Writing on the Wall: Rochester Rock Art Panel

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A story pecked in stone

I uploaded these pictures a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve hesitated to share them. They’re very nice shots, but they pale in comparison to the subject matter – encountering this panel of finely pecked, richly detailed rock art, previously sight unseen (I had never laid eyes on a photo of the panel or read a description of this place) – was one of the most astonishing moments of my life.

I followed some brown BLM signs that simply said Rock Art, down a long washboarded dirt road that ended abruptly at a canyon. An obvious, ancient footpath cut down canyon, winding between big blocks of brown sandstone, out to a prominatory above two creeks, both running thick and muddy.

Hiking out to the Rochester Panel

Hiking out to the Rochester Panel, on the side of one of the big blocks  up ahead. We’re hiking across a peninsula of rock wedged between the confluences of Muddy and Rochester Creeks.

When I turned that corner and discovered this arcing rainbow of beastly, humanoid figures, swirling in a mad, mysterious atavistic story, the figures wholly captured me and I sat in their thrall for a long time, until swarming biting gnats drove me away. Rochester is the kind of place that stays with you; I barely slept that night, my ears uncomfortably itchy with bites, the ancient figures still dancing behind my restless eyelids.

Turn the corner...

Turning the corner…

Main Panel Detail

Main Panel Detail

 

Birth/ Bullet Detail. The curator at the Museum of the San Rafael told me the bullet holes are likely from  a cowboy's bullet in the early 1900's.

Birth/ Bullet Detail. The curator at the Museum of the San Rafael in Castle Dale told me the bullet holes were likely left by a target-shooting cowboy in the early 1900′s, although some Native Americans ritually desecrate panels to fend off malevolent spirits.

Phallic Hunt

Phallic Hunt

Anglo Graffiti

An Idiot Was Here

Bowie says, Whatcha lookin' at?

Bowie says, Whatcha lookin’ at?

More detail, main panel

More detail, main panel

People who mar rock art should be shot.

The bright, blank spots are scars left by collectors removing parts of the panel. People who mar rock art should be haunted by the ancients all night, every night for life.

So please accept my apologies for posting these and ruining your chance at stumbling upon this place, sight unseen, as I did. I hope that next time you drive by a brown sign that says simply Rock Art, that you make the turn and drive down the washboarded dirt road and park at the end and follow the trail down canyon to where it turns the corner around a big block of sandstone.

Shadow Self Portrait

Shadow Self Portrait

Rochester Rock Art Dogs. We approached through the canyon on the right.

Rochester Rock Art Dogs. We approached through the canyon on the right.

Love Rock Art? Me too! Check out some of my previous petroglyph and pictograph posts: Writing on the Wall: Sego Canyon, Utah Petroglyphs,  Urban Petroglyphs & Geologic Unrest and Writing on the Wall: Backyard Petroglyphs. I also recently hit two other famous collections at Parowan Gap and Buckhorn Wash.

I hope you all had a fantastic solstice! I celebrated with a hundred other Sun-loving art geeks in the middle of the Utah desert at an art installation called the Sun Tunnels, which line up with the sunset and sunrise on the longest and shortest days of the year. I heard of this place for the first time three days ago and happened to be in just the right place at the right time to catch the alignment. Gotta love that road trip serendipity! Stay tuned for a post!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 9 Comments

EARTH Magazine: Spanish cave reveals new Neanderthal ancestor

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As many of you know, I don’t just write for fun. This is also how I make my living! If you’re curious about my science writing, my latest story for EARTH magazine just went live. This is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for EARTH lately. I usually cover the geophysics beat – think earthquakes, plate tectonics and volcanoes – but every now and then I get to explore other loves, in this case, human evolution.

Paleoanthropologists are often forced to glean information about early human evolution from mere fragments of bone, but a trove of thousands of hominin fossils unearthed from a prolific cave in northern Spain is proving a boon for scientists studying the early ancestors of Neanderthals . But the plethora of fossils isn’t falling neatly into any established species, leaving some to wonder if a new category of hominin is needed. 

Since its discovery in 1984 the Sima de los Huesos site near Atapuerca, Spain has been vigorously excavated, revealing more than 7,000 fossils, including 17 skulls, from at least 28 individuals.  “What makes the Sima de los Huesos site unique is the extraordinary and unprecedented accumulation of hominin fossils there. Nothing quite so big has ever been discovered for any extinct hominin species—including Neanderthals,” says Juan-Luis Arsuaga, a paleontologist at the Complutensis University in Madrid and lead author of the new study, published this week in Science. 

To read the rest, click over to EARTH’s website.

 

 

Posted in Science Writing, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hey Blonde Coyote, Will You Plan My Road Trip?

My sweet free campsite near Cedar Breaks in southwest Utah. I stayed here for six days.

My sweet free campsite near Cedar Breaks in southwest Utah. I stayed here for six days.

Hello! I’m planning a cross country trip soon and have been looking into boondocking and places to camp.  I found your site and have been reading it the past few days.  Awesome to say the least.

I’m traveling from the Philadelphia area of Pennsylvania to Denver and then on to Los Angeles.  Everything in between is fair game. I’ve done quite a bit of research but the potential number of destinations is mind blowing.  I’m wondering if you had any guidance?  Some places along the way to camp and spend a night or three?
I’m trying to keep my expenditures to a minimum but I also want to have a memorable, dare I say life changing experience.  At 30 this may well be the last time I can pull off an unencumbered cross country expedition.

I appreciate any help and apologize if I’m being presumptuous in my communication.  I would buy a photo but money is tight…part of the reason for my voyage to sunnier climes.

Happy travels!

Thanks for the email, JB. Always nice to hear from people hitting the road in search of a life-changing experience. The truth is, I don’t even plan my own road trips these days. I just go. Each morning I look at my Adventure Atlas and decide where I’m going to go that day. A lot of days, I don’t go anywhere. I seldom know where I’ll sleep each night, but something always seems to work out. After nine years on the road, my camp-radar (“campdar”) is finely honed and I’m totally comfortable not having any real plan for days, weeks and months at a time.

Another free campsite near Cedar Breaks

Another free campsite near Cedar Breaks

I’m not going to plan your road trip for you, but I’ll give you some must see suggestions along your route:

• The New River Gorge in southern West Virginia is one of the greatest natural playgrounds in the country, boasting world-class climbing, mountain biking, rafting, kayaking, hiking and BASE jumping, not to mention one of the coolest small towns in America: Fayetteville.

Big Basin Prairie Preserve near Ashland, Kansas. Don’t believe what anybody says about the Midwest: the Great Plains are absolutely beautiful.

Crested Butte, Colorado- I spent all last summer exploring mountains and mountain towns in Colorado and this place was my favorite, both for the backcountry and the town itself.

• Southern Utah- Pick a few parks out of a hat and get to know them on your own two feet. I’ve been exploring Utah every spring for years and the wonders never cease. I’m not sure when you’ll be traveling but keep in mind that summers are HOT! Spring, fall and winter are the best times to explore the desert. Summers are for mountains: check out the Henry’s, Uintas and Cedar Breaks.

• The Grand Canyon- If I’m pressed to pick one favorite place, I usually say the Grand Canyon. All the superlatives in the world pale in comparison.

• The La Brea Tar Pits in LA. I haven’t been here yet but I’ve written a few stories on the tar pits and it’s at the top of my must see list next time I’m in LA.

Climbing Notch Mountain in the High Uintas in northeast Utah in June.

Climbing Notch Mountain in the High Uintas in northeast Utah in June.

The first step to planning any road trip, be it a leisurely weekend loop around your home state or a cross-country epic is to buy a National Geographic Adventure Atlas. Accept no substitutes and never leave home without it!

The Adventure Atlas is a road tripper’s dream: easy to read, virtually indestructible and chock full of information about what to see and do off America’s beaten paths. In addition to charting the best scenic routes (always take the scenic route!) the Adventure Atlas has detailed National Park maps and marks trails, campgrounds, stop-worthy roadside attractions like the National Coonhound Cemetery in Cherokee, Alabama and quirky museums like the Prairie Windmill Museum in Shattuck, Oklahoma.

Once you have your Atlas, sit down with a highlighter, pick a state or a region and start marking all the places you’d like to see someday. All those little red squares marking geologic wondershistorical spotsfamous residencesgeographical oddities, museums and attractions are sure to whet your appetite for the open road. (Just now I highlighted the site of the first US Train Robbery in Adair, Iowa and Legend Rocks Petroglyph Site near Hamilton Dome, Wyoming, for future road tripping reference).

Also take note of the thousands of state parks, state forests, recreation and scenic areas, BLM lands, National Forests, National Monuments, and National Parks marked in green. Roads through these areas are usually jaw-droppingly scenic and they’re also great places to stop for picnics, hiking and camping (look for the little green tents!).

Now, with your highlighter, start connecting your dots using as many of the scenic routes and back roads as possible and voila: a killer road trip route! Of course, where you’ll go and how far you’ll drive will depend on how much time and money you have to spend on the road. If at all possible, aim to drive no more than 4 hours a day and plan on making several stops every day. Remember: on a proper road trip you should spend almost as much time out of the car as behind the wheel!

For more tips on planning your own life-changing trip, check out my previous road trip posts:

How To Plan A Killer Road Trip!

How To Plan A Kiler Road Trip! Part 2: $$$

How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 3: Copilots

How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 4: Packing

How To Plan A Killer Road Trip! Part 5: Tips & Tricks

Boondocking 101: How To Camp For Free In Beautiful Places

Boondocking Part 2: Finding A Sweet Free Campsite

Boondocking Part 3: Leave No Trace!

And if you really want to experience a Blonde Coyote road trip, abide by the Rules of the Road Trip. Best of luck and happy trails!

Rovering through Black Dragon Canyon, Utah

Rovering through Black Dragon Canyon, Utah. It’s nice to unhitch  to remind myself why I bought this fool contraption: any road, anywhere!

Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 6 Comments

Following My Father

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Into the Scottish Highlands

For a time when I was younger, I thought I should grow up to be a doctor, like my Dad. Instead, I’ve become a hiker, like my Dad. A born West Virginian Mountain Man, his adventures on foot make mine look mild. To wit: in May, he hiked all the way from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, down to the Colorado River and back in one day. That’s 19 miles, over 12,000 feet of elevation change, in one go.

We’ve taken quite a few epic hikes together over the past few years: here are a few of my favorite pix from the Scottish Highlands, the Canadian Rockies and Old Rag Mountain in Virginia, which we climbed last year for my 31st birthday. Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

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Overlooking the Lairig Ghru in the Scottish Highlands. The next day we hiked through that glacially-carved valley.

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Into the Lairig Ghru

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Crossing King Arthur's Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland with my Dad (in blue) sister and brother in law

Crossing King Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, Scotland with my Dad (in blue) sister and brother in law

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Family portrait on the summit of King Arthur’s Sear in Edinburgh

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On the summit of Old Rag on my 31st birthday

 

On the Iceline Trail in Canada's Yoho National Park

On the Iceline Trail in Canada’s Yoho National Park

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Apparently, taste in hats is genetic.

Apparently, taste in hats is genetic.

Go here to read my original posts on the Scottish Highlands, the Lairig Ghru and the Burgess Shale. Also check out my previous Father’s Day post: Fathers And Authors.


Posted in Beyond the USA, Hiking!, Photography, Uncategorized | 9 Comments

What Does the Blonde Coyote Eat & Drink On the Road?

I should eat more of this

I should eat more of this- wild garden salad from my Aunt & Uncle’s farm in Oregon.

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my free living success.
How I spend my free time.

How I spend my free time.

My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote:
What do you eat?  Being a solo traveler (with your dogs of course) it’s probably a bummer to cook very often.  I’m just curious, what do you like to eat?  What is a favorite recipe?  I ask because I hate to cook.  In fact, I’m pretty interested in all of the liquid diets I’ve heard about.  If I could get a healthy ‘meal replacement’ shake that satisfied me, I’d probably drink it two times a day.
I hear you, Todd. I’d love to drink a shake or take a pill twice a day and call it a meal. My favorite recipe? PB&J. Seriously. I’ve never blogged about what I eat because I am the most boring cook. I really have very little interest in food, other than what I need to eat to fuel my hiking.
Moonrise over my kitchen. People sometimes ask me what I do when it rains. Either I get wet or I don't eat. Actually, I usually just make a PB&J.

Moonrise over my kitchen. People sometimes ask me what I do when it rains. Either I get wet or I don’t eat. Actually, I usually just make a PB&J.

Here is my grocery list: bread, pb, jam, oatmeal, granola bars, eggs, cheese, crackers, pasta/ sauce, black beans, tortillas, lots of fruits and veggies. That’s really about it. Nothing fancy and all relatively inexpensive, though I do try to buy organic, which can get pricey, especially in small towns. I love shopping at little Ma and Pa grocers, the older the better; it’s amazing how much you can learn about a place by seeing what the locals eat! on average, I spend about $50 a week on food and only eat out once or twice a week. I’m mostly vegetarian, unless somebody else cooks me a tasty meaty meal. In fact, I like to say I’m a recovering vegetarian. I was a full on strict hard core vegetarian for about 19 years from the time I was 6 (I loved animals too much to eat them) until I was 25 and I’m still not much for meat.  Every now and then I’ll have a victory burger when I’ve earned it, but I never cook meat myself or keep it in my camper.
My little red oven at Joshua Tree

My little red oven at Joshua Tree

Despite all my ambivalence about food, the Teardrop is pretty well set up for cooking. The kitchen slides out the back and has a single propane burner and more counter space than I’ve had in most apartments. A couple of years ago for Christmas, my dear mother gave me a propane camping oven, which can bake a cake and has two top burners. It mostly lives under the bed inside the camper and comes out for special occasions when I make the world’s best cookie or when somebody else is joining me for a meal. I have a standing offer to several friends to copilot if they do all the cooking!
I bake a mean cookie

I bake a mean cookie

My latest food innovation is a portable fridge, which I keep in the trunk of the Rover and run off the car battery while it’s running. If I’m parked for a few days, I can plug it into the solar system in my Teardrop, but I have it stocked with cold packs and a jug of water that help keep the temperature cool. I always hated buying ice and dealing with wet and spoiled food so this is a fantastic upgrade for me. It didn’t stop me from getting food poisoning this week though. No fault of the fridge, I just think I got a bad egg. :(
Not a terrible place to have food poisoning. Ugh.

Not a terrible place to have food poisoning. Ugh.

Speaking of food, this might be a good time to address what I do for water, which is a far more important question than food, if you ask me (though nobody has asked it yet!). I carry about 12 gallons with me in several containers: a 6 gallon, a 3 gallon and three 1 gallon BPA-free refillables, all of which sit on the backseat floorboards. I try to fill up at visitor centers and rest stops for free, otherwise I pay around 30 cents a gallon at grocery stores. Without a stream nearby for the dogs to drink out of, 12 gallons can last the three of us between 4 and 6 days. If the dogs have their own source I can stretch it well over a week. Those boys drink a lot of water! I pretty much drink water all the time, occasionally flavored with crystal light or more often, brewed into tea. I’ve never had a taste for soda, coffee or alcohol, which has probably saved me thousands of dollars over the years. :)
Got a question about life on the road? You can email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.
Posted in Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 13 Comments

Crossing Paths at Comb Ridge

Scenic Highway 95

Scenic Highway 95 below Comb Ridge

When I’m on the road, measuring distances by the amount of ground I can hike or drive in a day, this world can start to seem like a very big place. But every now and then, forces conspire to remind me what a small world it is too.

The other day near Comb Ridge, just west of Blanding, Utah I passed a red Jeep towing another Teardrop going the other direction and the trailer looked so much like mine, I almost pulled a U-turn to chase them down. Turns out, it was just like mine! It was the second trailer built by Egon (I have #3) on the road from Lincoln, Nebraska! With only six of these trailers in the world what are the chances that two would cross paths on a rural highway in Utah? Small world, indeed. 

My Teardrop on the west side of the Comb

My Teardrop on the west side of the Comb. The decal is a photo from my 30th birthday backpacking trip at the Grand Canyon, a gift from Egon.  :)

It seems I can’t drive through Comb Ridge – Utah highways 95, west of Blanding and 163, west of Bluff were blasted through the ridge – without parking on the side of the road and hiking up the sandstone slabs. Comb Ridge is a textbook monocline, a tilted fold in the Earth’s crust that runs for more than 80 miles through southeast Utah down into northeast Arizona. The eastern slopes of the fold tilt upwards at a calf-burning 20 degree angle, thrusting upwards to the precipitous western edge.

One of these days, in the early spring or late fall, I’d love to spend a week or two exploring the Comb, hunting down some of the Anasazi dwellings hidden in its convoluted slots and recesses. This time of year it’s too hot to hike during the day. I settled for a late evening scramble up the north side of the highway and then an early morning climb up the south side after spending the night boondocking among the cottonwoods in Comb Wash.

Free campsite among the Cottonwoods below Comb Ridge. You can see the spires we hiked up to as well as the notch where 95 passes through the ridge.

Free campsite among the Cottonwoods below Comb Ridge. You can see the spires we hiked up to as well as the notch where 95 passes through the ridge.

Hiking up the sloping slabs on the east side of Comb Ridge

Hiking up the sloping slabs on the east side of Comb Ridge

Comb Ridge Tree

Comb Ridge Tree. You can barely see the Rover & the Rattler on the road below.

The edge of Comb Ridge

Approaching the steep western edge of Comb Ridge

Dogs giving me grey hais on the edge, highway 95 below

Dogs giving me grey hairs on the edge, highway 95 below

The next morning Dio and hiked up the Comb on the south side of the highway.

The next morning Dio and I hiked up the Comb on the south side of the highway.

Good Morning, Comb Ridge!

Good Morning, Comb Ridge!

For more on Comb Ridge check out David Robert’s classic Sandstone Spire: Seeking the Aansazi on the First Traverse of the Comb Ridge. It’s too hot in southeast Utah! Time for an altitude adjustment. :)

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized | 12 Comments

What Would the Blonde Coyote Do? Questions from an Aspiring Nomad

Overlooking Cedar Breaks, Utah

Overlooking Cedar Breaks, Utah

I’ve been getting so many lovely, thoughtful, inquisitive emails from people and I’m sorry to say it’s become impossible for me to answer all of them. Most of you want to hit the road – for a long weekend, for a few weeks or months and some of you want to go full nomad. I’d love to help each and every one of you set yourselves free, but if I spent that much time at the keyboard answering emails, I wouldn’t be living the kind of life I want to be living. Selfish, yes, but therein lies part of the secret to my success.

On the summit of Santa Fe Baldy in January

How I spend my free time. On the summit of Santa Fe Baldy in January!

My solution to this ridiculously flattering conundrum is to start answering some of these queries on the Blonde Coyote:

I’ve been following you on WordPress for quite some time and have always been inspired by the tales of your travels. Many of the things your write about resonate with me and give me the confidence to keep pushing and not smother my dreams of living on the road. You’ve stayed true to yourself and that hits home for me. I just turned 22 this week and am listening to my heart and got the courage to ask you suggestions about living on the road and how you sustain it. How did you get out there and how do you keep it going?

How did I get out here? I hit the road at 23, right after I finished college. I gave away everything that wouldn’t fit in my little VW and started driving West. My initial plan was to cross the Mississippi for the first time, see the Rockies, the Grand Canyon and the Pacific, spend the summer working on my uncle’s farm in Oregon and then live in a different place every year for the next five years. Nine years later, I’ve been hiking in all 50 states and have yet to land in one place for more than a few months at a time.

Now at 32, everything I own, including my two dogs, fits in a Land Rover and a five by ten foot Teardrop trailer. My annual income from freelance writing is less than $20K, but my monthly overhead is extremely low – my main expenditures are gas and food – and here’s the real key: I have zero debt. I’ve worked hard to make this lifestyle sustainable and I’ve got it all pretty well dialed; most days, I feel totally at home on the road.

Home Sweet Home at the Crossroads of the World

Home Sweet Home at the Crossroads of the World

My all time favorite arborglyph!

My all time favorite arborglyph!

How do I keep going? It’s not always easy. Inertia is a powerful force; when I’m moving, I never want to stop, and when I stop, I sometimes start to feel like I could stay that way, especially when I feel pulled by the gravity of friends and family. I am blessed to have many wonderful people in my life and it’s not easy to leave them behind. But I’ve learned that I feel best – happiest, most fulfilled – when I’m moving forward — physically, geographically, philosophically. And so I journey onward in spirals, circling back again and again to where I love and am loved.

The road home to where I spend winters in New Mexico

The road home to where I spend winters in New Mexico

Here’s the thing about always moving forward: everything around you changes all the time and you have to be ready, willing and able to adapt and evolve. I didn’t set out to be a nomad, but I’ve become one, because at every turn, with every choice, every decision, I’ve elected to keep moving forward. The housesitting, the freelancing, the trailer were all adaptations I’ve adopted along the way. Getting out there doesn’t just require one huge leap; I take leaps all the time. When I left home, I had no idea I would be traveling for this long I had no idea a person could travel for this long – but I really, truly, deeply love the road and I enjoy the hell out of my life, from one moment to the next, all day long, every single day. That’s how I know I’m on the right track.

Overlooking Sugarite Canyon in northeast New Mexico

Overlooking Sugarite Canyon with D.O.G. in northeast New Mexico

A little advice to this aspiring nomad:

• Take a long walk everyday. This habit, started ten years ago when I adopted my once young hyperactive dog Bowie, is what really kickstarted my travels. If you want to build the ambition, courage and wanderlust to travel, start on your own two feet. You don’t need to light out for distant coasts and exotic lands, all you need is a good pair of shoes.

• Say yes to all opportunities. My mission in life is to see, understand and experience as much of the natural world as possible. How you define an opportunity is up to you.

• Make choices and be decisive. Always keep in mind: not deciding is deciding.

• Don’t waste time or energy trying to convince skeptics of your plans. Do what you want to do and do it well and let your actions prove your point.

• Being debt-free is priceless. I have no credit, no debt, no loans and very few monthly bills. I do have health insurance, as medical bills are one of the leading sources of debt in this country. Since everything I own has to fit in less than 100 square feet of storage space, I don’t buy a lot of stuff but I’m constantly investing in new experiences. I wore the same pair of sandals for six years but I didn’t hesitate to plunk down $100 for alligator wrangling lessons.

• The most effective and efficient way to learn any new skill is by doing. You won’t have everything dialed before you hit the road and that’s ok. If you wait to have all it all figured before you go, you may never leave. Leap, again and again and again and you will learn, adapt and evolve as you go.

Home on the edge of the La Bajada Mesa. Until a few years ago, I had no idea so much free camping existed in this country. Now I rarely pay for a campsite.

Home on the edge of the La Bajada Mesa. Until just a few years ago, I had no idea so much free camping existed in this country. Now I rarely pay for a campsite.

Got a question about life on the road? You can email me at theblondecoyote@gmail.com.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Science Writing, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 11 Comments

Across the Valle Vidal

Valle Vidal Vertebrae

Valle Vidal Vertebrae

I may have had the Rio Grande Gorge all to myself on Memorial Day weekend but the rim was beset with motorcycles. I’ve always liked bikers – they’re generally kind and generous to fellow travelers – but I have a low tolerance for noise. So I headed somewhere I’ve long wanted to go, somewhere I knew would be quiet, even on a holiday weekend: the Valle Vidal in northern New Mexico.

Crossing the Valle Vidal- totally worth the $10 I had to spend at the car wash to get all the mud off the Teardrop!

Crossing the Valle Vidal- totally worth the $10 I had to spend at the car wash to get all the mud off the Teardrop! Those are bison on the right.

The Valle Vidal – Spanish for “Valley of Life” – is a stretch of no man’s land between Costilla and Raton in northern New Mexico. Home to the largest elk herd in the Southwest and all manner of fanged, furry and flying creatures, the Valle Vidal is stunningly beautiful: high open meadows ringed by aspens and ponderosas, lorded over by Costilla Peak.

This place was once home to a number of remote ranches and homesteads, the ruins of which are scattered throughout the region on either side of forest road 1950, which runs for 60 miles from Amalia to near Cimarron. Sure enough, 60 miles of dirt roads were enough to keep out the holiday weekend warriors. I just about had the whole Valle Vidal to myself!

The Ring Ranch

The Ring Ranch

Hanging out at the Ring Ranch. This place was lived in until the 1960's so it's relatively intact.

Hanging out at the Ring Ranch. This place was lived in until the 1960′s so it’s relatively intact.

I thought this might be a horse skull, but I'm pretty sure it's an elk.

I thought this might be a horse skull, but I’m pretty sure it’s an elk.

Bowie says "I can haz elk skull?"

Bowie says “I can haz elk skull?”

The original entrance to the Ring House

The original front door to the Ring House

Like most homesteads, this house was built in stages. The center section here is the original cabin.

Like most homesteads, this house was built in stages. The center section here with the bricked up fireplace is the original cabin.

Homestead Wall

Homestead Wall

The Ring family raised 7 girls on this ranch in the early 1900's.

The Ring family raised 7 girls on this ranch in the early 1900′s.

Ring Ranch Irises

Ring Ranch Irises

Ring Ranch Treasures

Ring Ranch Treasures

An interpretive trail out to the Ring Ranch

Following the interpretive trail out to the Ring Ranch

Of course the markers have ben shot multiple times. This is New Mexico!

Of course all the markers have ben shot multiple times. This is New Mexico!

Other buildings on the Ring Ranch have fallen into ruin

Other buildings on the Ring Ranch have fallen into ruin

The Ring Ranch well

The Ring Ranch well

Another elk skull. The elk hunts in Valle Vidal are legendary. You have to win a lottery to get a permit and then it's a once in a lifetime hunt.

Another elk skull. The elk hunts in Valle Vidal are legendary. You have to win a lottery to get a permit and then it’s literally a once in a lifetime hunt: One permit, per person, per lifetime.

Any guesses what this might be? It was hanging from a tree on the way out to the McCrystal Ranch. Hung with wire, so not really weight bearing. Hmmm...

Any guesses what this might be? It was hanging from a tree on the way out to the McCrystal Ranch. Hung with wire, so not really weight bearing. Hmmm…

After a rainy night at the McCrystal Campground, I set out for the McCrystal Ranch. This remote outpost was once one of the crown jewels of the Valle Vidal. My hiking guidebook said the main house was still standing but I guess a stiff wind blew through at some point since the book was published in 2001.

Mattress springs at the McCrystal Ranch

Mattress springs at the McCrystal Ranch

As I approached the ruins, at the end of a long, overgrown road, I spotted two coyotes in the field in front of the house. They didn’t notice me; they were occupied hunting prairie dogs. One would dig at the end of a burrow while the other lay in wait at the other entrance. I didn’t point them out to Dio, but when he noticed me watching intently, he followed my gaze and found them.

As soon as Dio saw them, both coyotes stopped hunting and looked right at us, as if Dio had sent them some kind of psychic canine message. Then the two coyotes trotted over to the edge of the trees and lay in the shade, watching us, watching them. While I circled the ruins, I had to remind Dio a couple of times to stay with me; he wanted to go meet his coyote cousins, who I could still see through the trees. Once we returned back to the road, the coyotes came out of hiding and resumed their hunt, unfazed by our brief intrusion.

McCrystal D.O.G. My guidebook said this place was still standing but extremely fragile. Guess a strong wind blew through here since it was published!

McCrystal D.O.G.

McCrystal Wagon Wheel

McCrystal Wagon Wheel

Leaving the McCrystal Ranch

The Old Road to the McCrystal Ranch

For more bones, check out my post Bare Bones, Skulls & Skeletons. I do love New Mexico, but it’s time to head farther afield. Next up: southern Utah!

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Cowboys & Horses, Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Sustainable Living, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 14 Comments

EARTH Magazine: How earthquakes affect the upper atmosphere

The June 2014 issue of EARTH

The June 2014 issue of EARTH

As many of you know, I don’t just write for fun. This is also how I make my living! If you’re curious about my science writing, my latest story for EARTH magazine, on how earthquakes affect the upper atmosphere, just went live. This is one of my favorite pieces I’ve written for EARTH lately, where I usually cover the geophysics beat – think earthquakes, plate tectonics and volcanoes.

On Jan. 12, 2010, a magnitude-7 earthquake rocked Haiti’s capital, Port-au-Prince, destroying much of the city and killing more than 200,000 people. Satellite records of atmospheric electron activity high above the island reveal an unusual pattern of behavior in the ionosphere in the months leading up to the quake — information that could be used in the future to forewarn of major earthquakes.

Scientists have long known that some minerals — quartz, for example — can produce electricity when deformed under pressure, an effect called piezoelectricity. This phenomenon has been replicated in the lab by applying stress to a slab of granite and measuring the ensuing electrical current.

“At a certain amount of stress, you start seeing a flow of electrons,” says Pierre-Richard Cornely, an electrical engineer at Eastern Nazarene College in Quincy, Mass., who presented new research on the phenomenon last December at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Calif. “In theory, this amount of stress can be likened to the stress inflicted on rocks leading up to an earthquake.”

Everything really is connected! To read the rest, click over to EARTH’s website.

Posted in Science Writing, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Into the Gorge: Where the Red Meets the Rio Grande

At the confluence of the Red (left) and Rio Grande (right) Rivers

At the confluence of the Red (left) and Rio Grande (right) Rivers

On my way from Hermit Peak to the Rio Grande Gorge, I got crunched between the Land Rover and the Teardrop. Ouch. After a few days taking it easy on the long, flat roads that crisscross the east rim of the Gorge, I was ready to plunge headlong into that deep, dark river canyon.

The confluence from the La Junta Point overlook

The confluence of the Red and Rio Grande from the La Junta Point overlook

The Rio Grande River runs at the bottom of a 800 foot deep geologic rift that cuts down through the layers of black basalt that underlie north-central New Mexico. On the surface, the high desert is a sagebrush sea, cross hatched by dusty roads and antelope paths. But switchback down one of the steep footpaths that drop into the gorge and you’ll find a surprising green riverine paradise.

Big Ponderosas along the Rio Grande

Big Ponderosas along the Rio Grande

The Rio Grande Gorge runs for 50 miles, from the Colorado/ New Mexico border to just south of Taos. My favorite access point is the Wild Rivers Area of the Rio Grande Del Norte National Monument near Questa. This little-visited gem was just made a national monument last year but the crowds have yet to descend. I camped here on Memorial Day weekend and once I dropped below the rim, I had the place all to myself.

Big Ponderosas along the Rio Grande

Big Ponderosas along the Rio Grande

Dogs hate metal steps like these. Bowie's tackled them elsewhere and he went right down, but Dio threw a fit.

Dogs hate metal steps like these. Bowie’s tackled them elsewhere and he went right down, but Dio threw a fit.

Poor Dio really, really, really hated these stairs. Bowie went up and down them a few times, showing his little brother than he wouldn't fall through. I let him figure it out and he eventually followed us.

Poor Dio really, really, really hated these stairs. Bowie went up and down them a few times, showing his little brother than he wouldn’t fall through. I let him figure it out and he eventually followed us.

La Junta Trail Junction

La Junta Trail Junction

Camping shelter along the Rio Grande. Holiday weekend. Nobody here!

Camping shelter along the Rio Grande. Holiday weekend. Nobody here!

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Riverside Shelter Rules . These are free, no permits required.

Rio Grande Dogs

Rio Grande Dogs. After a few days on the hot, dusty rim, these boys were ready for a swim!

Rio Grande Self Portrait

Rio Grande Self Portrait

Rio Grande D.O.G.

Rio Grande D.O.G.

At the Confluence. See the demarkation between the two rivers?

At the Confluence

Washed out bridge over the Red River, no longer connecting to the Cebola Mesa trail.

Washed out bridge over the Red River, no longer connecting to the Cebola Mesa trail.

Om mani padme hum blessing in Sanskrit, carved in a boulder along the Rio Grande. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_mani_padme_hum

Om mani padme hum blessing in Sanskrit, carved in a boulder along the Rio Grande. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Om_mani_padme_hum

Opferkessels & Caterpillar

Opferkessels & Caterpillar

Looking up the Red River with La Junta Point above.

Looking up the Red River with La Junta Point above.

Bowie, my 11 year old trail dog extraordinaire, looking rightly proud of himself for having just climbed that ladder!

Bowie, my 11 year old trail dog extraordinaire, looking rightly proud of himself for having just climbed that ladder!

 

Back on top. I also hiked a a 4-mile loop down Little Arsenic Springs and back to this point.

Back on top. I also hiked a a 4-mile loop down Little Arsenic Springs and back to this point.

Love river confluences? Check out my post on hiking to the meeting place of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River. Up next: a journey back in time in the Valle Vidal!

 

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, New Mexico, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized | 9 Comments