Sun Tunnels Solstice

Sun Tunnel Sunset

Sun Tunnel Sunset

I spend most of my time outside and live by the Sun and so Solstices are kind of a big deal for me, more so than any other Hallmark-holiday. So when I was invited to a Solstice party way out in the northwestern Utah desert at an art installation called the Sun Tunnels, I changed my tentative travel plans. Instead of heading west into Nevada’s Ruby Mountains, I went north to City of Rocks, Idaho, where I spent a couple of days climbing 2-billion year old granite with my campground neighbors, who not only invited me to climb with them, but also made me lunch and cooked me dinner. The generosity of people I meet on the road never ceases to amaze me.

City of Rocks in southern Idaho boasts some of the oldest granite in the USA

City of Rocks in southern Idaho boasts some of the oldest granite in the USA

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On of our routes up Coyote Corner on Rabbit Rock (5.8) in the center up the corner crack. Find the two climbers!

On the Friday before the Solstice, I headed back south to the very edge of northwest Utah, about 15 washboarded miles off the pavement, past the ghost town of Lucien, to a dusty, desolate spot on the edge of my map. Four concrete tunnels and a handful of cars assured me I was in the right place. I tracked down my art historian friend Joey, who seemed a little incredulous that I had actually showed up. Funny how rare it is to meet somebody these days who says yes and means it.

The wide open landscape around the Sun Tunnels

The wide open landscape around the Sun Tunnels

One of the few inhabitants of this remote desert.

One of the few inhabitants of this remote desert.

The Sun Tunnels were created in 1976 by pioneering land artist Nancy Holt, who sought to capture this almost incomprehensibly huge Basin-and-Range landscape on a more human scale. The tunnels are 18 feet long and 9 feet high and viewing the wide open country through the aperture of the tunnels does make it easier to wrap your mind around the sheer scale of the landscape. Arranged in an open X formation, two of the tunnels line up with sunset and the other two with sunrise on the summer and winter solstices, events she hoped would lure people out to experience this beautiful, remote place at least twice a year.

Sunset on Friday Night. The alignment lines up for several days before and after the actual Solstice.

Sunset on Friday Night. The tunnels align with the setting Sun for several days before and after the actual Solstice.

The smaller holes are arranged to echo four different star constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn.

The smaller holes are arranged to echo four different star constellations: Draco, Perseus, Columba, and Capricorn. They don’t align with the stars, but simply serve as additional apertures onto the landscape.

Around 75 people made the journey out to the Sun Tunnels on Friday night, most from Salt Lake City, and several dozen camped overnight to catch the sunrise through the opposing set of tunnels the next morning.

Sun Tunnels Sunrise

Sun Tunnels Sunrise

Then, much to my initial surprise: everybody left. By noon on Saturday, only three of us remained at the site. I soon found out why: this was a hella harsh place to hang out. High in the sky, the Sun was relentless and repeated gusts of hot wind raked across the desert all day, stirring up towering dust devils that forced swirling grit into the tiniest crevasses. Even with the trailer to hide inside, the day was kind of an ordeal. But I was glad I stayed. After a day in the elements, the Sun Tunnels became more than a novel art installation: the cool, concrete tubes were a refuge.

The Teardrop through the Sun Tunnels

Sun Tunnels Teardrop

The black lines were made by people firing guns into the tunnels and the bullets spinning along the walls.

The black lines were made by people firing guns into the tunnels and the bullets spinning along the walls.

By evening, a whole new crowd of about 150 people showed up, their arrivals announced on the far horizon by the trails of dust kicked up under their wheels. Several people rolled up with flat tires and I found several dozen rusty nails scattered around my campsite. In the desert, the hazards never cease.

New arrivals getting a thorough dust bath

New arrivals getting a thorough dust bath

Bowie the party animal. The dogs both made the rounds. Pretty sure they greeted each and every person at the Tunnels more than once.

Bowie the party animal. The dogs both made the rounds. Pretty sure they got petted by each and every person at the Tunnels more than once.

Sunset on the Solstice. I didn't even try to get another alignment shot.

Crowded Sunset on the Solstice. I didn’t even try to get another alignment shot.

After dark, the party really got started. Many people had brought firewood and food and everybody was willing to share. Camped way out in the desert, a few bright fires surrounded by hundreds of miles of pitch darkness, we all pooled our resources and a hundred Sun-loving strangers became a tribe. Once again, I found myself in exactly the right place at the right time with the right people.

I connected with a cadre of anarchists from SLC

I connected with a cadre of anarchists from SLC.

Climbing on top of the tunnels was much easier than anything I scaled at City of Rocks!

Climbing on top of the tunnels was much easier than anything I scaled at City of Rocks! I’d call it a 5.5.

I originally planned to head west to the Ruby Mountains, but an irresistible offer from a charismatic anarchist enticed me back to Salt Lake City. Stay tuned for an unexpected, enlightening urban post!

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

The Lost & Found Coast

Lost Coast Labryinth

I just heard that the cabin I visited two years ago on the Lost Coast of California burned down. My condolences to John, who built the place himself from driftwood and lived there for 35 years. The hour I spent in his company in that cabin was one of the highlights of a golden summer. 

Look at a map of California and you’ll see highways 1 and 101 run along the entire coast. Look closer; the pavers missed a 30-mile section between Eureka and Rockport. This roadless, rugged stretch of beach is known as the Lost Coast.

My first night camping at the Lost Coast was probably the most dangerous night of my entire trip. No, I wasn’t threatened by psychos or attacked by wild animals. A couple of idiots almost burned down the beach. I came back from watching the sunset to find my neighbors had erected a giant driftwood bonfire with full sized logs, leaned upright into a precarious teepee. Much to my alarm, there was nobody around. The idiots had set the teepee ablaze and then walked away. It was windy and dry as hell and I hated to think what might happen if the whole thing collapsed and flames spread to the tall grass that ran up and down the dunes.

Lost Coast campsite- trying out the awning!

Not one to fret idly, I walked down to their campsite and put out the bonfire, then rebuilt a more reasonable blaze and enjoyed its company until the pyros returned. They were a young couple from Missouri, their first time in California. I explained their fire had been dangerously high for such a dry place and that they should never leave a fire unattended. They seemed only a little annoyed and invited me to stay for a s’more. Of course, I accepted and we had a nice chat.

“Do you guys know about the lighthouse?” I asked them. They did not. The hike to the Punta Gorda lighthouse ranks in my top ten hikes of all time. Between the waves, the cliffs, the tide pools, the seals, the whales, the tall dune grass, the wildflowers, the solitude, the shipwreck and the small but elegant lighthouse, this might be the one of the most beautiful beach walks in the world.

The Punta Gorda Lighthouse

I stumbled onto the Lost Coast seven years ago, on my very first road trip from Pennsylvania to Oregon. My brother, Bowie and I set out for a three day hike but our first night out, with no trees in sight, I tried to cache our food supply on top of a large rock only to find it ripped to shreds by morning. The damned seagulls had eaten all of our food! We had no choice but to abort the trek and return to the trailhead. These days, the park service requires all overnight Lost Coast hikers to carry bear canisters. Fortunately, bear canisters are also raccoon and seagull proof! Some trail lessons are learned the hard way…

Punta Gorga Lighthouse Remnants. The lighthouse was built in 1910 and decommisioned in 1951.

View from the lighthouse. Notice the shipwreck ruins on the beach.

A small village of wooden houses once stood on Punta Gorda, but in the 60’s a group of hippies took up residence and the BLM elected to burn down all the buildings to keep them out for good.

No idea what this is, but it looks like it has been here for awhile. A number of ships wrecked offshore here due to the combination of shallow reefs and high winds whipping around the bluffs.

This trip was just an all day hike. On the way back from the lighthouse, I nosed a bit too close to what I thought was an empty cabin on the beach, only to be startled by a white-haired man waving at me through a window. He came outside and I apologized for being nosy, but he waved me closer, shook my hand, introduced himself as John and invited me in for coffee.

John’s place- a hand built, walk-in only cabin

The interior of John’s cabin was sparse, but homey, with a large wood stove, a bed, a worktable by the window and two wooden chairs. John told me he’s lived in this place for 35 years. He built the cabin himself, mainly from scrap-wood collected on the beach. It’s off the road – his Subaru is parked on the bluffs high above, reachable by a steep trail – and off the grid. A solar panel runs a few lightbulbs and a radio but John has no phone or internet.

“I don’t have much, but I’m the richest man on earth,” he told me. John is rich in time, the most priceless of all commodities, and he spends his bounty creating art. On the table by the window was a sculpture, rough- hewn but magnificent. I’d never seen a block of wood curl around itself quite so beautifully. Then John set a dried strip of seaweed in front of the block. It was twisted in exactly the same way as the wood. “This is my model,” he said proudly. The man is a master.

John’s model & creation, in progress.

When he’s finished sanding down this sculpture to a mere fraction of an inch thick, it’ll be smooth as silk and weigh only a few ounces. His final products are nearly as delicate as the wisps of seaweed that inspire them and he breaks more than a few in the process. Not a man to hang on to mistakes, broken works go into the wood stove, lessons learned. Finished pieces sell for several thousand dollars, his main source of income.

John and I spent most of the afternoon talking about Art and the Ocean, which crashes right outside his window and sometimes washes up under the cabin. When he’s not carving, he’s out exploring the coast, picking up new sea life models and several tons of trash, which he hauls up the bluff one backpack full at a time. He drives to the closest town once a week for groceries and to Eureka three times a year. He hasn’t gone further away from home in over a decade.

John McAbery, master woodworker and keeper of the Lost Coast

An avid traveler once, John asked me all about my life on the road and I asked him all about what it’s like to find a place that inspires for 35 years. Someday, I hope to be as rich as John McAbery.

To read more about John, check out this lovely artist profile piece in the San Francisco Chronicle. To see more of his creations, visit his website at www.johnmcaberywoodsculptures.com.

Lost Coast, Low Tide: Starfish & Urchin

Lost Coast, Low Tide: Crab & Gull

Beach Dogs, giving their feet a break from the course sand.

Windy Point Road- I made a loop back to the campsite by climbing a trail up and over the bluffs.

Mattola Beach Overlook- Where the Mattola River Meets the Pacific

Best wishes, John, whether you plan to rebuild or move on. Thanks again for inviting me in.

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 11 Comments

Salt Lake Spirals

The Great Salt Lake. I had no idea it's so PINK!

The Great Salt Lake. I had no idea it’s so PINK!

I’ve met all five Great Lakes, but had yet to see the Great Salt Lake so after a weekend in the High Unitas Mountains in northeast Utah, I skirted around Salt Lake City and approached America’s Dead Sea from the north. My original plan was to drive down Promontory Point, but a park ranger at the Golden Spike National Historic Site (where the Transcontinental Railroad bridged the gap between East and West in 1869) informed me that the road down Promontory Point is private, gated and locked.

Mares and foals grazing in front of the Prominatory Mountains.

Mares and foals grazing in front of the Promontory Mountains.

“Besides, there’s not much to see down there,” he said. “But isn’t the Great Salt Lake down there?” And he said, “Oh yeah, that. The better place to see the lake is at the Spiral Jetty“. I had no idea what the Spiral Jetty was, but I didn’t ask the ranger any questions about it; I rather like encountering new places without having a picture already in mind. It’s an uncommon experience these days: to go some place you’ve never seen a photo of, or heard a story about. That quickening of surprise, that tickling of the mind, that flashes upon you when you open your eyes to something new in the world. Even after nine years on the road, going new places never ceases to thrill me.

The first jetty we hiked down, remnants of an oil-drilling operation.

The first jetty we hiked down from Rozel Point, remnants of an oil-drilling operation.

Salt Lake

Jetty Death

Salt Lake Bowie. I think he thought it was snow, but it didn't taste like snow and the water didn't smell like water. Dogs confused!

Salt Lake Bowie. I think he thought it was snow, but it didn’t taste like snow and the water didn’t smell like water. Dogs confused!

Lots of white foam. This place was like being on the beach on Venus!

Lots of white foam, dead bugs and sand fleas.

Even though it was too stormy, shallow and stinky to wade in and float, the Great Salt Lake did not disappoint. I had no idea it’s so PINK! Between the pink water and the salty white, foamy shore I felt like we were on the beach on Venus. The dogs were thoroughly confused by the sights and smells. They love to swim, but they wouldn’t go anywhere near the water and they both sampled some foam in their mouths and spit it out in disgust.

The Spiral Jetty!

The Spiral Jetty!

A little farther down the road, I found the Spiral Jetty. I had no idea who had built it or why, but it was clearly a monumental work: thousands of tons of rock dropped into a massive counter clockwise spiral leading out into the lake. I had the place to myself for a few hours and I decided to set up camp for the night to catch sunset and sunrise over the lake.

Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty

Home sweet home at the Spiral Jetty

Spiral Jetty from above

Spiral Jetty from above. This place was lousy with spirals!  Notice the Rover & Rattler down below.

After awhile, a truck with Florida plates pulled up and the driver got out and took a tripod down to the Jetty. His far-off figure appeared animated and excited and I kept catching snippets of his commentary as he spoke into the camera. When he came back up the parking lot, I went over to ask if he knew anything about the spiral and he said, “Well how long do you have? I’m writing a book about this place!”

We ended up hanging out for most of the evening, while Joey told me about his pilgrimage from Miami across the West, seeking obscure “land art” installations in Utah, Nevada and Texas and all about Robert Smithson, the sculptor who created the Spiral Jetty in 1970 before dying in a place crash in 1973 while surveying a site in Texas for another installation.

Walking the Spiral Jetty. The spiral is only visible at low lake levels. It was hidden for decades after it was built, emerging only in the early 2000's, encrusted in salt. I'd love to come back someday when the water is higher.

Walking the Spiral Jetty. The spiral is only visible at low lake levels. It was hidden for decades after it was built, emerging only in the early 2000’s, encrusted in white salt. I’d love to come back someday when the water is higher.

I often find myself in the right place at the right time and it was just my luck to run into an art historian at the Spiral Jetty! “If you like this place, you should come to the Sun Tunnels this weekend for the Solstice Party,” he said. Sounds like an opportunity to me… stay tuned for a Solstice post!

Dawn over the Great Salt Lake

Dawn over the Great Salt Lake

Posted in Bowie & D.O.G., Hiking!, Photography, Road tripping!, Teardrop Trailer, Uncategorized, Vagabonding 101 | 12 Comments

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 | 12 Comments