Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Lafayette, California

Posted at 5:45 pm, April 20th, 2005

Back home, at least for a day. Showers are awesome.

Per the request of Mr. Gallaway I’ve added a comment counter to each journal entry so that it is now possible to tell if I’ve written anything bone-headed enough that someone felt the need to comment on it. Click on the Comments link on the top right of any journal entry to read or post comments. As a side note, if the site now looks broken for anyone, please let me know as the way the counter was done is a bit wacky.

A few new photos from the last few weeks are also online in the American West photogallery. A larger gallery with many more horrible attempts at photography is also online.

Near Baker, California

Posted at 10:15 pm, April 18th, 2005

Shortly after I had curled up in the back of the Subaru and fallen asleep last night another car came down the road, parked right next to me, and two guys started setting up camp. Bearing in mind that we were the only two vehicles in the national forest, and also keeping in mind that there were numerous other places where camping was possible, I was a bit perturbed at the breach of privacy. Certain places in this world — examples include camping spots, urinals, and elevators — all have unwritten rules of occupation, violations of which are so unexpected that the brain really has no response except to think “but you just don’t do that…”

This morning I arrived at Bryce as the sun was breaking the horizon, and the clouds parted long enough to grab a few photos. I was a bit curious about Ebenezer Bryce, who the park was named for, but learned only that he was known to have described his canyon as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Made a brief trip through Zion, including a trek up a small peak that I’m sure my mother would have preferred me to skip. Ate a quick dinner in Vegas, and should be home sometime tomorrow afternoon, barring surprise sidetrips.

Bryce Canyon Landscape

Bryce Canyon at Sunrise.

Near Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Posted at 8:35 pm, April 17th, 2005

I slept like a baby on valium last night, and as a result missed the sunrise yet again. Tomorrow I have the alarm set, and I will be there to see the sun come up over Bryce Canyon. This is one of those stake in the ground, girded with iron type of declarations, therefore it’s almost guaranteed that it will be too cloudy tomorrow morning to see anything.

Spent the morning in Capitol Reef National Park and the evening in Bryce Canyon National Park, meeting several interesting folks in the process. One really nice fellow from Minnesota filled me in on how great it was to be retired because now he had the time to take two weeks and make a (leisurely) drive from Minnesota to see California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and New Mexico. Another fellow from France couldn’t seem to grasp the fact that my French has deteriorated to the point were I can barely put a sentence together, and had me muttering what must have been utter nonsense for ten minutes. The plan is to spend at least tomorrow in Bryce, and from there it’s off towards home, most likely with a few unplanned stops along the way.

Near Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Posted at 8:00 pm, April 16th, 2005

The day’s highlights:

  • Checked out the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park, although since most of the hikes were of the “two thousand feet down, then two thousand back up” variety I opted out of the full canyon experience.
  • Overheard at a view point: “And I’m thinkin’, how in the hell did he know I was gonna order chicken? And he jus’ looks at me and says ‘Boy, everyone in this joint knew when you walked in that door that you was orderin’ yo’self some chicken.'”
  • Passed a sign along I-70: “No services next 110 miles”. That’s got to be a record for the interstate highway system.
  • Drove to the oddly named Capitol Reef National Park, which was created to protect some geologic fault thing that is apparently the rock equivalent of Spanish Fly if you’re into geology. More to my liking were the badlands outside of the park, which look like something that should be seen only in photos of other planets.

Near Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Posted at 9:55 pm, April 15th, 2005

6:45 AM: the alarm goes off. I’m awake, but I’m also in a bed for the first time in a week, and it’s really comfortable. Plus, there’s a shower ten feet away softly whispering that cleanliness is such a nice feeling. I wish I could say that I fought the good fight, but there aren’t going to be any sunrise pictures from Arches National Park on this trip. After lounging around and then doing laundry I got to the park in the late afternoon and spent the time roaming the Devil’s Garden area, including a bit of scrambling on the cliffs with two guys from Wyoming. Aaron is graduating from paramedic school next Thursday, so from here on it looks like it’s going to be a slow journey homewards.

Moab, Utah

Posted at 8:50 pm, April 14th, 2005

One of my brother’s high school classmates has apparently earned his fifteen minutes of fame due to his desire to mock academic groups that accept papers too easily. Jeremy Stribling and two friends wrote a computer program to generate a paper consisting of semi-random gibberish and got it accepted to a conference. Story from CNN.

Moab, Utah

Posted at 8:40 pm, April 14th, 2005

I did my utmost to get up before sunrise, but it just wasn’t happening. Luckily Delicate Arch was still free of visitors when I arrived at 8:00 AM. Later in the day while visiting Double Arch I ran into a college group that I had seen in Canyonlands yesterday, and we hung out under the arches, enjoying the sun and talking about everything from golfing at the South Pole to local geology (despite my obviously immense knowledge, I let them do most of the talking on that one). The remainder of the day was spent crashed out in a hotel doing my best to scrub off a week of accumulated dirt. Clean is good.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch.

Near Moab, Utah

Posted at 9:25 pm, April 13th, 2005

Spent the day hiking, getting my butt completely kicked by the terrain in the process. I’d only been planning an eleven mile hike to see Druid Arch, but the landscape was so incredible that the voices in my head convinced me to take the long way back. Everywhere I went was amazing, with rock formations that looked other-worldly and fissures that at times were barely wide enough to fit through (I got stuck once and had to wriggle around to get loose). A trail through one of these fissures went on for nearly a half mile, and for the majority of it the walls were only three feet wide and at least thirty feet high. Why Canyonlands National Park isn’t a more popular place is baffling.

The downside of extending an eleven mile hike into a seventeen mile hike is that I didn’t bring enough water, and during the last four miles the question of whether I was stumbling due to tiredness or if it was a sign that I might pass out soon was of some concern. I made it back to the parking area without incident, so all ended well. Dinner was cold canned soup, something I thought I’d never eat again after the Alaska trip, but I was hungry, and it was damn good.

Near Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Posted at 8:05 pm, April 12th, 2005

In fairness to the guy in the Humvee he did decide to continue down the road, although he didn’t make it to the end. For my part, after three miles I parked the car, got out, and joined two other people who were laughing at the “road” ahead. During its final four miles the road traveled up and over rocky outcroppings that I might have hesitated to traverse on a mountain bike; anyone with less than a foot of clearance would not have been able to drive it, and even with a ton of clearance it would still be pretty dicey. I ended up hiking the last four miles, and along the way saw numerous places where the rock was scraped and dented — one can only imagine what the underside of the truck that made each mark looked like.

The hike itself was great as the scenery here is like nowhere else, with huge numbers of rugged canyons and crazy rock formations. The road ended at an overlook that dropped hundreds of feet straight down to the Colorado River, and I had it all to myself. The only downside of the day is that the sun was blazing, and if skin cancer isn’t cured in the next twenty years I’ll probably be in a lot of trouble. I’m going to stick around for at least one more day and plan to do some hiking tomorrow, and also to get a look at what a park brochure describes as “one of the most technical four-wheel drive roads in Utah” (today’s road is described as “moderate”).

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Posted at 11:20 am, April 12th, 2005

In the interest of not boring people to death I normally try to keep the journal entries to a minimum, but since I’m also writing this stuff down for my own benefit I think this one was worth recording. First, it needs to be known that I hate Humvees. In my perfect world I would live in a house built by Frank Lloyd Wright and engineering would follow the mantra that the simplest solution to completely solve the problem is the best. Sadly, in the real world society has been convinced by a bunch of smart advertising execs that a hulking behemoth on wheels is the ultimate status symbol. I admit that they do look cool, but in the same way that a tank looks cool — I don’t particularly want to share the road with either.

What precipitated this posting was a guy in a Humvee on one of the backcountry roads in Canyonlands National Park. I was warned that the Subaru wouldn’t have enough clearance to traverse the road, so of course I ignored that advice and set out. After I pulled over to admire a view, the guy drove up next to me and stopped to chat. During the conversation he made the comment that he was thinking about turning around, heading back to Moab to rent a Jeep, and then returning because (wait for it…) he didn’t want to scratch his paint. The excuse always given for Humvees is that you can take them anywhere; the not-so-manly caveat is apparently that you can take them anywhere unless there is a chance of harming the pretty exterior.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Posted at 9:25 am, April 12th, 2005

My already limited mental capacity was further diminished due to tiredness last night, so here’s another take on yesterday. The Valley of the Gods was a scenic spot, although the name may have been a bit overdramatic; compared to the Grand Canyon or Monument Valley, a place named the Valley of the Gods has a lot to live up to.

The end of the road through the valley eventually led me to Natural Bridges National Monument, which unsurprisingly was the home of three really impressive natural bridges. I opted to see the bridges from the eight mile hike through the canyons, and whether due to the sun, the sandy terrain, or whatever, the hike kicked my butt. Very worthwhile, but seldom has a person ever been so glad to sit on his ass as I was after getting back to the Subaru.

Towards dinner time I passed through the first decent-sized town that I’ve seen in a while, and thought a Subway sandwich sounded like a good dinner option. HUGE mistake. I should have been warned when it took a few minutes to prepare to make my sandwich (plastic gloves are tricky little things, ya know), but cash register operation was another matter entirely.

“Do you want a combo?”

“Sure.”

“OK, your total is $7.21.”

My first mistake: “Um, it says on the menu that the combo costs $5.89.”

“Yes, and then plus drink and chips, the total is $7.21.” (Note to self: in the future, run away when presented with logic like this)

“But doesn’t the combo include drink and chips? Otherwise why would I want the combo?”

“Yes, I added drink and chips, so the total is $7.21.”

My second mistake: “OK, actually could I just get the sandwich then? No combo?”

After tons of deliberation over how to change an order: “OK, that’s $5.21.”

My third mistake: I hand her $20.21.

After more deliberation that required calling a co-worker: “I think I messed up, and now I don’t know how much change to give.”

(Incredulously) “I’m pretty sure the change is $15.00.”

Many moons later, sandwich in hand, I ran away as fast as my little legs would carry me.

Near Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Posted at 9:25 pm, April 11th, 2005

So tired… this morning I woke up in the Valley of the Gods, made a stop in Natural Bridges National Monument, melted portions of my brain in the sun while hiking several miles, survived a debacle while getting dinner at Subway, attempted to re-establish contact with the outside world, and then spent an inordinately long time looking for a spot where I could park for the evening without being bothered. I’ll elaborate later, but at the moment my left eye is already shut, and my right eye is campaigning loudly to be allowed to join its brethren.

Sipapu Natural Bridge

Sipapu Natural Bridge.

Valley of the Gods, Utah

Posted at 8:25 pm, April 10th, 2005

Tonight’s camping spot is another unexpected destination, but with a name like “Valley of the Gods” it seemed like a place not to be missed. Spent the entire day in Monument Valley, which was impressive (as expected). Unfortunately the Navajo don’t permit any travel except on the park road, so there was no hiking or quiet moments. Nonetheless, there were numerous opportunities for photos, although with my usual skill I seem to have botched the vast majority of them.

Self-Portrait in Monument Valley

Shortly after this picture was taken the wind blew the camera over, and I spent the next ten minutes climbing down a cliff to retrieve the (broken) lens.

Monument Valley, Utah

Posted at 7:35 pm, April 9th, 2005

A whiteout this morning thwarted plans of hiking in Navajo National Monument, and intermittent squalls throughout the rest of the day pretty much curtailed all activity. At present I’m parked for the evening behind a group of empty souvenir stands (“Stop here! Friendly Indians!”) on an overlook that should provide a very memorable sunrise if the Monument Valley weather cooperates.

Navajo National Monument, Arizona

Posted at 9:10 pm, April 8th, 2005

As punishment for staying in a hotel last night the travel gods filled the next room with guys who felt the need to share their love of bad music with the other hotel guests until nearly midnight, and then repeat the stunt at 6:00 this morning. Luckily the joys of being able to shower offset this annoyance, making bloodshed unnecessary. Once on the road this morning the plan was to head northeast towards Mesa Verde, but a picture on the wall of a Jiffy Lube diverted me to the west and towards Monument Valley. One change of destination was apparently not enough, and somehow I finished the day in Navajo National Monument. The latest plan is to head to Monument Valley for sunset tomorrow, but at this point it’s anyone’s guess as to where I actually end up.

Gallup, New Mexico

Posted at 9:30 pm, April 7th, 2005

After some early morning hiking across the lava flows and a trip into town to pick up fresh batteries I returned to Junction Cave to do some exploring. The cave isn’t particularly long, but it was tough going and took nearly two hours for the round-trip. To reach the end of the cave required squirming through a tunnel less than three feet high that was so damp that my breath caused the air to begin filling with fog. On the return trip I stopped, shut off my flashlight, and sat down to experience the complete lack of light and see what tricks my mind might play on me. After a few minutes I started seeing really bright flashes that would pulse in and out, but after about five minutes of enjoying this trippy display I finally realized my brain was fine and that someone else was in the cave and I was seeing reflected light from their flashlight.

A late afternoon visit to El Morro National Monument completed the day. That park was created to preserve what is basically four hundred years worth of graffiti on the sandstone cliffs, but the hike to the top of the cliffs was more to my liking. I’ve committed the sin of getting a hotel room for the night, and can only justify the decision by stating that a shower makes the breach of road trip protocol so very worthwhile.

Self-Portrait in Junction Cave

Self-portrait in Junction Cave.

El Malpais National Monument, New Mexico

Posted at 7:55 pm, April 6th, 2005

New Mexico’s Finest refrained from pressing vagrancy charges last night, so it was sweet dreams until the sun came up. El Malpais (“Badlands”) National Monument was a short distance from my sleeping spot, and I arrived fairly early. The park sits in the midst of several ancient volcanic cones and lava flows and has an extensive network of caves created from lava tubes, the largest of which is supposedly seventeen miles long. Hiking through one of these tubes was a dicey affair as the floor of the cave was covered with boulders and difficult to navigate, and the batteries of my tiny flashlight were fading fast. Sadly, just as it was becoming dark enough that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face common sense prevailed and I turned around; a return trip tomorrow, with fresh batteries, is likely.

Most of the afternoon was spent in the east side of the park taking photos. In the midst of my Ansel Adams impersonations I ran into two guys standing on a cliff’s edge, with one guy educating his friend on everything from lava formations to tsunamis to photographic equipment. What made this conversation interesting was that the guy spoke with utter conviction, but was wrong on nearly every subject. From a lava flow’s ability to mummify people (rock and metal are toast in the face of a lava flow, but apparently organic tissue is special) to the fact that one hundred years ago all cameras took three hours to snap a photo (imagine portrait photographers: “now hold really still”) the entertainment value of this conversation made it hugely difficult not to eavesdrop. The only downside of the encounter was the fact that his poor friend will no doubt be passing along a newfound wealth of misinformation.

70 miles west of Albuquerque, New Mexico

Posted at 10:40 pm, April 5th, 2005

Yesterday’s winds topped out between sixty and seventy miles per hour, so it wasn’t such a bad idea to spend most of it inside of the car reading. With the weather calmer today the camera and I roamed about Petrified Forest National Park from sunrise until sunset, during which time the scalp was quite cooked in the desert sun. After leaving the park I crossed into New Mexico, and have spent the last hour trying to find a place to sleep — the need for a shower and the fact that the dome has gone from being bald and badass to fuzzy and not nearly so badass was almost enough of an excuse to pay for a hotel, but the call of the road prevailed and I’m instead parked alongside a highway onramp; trucks park on these things all the time, so hopefully the New Mexico Highway Patrol won’t feel the need to interrupt my slumber.

Petrified Log in Blue Mesa

Petrified log in Blue Mesa.

Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Posted at 7:30 pm, April 4th, 2005

Insane winds were blowing so strongly that I felt the need to always set the emergency brake when parking today, and any attempts at hiking became survival exercises due to the dust and sand whipping in the winds. As a result the day was mostly a non-event, and the Subaru is spending the night next to the park gate with the hope that things will calm tomorrow and allow some exploring.

Tonto National Forest, Arizona

Posted at 9:05 pm, April 3rd, 2005

As is the norm there was much eating while visiting Caitlin, and in between meals we also squeezed in a showing of Sin City, which was a completely watchable flick. I think I’m now headed up towards Petrified Forest National Park, although I tend to get easily sidetracked so the next stop could just as easily be in Manitoba or Delaware. On a side note, with no moon the stargazing from these mountains is awesome.