Abbey’s Country

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“Men come and go, cities rise and fall, whole civilizations appear and disappear-the earth remains, slightly modified. The earth remains, and the heartbreaking beauty where there are no hearts to break….I sometimes choose to think, no doubt perversely, that man is a dream, thought an illusion, and only rock is real. Rock and sun.”

-Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire

Canyonlands National Park
Moab, UT
December, 2015

Grand View

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You may take away a theme from my canyon posts as time goes on: the canyons are lovely in the daytime, but mythical at night. This is Grandview Point in the golden hour, or probably 4:00 PM since this was taken around the winter solstice. We returned with blankets around 10:00 PM that night to look at the Milky Way (Canyonlands are a dark sky park), and Grandview was just luminous. I believe there was a full or nearly-full moon this night, and I felt like I was having a spiritual experience with the canyon. The Anasazi were animistic, and I can understand why. The canyons under moonlight become this ethereal presence that’s hard to describe but very palpable. Canyonlands is a little-visited park, simply because (I believe) it doesn’t have the name-recognition of  nearby Arches, Bryce, and Zion. This means that you will often have hiking trails to yourself or only a few others, particularly during the off-season. Go visit! It’s the most mesmerizing of Utah’s parks.

Grandview Point
Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT
December, 2015

Islands in the Sky

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Canyonlands National Park! The Islands in the Sky were gorgeous the day before Christmas, when most sane people were travelling to or being with their families. Not us! We went to Utah to finally visit the land of Edward Abbey, spires, arches, canyons, domes, etc. The gorgeous grasslands of Moab’s high plateau are pictured here, canyons to follow.

Islands in the Sky
Canyonlands National Park, Moab, UT
December, 2015

Piñon Pine

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The West has different biomes as you go up in elevation. A cursory glance at a picture of a mountain, with aspen trees and pines at the base and nothing at the top, hints to that. However wonderful the montane/subalpine/alpine/tundra stratification is, and it is fabulous, my favorite biome out here is the piñon/juniper woodland biome, or P/J. It’s found throughout New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Southern Colorado at 4,500-8,000 feet above sea level, between the grasslands of lower elevations (think sage and cacti) and the montane forests above.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
August, 2015

First Meeting with the Canyon

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People hear so much about the Grand Canyon. Its size, its crowds, the challenge of finding a good way to explore it. The first day at the canyon, we were in awe of the layers of rock and “temples,” or buttes, dotting the fissure. We watched the rocks change from bright red and pink in midday light to purplish and blue in the sunset. If you’ve never seen the sandstone-and-iron-oxide red rocks of the southwest, this is one of the most impressive features of the Grand Canyon.

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The first night at the Grand Canyon, my boyfriend and I drove from our campsite to the rim to see stars incomparable to anything on the East Coast (while there are dark sky parks back east, the humidity interferes with the clarity of the view). We also “heard” the canyon for the first time: the sound of the wind rushing through the canyon below us, and nothing else, was equally as impressive as the depth of the Milky Way.

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The next day, we tried to hike down to Indian Gardens, roughly two miles into the canyon via Bright Angel Trail, and probably 2,000 vertical feet below the trailhead. It was August in Arizona, so 90+ degrees with no shade. We made it about halfway before drinking all of our water. When you’re out of water, you turn around, or risk becoming severely dehydrated by the dry heat. So, we then hiked 2,000 feet in the sun back up out of the canyon, sans water. We had only hiked the hills back east and strolled around the buttes in Sedona prior to this. We were exhausted! Thankfully, there is a cafeteria in the lodge at the trailhead (Edward Abbey was dismayed by how convenient the Grand Canyon National Park infrastructure is, but, for back-east tourists, the huge lodge at the rim is a godsend).

I’ve been back to the Grand Canyon since, but with too little time to attempt to hike back down to the river, or anywhere near the river. I’m in better shape now, and think I could do a rim-to-rim, but I’d just as easily accept seeing the river from the river, by way of a rafting trip.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona
August, 2015