Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Grand Falls

On Saturday evening, a storm like a percussion band with a fire works display marched across the eastern sky above the Painted Desert and the Little Colorado River. The rain was flowing down washes, drains, and small canyons into the river and finding its way to Grand Falls, about 10 miles away. We’ve been to Grand Falls on the Navajo Reservation but never after the spring thaw or after a summer storm when the river is full. We watched the fireworks and made plans for an early morning trip.

<br />Grand Falls satellite image
Satellite photo of Merriam Crater, the lava flow and Grand Falls. (Larger version)

Grand Falls was formed thousands of years ago by lava that flowed from Merriam Crater. The lava dropped into the sandstone canyon and dammed the river which fought back and cut a channel around the lava flow. The falls is about 190 feet high and over 300 feet wide. The water carries part of the Painted Desert and is a coffee with cream color.

The trip is over almost ten miles of wash boarded road. One adventurous spirit who made the trip wrote “After driving over the worst surface imaginable the canyon opens up out of nowhere.”. I’ve driven worse and found that 20 miles per hour was brutal but 30 to 40 smoothed out the trip and made it tolerable.

<br />Julie sitting beside the falls
Julie sitting beside the falls (Larger version)

The last time we visited the falls it was possible to drive across the river a short distance above the falls but that would have been suicidal on this morning. We walked around the rim of the falls above the mist and the debris that was endlessly circling in the pool below. Julie sat on a boulder as I took a photo in futile effort to give perspective to the height and width of the river.

<br />The river below the falls
The river below the falls. Black lava on the left and red sandstone on the right. (Larger version)

A trail from the rim that leads to the river below tempted us and we succumbed. As we made our way to the foot of the falls, we covered the camera and binoculars to protect them from the mist carrying fine brown silt. Things grew slightly darker as our glasses were specked and coated.

<br />Mist rising from the falls
Mist rising from the falls. (Larger version)

As we climbed out of the canyon, we met a group of young adults with two bold dogs and one timid mutt that had to be carried over steep drops. For some reason, I’m always encouraged to see young people out enjoying the world. Perhaps it’s because they give me hope that they will help preserve wilderness, beauty and wildlife.

<br />Julie standing by a lava monolith below the falls
Julie standing by a lava monolith below the falls. (Larger version)

Having packed water, fruit and nuts, we sat in the shade, ate and watched the water flow and enjoyed the peace and beauty. Food, beauty and companionship – what more could one need or want?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Monsoon Season

Thunder – a promise rolling and echoing over the sky! The monsoon season has begun.

Sometimes I can’t remember the last time it rained. Months pass without a drop. June comes with brilliant blue skies and a burning sun. The temperatures pass 100 and life retreats to early mornings and late evenings. The trees increasingly show signs of stress and a fear develops of a long dry painful summer.

And then it happens. In July the clouds are born. The morning may start clear and blue but before noon clouds appear. I’ve watched them in a playful mood of teasing. A small white cloud will form and drift toward the east. Slowly the cloud will evaporate and a few minutes later another floating apparition will appear and fade.

A few more days and clouds begin to amass and the teasing takes another form. Clouds to the south drop rain and we watch and wish. On another day it rains to the north but the rain evaporates before reaching the ground. A few more days and we feel a drop and another and yet another but it’s only a tantalizing shower that never takes the dust out of the air. At night, the horizon flickers and glows with lightning and we continue to wait.

Julie walking home.
Julie walking through thirsty brown grasses toward home which is to the right in the trees. (Larger version)

Finally, it really happens.

I drive over the last crest nearing home and the blacktop is wet. Turning off the blacktop I find the low spots in the dirt road filled with water. Some of the holes span the width of the road and are overflowing. I drive through a small lake. Knowing the location of the high spots, I weave through water a foot deep. I drive by large watery holes with signs beside them. Last year some happy person in a frivolous mood made wooden signs, painted them cheerful colors and named many of the giant puddles.

At home the birds are back at the feeders, the trees seem a deeper green and the walk is covered with cinders that have been washed from the high spot above the house. Checking a 500 gallon cistern fed by a 10 by 12 building I find over 100 gallons. Over an inch of rain must have fallen. The frogs will be singing tonight!

In a few days milo and perhaps sunflowers will sprout where birds have missed the seed and other grasses will appear and the world will start to turn an unnatural green that will last for a few weeks.

In 3 years I’ve never been home for a large rain. It’s rare that I’m home when it rains even a small shower. Someday it will happen and when it does, I’m going to put a towel just inside the door and I’m going to take off my hat and I’m going to stand in the rain until I’m soaked. Then I’ll sit on the deck and watch it and relive memories of my children playing in the rain.

It will happen some day but for now I’ll enjoy the thunder and wonder if it’s raining at home.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Silent No Longer

Silence! Stilllness! No movement or flurry of wings or feet scurrying into the tall grass. Silence and a slight feeling of sadness.

We arrived home last Sunday to an empty yard. The normal activity of birds and rabbits visiting the feeders and the water was missing -- but, I expected this because I had removed the feeders and let the water evaporate. I tried to find someone to come to the house during our absence to feed and water but was unsuccessful.

Prior to our trip we had several birds as regulars -- Jays, Finches, Lark Sparrows, Mourning Doves, Black-chins, Bullock's Orioles, Scott's Orioles and others. I wondered how long it would take to recover the family.

Rabbits daily come into the year to eat below the feeders but they were missing also. For the last 2 summers, Julie has been putting out celery. They learn fast and it's not unusual to be having supper on the deck and a rabbit will come close and look up expectantly. Try as I might, I have get to get one to take a stalk from my hand but they will wait 3 feet away until I give up and put in on the ground for them.

Rabbit and Pinyon Jays
A rabbit and Pinyon Jays compete for food. (Larger version)

We filled the water and put out feeders before unpacking our bags. On Monday a few arrived. On Tuesday 2 hummingbirds showed up. As the week progressed, so did the crowd. As I write this, it's Friday evening and about 2 dozen hummingbirds are accosting and verbally threatening one another at the two feeders on the deck. Others are challenging a constant stream of orioles at the oriole feed several feet passed the fence near the safety of a Juniper. The constant drone of wings and calls is music -- welcomed music. Rabbits are below the seed feeders on the west of the house and a Cowbird -- probably the most beautiful I've ever seen -- is mingled with other species.

Black chinned Hummingbird
A Black-chinned takes a break and a long drink. (Larger version)

Before we left, we had only Black-chins at the nectar feeders. I was curious why Broadtails and Rufous were missing. Tonight, most of the battling, jostling crowd are Rufous.

Day before yesterday we had the first decent rain of the monsoon season. It wasn't a large rain but it was enough to put some water in a pond to the east of our property. A few frogs, surprising large frogs, emerged from the normally dry pond and began courting one another. We went to bed listening to the songs of the frogs.

The silence is gone. Can life get any better?

Two orioles share a feeder. (Larger version)

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rockport - The End

Breakfast, a walk to the terminal, a train back to Boston, a shuttle to the airport and back to work on Monday morning. Our trip ends in Rockport, Massachusetts.

I'll confront the danger of sounding effeminate and say it, "Rockport is lovely and charming". We've spent 2 nights at the Seacrest Manor B&B and haven't had enough time to explore all the beaches, the coastline and the history. Yesterday we walked about 11 miles to visit a state park, to sample the Atlantic Trail and to enjoy an unfamiliar landscape.

Rockport Harbor
Rockport Harbor (Larger version)

When I was young, I was mystified and perhaps somewhat envious of families who took vacations. My family came from a background, time and culture where paying the bills and survival relegated vacations to an unnecessary luxury. During my first marriage, vacations were an opportunity for my wife to spend and me to create some way to pay the tab so I tended to avoid them. As a result, I often sit somewhere and think "I'm really here! It's hard to believe but I'm really here.".

Bicycling Around Rockport
Bicycling Around Rockport (Larger version)

Julie manages our finances and does a fine job. She finds the least expensive tickets, the most reasonable rates for rooms, packs lunches and does other things to make it possible for us to afford to travel.

Last night I asked her what has been the best part of our six weeks -- Colorado, Chaco Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Boston, Montreal or Rockport? She jokingly replied the experience in the emergency room and the helicopter flight. Somehow I expected that response but then she said her visit with her daughter and the hike through the Grand Canyon.

Seacrest Manor B&B
Seacrest Manor B&B (Larger version)

Since I started vacation at the end of May, two more people have quit work. I'll return to additional assignments, compressed deadlines and interesting challenges. Construction of our greenhouse is behind my initial schedule so that awaits also.

During our travels, I've read a volume of Wendell Berry's essays and begun a second volume. I have been intrigued by his perspectives. I feel energized, motivated and determined. It's time to get back to pondering life, making choices and attempting more serious writing.

Friday, July 13, 2007


French language, unknown history, new geography, open dissent-- Montreal!

Julie's daughter married a young man from Montreal. Our trip to Boston to visit them included a trip to Montreal, Quebec to visit his family, some of whom were unable to attend the wedding in Texas 2 years ago.

Mothers-in-law and new friends
Mothers-in-law and new friends (Larger version)

I enjoyed Montreal more than Boston. Up until about about 25 years ago, I could hold my on with written French but that knowledge has been draining from my brain at an increasing rate. Montreal is bi-lingual with a predominance of French. I enjoyed the opportunity to attempt translating traffic signs, restaurant menus, newspapers and advertisements.

We walked through the old section of Montreal and enjoyed the architecture, historical buildings and street performers. Men and women made balloon animals for children, played musical instruments and offered other forms of entertainment. I was impressed by the ability of a magician. Speaking a constant stream of French and English punctuated with dramatic pauses, accentuated facial expressions, low bows, flourishing gestures and well timed humor, he demonstrated his talent flawlessly.

A Talented and Entertaining Street Magician
A Talented and Entertaining Street Magician (Larger version)

We stumbled upon a street that was temporarily closed as a scene in a movie was being filmed. The title "Death" doesn't tempt me to see the movie but it will be interesting to watch for it when it's released to determine the plot and who acts in it.

Some young men caught my attention. They were competing with one another to determine who could jump the highest on the side of a building. One athletic young man was turning back-flips off the building. I was impressed as were several young women.

Athletic Young Men Competing on the Street
Athletic Young Men Competing on the Street (Larger version)

I've always had a good opinion of Canada. This trip reinforced that opinion.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Chaco Canyon

The sun climbs over the canyon as a giver of light and shadow, beauty and life. The morning is alive with petals of color, brilliant and subtle and cool. It is good to feel alive with anticipation of the discoveries of the day’s hike.

Climbing Out of the Canyon to the Rim Above
Climbing Out of the Canyon to the Rim Above (Larger version)

On the Canyon Rim
On the Canyon Rim (Larger version)

What fortune permits a man to explore this world of solitude and breezes? The trail climbs the canyon cliffs that hide the mysteries above. How many generations walked this way and felt the sun’s warmth and marveled at the beauty?

The Chacoans knew the beauty of this canyon. They chose it for its clear skies and brilliant sun. They tracked the risings and settings, the areas of brilliance and shadow. They faced their buildings to watch the sun.


The sun grows stronger. It dries the land and soaks the body; erases the shadows and burns the eyes. It slowly blinds one to the hues and shapes and textures of the desert.

Chacoan Architecture
Chacoan Architecture (Larger version)

One of Hundreds of Ruins
One of Hundreds of Ruins (Larger version)

How did the Anasazi, the Ancient Ones, build in the sun? What strength did they possess to cut and transport logs, to quarry and shape stone, to build story upon story in the sun’s growing cruelty?


The sun is a cruel mother. She has no sympathy. She has taken all shade yet she continues to burn. The water is warm and offers no comfort. Drink follows drink but thirst continues. The delight of the trail is gone and has been replaced by a desire for shade and satisfying drink and sleep. What folly causes a man to challenge the day? All have hidden from the sun except lizards and foolish men.

Ruins Above the Canyon Rim
Ruins Above the Canyon Rim (Larger version)

Did the Chacoans feel her cruelty or where they immune? Did they enjoy her favor but not her wrath? Were they able to appease her as they built kiva and road, courtyard and moat? Ruins tell of their success but tell also of their failure.


The sun feels shame for the suffering she has caused and hides her face behind the western cliffs. The moon comes with pity and the stars with comfort. The air soothes and cools the body. The breeze and the songs of birds remove the memory of the heat of the day.

Looking Across the Canyon
Looking Across the Canyon (Larger version)

Julie on a 12 Miles Ride Around the Canyon
Julie on a 12 Miles Ride Around the Canyon (Larger version)

Surely the Chacoans planned and dreamed under these stars. They must have learned the rhythms of the day and the moods of the sun. They discovered the morning belongs to children, the evening to old men and the midday to the sun.

Monday, July 09, 2007


Mountains with snow; canyons with heat.

Rural towns and inner-city Boston.

Desert sands and beach sands.

We’ve had a varied adventure over the last 5 weeks.

Julie on a Cape Cod Beach
Julie on a Cape Cod Beach (Larger version)

Enjoying the Breeze
Enjoying the Breeze (Larger version)

Julie in the Water, Yet Again
Julie in the Water, Yet Again (Larger version)

Friday, July 06, 2007

Grand Canyon in 23 Photos

Our Grand Canyon backpacking trip was fantastic! Impatience causes me to post the photos now and the text later. Also, I have yet to post photos and text about our experiences at Chaco Canyon. At the moment, we're in Boston visiting Julie's daughter. Hopefully, over the next few days, I'll be able to catch up on favorite blogs.

Standing on the North Rim looking toward the South Rim
Standing on the North Rim looking toward the South Rim (Larger version)

Julie on a Level and Beautiful Section of the Trail
Julie on a Level and Beautiful Section of the Trail (Larger version)

Near Roaring Spring Looking Back Toward the North Rim
Near Roaring Spring Looking Back Toward the North Rim (Larger version)

Julie Wearing a Smile and a Damp Bandana
Julie Wearing a Smile and a Damp Bandana (Larger version)

A Content and Very Happy Young Man
A Content and Very Happy Young Man (Larger version)

Paul Sitting in the Stream by Cottonwood
Paul Sitting in the Stream by Cottonwood (Larger version)

Julie in the Water and Staying Cooling in 112 Degrees
Julie in the Water and Staying Cooling in 112 Degrees (Larger version)

Approaching Ribbon Falls
Approaching Ribbon Falls (Larger version)

Julie at the Base of Ribbon Falls
Julie at the Base of Ribbon Falls (Larger version)

Julie Entering The Box on an Early Morning Ahead of the Sun
Julie Entering The Box on an Early Morning Ahead of the Sun (Larger version)

Paul in a Narrow Section of the Box
Paul in a Narrow Section of the Box (Larger version)

The Stream by Bright Angel Campground
The Stream by Bright Angel Campground (Larger version)

Julie in the Water When the Shade Was 115 Degrees
Julie in the Water When the Shade Was 115 Degrees (Larger version)

The Bridge Across the Colorado River
The Bridge Across the Colorado River (Larger version)

Deer and Fawn
Deer and Fawn (Larger version)

Julie Praying For Sunset to Escape the Sun
Julie Praying For Sunset to Escape the Sun (Larger version)

Julie Waiting for Sunset at Plateau Point
Julie Waiting for Sunset at Plateau Point (Larger version)

The Colorado River Over 1000 Feet Below Plateau Point
The Colorado River Over 1000 Feet Below Plateau Point (Larger version)

The Israeli Family
The Israeli Family (Larger version)

Girl 1, the Bride, on the Right with Girl 2
Girl 1, the Bride, on the Right with Girl 2 (Larger version)

A Bighorn Sheep Lying Under a Red 800 Year Old Petroglyph of a Sheep
A Bighorn Sheep Lying Under a Red 800 Year Old Petroglyph of a Sheep (Larger version)

Standing on the South Rim Looking Toward Our Start on the North Rim
Standing on the South Rim Looking Toward Our Start on the North Rim (Larger version)

Julie's Swollen Hand after a Fall in the Dark
Julie's Swollen Hand after a Fall in the Dark (Larger version)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Heaven Completed

“I never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.” The name of the man who spoke these words eludes me at the moment but he was a successful and published author. A reading of Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey indicates he adhered to this belief. He altered, edited, combined and perhaps created events to fit his need.

I find it distasteful to toy with the truth unless it’s obvious I’m teasing or in a playful mood. There was no begging, cajoling or pleading. Here’s what really happened on the hike to Bridge to Heaven.

Early in the week we searched for a reasonable loop hike that would take us up to elevations that afforded cool air and broad views of distant peaks and valleys. The hike we selected began in a marshy bottom with a stream that meandered through the grasses. A few mosquitoes greeted us but we continued along the side of the slope until we were confronted with mud, muck and a broad expanse of water that would cover our boots and calves.

We abandoned the hike and returned to Ouray (pronounced U-Ray) for coffee and a chance to select another destination. We decided to spend most of the day at a beautifully landscaped hot springs with 4 pools, flowers, green grass and shade trees. A blanket, picnic lunch and a volume of Wendell Berry’s essays for reading material made it a great day.

Later in the week we got up early for the Bridge to Heaven hike. A forest service road ended at a stream but it is sometimes possible to continue across the stream with four wheel drive. The depth of the stream, the width of water and the strength of the current ruled out any attempt to cross it by vehicle. I dropped a boulder slightly larger than a bowling ball in the white current and heard the muffled booms as it was carried downstream. We searched without success for a narrow crossing, downed tree or reasonably spaced boulders to cross.

The search turned into a series of jokes and foolish ideas. I asked Julie if she knew now to pole vault. She responded with a suggestion that I push a certain boulder off the bank and into the stream. I turned and saw a solid piece of stone about the size of a golf cart that was shaped like an Egyptian pyramid. I was amused but she found it down-right funny. After several more jokes at my expense, we returned with town for more coffee and a chance to search a map for other options. We selected the Gray Cooper Trail.

Mountain near Ouray
Mountain near Ouray (Larger version)

We started up the trail with a warm sun above and flowing water to our right. The higher we climbed the cooler the air turned and the sun faded behind clouds. I thought both of us had rain ponchos but discovered only one. Not even the threat of rain minimized the beauty of the water fall, cascades, alpine flowers and snow.

Crossing a stream
Crossing a stream (Larger version)

We arrived at the top of the trail with lunch, blanket and books but strong winds and thunder made a good case for a quick meal and hasty retreat. About halfway down the sun came out and we slowed our pace until new clouds and raindrops prompted a quickened pace.

The last of the snow
The last of the snow (Larger version)

Julie commented that the beauty rivaled everything we saw last year in Yellowstone. That night, back in the campground, I had more energy and felt more euphoric that I had all week. It was a perfect day!

Paul and Julie
Paul, Julie and waterfall (Larger version)