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October 2004
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December 2004

No Expression Please

Kevin and I have recently negotiated the INS labrynith (and in a few more years will have to do so again.)

There are so many rules and regulations, so many pitfalls; one's future is tied up in the decision making power of a faceless, nameless official, quite frankly the whole process fills me with terror. Here is an article about yet another regulation and this time about the immigration photograph.

In the past the INS (as it was then called) insisted on a three quarter, please-show-your-ear kind of photograph. Horror stories were told about applications being denied and people deported if the photograph did not meet the mysterious INS requirements. And these photographs did not come cheap.

Now this has been revamped. No more three quarter shots, and please no smiling.

Believe me the whole process is so fraught the last thing anyone feels like doing is smiling.

More live travel blogging

I am blogging from Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Pagosa Springs has a very nice library. We've plugged in the lap top. While I am blogging Kevin is browsing. Please check out the photo album as I have added some photo's to it.

This next post I typed last night in our motel room in Cortez.  So here goes...

As I write this we are sitting in our motel room in Cortez, Colorado. What a wonderful couple of days we have had. My last post had us setting off for House Rock Road to check access to the Wave. We had bought permits for the following day (Wednesday.) Well, we did set out on that road. We felt most optimistic since the road had dried out considerably. That’s when things started going from bad to worse – the road went from a nice tan color to a dark black forest chocolate cake brown. It had warmed up enough to melt the snow that had fallen. We could tell the difference the minute Arnie’s wheels touched its surface. This was not nice mud to play in. Parts of the road had been washed away. We then thought it prudent to get out of there. The only way we could do so without getting stuck was to reverse. It was almost impossible to try and steer- we kept going all over the place.

We made it to safety, and then decided what we were going to do next. We decided to give the Wave a miss this year, and rather concentrate on adventures to the south of us. The long range forecast was another cause for concern: heavy snow falls and storms were forecast over much of Utah, and Colorado Saturday and Sunday. We had to be careful where we ended up – for our return journey home. We decided to scrap the Wave, and head for Monument Valley. We were very disappointed. Both of us had been looking forward to the Wave for an entire year. But we just couldn’t risk it.

En route to Monument Valley we thought we’d stop off at Antelope Canyon. Antelope Canyon is a beautiful slot canyon. The Navajo offer guided tours into the canyons. It is easy to get to – just outside Page.

The Roadtrip Gods were against us. It was not to be. Antelope Canyon was closed due to flash floods. Given the amount of water that was around I could well believe it. It is very unusual to get flash floods in November. Flash floods are more usual in the spring or early summer.

Very close to the entrance to Antelope Canyon we took pictures of a massive power station. The area around it is beautiful pristine desert. You can see this blight from miles away. It is so ugly it should get an award all by itself.

Our aim was to get to Goosenecks State Park to camp there that night (Tuesday). Goosenecks is past Monument Valley, and Mexican Hat. The road is well sign posted and paved. It ends at a parking lot, and restroom. This was our make shift campsite. We had the place to ourselves. The parking lot is surrounded by extremely flat land to the one side of it. On the other in an arc is a railing and below it the most spectacular site imaginable. Since it was dark we waited for morning to take in our own private view: a view looking down at a magnificent carved river winding back in on itself into a "gooseneck".

We ate breakfast and broke camp. We decided to spend the day (Wednesday) in Monument Valley. Monument Valley was going to close on Thanksgiving (Thursday).

We arrived at Monument Valley at about 11:30 am. I explored the gift shop while Kevin cleaned his camera’s sensor. I asked about horse rides since I thought it would be a novel way of seeing the valley, but the price they were asking was day light robbery. I managed to get a few goodies that were not too pricey, and did not say "Made in Hong Kong" and met Kevin at the car.

Monument Valley has really good dirt roads. Access is solely by car, and the residents do not like people simply wandering off. Guided tours are offered which take you into some restricted areas. Along the route residents have stalls set up where they sell cheaper jewelry than what you find in the gift shop. It is not sterling silver, but it is very pretty. I bought some more necklaces, some earrings and a hair clip. We did the route twice to take advantage of the ever-changing light. We had our picnic lunch of grilled turkey and cheese while we watched the light change and soften. The park closed at 5pm.

We camped that night at our campsite at Goosenecks. This time we had company but we did not mind – there was room for everyone. Kevin set the alarm before sunrise because he wanted to take advantage of the early dawn light to photograph the goosenecks. We had breakfast and then decided to head to Mexican Hat (actually retracing our steps a little). Mexican Hat is named after a column of rocks that looks like a Mexican Hat. There is a dirt road access to Mexican Hat Rock and you can see evidence of ATV Yahoos racing all over the place. Super! Our ulterior motive for heading back to Mexican Hat was actually to take advantage of the gas station’s restroom. (There are simply no words!)

Then we drove up Moki Dugway to the top of Cedar Mesa. This is a windy switch back pass that takes you to the top of an enormous mesa. The views are spectacular. You can see Monument Valley in the distance, and closer your look down on the Valley of the Gods. At the top of Cedar Mesa there is access to a very nice informal campsite. We drove there and had fun poking around at the top. Past snow melt had left large still pools at the top. Sheets of ice covered the water. The edge fell off into steep vertical cliffs.

From Cedar Mesa we continued on highway 261 where we met highway 95. We drove west on 95 to Natural Bridges National Monument. This is a gorgeous little visited park. We stopped off at the visitor center to use the facilities and to see whether we could get a weather report. It was closed because of Thanksgiving. We decided to have a quick drive around the park. Natural bridges are caused by water erosion, and arches by wind. There are a number of natural bridges that you can see from special sites set up in the park. You can also hike down the slopes to take a closer look. Unfortunately we did not have time for that. This is definitely a spot to return to for more exploring.

We then headed for Mule Canyon. Mule Canyon is off highway 95. There is a sign posted Mule Canyon sign which will take you to some reconstructed Anasazi ruins. This is for general public consumption. It is interesting but quite tame. For something a little more authentic we strongly recommend you hike up the south fork of Mule Canyon.

Access is off the highway and just east of the turn off to the Mule Canyon parking lot. This road is BLM road #263. This area is a fee area, and you can pay the fee at the entrance. Drive down the dirt road and the trail to the south fork of Mule canyon is on the bridge. People do park there. I recommend you continue and park at a turn out at the top of the hill. This turn out can also be used as an informal camp site.

We arrived at Mule Canyon at about 2pm. We immediately packed a small day pack and headed into the canyon. The path is unimproved and quite easy. There are a number of unsupervised Anasazi ruins scattered down the canyon. There are no signposts so keep a sharp look out for cliff dwellings. All are unsupervised, and unmarked. Care must be taken not to disturb the ruins. Do not take anything. The first ruin is approximately one mile into the canyon. Access is easy.

We spent the rest of the afternoon photographing the first ruin. We camped at the turn out at the top of the road. The next morning after a quick breakfast we packed some lunch and headed out for south fork for the day. We explored further into the canyon. This is a magical place. The path follows a small winding stream. Evidence of past flash floods can be seen everywhere: a constant reminder of nature’s force. The second ruin is approximately one mile further. You can hike to the top, but we could not find a way to get access. I thought the dead tree access quite optimistic and decided I was close enough.

The third ruin we spotted is 3.5 miles in. Access is moderately difficult and ends below a dead tree makeshift ladder. Kevin was the brave one and scampered up and managed to get closer. He took some great pictures for me. I chickened out. The views from the cliff dwellings are really spectacular. I really enjoyed sunning myself on a large boulder, imagining that an ancient Puebloan may have been doing something similar 900 years ago.

Care and common sense should be used at all times. Ask at the local ranger stations about canyon conditions and weather forecasts.

We spent about 6 hours in the canyon and had a splendid time. We were especially lucky with our weather. Despite the weather forecast (which was snow) our day remained clear with gorgeous blue skies.

Maybe it was the hike today, or the fact that I have spent 3 consecutive nights camping and feeling dirty, but the image of a nice hot bath and a gigantic burger would not go away. After we got back from our hike, we drove here, to Cortez where I had both.

Try Main Street Brewery in Cortez for its scrummy burgers. Our motel is comfortable, and it has internet access. All being well I hope to post this on my blog tonight, or tomorrow morning.

The next step is really up to the weather. Weather forecast for both tomorrow and Sunday seems pretty grim- wide spread snow. We were planning a quick visit to Mesa Verde but we may forego that and rather decide to head for home. It is no fun driving through a blizzard

Live Travel Blogging Continues...

I have just copied and pasted my first day travel journel that I typed last night in our motel at Kanab. I am still at the Kanab Public Library.

Here's our update:

We checked out of our very comfortable motel this morning and decided to head immediately for the Kanab BLM office to get walk in permits for the Wave for tomorrow. It was very misty, chilly and still. The BLM office opens at 7am. They are extremely friendly and provide important information about weather and most importantly - road conditions. Permits cost $5 per person and are limited to one day every 2 weeks. (Basically to stop block bookings of people who want to stay there the entire week.) The total limit per day (I think) is 12 people per day. We asked about road conditions and they basically said that they were trying to discourage people from going in the Paria Canyon- Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area. The area has had snow, and with snow melt the dirt and clay roads have become very sticky. Also it does not take much to turn the dry washes into impassable rivers. The latest ranger report - the rivers were flowing, and were making our road into Wire Pass trail head impassable.

So we immediately decided to get our permits (for tomorrow) anyway. Even if we decided to abandon the plan the funds do go to a good cause. The next thing on our agenda was to drive out to the road leading to Wire Pass trail head just to survey the road conditions. The plan was that if the road conditions looked bad, we would reconsider our road trip.
One plan was to drive to Las Vegas and explore the desert surrounding Las Vegas, and maybe even Death Valley.

I drove out of Kanab to our turn off to Wire Pass. It is about 31 miles outside of Kanab. We drove through some mist. As we drove further the mist lifted and the sun lit up the vermillion cliffs, mesa's and buttes. Simply gorgeous. We stopped for a few photographs.

We parked our truck at the entrance to the road leading to Wire Pass. We wanted to walk in a little way and check the condition of the road. Most back country roads in this area are clay. All well in good when dry, but terrible when wet. We noticed some tracks of vehicles and saw this as a promising sign. Just as we were starting our inspection, and feeling better about the drive in, another car pulled up.

We started talking, and this group had arrived yesterday, and had pulled out of doing the trip because it looked like it was going to rain all the time. The road looked alot dryer, and they were hopeful of giving it a second try. I think they were hopeful that we could go in together, and that they would have a larger vehicle that could pull them out of any jams. AFter some discussion, and inspecting Arnie for a tow strap we parted ways. They were going to go in and try to get as far as they could get. Their vehicle, although 4x4 was not an off road vehicle. We decided to turn around, drive back to Kanab and buy a tow strap. We also decided to pop by the library - me to do some blogging, and Kevin to check out weather maps and see what the long range forecast would be.

We told the other party that we planned to come back today. That at least provided them some comfort in case they got stuck. I am sure the ranger would go out and make sure that people didn't need rescuing.

Kanab BLM contact # is 435 644 4600

Live Travel Blogging

Coming live from Kanab Public Library! Our road trip so far...

Day One:

Well, so much for live travel blogging! I am sitting in my hotel room at the Red Hills Best Western in Kanab at 11 pm on our first day of travel. I haven’t had access to the internet to do any blog posting. Instead I am sitting here doing the very next best thing: recounting the day’s events.

Today we left Denver at about 9:50 am and headed west on the I-70. After the clouds and snow of the weekend it was great to see the blue sky and the sun shining. We stopped at Lake Dillon’s scenic over look so that I could stretch my legs and have a happy snap taken of me.

We went through a little bit of weather going over Vail pass, and we could see the definite signs that winter had arrived: fresh powder. The most beautiful scene was travelling through Glenwood Canyon. The highway follows the gushing Colorado River bordered by steep red cliffs. Snow had transformed the canyon – it looked as though some demented chef had decided to add some extra frosting. Frosted trees, and snow edged red rocks appeared wherever we looked. But we couldn’t stop. There was no space to pull over. This magical scene remain only in our memories.

Kevin took over the driving after our stop and fuel up at Fruita, a small town in Western Colorado. At the gas station we laughed at a large green T-Rex decorated with a Santa hat.

The minute I got into the passenger seat I was out. Talk about being sleepy. Kevin stopped a few times en route to take some gorgeous pictures of the afternoon light.

Night falls quickly here in the winter. We traveled through the dark, and tried to picture the landscape in the sun. Hillsides loomed as dark shadows on either side of us. There was a lot of snow. We traveled through some mist patches. Visibility was poor so we took it slowly. We filled up again at Richfield. The distances between services are vast, and there is nothing worse than running out of gas.

We arrived at our motel at about 10pm. We dived into a quickly prepared tuna and cheese sandwich. It sure tasted good.

First thing tomorrow morning we plan to visit the Kanab BLM office to organize permits for our hike into the Wave. We are a little concerned about the amount of snow that seems to be around. Access to the Wave is via dirt/ clay road that becomes extremely hazardous to navigate when wet and slushy. After we get the permits we basically have a day to explore around Kanab. We plan (slushiness aside) to camp at the Wave access to hike into the Wave on Wednesday.

Travel Blogging

Kevin and I will be leaving on our desert Thanksgiving road trip tomorrow (Monday) morning early. We plan to take our laptop, and with the joys of free WiFi, we hope to do some live travel blogging as we explore and revisit the secret places of Utah.

So far our itinerary is: (This is a sketchy - and subject to change.)

Day zero (Monday): Leave Denver and travel to Kanab, Utah. Overnight in Motel in Utah

Day one (Tuesday): Get permits for hiking in next day in Coyote Buttes. Explore Kanab area. Some hiking in the Wire Pass area. Overnight: camping

Day two (Wednesday): The Wave hike in, and photograph. Overnight - camping

Day three (Thursday - Thanksgiving): Valley of the Gods, Goosenecks. Overnight - camping. Depends on what is open.

Day four (Friday): Monument Valley, Navajo Nation.

Day five (Saturday) Mule Canyon south fork day hike to Anasazi ruins. Either camp or motel at Moab.

Day six (Sunday) Depart Moab, explore area. Arrive Denver late.

Kevin and I have set up our staging area as we start to gather our goodies. Kevin is in charge of all electronic, cameras and camping related equipment. I am in charge of food, snacks and clothing.

Food wise I try and pre cook everything before hand. The secret to good camping food is that it must be hot (when cold weather) and quick to prepare (no more than 5 minutes.) I bring lots of tins of soup for heating on our propane stove. I pre cook rice to add to the soup, and I add pre cooked sausages, the spicier the better. I also pack couscous, which can also be added to the soup. The idea is to turn the soup into a thicker stew like consistency. I include spices - basil, curry powder, salt and pepper to add taste to bland food.

I also include pre sliced whole wheat bread. We have a special camping sandwich griller to heat up cheese dreams (just melted cheese between two slices of bread) or grilled ham & cheese.

Breakfasts consist of cereal, with soy milk and raisins. I usually pack dried fruit and make hard boiled eggs for extra snacking. Snacks include chips, energy bars, and pre chopped peppers, and carrots. I throw in a six pack of Mountain Dews for their extra caffeine to keep us awake on long haul stretches.

The most important item is water. We always pack more than we think we will need.