So, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything, because I’ve mostly been going to school. I have, however, been on spring break, which has allowed me to get out a little bit. I originally planned on hitchhiking to Great Basin National Park in Nevada, but I decided that it was a bit ambitious and there were some things I wanted to do here in town too. I started my break off by helping out with a youth retreat, which is a great time of sleep deprivation, caffeine, dancing, shenaningans, and of course prayer, bible study, and worship. After retreat I slept for 14 hours and hung out in Polson for a few days.

I did decide to go south on highway 93, just not as far as Nevada. I initially went to some hiking areas in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, an area of hiking trails that straddles the Montana and Idaho border. It was still pretty snowy for hiking, but it was pretty cool all the same. One of the areas I went to, Blodgett Canyon, is pretty popular for rock climbing, so I went there and scrambled around. I don’t know if there is a designated area or something, but I had to cross a beaver dam and go up some random hillside. Being the poser that I am, I didn’t climb anything too serious; it was mostly semi-vertical formations and a little bit of legit bouldering. Nonetheless, if I slipped this could have been me:

Some of the bouldering was legitimately scary for me. It was quite a beautiful area, but given that I only had my camera phone, I didn’t get any nice pics. Here is one I found on Google though:

Photo cred: Bigsage.com

After Blodgett Canyon I headed further south down 93 into Idaho. I wanted to go to some hot springs down by Salmon. It is not the most well-known spot, so it was a bit hard to find. At first I couldn’t remember if the turn off was near mile 292 or 282, so I fumbled around a bit. I eventually found it by 282, but there is no sign or anything. It’s a mile or two to hike up to the springs and it was getting late, so I just set up camp. Side note: my homemade camping stove worked pretty well. It is made out of a cat food can, a tuna can, a piece of fiberglass, and is fueled by Heet. It is very lightweight and affordable. Here is a link if you want to make one yourself : http://zenstoves.net/CatCanStove.htm

Complete with 32 oz soup can pot and wire hanger pot holder

Complete with 32 oz soup can pot and wire hanger pot holder

I got up fairly early the next day to head to the springs, thinking it would be best when it was still a bit chilly. Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the springs, so you will just have to go there yourself! They are nestled in a little, rocky canyon. There are about four pools up there varying in size, mine was about the size of a big bath tub. I think there is a bigger one but I didn’t go to it because it was occupied by a couple and I didn’t want to walk into something like this:

“My lover and I always crave salted meats.”

So I was content to alternate between my little hottub and the ice cold stream that flowed down the mountainside. I had some fun climbing up the creek bed that was strewn with boulders. I made it up to a little waterfall and put my head under it. Instantly numb, I hurried back to the hottub. I left late morning/early afternoon and at the perfect time. On my way out about a dozen people passed me headed for the springs.

I headed back to Polson that day via a circuitous route up by Hot Springs and then returned to Hot Springs the next day to soak and go to a rave. Kind of a random place to have a rave; Hot Springs is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, but it’s a cool little town. It was a pretty small rave that didn’t necessarily play my kind of music, but it was fun nonetheless. I met a Jehovah’s Witness guy there and we talked about God for quite a while, which was cool until I lost my voice. That JW sure could dance too; I didn’t think they were allowed to go to raves.

Despite that the party went all night, I went home “early”, about 3 AM. 2 days after the rave I was grocery shopping and picked up a hitchhiker. He told me that he was Missoula bound (about an hour away) so I told him I would take him. His eventual destination was Seattle, and after some deliberating I decided to just take him to Seattle (about an 8 hour drive); I had nothing better to do. So I drove the guy to Seattle and we got there at about 2 AM Tuesday morning. He showed me around a bit and took me to a cool viewpoint of the city. I opted to not do the space needle since it costs 15 bucks or more and really isn’t even that high. That night we pulled into a park and slept in my car. Well, he might of slept, I tossed and turned and maybe got 2-3 hours.

The next morning we got up and toured the city more extensively in the day time. We went to the main parts of town and to a cool park called gas works, which I heard of on this blog http://www.valisemag.com/a-day-in-the-sun-gas-works-park/. All was going well until I burnt out my clutch on a steep road. I was able to get my car, which smelled like burnt toast every time I shifted, to a transmission shop. The short of it: new clutch in Seattle= 900 dollars. I considered selling my car for parts, but decided against it. So I left it in the shop and wandered down 4th avenue.

I figured I would hang out with some of the local homeless people and drug addicts, since I saw many while I was driving around. It wasn’t long before I found some. There were a few emaciated people who I knew right off the bat were on heroin, but others didn’t look like they were. In the part of town I was in there is a clinic that gives out clean needles to heroin users. I happened upon a free-spirited looking guy of about my age sitting with his skateboard and made some small talk with him (I’ll call him “Jackson”). He said he heading to the needle exchange and asked if I wanted to come, so I walked with him.

A couple young, black guys met up with us at the building. After Jackson got out of the needle exchange, the group started walking down 4th avenue again. I started to talk to one of the other guys “Tim” a little bit. He had been on heroin (or black as he called it) for about two years, and shooting it for about 6 months. I told him it was dangerous, to which he agreed. He said he was having trouble getting his life on track and he blamed himself for a lot of stuff. He said he needed a change of scenery, so I told him to come to Montana. I wish I could’ve brought him back and gotten him a place to stay away from all of that.  I shared about the Lord with him a bit, which he was pretty open to. It seemed they had a lot of errands to run, so I didn’t get to talk with him too much.  While we were walking a black guy in about his thirties with a 20 something white guy in a hoodie asked us for “shards” (meth). We stopped and talked with them a bit too. Another guy asked if I wanted to buy some “clear” (meth).

After a bit, I parted ways with the group and just hung out on this block that was overrun by people tweaking out, selling drugs, sleeping, etc. There was a security guard nearby, but I guess he didn’t notice or care that some dude was selling pills out of his lunchbox. One of the guys buying looked like a high school English teacher or something. I offered a limping guy prayer, to which he refused. The whole scene was overwhelming and sad. I met back up with my friend on this block and we headed back to the shop to await my car. After spending an hour or so in the waiting room, we drove back downtown to drop my friend off at the homeless shelter. The traffic was atrocious though because there was an accident on a freeway. He eventually got out and walked, which goes to show how slow we were going.

I headed out of town, hoping to make it Spokane, but actually making it all the way home in the wee hours of the morning. I would’ve liked to stay in Seattle for a few days, but I was over sleeping in my car, and after maxing out my credit card to fix my car, I wasn’t going to stay in a hotel. I suppose I could’ve found a place to camp, but I had stuff to do in Polson anyway.  After spending so much to get my car fixed and learning of numerous other expensive problems, I am wondering if I am going to be able to much this summer. I am still planning on going to California, but I’m not sure if I will still be able to hike the John Muir Trail, go to Burning Man, or climb Mt. Shasta; it seems doubtful right now. We will see though, ten more weeks of school and I will be out of here! Stay tuned.

Gouryella

Posted: February 8, 2015 in Spirituality
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Gouryella*

As I walk into the forest, surrounded by such beauty and innocence

my heart is stirred by the faintest memory of a place

a place where the land was honored, not pillaged

where the fields were strewn with lilies, not corpses

where the grass was wet with dew, not blood

where the sky was lit up by stars, not missiles

a place where hands built up and didn’t tear down

where arms embraced and didn’t strangle

where legs danced and didn’t trample

where hearts were free and not buried in shame and pain

where people laughed and didn’t cry

a place where people were inebriated by joy, not intoxicated by poisons

where people drank from the river of God’s bliss, not from bottles

where people were enraptured by a divine embrace, not lustfully grasping

where God’s love warmed the soul, as the sun warms the sky

where God’s light brightened the mind, as the sun brightens the day

Oh, how my heart yearns for this place.

This place will be restored when all revolves around the Son**

as the planets revolve around the sun.

* Gouryella is the aboriginal word for heaven and one of my favorite trance songs (below) that carries a heavy Utopian vibe

**i.e. Jesus

Mission mountains

Mission mountains

Don’t Except Jesus

Posted: January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

Originally posted on Pilgrim's Map:

One of the common sales pitches in Evangelical Christianity is “Have you accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior?” Unfortunately,  for many accepting Christ equates to excepting Him from any meaningful role in one’s life. This mode of acceptance is akin to someone accepting that their great-great grandfather’s name was Herbert; it gets thrown into the compartment of other useless, irrelevant information except on the rare occasions when it needs to be taken out. For many, this rare occasion is after death when one presents his “admit one” slip to get into heaven. Such an idea turns God into a glorified travel broker. What a shallow spirituality, if it can be called that.

This phrase, “accepting Christ”, is not found in scripture. It is deduced from the erroneous notion that the Gospel is a mere legal transaction. Subsequently salvation is viewed as being saved from God, rather than saved from sin and death…

View original 633 more words

As we were heading North from Sedona, we thought that we might want to stop at the Grand Canyon. I had never been and Kyle has only gone there once a long time ago. It wasn’t too far out of our way so we decided to stop there. On the way to the Canyon countless Navajo art stands lined the road and the Little Colorado River Canyon prepared us for the big one.

 

Little Colorado Canyon

Little Colorado Canyon

 

 

I had to cringe a bit for paying $25 to get in, since we had paid only $10 for all the other parks, but it’s the Grand Canyon. It is probably the most visited national park and it is pretty cool. The North Rim is closed for the winter but the South Rim is open year round. We got some spectacular views near the visitor center and on the way to the other end of the park. Kyle tried photobombing some people from the viewpoint and then I offered to take their picture. The camera they had was one that I have been considering buying, Fujifilm XD (or XP?), a rugged, water and dust proof camera. That might be a good investment considering my little point and shoot crapped out so fast, they also recommended it. We drove on to some of the other view points.

 

The bigg'un

The bigg’un

 

P122114_1548

 

 

It was getting late and time to start thinking about camping. The park was out of the question, we weren’t going to pay for a patch of dirt on top of our $25 entrance fee. We exited the park on the Western side and found what seemed to be a forest service road. A lady who owned land near there said it would probably be okay if we camped there. For the first time we actually had a camp fire, which was good because I dropped Kyle’s stove in my soup and it stopped working.

It took us a bit, but we got it going and I kept it going all night so I could sleep by it. The next day we worked on finding a hiking trail and eventually landed on one called Bright Angel. We thought of camping in the canyon, but apparently it requires a permit that is hard to get. The ranger at the desk said that it would take 12 or so hours to hike to the Colorado river and back in one day and that it shouldn’t be done. Given our experiences at Xenolith and Painted Desert, we were fairly desensitized to ranger warnings by this point. Kyle was set on going to the river, a 15 mile round trip, I was a bit unsure, because of a lack of water, but we would play it by ear.

The first 20 minutes are so were pretty icy, Yak-traks helped a lot though. The trail was also pretty populous for winter. After the ice, we used gravity to our benefit and jogged down the canyon. We learned that there was a water station midway to the river, so we would go the whole way. We jogged about 2/3 of the way or so. It was beautiful, especially the parts where the trail was cut into rock on the second half of the trail. We got to the river at 12:30 or so and hung out down there. There was a nice sandy beach on the muddy Colorado.

picture0007

We laid on the beach a bit and ate our lunch of a half a bag of peanuts. After 30 minutes or so we started back up the trail and made it to the midway point at about 1:30, good time. The next checkpoint found us a little winded but still going strong. It started going down hill for me after that checkpoint (or rather very uphill). The lack of food started getting to me. The last mile and a half were just brutal. Kyle, freak of nature that he is, wasn’t even fazed. I walked up the hill old man style cursing and muttering to myself. I asked the Lord not to listen to me because I was no longer a human in that state of mind.

I questioned my ability to make it up; it still seemed so far. I hugged the inside of the trail so that if I fainted I wouldn’t fall down in the canyon. Feeling desperate, I searched my wallet to offer anyone and everyone $20 for a Clif bar. No wallet! I was worried for a minute, but then decided to just trust God with it and be resigned to the loss of my wallet. As I leaned against the wall to rest, I saw this encouraging sign.

P122214_1535

Do not hike from the Canyon Rim to the river in one day, risk of fatigue, exhaustion, death, etc

 

 

I pointed to it and said, “I’m that idiot,” to a passing guy. He offered me water, but I asked if he had any pizza instead. He said no, but he would share it with me if he did. For some reason in that frame of mind I was really sentimental about the simplest friendly encounters. Every smile or sympathy that a stranger offered was moving.  Pizza didn’t even sound good though, 5 PBJs and a milkshake sounded good. I pressed on and eventually stumbled to the trail head with Kyle to greet me. He was surprised at my condition. I had him open a can of garbonzo beans for me, because I was too weak to. Those beans revived me a lot. This ranger warning was the only legit one, but then again, I would have been fine if I had a real lunch. Going to the river and back in one day during the summer heat would probably be out of the question though. Kyle drove us out of the park to the nearest gas station to fill up, where I filled up with 4 PBJs and a bottle of chocolate milk. I figured that ate about a half pound of sugar –shouldn’t have got that fakey Smucker’s Goobers garbage, oh well, I think I burnt it off. We headed up north towards Utah, planning on going to Escalante National Monument. The road was closed up there so we ended up going the way past Vermilion cliffs.

Since we didn’t want to pay, as usual, we stopped at some random patch of dirt behind a residential area. We set up the tent and soon realized it would be an interesting night. The wind was howling and pushing our tent walls down on us almost constantly. Kyle decided he would try to sleep in the car and stupidly decided I would try to sit it out in the tent. I tried to laugh it off and ignore it for a while, but eventually the ceiling ended up as the floor and I just started to get really pissed. I found myself kicking the walls when the wind pushed them in and in general acting like a 2 year old having a temper tantrum. As Kyle was trying to get comfortable in the car, he kept accidentally honking the horn while repositioning himself. I eventually collapsed the poles and lay in the tent in an uncomfortable heap, but it had less wind resistance. After my little meltdown I felt really low and unworthy. I prayed and asked forgiveness. It was another one of those moments that reminded me how hard it is for me to receive gifts. I forget that it’s okay not to be perfect.

We got up in the morning and looked in vain for the entrance to Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. Eventually we paid an exorbitant price to get into the the Lees Ferry Recreational Area and from there were able to hike up a wash into the cliffs. It was a beautiful walk, the wash had very high walls, interesting rocks, balanced rocks, and crusty dunes like those in the painted desert. We stopped hiking at a large spire. After we got back to the car we just drove around the recreation site a bit and looked around. After the cliffs, we headed West to shoot up to Utah via the 380. I wanted to take this way because I wanted to pass through Colorado City, the seat of the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints church that has been a source of controversy. I read about this place a bit in Krakaeur’s Under the Banner of Heaven and have been intrigued ever since. Supposedly they still practice polygamy there. We just drove around the town for a few minutes; it looked pretty normal except for the ankle-length blue dresses that the women wore. It is actually a pretty beautiful area.

Since we were running low on time to get back to Montana in time for Christmas eve, we decided to skip Zion. We pressed on up to Salt Lake City and Kyle did some last minute shopping. After that we pressed on, potentially aiming to get to Helena that night. After repeated coffees and candy bars, we got too tired near Idaho Falls. We pulled into this semi yard and I slept outside and Kyle slept in the car. I never thought I would sleep outside in a place like Idaho in the winter, but I was actually pretty warm, it probably didn’t get colder than 20 something.

The next day was pretty uneventful on our drive home. We had a brief disagreement about the last tank filling. I thought it was Kyle’s turn and he seemed to think it didn’t matter and we didn’t need to reckon so exactly given the informal way we had been pooling resources. I figured that gas was its own category and should be reckoned just by alternating fills. It’s not a big deal; I was just trying to be fair. However, Kyle didn’t expect me to replace his stove that I broke even though I offered, so I felt stupid about bringing up the gas. I bring this up because I think it ties in to my difficulty of receiving gifts. I’m better at settling accounts than giving and receiving gifts. This bleeds over into my relationship with God and also my understanding of Christmas. Someone gives you a gift and you  give back an equivalent gift, it becomes an economic exchange. If you receive a gift you cannot pay back, then you feel guilty and avoid the giver even. But a true gift has no strings attached. Christ’s love, forgiveness, and eternal life is free and I cannot repay it or earn it with any amount of good works. He knows that I’m imperfect and that I’m a work in progress. Growing in goodness is part of the gift, not a purchase price of the gift. I hope that I will grow in generosity, even in informal partnerships and grow in the ability to receive gratefully, not guiltily. So there’s the little Christmas blurb for my Christmas break adventure.

The drive from New Mexico to the Painted Desert was pretty desolate. There are also a lot of Indian Reservations in the Southwest; in fact, I believe the Navajo nation is the biggest in the country. We drove through the Zuni Rez in NM and it was probably the rezziest rez I’ve ever seen: ramshackle, cookie cutter houses surrounded toy cars, Indian Taco stands off the road, and tribal members wearing the same Tribal hoodies with social campaign slogans on them. I couldn’t tell from the outside if it was a ghetto rez or if the houses were just ugly. I’m not an expert on Indian reservations, but I do live on one after all. Northeast Arizona also has a couple reservations, but we didn’t drive through very populous areas.

We arrived at the Petrified forest at about 3 or 3:30. Given the fact that the sun sets around 530, we knew that there was no time to see the park and we started thinking about camping. We inquired about camping permits at the visitors’ center and learned that they were free. Good start, but then the rangers proceeded to lecture us about how cold it gets at night, how muddy the painted desert is, and that we had better leave for our campsite by 4 and camp at least one mile away or the law enforcement might stop us. They also told us we could camp for free near some rock shops at the South end of the park. I was a bit ambivalent, mostly because they were rushing us. We decided that we would at least check out the Painted Desert. As we drove towards the parking area, chalky pinkish red and reddish pink clay dunes came into view. We parked and looked out over the endless sea of dunes. The parking lot is perched on a hill overlooking the desert. We ran down the hillside in search of a campsite and the conditions. It was pretty muddy, but not “ankle deep” like the ranger said. In the ravines between the dunes were piles of petrified stumps. Before this we were confused as to where the forest was, as we turned in the park we saw no hints of trees after all. The stump piles seemed pretty random in these dunes, like some computer programmer just arbitrarily spawned them there.

 

Reminds me of the stumps lol

Reminds me of the stumps lol, not this copious though

We found one tall dune to camp on. I was skeptical because it didn’t look like a mile away; I wanted to go further. Kyle, being the rebel he is, convinced me though. We went back to the car and packed up our gear. At about 4:30 the “law enforcement” (aka ranger) rolled up. It wasn’t either of the ones at the desk, but we wondered if he would be as overprotective. He didn’t care that we hadn’t left by 4 though; he just said “have fun and be safe”. We set up our tent on the dune overlooking the desert and ate our dinner of peanut butter tacos. After dinner I went and frolicked down the side of a dune, and after a few moments my feet slid out from under me. Thankfully, somehow I did a ninja move and caught myself on my hands and sprung myself back onto my feet before I could paint my pants. I washed my hands (as best as possible) and then settled down into the tent for the night. I wondered if our tent would slide down the dune during the night. Remembering the stars I had seen in New Mexico, I got up a bit later to survey the sky, but the whole desert was shrouded in a thick mist. I was hoping this mist would last until sunrise and make an awesome picture.

Unfortunately the mist did not last, but the sunrise was still pretty neat. I took a walk around the desert and found some pretty cool rocks. Kyle joined me after a while and we followed a wash that did a loop into the desert and back towards the camp. The little pools of smooth clay under ice looked really cool. It was strange how big groups of little rocks were frozen in place. I imagined tubing down one of the washes on a paint river, how cool would that be?. It is a very otherworldly place, like much of the Southwest.

 

Interesting formation

Interesting formation

 

Petrified stump

Petrified stump

 

P122014_0800

 

After our walk, we packed up camp, ate some food, and started the main tour. There are a lot of nice view points off the road. We stopped at a natural sandstone bridge and played around, jumping over washes and gaps, climbing rocks, and the like.

P122014_1224

Kyle jumping a gap

 

P122014_1226

Me jumping the same gap

 

 

 

When we came to the Blue Mesa area, we took a walk around the dunes. They looked just like the ones in the Painted Desert except they were greys, purples, and blues — very neat.

P122014_1128

The further South we headed, the more petrified stumps there were. We saw a ton, or probably a few tons, at the Crystal Forest. In the parking lot a woman approached us and told us to buy petrified wood at a turquoise house outside the park because it was really cheap. I definitely registered this moment because a.) I seem to get led to rock shops a lot on my adventures and b.) she mentioned something about Humboldt county, which has come up incessantly — I keep meeting people from there and that is where I plan on moving next summer. She had very long, red hair and sort of reminded me of a Disney princess, funny that we met her in the Crystal Forest, a very fairy tale-esque name. We finished touring the place and stopped at the major rock shops, which were expensive so we moved on to the turquoise house.

The petrified wood was about twice as cheap at the turquoise house than at the other shops. We browsed a bit and chatted with the owner. He was very friendly, apparently his family owns the land around there and they get petrified wood there, since it can’t be taken from the park. He mentioned how his wife had dropped a petrified stump on her leg the last spring and had lost most of her foot as a consequence. I offered to pray for her, he was grateful but not convinced it would help. He is a Christian but seems to think that God doesn’t heal anymore, especially a missing foot. Yeah, it seems weird, but if God created the universe and all therein he can recreate a foot. The guy gave me some Bibles and an extra piece of wood for free.

From there we headed towards Flagstaff and then Sedona. On the way to Flagstaff we stopped at a rest stop that had a bunch of boulders to climb on. We ended up staying there for about an hour climbing around — best rest stop I have ever been to. Flagstaff is also cool, I wouldn’t mind living there one day. It is colder than Phoenix though because it is more northern and sits at about 7,000 feet. The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was a steep descent on a two lane highway into Oak Creek Canyon. A very impatient person was tailgating us and honking at us, but I don’t know they were thinking because we were going around hairpin turns. Probably locals ticked at the stupid tourists who don’t know how to drive there. The valley was also fairy tale-esque, quite beautiful. As we neared Sedona all kinds of resorts kept popping up and we saw several California plates. I didn’t know it was so touristy. We also drove by a beautiful place called Slide Rock State Park. It had pine trees and red rocks, a good introduction to the scenery of Sedona — which looks like the the offspring of Arches and Montana.

As got on the main drag of town, we saw just how touristy it is. Little gift shops, restaurants, psychic readers, and tour companies were everywhere. We walked around the main street for a while and then ate at a pizza place that was pretty good, overpriced a bit, but not horrible. The beer was really overpriced; I unintentionally got a $7 beer. I figured it would be 4 or 4.50 like other microbrews (which is already too much) so I ordered it without looking at the price. After dinner we walked around a bit more and found some marimba type things that were part of the city’s infrastructure. We hammered away at them for ten minutes or so, probably to the chagrin of the other tourists. Kyle even asked passerbys for a tip, we didn’t get any money though. It was getting about time to find a campsite, so we drove around a bit and after some dead ends ended up at the Little Horse Trail head. We chilled out there a bit and then I thought it would be cool to walk around town and do a little treasure hunting (ie being led by the Spirit to divine appointments with people). I figured that since Sedona draws so many spiritually oriented people that it could be a good opportunity for me to offer prayer, prophecy, and love encounters with God.

I drove back into town and it was surprising subdued for being about 10 pm. I don’t get the vibe that Sedona is a big drinking/nightlife town, of course it wasn’t really the right season for that either. My oil light came and I realized that I had drove 1,200+ miles without having bothered to check the oil. I got fuel, oil, and a snack at a local gas station and ask the attendant about hiking trails. He told me about Boynton Canyon and Devil’s bridge. A bunch of the customers chimed in too, very friendly people. These seemed to be the true Sedonians, down-to-earth people dressed somewhat like Indiana Jones. I ask the cashier if he needed any prayer and he thought I asked if he needed any herb hah! I said, “no that’s better than herb”. He said he was okay though. I went back to camp and got in the tent. A few cars pulled in during the course of the night, so I got up to make sure we weren’t getting jacked. There were some signs warning of car break-ins, but it was probably just teenagers making out or smoking weed — they left soon enough.

The next morning I got up to take a little walk and discovered that we were near a pretty big trail system. I didn’t want to hike too far without Kyle, so I watched the sunrise over the red rocks and then met up with him.

sunrise in Sedona

sunrise in Sedona

We soon learned it was also a pretty populous trail. We followed the trail for a bit and then came to an opening of slickrock. Kyle suggested we go up by these cliffs and we found a small trail that led up there. The trail got pretty gnarly though, like an Alaskan trail. After some pretty steep hiking, we were at the top and had a pretty nice view of Sedona and the rocks. I think we were near Bell Rock, but I’m not sure. We hung out there a bit and then hiked back down. By this time, the parking lot was full of people and we found a slip on our tent warning us that it was not a camping area. We felt pretty silly, two drifter looking types camped out by a hiking trail frequented by trendy looking tourists. I saw an older lady wearing an Alaska T-shirt with wolves on it, which highlighted her to me because that is spiritually symbolic to me.

I started talking to her a bit and learned she was a snowbird from Alaska. She had actually grown up on a rustic homestead in Alaska before there were even paved roads. We talked a bit about rocks and minerals and I gave her the piece of petrified wood that the guy at the rock shop had given me. She gave me a little piece called Sonoran Sunrise. I also learned that she had gotten in a devastating car wreck and miraculously survived but developed diabetes and other pains as a result. I offered her prayer and she said I could pray for her but not there because she was eager to get on the road.

Kyle and I laid around the lot a bit and ate breakfast. We were actually pretty tired so we headed out of town towards Utah. We thought about going to Slick Rock park, but it was ten bucks and we were too tired to hike around anyways. I like Sedona; it is an interesting mix of spiritually oriented people, down to earth outdoors enthusiasts, and well-dressed city folks. As I mentioned a bit earlier, it is also a new age mecca. There are a bajillion psychic readers, yoga practitioners, intuitive healers, and weird blends of all of the above, like Shamangelic healing. I’m not into that stuff; spiritual power either comes from the Holy Spirit, all other doors are dangerous and from the darkness. I do, however, respect that people are spiritually hungry and long for an experiential, powerful, and intuitive spirituality rather than dry religion, rituals, and dogma.  It would be cool to live and work there for 3-6 months; I’m not sure I would like to live there long term though. Hopefully I will cross paths with Sedona later on.

After finishing our expedition to Mars, aka Arches, we undertook the three hour drive to Mesa Verde, which is in the Southwest corner of Colorado. It is a pretty long and winding road up into the actual park. The environment was definitely different than Arches — way more trees and snow. The dirt and rocks were more of a brown with a red tint rather than straight red. We arrived in the park mid-afternoon on day 3. Unfortunately many of the exhibits were closed for winter, but the Spruce Tree house ruin was open for touring. The next time for the tour was at 3, so we hiked part of the canyon rim to kill time. It was a pretty walk down a snowy path lined with pinyon pines.

The tour itself took about an hour or so. It was really cool, the guide led us down into the canyon and took us right up next to the ruins. We weren’t actually able to go into the  ruins (with the exception of one kiva [ceremonial pit house]). The park lets visitors go into some of the ruins that are open in the summer. I liked our ranger, he was very cheesy and animated. He also shared a quote that has become my philosophy in exploring national parks: “Every American has the right to die in his national parks”. Usually the staff and protocol are obnoxiously restrictive when it comes to exploring parks (stay on trails, don’t go past this railing, no camping, etc).

The ruins were spectacular: tan houses made of sandstone blocks mortared together. The houses were on a big slab floor seated on a shelf in the canyon with an overhang. I didn’t get any pictures because my NEW camera died — I think it got some space dust from Arches in it. I’ll spare you all the historical details of the tour; you’ll have to go on it yourself someday. After the tour we drove around the canyon to look at all the viewpoints. There were actually little shelf villages all around that we looked at through little telescopes. It’s hard to imagine the amount of effort it took to get to these villages that were on cliffs inside a canyon. It was a totally different kind of national park, but it was worthwhile, even though it only took about half a day.

We decided that we were going to head to New Mexico to see the Bandura Ice Caves and Volcano — about a 3.5 hour drive. I was surprised about how much snow there was in New Mexico; I had never been there before. Around Gallup was especially snowy and foggy. As we were used to going to sleep early, we started to get groggy before we reached our destination. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts at finding a campsite, we pulled off at a turnaround near a highway junction and set up. Being near a mud pit and getting flashed with direct headlights wasn’t the best, but it worked, and the billion stars made up for it. The next day we hit the road, about a half hour away from the ice caves. We stopped at El Morro national monument, which is some cliffs with old inscription in it –sorta cool, but nothing too mind-blowing. The ranger there told us that the ice caves were closed, so it seemed like we had driven 3 hours for nothing. However, we decided to drive down the road and check out El Malpais National monument.

El Malpais seems to be a collection of trails. Much of it is accessible via a different highway than we were on, so we didn’t get to see much of it, but we liked the part we were in. We went to the El Calderon area and were especially intrigued by the prospect of delving into a cave called Xenolith. It’s not a major cave or anything; the ranger said it goes back about 300 feet and is about a 100 feet deep at its maximum depth. Nonetheless, the park ranger said that the first chamber was easy to walk in but after that there are steep drops and narrow tunnels requiring advanced skills and gear. We decided we would check it out. The first part of it was a wide cavern littered with uneven rocks, which made walking a bit difficult (it would’ve been near impossible to walk without a headlamp). At the end of that first chamber was a caution sign warning about the dangers that lay ahead. The first drop looked like only 6 feet with an easy way down, so we went down that one.

picture0005

The second chamber was pretty cool; the ceiling was pretty low and so the mini-stalactites were visible. The way into the next chamber gave me pause. It may have been about a ten foot drop through a more narrow passage. The climbing itself wasn’t hard, but going further into the earth via a semi-narrow passage shook me up a bit. Kyle, of course, did it right away with no thought. After a hesitating, I followed with my sympathetic nervous system protesting. We got to end of that chamber and that was as far as I was going to go. The path from that chamber to the next one was a tight tunnel that appeared to be about 20 feet long. No thanks. Again, Kyle went right away. I went in a tiny bit and played with the thought of going in but ultimately didn’t. I was already out of my comfort zone being in that third chamber. That tunnel reminded me of a traumatic (well, semi-traumatic) event in my childhood of being trapped in a McDonald’s slide jammed full of other kids. Everyone else seemed to be having fun, but to me it was pretty terrible.

So here I am in this cave, not wanting to go forward, but also having this irrational fear of being left alone. I thought of scenarios of my bulbs burning out, dropping my extra batteries, etc. Realistically, the ranger knew we were there and would find our car within a couple of days, but I think I would lose my head being in a cave for a couple of days. Turning off the lamp made it absolutely dark. Fumbling around trying to get out would be nightmare, even in that small cave. I initially told Kyle that I was going to the surface while he pressed on, but then I felt lame for being such a weenie. I didn’t want to leave him alone anyway. So I listened to ringtones on my cellphone and beatboxed along to distract myself, and prayed to get some peace of mind. After 5-10 minutes Kyle came back and we exited the cave. It’s not that it wasn’t fun; I really liked it, in fact, during my high school days we used to explore the storm drains under my city, sort of a pseude-spelunking but I wasn’t ready for this level of underground exploration yet. Descending as deep as I did was already out of my comfort zone, so it would take some more exposure to get me used to narrow tunnels and such.  I would like to do it again; it is an interesting experience to be down there. In some ways it’s spiritual: I was stripped of senses when I sat in the dark and had to go inside myself for peace — it could prove to be a good spiritual discipline.

We finished hiking the El Calderon trail and then started towards the Petrified Forest in Arizona. During the drive we had to joke about the overdone warnings about the cave. It really didn’t require advanced caving skills and gear. Sure, one could sprain an ankle and lose a light down there, that would really suck, but with just a bit of caution it is relatively safe.

My Christmas break trip to the Southwest got kicked off on Monday, December 15th. If we had 5,000 itinerary changes a week prior, we had another 5,000 throughout the trip. I initially considered doing a three week trip to see all I could, but my friend, Kyle, could only do one week or so. We stuffed my little Corolla full of sleeping bags, coats, food, boots, and other camping gear and set out for Salt Lake City at about 8 in the morning with a rough itinerary. The drive to Salt Lake City is about 7 hours from Helena, MT. It was good catching up with Kyle, we went to high school together but haven’t hung out for about a year. I called him because I knew he might actually say yes to a spontaneous road trip.

In Salt Lake City I met up with my dad’s side of the family to get dinner, which was great because I rarely see them. I also got some of my dad’s old journals from my grandma. That’s exciting but also a bit nerve wracking, as he died about 7 years ago of a Methadone overdose and I’m nervous about things I might find. That’s a whole other subject though. I was planning on staying with my grandma but she said that her house is too messy. I had to laugh, a.) her house is not messy at all by my standards and b.) I have slept in much worse and would be staying in 20 degree tents for the remainder of the trip. She insisted on getting Kyle and I a hotel room, a very nice one. I felt kinda bad, such luxuries are probably wasted on a boor like me and  I have a hard time receiving gifts anyways.

The next morning we hit the road for Arches at about 8, continuing South on I-15 and then merging on 6. It was about 3 hours or so until we got to the park. As we neared Arches, the roadside geology changed to red rocks. By that time we were ready to get out and play on them. The urge got stronger after we drove into the actual park. There are countless rock spires, boulders balanced on narrow columns, and red rock fins rising from the earth — it reminds me of Mars.

DSCN0039          DSCN0008               DSCN0013

 

We spent a lot of time just running up and climbing on the rocks while we were scouting for a campsite. The whole camping thing was confusing: there was a sign that said “camping only in designated areas” but on the website it said camping is fine as long as it is not next to the arches. We weren’t going to pay 20 dollars so we just camped behind some rocks near the Devil’s Garden trail head. It was tough getting our stuff to our campsite because it was on a rock shelf that we had to run up. Later we learned it had a nice sloping ramp that we called the wheelchair access, which was after we hauled all our crap up there. It was nice and secluded, between the rock fins.

DSCN0026

After we got our camp set up, we made for Dark Angel spire, a 6 mile loop along a well marked trail and a primitive trail. The primitive part had plenty of rocks to climb along the way, so we took our time. The fins are pretty fun to climb because many aren’t completely vertical, so it doesn’t take too much skill to climb them. It was still pretty nerve wracking looking over at a 40 foot drop from a 3-6 foot wide rock. Going back down is always harder too, so I was pretty conservative in my climbing. Kyle, on the other hand, can climb circles around me. There are several arches to see on the way also. We were also occupied making stupids puns and jokes about arches (ie you’re momma’s so fat, when she told me she was taking me to Arches, she took me to McDonald’s). We got to the spire; it was pretty cool.

DSCN0020

I told a stupid knock knock joke to a fellow traveler near that area (Knock knock. Who’s there? Arch? Arch who? Arch you glad you came to this park? [face palm]). He didn’t seem too impressed with the joke, but we told him to think of some and when we ran into him later on the trail, he had a whole slew of bad arch jokes. It turns out that he was from Germany and passing through Utah on his way to California. We hiked the rest of the way out with him. I got to talk to him a bit about God and spirituality, which was cool. He was an atheist; Germany in general is a very atheistic country. He was interested in sustainability, which also gave us something to talk about because I have a dream of starting or being a part of a self-sustaining spiritual community (that is really a good picture of the early church). Kyle later told me I sounded like I wanted to start a cult and pretty much came off as a weirdo in general. Haha, oh well. We got done with the trail at 5 or so, nearing sunset.

As it got dark, we cooked some food by my car in the parking lot and then went to the camp. The crappy thing about camping during winter is that it gets dark at six and then what do you do? Lay in a tent for hours? It’s too cold to be outside for long. It was nice though because the park was not overrun with people or rangers in the winter season. Sleeping in the 20-30 degree weather really wasn’t so bad either. The next morning we woke up to a light snow, which was pretty in the context of the red rocks.

After fueling up, we proceeded to hit all the areas we could starting with a short trail called Park Avenue — a beautiful walk through a slick-rock canyon. It probably wasn’t a true canyon, it had large, red wall on either side of the walk. It reminded me of walking down a side walk surrounded by sky scrapers, maybe while it is called an avenue. The best part of this trail was off trail. Technically you aren’t supposed to go off trail because you can damage the vegetation, but it just seems ridiculous that you cannot walk on the ground. We were being careful where we were stepping anyways. Anyways, we climbed up some rocks and got to a hill made of rock with holes in it. We climbed up that and it led to a big rock bowl nestled back in some cliffs. In the bowl there was a small cave that was pretty cool. Upon further exploring the bowl, we found a big opening that had a pool and another rock wall with holes in it. This off-map place was definitely one of the coolest places we went to in Arches. I probably wouldn’t have even stopped here if Kyle didn’t suggest it, sometimes I get so focused on the plan I forget on the very reason I’m doing something.

DSCN0029             DSCN0031             DSCN0034

 

DSCN0035

We spent the rest of the day climbing around various rocks and seeing the other arches. It was agreed that Delicate Arch was another highlight of the park. Delicate arch stands impressively perched on a cliff that is accessed via a slick rock trail. This is the arch on the Utah license plate. We spent another night in the park, hiked a bit in the morning and then decided on going to Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado rather than Zion.

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch