Bryce Canyon National Park

Fairyland Trail
Wednesday, April 24We arrived at Bryce early enough on Tuesday to get a pretty good site in the one open campground. It is all first come first served, so we were not sure anything would be available. It fills every night. Sunny and warm is the weather, with afternoon clouds and some wind. In the morning we plan to hike the 8.5 mile Fairyland Trail. We hiked this once before in 2012, but the heat that day, and the 1300’ elevation gain made the second half of the hike a real trudge.It was much better on Wednesday morning as we set out on the hike. Mid-70’s is predicted, but the last quarter of the hike will feel like high 80’s – all uphill and exposed with no shade. Mary thought this was a little out of her hiking range for today, so we agreed to start the hike at Fairyland Point and walk it to Sunrise Point back up on the rim, about 5.5 miles in. From there, Mary could catch a shuttle back to camp and I could continue along the rim trail that loops back 3 miles to the parking area. It’s a long addition, but I really wanted to do the entire loop.We started down the trail around 8:30. The sun was well up and many of the formations glowed from reflected light. It was a pretty quick decent into the first canyon, except for all the stops we tend to make. The views all along this stretch are great. The trail is wide, firm and easy to walk for the most part. A little rain changes things considerably, turning the solid ground to mush. The formations of course give Fairyland it’s name, but to me It’s more like the Flintstones in what they remind me of. Some areas do resemble castles or fortresses though. The trail keeps dropping into the canyon and as we reached the bottom, we could see water flowing down the wash. Ponderosa Pine was growing here and a quick sniff of the bark revealed it’s vanilla-like aroma. Formations continue to pop-out of the landscape. We were walking at their base looking up now. Soon enough the trail rises again. In fact it does this repeatedly as it winds in and out of one amphitheater after another. The elevation change of 1300′ I’m sure does not take in consideration of the many up’s and down’s of this trail. The landscape opened up more after awhile and more complex formations appeared. The trail really started climbing now in the last couple of miles. It was getting hot too, but afternoon winds and some cloud cover helped cool us as we climbed. I learned later the far-off mountain that had been playing hide and seek, was Navajo Mountain. It is very clear today.Eventually we passed the Tower Bridge formation below. Earlier hikes here, we dropped down to a spur trail to hike to it’s base. Not this time.When the “Chinese Wall” came into view. I knew we were getting close to the end. Just a last long rise into and among towering formations to get us to the rim again. By looking at my pictures here, you might think we had the trail to ourselves. Far from it. By this time, a constant stream of visitors was coming down the trail. There were so many coming by – some I’d seen earlier doing the loop – I stopped saying hi to them. Just too many. But that’s to be expected in our national parks these days.Up on the rim at Sunrise Point again, we came to the trail junction, Mary went her way back to camp, and I continued along the Rim Trail back to the Fairyland parking area. Little did I know the trail brushes right by the campground we are in. We could have started and finished the trail right there, but that would have meant Mary would’ve had to do the entire 8.5. Right now I was wishing I didn’t have to do it either.This part of the Rim Trail to the parking area goes up and down a few hundred feet a couple of different times. It was hot and my legs were really feeling it, but some of the high views from the rim were pretty nice. Thankfully I reached the end of the trail. I’d taken Mary’s spare water when we split, and it was good I had. Mine ran out about a quarter mile before the end. This hike was actually more enjoyable this time around. The cooler temperatures and nice breeze most of the day were key. We have another day in the park tomorrow. Afternoon thundershowers are predicted and we are thinking of touring the canyon overlooks for the 13 miles of road that are open. Should be fun.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Overlooks
Wednesday, April 25After the long hike yesterday, we were inclined not to be too active today. We spent the morning processing images and trying to catch up on the blogs. Only some of which I actually accomplished. After we had a little lunch, I suggested we go out to the canyon rim overlooks. Thunder showers were predicted for the afternoon, but clouds had been steadily moving in since mid-morning. It was pretty well clouded over by the time we left the campground, It seemed like it might have been too late for good light already. I wasn’t expecting much at the viewpoints. We drove first to Sunrise Viewpoint. This is the first and most visited of the viewpoints, once entering the park, and it is also a really grand view. I was happy to see that, while clouds covered us along the rim, there was still plenty of breaks over the formations. Verga was falling from isolated thunderheads that slowly crossed the canyon in front of us. This really worked out well for our entire trip along the rim. Despite the threatening sky, dozens of hikers continued to stream down the Queens Garden Trail, and linger on top at the overlooks. At Sunset Point, cold fat raindrops fell occasionally, then the first peel of thunder echoed across the park. It was pretty amazing how quickly the place cleared out after that first crack. The ranger we were talking with didn’t seem to mind much, so we stayed around too and had the viewpoint to ourselves for a short time. Since it was clouding up so much more, we decided to skip Inspiration Point and drive out to the furthest open viewpoint at Natural Bridge. We continued along Highway 63 (the rime drive), but discovered the road was no longer closed at the 12 mile mark. It must have just opened this morning. We stopped briefly at some of the turnouts that had views to check weather conditions along the cliff face on our way to Rainbow Point – the new end of the road. It is another 1000’ higher there than at Sunrise Point and as we got higher, snow started appearing on the roadsides. Rain showers pummeled us as we got closer, and soon turned nearly to sleet. It was another passing shower though, because when we reached Rainbow Point, it was still wet, but clearing up.  The views were spectacular and sunshine was occasionally breaking through. The orange cliffside would light-up while rain showers drifted by. Ravens seemed tp have their areas staked out at each of the viewpoints. Another round of rain soon began and we took that as our queue to start back down the ridge. On the way down, we stopped at two of the viewpoints we skipped on the way up. At Natural Bridge, we stopped long enough to see a brief moment of sunshine cross the formation, brightening it just enough. Our last stop was Farview Point. After walking the area, we noticed a connecting trail out to Piracy Point, maybe 1/8 mile out. While several of the viewpoints seemed similar, they all offered something unique and just hanging around a while could reveal new views.
Just as we were leaving for the day, clouds in the distance lifted, revealing Navajo Mountain. We will be moving on in the morning, looking to the general Escalante area for several days. There is lots intermittent rain predicted for the next several days. If it happens, even just a little rain, it will wash-out our plan for driving Cottonwood Rd, a dirt road not drivable  in the RAV when wet.

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Hiking the Mansard Trail Near Kanab

Mansard Trail
Saturday, April 20
There was no big rush to get to Kanab. The only thing to figure out was where between Valley of Fire and Kanab we wanted to stop for a night. 170 miles is not all that much, but we decided to stop about halfway at Cedar Pockets BLM campground in the Virgin River Gorge Recreation Area. Only problem was that it was closed. Fortunately the dispersed camping  just on the other side of the Highway was open and had plenty of room for us – and it was free. No highway noise and just a little way off the road. Just a few pick-ups and ATV’s drove by all the time we were there. Later a couple of other overnighters stopped and found space.

In the morning we crossed into Utah and stopped briefly in Saint George to resupply. We haven’t been to Kanab for quite a few years and Mary didn’t remember there being much in the way of supplies. We needn’t had. Things have changed – Kanab is far more developed and actually had 3 grocery stores to choose from. Lots of new accommodations, gas stations and restaurants. The old phony cop car with a dummy in it parked on the side of one of the roads into town was gone. But the RV Park we stayed in last time was still there and had a space reserved for us. 

It’s a cramped little park – but all of them in town are. We wanted to stay in town for a night to empty tanks and post our blogs using the park’s Wifi , but once again upon checking in we were told their Wifi was not working too well.It is also getting close to the Easter weekend, so our plan was to get out of town and find a dispersed camping spot to hunker down in till it blows over. Friday morning we were out looking and not finding available places. Every ATVer had the same idea. Some spots were too sandy for the LD, others too crowded. We eventually found a pretty sweet spot at Twin Hollows Canyon Dispersed BLM. Good road (but busy with ATVs) and a nice spot next to the Virgin River a bit off the road so dust from the ATV’s shouldn’t be a problem as long as the wind blows in the right direction..Saturday morning we were more than ready for walking, and our chosen hike was the 4.5 mile, 900’ elevation gain, Mansard Trail. It leads up a sandstone ridge, passes a couple of buttes and arrives at a cave/alcove where rare floor carved petroglyphs can be found. Usually they are seen carved into high ledges or boulders, so it will be interesting to check these out.The trail starts off level but slowly begins to rise through the wonderful red, red sandstone. All the rains Utah has experienced this winter have resulted in a huge variety of flowers blooming right now. Not vast fields, but seeing these little splashes of color along the trail kept me interested as the switchbacks began. This packrat nest even had apartments below. Nice location.The trail continued to switchback up the ridge. Each time fuller views of the surrounding countryside developed. Once on top, the trail follows the spine of the ridge and views on either side could be seen. We will be walking past that far white sandstone formation in the distance. We stopped under this massive wall for a snack break. That first little bench on the rock is about 6’ high. On the left side of this formation a steady cold wind blew. On the right, where the trail continues, it was calm and warm. Once past this part, the scene opens even more with wide views all around. We followed along the top of the ridge trail which took us right past this white cap rock formation. All along this portion, the wildly crosshatched sandstone was dazzling in shape and color. So much fun to create compositions. The trail turns very sandy and a little steep after this point and it is a slog for the last 1/8 mile. But still, there were the views. Surprisingly, this sandy part is actually  an ATV road the trail dumps out to meet.It was just a short walk along an incredible cliff of white sandstone banded with yellow – all stained with streaks of red. We spent a good long stretch working with it. Eventually we walked up into the alcove where the petroglyphs were located. They are chipped into a sandstone floor that rises toward the back of the alcove. The angle made it difficult to make any images of the further back petroglyphs. Signs near the entrance warn not tp step on the pictured area, so staying on the sandy edge of the panel was the only choice. Much of what is there is still covered in sand and the signs also warn not to dig further to reveal more. The celing of the alcove was pretty great too. We had lunch sitting here looking out over the wide landscape.While we were there only one other group came by and they only stayed a few minutes. After lunch we made our way back out along the sandstone cliff. We kind of rushed past much of it to get to the alcove before too many other people arrived, but now we had more time. Some of the red sandstone stains reminded me of trees and limbs. We finished up along the wall and started back down the trail. It was a pretty quick desent on the way back. The afternoon winds had picked up blowing dust about, but it was still a pleasant walk back. We are going to stay another night so we can drive into the eastern part of Zion National Park. We’d learned by accident as we were planning to drive through Zion – west to east to Kanab – that the tunnel we’d have to pass throng was closed due to a cave-in. Luckily we were able to change plans to avoid that problem, and are now camped just a couple of miles from the east entrance. The next post will cover that day.

Zion National Park – The East Side
Sunday, April 21This Easter Sunday started with a fine breakfast and a call home, so we got a late start for our trip into the east side of Zion National Park. The tunnel between east and west was closed, so going further can’t happen this trip. I was a little leery about doing anything today, thinking the crowds would make driving the road uncomfortably tedious. Surprise of surprises – traffic was very light. Even the fact that it was a free National Park weekend didn’t seem to matter. The driving and stopping was easy.Checkerboard Mesa was the first of many stops. With few clouds to speak of yet, the light was harsh and it was a struggle to get pleasing images. Even the roads in Zion are red. The huge expanses of varied colored sandstone mountains are so hard to capture. I try to see the patterns in the many layers of color that make up this rock. Using them to control the composition. It being around mid-day, the shadows were pretty minimal, except for the now increasing clouds. So while it was still very contrasty, I could even out the image without it getting too saturated. I made some nice abstracts and a bunch of pretty cliché pictures, but it was just plain fun being in this landscape watching the light change. We eventually reached the tunnel and had to turn around. We found out where everyone had gone. There were maybe 50 cars parked all along the roadside, and dozens of people wandering around – including a full wedding party. Actually there is a short walk to an viewpoint that we decided not to do. We turned around and headed back.We’d gone a couple of miles back, when I noticed a car parked on the side of the road with a couple standing outside. I wanted to see what they were looking at. Looking over the embankment, I saw a large flock of bighorn mountain sheep, but the large male was nowhere to be seen. This group was young males, females and their lambs. They were feeding as a group down in the gully and, while they were always aware of us, were not bothered in the least with us.There was one point though, where I noticed several seemed to be looking right up at me. I realized where I was standing was at the top of an unlikely path they wanted to take. I backed off quickly and soon they all came up and across the road to graze alongside it. They walked along the road a short way before nonchalantly clamoring up the steep stone walls. One by one they jumped up and continued along well above us. Even the littlest of them cold trot across this slippery stuff at will. As this group crossed over above us, another group, who had split off down in the gully, had come up to the road and onto the cliff above a different way, and was walking toward the first group. Apparently two of the lambs got separated from mom and when they saw the mothers, went galloping to them. Turns out, they were hungry – or perhaps this was a kind of comfort behavior after being separated. We stayed and watched their interactions for a good thirty minutes, until they ambled away. It’s rare to really get to watch these animals for so long. We are leaving the area tomorrow, headed for Bryce Canyon National Park. We haven’t been there – beyond just driving through on our way home – for seven years, so seeing how it’s changed will be interesting. Temperatures are ranging from highs in the 70’s to lows in the 30’s. Just the way we like it.

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Leaving Lake Mead – Valley of Fire

Saturday, April 13Before leaving the immediate Lake Mead area, we took one last ride along Lakeshore Rd. We stopped briefly at the Callville Bay Marina. The boat launch for the marina starts out way high above lake level and sharply dips down into the lake – maybe 1/8 mile from the top to the lake. As the level drops, extensions to the boat ramp must be added to reach it. The marina gets pushed further and further out into the lake as it becomes more shallow.We are moving a bit north toward Valley of Fire State Park tomorrow. It is a favorite destination that is becoming more and more crowded. The last time there, we could not get in to camp. It takes some real luck to get a site now. We always try, but it is unlikely. On the way up, we spent a night at Echo Bay. The heat forecast made that decision easy, and Echo Bay has a hook-up RV park to keep us cool. We thought we would have a better chance arriving on a Monday as well.

Valley of Fire State Park
Tuesday, April, 15As expected, there was no room at the inn at VOF. Our backup plan was Poverty Flats, just a few miles north from the park entrance. Sounds bad, but it is a large wide open dispersed BLM camping area that is free. With no protection from the wind that continues to annoy, we won’t be spending much time outside, but we are well situated to enter the park tomorrow and the wind is keeping us cool.We were up and out early, and into the park. We are only here for the day, so we drove directly to the White Domes Road that branches off the main road through the park. The twisty road that leads to the White Domes trail we intend to walk is a wonderful way to see the best of what this park has to offer. Time was, one could stop at just any turn-out or culvert along the road to walk into the landscape and explore. Times have changed. At the start of the road, prominent signs warn to park only in the 3 official areas along the 4 mile road. We will have to park and walk much further to get to interesting areas. Most of the turn-outs are still there, but visitors are not allowed to use them except in emergency. Some still do, but risk a fine. So it goes.We reached the parking area for the hike to find only a couple of cars in the lot. That is a good thing on this short trail. It won’t be long before it is clogged with hikers, but for now it is great for us to have the trail nearly to ourselves. It starts off with a slight uphill slog through a sandy area, but soon gets past that and desends down a rocky trail into the canyon between towering formations of yellow, pink, orange, red and purple sandstone. This park has the most diverse range of sandstone colors I have ever seen in one place. It is simply beautiful. We found a wide variety of wildflowers as we clambered down the rocky trail. Orange Globe Mallow was here, and the yucca stalks were just about to pop. Down near the bottom of the canyon, one wall of stone suddenly ends, and another canyon not on the official trail can be explored. We stayed on the trail though. It drops a bit lower and passes the remains of an old movie set, then drops further into a short slot canyon. Just before the entrance to the slot, a rainbow of color greeted us.
Inside the slot canyon itself, it is less interesting than many I’ve been in before, but just at the exit, smooth multicolored layers of sandstone can be found. In-between, a river of stones flows. It is a striking little spot; one I concentrate on each time I visit. I see something new each time. The slot opens to another wash and the trail wraps up and out, to continue along more sets of strangely eroding sandstone formations. More yellows, oranges and reds. The usual groups were increasing the longer we stayed on the trail. Lots of spring breakers, among them. Just this past week, two young women in different parts of the country, fell to their deaths trying for a selfie. I see lots of risky behavior by a wide range of people. It isn’t anyone in particular.Just a little further on, the views began to open up. A bruised sky greeted us, and later, a few raindrops. Though few in number, the varieties of flowers was nice. The trail soon loops back around the giant formations we’ve been walking around, and meets up again with the road. An adjacent trail lets us walk back to the parking area while avoiding the road. One last sandstone rainbow caught my eye as we walked along this stretch. This one-mile loop packs more variety in a short distance than most places I can think of. For us, that means at least 2 hours of walking and making pictures. By this time, the parking area was full and cars were beginning to line the roadway edges. The first busload arrived. Time for us to leave. We didn’t stop at all along the 4-mile stretch of road in, but now, on the way out, we did. We skipped parking area 3 that was already crowded with people, stopped at parking area 2 for a brief look, but continued it parking area 1 to get out and explore.This is the way I like to explore here. There are no trails – one just walks into the landscape. Find a wash and follow it, or walk along a ledge to see the wider view – it all works here. We spent another couple of hours just wandering through this landscape. It seems new each time I visit. The overcast skies were helping a lot. It was well into the afternoon now, and the light would be very harsh. While it was a bit too cloudy now, the softening effect it had on the landscape, kept us working. One wash I found had sand so soft looking, it seemed to be water. It kept me busy for a time. I always come back to the layered sandstone for the infinite combinations of form and color.
We explored until the wind drove us back to the car. Down in the washes is much more protected, but peak out above, and a new hairdo is in order. We were about ready to call it a day and had begun our drive out, when sunshine broke through again. It instantly transformed the landscape – however temporarily.We took a branch road out to Fire Canyon/Silca Dome to find a nice vantage point while this brief bit of sun lasted. The clouds eventually won out as they once again closed in. We finished our day as the first drops began to fall.We just beat the rain as we arrived back in camp at Poverty Flats.

A Visit to St. Thomas in Lake Mead
Wednesday, April 17As windy and eventually wet yesterday was, today was calm clear and warm. Not a cloud in the sky as yet. We are leaving the area today, but not before we visit the town of St. Thomas nearby. The town was inundated when Hoover Dam caused the water to rise in the 30’s. It was originally a thriving little mormon community. The townspeople decided to move out when it was determined they were actually in Nevada and not Arizona and owed many years of back taxes. It was taken over by wealth businessman Harry Gentry who created a way-station of sorts for people traveling the Arrowhead Trail. They even had a train station and school. Once submerged under 60 ft. of water, it has emerged several times over the years and is once again accessible.

It was an easy 3.5 mile drive out on a gravel road off highway 169 to the parking area. The point sits high on the former bank of the lake – with no sign of water for miles. The trail immediately drops down 70 feet to the lakebed. Again thousands of clam shells cover the ground everywhere water was.On a hot day (like all summer), this trail would be murder. It is cut through solid walls of tamarack, or is completely open with no shade. This morning it is great, but it is already getting warm. All that remains of the town now are a number of concrete foundations and tree stumps. Along this 2.5 mile loop trail are several information boards detailing life in town at the time and what some of the buildings originally were.While we were walking around, I noticed some large flocks of birds in the distance. Closer inspection revealed they were American White Pelicans. These birds are over 5’ long with a wingspan of more than 9’. They were so far away though. We kept on the trail and looked at more foundations. The tallest structure left was the general store that originally a 2-story building. Of the school, all that was left were the steps. As we began to make our way back, more flocks of pelicans began slow circling the sky around us. Each grand circle they made brought them closer, until they were right above us. It was a sight to see.

It was a great way to finish our stay here. We move north later today on our way to Kanab for several days. Looking forward to red rock country

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Lake Mead – White Owl Canyon

Friday, April 12
Our hiking has taken a hit with the winds so active. Mary has an especially hard time with getting grit in her eyes, and it is just not pleasant to walk in that kind of wind. But on Friday, it all came together for a nice hike through a couple of slot canyons, and across part of the now dry lakebed. We still had wind, but hiking inside the canyons should cut that down a lot. The White Owl Canyon trail is not well marked, and it was a little difficult to find any real information on it. My AllTrails ap for the phone was a savior for this trail. Even on the ap, only a partial trail was marked, but users had left recorded hikes they had taken, and it was easy to follow along with those. I downloaded the map to the phone in case I lost cell service I could still GPS track my progress offline.To find the trail, all we had to do was drive down Lakeshore Rd. about 10 miles to Hole 33. The trail starts there – don’t ask me why it’s called that. It is marked on the road and is actually a nice little picnic area with shelters. At one time, this overlook had water lapping at its edge. The view over to the lake is nice, but it was probably much nicer with water nearer.
The only thing marking the trail was a battered sign saying Owl Canyon and pointing down the cliff. It was a little steep and slidy going down – maybe 100 ft. –  to the bottom, but still pretty easy with the hiking poles. Once down it was an easy walk most of the rest of the way. But nothing is marked and there are a number of trails that branch off is various directions. AllTrails made it easy to follow the correct path. Mostly just following the most used trail would work to get one into the canyon. Just look for the trail that branches left toward the canyon. The wind had nearly completely died down once down the initial cliff and once in the canyon it was positively calm and cool. It starts fairly wide, but narrows down quickly. Inside there were sparse patches of wildflowers of several varieties growing here and there. As the canyon narrowed, most plantlike dwindled. Most of the way was an easy gradual rise as the path twists and bends through the deepening slots.
At one of the narrowest sections, a raven began clucking and squawking at us for some reason. I had noticed lots of bird poop on the many ledgers around us, but didn’t know what kind of bird left it. This place is called White Owl Canyon, so I guessed it was that. Eventually, we came to a place where a pile of twigs on the canyon floor tipped us off to the nest above. Looking up, we saw the raven had managed to get a pretty big fuzzy branch of something woven into the nest. The trail continued up about 3/4 of a mile to the first of two culverts we needed to pass through. Above is the main Lakeside Rd. and beyond is another paved former road, now bike path we will also have to hike under. The culverts reminded me of the 60’s TV show The Time Tunnel. Yes I remember it, but no I could never watch it. Of the 4 stations our TV got, it was on the one that was mostly static – even when someone touched the rabbit ears. Anyway, we had a little fun with culverts. On the other side of the culvert, the canyon begin to widen again. Just as Mary was beginning to warn me about snakes, I shouted to her to STOP! I had just passed this little guy and it barely registered as to what kind it was. Mary was right behind me. Ah, but it was just a harmless litter garter or some such. So the trail eventually passes under the bike path. After that, one must find a way out of the canyon. It was an easy thing to walk a little further up the canyon until the edges soften to rolling kind of hills, then walk up and out to the bike path. This was most likely the lakeside road before the water dropped. Now it has been half repaved for hikers and cyclists. The path was lined with blooming brittlebush flowers, and a few other popping through the cracks. It was an easy walk about a mile down this path to the next canyon we were to return on. AllTrils once again make it easy to pick which canyon to use – we passed a couple. This one was a little more open and had loads of brittlebush growing in the sandy wash. There was just one scary looking drop-off on the way back. But once up close, it turned out to have a pretty easy sit-and-step way to get down. At the bottom was a strange looking wooden frame that I’m sure had a story to it. The trail eventually pops out of the hills and it’s an easy walk back down the gently sloped lakebed. Much of this part of the trail was under maybe 50 ft. (a guess) of water at one time. AllTrails told me where to turn right to return to the parking area. I probably didn’t really need the ap for that. Most of the trail is pretty self-evident, but it’s nice to know for sure. The trail continues to wrap around and over a number of little buttes as it slowly rises to lake views again. In one shallow portion, we detected a number of white pelicans frolicking about. That was a surprise. As the trail rose higher, it got winder again, but not so bad that we couldn’t stop for a nice lunch break and view. On much of the lakebed, thousands of clamshells can be found. They are everywhere. A discussion ensued about whether they are ancient shells or just the result of losing their water and getting left high and dry. Signs are at all the boat ramps to beware of attached clams.This was a really nice hike for variety of flowers and animal life and terrain. One worth doing again another time. We returned to camp, but went out again later to see sunset from Sunset Point Overlook not far from us. We are trying to figure out where to go next. Immediate plans are to motor up to Valley of Fire State Park for a few days. We held out till past Easter hoping to score a campsite in the park instead of 10-20 miles outside in some of the BLM boon docking areas. The next few days call for 85+ temps, and high winds. Then 65 and cloudy, then hot again. Could be worse.

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The Neon Museum, Las Vegas

Thursday, April 11
The winds have calmed down quite a bit and it is supposed to stay nice for the next few days before it gets much hotter again. The only thing keeping the region cool is the series of storms raking across the northern U.S. They are getting the cold rain and snow, we are getting high winds and nice temps. In between each storm, high 80’s bounce right in with 90’s soon to come.Mary had been lobbying me to drive into Vegas, about 30 miles from our camp, to visit the Neon Museum. It is located more on the outskirts of town, so fully immuring ourselves in the culture of Vegas would not be necessary. I could live with that. We got there in early afternoon. It was warm, but not too windy.The entrance is actually the Lobby of the now demolished La Concha Motel. They actually cut the structure into 3 sections, transported it to this location and reassembled it. It also has replica lighting fixtures, desk and carpeting. The only think missing is the cigarette machine.We chose the self-guided daytime tour of the grounds. There are only around 12 restored working signs on the grounds and we didn’t want to stay late to see them in the dark. The museum is mostly outside, so night is the only way to see them in their glory. All the rest of the hotel/motel business signs are in various states of decay, Also is pretty restricted. One camera and one lens to a person. No video. Personal use only. The museum is on a relatively small piece of land, but they cram a lot into that space. It is arranger in a sort of U shape, with a few branches to explore. It has been a struggle for the non-profit to succeed. They’ve done well to secure the signs they have, and the restored signs with neon are cool to see. It is not only hotel neon that is here. Restaurants and other businesses of the neon era are represented as well. The volunteer staff was eager to fill us in as to the history and location of every recognizable sign. I could appreciate the nostalgia and art of what remains, but not being a huge Vegas lifestyle fan, the history is just kinda, meh. It was more fun for me to just play with the mish-mash of shapes and color. Of course, nothing “Vegas” is really complete without something Elvis. So there in a back patio was the Elvis star from a hotel “Walk of Fame”. Not sure where in Las Vegas it came from, but it is here now. We’ve moved over to the Park Service campground that was right next to the RV park. Both are park service properties, actually. While we have no hook-ups here, there is a dump and water available – and free wifi!!. It actually works better than at the RV park. All for the senior price of $10/night. I’ve scoped out a really nice looking hike that goes through a couple of slot canyons, for tomorrow morning. In the meantime, we enjoyed our view from our new space.

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Lake Mead & Hoover Dam

Monday, April 8
For my current photography project, Into the Anthropocene, I have been photographing places where humans have greatly altered the ecosystems in order to provide for the needs of our ever expanding population. I’ve been looking at the impacts in Agriculture, Energy, and Water – three essentials to sustain human life. To that end, I wanted to come here, Lake Mead – the largest reservoir in the United States – to explore the possibilities of a dwindling water supply.

Lake Mead, finished in 1933, was last full 33 years ago. In that time, due to drought and increasing demand, lake capacity has dropped more than 60 percent, and it is thought that it may never fill again. The Colorado River is heavily over-allocated and states are scrambling to claim every bit they can.

What remains, most prominently as water recedes, is the bathtub ring – a whitish coating of mineral deposits leached out of the rock while submurged. The ring indicates the high water mark reached in spring 1986. I wanted to photograph the ring in a way that would express the precariousness of our current water situation, and what better subject than a draining reservoir.
Lake Mead has become a very popular aquatic playground and outdoor destination and quite a few campgrounds have sprung up around it. We found a pleasant little RV Park near the current edge of the lake and took up residence for a few days. It is hot and very windy here, so we choose an electric site instead of staying in the Park Service campground adjacent to the RV park.
The view from our site is pretty good right off the bat, but after setting up, we drove off to explore the lake edge in more detail. There was no mistaking the ring all around the lake. It was very visible in the great afternoon light. Several islands prominently showed the whiteish ring below a brown tip.  It is a stark contrast between the two. Some of these islands were completely submerged 30 years ago.
We drove around the area looking for vantage points from which to make images. We came to the end of the lake access road that looked out over the lake and the newest location of the moving marinas. The winds had picked up this afternoon, making some interesting patterns on the water below. We were done for the day, but plan to visit Hoover Dam in the morning.

Hoover Dam
Tuesday, April 9
The high winds are still with us and beginning to cause dust to rise into the air. Because of this, we decided to go visit Hoover Dam, just a few miles from our camp. It might be a little more protected around the complex and we can go inside if the wind is bad. While I was pretty happy with a few of the images I made yesterday afternoon, I really wanted to get closer-up to the ring. In the close vicinity of the dam itself, I could do that.After pulling off Highway 15, we drove the twisty dam road to the security entrance where every car was required to open all windows and trunks for inspection – we were asked if we had any firearms and, specifically, whether we had any marijuana onboard. We continued on down to the dam itself, and after crossing the spillway bridge, found a parking space about a quarter mile from the visitor center. This gave us a great chance to retrace our drive on foot across the spillway and dam.Dams of this magnitude are impressive bits of human engineering, especially when thinking back to 1933 when it was completed. It went a long way toward taming the Colorado River.The architectural elements are very art deco and are repeated in later additions to the complex. Most fascinating to me was the now dry spillway. When the water was high, it would divert away from the dam and pass over a rounded barrier, then falling into the spillway and chute to be routed down through the rock cliffs around the dam and redeposited on the other side. It is simply amazing it hasn’t been used in over 30 years. It seems to be only collecting rocks.As I had hoped, there were better views of the calcified rock around the dam. I feel like the scale and impact close-up is better to convey the depth of the drop. After crossing the spillway, we continued across the dam itself. Dams are such impressive works to view. I am always impressed as to what humans can conceive and create. It is at once massive and delicate seeming as is the bridge that crosses the Colorado just beyond the dam. In the visitors plaza, I was enjoying the bronze sculpture dedicated to those who conceived and built the this Dam.
Rubbing the toes seems to be a thing people like to do. We walked around the plaza a bit, entered the visitor center and looked around at some of the exhibits. The wind continued to howl. Of course, if there is a flat surface somewhere, people will throw money at it. Not sure what the lock is for. Since it has a heart etched on it, perhaps someone thought to affix it to the dam somehow. I think the heavily armed guards patrolling the span would not look well on something like that. We finished up at the dam and set out again to scout some other locations. A number of spots stood out and we took note to visit again.
There is still some ebb and flow of the lake as winter snows melt each year. Down at lake level, evidence of this can be seen in the tamarisk now partially underwater. We have a few more days in the area before we move a bit north. Hoping for the wind to calm down.

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Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Afternoon in the Reserve
Thursday, April 4

It is difficult to imagine a place more impressive in concentration of color than Carrizo, but the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve would come pretty close. It is at peak bloom right now and we are told it will stay that way through April this year. This is one of the better blooms the reserve has seen in quite a few years and it is quite amazing. Our last visit here, 9 years ago, was very good as well, but due to my dropping the computer power-brick on the spot just above the hard drive, we lost most everything shot of our first 2 weeks travels that year.

We arrived at the Antelope Valley Fairgrounds campground in Lancaster, CA in the early afternoon. The only draw to stay here was because it is only 11 miles to the reserve, and the fairgrounds have full hook-ups. Beyond the hook-ups, it is just a parking lot with a couple of trees. I’ve noticed as we’ve driven around the area, there seem to be plenty of boon-docking places, but they were out in the open and very exposed to the severe winds we’ve been having. There were other choices for RV parks, but they were further away and more expensive. We plan to spend most of our time out.After setting up and resting for a bit, we set out for the reserve. Traffic was very light all the way in, but that was mostly because everyone was already there. As we got closer, parked cars began lining either side of the road. And with good reason. Poppies were everywhere on the flatlands. It is hard to not want to stop and explore and many people were. Being outside the reserve, people seemed to be fine with walking all through them. We kept going though, until we arrived at the entrance, just off Lancaster Road. At the start of the long driveway up to the entrance station, a sign warns of a 1 hour wait to get to the parking area. Fortunately for us it was only about a 10 minute wait. Loads of people had parked along the main roadway, despite the “No Parking Anytime” signs, and walked in saving the $10 entrance fee. I never mind paying a fee that goes to maintaining a place like this.There are plenty of varieties of poppy to be found in California, but only the very orange California poppy – the official state flower – grows here. There are loads of other non-poppy flowers to be found, but no other poppy but the California. The effect of all that orange is kind of freakish in the way it swarms over the hills. Fiddleneck is here too in abundance. As is yellow Goldfield and Bigelow Coreopsis. Phacelia, Blue Dicks, Owls Clover and Davy Gilia. This is just what is blooming now. As the month goes on, other varieties will bloom. In the vicinity of the visitor center, where all the trails into the hills begin, it is quite crowded with people coming and going – even this late in the day. But most don’t make it more than a mile over the 7 plus miles of trails, so just a little walking got us away from the bulk of the visitors. The dirt paths are wide and easy to walk. Signs are everywhere to tell people to stay on the paths, and most pretty well pay attention. As the trails wound in and around, up and down the hills, new views of the valley around us constantly stopped us short to goggle. Do colors like this really exist? Places where they blend create an amazing calico of color. The light cloud cover we had originally was getting heavier now. An approaching storm is bringing us clouds and cold, cold wind and because of that, the poppies were not open. They crave warm sun and calm winds, otherwise they stay closed. It is still an impressive experience walking through miles of the colorful hills. It is really nice that many of the surrounding hills outside the reserve are also blooming and the hugeness of it all is impressive. Several dirt roads outside the park can take people into different areas to explore.
The clouds were getting heavy enough to really deaden the light and the 30 mph sustained gusts were increasing coming more often. By 5 PM we were ready to get out of it all and headed back to the car, then camp. We plan an early morning tomorrow. Hoping for early warm sun and less wind, but it may be a repeat of today – which wouldn’t be terrible, but making some photos of poppies that were open would be nice. Back in camp, I noticed our neighbor next to us walked by quickly with a large bird on his arm. Then he walked by with another. These were not parrots or parakeets, but falcons. He had 3 in all, and was a bit frantic because he had lost one while out working them in the area. He thought the high winds had probably blown it away and he had spent the past couple of days looking for it. Apparently he rents them out for vermin control (which he admits is work that is beneath their dignity). I didn’t get any photos as he was quite upset about the loss and I wanted to respect that.

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve – Day 2
Friday, April 5
More windy conditions greeted us this morning, but the only clouds around are hanging over the mountains at this point, so we should have a sunnier day to enjoy. We were at the reserve just before 8 AM, paid our $9 senior rate to get in and were on on the trail quickly. The reserve opens at sunrise, which would have been around 7 AM, but with all the poppies closed, I didn’t feel a need to be here at the crack. Having more sunlight transformed the look of the reserve. We first walked one of the trails most heavily used. In just a little while, there will be throngs walking these paths and it is just a little nicer walking the trails without all the distractions. Despite the sunshine, the poppies remained closed until much later in the day. The cold wind was the problem. All this nice light did serve to add extra life to the fields – not that they needed it – so we still spent the entire morning happily making pictures. There aren’t really a lot of words needed to explain what we did. We walked, we looked, we photographed. It was nearing noon by now and getting winder, so we retreated back to the car to get out of it for a while. It is not nearly as windy down out of the hills, so we sat with our lunch and coffee and watched the underdressed crowds stream by. Underdressed because many were in lightweight shorts and shirts that are fine down low, but as soon as one gets into the hills, the wind begins to cut right through. We came dressed in long pants, heavy jackets and wool caps and gloves. We were toasty and could stay out for hours. Unfortunately what we didn’t see 9 years ago that is here now is encroaching private industry in the form of wind and solar farms in the area. They are huge facilities. From a distance the solar farms resemble vast lakes in the amount of land they require. Some of that land used to be poppies. After our lunch break, we set out again to retrace one of the perimeter trails we’d done yesterday. We waited a little too long though, as heavier clouds were now beginning to creep over the valley, cutting down the light. But many of the poppies were now open in the lower protected areas! The effect of masses of open flowers was to sort of flood the landscape with saturation.  I could also now do more close-up views of the flowers. Closed, shriveled poppies just don’t look great close up. By late afternoon, the sky had clouded over again, and flowers were closing up shop for the day. Feeling pretty windblown and tired, but not ready to leave yet, we took the car and headed for some of the perimeter dirt roads outside the preserve that crisscross the area. It is always good to look for other perspectives. We spent another hour or two bumping over backroads before calling it a day. Back at the fairgrounds, our neighbor had still not found his missing bird.

Tomorrow, we begin our travel to Lake Mead in Nevada. I’m interested in photographing the “bathtub ring” that indicates the high water mark of the reservoir reached many years ago. I want it to be part of my latest series, Into the Anthropocene, but not sure how well it will photograph or if will translate as lack of water. Should be interesting.

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