Over the weekend J-Mo and I spent an hour or two wandering around the grounds of the Utah State Capitol building. Now, under normal circumstances it is impressive in a white granite, Greek column kind of way. We had a lot of our wedding photos taken there. But for a week or two in the spring the building itself recedes behind branches of cherry blossoms that vary in shade from creamy white to glowing pink. The Capitol is surrounded by a double row of flowering cherry trees and wandering through the tunnel of delicate blossoms is one of my favorite ways to usher in the spring. (It snowed on them the next day and probably knocked most of the petals to the ground, but hey, that’s a Rocky Mountain spring for you.) Click on any photo for a larger size.
This is not quite the same scope as the blossoms in Japan or Washington, D.C., but they make me all swoony anyway.
I’m hoping next year I can catch the blossoms when the sky is a beautiful bright blue. I mean, pale pink and pale gray are lovely, but I would love to see these dainty blossoms against a cerulean sky, you know?
As I glanced through the photos I took last year and the year before I can easily see how my skills as a photographer have improved (and also, how the trees have grown). Now, I am in now way Photoshop savvy. Basically the only processing I do to any photos is a crop here or there, rotating a smidge so buildings don’t appear crooked, and maybe a little contrast adjustment. I have never bothered to learn all the amazing things Photoshop can offer, I don’t even know how to magically erase a zit from my face! Luckily, flowers don’t have pimples and the classes I took in photography have really paid off. I love how these shots turned out.
One day I will see the cherry blossoms in Japan or DC, but for now I am completely content with the gorgeousness that is close to home.
(Also? Sometimes I just have to use fancy words like “ephemeral” in a post title because, well, I can.)
Filed under: National Parks, Photography, There and Back Again, Utah: Life Elevated
There are several routes between Salt Lake City and Phoenix, the most direct is to go straight south through Kanab and Jacob’s Lake which will take you past the Navajo Bridge and the Vermillion Cliffs, it’s quite stunning. You then start to climb the plateau of the Grand Canyon, heading towards Flagstaff. It’s all pine trees and Native American road side craft kiosks. I actually quite like this route, but during the winter there are just too many mountain passes that can be slick, snowy, and rather scary for the bulk of the year.
Alternately, by driving from Salt Lake thru Las Vegas and then heading south-east to Phoenix you add about 30 minutes to the trip but avoid the bulk of the dangerous mountain passes. Also, if you’re an architectural nerd like me, you have the chance to stop and oogle the Hoover Dam. As soon as you get past Lake Mead, however, you enter the 2-lane highway that stretches to Wickenburg, AZ and time slows down in ways Sheldon Cooper may not be able to explain. There’s something about driving through an infinity of grayish-yellow desert sand sprinkled with grayish sage brush that messes with the space-time continuum, minutes feel like hours, hours like days, the tiny towns consisting of 6 or 7 dilapidated buildings don’t do much to break up the monotony. It feels like those last few hours take an eternity and then all of a sudden–BAM!–you’re in the Valley of the Sun.
Last weekend as J-Mo and I were driving back from a weekend in Phoenix for the booksale we decided to take a third route, one I had never been on before. From Phoenix we headed north toward the Grand Canyon and then turned north-east on Highway 163 heading towards Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.
Coming from Kayenta, AZ towards the entrance road to Monument Valley; the park straddles the Utah-Arizona border.
Once upon a time, a very long time ago, the area that is now Monument Valley was one large plateau. The wind and water has broken down everything but a few straggling buttes of deep red sandstone with sporadic pinnacles reaching towards the turquoise blue sky.
The view from the patio of the visitor’s center. Stunning, right? I’m pretty sure I squealed when these buttes came into view. The one of the far left is called “west mitten” and the one in the middle is “east mitten” (see how that pinnacle thing looks like the thumb…of a mitten?) and they are absolutely gorgeous. I am not sure why I always am surprised at the beauty of red rock country, a vista like this will always take my breath away.
We didn’t have a full day to go hiking around the park, but we did decide to bump and jostle down the dirt road, a 17 mile scenic drive around the main area of the valley. Monument Valley is on Navajo tribal lands and there are many of the native people who still live and worship in those places, several areas are closed to anyone who is not Navajo, and some are closed to those who are not the holy Navajo. I don’t think I’m explaining this very well, but I want to convey that this is a sacred place to the Navajo and one must respect the people and the place.
J-Mo and I didn’t make the entire 17 mile loop, but we did drive around for long enough for me to get my red rock fix and fill up my memory card.
As we were leaving Monument Valley and heading north towards Moab I kept looking over my shoulder so as not to miss the famous shot of Monument Valley, the one with a road stretching across the desert towards the spires and mesas of the valley.
(As a side note, if you want to actually capture this iconic photo you’ll have to stand (or lay) in the middle of a highway where most vehicles hurl past you at 80 mph. It’s probably wise to have someone checking traffic while you’re fiddling with your camera settings. Just sayin.)
More photos in my Flickr set.
Filed under: Utah: Life Elevated
Have you ever wanted to visit Salt Lake City but needed some recommendations? Well, you’ve come to the right place. (Also? It’s January and the photo above does not at all reflect what is going on outside right now. My hike to my car this morning included fresh snow up to my knees.)
Perhaps you’re a movie, excuse me, film buff and want to get your celebrity gawking on the Sundance Film Festival.
Are you super outdoorsy? Perhaps you should check out the Outdoor Retailer Convention (summer or winter), or take advantage of “the greatest snow on earth” and hit up one of our multiple ski resorts; or perhaps you want to explore some of Utah’s Red Rock Country. Did you know that Utah is home to some of the best rock climbing in the world? Have you ever wanted to take a run down an Olympic bobsled track? You can do that here. Did you know that we have 13 National Parks and more than two dozen other historic and national landmarks?
Or maybe you are a Shakespeare fan and want to see the Bard’s work performed at a Tony Award-winning festival by professional Shakespearean actors in a replica of the Globe Theatre.
Maybe you want to attend the largest Holi Festival of Colors in the Western Hemisphere. You can do that here.
Maybe you’re curious about the Mormons. Their headquarters are in Salt Lake and many buildings are open to the public with free tours giving information about the history of the church, the history of the pioneers in Utah, and the efforts of the modern church. Have you ever wanted to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person? You can do that, for free, twice a week. Are you getting into the new national pastime of genealogy? Did you know that Salt Lake City is home to The Family History Library, the largest of it’s kind in the world, and completely free to the public.
I have always loved showing people around Salt Lake City as some of you can attest. Founded in 1847 it is not a particularly new city, nor is it a particularly old city. I have lived in the downtown area for 11 years now (!!) and have a few tips and suggestions for making your trip excellent, I even listed everything on it’s own page for your convenience.
I should point out that all of the links on this page are my personal opinion only. No one is paying me to promote my hometown or my state (although if you are from the Utah Tourism Board and would like to partner with me you should email me at heidikinsblog[at]gmail[dot]com.)
I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments of your favorites, or of anything I’ve missed!
Have you seen the pictures of the very fancy pop-up dinner parties in Paris or New York? A bunch of strangers get a mysterious email telling them to show up at a specific place for dinner. You bring your tables and chairs, you bring your dishes, you bring fancy linens, you make sure everything is white, you WEAR all white, and you have a fancy high-brow dinner at sunset with all your equally fancy friends.
The location was a small island in the middle of a lovely lake at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City.
Thank you to HRH (left) for telling me about the event in the first place, and to Jennica for her lovely company. I love that HRH is my oldest friend, and Jennica seems to pop into my life in all of the most wonderful ways for the last fifteen years.
My beautiful date, Miss Amy. She took care of all the food for the night and we had a pretty amazing spread.
(If you are going to a Dinner in White, I highly recommend a big plate of grapes to snack on until everything gets up and rolling.)
Everyone brings table decorations, and fancy dishes, and the whole thing was just kind of magical.
And then there was a guy twirling around flaming batons.
And fireworks (okay, sparklers, whatever). All in all, it was a fantastic night with a handful of girlfriends and an island full of strangers. For more info, click here.
Filed under: AwesomeSauce, Climbing Mountains, J-Mo, Photography, Utah: Life Elevated
3:50 am on a Saturday. Obnoxiously loud rooster-sound alarm clock. I unconsciously hit the snooze button.
4:00 am. Repeat.
4:10 am. I grumble, curse the damn cock, and roll out of bed.
J-Mo and I finish our remaining packing and head south, the lights of the freeway like a winding, yellow and red snake, winking through the velvety blackness. By 5:45 am we have parked, donned our jackets and gear, and are heading towards the trail head. The goal for today is to hike to the summit of Mount Timpanogos; the secondary goal is to still be able to hike back down without serious injury, dehydration, or death.
Mt. Timpanogos–Timp for short–is the dominating peak for much of the county where I grew up and hiking to the summit is a sort of rite of passage I somehow missed. For the last three years hiking Timp has been on my list of resolutions, and I was determined to make the trip this summer. The Timpanooke trail is a rough one at over 15 miles round trip with an elevation gain of thousands of feet up to the 11,749 summit. (You can also take the Aspen Grove trail from Provo Canyon, which is slightly longer, although I’ve heard not as steep.)
We were on the trail by 6:00 am, which starts from the top of the Timpanooke camp ground (Timp-uh-NU-kee). We hiked for about an hour before it was light enough to turn off my headlamp. In another few minutes the sun started to turn the eastern horizon a dusky apricot-pink which faded to lavender while the mountains remained dark, quiet and invisible.
It was upon taking this photo that I realized my camera battery was low, I decided to limit my photography on the ascent to ensure a photo at the summit and use up the rest of my battery on the hike back down. I also tried to commit to memory a thousand details about the trek for my own, personal use, and to be able to churn out a halfway decent blog post.
J-Mo and I continued along in the morning dusk, our backs to the warming sky. Just after sunrise we passed a pair of Moose snoozing in a cool, leafy spot; one had enormous antlers, and neither seemed at all interested in passing groups of hikers, although the Boy Scouts stopped to snap pics with their iPods and iPhones, thankfully falling far enough behind that we no longer had to listen to their blaring, teeny-bopper music. At about 8:00 we stopped for breakfast and learned from a seasoned trail veteran that we were more than half-way to the top. He said that “just around the corner” was the meadow where you could see the saddle and the summit. This is a view I knew well, although not from experience. The meadow on the east side of Timpanogos is one of the more oft photographed spots in the state. The combination of a sheer, rocky peak with glacier fields and an enormous flat(ish) field of wildflowers is a calendar photographer’s dream. “Just around the corner” really means “another 45 minutes an ugly set of switchbacks over loose shale,” but hey, at least there was a decent view.
Those granite-topped peaks in the background are My Mountains and seeing them sun-kissed in the dawn is enough to take my breath away. To me, real mountains will always look like these, soaring peaks topped in a combination of white granite and unmelted snow and skirted in deep green. (You should definitely click on that photo to see the bigger version.)
By 8:30 am the first group of hikers passed us on their way back down the mountain. It is a sort of tradition to begin at midnight, hike up to the summit in the dark, and be atop Timpanogos when the sun rises. And while that sounds
completely insane lovely, hiking all night in the dark with steep switchbacks and sudden drop off’s just isn’t my cup of tea.
As we wound our way upwards we passed these gorgeous, gray-granite cliffs in square-ish formations with stripes of white and black.
We crossed a dozen streams, or rather, the same stream a dozen times as we criss-crossed up the rock.
(See all that loose rock? That was about half of the trail, mostly without the added slip-factor of running water, but still, wearing shoes with a thick, sturdy sole is of tantamount importance if you are to attempt this hike.)
Soon enough, J-Mo and I arrived at the meadow which was past it’s summer prime and well into autumn. The few people who had camped there overnight were cocooned in winter gear and sipping their morning cocoa. The wildflowers had faded a bit, the red Paintbrush was a burnt orange, the Black Eyed Susans were nothing but stalks topped with black seed pods, although the blue and purple Lupine were as bright as ever and these tiny little yellow flowers, a cross between a dandelion and a daisy–a Dandydaisy? a Daisylion?–peeked out from under the taller plants.
The meadow was beautiful, and a little disheartening. Looking up a steep wall of sharp, loose gravel topped with a thousand feet of sheer cliff is not consoling when your quads are burning and you can already feel a blister on your left foot. We kept walking, stopping only once for a few minutes to share a PBJ sandwich and guzzle some more water.
As we picked our way across the gravely rocks I realized two things. 1) The air was much thinner than I was used to and breathing was kind of a chore. 2) It was much more difficult to stop, breathe, and then start again than it was to keep walking. This conundrum lasted
forever perhaps an hour before we arrived at the narrow saddle and could finally see the other side of the peak and the sprawling cities tucked between the mountains and Utah Lake 7,000 feet below.
The sky was a bit hazy due to continued forest fires, but the view was impressive. J-Mo and I rested for a few minutes trying to psych ourselves up for the last leg of our hike. From the saddle to the summit is about an hour’s slog of treacherous loose slate, crazy-steep switchbacks and even thinner atmosphere. The Scout Leader who was trying to convince an exhausted 11-year old that the summit was “just five more minutes” is a big, fat liar. Dear Cub Scout: Good call standing (or rather, sitting) your ground. Had I been properly informed I would have probably kept you company.
Do you see what I mean!? Do you see the loose rock? And the scary, steep slope? And that tiny little trail? At the summit (directly beneath the “S” I’ve typed in the sky) is a small shack with a pointy roof that you can barely see. That was our target. And it was no five minute jaunt, more like an hour of insane switchbacks (as opposed to the previous ones that were only “hard” or “crazy”) and scrambling up the trail.
I’ve taken the opportunity to showcase my Paint skillz so you can see just how nuts this trail is. Click on that pic to make it larger. At the saddle (circle) th Timpanooke Trail meets up with the Aspen Grove trail, that red, right-pointing arrow really traces Timpanooke Trail. It’s steep, yo. And rocky. The dotted line to the left (south) of the saddle is the where the trail is hidden behind some razor-like slate that makes up the ridge and includes some of the steepest switchbacks I’ve ever seen. Honestly, looking up would make you weep and looking down would make you vomit. Keep your eyes on your shoes and keep
huffing and puffing walking. (I took this shot as J-Mo and I were heading back down, remember the part about a low camera battery? I wanted to make sure I had photographic proof of the culmination of the day.)
Eventually, after 5 hours and 15 minutes of hiking, J-Mo and I made it to the summit of Timpanogos, 11,749 feet above sea level.
The shack up top–with “Den of Iniquity” painted onto the side–is complete with log book and a thousand signatures, with the new additions of one heidikins and one J-Mo. (He is super squinty here, I think the sun is brighter at such an altitude.)
And you guys, the view!!
J-Mo and I ate lunch on the skinny, craggy ridge line, just wide enough for two people to nestle among the rocks. That man is a terrific good sport do hike up a mountain like this simply because I had a wild hair to do such a thing. I sure do love him.
After a little break and a little lunch, J-Mo and I started the long (long!) hike back down…for the record, it is not easier. I had to stop a lot more often going down to rest my aching legs, feet, and knees. Four hours and 15 minutes later we were back to the trailhead, but still over a mile from our vehicle. I will forever think fondly of the guy in the truck who picked us up and took us UP the canyon to where we had parked 10 hours earlier, and if I am ever in need of rubber hose, he’s the guy I will call (he drove a work truck for Rubber and Hose, Lehi Utah).
To Sum Up:
- Start on the trail as early as you can.
- Take a lot of water (I had 2 bladders in my Camelbak, each 1.5 liters, and came home with perhaps 0.5 liters.)
- There are not any bathrooms on the Timpanooke trail. Plan accordingly. (There are port-a-potties at Timpanooke Camp Ground, but they didn’t have toilet paper.)
- You will probably lose count of the number of switchbacks after 1,732 or so. My rough estimate is that there are about 13,248 switchbacks. Each way. It’s best you make peace with this fact before you set foot on the trail.
- Use sunscreen often and generously, and remember to slather it behind your ears (!?!) to avoid the strangest sunburn of your life.
- Prepare for weather. I wore my jacket several times due to shade, wind, altitude, or all three. (As soon as we made it back to the trail head it started to rain. I cannot imagine the misery of being up on those steep slopes during a storm. Gah!)
- Make sure your camera battery is fully charged before you leave home.
- Wear your most blister-proof socks and shoes to protect your feet from 5+ miles of walking on loose, sharp rocks.
- If at all possible, arrange (or beg) for someone to drive you from the end of the trail back to your car. Tell them you’ll be a customer for life.
Let’s talk about quads and calves for a minute, shall we? Upon reaching the top my legs were tired and I knew I’d be sore for a day or two, but after some lunch and a little rest I felt pretty good about the hike back down. Seven or eight miles later? Totally different story, climbing in and out of that heaven-sent truck was excruciating and trying to ascend the flight of stairs at my apartment building took about 10 minutes. Twenty four hours later and my calves still feel like they are stuffed with razor blades, and I have six blisters on my feet, including one in the center of each sole which makes walking…interesting. And a bit sweary. It may be pertinent to note that my day began by cursing my rooster alarm clock and ended (at 6:30 pm when I crashed into bed and slept for 12.5 hours) with more curses. It’s what lies inbetween that counts, right?
Am I glad I hauled myself up to the top of Mt. Timpanogos? Yes. Will I do it again? You should maybe ask me when I can walk without grimacing, waddling, or cursing.
The London 2012 Olympics are over which means I finally can regain control of my DVR. I don’t know about you, but 5-8 hours of recorded Olympic coverage per day means that all I do when I get home is speed through the 3-6 hours of recorded commercials and catch some NBC-approved highlights of actual sporting events. At any rate, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Olympics, partly because I am more emotionally invested in the USA Gymnastics Team than I care to admit, (Did you see the Magnificent 7 flashback segment? 1992 Atlanta Games? Keri Strugg? I watched it a half-dozen times, crying every time she nailed that last vault.) and partly because ten years ago I played my own role in the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. I was a volunteer and spent the better part of 3 weeks completely immersed in Olympic mania, decked out in official Olympic gear, with official Olympic credentials.
June 1995. Today is the day the International Olympic Committee will announce the 2002 host city. I remember rushing home from summer band rehearsal to watch the broadcast. The band kids in my neighborhood ran into HRH‘s family room, hoping we hadn’t missed it. A few minutes later the International Olympic Committee award the 2002 Winter Olympic Games to “The city of…Salt Lake City.” We went crazy.
Over the next 8 years Salt Lake City revamped their freeway system, put in the TRAX public transportation system, constructed dozens of venues for Olympic events, and made massive renovations and additions on the University of Utah campus, which was the site of both the Opening and Closing ceremonies, as well as the Athlete’s Village. (School was cancelled for over a month during the Olympic Games and dorm-dwellers were evacuated to make room for the athletes. Many students who didn’t live on campus housed these refugees for several weeks, although many also went home or on vacation, taking advantage of the time off.)
Somewhere in that span there was a massive scandal, it was discovered that members of the Olympic committee had bribed some IOC officials. There was talk of the games being cancelled, however ultimately the IOC decided a change in leadership would be the best route. Mitt Romney was appointed for the job, he walked into a failing enterprise and turned it around into the most (financially) successful Olympics to date raising more money with fewer sponsors than any other Olympic games. After the closing ceremonies the Salt Lake Olympic Committee still had $40 million in surplus funds which has been used to maintain many of the Olympic facilities, most of which are still in operation for training current athletes and entertaining tourists (would you like to take a bobsled run down the Olympic track? We can do that.) Now, regardless of how you feel about his politics, what he did in Salt Lake for the Olympics was stellar and he should be commended for that.
The Winter Olympics are held in February, what many people forget about February 2002 is that it was a mere 5 months after September 11, 2001. Again, there was talk of the games being cancelled. Romney and the Salt Lake Olympic Committee completely overhauled the security plan and called in thousands of additional volunteers to help. Those of us who were already scheduled to be volunteers attended a half-dozen additional trainings on security measures and procedures. In the end, I think, the games served their purpose. It is always a good reminder that every 2 years the world community will stand together and celebrate each other. The would will also cheer when you fall–either because it places them higher in the rankings or because they are showing good will and support, I can’t say–and in the end we are all the same family, hoping for peace and harmony across the globe.
I attended the dress rehearsal of the opening ceremonies, there were no athletes and the torch was left unlit, but everything else was in place including a flag from the World Trade Center with an honor guard comprised of members of the NYPD and NYFD. The dancing, the program, the special effects. It was breathtaking. Many of my friends were also volunteers, a friend danced in the opening ceremonies, another played the horn in the official Olympic marching band (and toured around following the torch as it made it’s way to Salt Lake), my Dad sang in the opening ceremonies and a dozen other concerts throughout the games.
I watched the Olympic torch come into Salt Lake City the first time, watched it go up to the Olympic Stadium, watched as the Wasatch Front exploded in fireworks as the 1980 “Miracle on Ice” US Hockey Team lit the Olympic cauldron. I got to experience the absolutely gridlock when every road was closed to allow President George Bush to get from the airport to the stadium without interruption to declare the 2002 games open. (They really should have parachuted him in. If the Queen of England can jump out of a helicopter, I’m sure The Prez could have managed it.)
I was a volunteer at the Olympic Medals Plaza where most medals were awarded each evening in addition to a mini concert (invited artists included Dave Mathews Band, Macy Gray, *NSYNC, Brooks and Dunn, Cheryl Crow, Bare Naked Ladies, Creed, Sting, among others.) It was the hottest ticket of the games. The place was CRAWLING with security, hundreds of hulking men who would never tell you their real name “I’m Bob” or “I’m Joe” or what agency they worked for. Of course, at age 18-19 (my birthday was mid-games), all I wanted to do was find out how important they really were, what agency they worked for, and if they would be able to introduce me to the President. Or Prince William. I literally rubbed shoulders with athletes and coaches on a nightly basis. The Polish speed racing team was especially nice to me. Brooks and Dunn gave me a T-shirt and guitar pick and one of the American bobsled medalists gave me his 2-dozen yellow rose bouquet (a moment which is immortalized on the several-hours-long Official Commemoration DVD).
On my birthday, Bare Naked Ladies performed at the medals plaza. Not only did I swing tickets into the section immediately in front of the stage, where I bumped into Steve Young, football legend, my volunteer pass allowed me to go backstage and meet the band afterwards. And I apparently I knew the right people, and those people knew that I was turning 19. The Bare Naked Ladies sang “Happy Birthday” to me backstage. My dear friend, JRod, another Olympic volunteer, was my date for the night and it was the best birthday I had ever had, or would have for another decade.
The combination of freezing temperatures throughout the games, and my required 6-8 hour evening and night outdoor shift meant the layers of official Olympic gear were a godsend. I still regularly wear my black snowpants and a fleece half-zip pullover, but the golden coat and vest were retired long ago. After the ceremonies were over, anyone who still wore their Olympic gear in public was often called a POD (Post Olympic Dork). Admittedly, I haven’t worn my golden coat since the closing ceremonies, although I think my POD-calling habit had a lot to do with my being 19 and less to do with the actual dorkiness attached to such an activity. In retrospect, I should have sold them when I could, on my last day as a volunteer someone on the street offered me $1,000 dollars for my official coat. Coulda, shoulda, woulda.
I spent a year attending various training sessions, and three weeks volunteering as many hours as I could, but this is the first time I have written about my experience during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympic Games. I tried to get on as a paid employee in both Vancouver and London, but ultimately withdrew my application for both. Watching the Olympics the last few weeks makes me wonder what experience I could have had had I kept my application(s) in and pursued the opportunity. Sochi 2014? Anyone?
Most of my words are lost, they have literally gone up in smoke.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the West is on fire. Raging wildfires in Utah and Colorado have been the subject of almost every conversation I’ve had for weeks with far too many close calls. In Utah alone there have been more than 400 fires this year, most of them small and quickly contained, but still: Four. Hundred. Fires. Including, as of yesterday, an enormous, incredibly fast-moving fire that has enveloped the mountains directly east of the town where I grew up.
That photo was taken Tuesday afternoon by my sister, PinkSuedeShoe, from the middle of the street where we lived; my Mom still lives there, her house was untouched.
“Mountainville” is no longer recognizable, the town I grew up in was a small, modest place full of “old timers” and family-owned fruit orchards. Now it is full of big cars and bigger houses and the property values are through the roof. The reason? Location, location, location. Mountainville is surrounded on three sides by mountains, the ones on the west aren’t terribly impressive (by Rocky Mountain standards), but the towering peaks to the north and east are enough to take your breath away.
In many ways, Mountainville the city is no longer “home” for reasons I won’t delve into now (or ever). I have transferred the attachments I would have had to my hometown to the surrounding mountains. The mountains are quiet, familiar and comforting. I see them as the unchanging, steady guardians of my childhood. The mountains have never become unrecognizable, they have never had an emotional freak out or any weird outbursts of suppressed crap from 20+ years ago. As a kid I would tell the mountains my secrets and believed there was a Jurassic alligator with the personality of Puff the Magic Dragon sleeping in the east who listened to everything I said and would wake up and protect me if necessary. (If you were a kid in one of about 12 houses on my street you would recognize “The Alligator” on those slopes; the trees and hills were configured just so to make a perfect alligator, head nodding to the side, jaws open, 10,000 feet high.) J-Mo always refers to those granite peaks as “Heidi’s Mountains.”
My mountains are burning, and I’m not even around to watch them die. I heard about the fire as J-Mo and I drove out of town and half-way to Montana–J-Mo’s home–all I really wanted to do was turn around and drive back. The pull I felt is the same as a need to be present when a friend is hurt, or when a relative is dying. I had each of my brothers on the phone, one in each hand, with regular calls to my sister who was at my Mom’s house in Mountainville for “eye witness” updates. With each new development–the Lambert property is destroyed, Patterson’s barn is gone, AF Canyon is closed and evacuating, the fire has swept up to the ridge, Dry Creek Canyon is up in flames–a fresh
wave ocean of tears streamed down my face. At one point, I simply put my head on my knees and sobbed an ugly cry as my heart broke. My mountains, my poor mountains.
The news reports say the damage is “minimal,” meaning no homes were lost (just a barn) even though many are now surrounded by scorched ground and their front yards look more like Mordor than a picturesque alpine vista. I see the photos and cry, because for me, the thing I care the most about has gone up in flames; flames over 120 feet high and smoke visible for hundreds of miles.
This is a time-lapse video, taken from the end of my Mom’s street, it is 2 hours of the beginning of the blaze condensed into about 22 seconds. This fire traveled incredibly fast and exploded in what many have described “like a volcano.” Those peaks are 10,000 feet high, and in less than 3 hours the fire had crested the ridge and was heading down the other side. Thousands of acres have been burned and by yesterday evening reports stated that the fire was 0% contained.
This isnt’ the first time the moutains around my hometown have burned. While I was growing up we were evacuated several times due to forest fires. I can remember sitting on my roof as a teenager and watching another summer blaze race up the peaks and devour an enormous stand of trees, one of the largest of it’s kind. I know the mountains will grow back, even though they will carry a tremendous scar for decades. Even so, my heart is breaking; my mountains, my poor, beloved mountains.
**All photos in this post were heisted from somewhere else, as noted.
***This was not started by fireworks, or an open flame, or target shooting. It was from a tiny spark caused when a back hoe struck a rock; the operator couldn’t dump dirt on the flame fast enough, and all hell broke loose. Literally. That one tiny spark caused thousands of acres of destruction. I’m sure there’s a metaphor in there somewhere, but my nerves are shot and my heart is too sad to try and define it.
A staple of summer weekends in the American West is the local rodeo (or–if you’re into bucking bronco’s, bull riding, and/or cowboys–a really big rodeo). I will admit to listening to country music (I married a country boy, okay?), but I’m not one of those people who will buy tickets to the PBR finals…even though I know that PBR stands for Professional Bull Riders. That being said, in June there is a medium-sized rodeo in a small town that I have attended every year for quite a while. The cowboys, horses, bulls and sheep (Mutton Bustin’!) are awesome to watch, but my favorite part is hanging out with a group of friends on a summer night and eating cup after cup of fresh strawberries and cream which are sold for $1.50 each. This year a large-ish group of friends and family donned western shirts and boots (J-Mo wore his cowboy hat, at my request), and joined in the rodeo and strawberry fun.
I took a heaping pile of pictures, and some of them even turned out quite nicely, although I definitely envied the Official Rodeo Photographer-guy and his enormo-lens. Maybe next year. Now, if I was really cool, I’d figure out how to take these next several sequence shots of a bronco ride and put them together in a dancing, prancing GIF file…but I’m not that savvy. You’ll have to settle for “old fashioned” pictures that don’t move. I know. Life is hard. [Edit: if you have super savvy friends, like Sov, they will gif it up for you! Check it out.]
It is so interesting to me that in the competitive sport of bronco and bull riding, no matter how good you are, more often than not you’re going to end up with a face full of dirt. The deal is to ride for 8 seconds without using two hands, and without falling off (and breaking your leg, arm, ribs, head). Eight seconds! That doesn’t seem so bad…until you see one of those pissed-off animals throwing around a strapping cowboy like he’s a rag doll, Then 8 seconds seems like an eternity. Some cowboys ride without any visible protection. I mean, they aren’t buck-nekkid or anything, but it’s just them, a pissed off bronco/bull, and a cowboy hat. Others ride with kevlar-looking vests (presumably to protect their ribs), wrist braces, helmets, and mouth guards. There was one cowboy who wore a knee brace over his wranglers. But, even with all that extra (essential!) gear, these dudes get up on a raging animal and give it their all. For up to eight seconds. And then they let go and the two rodeo wranglers distract the bronco/bull, loosen the straps, and if necessary, help the cowboy get back on solid ground before he gets smashed into a fence or some horns or whatever.
This whole idea–ride it out for 8 seconds, and then let go–has been running through my mind a lot this last week. I think I’m the kind of person who, whenever possible, will face a challenge with armor; I don’t want to take on a pissed off bull without my own brand of kevlar. That being said, it would be good for me to remember that regardless of the bull or bronco I’m faced with, it’s only going to be 8 seconds, and then it will be over. And then–and this is the important part–it’s time to let go. There will be other bulls in other rings to deal with later on, but for now, it’s time to get off the damn horse. Even if there is no wrangler here to rescue me and set me right-side-up (not that I would let him anyway), and even if I end up with a face full of dirt, and even if I’m going to get trampled; it’s time to let go.*
By the time the bull ride portion of the evening rolled around, it was too dark for me to get any good shots. But, for the rest of the photos (yes, there are more), check out my Flickr set.
*Yes, that could be interpreted as cryptic. Yes, I’m fine, thank you for asking. Smiley-face.
**No cowboys or horses were harmed in the making of this post, although if I had something dangerous and aerodynamic I would have thrown it at the damn rodeo clown; rodeo clowns are creepy. And annoying.
Filed under: National Parks, Photography, There and Back Again, Utah: Life Elevated
Over the weekend J-Mo and I headed South to sunnier weather and a whole lot of nature. I have been to the Moab area several times in the last few years, spending time in Arches National Park and several evenings at Dead Horse Point. I’m not sure why Canyonlands National Park never was on my radar, but I after visiting these last few days I am shocked and appalled that I had not made it a priority sooner. After setting up camp and making some delicious tin foil dinners, we headed into the park for some sunset viewing.
It’s basically like a smaller, less crowded, closer-to-me version of the Grand Canyon. Dozens of finger-canyons are carved out of the plateau and there are layers upon layers of sheer cliffs, buttes, and strange, majestic rock formations.
I was slack-jawed at these views. I mean, I knew Utah had some gorgeous red rock, but I had no idea we had this.
Under optimal weather conditions, Canyonlands has some of the clearest air in the mountain west, however when the wind blows pollution from Las Vegas, Phoenix, Denver and Salt Lake into the canyons it hangs over the cliffs in a dusty haze until a strong enough wind blows it back out.
The next morning we took a slight detour down a very steep and somewhat treacherous Mineral Road/Horsethief Trail. This road winds down the steep canyon walls to the Green River below. There were a lot of mountain bikers, several trucks and SUV’s, and we managed to catch the tail end of someone base jumping–with parachute–off the bluff.
J-Mo and I meandered along the river for a while, stopping to take pictures (me) and try and gauge where, exactly, we were heading (him).
Just around this curve is an unofficial entrance to Canyonlands. The thing is, it is a 100+ mile look on rough road to get to a place where you can crawl back up to the plateau. We opted to backtrack and were soon enough back on the rim of the canyon and heading towards the entrance station.
This is across the street from the Island in the Sky Visitor Center. The views are just incredible, I seriously cannot believe no one sat me down years ago and regaled me of awesome stories of Canyonlands. So, I am telling you now. GO THERE! Yes, Arches is awesome, Moab is fab, Dead Horse Point is a must-see…and Canyonlands, at a whopping 4 miles down the road from Dead Horse, should absolutely be on your list of destinations in red rock country.
Mesa Arch is one of the few arch formations in the park, it’s a quick little walk from the road and has an incredible view through it’s opening.
Gorgeous. Amazing. Breathtaking. Please, go to Canyonlands if you have the chance. You won’t regret it.
After a day of wandering around, driving around, hiking around, and generally staying in the north end of the park, we decided to head to our next camp spot in Moab. As we were leaving the park, I asked J-Mo if we could go check out Gooseneck Overlook. Looking at the map, it seemed to be somewhat opposite the view seen from Dead Horse Point. I warned him that we would need to traverse an unpaved 4-wheel-drive road. He laughed and rolled his eyes, he eats unpaved 4-wheel-drive roads for breakfast. I was perfectly trusting in his driving skillz…until we came across this:
That, my friends, is Shafer Trail Road, well, at least the top half of it. The trail-road is only about a car and a half wide with a sheer cliff stretching upwards on one side, and a sheer drop-off on the other. There is no passing, there was oncoming traffic (not much, but still), it is careful, careful business with a lot of hairpin turns, sketchy edges, and white knuckles for me for almost an hour. The road, let me show you it:
This is basically the Going-to-the-Sun road…but with red rocks instead of granite peaks and pine trees…and it’s not paved…or maintained…and only the very ballsy drivers and badass mountain bikers attempt it. You zig and zag down that very steep, sheer slab of red rock for 1,700 vertical feet. And then you still have another couple of miles before you get to Gooseneck Bend Overlook. If you can survive the zig-zags without passing out, you are in luck, because the view is absolutely worth it.
After taking another dozen (okay, hundred) photos, you need to decide if you are going to continue on the rough, rutted road to Moab, or if you are going to climb back up the plateau to the paved road back to Moab. It depends on how your nerves are doing, I guess, and how much adventure you seek.
(Yes, the Visitors Center is right up on top of that cliff. Go on, I double-dog dare you to crawl back up those switchbacks.)
For more pictures, see my Flickr set here.
Several years ago the Utah State Capitol Building and surrounding grounds were given a massive overhaul and refresher to celebrate 100 years of statehood. As part of that project the gravel walkway/running path that surrounds the Capitol and it’s surrounding buildings was lined with hundreds of flowering cherry trees. Rocky Mountain spring is tenuous at best with snow and rain storms interspersed with sunshine, bright blue skies, and t-shirt weather. Last year I missed the blossoms due to a huge windstorm that destroyed them a day or two after they exploded in fluffy pink-ish white wonder. This year J-Mo and I timed it exactly right. The day after taking these shots the combination of wind and rain left the blossoms in tatters.
Click any image to see full size version, or check out the rest of the Flickr set.