Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chocolate Pudding and Mermaids

Yesterday was my first swim practice in almost three weeks, and of the fall short course season.  The thing I find most interesting about the return for long breaks is that water only feels like water after you have been away from it for a while.  Otherwise, it feels like chocolate pudding.  Or better yet, sand.

Water that feels like water is thin.  You push against it, it lets your arm slip right through.

Water that feels like chocolate pudding is thick.  You push against it, it pushes back.  

The ideal feel of swimming was once described to me like elbow-crawling through sand, like you see on military obstacle courses.  No wonder swimming is such a lat-focused movement.

I celebrated the return to swimming and thin water with several much needed new suits.  One is a metallic turquoise mermaid print suit lined in pink - so not me and I love it!


Friday, August 15, 2014

Bring It Home Fellas

And with that The Best Of The West Tour: Summer 2014 comes to an end.

The last two days have been steady driving across half each of Colorado and Indiana, and all of Kansas, Missouri, and Illinois.  These finals days bring the total trip mileage to 6,633 miles, or more than twice across the continental United States, and the total hours of driving to ~131.

It was one hell of a whirlwind of a sampler platter of the Western United States.  But now I know what I want to see again and in more depth.  Highlights include:


I hope you enjoyed the pictures.  I sure enjoyed taking them and think I did pretty good job considering that at least 80% of them were taken from a moving vehicle.  I guess that is what happens when you travel for two weeks (plus 6 hours) and of the 342 hours in those weeks, 131 were spent driving.

Now back to our more regularly scheduled programming: grad school.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Golden Arches ™

Our probably last national park visit is Arches, just outside of Moab, UT.  Unfortunately it was a bummer of a day to visit: we watched the sun rise on The Windows and then never saw it again.







My own geology lesson for the day was the difference between a natural arch and a natural bridge.  A bridge is formed by a running water, so the rock spans the water and the water eats away at the bases of the sides, while an arch is more traditional erosion of frost, wind, and occasional water separating softer, less stable materials, from harder materials.  In Arches' case, this is salt and sandstone.



Rain finally drove us out of the park and town so we headed east along a scenic route to Colorado Springs.  At Frisco we turned south toward Breckenridge.  With a different tour bus, I would have gone over the unpaved Boreas Pass to Como, the route of an old narrow gauge railroad, but instead we took Hoosier Pass to Alma, the highest incorporated town in the country at 10,578.  [Leadville is the highest incorporated city.  Details details.]

Standing on an ironic mountain in pouring rain





Turning north at Fairplay, passing Como and the Boreas Pass road, we headed to Jefferson, and a right turn onto Tarryall Road (Hwy 77).  Tarryall Reservoir is like the Garden of Eden hidden among the high desert.  Eventually we joined the more traditional highway into Colorado Springs and bombed down past Pikes Peak.  What a final exclamation point on our time in the mountains.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bulk Driving

Today was all about getting from Bishop, CA, to Moab, UT, in as expedient fashion as possible.  We averaged 68 mph for 10:10 of driving, including in and out of towns, with 2 stops.  We might have stopped more had we not had two stretches of 163 miles and 108 miles each with no services, no towns, no nothing.


There is little out there, except for road signs with bullet holes in them and salt.

O El Capitan! My El Capitan!

I couldn't not use this post title because we visited Yosemite the day Robin Williams died.

Granite is to California what sandstone is to Utah and Arizona.  The Sierra Nevada push out of the ground as massive pieces of granite along the California/Nevada border and although they are nice and jagged looking from the surrounding flats, most of the treasures are hidden away in the valleys.



On the left is El Capitan, the largest single piece of granite in the world.  To provide a sense of scale, the cliff face is 3,000 feet tall from valley floor to the top of The Nose.  The first people to climb it needed a strategized assault over 18 months; now people climb it in a single day.

There should be a waterfall, called Horse Tail Fall, along the right edge of this picture, but the drought + a late summer visit = no waterfalls in the park.


In the back center of the first picture is Half Dome.


Half Dome is kind of a recluse, positioned at the far far east end of the valley, and better seen from the back.  Cloud's Rest is on the left, with the backside of Half Dome in the distance.


This is Cloud's Rest in the late day sun.  That is just so much freaking granite.


The valley that leads from Tenaya Lake down past Cloud's Rest to Half Dome shows exactly what all the glaciers did to this part of the country: carved a path right through whatever was in their way.



On the right in the first picture is supposed to be Bridalveil Fall, a 652-foot waterfall that gets so whipped by the wind that it looks more like a mist falling to the valley floor than a stream of water.  Sadly, again no water right now.  The only thing you see is the dark lichen down the 62-story-tall-wall.


Out of sight of the first picture, on the back side of El Capitan and the Three Brothers, is Yosemite Falls, one fall that falls into a second fall.  Hypothetically.


And of course, a river runs through it.



This is Yosemite Valley in the late afternoon sun, and really the Valley is but a drop of Yosemite.  There are groves of sequoias, and meadows of wild flowers, and hikes that take you to the top of El Capitan, Half Dome, the Cathedral Spires, and all of the Falls, without having to hang by your finger tips off Salathe Wall.  Not to mention the entire northern and southern parts of the park.


When I go back, I'm taking a pair of boots and tent and even after a week they are going to have to drag me out.

Monday, August 11, 2014

I Apologize For Making All Those Jokes About Texas Heat

Today was a two-run day.  Throughout the trip I have been running in the morning, and have been trying to do the most scenic route I can find.  Friday was along the horse trails at the top of Bryce Canyon. Saturday was along the Rim Trail at the Grand Canyon, just after dawn, and I had to skirt around a female elk contentedly chewing on the grass at the rim.

My first run today was in Kingman, AZ, a major stop on the longest remaining portion of Route 66.  I didn’t see Elvis or any classic cars.

Our first stop was the Hoover Dam.  Rain made our stop short and gray, but the water was still its vivid turquoise color.  




We cut through Las Vegas on a sleepy Sunday morning, although it was probably still technically Saturday night for the city.  The last time I was here, several months after the Beijing Olympics, I ran into Michael Phelps at a nightclub in Caesar’s Palace just after 3 am in the morning.

Onward and hotter.




Down and down the valley goes, temperatures creeping up slowly but surely.  At 190 feet below sea level, Furnace Creek was 115, the perfect temperature for a run.


Yes, I have been notified by people close to me that I am “crazy” and “insanely stupid.”  I ran for 20 mins and that was enough and fairly enjoyable.  However, I can deduce by extrapolation that the Badwater Ultramarathon, which starts 17 miles from Furnace Creek and goes 135 miles to top of a mountain in the northern reaches of the park, would not be.


Totally cliche, but the heat really is a dry one.  Despite how hot it was, my sweat rate didn’t overcome the incredibly fast rate of evaporation until about 7 min in.  After about 10 minutes, I noticed that my feet were really hot.  I wasn’t doing myself any favors running in old racing flats.  The weirdest thing was that for the first few minutes my breath felt cool on my face when I exhaled.

After Furnace Creek you have a 90 mile drive out the west side of the park.  It's recommended you do it without A/C to protect your engine from the dual work load of cooling and climbing two mountain passes.

In Stovepipe Wells, The Tour Bus thanked us.



Sunday, August 10, 2014

Thelma And Louise Do The Grand Canyon (And Sedona)

Late yesterday afternoon this road trip reached its inevitable pop culture conclusion.  Thelma (Mom) and Louise (me) arrived at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  

Spoiler Alert: Thelma and Louise die at the end by driving into the Grand Canyon. 

Life did not imitate art: I spent 90 min sitting on a rock hanging over the edge of the Canyon, waiting for the sun to set.  Then we went and had dinner.








The next morning I found a different rock to sit on and we watched the sun rise.  








The sheer enormity makes that enormity difficult to grasp.  It’s like saying the rock that the Colorado River is currently starting to carve through is 800 million to 1 billion years old.  I understand the numbers, but what they represent in the passage of time, compared to my experience, is nearly unfathomable. 

In my early pictures the horizon was tilted and I figured I was having a hard time finding level.  I realized I was capturing landscapes so vast I was seeing the summation across miles of small changes in elevation plus the curvature of the Earth.  Suffice it to say that thing is wide (ten to tens of miles across) and deep (basically a mile).


Later we swooped down past Flagstaff to see the artist enclave of Sedona.  Like everywhere we have been so far, Sedona has rocks and they are some shade of red.  However, like everywhere we have been so far, they look different from all the other rocks we've seen.  




Saturday, August 9, 2014

To Touch The Face Of God

Zion National Park originally had a traditional Indian name.  One of the early park managers changed it to Zion, which is an alternative for "Jerusalem" or "City of David," because the canyon's earliest Mormon settlers has called it Kolob, after the heavenly body closest to the throne of God.

Indeed, many of the sights worth naming have names with a religious bent: the Great White Throne, Angel's Landing, the Organ, the Alter of Sacrifice, the Court of the Patriarchs (three bluffs named after the three first fathers of the Bible), and on.

If Zion is truly a church of stone and water, then it is also one of the few national parks where visitors can touch the face of God: unlike Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon, Zion's bluffs are close at hand.  You can walk right up and touch, sometimes from the window of the visitor shuttle.  Trails start at the narrow canyon road and rise thousands of feet rather immediately.

The West Temple

Sandstone bluffs are held together by varying amounts of iron oxide, giving them a vivid red hue.




Angel's Landing (top of the red spike on the right) overlooking the Great White Throne (center), with the Organ on the left.  A regular Sunday mass set in stone.


This massive wall isn't massive enough to be give a name.



Porous sandstone leaks water to create hanging gardens.



The east section of the non-backcountry part of Zion looks completely different than the main/central bluff section.  To my eyes, it resembles red lava flows, cooled layer upon cooler layer.





Later we drove through the Vermillion Cliffs.  Quick geology explanation: the Earth around here is comprised of layers of different rocks in different colors (top to bottom, youngest to oldest: pink, grey, white, vermillion, chocolate).  As the Colorado and other rivers carve through it, creating canyons, it exposes deeper and deeper layers of these rocks.  Not just in the vicinity of that river, but across the scope of northeastern Arizona to south-central Utah.  Combined across hundreds of miles, they are called the Grand Staircase, and each step has a different color.  The Grand Canyon is the lowest step, with chocolate walls at the top and even older rock at the bottom; then Vermillion Cliffs with vermillion walls; then Zion with vermillion walls at the bottom and gray walls at the top; and finally Bryce Canyon, the highest step, with pink spires.


The Colorado River is still at work, making the Vermillion Cliffs into the next Grand Canyon.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...