogs, and a National Geographic TV series called Dog Town. We did a tour the first day, and were inspired to stick around a second day to volunteer. Another awesome birthday gift for me!

Unfortunately we didn't get very many pictures.



Basking in the morning sun
 

The competition for affection was fierce


I could definitely see us coming back for a longer period to volunteer and explore more of this area. Their sign-up process for volunteering took 5 minutes online and the next day we were set up to spend the morning with the cats and the afternoon with the dogs - so efficient.


Big male tabby making friends with the other big male in the house

This old lady wouldn't let any other cat get our attention - we were warned that she gets very jealous

There were lots of "rafter kitties" - the ones too scared to get near the humans

Sweet pit-mix who couldn't get close enough to me

She was a little leary of Scott at first, but then wanted to be a lap dog

These two were definitely trying to de-rail my pooper scooping

Yes, we scooped poop, but we also connected with some precious, adoptable animals. If you are heading to Utah or Arizona, I definitely recommend at least taking a free tour of their property and facilities. Oh, and also make sure to stop in for lunch at their all-you-can-eat vegetarian buffet for $5, with a sweeping view of Angel Canyon.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Winning The Lottery in Vermillion Cliffs National Monument

I wonder how many people have ever heard of Vermillion Cliffs National Monument (VCNM) in Arizona. It's called Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument on the Utah side. Situated just north and east of Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, respectively, it's a lot less crowded, and really, really cool.


This area is well known for it's slot canyons and an amazing sandstone formation called The Wave. On our first day visiting VCNM, we hiked through a stunning slot canyon, Buckskin Gulch. According to Wikipedia "it's the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and may be the longest in the world". A slot canyon is a narrow canyon, formed by the wear of water rushing through rock and can be quite dangerous during a rain storm. There is a giant log jam in the slot 40 feet up - that's at least how deep the water gets during a flash flood. Crazy. Lot's of pictures below:


We had to climb down/up some rocks to continue our hike


I love imaging how this giant tumbleweed got into the canyon
Not for the claustrophobic

This was our only exit if it started to rain


This log was carried by water through the slot




 
Shoe-sucking mud that never sees the light of day









You didn't think we'd leave here without a jumping picture, did you?

During our route-planning, we specifically decided to visit VCNM to see "The Wave". Due to a lack of planning, we learned a week before we arrived that we needed a special permit, and only 10 (!!) people per day get one. We felt pretty defeated, but decided that we would go through the process of entering the lottery. We drove 70 miles round trip to enter the lottery the day before we wanted to hike. There were 147 people vying for 10 spots. The process was hectic and crazy. I couldn't believe it when our number was picked first!! We won the lottery! Pictures below:

The hike out to The Wave
Had to do it
When we approached The Wave, Scott said "I think this is it" and snapped a picture - it was just the entrance...


Not "the" wave - just some cool stuff near it


All alone at The Wave



A different view from higher up


One of the "winners" who arrived as we were leaving


The hike out

It's only a 3 mile hike out to The Wave, but navigation is intentionally difficult to discourage wave poachers. We crossed paths with some of the other winners, and a disturbing number of lottery losers trying to find the path, but we were never hanging out together at The Wave. Wow - all alone! This was also during the week of my birthday - what a perfect sandstone birthday gift.