A Travellerspoint blog

November 2009

City of Rocks, NM

A Desert Paradise

How do I explain my affection for the City of Rocks state park in southwest New Mexico? First of all, let me explain my first impressions of the City of Rocks. I had been driving for 20 miles through the surrounding Chihuahuan desert, a relatively flat, featureless plain. My mind was wandering, and I began to wonder, "Where are the rocks? Why am I driving here of all places?" I followed the signs off of US 180 onto NM 61 for a short distance to the entrance of the park. I entered the park, driving west down a sloping hill and I saw a grayish blur in the distance. I figured this to be the place. As I got nearer, I saw that the grayish blur seemed to have taken shape in a collection of a hundreds of uncarved Easter Island Moais, though not uniform at all. I started to get excited. Upon closer inspection, I found a massive collection of what looked like hundreds of giant stone toes sticking out of the ground, ranging from 4 feet to upwards of over 40 ft high. Now I was really excited. The boulders had a variety of shapes and styles, carved through the eons with wind and water. A fantastic collection, and a perfect backdrop for a week of fun.
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The city of rocks is a climbers paradise, with hundreds of problems waiting to be invented and climbed. The rock that makes up the boulders is made of a highly compressed volcanic ash, hardened and sharp from erosion. I usually wear leather gloves when I climb, to protect my hands. The erosion has given the rocks many climbing purchases, and it's not too hard to string together enough holds to make it up most of the boulders. I can't help myself, like an addict, I grab my climbing shoes and head out into the boulder field to climb as soon as I park the van at my campsite. Picture a pig in a mud hole, a fox in a hen house, a dog at the hydrant factory, and you'll see my mindset. There are climbing problems EVERYWHERE, to every degree of difficulty. I scout the boulders and climb until my body is exhausted. I love bouldering. There is a Zen-like quality to climbing, my focus is completely on the problem at hand, and I surprise myself after awhile when I seem to come out of the climbing trance standing on top of the boulder problem I was climbing.

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I often find myself staring off into the distance. I love the peace of the desert, it's quiet, with only the whispering of the grasses in the dry, westerly breeze, or the call of a songbird somewhere in the distance. There are distant mountains (the mimbres and the cookes ranges), extinct volcanoes, and hillsides that are very easy on the eyes. It's a great place for contemplation. I like it when my only distractions are natural ones: road runners, or other birds, intriguing cloud formations, and rocks to contemplate. After my lunch siesta, I'll sometimes pull out my corncob pipe, and fill it with Uhle's pipe tobacco for an afternoon smoke. It's pleasant, and a fine way to spend the hot hours of the day, relaxing in the shade, taking in the views. I like my relaxed life; too many people are in too much of a hurry for no good reason, as far as I can tell.

City of rocks has New Mexico's first state park observatory. Since it's so far away from any town, it doesn't have any light pollution. It gets really dark at night, allowing excellent viewing of the heavens. They built a telescope building complete with contracting roof, and occasionally have star parties, led by enthusiastic astronomers. I was here for one informal party led by the campground host, and was fortunate enough to see the rings of Saturn, the craters of the moon, Venus, and other star constellations I had never seen before. It was very cool.
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I've visited this desert wonderland three times since 2006. On the last night of my last visit there, I had a magical evening on the rocks. My favorite campsite is Corona Australis (#12). From there, I walked up behind my site to the top of the hill and climbed up on top of an easy to climb boulder. The sun was setting, and there was to be a full moon rising not long after the sunset. I wanted to be in a good position take it all in. To the west, the setting sun had left a rainbow of colors, intense and vivid, imprinting itself on my memory. The colors ranged from bright orange where the sun had set near the horizon, radiating out in a half circle to light orange, gold, white gold to pale blue intensifying to blue, royal blue, and a finally a very deep indigo. What a palette of colors! Looking east, the desert scene spread out before me like a dream landscape. In the foreground, a collection of boulders led my field of view to the high grassy hill which dropped down to the valley floor. Far off in the distance were the Cookes Range and the Mimbres mountains. The sky was dark blue of the evening gloam. The sun dried grass of the desert was still visible and pale. In the distance, I heard coyotes calling for the moon, their eerie yips, and barks, and howls seemed to be what the moon was waiting for, and it began to rise, humongous, full and yellow in the eastern desert. Above me, a few stars had started to become visible, and I knew they'd only get more vibrant. I was on a swivel, I'd watch the rising moon for awhile, then would turn around and watch the intense colors of the sunset slowly fading away. I was looking west, when I heard an owl calling off in the distance, "Ho-Ho Hoo Hoo Hoo". Then about 100 feet away, I saw it fly across the color filled sky and land on top of a high boulder. It was perfectly silhouetted against the western sky. It looked like a cat, with a long body, with two ears barely visible off of its head, and that told me it was a great horned owl. I was transfixed for 10 minutes by the scene, before it flew off, and left me alone. I was intensely aware of my world, hyper sensitive to how amazingly beautiful the desert was on this fine evening. I felt fortunate to be here, intoxicated with its desert, and completely rejuvenated in spirit.

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The City of Rocks is a special place for me. I love the desert landscape, and the boulders strewn around. I love how peaceful it is, and how relaxed I can get while I'm there. It's one of my favorite places, and I'll be back this March to take it all in once again.

Posted by Rhombus 07:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Cape Blanco, Oregon

Discussing the Finer Points of My Favorite Cape

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Cape Blanco is a gem on the coast of Oregon. I've made two visits there, in 2008 on a solo trip and last February (2009) with my girlfriend. I enjoyed myself on both visits, and will gladly go back to take in its alluring qualities. The cape itself juts out into the ocean similar in shape to a shark fin. While not a giant piece of land, it's a very scenic vista situated about 100 feet off of the ocean, with rolling grassy hills, leading to the picturesque lighthouse (private). The view north is a sweeping ocean view of the rough ocean swells bashing into rocky seastacks and finally rolling up onto the sloping sand beach. Sea grasses cover the rising hills which meet forests of lush Sitka spruce. Looking south, a green grass carpet leads the eye to a giant sea stack, patiently sitting on the shore. The sandy beach stretches on to the horizon, with healthy rolling waves caressing and massaging the sand. Humbug mountain is visible in the mist, rising above the forests that grow to the edge of the cliffs of southern Oregon. This place is very easy on the eyes and good for the soul.

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Cape Blanco is the first place I ever went tide pooling successfully. I'd tried other areas along the coast, but never found anything of interest. Then in 2009 I visited Cape Blanco with my girlfriend and learned that the north side of the cape had good tide pools. So we made a plan to hit low tide and check them out. The next day after breakfast we made our way out to the cape and down to the beach. We weren't expecting much, as we hadn't had much success in our previous efforts at looking for pools, but here we found immediate success. Orange and purple sea stars were clinging in the nooks and crannies of the first boulder we looked at, and from there we spent a happy morning jumping from rock to rock searching for and finding a variety of sea life. We found giant green anemones, california mussels, the giant sunflower sea star, the nudibranch, black leather chitons, small hermit crabs, rough keyhole limpets and other sea life. An ecological jackpot, you might say. It was tremendously interesting to explore a self contained ecosystem.
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We worked our way far out to the tip of the cape, climbing a high rock to watch the westerly waves crash to the shore. The tide was turning, so to be safe, we turned around and worked our way back along the shore. We found a crack in the cliff that we missed on our way out, as we were too busy inspecting the pools. We took a quick detour and explored the crack, some 4 feet wide, 25 feet high and stuffed with driftwood. We made our way through it and found an eerie rocky, alien looking landscape, filled with sea water, jagged rock outcrops and tide pools. It was obvious that during high tide, this place would be rocking with heavy swells bashing the rock. As it was, we found some nesting seagulls which were annoyed with our presence, and a sea cave that was a Giant Green Anemone nursery, producing some of the largest ones I'd ever seen. With the tides coming in we knew we shouldn't stay long, so we made our way back out through the crack to the north side and headed back to camp. We were very tired, and fatigued from our morning jaunt, but very satisfied with our efforts.
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The campground of Cape Blanco is situated off the ocean a fair distance, but close enough to still hear the roar of the ocean. The campground is situated in a grove of dark Sitka spruce. It's a quiet place, at least in February, as few people are hearty enough to camp in the winter. Winter on the coast is like spring or fall back in Minnesota, so I don't mind camping out at all. I've camped in my van, and also rented a yurt, and enjoyed both sites. I especially liked the yurt. What a great idea! It comes with bunk beds, a heater, a small table, couch and lights, everything you need to make camping a little more luxurious.

The driftwood that piles up on the shore of Cape Blanco inspired me to invent Log Hopping. The basic premise is to cross a section of beach without touching the sand. Now, this can be as difficult and challenging as a person wants to make it. It's relatively easy to walk from log to log, but I like to spice it up, making difficult routes through the mass of huge logs. It's a great test of my balance and agility, seeing how far I can jump and still land on the log I'm aiming for. It's great exercise and a lot of fun. I'm all about creativity in action, especially when I'm playing outside!
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The cape exemplifies what I love most about the west coast. I love the fresh air of the prevailing western winds. The fog and mists that form makes the air as fresh and cool as possible. It's a great place to breathe. I like the rain. It obliterates the tracks of everything, like a good shake of an etch-a-sketch. I like to go for a walk after a heavy rain, it makes me feel like I'm the first person to ever walk the beach. The ocean waves are a constant companion. I love watching them up smash into the rugged coast, sending up huge plumes of spray. The continuous roar of the swells drowns out all other sound. I like to listen to the constant white noise of the ocean as I drift off to sleep, breathing the fresh air, exhausted from my days activities.

This is why Cape Blanco is one of my favorite places.

Posted by Rhombus 16:04 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Joshua Tree On My Mind

An Essay on the Finer Points of Joshua Tree National Park

I had been driving all day. I had left the coast of California early that morning. I started driving east into the rising sun, and now I was watching it set as I neared my destination. I had driven 300 miles across California, and I was getting tired. I'd never been to Joshua Tree before, but I usually like most national parks, and was optomistic about what I'd find. I figured I had enough time to enter the park, find a campsite and set up camp before night had completely set in. I followed the signs to the west entrance, there weren't any rangers on duty, so I showed my national parks pass to the little coop they keep the rangers in, and drove on. The sun was turning an intense orange as it neared the horizon. It gave the landscape a rich, warm, strong hued painters quality, that had me craning my head around as I drove trying to take it all in. My eyes were hyper sensitive to the desert evening and the colors of the earth, plants and sky were very intense, almost surreal. The desert stretched around me, relatively flat, with rocky hillsides in the distance. Joshua Trees for which the park was named, stood by the hundreds. They looked like an invention of Dr. Suess, limbs bent akimbo welcoming me into their homeland. Then I began to see the fantastic eroded boulder formations, orange in the setting sun. These eroded, wind swept islands are found all over the northern parts of the park, and make Joshua Tree a climbers paradise. Then, as the sun set over the distant San Bernardino mountains, the warm lighting faded, and was gone. I was happy though, my drive was over, and what an outstanding visual entrance to Joshua Tree!

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Joshua tree is one of America's great playgrounds. It's perfectly designed for the active lifestyle. A lot of climbers from around the world come to JT to climb and boulder in the winter, when it's too cold back home. I love scrambling around the rock islands. It's my favorite thing to do here, and I spend most of the day exploring the fortresses of rocks. The stone is very grippy. I find that you don't need climbing gear to reach the tops of these formations, you just need hiking boots, leather gloves, and determination to reach the top. The saying, "Where there is a will, there is a way" definitely applies to JT. There are hundreds of these formations to climb, around campsites, rest stops, picnic areas, and along the roadside. I like to look at the map and plan my climbs ahead of time so I don't need to waste time thinking about it. I'll just drive to the Hall of Horrors, for example, and climb each formation that interests me. Sometimes I need to take creative measures to get where I want. I've slithered underneath boulders, through narrow cracks, jumped from boulder to boulder, and wedged my way up chimneys. It's great exercise for body and mind and a tremendous amount of fun.
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The longboarding is good, too. Jumbo Rocks campground has a fine lazy carving run. One of my favorite runs starts at the campground entrance and slopes down to the turn around at the other end of the campground. I've also boarded down the Keys View overlook road back to the park loop road. It's smooth and fast, with a big downside of being extremely popular during the day. Too much traffic during the day, but a night run might be sweet. One run I've been wanting to take is from the North Entrance station down towards the Oasis Visitors Center. It's a five mile run on new pavement, sloping down to Twentynine Palms. Have someone meet you at the bottom to give you a ride back up.

A typical day has me getting up at dawn and having some peppermint tea while watching the sunrise from a rock outcrop. I'll eat breakfast, do some basic yoga stretching, then head off in search of a rock island to conquer. When the sun gets high in the sky, and I'm tired from my mornings' fun, I like to hole up in the shade and eat lunch. Then I'll either nap, read, or pull out my sketchbook to sketch the eroded boulders in charcoal. It's great to stroll out to a nice shady rock perch and take in the afternoon while mindlessly sketching the scene. It's good to relax. Later on in the afternoon, I'll head out for a hike or scramble up some rocks. Then I'll come back and cook dinner, clean up, and settle in with a good book until the stars come out. It's a damn fine life, let me tell you.
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There is a wide variety of wildlife and plants at Joshua Tree. I like to get up early in the morning and scramble up a remote boulder with my binoculars to listen and watch the packs of coyotes head off to their secret places. I've seen the kit fox, jack rabbits, lizards, and a variety of birds while hiking through the desert. There are a number of different types of cacti, wildflowers in bloom (mostly in the south) and of course the Joshua Trees for which the place is named. All these parts mix together with the rock formations and make a pleasant backdrop for adventure.

Beyond all the physical features, there is there is an allure to Joshua Tree that pulls me back to it. I fell in love with the place after the first time I laid eyes on it, and my memories of it make me want to come back. It has good karma. I can forget about any other issues going on in my life, and live for the moment. For me, Joshua tree combines all of my favorite things: creative, challenging exercise, a beautiful, natural invironment, and a place to get in touch with my spiritual/contemplative side. That's why I'll keep coming back.

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Posted by Rhombus 19:34 Archived in USA Comments (0)

My Favorite Places

A Short Introduction to Some Special Areas

I decided to write about some of my favorite places in America. These places have a number of qualities: scenic beauty, adventurous landscapes to play in, good camping to name a few. There are a lot of places offer this, and yet they don't make my favorites list. The places I'm going to write about offer something more, and it's hard for me to explain what this is. It could have something to do with circumstances, I visited during the right time of year, had good weather and had a lot of fun. The memory of this place makes me happy, so I place it higher in my mind. I also think it has a lot to do with the karma of the place. When I visit it just feels right to be where I'm at. I get inspired physically, creatively, and spiritually by the place, and I feel rejuvinated and happy to be alive. I tend to get excited by exploring this amazing world of ours, and these places bring out the best in me.

In the next few entries, I'm going to try to explain the finer points of the parks, their location, things to do, and to try to explain the endorphin high I got from the place. The following parks are my choices to date. Joshua Tree National Park, CA. Cape Blanco State Park, OR. City of Rocks State Park, NM. Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, Redwoods National Park, CA. The North Shore of Lake Superior.

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Posted by Rhombus 18:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas

A great day trip in New Mexico

I like Las Vegas… New Mexico that is. The Las Vegas area is a great day trip waiting to happen. In fact, I managed to enjoy such a day on my last trip there. We got up early and drove into Las Vegas with plans to hike to the top of Hermit’s peak, relax our aching muscles in the Montezuma Hot Spring, and try out a local restaurant called The Mexican Kitchen.

To find the Hot Springs and the Hermit Peak Trailhead, head west on NM 65 and follow it up into the Sante Fe National Forest. At the "Y" take the right leg and follow it until you find the trailhead. The hike was pleasant, but arduous climbing 2700 feet in 4 miles. We hiked several miles through a pine forest. It took awhile to reach the base of the mountain, but it was nice, the weather was perfect. Climbing up the east side where the sun had melted all the snow was no problem, but when we reached the top and had to follow the trail up to the east summit, we ran into some thigh deep drifts of snow. We tried slogging through them to stay on the trail, but it was impossible. So we headed east using a compass and kept climbing up the hill until we found what we came for, the magnificent view of northeast New Mexico from over 10,000 feet up. We stumbled out of the trees and startled a couple of ravens in mid flight, they croaked and dove from the easy glide they were in, apparently they had never seen anybody staggering and gasping for breath as badly as we were. They seemed embarrassed, and I wasn’t sure if it was from losing their cool, or if they were embarrassed for us for being so badly out of shape. We had lunch, and drank water, and took in the never ending view. It was great. I usually don’t get freaked out by heights, but sitting on the edge of the cliff and watching the rocks we threw over seemingly falling forever, made me more nervous and cautious than I usually am. This nervousness never helps you when you are clinging to a high pitch, usually, it makes your muscles tight, and your grip slippery, it makes you uncoordinated, increasing your chances of a mishap. I hate that feeling.

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We headed back down, and our muscles began to feel heavily fatigued and it took us a long time to get back to the van. We drove back east out of the mountains, slipped on our swimming suits and stopped on the roadside at the Montezuma Hot Springs. Instead of taking the nice gravel walking path to the middle pools, I eagerly jumped the guardrail and worked my way to them over them figuring the going would be easy. It wasn’t, and we found ourselves slipping and falling into the cold, slimy muck that surrounds the pools. Ev lost her sandal, and I slipped and fell to my knees in 3 inches of muck. As we struggled through, we saw how nice the actual trail looked with it‘s wide gravel path not more than 50 feet away. Sometimes, I’ve got to slow down and think. We got the concrete pool to ourselves and slipped into the HOT, soothing waters, for a refreshing soak after a hard day of hiking.

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After our soak, we changed and went back into town and stopped to eat at the Mexican Kitchen. It had the feel of a small town diner, no pretensions, just a nice quiet place for dinner. We were starving, and I ordered Chile Rellenos with red and green chile sauce, refried beans and sopapillas. The food arrived quickly, and we got after it, no talking, just eating. I ate systematically and efficiently, and soon my plate was empty, and I was happy. It was great, I love Rellenos. Cheese stuffed peppers that are deep fried, how can you beat that!? The waitress was impressed with my eating efficiency, commenting that she never seen anybody eat that quickly before. I took it as a compliment. We drove off into the night, exhausted, full, and happy. I considered this day seized.

Posted by Rhombus 20:00 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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