Sunday, October 15, 2017

A Brief Jaunt to the Desert

This post is a bit different from most because although the scenery of the San Juan islands sure is lovely, I do still manage to get away once in a while and this one is about a serious change of scenery: the desert southwest.  My friend Sam, who I've known since sophomore year of high school was going to get married in the summer and for his bachelor party a bunch of us friends were going to hike in the desert and then hit Las Vegas.  It had been quite a while since I'd had any real time away from home in a while and I was excited to go to a part of the country I've explored numerous times, but always find myself wanting to return to.  In order to get there however there is a bit more of life at home, then a short plane ride to another world.

Wedging trees over on a steep hillside on Orcas.  This was a fun project because by taking out some of the 'boring' trees we were able to expose a few big old firs with some awesome twisted branches, as well as the water beyond.

A centipede mom and it's babies I came across while moving some rotten wood. 

Exciting news for the Shaw Fire Department, we got a new truck.  Well, new to us at least.  It is a retired truck from the DNR and while we need to put a bit of work into it before it enters service, it is a much smaller and more maneuverable truck than any of our full size engines and will be able to get in places they would be unable to reach.

My current saw collection. Got a few more on the wish list...

We don't go to Orcas for fun very often but on this Saturday we did and grabbed a bit at the farmers market in town.

Marijke feeding the chipper as we worked together removing a group of half rotten trees.  I need to put a fresh set of knives on the chipper, but overall I am extremely happy with my purchase. 

As part of that same project we took down a big fir that was leaning over one of the old airplane hangers by putting a rope in it up high and pulling it over with the truck as I cut.

It was finally time for the change of scenery I talked about, and I headed south to Seattle where I met my friends early in the morning and headed to the airport.

We totally misjudged how long everything was going to take us and almost missed our flight, but as we ran through the terminal, reaching the gate expecting the worst we found the plane was actually delayed. Hurry up and wait I guess. 

It's nice to sit with old friends on a plane instead of total strangers.  I don't get to do that very often.

We arrived in Vegas and picked up our rental van, a new Ford Transit 15 seater.  It fit the whole crew and our bags and worked out perfectly.  You may recall I drive a Ford van, an Econoline that is 20 years older than this, and let me tell you they have made some serious improvements...

As soon as we had everyone and loaded up the van we hit the road, stopping for supplies and lunch.   We were headed for Coyote Gulch which is almost 7 hours away in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. 

Stopping for some delicious pizza in the town of Escalante as we neared out camp for the night.

That first night we turned off the paved road onto a decent dirt road, and found a big open space to set our tents a few miles from the trail head.  Sunrise on the surrounding hills the next morning was beautiful, but only a taste of what was to come.

The whole group at the trail head. All of us have been friends since high school at least, meaning a good 15 years together.

After walking down a sandy trail with some low brush, we quickly found ourselves walking on solid waves of stone.

I'd intentionally done zero research on where we were actually going, I guess I wanted it to be a surprise.  It is hard to make out what it actually there, but those dark, roughly horizontal spots are the top edge of what we were headed.

The hike in was only a few miles, but in the Utah heat it was still a bit of effort.  Before we knew it, we were right above the gulch and would be down soon.  That said, there is still no real sense of what you are about to enter, especially when you look out in every direction and see nothing but bare rock.

Besides starting at the ends of the gulch, there is only one way in and here it is.  We scrambled down the rock one at a time and while it required quite a bit of care, we all did just fine.

As soon as you reach the bottom of the rock, in front of you is basically a stream oasis.  Inside this narrow cut in the solid stone landscape it is cool, green and truly another world.

Once we were all down and together, we headed up the gulch, walking in the shallow, cool stream running down the middle and finding ourselves at the base of these sweeping, overhanging bends in the river course, hundreds of feet high.  I was honestly blown away, the whole place was so dramatic, the scale was just huge and the shapes seemed Dali-esque.

My camera doesn't have a wide angle lense which would have helped capture some of the scenery, but I think it's one of those places that is just impossible to capture.  No photo can share the sense of being under one of these overhanging bends, standing in a cool stream, in this cut in the earth in the middle of the desert and with the red and yellow stone all around you.

For a campsite we got one of the prime spots in the gulch, right under the Jacob Hamblin Arch, one of the most impressive stone features I've ever seen. 

I don't usually do this, but because I couldn't capture it in a way that gave it the slightest bit of justice, I'm going to share a photo from someone else that does a better job: Photo by Jack Brauer

That sandy patch with the little trees, that was where we would spend the next two nights. Simply amazing...

After making camp, we wandered along the valley, walking barefoot through the stream and marveling at this incredible place.

My tent, our crew, and what is probably in the top 5 places I've ever camped.

Relaxing in the stream. 

Cooking dinner in the evening, still perfect t-shirt and shorts weather. 

Waking up with the sun coming through the arch. As I turned and looked the other way between the walls of the canyon, I could still see the moon, still in the sky.

Scrambling up the loose stone under the arch.  A little sketchy to be honest.

We were going to be spending a second night in the canyon, so today was all about exploring.  Everyone packed up some food, water and we headed down stream, wading in the water barefoot mostly. 

Sam (the one getting married) taking a little dunk.

Around every bend was more incredible features.

We were hoping to get all the way to the Escalante River, but it was fairly slow going and we ran out of time.  This was the spot where we turned around.

A celebratory beer back in camp. (yes, we carried a 30-pack across the desert and into the canyon. and yes, we packed everything back out!)

Night two.

The way back out was hot and somewhat slow going.

Just like on the way in, we stopped at Escalante Outfitters for some grub.

With food in our bellies, we drove back south and all the way to Las Vegas, where we stayed at the Hooters Hotel. It was close and cheap.  And yah, it felt cheap.... 

On the strip.  To be honest, Vegas is about my least favorite place to be.  It looks interesting for a night or two, and is a good place to catch a show, but other than that, nothing about it appeals to me.  Then again, I live in the woods on a tiny island, soooo.... I'm probably not the target audience.

I think this may be the only time I've ever 'gambled'.  I put a dollar into the penny slot. At first I bet a penny, but it was going to slow and I was bored, so I bet 10c at a time (when is the last time you did anything for just ten cents?) and got up 43 cents, wow!  Then I got bored again, and hit the 10 cent bet rapidly until I lost "all" my money.  Thus started and ended my gambling career.

We actually had two nights in Vegas, they kind of blend together.

With a group as large as ours, it would up being cheaper to take a limo than rent taxis. 

Vegas is quite a scene.

An acquaintance had a fancy hotel overlooking the strip and we stopped in for a drink.

The view from the balcony. Eventually, it was time to return to our room and call it a night.

The next morning most of us were just ready to get out of Vegas, and rather than try and find something to do around the hotel or the strip, we just headed to the airport early.  The flight home was very welcoming, because we had clear views of Mt Rainier and the other things that make our part of the world special, and what makes me feel at home.  The desert is nice, and I will certainly be back for more of that (I'll probably skip Vegas), but snow covered volcanoes, this is where I want to live.