adventure travel

The End the Middle and the Beginning…In that order.

It’s time to reach back out to you fine folks, our readers. Even though it’s been several years, it’s important to me to finish sharing our year journey.  So, here is one final blog post from our year odyssey we call Five and a Roof Rack.

 

We finished off our year in style, as planned all the way back home to Bellingham, Washington.  During the last month and a half of our travels something shifted:  We began arranging, planning and preparing for our life back in Washington.  Once home, we bought a house, engaged back into our community, enrolled the kids back into school and we’ve been there ever since.  But to stay on point, the last month and a half of our yearlong journey included important adventures some of which were highlights of the whole year.

 

Resuming where I left off, following camping and exploring along the mysterious foggy coastline of Big Sur we visited my cousin Ueyn, his wife Jen and their boys, Evan and Jonas in Menlo Park just south of San Francisco. We stayed for almost a week, hopefully the first of many. Ueyn was working on a top-secret project at Apple that he was not allowed to discuss with us, his kids, his wife, or anyone for that matter.  Now, many years later we learned he was one of the main creators working on the Apple watch function that monitors heart activity in people susceptible to heart problems. We were all delighted to curl up in their cozy neighborhood home for a few days, go on walks in the oak woodlands and barbecue with neighbors.  During that time we also went for a quick visit to another cousin Matt and his wife and son over in the East Bay.

 

Serendipitously Michelle’s brother, Simon, just happened to be at a conference in San Francisco. So we moved north into a downtown San Francisco hotel with Simon and played in the city for awhile. While Simon taught during the day, the five of us wandered the hilly picturesque streets of the city, went to museums, enjoyed music in the park and ate some pretty damn good sushi.  All said and done it made for the single most expensive day of the entire year.

 

After Simon left, cousin Jen and her boys met up with us again as we took a ferry north of the San Francisco Bay for a really cool camping trip on Angel Island, the “Ellis Island” of the west. With a spectacular campsite, we were overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge the San Francisco Skyline and Marin County. After two nights, we said our good byes to family and it was off to the greener North.

Things really changed energetically at this point, our minds were not in the moment like most of the year but began looking forward, planning and wondering about life back to where we began.  And so we traveled north : Redwood State Parks, Red Wood National Park, then to Oregon. Camping on Diamond Lake at the foot of Mt Thielson. Jacob and I got to hike up to the summit of Thielson, one of Oregon’s fabulous volcanoes. We spent lots of time on the rich grassy shores of Diamond Lake, thinking deeply about our big adventure that was now coming to a close.  Michelle and I knew that being this close as a family, just the five of us, may never happen again quite like this.  The life we were going back to felt necessary but not as important as what we were wrapping up.  It was bitter sweet.

 

We spent a day at Crater Lake, a volcano that blew it’s top only seventeen-thousand years ago and is now a magical teal and deep blue lake that does not drain except into the ground below it.  Journeying on, we made one final stop north at Smith Rock State Park, the birthplace of sport climbing.  It was well into summer, the typically hot weather took a break though and it was cool and comfortable.  We did a little bit of climbing and most importantly got to hang out with Jen and Andrew and their kids from Wisconsin, who had launched onto their own road trip.  Here we spent a last few days climbing, hiking, playing music and reflecting on our crazy year and wondering what it’s going to be like to go back home.

We were ready at this point; our minds had now shifted to the north.  We missed our friends and hometown.  So at the beginning of July 2014 we hopped in the minivan and drove north into the rainy Northwest.  Thanks to good friends, we found ourselves a new home in an incredible little neighborhood in the hills just east of town.

 

But that’s not the end of it.  First and foremost, once we were moved in we began planning our next year long adventure…more on that later.  Other things began to be very clear.  We were all happier and healthier…but something else happened.  We noticed we inspired others to do the same.  We noticed that friends and families were put into action.  People we knew well and others through connections down the line began reprioritizing their lives, putting the busy things on hold and going on their own adventures big and small.

 

We discovered something very important on our adventure. What we found was not just for our own family. Our mission of sharing our personal stories and experiences with others had gone beyond ourselves and has only grown since.  It has become our mission to inspire others to go on their own adventure, to shy away from the ideas of vacations and consumerism, that to be fair, are fun in very small doses, but to court something else.   It has become part of our work to help others find their Adventure; a deeply human experience, like the first homo sapiens who walked beyond the boarders of Africa or Abraham leaving Mesopotamia.  It’s an essential part of being human. Sure we did it our own quirky, and unique way.  That was our journey. Every family has their own story, their own adventure to engage.

 

So…naturally, several months after returning to Bellingham the question was not if we’d go on another year adventure, the real question was where and when.

 

As we considered where our next family mission was to take place we decided that we wanted a location where we could load everything up in a van again and just go explore.  Michelle and I also wanted a place that would not only be new and fascinating to the kids but new to us as well.

 

Aside from the destination, we realized that there will be another part of this odyssey that will be quite different. We commenced our previous adventure with a 1 year old who turned 2 and became potty trained and learned to walk and even run while traveling.  The other kids were 7 turning 8 and 12 turning 13. This time we are bridging the other side of family life with a child who is no longer a child but spreading his wings and learning to fly on his own. Jacob, by the time we’re traveling will be 19.  The hope is that he will  travel with us for sections and then go have his own adventures as well. Our aim is to grow and adapt with our family, while strengthening tethers of connection made once again from the journey into the unknown.

 

With all of this in mind,  we decided that our next family year long adventure will take place in New Zealand and Australia!   The date is set. The plan is to be leaving to Aukland, NZ mid to late September 2020 and returning mid to late August 2021.

 

Our intention is to continue to share with you, our readers not only the adventure itself but the whole process.  We’ll be updating people on our preparations: the gathering of equipment, the logistics and sharing our project out line and route. Those logistics will include the planning of the trip of course, but also what the home schooling will look like, the gear planning, the financial planning. We’ll be reflecting on what worked well the last time and what could have been done better.  We will revisit the spirit of what we found throughout our own country…the United States.  We will dive into what this American family knows and thinks about the smallest continent.  For me, even though there are some similarities, there is something mysterious and very unique about Australia; I want to wake up in the early morning and see an animal I never knew existed in a landscape new and different.

 

We are excited to share once again our grand quest and in doing so help give, not just an inspiration to others, but a template. Come join us as we prepare for mission number two: 5andaroofrackdownunder.

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Angel Island, Australia, California, Camping, Car camping, Cornicopia, Driving cross country, Ecosystems, Family camping, Family Climbing, Hiking, Homeschooling, New Zealand, Oregon, organic farming, Prescott College, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, San Francisco, Smith Rock, Uncategorized, Washington, Wisconsin | Leave a comment

Breakfast in the Sierras

“Hey Jacob you ready?” Elias yells enthusiastically

“Yea, let’s go!” Jacob answers.

Through the sound of a rushing creek I slowly awoke realizing the boys were off again on another adventure. My mind stirred and I remembered drifting to sleep the night before while watching Ila and Michelle’s eyes reflecting the bright white light of infinite stars above. I stretch big but not to disturb the girls since they’re still dreaming of stars, put on my blue shorts my blue T-shirt and greet the big sloping sage brush plain and the Sierra’s, aaaah, heaven.

“Coffee is ready hun!” I say after I hear Michelle starting to stir.
Both burners on the trusted Coleman stove are frying breakfast now. Michelle and I sip coffee together and deeply enjoy discussing nothing important.

IMG_3155

“I guess Ben is down in Prescott by now” I say. I am reflecting on the first day we arrived here – four days ago. We met up with Ben and Ruth, our friends who recently moved from Prescott to Mammoth Lakes, two hours to the North. Together we went on a hike after connecting that morning, up sage brush slopes with snow capped peaks towering way above. Big horn sheep ran on distant hillsides and wild flowers were in bloom as we hiked up a trail with no goal other than catching up. Ila attached their dogs leash to Ben coaxing him down the trail. We shared dinner, drinks, stories and soccer that night.

IMG_3173 IMG_3169 Ruth in camp

“Pancakes and eggs are ready” I yell loud enough to make sure the boys can hear  as they play out in the sage near the creek. Do they really need to come now? No, Michelle and I can enjoy breakfast quietly, they’ll eat later.  They pretend they didn’t hear me regardless and keep playing.

This is more or less how we greeted the last five days, completely surrendered to the comfortable and spectacular scenery. Every morning soaking it up, letting it inspire us all over again and then diving into the next adventure.

On our third day here, we went up to the great craggy and snowy mountains that stand high above camp. Mount Whitney is the tallest of these peaks. It sits at just around fourteen and a half thousand feet in elevation higher than all of the mountain in the contiguous US. Although the mountains are high and craggy, this year they remained snow free for over 2,000 feet of our hike taking us to over 10,000 feet of elevation into the snow. Jacob and Elias were entranced by the seriousness of the mountains as they ran way ahead up the dry trails, telling each other stories. Michelle and I tried to keep up with Ila. Living in the desert for weeks without big mountain strolles made this hike all the more appealing.

“What a beautiful hike that was” I say while flipping one of the classic pancakes I’ve been making on a regular basis since we left Bellingham last year – about 4 inches in diameter and cooked deeply in butter. Not complete without eggs and really nothing is better when you’re hungry.

“Super fun,” Michelle agrees. “Still not enough to wear out the boys though,”  she adds.

It’s true that over the last month we’ve noticed a big jump in their fitness.  The way they were jogging up those switch backs was an incredible affirmation that this year of athletic family adventure is above and beyond what they would ever receive during a conventional year at home.  The mental and physical health benefits will reverberate through their entire lives.

 

IMG_3198  IMG_3189 IMG_3178 IMG_3176

On the second morning I woke up to Jacob and Elias going on their morning adventure but this time it sounded like the adventure was taking place closer by.   A rush of panic hit me as I remembered it was Easter Sunday. “Darn – did the Easter Bunny do its job” I thought to myself.  Ahhh… I remembered that yes indeed, the Easter Bunny did do its job….almost. In the end it mistakenly gave Ila, Jacob’s treats and Jacob, Ila’s treat but I decide to forgive the bunny this time. I imagine the delivery rabbit was a cousin of the Easter Bunny anyway, the Desert Long Eared Jack Rabbit. Regardless, the boys found chocolates eggs, rabbits and other delights throughout the sage brush that morning. They also woke up to a basket stuffed full of treasures and dutifully helped their sister discover the magic as well.

“I wish we could stay here forever.” I say

Michelle knowing what I loved most of all agreed, “We should just load up one of those rocks in to our roof rack and take it with us.” She was talking about yesterday when we went rock climbing!

The basin that we are camped above is not just a sage brush plain but just below us there is a series of craggy broken hills called the Alabama Hills. The famous granite outcrops with a spell binding mountain back drop has been viewed by millions of people throughout the world as a classic western scene for dozens of big Hollywood productions. The gritty granite usually tops out on super cool 40 to 100 foot block of granite. The landscape of rocky climbs has no defined end to it.

IMG_3206 IMG_3212 IMG_3217 IMG_3209 photo 4(1)photo 3(2)IMG_3205 IMG_3204

“Not even two months left on our trip.” Michelle says in a solemn tone.

“Ya”, I answer. “I miss it already.” We both know what I’ll miss, the same thing we’ll both miss, the mystery, the adventure, all of the excitement when planning the next stage, the endless time together just enjoying each others company. I wonder if we’ll do this back home. I wonder if the boys will continue to be so excited to see each other in the morning and go off to play indefinitely like they are now. I wonder if I’ll get the time and if they’ll get the time to go on one of these big adventures. We’ll still do this stuff I know, but not like this. Not every day.

“I wonder where we’ll live back in Bellingham.” She questions the universe out loud.

I shudder at the idea of going back to the day to day, but shoo the glimpse of it and my mind takes me back to the sage blowing on the breeze, the sound of rushing water and the two brothers out there absorbed in a close friendship. Then my mind moves on to where we are going.

“Can you believe that there are over 30 million people on the other side of that mountain range?” I inquire. It was hard to fathom considering how absolutely barren our current landscape was, but in that still moment it hit me. That single mountain barrier is holding back one of the most densely populated regions of our country.

“I’m excited about tomorrow.” I say

“Me too” Michelle answers with a mutual understanding. We are referring to something other than lots of people that lies on the other side of that mighty ridge line. Something else that we haven’t seen very much of for quite some time and I know we all miss quite dearly:

TREES!

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, California, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Homeschooling, Mt. Whitney, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Sierra Nevada Mountains | 1 Comment

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.

 

IMG_3116 IMG_3117 IMG_3118 IMG_3123 IMG_3125 IMG_3128 IMG_3132 IMG_3133 IMG_3134 IMG_3135

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.

IMG_3140 IMG_3141 IMG_3142 IMG_3145 IMG_3149 IMG_3151 IMG_3152

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

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.”

IMG_3451 IMG_3452 IMG_3453  IMG_3459 IMG_3460 IMG_3462 IMG_3471  IMG_3477 IMG_3478 IMG_3479 IMG_3481 IMG_3488 IMG_3497 IMG_3508 IMG_3509 IMG_3518 IMG_3521 IMG_3535 IMG_3541 IMG_3546

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.

013 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_60

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…

IMG_2986 IMG_2975

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.

20140401_AndersonsNeedles_97  20140401_AndersonsNeedles_83

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.

20140331_AndersonsNeedles_53 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_48 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_37 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_79 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_07 20140331_AndersonsNeedles_02 IMG_3008 IMG_2999 IMG_2988 IMG_298720140331_AndersonsNeedles_69

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…

IMG_3064 IMG_3075 IMG_3078 IMG_3079 IMG_3063 IMG_3080 IMG_3084 IMG_3087 IMG_3091 IMG_3093

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.

IMG_3025 IMG_3037 IMG_3038 IMG_3039 IMG_3043 IMG_3044 IMG_3049 IMG_3050

003

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

Natural Building in the Four Corners by Jacob Anderson

After driving through the night we came to daddy’s friend Andrew’s house. It was really late and we drove for a long time down a driveway. We went inside and went to sleep. We stayed at his house for three days but he was not there. When he came in on the third night he told daddy “you have a plethora of Piñatas” in referring to us kids. He was really funny and entertaining.

Andrew lives in Dolores, CO in the middle of nowhere on 6 acres of ponderosa forest in a 2 story straw bale house. The outside walls of the house are plastered to look like waves and you could see the grains of straw in the coating. We got to stay with Andrew for about 2 weeks in early spring. In between great waffles and super fun stories, I asked him why he started working with natural building materials; he told me that when he used to work with conventional materials he would come home sick. He said this happens to other builders as well and is called “sick building syndrome.” When he started working with natural materials instead he felt great. Therefore he learned the art of straw bale building and started “Natural Dwelling” his building company. Andrew invited us to visit a house that he was building on the border of Utah and Colorado, this time in the ABSOLUTE middle of nowhere. The funny thing was the homeowners just moved from Bellingham.

It was neat to see the stages of building a straw bale house. The exterior walls were unfinished when we pulled up to the house and you could see the straw bales under the 1st layer of earth plaster that is referred to as “mud”. Andrew was waiting for warmer weather to finish these walls. The inside on the other hand was just about finished being mudded and although it was freezing outside the inside was toasty warm. I learned a bunch about earth building during our time we stayed with Andrew. Here is an overview.

Foundation:

Many straw bale homes have a concrete foundation with radiant heat inside the cement. To build the radiant heat system you lay down a metal grid and on top of that lay the pipes that will hold the water. Attach the pipes with plastic ties and then pour the concrete. When the concrete dries the pipes are set and the hot water flows through the pipes. This heats the floor and the heat rises to heat the house.

Straw bale design and Insulation:

Straw bales are used to form the walls. First you make a frame out of wood and then place straw bales within the frame creating thick insulating walls. It is the combination of this insulation, a south facing house design and the radiant heat that keeps the house at a pretty consistent temperature, cool in the summer and warm in the winter. I noticed that in both Andrew’s house and in the house that he was building all of the wall edges, doors and window frames where curved and quite thick. It is important to note that they use straw bales not hay bales because hay has seeds which (1) can germinate and (2) attract rodents. In Andrew’s case he is able to speak to the farmer before he buys the straw bales to make sure that the straw isn’t moldy, didn’t have seeds and that the bales were a consistent predetermined size. When designing the straw bale home it is helpful to build the roofs overhanging with the ability for water catchment. You would want to build the roof with metal materials so the water is safe to use.

Earth Plaster:

Earth Plaster is made from a mix of sand, straw pigment and water. Together it makes a great plaster for drier climates although it withstands the snow. The pigments that I saw were made from crushed minerals and different types and colors of clay. There are also synthetic pigments used for less natural colors. The plaster is then “coated” onto the interior and exterior walls at a consistent thickness and left to dry. When I attempted to coat a wall at a consistent thickness, I failed in utter misery. One needs to eat much spinach and have years of experience to master the art. It’s all in the Popeye arm strength!

IMG_2853 IMG_2855 IMG_2856 IMG_2857 IMG_2861

Although these were modern homes, Andrew was not the first person to build with straw in the four corners region. It turns out that the Ancient Ancestral Peubloans built their homes called Pueblos out of straw, mud and stones in the same region as Andrew’s houses starting as early as 1,200 BC. When we went to visit Crow Canyon Archeological Center and were given a tour by the awesome Shawn Collins we visited th Center’s replica Pueblo and learned about the Ancient Peoples culture and lives. She explained that before this completed Ancient Publoan replica visitors would ask, “Why did they live in these ruins instead of a finished structure.” Although this may seem obvious to many of us, the special thing about the replica is that nobody ever gets the opportunity to see what an actual completed ancient Puebloan structure looks like, or make the mistake that they lived in it looking like it does today…in a state of ruin. All of the thousands of structures that remain in the four corners region are only preserved ruins of the past. I noticed that the windows of the short thick walled Pueblo structure were facing south and the doors were roughly 4 ½ feet tall. The attached rooms that were used for living, weaving, sleeping and grinding corn were cool inside even on a mild day. I imagine on a hot day the Puebloans would feel comfortable.

IMG_2813 IMG_2825 IMG_2826 IMG_2827 IMG_2829 IMG_2831 IMG_2834 IMG_2837 IMG_2839 IMG_2842 IMG_2849 IMG_2852

A few days later mom and dad took us to a National Park called Mesa Verde. Mesa Verde is the most intact and largest ancient Puebloan group of villages and they put their villages in cliffs. We walked down a paved trail to the bottom of a canyon to where the most intact cliff dwellings were located. You could walk right up to the walls, you could see the living areas. You could go into this hole in the ground called a Kiva by a wooden ladder into a round room with log ceilings. On the way out we saw this maze that was not a cliff dwelling. It turned out it was another shrine to some god but people lived in it. From a distance we could see many more cliff dwellings. The biggest one could fit 150 people. Another interesting thing is that back when the Ancient Peubloans lived here over 30,000 people lived in the 4 corners regions where nowadays only 25,000 people live in this region.

IMG_2918 IMG_2919 IMG_2921 IMG_2943 IMG_2946 IMG_2948 IMG_2949 IMG_2951 IMG_2954 IMG_2956 IMG_2958 IMG_2960IMG_2924

It is a good thing to note that even though we have all of these modern building more and more people are using older and more traditional ways of building that have obviously worked well for thousands of years, like straw bale because the materials are healthier and better for the environment.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this unabridged version of Natural Building by Jacob S. Anderson narrated by you, the reader, and brought to you by 5andaRoofRack.com Thank you.

Categories: Adventure, adventure travel, Ancient Pueblos, Camping, Crow Canyon Archealogical Center, Durango, family, Family camping, Homeschooling, Mesa Verde, Natural Building, Strawbale construction | 6 Comments

EE’s Canyoneering Adventure

Driving from Sedona to Flagstaff is a treat. The road that leads directly up the mountain is one of the classics of the Arizona Highways. The climb takes you up, up, up for three thousand feet until finally it stops winding and you’re driving amidst Ponderosa Pine forests to Flagstaff. Through the trees you see the views – The San Francisco Peaks, the highest point in Arizona stand 12,600 feet tall just above and to the north of town making a pretty backdrop to the area.

We arrived at the home of my old Prescott College roommate, Scott and his wife Lindsay in Flagstaff and the mood was festive. When I saw Lindsay I knew she was pregnant but I didn’t want to say anything. They shared the news and the time to celebrate was on – they were going to have a baby! We soaked up our friends for a bit but things were different. In the past Scott would have played hooky from work to go climbing or exploring but not this time. Nesting was their game so we enjoyed small adventures to some of the fun rock climbing venues, shared some great meals and moved on to the north – Grand Canyon bound. Both Michelle and I have been to the canyon before so it was with excitement that we showed it to the kids. Through their eyes the canyon was new and full of wonder.

Elias tells us about his experience in the Grand Canyon below…

Dad, Jacob and I started our adventure hiking down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at Indian Gardens, refilled our water and cut off the trail to another trail that went around the hill. We traveled down a wash and had lunch and put on our harnesses. We then started down a canyon mouth that was shaped like the pouring part of a water pitcher. Daddy set up an anchor (which we had to leave with 2 carabineers) and we began our first big rappel. I went first and then Jacob went. We descended down in front of this huge cave and so we weren’t touching anything just lowering into open space for almost 200 feet. Finally we got to the lip of the rock and pushed off and swung way out and rappelled some more to get to the bottom. I jumped so I didn’t land in a bush. It felt really awesome to go down into the canyon. It felt like I was flying! Everything was before me like I was in the middle of a 3D movie.

Daddy came down and while he was packing up the ropes Jacob and I went down canyon. Suddenly there was a big drop. I stayed near the stream while Jacob checked it out and then we followed a small route that went to the bottom of the drop where there was a small pool of water with tiny tadpoles and water bugs. We kept going down canyon and there was another drop with a little waterfall. I tried to un-dam part of the stream and when I picked up a rock it jumped out of my hand! I shouted in surprise and Jacob came over to see what the ruckus was about. We checked out the critter and it was a toad the color of dark pine needles. It had pimply things all over its body. Initially it was squished between two rocks and I thought it was a slim rock but really it was about the size of my fist.

Daddy got back so we went up and over the water fall. Then there was a beach on the right side and a bit later a slot canyon that seemed to go all the way down. The right side of the canyon was kind of rocky lifting up on a slant so we walked until there were little sand and rock islands in the shallow water. Then we jumped onto land and walked for about ½ mile until there was a sheer drop with a waterfall going down it. I heard Jacob say, “come here come here” and daddy and I ran over and there were five Big Horn Sheep climbing up the cliff. They were tan with two babies, one with little stub horns and the other without any horns. It looked like the mama didn’t have horns but her ears looked like small horns. The other adults had curly horns. We kept going talking about the sheep when we saw rocks falling and five more sheep climbing up another cliff wall with no problem. Once in a while we heard “braaaaa” or “crash” or rock falls, but I felt safe because they were way up there.

We kept walking down the canyon for another while when we stopped and daddy said “here it is”. The canyon all the sudden became like stairs going down towards the canyon floor. I started to unblock the little dam of rocks that slowed down the water heading down the falls while daddy set up the anchor of rope and locker carabineers. Then Jacob started to go down and he said ”Elias, your making the water flow faster”! (It flowed right next to you as you descended the canyon.) Then he called up to tell us that there was another big anchor down there. Then he said “ok, off rappel” as he was at the bottom. I started next and I got down past the first stair and there was a big pond of water because I made it flow so fast. I started going down the second stair and there was a waterfall going right in front of me below my shoes. I asked Jacob how to continue so I didn’t get wet and he told me that I was going to get wet anyway so just do it. I started going and he said “you’re going to swing to the right“ so I flicked the rope under an overhang and swung perfectly to the water beside me without getting wet. Then I jumped over the waterfall and into the pool on the bottom and dipped the front of my sneakers in but the water didn’t harm them. Daddy rappelled down, changed into shorts and we walked further down canyon. In about 20 steps there were big rocks as big as a couch. When I got to the bottom I saw the falling water that turned into a stream and disappeared under a rock. I tried to dam up the stream with dirt and rocks so it would go the other way but the water was really strong and it just busted through the dirt and went around the rocks. We went on a little bit and the stream was back. Here we discovered this seaweed stuff that looked like a splattered out brain but when you picked it up it felt like a carpet and it came up in big sheets. We couldn’t rip it and it seemed water resistant totally dry on the inside.

We made our all the way down and hiked for a ways and finally got to the trail on the bottom o f the canyon. After two exhausting hours hiking back up the canyon, daddy and I looked and there was a purple throated, green faced, blue/grey hummingbird chasing a bee around a blooming yucca stalk. They both wanted the nectar. The hummingbird knew that the bee could sting it and the bee knew that the bird could eat it so they chased each other at a fair distance. Finally both of them settled down on flowers equally distant from each other to drink.

Up the trail, I spotted a tree that I remembered at Indian Gardens right where we filled up water on the way down and rested. We continued up, up, up the trail and finally got to the first tunnel which made its way a short distance through the Grand Canyon rock and spotted a lizard about as long as my forearm with a purple head, white belly and legs and blue, green, red and orange back. I knew we were very close. We got to the second tunnel and a guy asked daddy how far the canyon floor was. Daddy said it would probably take him about 10 hours to hike there and back. We then finished the hike and met Mommy and Ila on the Canyon Rim.

What a trip, we went down the Bright Angel trail, down through Indian Gardens to Pipe Canyon, up the Grand Canyon trail again to Indian Gardens and back up the Bright Angel trail. Our 15 mile adventure was over!

GC 4 GC 6 GC 5 GC 7 GC 11 GC 12 GC 8 GC 13 GC 14 GC 15

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Bright Angel Trail, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Grand Canyon, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rappelling | 3 Comments

Sedona

Over 250 million years ago the world experienced it’s largest mass extinction. Over 70% of all land species on earth, became extinct. The reason for this event has become clear and concise. Our world’s land masses slammed together into what is known as our ancestral supercontinent named Pangea. The air was rendered poisonous and the land became so vast and arid lacking water and food to sustain life. At this point in time the Appalachians were higher than the present day Himalayas and the winds were much stronger and more sustained than they are anywhere today. Actually the land was so dry and winds so fierce that sediment blew from the Appalachians all the way to an area that occupies to this day Southern Utah, Southwest Colorado, Northern Arizona and North West New Mexico. This sandy sediment mounted up into sky scraper high sand dunes that looked much like today’s Sahara. But this is not where the story starts. The a fore mentioned Dunes lay on top of a series of sediments that occurred before the land became this extreme. To the East of this four state region there was a series of mountains that are now referred to as the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. During times of wetter climate conditions, large deluges of precipitation plundered the ancestral Rockies spilling from it blood red sediment that fanned out into the landscape west of the mountains. Also sewn into this story are a series of low lying seas which ebbed and flowed  into the historical land layer cake.  This epic tale happened not once but multiple times stacking layer upon layer of variations in rock: sand stone, shale, limestone, more stand stone, lime stone, sand stone, more shale, leaving visible to the naked eye different versions of the landscape.  The story of history of this region disappeared deeper and deeper underground giving the impression it would be gone forever.

After almost 200 million years of this North America was now separated from the rest of the super continent and something completely different started to happen.  As North America drifted westward the ocean floor of the ancient Pacific became over run and pushed under North America.  The Ocean floor, or plate, was pushed under North American at an unusually low angle.  This caused mountains to rise as much as 1,000 miles to the east.  The huge swath of land from our story that occupies significant parts of present day Utah Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico received an enormous amount of pressure from below ground to rise like the Rocky mountains to the east.  Some areas did succumb to this tension and a high mountain was pushed up here or there, land cracked, land folded but the majority of this land did not fold, for the most part it stayed together and was uplifted to one cohesive high country which is now called the Colorado Plateau.  Now that this land was elevated with the high Rocky Mountains to the east and the North it was ready to be carved by one last awesome force of Nature:  H2O

Today, if you stand at the southern edge of this geologic province you would be looking down a fortress of several thousand foot sandstone and limestone walls that stretch across the entire state of Arizona. These walls reach their climax smack in the middle of the state. Standing here looking down you feel that you are at the edge of the world peering into an alternate reality or dimension, down into the land that has given birth to the New Age, the age of AQUARIUS.

When the moon is in the seventh house
And Jupiter aligns with the Mars
The peace will guide the planets
And love will steer the stars

This is the dawning of the age of Aquarius
The age of Aquarius
Aquarius, Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystals revelations
And the minds true liberation

Aquarius
Aquarius

Sedona has become and still is our worldwide capital for communing with the Metaphysical universe. Bits and pieces of spiritual disciplines and religious practices such as Hinduism, Suffism, Yoga and Native American ceremony since as early as the 1950s have slowly been stirred into this small community, allowing it to become a harbor for what is most commonly known as this New Age Spirituality. Along with it came the psychics, the fortune tellers, crystals and the pictures of Auras and a general obsession with the color purple…… By 1980 a self proclaimed psychic with a following named Page Bryant announced that there were sources of positive, negative or neutrally charged energy conveniently spread throughout the Red Rock country of Sedona within close proximity to the road. These were the vortexes or vortices. Belief as well as inspiration from these Vortexes has spread since Page made the designation and today Sedona, a town of just over 10,000 year round residents receives towards 4 million tourists a year. A study conducted by NAU (Northern Arizona University) found that close to 70% of these visitors are here for the vortexes, or “healing properties” of Sedona.

I have no idea how our family would fit into this statistic. Not a believer in Page’s vortexes there is no doubt some incredible energy found in Sedona…or rather in the Red Rock Country that surrounds Sedona. In my personal experience I have found large amounts of positively charged energy on some of the spectacularly exposed climbs and summits of the dozens of steep spires that make up the Red Rock country. Most of the climbs on rock so red you sometimes feel you are climbing the flesh of the earth. To think about climbing up rocks laid down during events that occurred 300 million years ago is certainly sublime. Also need mentioning almost all of Sedona classics have the 15-25 foot high limestone “band” or layer creating an important defining feature of every climb. Deposited by a shallow sea during these ancient times, this band of very different rock always gives a climb a vortex of one sort or another. Dr. Rubo’s Wild ride is still my favorite with multiple pitches of aesthetic hand cracks, interrupted only by a very strenuous and steep lime stone section, followed by exposed pitches of face climbing on more red wine colored stone. All climbs seem to end at a classic Sedona spire summit. I want to carry a level with me at some point to the top of all the Sedona towers. I bet every one has square, level rock summits. During our stay we also had the great opportunity to climb Queen Victoria Spire right above Sedona. The Lime stone band gave us an undercut off-width crack that was a real bear. And then there was Goliath…with more great cracks, wild exposure, positive vortexes.

IMG_3493IMG_3553 IMG_3634

Walking around downtown Sedona I can’t help to feel that with the overwhelming number of tourists, candy shops, pink jeep tours, fudge shops,  souvineer traps etc. it is surely one big negatively charged vortex. It was however easy to ignore while we were there, we remained surrounded by friends and family.  Roni and Michael came to be with us while we all stayed at a beautiful hotel removed from down town. Tim joined us with a last hike before he left to Durango and Scott came down from Flagstaff to hike and show us around. Most trails take you to wild, sky high locations with views that give insight to timelessness and vastness. Surrounded by all of this natural, family and friendly goodness the thought of staying here and spending several decades past through our minds more than once. But the thought never stayed for long enough and eventually the time came to move on. From there we moved up onto the top of the Mogollon Rim to our friends Scott and Lindsay Flagstaff, Arizona.

Sedona 3 Sedona 4 Sedona 6Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 762 Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 763 Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 764 Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 767 Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 773 Joseph's phone pics 3.27.14 779

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Colorado Plateau, Pangea, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Sedona, Vortex, Vortices | Leave a comment

The Superstitions

There is a legend of an old Dutchman who on his dying bed in 1892 in Phoenix Arizona revealed that he had endless riches stored within a secret gold mine deep in the Superstition Mountains.  Since that time countless hopefuls have searched and searched throughout this impossibly rugged desert mountain range.  Many have devoted a lifetime to this confusing landscape searching for the gold, emptying life savings, life dreams year after year hopeful and then hopelessly being alluded by the legend.  People have murdered, people have died and people continue to look for it and it has never been found.  This lost Dutchman’s mine is only one and perhaps the most popular tale spun as a result of these mountains.  There are also stories of shape shifting natives, haunting ghosts and even extra terrestrial activity within these hills.  It’s all, in my opinion, inspired by the landscape.  This is a place where the imaginative part of ones mind is deeply stimulated.  Every corner that you peak around you are rewarded with another unlikely landscape that pulls your curiosity in for an adventure.   That’s why we came here, the climbing, hiking, canyoneering, the fun and the adventure.

This mountain range became possible when 20 Million years ago a giant caldera that occupied a good portion of central Arizona blew its lid spewing volcanic debris causing an epic heated mud flow and ash deposit that occupied a region 80 miles in diameter.  Over time the forces of nature, wind and water, have chiseled away at this country carving a confusing landscape of deep canyons, large mountain walls, crooked spires and mazes of jumbled rocky variations on landscapes.   We began our journey here at Lost Dutchman State Park on the very North Western edge of the mountain range where the flat populated plains of central Arizona meet an abrupt mountain wall.

Apache Junction, one of the nations larger retirement meccas and the most eastern suburb of Phoenix was literally minutes away from our camp.  As much of a paradox as these two places are it actually made things quite easy for us as home schooling and office facilities were accessible at the Apache Junction Library.  We could have stayed forever.  Except eventually the water would surely run out.  Almost all of the original water sources for this region are mostly dried up.  The Salt and the Gila rivers rarely run anymore except for much higher in the mountain where they are stored in reservoirs.  Most of the water that hydrates this area comes from the Colorado River.  It comes from hundreds of miles away, evaporating in the hot and dry desert air in a series of canals called the Central Arizona Project.

Every evening here at our camp the big mountain walls and spires above us dominate and turn blood red with the sun set.  These wildly exposed spires have earned names such as Vertigo Spire, The Tower, Los Banditos, and the Hobgoblin Spires.  Jacob, Elias and I got our start with The Praying Hands.  This 200 foot high spire put Jacob over the edge so to speak of his tolerance for heights.  I think at some point he was thinking that he’d get to a ledge of some sort or there would be some kind of break but the exposure was always there.

Two days later we climbed one of the Hob Goblin Spires.  Spiderwalk, this time a 600 foot climb with unrelenting exposure.  I was quite proud of Jacob and Elias on that one.  That was by far the biggest thing they’d ever climbed.

     IMG_2225 IMG_2231 IMG_2233IMG_2313 IMG_2302

 Fish Creek is at the bottom of a large and abrupt canyon that defines the northern boarder of the Superstitions.  Jacob, Elias and I explored a few of the technical canyons that empty into Fish creek.  Some had fun caves you had to crawl through and rappel through.  One of them had 500 foot cliff that needed to be rappelled.

IMG_2390 IMG_2397  IMG_2401 IMG_2405IMG_2464 IMG_2466 IMG_2467 IMG_2468

After a week we took a four day break from the Superstitions and moved camp to the McDowell mountains.  This is a beautiful desert Mountain range sandwiched between two affluent suburbs of Phoenix.  The craggy 1.4 billion year old granite mountain range was fun to explore and rock climb in but what was most memorable was the Suburban town of Fountain Hills.  This place could be the closest thing I have ever seen to a real live Truman Show.  The center of the town is marked by a large rolling green park that wraps around a big lake with THE FOUNTAIN in the middle of the lake.  Every hour on the hour it shoots a spray of water several hundred feet into the air, visible from the top of the Hobgoblin spire, an hour drive away.

IMG_2376 IMG_2378

Now back to the subject of the lost Dutchman and treasure hunters in general, geologists say that there is no natural gold deposit anywhere in the area.  The only riches found in the form of precious metal are 7,000 feet below and underneath the eastern part of the range in an older granitic rock layer.  Just outside of Superior Arizona in the eastern Superstitions lies the last and largest vein of copper ore remaining in the United States.  This copper deposit is worth billions and is quickly and efficiently being mined by Resolution Copper.   As an assortment of fascinating characters faithfully apply their heart and soul to finding the Lost Dutchman’s mine, Resolution rakes in profits worth billions with the real treasure.

Queen Creek, one of the finest, most extensive winter sport climbing venues in the country is located right there above all that copper.  When mining operations were proposed over a decade ago the climbers and the Resolution Copper mine squabbled at first over whether this precious rock climbing venue would stay open or not, but eventually the climbers proved to be organized while Resolution Copper stayed faithful to their namesake when realizing how important the climbing access is to so many people.  Almost all of Queen Creek rock climbing venues are safely and legally accessible adjacent to the mine.

We stayed at Queen Creek for four days climbing on the countless bizarre formations.  Every day was met with warm blue skies and a playground of pocketed volcanic rock.  We were delighted to curiously work our way around this extraterrestrial landscape exercising our fingers, toes and nerves, the first bolt was always quite far off the ground.  Everyone climbed here, even Ila and for some reason we saw almost nobody else.

IMG_2116   IMG_2126  IMG_2144 IMG_2145  IMG_2150 IMG_2157 IMG_2162

From Queen Creek we moved to the Southern end of the Superstitions a region that has invoked yet other controversies in the world of rock climbing: The ban on bolting in Wilderness Areas.  This has been a nationwide debate on whether the placement of protective bolts on rock climbs should be allowed to any sort of degree in legally designated Wilderness areas.  It started in this region of the Southern Superstition Wilderness 30 years ago when a remote hiker stumbled upon a solo climber blasting music from his ghetto blaster* while setting bolts.  The hiker complained to the powers that be and since that time the dilemma has escalated to engulf the entire country.  Should the use of protective bolts be legal in Wilderness areas?  And if so to what degree?  Logic and emotions have been slowly searching for common ground throughout the United States for over 30 years now.  Just last year the Department of the Interior released a final statement allowing the use of bolts with prior authorization.  Although resolution is leaning towards common sense, the debate rages on.  The rules are open to wide interpretation and some park management plans remain anti bolting at any cost.  Fringe environmental groups have threatened to sue making their view clear that climbing “is not a reasonable activity.”  Where and if the debate will ever end I do not know but it started here.

We hiked into yet another completely new landscape of craggy labyrinths of rock spires and walls.  A playground, yes, but on a much larger scale than Queen Creek.  Tolkien’s Mordor is what came to mind as we climbed steep switchbacks and unlikely ridge lines working our way to the Bark Canyon Wall a sweeping wilderness buttress deep in the heart of Superstitions.  This was the coolest part of the mountain range giving us yet another big athletic adventure.  The climb followed interesting and varied cracks up the 300 foot wall.  Although the climb was mostly devoid of bolts the descent from the top was made possible due to a two bolted rappel anchor……only visible to climbers and birds.

IMG_2629 IMG_2636 IMG_2638 IMG_2645

This place has absorbed our attention, our imagination and has become our home for a total of almost four weeks.  As we were winding down our time here our friends Amy, Soleina and Auriah came to visit from rainy Bellingham here at the Lost Dutchman state Park.  It was only three days but is was a sweet three days of playing, imagination, storytelling over campfires, hiking, ice-cream and sweet memories of Bellingham. Ila woke up for days after asking for “the girls”. What a treat to give our friends a glimpse of our life on our year of adventure.

*Ghetto Blaster:  A large, portable, radio cassette player, from the 1980s. It is played especially outdoors, in public places at loud volume.

IMG_2689 IMG_2692 IMG_2705

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Homeschooling, Lost Dutchman State Park, Queen Creek, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Superstition Mountains, The Lost Dutchman | 1 Comment

Blog at WordPress.com.