Saturday, 16 October 2010

Four corners region of USA

More rocks and really old ones at that again I'm afraid. I camped out in Moab for a few days and had a great time. As they say - Moab rocks! It seems to be the centre of the world for mountain bikers and although it's just a little town in the middle of a huge desert it's well equipped to keep a motorbiker happy for a while. I managed to find a “walk in only” campground. Which means no Rvs, nice friendly people, and even somewhere to wash your dishes. Situated just outside Moab we have two excellent National Parks and one State one.

First I went to Canyonlands. Positioned on top of a 6000ft high flat top mountain (called a mesa in these parts) this National Park has the most stunning and never ending views. In fact, as with stars, I think I could see so far I was looking back in time – or something like that. The geology of this area is mind blowing and I sat spellbound by a talk given by one of the rangers at one of the view points. 250 million years worth of deposition, uplift and erosion has gone into creating this scenery. Photos will never do it justice but I had a go.

Oh, and there was even a really cool arch at Canyonlands. 

Mesa Arch

I managed to walk half way along - honest

Next to Canyonlands is Dead Horse Point state park. As it's right next to Canyonlands it's actually very similar but the tourist trap with Dead Horse is the view form the end – 2000 feet down to the winding Colorado river, up to the La Sal mountains 12,700 feet peaks and out 100 miles (however many feet that is) across Canyonlands. Oh and the fact that the final scene in “Thelma and Louise” is played out here. I rode to the end but as I didn't think “Dom and Heidi” sounded as good I slammed on the brakes and just looked over the edge.

Dead Hoese Point

Next day I headed for Arches National Park.

Looks like two eyes. If you zoom in you can see two people in the right eye.

Double arch

Now it's quite clear what Arches is going to have but I wasn't quite prepared for how stunning they would be. Especially “delicate Arch” This is the one which is plastered all over Utah tourist literature and even their car number plates. What is so stunning about delicate Arch is how it stand on its own in the middle of nowhere. Its quite hard to grasp the fact that these arches are crated by sandstone which is millions and millions of years of compressed desert sand . The dunes here were probably over a mile high. But how all this compressed sand which turned to stone then eroded to create delicate arch surpasses my comprehension. Simple breathtaking.
Delicate arch - notice the shadow it's casting

Me giving it some scale

Just as I took this this woman posed for her friends

It was an hours hike over rocky desert to get here - good shoe choice!

She was hilarious - getting in other peoples photos without even noticing

Now, having spent the best part of a week in some fantastic national parks looking at lots of very old stones, I decided it was time to find some human history. So I set off for Mesa Verde National park in south west Colorado. Native Americans – or Ancestral Puebloans as they are called here – have been living in this part of the world for at least 1500 years. Initially living on the flat mountain top these people farmed the land and, seemingly, prospered. Eventually they built elaborate settlements in the sheltered alcoves of the canyon walls and this is what I had come to see.

The settlements that you now see were actually only resided in for around 100 years (in the 13th Century ) before the population mysteriously disappeared. But what they have left behind is quite unique and wonderful. And there are over 600 of them (Although you can only see a handful in the park). And the best thing was that to get to them you had to walk down some steep steps and climb some ladders. In fact the first 5 minutes of the rangers tour was explaining how hard it was going to be and that some people shouldn't do it, and how they have to medi-vac at least one person a week.

100-150 people lived here

What I found most interesting was these round rooms – called Kiva's. Originally roofed these underground rooms served (they assume) as a sort of meeting room. A hole in the middle of the roof was both the entrance and the chimney. Beyond that it's all conjecture. They left no written record and just seemed to disappear from the area in the early 14th Century, giving the whole place a spooky feel.

The next day was going to be a big one. I'd always wanted to come to this part of the States, and although the rest of my trip has been wonderful there is something about the desert.... Today I was heading for the Grand Canyon but first I had a date with a valley and a corner.

Right out in the middle of nowhere four of Americas states meet. Now to you and me that might not mean much but to many Americans it certainly does. It seems like some sort of middle life right of passage to spread yourself down on the floor with one limb in each state. (New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and Utah). I giggled, took a picture and moved on. Oh, just before I left, whilst perusing the gift shops I heard a shopkeeper say that most of their stuff was made in China. A woman next to me said, “Oh, it's disgusting.” For a moment I thought she was commenting on the slave labour used in China – right on! But no, she added, “We should be making all our stuff here. Not foreigners making American souvenirs.” I said “ Well, that Global Capitalism for you.” and walked away. 

No I didn't get my picture taken doing this.

100 miles or so from four corners is Monument Valley. It doesn't matter where you are from you've probably seen pictures of Monument Valley. Malboro man? Western films? It's the iconic picture of desert America. All this land sits on the Navajo reservation and they have developed a 17 mile loop around the valley. The guidebook says it will be dusty and bumpy. I was prepared for that – what I wasn't prepared for was all the sand. Now I know I'm a big girls blouse when it comes to off road riding but I was determined to give this my best shot – so these photos were taking at some price. I know the manta – in sand speed is your friend – but it takes a little courage to speed up rather than slow down or, fatally, slam on the front break, when you're confronted with a sandy slope. This 17 mile circuit was more challenging than anything I'd done in Alaska, but it was well worth it. Look at these photos and tell me otherwise. And in the car park I saw three shiny PARKED hogs. Perhaps I'm not such a big girls blouse after all!

Monument valley and the sandy road

Steep and sandy - Oh what fun...

Someone kindly offered to take my photo

I TOLD him to put me to the right and the rocks to the left - the rule of thirds. This could have been an excellent shot.

Finally I made it all the way to the Grand Canyon. First the facts. Its a mile deep, 10 miles wide and 277 miles long. Yes, it is indeed grand. It's so big it's almost impossible to comprehend as you stare into it. That is then compounded by the knowledge that it's so old. I won't bore you with the details but I went to a Geology talk – it's old. I stayed two nights and had a great full day walking the trails and going down a little way into the canyon. Mind you – it is busy here. And not only that, I'm afraid to report that I've started to find the, shall we say, less friendly, larger and louder American tourist.

It's big - the Colorado river at the bottom is 90 metres wide.


Following morning - same place

Rock timeline with examples of the rocks.

Proof I walked down the canyon a little bit

During the geology talk the ranger started by asking us to raise our hands and say whether we thought the oldest rocks in the Grand Canyon would be found at the bottom or at the top of the canyon. 18 of us said the bottom. 15 (yes, that's FIFETEEN) said at the top. 15 people who could ally be bothered to travel to the Grand Canyon AND get up early to go to a 9 a.m. talk on geology actually thought the oldest rocks would be at the top of the canyon! How the hell did they think they got there!!!!!!!!!! Also, I was a little disappointed at the end of the talk. I asked the ranger about plate tectonics. We've only known about them since the 1960s and they are crucial to understanding the uplift of the Colorado Plateau which in essence is the cause of all the national parks I've been visiting. So my question was, how did rangers explain all this before we knew about plate tectonics? Her disappointing answer was that she didn't know.

So, Grand Canyon – tick. Been there done that. Actually I was more impressed than I thought I would be. It's often the case that when I go so somewhere that is well know it's a little disappointing. After all, it looks like I thought it would. And I'm often much more impressed with lesser known places. I expected the Grand Canyon to be a little too familiar but I was impressed. Yes there are a lot of people here but it's easy to get away from the crowds (walk 100 metres past a restroom or gift shop), it's well set up and the campground is good. Oh I must mention the starts – absolutely fantastic in this part of the world.

So that's four major National Parks covered in the last week or so. My favourite would have to be Zion but none of them were anything other that stunning and mind-boggling. So with the rocks dating back millions and millions of years, showing us how insignificant we are on earth and the stars shining so bright showing us how insignificant we are in space and what with me being on my own for so long now, I'm beginning to feel the existential angst well up inside. It's time I got a grip on reality - I'm off to Las Vegas...

P.S. I've got rid of the google map at the top of the blog. Well, at least I've removed it from the blog. It's still around and if you want to see it there is a link at the top right of the blog just above my photo.
PPS It's taken me two hours just to load the photos into this blog. I'm not going write such long blogs in the future. Mind you, what else is there to do at 7 a.m. on a saturday morning in Las Vegas. I arrived last night and am in shock. After three months without going anywhere near a city Vegas hits you hard. I'm depressed and saddended by what I see. I'll blog about it later, once I've survived my full day here.

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