Monthly Archives: June 2014

Death Valley

When Pacific storms slam into California they are liable to drop healthy amounts of rain along the coast before moving inland and getting relentlessly forced upward in to the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As the wet air is driven higher it becomes thin and unable to hold moisture, therefore causing it to condense into clouds. These clouds then condense into rain. Once the moisture gets high enough the rain turns to snow, lots of snow. The largest snow falls in a given winter storm are on average larger here than anywhere else in the United States. The air continues to rise because in the Sierras there is nowhere else for it to go but up. The Sierra Nevada runs like an impenetrable fortress wall down the eastern side of the state of California with peaks higher than anywhere else in the contiguous US. Only the burliest storms make it over the spine of the Sierra and then down the other side where the moisture evaporates and leaves just wind for the lonely basins on the  east side. What moisture does make it to the there is forced up once again over another range of mountains almost equal in height, only to go bombing down the other side even drier and further down until it bottoms out in Death Valley, the lowest, driest, and hottest place in the United States.

Our drive towards Death Valley took us through dreary and lonely looking desert valleys and over craggy desert mountains of the Basin and Range province. We crossed into California and soon after the border, into Death Valley National Park where we found ourselves starring down into a frightful giant tear mark in the earth’s surface. We continued to descend with feet working the breaks trying to keep our overloaded minivan happy in low gear.

The rock formations that the road twisted around were stunning. Stories of very ancient mountains were quickly laid out in the crazy scenery as we rushed onward. Even though the stretching of the Basin and Range began only 16 million years ago the rock that has been exposed is over a billion years old.  The elevation continued to drop until we hit sea level and kept descending. This big broad flat valley was made up of giant lakes back in the last ice age.  Now the water that leads down here heats up, evaporates and leads to nowhere. What’s left is salt, a vast flat expanse of salt. There are no major river ways that drain the Basin and Range Province. To put this in perspective, this entire region: eastern California, southeastern Oregon, southern Idaho, western Utah and the entire state of Nevada, is without a major river drainage. Mountain ridge lines collect snow and rain, it flows down hill like all water should but then poof, it’s devoured by the basins.

When we made it to a sign that read -150 below sea level, we parked our car in the salt flats and greeted the 100 degree heat. Curiously, we all walked into the sea of white salt and pulled shoes off to feel the comfortable crunch under our feet. The walking led to jogging and then regardless of the heat, to sprinting. You could run as much as you wanted in any direction and it would not matter if your eyes were open or closed. The crunchy white salt was uniform throughout the valley bottom. We played in the salt flats and our skin and spirits felt gritty and good.

 

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Back in the car we charged on towards our destination driving by towering sand dunes where Jacob pleaded with us to stop and explore. The temperature was even warmer when we got out and walking around felt like a huge effort. As we drove further and began the climb up and out of the valley the family was still, content with their books on tape or sleep as I quietly noticed warning signs that suggested we turn AC off so as not to let the engine overheat. The poor van pushed  4, 5 almost 6 thousand feet back up and out of the valley. The AC blasted as I thanked our faithful car for the big push. We continued down the other side on a road that cut through yet another lonely basin with nothing in it except the large expansive natural shape of the mountain and valleys flowing together as one with giant dunes on the northern end piled high just as it had been for several thousand years.

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Michelle and I bonded without speaking with our hands and our smiles while we deeply absorbed the freedom of endless scenery. Topping out on the last mountain ridge the Sierra Nevada stood in front of us reaching up into the heavens. They reminded us that not all mountains look like these dry basin and range hills. Their steep noble mountain slopes were flanked with the beautiful clean look of granite walls and ridges. It was like a fortress of the heavens and we had finally arrived. Snow etched the stately and tall lines which lead up to the summits which were crowned with clouds. The first clouds we had seen for weeks.

 

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Death Valley, Desert, Driest Desert, Driving cross country, Ecosystems, Great Basin, Hiking, Lowest Point, Sand Dunes, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Vegas

From Zion we drive down Interstate 15 which takes us off of the protected and cohesive layers of the Colorado Plateau and the strict codes of the Church of Latter Day Saints. We descend steeply into the Virgin River Gorge and into a very low and dry landscape where we admire the flat expansive views with lonely looking mountain ranges on the horizon. The expanses are never quite flat but are curved upward ever so slightly so you can see just how empty the landscape is, a landscape that is actually being stretched apart. The basins are in the process of sinking and the mountain ranges are like the stretch marks, holding ancient stories of the past. This is the Basin and Range, the desert is the Mojave, the driest in the US and the city that resides at the bottom of this sinking basin we are heading towards is Las Vegas.

Also flowing into this Great Basin off of the Colorado Plateau is the Colorado River just finishing its job of carving the mighty Grand Canyon and poised to take its last lazy float down to the Gulf of California like it has for millions of years. But in 1931 that was all changed when a giant hydroelectric dam was built corralling the largest reservoir in the country. This ambitious project took place hundreds of miles from anywhere and anything, thousands of workers were needed and over a hundred died to build it. The result was the down trodden water stop of Las Vegas, sprung up to service the needs of all the lonely, homesick workers. This was the 20th century so most states of the nation had laws against hired love and or leaving all of your hard earned money up to chance, but in the great state of Nevada there was almost nothing and nobody. Laws were voted on for the workers, by the workers. Eventually word got out beyond the scope of the Hoover Dam project and the Nevada State Lines that there was a place where everyday common moral rules did not apply. Large scale gangsters and businessmen came in from LA, Chicago and New York. They happily collected money from those addicted to chance. This quickly sped up the city building momentum and financed bigger and more luxurious hotels, casinos and shows – some of the biggest shows in show biz with Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby and of course Elvis Presley. Soon a powerful man in the aviation industry, Howard Hughes, came for a visit. Instead of leaving his room in his hotel he bought the hotel and then most of the city. It became internationally known as Sin City, a place of high class adult entertainment and a hot spot for famous musicians, entertainers and show biz. Finally by mid 90s Las Vegas’ destiny of becoming one of the biggest tourist destinations for seeing a live show in the entire world was attained.

I have been visiting this region for almost two decades and I love it here. But when I come I spend very little, to no time in Sin City. I fly in and then head out of the Las Vegas basin as fast as I can and into one of my favorite mountain ranges in the United States which is most commonly known as Red Rocks.

On this visit we began the Vegas experience by camping and climbing in Red Rocks. Red Rocks is made of the same awesome sandstone layers as Zion National Park but around 16 million years ago it broke off from the rest and has been increasingly surrounded by a sea of Mojave desert basin. The result is that Red Rocks is a paradise of some of the greatest climbing in the US. We spent our time on the single pitch rock but there is everything here up to 2,000 foot big wall wilderness ascents, all taking place on rock that was forged almost exclusively for those of us who love to rock climb. There are easy climbs, moderate climbs and extremely difficult climbs. There are climbs that have been done thousands of times and there are spectacular swathes of rock perfection that have never been explored.
After three days at our camp we were ready. The kids just can’t wait any more and I really can’t figure out what they can’t wait for. “Why in the world am I taking my kids to Vegas?” I can’t help but ask myself again.

We move our camp from Red Rocks to a giant Hotel, Casino, spa, resort monstrosity in the south of Vegas. Jacob’s good friend Walker and his mom Janet flew down to play with us for several days. Why were we showing the kids Vegas? Part of this trip is about sharing iconic America that means “Vegas baby”. Las Vegas is as American as Superman and Johnny Cash. It’s where the ultimate American dream can be realized. To party hard like a rock star and return home a super hero. That’s the American Dream….damn it! Wads of cash stuffed in my pocket.

The mission while here was simple: Take many showers, watch movies, eat lots and observe. Here Jacob explains his experience:

“When Walker came it didn’t seem like 8 months since I’d seen him last. He and Janet surprised us not only with Rocket Donuts from Bellingham but with Janet’s homemade Challah, our families’ favorite especially as they came on Shabbat. Together we went bowling at this huge bowling alley inside of the hotel. We also went to see movies in a giant movie theater also inside of the hotel. It was the first movie in a very long time. The food at the buffet wasn’t very good but it was still fun to eat as much as we could. We had a tiny breakfast and a huge dessert. I got so full but still wanted more and I literally couldn’t fit more dessert.

The Casino was overwhelming because there was a ton of people smoking, yelling and gambling. I couldn’t believe that these old people sat at machines for hours and gambled all of their money. I saw the same people at the same machine for more than a day. Some were sitting in corners playing cards and smoking huge cigars, they looked like that was where they lived.

After Walker left we stayed on the strip with Aunt Libs. The hotel was awesome but I am pretty sure if the strip was rated it should have been XXX. There were billboards with more XXX images everywhere. There was an M&M store and we bought tons of multi colored and flavored M&M’s until we realized that a pound of M&M’s was close to $8. It was still fun because we were with Aunt Libby. It’s always a party with Aunt Libby. The hotel we were staying at had a posh pool on the roof that frowned on noise, laughter and smiles. We visited the Bellagio gardens and fountains, the Liberace Museum and explored the craziness of Vegas. After months of camping, Vegas was shocking and a blast but I wouldn’t want to live there.”

The first Hotel Casino Jacob was talking about was called South Point Hotel and Casino. It was a mega complex complete with hotel, casino, bowling alley, super mall, buffets galore, mega swimming pool, spa and horse arena and stables. That is correct, yes, the largest indoor horse arena and equestrian center in the country actually. Not sure why they built it indoors since the weather outside is almost always perfect except of course in the dead of summer. Michelle and Ila went to watch the final round of the International Arabian Breeders World Cup. Ila witnessed Qatar’s beautiful example of horse perfection grace the arena and ultimately crowned champion. What a buzz.

Michelle’s Aunt Libby flew in to play with us after Walker and Janet left putting us up in the Polo Towers right smack in the middle of the Strip. “If it’s good enough for them than it’s good enough for me!” Aunt Libby said with gusto as we were checking in, (by them she meant the mob). Later we met up with Libby (and Michelle’s) Cousin Jon, Vegas entertainer and wine maker extraordinaire. They reminisced telling old colorful stories about their childhood.

I spent most of the time enjoying the view of the strip from the 33rd floor. While I caught up on work Jacob, Libby and Elias went and had regular adventures in this NC 17 City. Speaking of which, Vegas is now being touted as one of the leading family getaways in the country. It all makes sense… No, I’m not talking about the fact that Las Vegas is a great place to teach your daughters that above all else they are a sex symbol and all other aspirations in life should be secondary. I am not talking about the Vegas you go to, to get absurdly drunk and obnoxious anywhere and anytime of day no matter what and that’s totally cool. I am talking about the Vegas where you give away ALL of your money. That’s right. You no longer need to leave the kids with some family member back at home you can bring them with you and stay longer. Do really neat “family” stuff by day and then neatly tuck the kids into bed and head back down to Casino by night.

Friends, family, entertainment, beds and so on, Michelle and I left with very little desire ever to visit again, that said, we had a great time with friends and family and it was a hell of an adventure. We’d been roughing it in the wilderness for some time now and we found an antidote. Now we couldn’t wait to go back into the wild for a big strong cleanse.

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Zion

As we turn on to Interstate 70 and head west we are quietly absorbed by the red desert landscape floating by. Jacob and Elias watch through the windows entertained by their audio books, Ila quietly sleeping, and Michelle and I are planning our next adventure. Once again we are coasting along at high speeds comfortably watching the inhospitable desert screaming by.  I look ahead and see the abrupt walls of the San Rafael Swell that our Freeway will float easily through as if there is nothing there and I am floored by how easily we can cruise around this country. How did this all happen.

In the summer of 1919 while the lessons of “The Great War” aka, World War I, were being considered by the United States and its military a transcontinental convoy of over 300 military personnel left Washington D.C. and arrived in San Francisco, California two months later. On duty on that convoy was Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. It should be no surprise that in 1956 Eisenhower as president was the one with the vision needed to push through the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act – highways reaching coast to coast. Thirty five years and $114 billion after the act was passed the Interstate System was considered complete. Now recognized as one of the engineering marvels of the 20th century the Interstate Building Project is the largest human powered earth moving project on the planet.

Interstate 70 ends in the rural, remote and scenic mountain valleys of Mormon country, and here we merge on to I 15 South. I ask myself, “Didn’t the Mormons want to cut off from the rest of the country?” In popular culture they have been branded as a male dominated polygamous, bigoted religion. What I have found in Utah are very hospitable, friendly people, willing to go way out of their way for you, much more than is common. That said there are certainly sects that practice the old values such as polygamy. The United States government outlawed the practice of polygamy in the Mormon Church in 1890 and The Mormon Church officially abandoned the practice in 1891. Why does that matter so much? I believe that slowly the majority of the Mormons are and have been settling into the positive attributes and motivations of their faith which seems inevitable as they are a part of a larger network like the United States. This could also be attributed to the highways, the infrastructure, and the fact that although many want it differently they are part of something bigger, rather than a secluded radical nation or kingdom in some remote corner of the globe. We rise over another wild mountain pass and through canyons of the Mormon Promised Land and continue our glide towards Zion National Park for our four-day back packing trip.

We have promised the kids another backpacking trip for awhile. The time was now and we needed to craft the perfect trip for our multiaged clan. As Ila is older now she is less interested in being carried for long periods of time and so we needed an itinerary light enough for little feet with opportunities for great adventure. The trip packing was swift and marked a turning point in our family as it was the first backpacking trip in 13 years without diapers – super exciting.

Elias, when reflecting back on the trip explains: “When I first started the backpacking trip I had butterflies in my tummy. It was so fun.” We saddled our packs while Ila searched for the perfect “stick hike” (read:. walking stick) and we were off strolling our two miles in to camp on flat ground hiking next to a dry creek. After about a mile we watched in wonder as this dry creek bed gave birth to a running river due to storms higher up in the mountains. Our careful planning to make sure we had enough water suddenly became irrelevant as the previously dry wash was now the key water and entertainment source for the remainder of the trip.

Elias shared about the first and second campsite:

“We had a big pool with a waterfall running into it. It had big tadpoles in it. I mean big. Jacob and I raced as fast as we could through the creek and sometimes I won. The sand felt so good on our feet. At the next camp we made a Giant dam in the creek, it was really awesome. We could actually walk on the dam and the next day tadpoles started coming to our dam.”

It was a big adventure that will always rest in my mind as one of the freest wild times of the whole year for my kids. Ila and Elias were in the river and covered in mud almost the entire time. I remember seeing the two of them with an almost permanent look of wild and euphoric glee, bouncing on logs, chasing down rodents and insects. At one point Michelle turned to me “Oh my gosh, I think Elias is going feral.” I was reminded of a book I read to Elias at the beginning of the year called Incident on Hawk’s Hill where a little boy growing up on the Canadian Prairie runs away with a badger and over several months learns to live and act exactly like a badger. “Don’t worry Michelle, I think he’ll bounce back” I answer although I wasn’t totally sure.

Zion is a playground and adventure capital for some of the most scenic terrain in the United States. Big Wall climbing is popular on the Kayenta formation and Navajo Sandstone giving rise to the highest sandstone cliffs in the world. Canyoneering is famous in the Virgin River Gorge and countless locations around the park. On this visit, the mighty walls just acted as dramatic back drop. For us Zion was where we were able to keep our promise to our kids and ourselves on what this year was all about, connecting with each other, connecting with ourselves and connecting with nature.

When we arrived back at our hot car on the side of the busy road when the trip was through we got to work organizing. I became impressed with the kids. None of us needed to talk; I didn’t need to give directions. We all worked to blend our life from the last few days out of our packs and back into our lives of the past year and into our car. We settle back into our seats and Elias lets out a big sigh and says, “That was the best time I’ve ever had in my life.” I look at Michelle and say quietly with a shrug, “Maybe he is feral.”

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Backpacking, Family camping, Hiking, Homeschooling, Interstate System, Mormon Church, Utah, Zion, Zion National Park | Leave a comment

Canyonlands

As we drive out of Colorado into Utah we turn North onto Utah state highway 191. Down, down, down we go back into the layers of the Colorado Plateau. We turn left onto highway 211 towards Canyonlands National Park. The road continues to descend into older sandstone layer bringing us into the tight curves that take us into Indian Creek, a creek that cuts its way through the awesome Windgate sandstone. We wind down the road and my eyes are stuck looking up at the walls. One, two hundred foot uninterrupted, red beautiful walls, “watch, the road!” Michelle bursts forth. “OK, I’ll try. but….” The road winds, the canyon widens, the walls get taller. I try and keep my eye on the road. New canyons join Indian Creek and our canyon widens and the walls stand ever so awesomely until they turn to the North and South and we are sailing into a wide open plain looking at an otherworldly landscape. Bizarre red and white rock pinnacles and spires own the horizon. Rock is everywhere.

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My friend William, a former college roommate, recently became a Park Ranger at Canyonlands National Park. Impeccable timing. Within moments of arriving at his house Jacob, Elias and I squeeze into his tiny Suzuki Samurai 4×4 with Will at the wheel and sputter down a dirt road leading into a maze of rock. We arrive at a parking lot to what looks like a trailhead. At the trailhead Will puts his machine into four low and up this steep trail we go. All I see in front of me is steep rock before the hood of the car pops up and shares the view with blue sky. As the car rocks like nobody’s business I make sure the boys are well buckled and holding on. “Maybe they should have helmets” I think to myself. We stop at what seems to be a dead end and commence a four-point turn in order to continue heading up the switch back that keeps climbing the hill. We’re all giggling like kids and for a brief moment I remember the crazed feeling of glee that visits an eight year old on a regular basis.

Back at Wills apartment, nestled most appropriately in rocks, we shower, eat, drink and most importantly plan. Will is a lover of maps. On detailed maps laid out over the kitchen table he points out some areas he’s been exploring deep within a forgotten maze of canyons. He highlights a hidden valley where people are not permitted to enter. It’s one of the only valleys in the area where cattle have never grazed and is strictly off limits. Then he points to a camp he’s reserved for our next adventure out in the middle of a dense maze of canyons for the next three nights.

The following morning we pack up 4 days worth of stuff, water and people into the back of his 4×4 pick up truck. Somehow we all jammed into the cab, Michelle, Elias, Jacob, Ila in the seats behind with me sitting shotgun and of course Will at the wheel. “Can this truck drive those crazy roads?” I enquire with some doubt. “It’ll be tricky but we’ll take it slower than with the Samurai” he answers.
The first hill, the one that we had driven the evening before is called Elephant Hill. It has a national reputation as a hell of 4×4 track and it’s the first named feature that we tackled to get out to our destination. The giddy fanaticism that I had possessed the day before was soon replaced by puckered hope. Jacob, Elias and Will were happy as ever – Michelle and Ila got out and walked when things became questionable. Questionable is a mild term for the road that we traveled…

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From the northern end of the mighty Wind River Mountains in Wyoming, Glaciers give birth to an important river called the Green River. From there the Green can only flow southward picking up more water along the way. The Gros Ventre Mountains and the Wyoming mountains contribute generous amounts of water before the Green makes its way across the border where it receives ample amounts of water from both sides of the Uintah Mountains, the highest peaks of Utah. It then continues flowing down onto the Colorado Plateau where it begins cutting deep canyons in the Sandstone. Finally after 730 miles it merges with and becomes the Colorado where it then continues downstream to carve the Grand Canyon before being put to work hydrating 30 million Americans throughout Arizona, Nevada and California.

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The Colorado River itself headwaters from the highest of the Rocky Mountains which is fed via water sheds along the entire length of the continental divide through the state of Colorado from its Northern border with Wyoming and its southern border  with New Mexico. The journey these rivers take before merging meanders through some of the wildest and most pristine land in the United States. Where the Green and the Colorado rivers meet is at the geographical and spiritual heart of what could be argued as THE wildest place in the United States: The Canyonlands.

This central region of the Colorado Plateau is quite literally a maze of canyons so much so that one of the zones of Canyonlands National Park is called The Maze and is considered one of the most remote and inaccessible places in the country. Something that adds to this maze like structure is that not only are canyons created because of classic water erosion but these layers were cracked and separated with the Colorado plateau uplift. The end products are “canyons” that lack a down-hill or an up-hill or even water flow. They are just corridors of sheer rock that may meet up with another corridor or may dead end. When visiting the Canyonlands it is clear that they have their own set of rules and you had better be careful if you want to make it back out.

When the six of us pulled into our back country camp we were delighted. The entrance to the camp was through almost a tunnel like corridor into a large chamber flanked on four sides by sandstone and overhanging rock above. Within the first hour the boys found petroglyphs etched into the rock that probably dated several thousand years. We spent the next few days hiking and exploring the canyons, the needles, the wind and the quiet. There seemed to be a petroglyph, pictograph or crazy rock formation around every corner. On the third day we received a forecast that it was going to snow over night – time to leave so we wouldn’t be stuck. The following morning at Will’s place we woke up to snow on the ground as we enjoyed mellow morning turning our attention to the next adventure in this area, rock climbing at Indian Creek.

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Indian Creek is home to the worlds best crack climbing. It’s most famous for the consistency in crack width. That width may vary less than a half inch as it shoots up a smooth vertical cliff for over 100 feet. To climb it you need to put your fingers, hand, fist or arm into the crack as well as jam your feet. Then you pull, step up and do it again. Jam, pull, jam, jam, pull, jam, over and over… It’s a hell of a work out. It sounds tedious perhaps but it’s so much fun. We spent a few days focusing on this area which is only enough time to begin getting accustomed to this type of climbing. In my opinion every day climbing at Indian Creek is a good day. In the end nursing scrapes and scratches on hands and arms it was clear I had not turned Michelle and Elias into lovers of crack climbing, but when talking to Will about coming down for a week next fall Jacob in an insisting tone said “I wanna’ go with you dad. Can I go? Can I?” Ah ha mission complete…

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Evenings were always fun with lots of wine, good food and peppers, lots of peppers. Will even took out the accordion at times. Our bodies felt healthy and vital and our minds were rested with the silence that comes with the land here and although we had not reached our fill, it was time to move on.

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Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel | 2 Comments

Durango

I have a distinct memory of visiting my great grand parents when I was 7 or 8 years old. They had a tiny farm house that was on what seemed at the time a vast sea of farm country somewhere in the French countryside. During hot summer visits we played on giant jeep like big wheel toys for days upon days throughout their extensive property. One of the most exciting activities came each evening before dinner when we heard the distant toot of the train that passed through the region. We would drop what we were doing and scurry out to the tracks via the old farm trails to hopefully make it on time to watch the trains go screaming by. One of the most distinct single memories from this time and place came during the after dinner activity of watching movies with the family. I remember watching with absolute terror a movie that took place almost entirely on a giant mountain cliff face that did not end well for most of the characters. One by one they fell into an endless abyss and when they fell they would scream a most hysterical scream. To this day I don’t know exactly what movie it was. It could have been a French drama, because the French definitely love drama, but I think it was The Eiger Sanction, a classic American mountain climbing movie starring Clint Eastwood. What I realized was that I was not scared because I was afraid of heights or that I was worried that the characters were going to die but I was scared because I was fascinated by it and I knew that mountain faces like those would be in my future.

Flash forward to May of 1999 – I was being considered as a contestant to work as a mountain climbing guide for a company called South West Adventures in South Western Colorado. I remember showing up impossibly nervous to attend the two week guide tryout. I remember stumbling into the office the first day convinced that there was no way they were going to hire me. It was then that I met the boss and owner, Clay Patton and was immediately put at rest. The interminably laid back and relaxed Wyoming native was a man who loved to tell a story that was always fun to listen to. Clay’s endlessly humored perspective with just the right amount of off colored language was the perfect recipe to keep everyone’s attention. I remember Clay explaining to us new guides how the tips can be quite good if we provide a service above and beyond what is expected, “but then sometimes you get these fricking people that don’t know a fricking thing” he would explain in a matter of fact framework.

Michelle and I moved to Durango together straight from Prescott. All of a sudden we were nestled in the big, rugged snowy and wild San Juan Mountains. There was no city, no urban area, no Interstate Freeways. Durango was the only bit of civilization anywhere around. In all directions, up, down east, west there were lifetimes of mountains, cliffs and ice to climb and explore. We had endless expanses of desert and mysterious canyon country to adventure in. I had finally moved to live, work and play in the mountains and we found a fantastic community of people to do just that with. Actually when we lived there we thought we would never leave. Why would we?

Within a year of being there we adopted a dog… a Super Dog. We found Sunder at two months old in the local pound. Sunder is the Hindi word for handsome – he was not just a pretty boy and not just a good dog, he was Sunder the Wonder Dog, our first boy. Sunder was present at each of our children’s births and protected and loved them as much as he did Michelle and I. Although, he passed away last July he lived a big full life and we loved him deeply. We have carried his ashes with us on this trip through the whole country up to this point. As we let his ashes fly in the wind on Animas Mountain above Durango all of those sweet moments of his younger years came flooding back. He was a close friend and devoted companion. We love you Sunder.

After Two years in Durango Michelle and I got married and soon after had our first son, Jacob. We were certainly crazy back then. We lived in this tiny A-frame cabin way up in the mountains above town. We were completely set on having Jacob born at home on our own sans midwife. We bought a giant metal cow trough that we filled up with heated water where Michelle was going to give birth. We stayed curled up and watching movies as Michelle labored for one, two, three days. Finally we called our midwife/ birthing coach to come and help us. After much work this crazy alien spilled out of my wife into my hands. I had no idea what the hell was going on, I was waaaay out of my league in this moment. Everything changes in such a short instance when your first child comes into your arms. It’s like all of a sudden your decisions and actions and even thoughts affect more than just you. It will never be the same again.

December of 2001 the reality of living in a small community with temper mental seasonal work hit us hard and we left Durango. Now twelve and a half years later we arrive back into town and the realization is clear…. part of me had never left. When I close my eyes and put my head back for a rest I feel it the most. Rest is just better here. Nobody locks their doors in Durango. Actually you don’t have to ever worry about losing your keys. Your car keys you just leave in the ignition. House keys you don’t need. What would it look like to move back?

As we drive into town to have a busy day of sharing meals with old friends and hiking in the hills I ask Jacob, “Jacob, do you want to see where you were born?”

“Surrre”, he replied. We were so excited to show him and we couldn’t help but to be wondering what was going on for him.

We drove down Lightner Creek road and soaked in the sights, the memories were tender. Everything looked similar, so picture perfect but wild enough in a rustic sort of way. As we wound down the road Silver Peak came into view of the La Plata Mountains and then there they were up and to the right: The A-frame cabins. They looked the same as before, thankfully: Tiny, simple, brown and all lined up in a row. We wanted so much to share this place with our little boy who is now becoming a man. To share a little piece of who we were back then. Looking at him you couldn’t tell that the magnitude of it all was sinking, but it was. This is where his life started. Later when he drew the cabin on a Mother’s Day card for Michelle with some sweet words, we could feel his understanding and the significance of the visit.

Showing Clay, “the outcome” of our life, was another important mission of our Durango visit. Clay sold South West Adventures several years ago and now worked at the Crow Canyon Archeological Center. He was super excited to show us around the place after following our adventures this year via the blog. There were so many things to catch up on. I was proud to be sharing my big family with him. We were excited about his invitation to visit the Center with the kids.

As we followed his directions that morning to meet him I had to laugh as I could picture him saying it all as if he were there. It could be that just about everything he said had some undertone of humor mixed in. While summing up very detailed directions he writes “Take road L all the way west and you’ll come to the big highway 141. Carefully crossing 141, as it is a major, 4 lane highway. All this will test your guiding skills, but you can always call if you run into troubles.”

“We’re walking towards the building”, I text him after we’re parked and walking in.

I walk in and we don’t see him so I ask the receptionist. She runs off and after a bit, a very distraught older woman walks out. She has us come outside. “How do you know Clay?” she asks.

This is weird, I think to myself. “We’re friends and he invited our family to show us around for the day. I haven’t seen him in twelve years.”

“I am so sorry”, she answered, “He passed away last night.”

Clay had suffered a heart attack the night before, quietly, while watching TV. There was a flood of emotion that took me by surprise. It had already been a week of allowing memories to go further in than they do on a day to day basis. I had to walk away for a bit. After being gone more than 12 years he passed away right after sending me directions the night before. He had managed to give me one more thing before moving on. Thank you Clay

Moments later a friendly looking younger woman walked up and introduced herself as Shawn Collins. She said she was going to give us an educational tour in Clay’s absence. I think she and the rest of the staff were just as shocked as our little family. It was a crazy moment in time. Everyone was clearly affected by the current circumstance. This was what we had to do. This is what Clay was going to do this morning. Thank you Shawn for a beautiful tour of the Center, we look forward to coming back.

Several days later was Clays’ memorial. It was on a picture perfect, typical sunny early spring day in Durango. The White peaks of the La Plata Mountains cradled us to the West and the Twighlight Peaks were looking wild like always to the North. The Lion’s Den, an open air structure atop Fort Lewis College was overflowing with people wanting to share stories about their friend at rest. Chris, David, Bob, Tim, Amos, Marcus all of these faces and people I had spent my time with 12 years ago were there like none of us had ever left. I looked out over the Animas Valley and it really hit me how quick and fleeting it all is. I showed up in this place so long ago with big ambitions to climb all of these crazy walls and mountains throughout the world. In my youth I had thought I was going to devote my life to just that but it turns out the climbing is just a side show after all. What I found in Durango was much better.

 

 

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Ancient Pueblos, Colorado, Crow Canyon Archealogical Center, Durango, family | 1 Comment

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