Rock Art, a Civil War Veteran, and Magnificent Mountains… The Arches National Park Series: Conclusion

The La Sal Mountains provide a dramatic backdrop for Arches National Park.

The first people came wandering through Arches some 10,000 years ago as the last of the glaciers were retreating north or scooting up mountains, seeking colder climates. The nomads were hunter-gatherers, killing wild animals for food and seeking out edible plants where they grew naturally. They must have been impressed with the magnificent rock sculptures they saw. Possibly they even gave the soaring arches, spires and fins spiritual significance. What caught their attention from a practical point of view, however, were the chert and chalcedony rocks that could be chipped into stone tools such as knives and scrapers. Left over debris piles can still be seen by those trained to look for them.

The wandering hunters and gatherers were replaced by farmers some 2,000 years ago. The Arches area was on the northern edge of the Puebloan culture, which was known for its cliff dwellings. A lack of such abodes in the area, however, suggest that Arches was more of a place to visit than occupy. About 700 years ago, the Puebloans apparently abandoned the area altogether for whatever reason they were disappearing from their homes throughout the Southwest. Drought, disease, or invasion are among the causes normally given.

When the first Europeans entered the area, they found it occupied by the Utes, a Native American tribe from which Utah took its name. It is assumed that the rock art panel shown below was created by the Utes since the Indians were riding horses and there weren’t any in North America prior to the arrival of the Spanish Conquistadors. Interestingly, a section of the Old Spanish Trail that was used by Spaniards to travel between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Los Angeles in the late 1700s/early 1800s actually runs in front of the park headquarters following Highway 191.

Utes on horses hunt big horn sheep on the petroglyph panel found at Arches National Park.

A closer look suggests that the Utes were waving their arms and driving the sheep with the help of dogs. Native Americans were known to drive buffalo but I have never heard of the technique in relation to sheep.

In hopes that the arid climate of the region would be good for an old Civil War war wound, 69-year-old John Wesley Wolfe left his wife in Ohio in 1898 and settled near Delicate Arch and the Ute rock art north of the town of Moab. He brought his son with him and built a primitive cabin. There was enough space to raise a few head of cattle and vegetables. More sophisticated needs were met by shopping out of the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. When his daughter, her husband, and two children arrived a few years later, she insisted that Wolfe provide more modern accommodations. He complied by building the 11 by 17 foot one room cabin that still stands today. It must have been cozy.

The Wolfe’s cabin as it looks today. Delicate Arch is off to the right. The Ute rock art is located on the cliffs behind the cabin.

A closeup of the cabin rendered in black and white.

While the Colorado River forms the southeastern border to Arches National Park, it is the La Sal Mountains that provide a dramatic backdrop for many of the rock sculptures found in the park. Towering over 12,000 feet in height, the La Sal’s are part of the Rocky Mountain chain. I’ll conclude my series on Arches with several photos that Peggy and I took of the mountains as seen from Arches.

I liked the contrast between the red rocks, green brush and blue mountains.

La Sal Mountains framed by pillars in Arches.

Clouds, mountains and red rocks.

I’ll conclude with this tree that was set off by the red rocks.

NEXT POSTS: Hot off the press: Peggy and I are on a two-week trip up the coast of northern Oregon and southern Washington to celebrate our 25th Anniversary. Expect crashing waves, tumbling waterfalls, rainforests, a picturesque lighthouse, towering ocean rocks and quaint towns.

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The Arches of Arches…. Arches National Park: Part 3

Photo of Double Arch at Arches national Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

I can pretty well guarantee that you will see Double Arch on any trip to Arches National Park. It’s just off the road… and impressive.

 

“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” Edward Abby from his book about Arches NP, “Desert Solitaire.”

 

Arches is renowned for its arches, as it should be, given its name. They come in all shapes and sizes ranging from three feet across to 306 feet. I noted in my first post that there are some 2,000 of them at the park. Forces of erosion, including water, ice and wind, break out chunks of rocks from softer sandstone beneath harder layers above and eventually work through fins.  New arches are constantly being created while older ones fall.

Arch in progress at Arches NP

A new arch in the process of being born at Arches National Park.

Several arches are located along the road and are easily reached by short hikes. Others require longer hikes and more work. When Peggy and I were at Arches last time, we were rushing through on our way to our Grand Canyon raft trip. We could hardly begin to do the arches justice, but we did photograph three that I will share with you today: Delicate Arch, Skyline Arch, and Double Arch.

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park

While Peggy and I didn’t have time to visit Delicate Arch, we were able to snap its photo from a distance. It is the most famous arch in the park and possibly in the world.

Skyline Arch in Arches National Park

Skyline Arch is also easily seen from the road.

Skyline Arch and tree at Arches NP

Here it is with a tree to help set it off.

Skyline Arch close up at Arches NP

A close up of the arch.

Double Arch at Arches National Park. Photo by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

People in the lower right hand corner provide perspective on the size of Double Arch.

Double Arches and green brush

Double Arch seen from a distance.

Double Arches up close, Arches NP

One of the arches of Double Arch up close.

Arch in Double Arch, Arches NP

And closer.

Curt Mekemson at Arches NP

I was up climbing around on the Double Arch to get photos when Peggy snapped my picture, which will serve as the last of this post.

 

NEXT POST:  We will explore the surrounding country, petroglyphs and settler history.

 

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But Are You Balanced… Arches NP: Part 2

Balanced Rock, Arches National Park

Balanced Rock is one of the best known rock sculptures in Arches National Park. The cracked mudstone underneath it makes me wonder about how long it will last.

 

Ever have that feeling that you are teetering on the edge? What if you weighed 3,600 tons and stood 128 feet up in the air while you teetered? That’s the case of Balanced Rock, one of the most iconic rock sculptures of Arches National Park in Utah. Actually, the rock owes more to the super-glue mudstone that attaches the sculpture to its base than any super-power balancing capabilities. Someday, it will come crashing down, but until then, it is there to admire and astound.

Balanced Rock scene, Arches NP

A more balanced Balance Rock?

Balanced Rock in Arches NP

And a closer look.

Sliding off pedestal, Arches, NP

In terms of balance, I found this rock more talented. It lacks the glue-like mudstone and appears to be sliding off of its pedestal.

As the buried layers of salt that I mentioned in my last post work upward, it leads to parallel cracks in the sandstone above that eventually erode away leaving long fins, from which arches, balanced rocks and other rock formations of Arches National Park are created. The most impressive fin to me, Park Avenue, greets visitors on their way into the park. If you’ve ever walked down Park Avenue in New York City, you know it is lined by sky scrapers. That’s what folks had in mind when they named this impressive formation.

Park Avenue in Arches National Park 3_edited-1

Park Avenue with its sky-scraper like rocks.

Park Avenue at Arches NP

Another perspective.

Fin 2 Arches NP

This fin shows the beginning of the erosion process.

Creation of fins, Arches NP

And here, a number of fins reflect the parallel cracking of the sandstone.

My favorite!

Still a fin but with a different erosion look caused by thinner layers of sandstone..

And to conclude, here’s some more eye-candy from Arches National Park.

Courthouse Towers, Arches NP

Standing rock, Arches National Park

Sentinental 2

Climbers in Arches NP

Climbers.

Courthouse rock, Arches NP

And a final view for this post.

 

Note: All photos are taken by Curtis and Peggy Mekemson.

NEXT POST: The arches of arches.

 

 

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There’s More to Arches National Park than Arches…. Arches NP: Part 1

 

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

The red rock sculptures of the Southwest US are both beautiful and strange, firing our imagination while calming our souls. Few areas capture this paradox as well as Arches National Park. It is one of our favorite places.

 

“The desert wears… a veil of mystery. Motionless and silent it evokes in us an elusive hint of something unknown, unknowable, about to be revealed. Since the desert does not act it seems to be waiting — but waiting for what?” – Edward Abbey, 1968 in his book Desert Solitaire where he recounts his two years, 1956-57, as a park ranger in Arches.

 

I have a confession to make. I suggested in my last post that I was going to feature the petroglyphs of Utah’s Arches National Park next— and there are petroglyphs there that I will include in this series. But my real reason for posting on Arches was that I wanted an excuse to revisit our last trip there and share the beauty of the area with you. Peggy and I had been on our way to a private raft trip on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon when we stopped off at Arches. The clock was ticking. Consequently, we had been forced to rush through the park. Selecting and preparing the photos for this series on Arches allows me to relive the experience at a more leisurely pace.

Arches is known for its graceful arches: There are some 2,000 scattered throughout the park. But there is much more to Arches that arches! This beautiful red rock country also includes pinnacles, balanced rocks, spires, domes and fins— all of which I will be sharing.

Geologically speaking, we have to go back some 300 million years to discover the beginning of the forces that created Arches. The area was part of an extensive sea at the time, a sea that would retreat and refill some 29 times, leaving behind layers of salt several thousand feet thick. Eventually, the mountains and highlands that surround the region eroded away and covered the salt with multiple layers of sandstone. Since then, the salt, which is less dense than the rock, has forced the sandstone up, warping it and producing domes and mesas that have in turn been eroded away by wind, water, ice and gravity into the fantastic rock sculptures we see today.

My plan for this series is to include four posts:

  1. Look at domes, pinnacles and some rather impressive red rocks
  2. Feature balanced rocks and fins
  3. Introduce a few of the many arches
  4. Explore the surrounding country, petroglyphs and settler history

Peggy and I were sharing a camera with each of us taking shots whenever something caught our attention. We have long since lost track of who took what. So, we are sharing the photo credits.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

These domes feature the two common sandstones found in Arches: The reddish entrada sandstone which evolved from desert sand and the more buff-colored Navajo sandstone.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

A closer look.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

And closer.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

Peggy and I liked the way these pinnacles marched off into the distance.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

And here seemed to lean on one another for support.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson

In bright daylight, a family portrait.

Red rocks of Arches 2

Early morning and late afternoon adds color to the sculptures of Arches. Check out the little guy on the right with his hands in his pockets. He seems to be staring off into space. You can even see the buttons on his shirt!

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

More red, set off by the green of the plants that were capturing the sunlight.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

Early morning light. If you make it to Arches, be sure to plan enough time there to visit during the early morning, mid-day and evening. Each will bring new treats, often giving a totally different perspective on the same rocks.

Photos of Arches National Park by Curt and Peggy Mekemson.

I’ll close today with the Three Gossips. Prominent rock sculptures at Arches National Park have all been named. To me, the rocks often seem to have an inner luminosity, glowing on their own!

 

NEXT POST: The balanced rocks and fins of Arches National Park.

Petroglyph Point of Lava Beds National Monument… A Very Sacred Place

 

Photo by Curtis Mekemson

Sheer cliffs announce Petroglyph Point. The fence here protects Native American rock art that has been carved into the light-colored tuff rock.

 

It is easy to understand why the Modoc Indians of the Tule Lake Basin and earlier peoples that lived in the area would have considered Petroglyph Point a holy place. High cliffs shoot up from the ground producing a mesa-like structure that once stood as an island in Tule Lake. The island-mesa was created when lava flowed into the lake from a vent beneath the surface. When the red-hot rock met the cool water, it caused a massive explosion that sent volcanic ash shooting into the sky. Returning to the surface, the ash settled into layer upon layer of tuff, a soft volcanic rock that was ideal for carving. Early natives would climb into boats made of reeds and row out to the cliffs where they would use rocks and sticks to carve their messages.

Petroglyph point

Once surrounded by water, Petroglyph Point is today surrounded by farmland. The dark shadow is caused by the cliffs where the rock art is located. (Google Map)

Setting for Petroglyph Point P

Another view of the cliffs. Other peaks are shown in the distance. This is arid land and the extensive farming depends upon irrigation. There is an ongoing battle over water rights between the farmers and the Native Americans. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photo by Curt Mekemson.

Looking up. Numerous birds nest in the cliffs.

Photograph of swallow nests at Petroglyph Point by Curtis Mekemson.

Such as these cliff swallows.

When Peggy and I traveled to Petroglyph Point this summer as part of our visit to Lava Beds National Monument, it was no longer an island. Farmers had reclaimed the land by draining much of the lake. It was still impressive, however, as was the rock art left behind by the hundreds of generations of Native Americans who had rowed out to the island on a sacred quest. Some of the 5,000 petroglyphs may be up to 6,000 years old. Sheer numbers make this one of the most extensive collections of Native American rock art in North America. It’s definitely worth a visit. 

Rock Art of Petroglyph Point P1

This photo by Peggy gives an idea on just how many petroglyphs are located along the tuff wall. The rock art was basically as high as the Modoc Indians could reach from their boats.

Rock art of Petroglyph Point 1

A close up of the above panel.

Rock Art of Petroglyph Point

While much of the rock art features geometric forms, this is definitely an insect, complete with feelers. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Photograph of centipede rock art at Petroglyph Point by Curtis Mekemson.

And another insect!

Rock art at Petroglyph Point photographed by Curtis Mekemson.

There are numerous examples of what appears to be counting along the wall. I assume that this had to do with keeping track of time, but who knows.

Photograph of human figure petroglyph at Petroglyph Point by Curtis Mekemson.

Several of the petroglyphs made us smile. I quickly designated this as Mr. Arrowhead.

Rock art photo in Lava Beds National Monument by Curtis Mekemson.

I also found this running fellow humorous, although it might have been two streams running into a lake, or… Interpretation is often up to the viewer.

Rock Art of Petroglyph Point 3

And what do you make of the square, bug-eyed alien? Note another bug off to the left.

Rock Art of Petroglyph Point P6

I really liked this scenic portrait of the sun and the mountains. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Rock Art of Petroglyph Point 6

This seemed totally at odds with the other petroglyphs, leading me to wondering if it’s a modern contribution.

 

A Bonus: When I was going through our photos of Petroglyph Point, I came upon this photo I took of Peggy in one of the lava tube caves I featured in my last post.

Peggy Mekemson in lava tube at Lava Beds National Monument

Lava tube 1

Plus another photo from inside the lava tube. Magical.

 

NEXT POST: Sticking with the petroglyph theme, I will feature Native American rock art from Arches  and Canyonlands National Parks.

 

There’s Something Fishy about the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

 

What’s an octopus doing at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in south central New Mexico.

 

This, and my next post, will take us back to the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. I am backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains this week and will respond to comments next week. Thanks, as always, for following my blog and reading my posts. 

 

It’s really dry at the Three Rivers Petroglyph site in New Mexico, like desert dry, like 10 inches of rain a year dry! So what’s with the petroglyph of an octopus? It’s at least 800 miles to the nearest body of large water, the Gulf of Mexico, and a similar distance to the Pacific Ocean. I’d think it was one of strange aliens that rock artists like to portray if it weren’t for the three-masted ship with the guy in the stern also found at the Three Rivers site.

Check out this three-masted sailing ship and what appears to be a guy peering over the railing. Even the experts scratch there heads over this petroglyph.

Obviously, someone from the Jornada Tribe had traveled to distant lands and returned to share his or her experiences as rock art. Maybe several members of the tribe had travelled on such journeys. Peggy and I also found fish, a possible seal, and maybe even a whale among the petroglyphs. The frog is a bonus.

A seal perhaps.

There’s no doubt about this fish. But note the geometric patterns. I’ll return to this theme in my next blog.

This is the whale. At least that’s what I am going with. You can make out its mouth on the left and then eye, fin and fluke. This is another example  of fitting the rock art to the rock.

Slightly off subject but still associated with water, I had to put this frog somewhere! Is this one saying, “I need a hug!” ?

 

NEXT POST: Geometric forms among the petroglyphs of the Three Rivers Petroglyph National Recreation Site in New Mexico.

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This Post Is for the Birds… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site of New Mexico: Part 4

A rather strange turkey you might note, with claws out, coming at you. It isn’t so strange if you’ve experienced it, as I did. I was taking close-ups of a hen’s chicks when she decided to discourage me by flying at me with claws aimed. She succeeded.

 

Peggy and I are on our way home from North Carolina today. We flew back to surprise our son, Tony, who was promoted to Lieutenant Commander for the Coast Guard in Charleston, South Carolina. While he teaches at the Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut overseeing cadets who want to fly for the Coastguard, he was visiting his In-laws in South Carolina and the Coast Guard arranged for the appointment ceremony to take place in Charleston.  

Today’s blog is for the birds, so to speak. I am featuring petroglyphs of birds we found at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site in New Mexico. They ranged from eagles to turkeys.

It’s no wonder that the Jornada were impressed with eagles. I am. I took this photo of a Bald Eagle in Oregon.

Here’s his look-alike petroglyph at the Three Rivers’ Site.

The mighty eagle may have ruled the skies of southern New Mexico, but it was the Thunderbird that ruled the heavens. A flap of its wings would gather clouds and send thunder bouncing off the far mountains. Lightning would shoot out of its eyes. The Thunderbird existed in numerous Native American and First Nation cultures. Peggy and I have found images from New Mexico to Alaska.

This petroglyph of a Thunderbird is one of the most powerful petroglyphs I have seen.

Peggy and I found this totem pole Thunderbird on Vancouver Island, British Colombia. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

Another example from Three Rivers.

It wasn’t surprising that we found a roadrunner petroglyph, the superfast, long-legged bird of the Southwest that is common in the desert and eats rattlesnakes for breakfast. Did you ever watch the Roadrunner-Coyote cartoons? I was addicted to it at UC Berkeley in the mid-60s. Cartoon time was mandatory break time! My fellow dorm residents and I would gather around the lone TV in our dormitory and cheer as Road Runner once again foiled Wile E. Coyote.

A roadrunner with its snake breakfast. I am also intrigued with the upside down animal above the roadrunner. I think it might be a peccary.

This sophisticated petroglyph looks a lot like a goose or duck to me. Note how the artist has used the contour of the rock to give body to the goose.

We also found petroglyphs of wild turkeys, the bird that Benjamin Franklin preferred over the eagle as a national symbol for America. These characters provide us with endless entertainment as they roar around in our backyard, chase each other, show off, and search for food. I suspect that the Jornada regarded them as a source of food.

Possibly a turkey head.

And a stick figure turkey!

I’ll finish today with this tom turkey strutting his stuff in our back yard. We’re always amused that the hens totally ignore the guys when they put on their shows, almost appearing bored. We’ve decided that the shows are to impress the competition.

NEXT POST: The slithery serpents of Three Rivers. Last week I blogged about my encounter with a Diamondback Rattler. This time I will focus on how the Jornada perceived snakes and lizards. There is even a rattlesnake!

 

Nice Kitty, But Why Is Your Tail Over Your Back… The Three Rivers Petroglyph Site: Part 3

There are several mountain lion petroglyphs at the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. Each one has his tail bent up over his back. I don’t have a clue why. And what’s with the arrow?

 

Peggy and I are still out wandering. So this is my third post revisiting the Three Rivers’s Petroglyph Site in southern New Mexico.

Hunting wild animals for meat provided an essential source of food for the majority of mankind’s existence. While the Jornada Mogollon people at the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph site cultivated corn, hunting remained a vital activity.

Arrows can often be found sticking out of Big Horn Mountain Sheep in petroglyphs. They were a major source of food in the South West.

The Big Horn Sheep petroglyphs at Three Rivers were some of the most sophisticated I’ve seen. It’s rare to see bodies filled in.

A Big Horn head with geometric patterns.

I took this picture of a Big Horn ram in Nevada. He was wondering if he should object to his photo being taken.

Success meant learning as much as they could about the animals that inhabited their desert world: where they lived, what they ate, where they drank, and what trails they used were all important.  The Jornada were excellent trackers, able to read in a few scuffed tracks the story of who had wandered down a trail and what they were doing.

Tracking was a vital skill of Native Americans in hunting, or in being hunted. This was probably the track of a mountain lion.

Definitely human!

There was a close, almost sacred, relationship between the hunter and the hunted. Clans assumed animal names and young people went on vision quests to discover which animal might serve as personal guides. Shamans put on animal cloaks and assumed animal personalities. The gods and the spirits of animals were both honored. (It helped assure they would be around at dinner time.)

Not surprisingly, the petroglyphs found at Three Rivers reflect the importance of the various animals in the life of the Jornada. We discovered numerous bighorn sheep and an unexpected number of cougars. There were also horses, rabbits and coyotes. Horses provided a radical new form of transportation; coyotes were known for their trickery; and rabbits provided an easy food supply.

I featured this cougar in my last post. Again, note the tail over the back.

Another big cat with proud tail.

This cougar came up to sniff us at a wildlife sanctuary in southern Oregon. He looked quite friendly but it was one of those instances I was glad I was on the other side of the fence.

I suspect he would have liked to have had this rabbit in the enclosure with him. Everyone, it seems, likes to eat rabbits. They would have been another important food source for the Jornada.

These two long-eared Jack Rabbits (hares) stopped by our house for a visit a couple of weeks ago. They wanted to know if we had a coyote free zone. I couldn’t make any promises so they moved on.

The arrival of the Spaniards to the New World in the 1500s meant that the Jornada had a dramatic new form of transportation available.

I’ll finish up with this happy songster. (Or maybe it’s not so happy. That could be an arrow.) My next post on Three Rivers is for the birds.

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Bug Eyed Alien or Shamanistic Vision… The Rock Art of the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph Site: Part 2

This is one of my favorite petroglyphs from Three Rivers. It makes me want to say, BOO! So, is it a bug-eyed alien or a shamanistic vision?

 

Peggy and I are still off playing (details to come later), so I am continuing to revisit earlier posts I did on the Three Rivers’ Petroglyph National Recreational Site located in south central New Mexico.

A lot of guessing takes place in determining the meaning of rock art. Present day Native American myths and rituals provide some clues. Others can be deduced from the petroglyph itself. An antelope filled full of arrows relates to hunting, but is it a record of an actual event or a hopeful prediction of the future?

Today I am featuring petroglyphs from the Three Rivers site that represent humans and gods. Some look quite alien, while others appear quite human. It’s assumed that shamanistic activities and visions were often the inspiration behind petroglyphs. Or the inspiration might be as common (and dramatic) as a woman having a baby, which is reflected in a number of Three Rivers’ petroglyphs.

This petroglyph of a man struck me as quite realistic. Does he look like anyone you know?

This fellow is a bit further out. I am assuming he is a Shaman either exorcising a demon or having a bad trip. (Since no one can be sure of the actual meaning of rock art, you are free to speculate.) The circle surrounded by dots just below his chest, is thought to represent Datura, a powerful hallucinogen.

A sad fellow, I thought at first, given his downturned mouth. But then I noted the eyes. And are those cat whiskers on his cheeks?

Okay, scary.

A petroglyph of a woman in this position is usually assumed to be having a baby. She’s even screaming, or practicing deep breathing.

Here’s another example. A little empathy, please.

Often the figures are assumed to represent gods. This one could be corn.

This final photo is to prepare you for my next post where I will feature some of the wildlife of Three Rivers. This is a rather magnificent mountain lion.

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16 Miles without Water: a Rattlesnake, a Lost Trekker, and a Rebellion… The First Sierra Trek

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves." –John Muir

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.” –John Muir

 

As the physician who had threatened to tell the media I was running a ‘pot smoking orgy’ in the mountains packed up to leave, my thoughts turned to the challenges of our second day’s route. We were facing a hike where the first water and possible campsite were 16 miles down the trail. Considering how much fun I had getting our Trekkers through seven miles on day one, I was not excited about day two. We had one access point approximately half way where a road crossed our trail. Steve and I planned to have the jeep there to resupply the Trekkers with water for the second part of their journey.

Today’s photos are focused on the mountains of the High Sierra. These towering peaks of granite are topped off by Mt. Whitney at 14,505 feet (4421.0 m). John Muir loved the Sierras and returned to them again and again. “The mountains are calling and I must go,” he declared. It is a passion I share. In honor of Muir’s love for mountains and wilderness, I am using a different quote of his for each photo. These quotes were gathered by the Sierra Club.

 

I did a 360 mile trip down the Sierras to celebrate my 60th birthday. Mt. Whitney is in the Background.

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” –John Muir (Here I am, keeping “close to Nature’s heart.” Mt. Whitney is in the background.)

 

When the Trekkers were packed and ready to go, I called them together for a final briefing. I reminded them of how difficult the day would be and then gave them very specific instructions:

“If the jeep isn’t there when you arrive at the road, wait for it.” It would not be the last time in Trek history my directions would go unheeded.

As per plan, I sent Steve on ahead as trail leader while Charlie and I provided rear guard support. In retrospect, I should have recalled that this was the section of the trail that the hawk had ‘chased’ Steve for miles, apparently all 16. Far from being a gentle ridge walk, we were climbing in and out of small canyons over hot, dusty trails. By the time we had covered five miles I was beginning to worry and by six, I knew had to come up with an alternative. Otherwise many of our folks would be making a dry camp out on the trail.

I had quickly discovered that the walkie-talkies from Bob-of-No-Name didn’t work because of all the canyons. My only solution was to hustle up to the front of the line and catch the Trekkers before they left the jeep. I dubbed Charlie as primary rear guard and took off moving as fast as my short legs would go, passing the majority of our group along the way. When I arrived at the jeep, Steve was there with 15 people. “Damn,” I thought, “some of the Trekkers have already gone on.” Maybe I could catch them.

“Hey Steve,” I jumped in as he greeted me, “it’s time for Plan B.”

“Which is…” he asked grinning?

“We need to send the Trekkers by road into Robinson Flat with jeep back up. It’s only about 5 miles by road versus 10 by trail plus the jeep can provide water along the way and shuttle people if necessary. But first, how long ago was it when the rest of the Trekkers left the jeep?”

“I don’t know,” Steve confessed. He’d had a group of Trekkers walking on his tail and let them pass (thus breaking one of our cardinal rules). Even worse, Steve Locke didn’t know either. Apparently 15 of the Trekkers had arrived before the jeep and chosen to go on. Another five had actually waited, loaded up with water and then taken off, approximately 30 minutes before I arrived.

“Great,” I responded. Thanks to Steve letting people go ahead, we now had 20 people out on the trail in front of us without a leader— and 15 with limited water.

"In God's wildness lies the hope of the world - the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware." –John Muir 

“In God’s wildness lies the hope of the world – the great fresh unblighted, unredeemed wilderness. The galling harness of civilization drops off, and wounds heal ere we are aware.” –John Muir (Here you are looking from the top of Mt. Whitney east toward Lone Pine and the Owens Valley. The road winds through the Alabama Hills where many Westerns have been filmed.)

This photo looks north from Mt. Whitney into the heart of the High Sierras.

“This grand show is eternal.”  –John Muir  (This photo looks north from Mt. Whitney into the heart of the High Sierras with mountains as far as you can see.)

Day two, which had started with the doctor and his ‘pot smoking orgy,’ had gone from bad to worse. I made a command decision. Steve would continue on with Plan B as I had outlined it, moving the remaining Trekkers via road to Robinson Flat. I would continue along Red Star Ridge and provide backup for the group who had chosen to hike another 8 miles without water access.

I had little doubt about what type of foul mood my wayward charges would be in and who they would blame for their predicament. (It certainly wouldn’t be themselves for failing to wait for the jeep.) We would camp on Duncan Creek and hike the two miles into Robinson Flat the next morning.

“No one is to budge from Robinson Flat until I get there,” I instructed with the fervid hope my instructions would be followed this time.

First, however, I had to go back and retrieve Charlie. I wanted to personally be sure that all of our other Trekkers made it to the jeep. I asked Crowle and Locke to hold everyone. I found Charlie a mile or so back the trail with another broken pack. Boy, were we having fun. If my learning curve got any steeper, I was going to fall off.

“I’ll hike on with you Curt to provide support and company,” Charlie insisted.

I knew I was tired and could only imagine how he must feel given his extra 25 years and 50 pounds. I was beginning to realize that older people are often tougher than young people half their age with twice their strength. The journey we were on was as much psychological as it was physical. Maybe more so.

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness. (Treks down and across the Sierras are tough for everyone, but especially so for people without experience. It always seems that there are more mountains to climb and more canyons to drop into.)

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.” –John Muir

"Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life." –John Muir

“Between every two pine trees there is a door leading to a new way of life.” –John Muir (Over the years, I have known numerous people who have decided to change their lives while backpacking for a week through the Sierras.)

"Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue." –John Muir (The same photo as above a couple of hours later as alpen glow colors the ridge. This is in the Dusy Basin near Bishop.) 

“Another glorious day, the air as delicious to the lungs as nectar to the tongue.” –John Muir (The same photo as above a couple of hours later as the setting sun colors the ridge. This is in the Dusy Basin near Bishop.)

We initiated phase two of our journey around 2:00 p.m. In a little over 30 minutes we caught our four eleven-year-olds, who we had nicknamed the Four Mouseketeers, crawling along at a pace that a turtle would find embarrassing.

“Joe is really slow,” one of the urchins informed me.

Yeah, I thought to myself, and you guys are so glad he is because it provides all of you with an excuse to move at the same pace.

After about an hour of moving along at ‘Joe speed,’ Charlie plaintively informed me he wasn’t going to make it into camp if he couldn’t move faster. Having determined that three of our Mouseketeers really were good hikers, I assigned them to Charlie and took Joe on as my personal challenge. The experience was similar to moving my Basset Hound down the trail after he spent a full night of digging. Joe would go a quarter of a mile and stop, plopping down onto the dusty trail. We had managed about a mile of this when I came on Charlie again, standing beside the trail and pointing off to the left.

“Careful, Curt,” he began, “there is a huge timber rattler coiled up there.”

Adrenaline gave me a spurt of energy I didn’t know I had. Huge was hardly an adequate description. The snake was as thick as my wrist and about six feet long. Joe, either out of exhaustion or not caring, came to a shuffling halt mere inches away from the poised pit viper and kicked dirt into its face.

“Um, Joe,” I whispered trying to sound calm and not wanting to frighten him or the snake into precipitous action, “if you will look down to your left, you will see a snake. Don’t move.”

Had I received such instructions, I would have been 20 feet down the trail in one prodigious leap. Joe, on the other hand, looked down at the huge, coiled rattler, said ‘oh,’ and shuffled on down the trail. The snake didn’t budge; Joe was not food, friend or foe. We left the snake guarding the trail.

"Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole." (Granite rules in the Sierras and reminds us of our place in the world.)

“Man must be made conscious of his origin as a child of Nature. Brought into right relationship with the wilderness he would see that he was not a separate entity endowed with a divine right to subdue his fellow creatures and destroy the common heritage, but rather an integral part of a harmonious whole.” –John Muir

"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike." Few chunks of granite are more beautiful and famous than Half Dome in Yosemite.

“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” –John Muir (Few solid chunks of granite are more beautiful or famous than Half Dome in Yosemite.)

"Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality."

“Another glorious Sierra day in which one seems to be dissolved and absorbed and sent pulsing onward we know not where. Life seems neither long nor short, and we take no more heed to save time or make haste than do the trees and stars. This is true freedom, a good practical sort of immortality.” –John Muir

Charlie went on ahead with his three charges and I continued to herd my half dead companion. It was after dark when I heard the stream that I knew meant camp. It was an extremely welcome sound; Joe and I had been traveling for at least 30 minutes by flashlight. Charlie was waiting for us outside camp.

“We have a problem Curt…” he began for the second time that day, although the day had already stretched out forever and I hadn’t known one minute when the ubiquitous problem did not exist. As supportive as Charlie had been, I had thoughts of killing the messenger.

“What’s it this time,” I asked, struggling to keep the grump and whine out of my voice.

“One of the Trekkers is lost and the rest of the Trekkers are ready to string you up from a tree,” he reported matter-of-factly. But then, it wasn’t his neck. “I’ve calmed them down by telling them all you have done today,” he went on. “Now they are just going to give you the silent treatment.”

I am not a praying type of person but I looked up at the sky and said, “God, get me back to Sacramento and I promise I will go back to running Christmas Seal Campaigns with my 80-year-old, lady volunteers and be perfectly happy.” The odds against any future Trek program had just hit 1000 to 1.

Before going to bed, I insisted that the Trekkers gather around so I could learn what I could about the missing person, Dick. Silent treatment or not, I needed to think through an action plan for the next day. Dick was the school teacher who had claimed he could carry his weight in booze. He had been hiking alone and hadn’t talked to anyone about leaving the route. The Trekkers could only give me an approximation of where they had last seen him.

I decided to get folks up early in the morning. I would high-tail-it the two miles into camp and see if Dick had shown up at Robinson Flat. If not, I would check with the ranger station and help organize a search party. Two of my strongest hikers would stay behind in camp in case Dick showed up there. Charlie would bring the rest of the Trekkers on to Robinson Flat.

"When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak." –John Muir (I sometimes backpack by myself in the wilderness and spend nights with nothing but myself and nature. I highly recommend the experience.)

“When one is alone at night in the depths of these woods, the stillness is at once awful and sublime. Every leaf seems to speak.” –John Muir (I sometimes backpack by myself in the wilderness and spend nights with nothing but myself and nature. I highly recommend the experience.)

I was exhausted and couldn’t go to sleep but somewhere in the wee hours I must have dozed off because I woke with a start as Charlie lobbed pebbles at my sleeping bag. I was up and packed in a zip. After a few words of encouragement to the troops, who had made a miraculous recovery over night, I was bounding off up the trail like a hare with the hounds of hell in hot pursuit. Just as I came into camp, Dick came hoofing in from the opposite direction. I didn’t know whether to kiss or to kill him, but he was too ugly for the former and possibly too tough for the latter.

I settled for, “Are you okay Dick?”

“Sure,” he replied in a why-wouldn’t-he-be tone.

“What happened,” I demanded, allowing my irritation to surface.

“I got thirsty,” Dick explained. “I could see French Meadow Reservoir at the bottom of the ridge so I hiked down to get a drink. When I got there, I was tired so I set up camp.”

My irritation boiled over.

“Why didn’t you tell someone you were leaving? Didn’t you realize we would be worried sick and mounting a search and rescue effort?” I was on a roll and Dick was on the receiving end of a great deal of frustration I was feeling. Fortunately, guilt had driven him to get up before dawn and make his way to Robinson Flat as quickly as he could. It might have been worse, much worse.

The crisis was over, but I still had chores. First up was to go back and collect the rearguard I had left at Duncan Creek. I could have sent Steve but I needed the down time. As I hiked, I made my second command decision of the day. Even though we had only hiked for two days, the group could use a layover day. Hell, I could use a layover day. In fact, I needed a layover day. I deserved a layover day. The next day could wait for its turn. What else could go wrong? Hah!

"God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts..." (Wise words in these troubling times of division.)

“God does not appear, and flow out, only from narrow chinks and round bored wells here and there in favored races and places, but He flows in grand undivided currents, shoreless and boundless over creeds and forms and all kinds of civilizations and peoples and beasts…” –John Muir (Wise words in these troubling times of division.)

"It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods -- trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries ... God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools -- only Uncle Sam can do that." (Something to think about as 'Uncle Sam' moves to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency.)

“It took more than three thousand years to make some of the trees in these Western woods — trees that are still standing in perfect strength and beauty, waving and singing in the mighty forests of the Sierra. Through all the wonderful, eventful centuries … God has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand straining, leveling tempests and floods; but he cannot save them from fools — only Uncle Sam can do that.” (Something to think about as ‘Uncle Sam’ moves to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and the regulations that protect these forests from destruction.)

"Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. And after ten years of wandering and wondering in the heart of it, rejoicing in its glorious floods of light, the white beams of the morning streaming through the passes, the noonday radiance on the crystal rocks, the flush of the alpenglow, and the irised spray of countless waterfalls, it still seems above all others the Range of Light." (With 50 years of wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind me, I agree.)

“Then it seemed to me that the Sierra should be called, not the Nevada or Snowy Range, but the Range of Light. –John Muir (With 50 years of wandering the Sierra Nevada Mountains behind me, I agree.)

NEXT BLOGS:

Friday: An amazing octopus and rhino. More on the mutant vehicles of Burning Man.

Monday: Sully and his airplane.

Wednesday: Sierra Trek: The layover day where all sorts of interesting things happen.