A Travellerspoint blog

Entries about mountains

Texas Tea: Introduction to West Texas

Franklin Mountains State Park, Awesome Hiking, On the Road

sunny 65 °F

I'm on the road again, this time in West Texas to spend three weeks exploring the parks of the region. For once, I don't have a lot of time to get long winded in my entries, and I'm going to let my photos tell the story. I've spent the first two days exploring El Paso, enjoying the scenes, the hikes, and the good life here in Texas.
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Franklin Mountain State Park has been my home so far. I've hiked up to the top of Franklin Mountain, which has some of the best hiking I've seen anywhere for a state park. They don't mess around. This trail isn't for the faint of heart, as it's rugged and technical, requiring you to rock climb up several sections to reach the top. Good views along the way, and a dust storm rolled in when we were on top.
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I spent last night being pummelled by the side of my tent, as the wind gusts howled around our campsite. After getting used to being slapped every ten minutes, I finally fell asleep. Needless to say it was a long night.
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This is indeed the good life. Texas has a lot to offer, and I'm sure to add more description as time allows. For now, Enjoy, and I will do the same.
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Onward!

Posted by Rhombus 09:01 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking camping photography texas Comments (1)

The Assault of Mt. Mansfield

Hiking to the Highest Point in Vermont, The Trails, The Chin, The Enjoyment of Hiking

semi-overcast 75 °F

I began my assault of Mt. Mansfield on a Friday at 8:37 a.m. The apex of Mt. Mansfield coincidently is the highest elevation one can reach in the state of Vermont. It was a worthy venture and a worthy mountain to summit and conquer.
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You might be wondering why I’m in Vermont. I had boasted of grand adventures in Denali and Yosemite in past entries, but my path had a few unforeseen twists that changed my travels far to the east of where I had originally planned. Life is great that way; you never know what’s going to happen next.

I digress. I was in the Burlington area for five days, having convinced my injured travel friend that the green summer views of the north would do her some good, and speed up her convalescence. She agreed, and off we went east by north to Vermont. More on that later.

I parked my car in the parking lot of Underhill State Park, some thirty miles east or so of Burlington. I ran off to the loo, paid my daily fees ($3), and loaded up my trusty red backpack with the usual essentials: Clif bars, water, camera, binoculars, and peanuts. I briefly had a look at the map, decided route opting for what looked like the hardest path (the Sunset Trail up to the Chin) and started hiking.

Damn, it felt good to be hiking uphill again! I was designed to walk uphill, I don’t know what it is about it, but I thrive on pumping my leg muscles until I’m gasping for breath refusing to stop until I absolutely have to take a breather.

Since I was traveling light, I didn’t have my usual trusty Danner hiking boots, and had decided to make do with my hiking sandals. I didn’t know if they would hamper my hike, or if they could stand the rigors of the mountains, but they were the best footwear I had for the excursion. Besides, I figured they were probably better than the boots Mallory used to climb up Chomolungma or Humboldt’s footwear as he trekked around South America for five years. I also used a pair of these sandals all winter long hiking the rugged desert peaks of Baja California Sur. They are a good sandal, and I knew they could probably handle the terrain just fine.
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To avoid blisters, I put on a pair of socks. I also felt they gave me a good German look.

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My first distraction was a short spur trail to the “cantilevered rock” a thirty-foot phallus of rock that sticks out of the mountain like a monstrous triumphant wang in all its glory (I bet I could write harlequin romance novels). It was mildly interesting, but I didn’t stay long. I turned back to the Sunset Trail and continued my intensive uphill climb.
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As I hiked higher, I kept wondering if this trail was going to be challenging enough. I was making great time, and hadn’t taken any breaks yet. Having not hiked anywhere in Vermont, I didn’t know if I was getting close to the top yet or not. Then I topped out on the bottom of the long rock ledge that marked the change in elevation and vegetation. I left the hardwood forests of the lower and entered the scrubby pines of higher elevations. I saw before me a broad ridge of gray rock that reached far above me disappearing into the clouds. I had my answer. The mountains of Vermont are for real.
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I continued on scrambling up the endless rock covered in green lichens higher and higher passing the stacked stone cairns that marked the trail. The weather forecast for the day had called for scattered thunderstorms, and there were some dark heavy clouds rolling right over the tip of the chin. I wondered if I was going to get rain or worse, having to try to find protection from a thunderstorm on the exposed rock. I gave one heavy cloud some time to pass, and to see if it held any presents.
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I remained dry, and the unelectrified, so I continued my jaunt up into the clouds.

On top of the ridge, I found I still had a nice view of the surrounding valleys. They stretched out in long forests broken by farmer’s fields in all directions. The cloud remained around me, and it diffused the light nicely as I studied the arctic plants that make this high peak their home. I climbed up to the top of the chin, the second highest point on the mountain and sat down to catch up on my journal, eat some energy, and drink some cool water. It was a good place to rest, and I found a nice rock to rest my weary bones against.
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I decided to hike the ridge south to the halfway house trail, which would lead back down to the trailhead. It wasn’t a far walk, and the going was easy now that I was on top. There were no more steep uphill pitches to climb, but instead manageable rocks to scramble over.
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I passed many families along the way. It was good to see people out and about, but part of me still would have welcomed the peace of a single hiker far above the hubbub of the lower elevations. Mt. Mansfield isn’t a wild mountain. You can practically drive up most of it, or you can also take the Gondola from the base at the Stowe Ski Area. On top of the high point of the mountain, a small farm of cell towers were nesting and that kind of took away from the hike for me. In fact, I decided not to reach the very high point, because of the towers. They were too much human interference for my tastes.
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Climbing “the chin” was mountain enough for me, and I considered the mountain conquered. I started back down the halfway house trail, which I found to be quite peaceful. I was the only hiker to take that route and it wound down back into the valley through a lush forest of hardwood and pine. It was quiet and still. When I stopped for a break, I didn’t hear a sound.
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I had to pick my way carefully down the slippery rock. I knew my sandals would betray me if I gave them a chance, and I didn’t want to try some self-chiropractology on my back using rocks, roots and boulders. I took my time and made it down to the old trail in one piece, and in one peace. It was a good hike. If I had to do it over again, I would’ve retraced my route back down the long open ridge of the Sunset Trail.
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I sat at the trailhead and signed the visitor’s log. I had neglected to do so on my way up, and I figured I ought to at least give them an autograph. I really enjoy signing logs and summit notebooks. They always ask for the same things. Name, where are you from, and Time. I happily penned in my info: “Thom Miller, Homeless (with a smiley face), and No thanks. Time is not necessary for this hike.” I used to sign famous people’s names, or some of my made up aliases. “Peter Pimple” is one of my favorite. I might also quote a piece of poetry for my audience.

Some Thurbur perhaps: “Behold the happy moron, he doesn’t give a damn.
I wish I were a moron, By God! Perhaps I am!”

Smiling to myself, I wandered back down to the parking lot and back to the car. I had traveled seven miles, (give or take) and thoroughly enjoyed my hike up Mt. Mansfield. Sitting in the car, enjoying a cold beverage, and munching some chips and salsa, I called my travel buddy, and inspiration struck. I gave her a “believable” long message explaining to her of how I ended up in New York City instead of climbing Mansfield. My fiction included having the car break down, abandoning it, hitchhiking, a train ride, dumb luck and the statue of liberty. She freaked out a bit, and it had the desired effect.
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It was all in a day’s enjoyment for this vagabond.

What’s next? More on Burlington, the Adirondacks, and that fantastic tourist trap called Niagara Falls.

So Long!

Posted by Rhombus 18:26 Archived in USA Tagged mountains hiking rocks plants vermont photography forests lichens Comments (4)

Highlights Of An Alaskan Summer

Wildflowers, Stellar Sea Lions, Zodiacs and Glacier Bay National Park

semi-overcast 63 °F

This past week I’ve spent some time exploring the greater Alaskan landscapes by zodiac and by foot. I enjoyed getting out, and the weather has been fantastic. There hasn’t been much rain, and there has been good lighting, and phenomenal sunsets. Summer is all about us, and the days are Loooonnnnggg. Sunrise around three and sets around ten or so at night. There is plenty of light to enjoy the sights.

On Alaskan Wildflowers
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The other day I went on a long hike with a small group of our guests and it was led by one of our interpretive biologists. Now, not all biologists are created equal. I’ve listen to some drone on about whatever they happen to be interested in dodecahedrons or some other jibber jabber. However, some of them can be quite entertaining, and such was the case with David. He not only explained some of the intricate features of the coastal rainforest, but also challenged us, quizzed us, teased us when we didn’t know Latin, mocked our ignorance, and made us laugh. Go for a walk in the woods with a good biologist. You can learn more in three hours than you could read twelve books.
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I was struck by the different types of wildflowers, and their unique designs. Some smelled of cinnamon and spices, others like urine soaked road kill. I enjoyed the different forms and colors they take on to make themselves propagate. In the flower business, it’s all about how to attract pollinators (bees, insects, and birds). They must be doing fairly well for themselves, as I was very much attracted to their color display and scent. Perhaps, I was an unwitting pollinator myself.
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Stellar Sea Lions
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We arrived at the Inian islands under a cloudless, brilliant blue sky. I had finished my night shift, and decided to have one of my deck partners save me breakfast while I went on the zodiac cruise. I love breakfast. This is one of my favorite ways of setting up my morning: I work all night, head out and explore for a couple of hours and come back to a giant heart attack breakfast before going to bed. I know it sounds weird and unhealthy, but the fact remains, I burn a lot of calories running around this ship, and I can pretty much eat what I want without gaining much weight. At least that’s what I tell myself… It’s amazing what we can justify to ourselves.
Anyway, the cruise was good. The naturalist, tittered around like a bird from subject to subject, and I soon lost interest in what she was droning on about. I know a lot about Alaskan wildlife myself, having lived and worked up here for three summers now, and I entertained myself with taking some photos of the pigeon guillemots, river otters (which do quite well in the sea), sea otters, bald eagles, sea gulls, pelagic cormorants, shearwaters, and kelp.

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I smelled the sea lions before I saw them. You can tell you are near sea lions, because of the strong odor of shit that exudes from any place they dwell, usually low lying rock “haul outs“. Along with their pleasant aroma, they also add a chorus of horrible barfing noises that they use for everyday communication. I’m serious. Stellar Sea Lions sound as though they are dry heaving putrid piles of sewer waste, which considering they eat a lot of raw fish (mostly salmon), I’m probably not that far off. Considering adult sea lions weigh well over 500 pounds, the din they make is tremendous.

The big bull males rule the roost and take the top of the rock. The females appreciate a man with a lot of property and lie about the alpha males as a harem. The males spend their days bellowing at one another, shitting, mating, and eating salmon. They are not unlike Alaskan human males actually…

On Positioning Zodiacs
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There are days on the boat where it makes sense to drive the zodiacs to the next island instead of raising them to the top of the ship before moving two miles only to have to drop them back down. On those days, our bosun usually asks me if I want to reposition the zodiac. She doesn’t even need to ask anymore. Hell Yes! I want to reposition a zodiac! So away we go, and I find myself grinning from ear to ear as I zip over the water in an inflatable boat through the amazing Alaskan waters. There are mountains, islands, seascapes, landscapes, clouds, and wildlife all around me. It these moments when I realize I’m being paid for this. I’m a happy man.
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There are usually three boats to position, so after awhile I’ll meet up with the others and shoot the breeze while we wait for the ship to arrive.

Glacier Bay National Park

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Glacier Bay has a lot going for it. I’m continually amazed by it’s wildlife, mountains, glaciers, seascapes, icebergs, and massive scale. It’s a good representative of wild Alaska if there ever was one. John Muir explored this amazing bay by canoe, way back when, and since then it has become a protected jewel in Alaska’s crown. These selected shots are from the marble islands, and are mostly of one of my favorite birds: Puffins! Enjoy!
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June has been good to me up here in Alaska. There are times when I just sit still and take it all in. Life is good. Go play outside!
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Posted by Rhombus 15:03 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats islands flowers wildlife alaska oceans wild photography sealions Comments (0)

Fjords, Glaciers and Elfin Cove

Tracy Arm, South Sawyer Glacier, and Elfin Cove: Population 12

semi-overcast 46 °F

This time of year in southeast Alaska, it gets light out at about four o’clock in the morning. I like to take advantage of the early morning light because nobody on board is awake. As a deckhand who works the night shift, I have ample time to watch the alluring scenery pass by. I’ve been known to pull out my camera while on duty, but that is a fringe benefit of this job. I like to get my early morning chores done as quickly as possible to allow for more quality time enthralled with these marvelous Fjords. I like fjords. The word fjord is fun to say, and the geological feature is a great place to explore.
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I was sitting on a deck box of the aft deck of our upper deck, sharing a blueberry muffin from Heritage Coffee with one of my deck partners and sipping good mint tea. Bakery tastes better when it is shared, especially with good comrades.
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I decided to count all of the waterfalls I could see around me, and I finally gave up after I reached nineteen. It’s not that there weren’t more of them, it’s just that deckhands lose interest in numbers after awhile, and really I just enjoyed being surrounded by falling water.
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The waterfalls ramble down the rock face of the cliffs of the fjord in long narrow ribbons often falling hundreds of feet into the water. The surrounding mountains have a lot of melting snow at this time of year, and with the continual rainfall of southeast Alaska, their flow is constant and healthy.

Tracy Arm Wildlife:

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Mountain Goats
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Arctic Tern
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Long Tailed Duck
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Black Bears

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Looking at the rock walls of the fjord, I was intrigued by the striated rock. There is little vegetation that has taken root here. This is because this is the newest rock to escape the icy grinding of the glacier. It’s fresh rock, so to speak, and it was cool to see the effects of a glacier close up, and so soon after it had released its grip on the rock.
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Tracy Arm is an inspiring piece of landscape. There is a beautiful view in every direction to inspire those susceptible to its charm. At its head are two glaciers, the Sawyer and the South Sawyer. I was fortunate enough to spend a beautiful morning watching ice calving off of the face of the glacier and listening to the white thunder.
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As an early birthday present, I witnessed a gigantic house sized hunk of dense glacier blue ice roll off of the face of the glacier and bob into the water. It was incredible. I was lucky to have my binoculars handy, and I had a really good look at this amazing phenomena. A large wave swelled up from the displaced water, and started rolling outward. It made our zodiacs bob up and down while it passed crashing against the far side of the bay.
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“White Thunder” is what the natives would call the sound of ice cracking off of a glacier. It is an apt description. It sounds just like the sound of a thunder clap after a lightening strike, and it’s really cool to hear one echo around in the fjord.

Elfin Cove Population 12.
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Elfin cove is a nice little cove on the west side of Chichagoff Island in Alaska’s Southeast. It’s a very small village, with 12 full time resilient residents, and several dogs. When we walked up the slippery boardwalk that makes up the main street of the village, the welcoming committee came out to welcome us to town.
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My friends could not resist, and gave it all the attention it wanted. Who can resist petting a friendly dog? We explored along through the misting rain until we found a good bench swing facing the bay. We sat down, and cuddled up close to keep warm against the cold wind and increasing rainfall. It was a very pleasant way to spend our time, swinging, talking and slowly getting soaked. I enjoyed the good company, that my fellow deckhands bring, and we capped off our day with hot chocolate when we returned to the boat.
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Should you find yourself in Elfin Cove, take advantage of the hospitality and good seating available at this nice little village.

This ends my first stint in Alaska. After seven months aboard the Sea Bird, they’ve finally decided to give me a break, and I have a month to spend chasing my muse before returning to Alaska in June. Look for me in California Wine Country, on the coast of California, rock climbing at the New River Gorge in West Virginia, and revisiting my old stomping grounds on the shore of Lake Superior.

The wanderer is seldom bored.

Happy Travels!

Posted by Rhombus 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats wildlife towns fjords ice alaska clouds glaciers bears harbors Comments (0)

Small Scenes That Give Greater Perspective

A Collection of Views of the Baja Peninsula, Photographic Anomales, Really

sunny 77 °F

Upon reviewing my pictures for the year so far, I discovered that I had several photos that I really liked, but remained unpublished due to their peculiar uniqueness. In other words, I have some photos I’d like to share, but they are random and without theme. I thought I would give them their own entry this week, because these photos, while narrow in scope, will help show the big picture of the Baja peninsula experience.

I rarely give myself a photographic assignment. I take pictures everyday, often stopping work just long enough to take a picture of a beautiful scene, and getting back to my job. Some of these photos, fit this entry, and others are just extra photos from the many hikes I’ve been on, that I couldn’t or wouldn’t show before.

Two paragraphs of explanation, when I could’ve simply said, “It’s a mixed bag of random scenes from Mexico.”

Without further ado, here they are.

Cardon in Late Evening Light
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The rugged mountain landscape of the Sierra De la Giganta from Puerto Los Gatos is among the most dramatic and beautiful that I’ve seen on the Baja Peninsula. I love this place, and I have stared at these mountains for hours, wondering what secrets they hold. If I could have one Baja wish, it would be to make the place a base camp, and go hiking here for a week.

Sandals
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Baja is the only desert I’ve been able to hike around in my sandals. True, I earned the bandage on my big toe by hiking in sandals, but it was worth it. It’s really nice to have your toes open to the open air; getting dusty, dirty, cut and scraped. The simplicity of a good sandal appeals to me, and I’m quite happy with mine.

Clouds
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These clouds remind me of summer, though it was winter when I took this picture. These are floaters, high above Magdalena Bay.

Self Portraits
I’m still shamelessly throwing myself into my landscapes.

Isla Magdalena
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My self-timer’s longest setting is ten seconds. In this picture, I hit the timer, jumped down a 20-foot sand dune, sprinted across a sandy plain, and up to the top of this dune. This was while I was counting down in my head down to zero. Often it takes several takes to get it just right, and in this case, I sprinted that same length three times, before I was exhausted, and “satisfied” with my first picture. After review, I am happy with this shot.

Made In the Shade.
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As I’ve said before, I can find a seat anywhere, and often times a shady spot to sit and relax as well. This beach was a challenge. There were mangroves, but they were near water, and nowhere near sand. Finally, I realized that I had to lower my standards, and lay down in the dirt instead of sitting in it. Perfect.

Summiting “The Nipple” at Bonanza Beach

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Climbing the nipple, a rock protuberance sticking high out of the ridge west of Bonanza beach was probably the best hike I’ve completed down here in Baja so far. The conditions were perfect, meaning, I had 4 hours to do the hike. I didn’t care about weather conditions, I just wanted to have enough time to enjoy and complete the hike.
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Every vertical step I took was on a bowling ball size boulder. It was a mountain made of boulders. I mostly hiked straight at the peak, until I hit the loose ledge rock. At that point, I veered to the right of the peak until I hit the summit ridge. The view from the ridge was amazing. A higher ridge rose far to the north, with a deep canyon dropping in front of it. Another high mountain was just taller than where I was. It led to a higher flattish peak, some distance away. To the west, my ridgeline led down to the sea, leading my eye to other high points and beaches I’ve been to.
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This was a magical place. Turkey vultures soared beneath me, curious to see who had come to sit on their throne. I spent the better part of a half hour drinking in the views, and clowning around in front of the camera.
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Magic Water
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Dawn. A fiery orange tinge to the sky in the southeast. Calm winds all night made for a glassy surface to the water. Our wake gave the glass a gentle bend, creating gorgeous coloring and designs. It was like watching psychedelic oil patterns on the surface of the sea. I find the water’s mesmerizing kaleidoscopic shimmering quality amazing, and beautiful.
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The South Ridge of Isla San Francisco
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I hiked the entire south ridge of Isla San Francisco in about 3 hours. It’s not a long ridge, but it’s height above half moon bay makes for some good views. There’s a trail that runs the length of it, and I had a ball running down the slopes and hiking up to the high points. I saw an osprey sitting atop a high cardon, perhaps its favorite perch. I watched it with my binoculars for ten minutes; it seemed content with my presence. It was quality time, in my mind.
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I found a rock cairn that had tumbled over, and I decided to rebuild it. It was in a good place, and the rocks were easy to stack. After that, I scrambled back down to the salt flats, back to where I started. I kept my distance from everyone and jumped in the water. It was cool and refreshing, and beautiful. The high salinity of the water here keeps one more buoyant. Either this is true, or it’s all in my head. I’m fine with it, and it felt good to soak in the ocean before I had to return to the boat, and get ready for work. Consider this day seized.

The End of the Earth.

In Steinbeck’s day, Cabo San Lucas was a sleepy, tired little village, with a “sad cantina, full of sad men, waiting for something to happen. They’ve been waiting for perhaps generations.” This is roughly quoted from “The Log From The Sea of Cortez.” My how things have changed. Now it’s a Disney land of tourism, you might call it “Little America,” or perhaps I’m a bit cynical. If you want a Mexican city, go to La Paz. What San Lucas does have going for it, is its physical beauty, if you can see past the condominiums. The arch at the southern tip is beautiful. The sightseeing boats, including ours, are a nuisance, but it is possible to take an alluring picture here. I offer this as my proof.
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Posted by Rhombus 15:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged mountains hiking mexico deserts baja photography Comments (0)

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