Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Eastbound, At Last

For the first time in well over a year, I'm headed eastbound instead of westbound. Moving westbound last year, west and farther west still, brought me around the globe—and then I continued west, again, this year.

Always chasing the setting sun, I've occasionally wondered if my perpetual westward heading related to some conclusion in the broader context of my life. Cutting myself free closed one chapter. This year I'll turn 29, completing my 30th year on this planet. As I turn eastbound, toward the rising sun, I can't help but think about beginnings, about joyfully opening a new chapter, and about everything I can look forward to.  :-)

sunrise over tuateawa bay, new zealand

Anyway! What's happened since I've turned eastbound? Seems like my priority has been adventuring, rather than writing about adventures. Some day I'll write more about my time out West. But, for now, here's a quick update, starting from California.

San Francisco: I rejoined Davo, and we went to Muir Woods so he could see the Redwood trees. John Muir is quite an inspiration to me (this blog is named for one of his quotations). The place was crammed with people, even though it was raining, so it wasn't really a place for quiet contemplation and reflection.

golden gate bridge, after the rain

That evening, we hung out with Jenny O, an awesome woman we know from Ithaca. The weather sucked, so we decided to move on to...

Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks: which we did not get to visit. Still snowed in, tire chains required. We continued on to...

Death Valley National Park: In the hottest, driest place in North America, I experienced the worst, coldest, wettest, nastiest weather of the road trip when a freak storm blew through. There was tons of rockfall across Towne Pass; we checked in with four cars disabled on the side of the road in poor visibility with rocks still falling around them as it snowed. So that's why they call it Death Valley!

"colorful"--for the desert--salt creek, home of the salt creek pupfish

Death Valley was more interesting than I expected, because of all of the organisms that have evolved to survive in this environment. Life will find a way! It was also more photogenic than I expected, with colorful badlands next to pure white salt flats under a blue desert sky.

Red Rocks National Conservation Area: Red Rocks NCA is ten miles in distance and a million miles in feeling from the Las Vegas strip. We did a half-day hike up Turtlehead Peak.

And, of course, we climbed! It was my first experience on desert sandstone, and I enjoyed the awesome weather, amazing scenery, super sticky rock, and very chilled out vibe. (Not going to lie, it was a nice, undeserved ego boost to climb about two grades harder than I do on the East Coast.)

red rocks panorama

The BLM campsite was totally full, but we found some guys from Colorado who had room for an extra car. Put a bunch of strangers around a campfire and you'd be surprised what wisdom results. I loved Red Rocks, and I would definitely return some day.

Grand Canyon National Park: Moving on to the Grand Canyon, I had no idea what we'd do. The weather wasn't great—overcast and spitting snow—so my first impressions of the canyon weren't, well, very impressive. Plus, backcountry camping permits book out months in advance.

Yet somehow our lack of planning and total flexibility snagged us a permit for Indian Garden! We hung out on the rim for a day and camped outside the park in Kaibab National Forest. The next day, we hiked 5,000 vertical feet down the canyon (via South Kaibab Trail), took lunch on the Colorado River, and hiked back up the canyon 2,000 vertical feet (via Bright Angel Trail). The next morning, we hiked out the remaining 3,000 vertical feet, in sunshine for the first time.

with the colorado river below us

Everyone talks about the Grand Canyon like it's the most amazing place on earth. I thought it was really impressive, but something about the hordes of people and the overly-maintained trails kept me from connecting with the Canyon. It is much more of a tourist attraction than a wilderness experience, which is fine—just not my cup of tea.

For personal and family reasons, I assumed that our southwestern adventures would probably end here. But a sweet turn of events meant that we continued to southern Utah... and that deserves a post of its own!

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