Wednesday, August 25, 2010

One of these things is not like the other: Arches, Zion, L.A.

I spent three nights and as many days in the Moab area before heading southwest to Zion National Park. After driving that 5.5 hours through barren, lonely desert I can see why the Mormon pioneers gave it its name. Speaking of naming, I think the Native Americans lost this contest in southern Utah. I know a number of places in the U.S. have reverted back to the native name of a place (Denali, for example) but not southern Utah. In Zion, there are features and hikes such as the Great White Throne, the Altar of Sacrifice, the Court of the Patriarchs (which, in order are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob), Angel's Landing, and the Virgin River. Essentially, it's a religious theme park...

I spent three days and nights in Zion before heading southwest again, this time to Los Angeles. I'm not one who ever had much interest in the home of Hollywood stars, but my motive had less to do with seeing Brangelina and more to do with taking a college friend hostage for the trip up the coast. Mission accomplished, by the way. We're currently stopped in Berkeley so she can gather a few of her things and then we're heading on up to the Oregon coast. And as usual, a few observations about where I've been of late below:
  • My mother, also known to my friends as Captain Safety, keeps warning me of potential peril in the great outdoors. The latest has been frequent updates on the bandits from Arizona who may or may not be camped out in National Parks. My mom's suggestion for avoiding the bandits is "If you pull into a campsite and there's a dodgy looking couple then just keep on driving." I am sorry Mom, but this is America and these are public campgrounds. If I refused to camp in a campground with a dodgy looking couple, I think I'd never sleep.
  • Vegas is creepy. There is nothing on either side except barren, lonely desert. I am sorry, but golf courses don't belong in the desert, and neither does Venice. I am fairly convinced the whole place is just a mirage anyway, and doesn't actually exist. I saw it (or think I did) but I'm pretty sure that was the heat getting to me.
  • I think it might be impossible to drive into Los Angeles, emerging from the desert with most of your earthly belongings packed into a car and not feel like your life has suddenly become a movie. I'm not too sure who is playing me in my biopic, but it's a dramatic entrance, I assure you. Windows down, radio up...
  • It's also kind of hard not to sightsee in L.A., mostly because everything seems to be famous in one way or the other. I didn't ask my hosts to show me around town, but as we drove to dinner and back it felt like I had signed up for an L.A. tour. Among the sites along our path were Sunset Boulevard, the Hollywood sign, the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and the freeway where O.J. tried to flee. Yeah, a town where even the 6 lane freeway is famous means that sightseeing is hard to avoid.
Since I can't go much farther west, it's up to the north. Plans are for a week or so of coastal Oregon camping and then up to Seattle to meet a friend for some camping over Labor Day weekend in the Olympic Peninsula. That is if I don't come up with some other brilliant plan between now and then.

Sunset at the Delicate Arch in Arches National Park

One of the many religiously themed hikes in Zion National Park

Not to be attempted by those with a fear of heights. Sheer drop-offs of 800 feet on one side and 1,200 feet on the other.

Angel's Landing indeed

Hiking the Narrows, which is basically just walking upstream into the canyon for a few miles

Hello, Los Angeles

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Westward, ho!

It's been a while, I know. I've been in the States since mid-May doing a combination of roadtripping, wedding attending, and general merrymaking. I spent May and June in a whirlwind East Coast tour and then July was spent mostly in a basement in Pawtucket, Rhode Island recording an album with my old-time partner in crime, Jonah Sol Gabry. The album is off to a good start and is currently in the mixing/mastering phase. Stay tuned for a release date when you'll be able to purchase one for yourself and hear what I'm talking about.

On August 1st with the Atlantic Ocean in the rear-view, I headed west. The first stop was Jonah's family compound in the Catskills before a mad dash (via Chicago and Omaha) to Colorado. In Colorado I attended a fabulous wedding of an old time camp friend before heading into the "I'm-going-to-go-play-outside" portion of the trip. I hiked to the top of the Rockies (Mt. Elbert, 14,443 feet), swung through Guffey (pop. 26) to see some relatives, and now join you from Moab, Utah (the jumping off point for Arches National Park). In order not to bore you to tears, I'll keep up my old format with just a few nuggets of observation.
  • Ohio and Indiana are awful to drive across. Not to mention the toll roads cost as much as Boston - DC ($24). Sorry if you hail from one of these states, but other than our friendship I don't see much appeal to your state. Iowa and Nebraska, however surprisingly, weren't all that bad. Iowa actually has rolling hills (with plenty of corn), and Nebraska has at least a dozen trees (which I totally didn't expect). I can now personally attest to the fact that both Iowa and Nebraska do, indeed, exist. I am sure there are some people out there who feel the same way about Mississippi. I assure you, these states all exist.
  • Hiking a 14'er (those mtns in Colorado over 14,000 feet) is, in fact, achievable. However, I recommend acclimating to the altitude and plenty of water. Our trail was only 4.5 miles long, but we ascended 4,000 feet in the process - a helluva steep trail if you ask me. Not to be outdone by the dogs and octogenarians also climbing to the top, I kept on schlepping (past the two false summits) to the actual summit for a spectacular view of the Rockies.
  • Visiting a National Park in August is like a vacation to France. The scenery might be a little different, but you'll hear more French than English, guaranteed. I guess since they all take off the month of August (more than 2 weeks vacation is such a novel concept, ain't it?) they decide to come sweat it out in the great outdoors.
  • Always, always, always stake down your tent. And then put rocks over the stakes. I learned this advice many moons ago but somehow forgot and nearly ended up chasing my tent down the Colorado River one afternoon when the wind decided to pick up a bit. I can assure you the event was a comedy of errors and brought endless entertainment to my camping companion at the time. If you need a chuckle today, please just envision this scenario. It was hilarious.
  • You should also check your oil before you leave the oil change place. It took me 100 miles after leaving Lube & Latte in Golden, CO to realize the idiots forgot to put back on the oil cap filler. I realized it only after a quart or so had splashed out of its proper place all over my engine. Luckily, oil cap fillers are standard parts at a CarQuest of AutoZone. That was a close one...
  • For those of you who followed the Asia stories - I cannot express the comfort of being normal sized again. No more new yoga positions necessary for the cross-country travel in the US. There are also far fewer random people wanting to take pictures of me. While the paparazzi attention had it's moments, it's good to be inconspicuous again.
Coffee break at Nebraska rest area. Why pay for Starbucks when you can kick back and brew your own cup of joe?

Summit of Mt. Elbert, the tallest peak in Colorado and the second tallest in the continental US

Sunset from Guffey, CO (pop. 26)

Camping spot outside of Moab, UT - before the weather decided to relocate my tent

Arches National Park - it's basically France.

From here I head to Zion and then over to Yosemite. I basically move when I feel moved to and operate on a totally "what-do-I-feel-like-doing/where-do-I-feel-like-going today" schedule. I'll be in touch if I'm coming through your neck of the woods. God knows I could use a shower right about now...