Sunday, June 13, 2010

She Climbs Like an Angel!

Today I joined a social ride with a local group.  I needed an easy ride since yesterday I did a somewhat more ambitious ride in the San Gabriel Mountains, above Los Angeles, with a friend.  We cycled up Glendora Mountain Road (the cogniscenti shorten it to GMR) about 2500', to the saddle where Glendora Ridge Road continues along the ridge to Mt Baldy canyon, the next canyon to the east.  It's a great out-and-back ride of 50 miles and 5000' of climbing.  The return is very satisfying.  You hardly have to touch your brakes on the return, and the swooping descent lets you imagine, if only for awhile, that life is as easy and thrilling as this downhill ride.

But this day (yesterday, Saturday) we had something else in mind.  We rode north from the saddle, down to the other end of GMR, where it T's into East Fork Rd (east fork of the San Gabriel River), then rode downstream to Hwy 39, then up Hwy 39 to the top at Hwy 2 (Angeles Crest Hwy).  Descending GMR brought us down to about 2000' elevation, when we started climbing again.  The top of Hwy 39 is about 6600', so we had plenty of climbing ahead of us. 

It's a wonderful ride, one reason being that the road is closed to motorized vehicles beginning at about 3000' elevation.  The road is blocked because there's considerable road damage that has gone unrepaired.  There are several places where part of  the road has fallen away, and one where the asphalt is gone completely.  On this short portion of the road, have to ride (or walk) on hardpack dirt.  It was cold and foggy at the bottom, but we eventually climbed out of the fog at about 5000'.  Above this point, we looked down onto the LA basin and the vast sea of clouds covering the valley below.  It was a grand day, and by the end I had 88 miles and almost 10,000' of climbing.

After this rather ambitious Saturday, I wanted an easier Sunday, so this morning I did a more social ride with a local group.  At the start there were about 10 of us.  After a short while there were just 4 of us riding together at the front.  One was a youngish female with a very slight build, with very narrow hips; not short; probably 5'5" or so.  But she can't have weighed more than about 105 pounds, perhaps not more than 100.  With her very slim stature, she was a great climber. 

After an easy glide down Laguna Canyon Road, we turned north along Pacific Coast Hwy (PCH, to the locals), which has a series of rollers as you head northward.  As we rode up one of these rollers, she and I rode ahead of the other two riders who had more weight to carry up the hills.  I mentioned to her that the others must just hate her (in a good way, as in "envy" her), as they saw her rolling past them on the climbs.  Of course, I said this to encourage her, and compliment her wonderful climbing ability.  They overtook us on the ensuing descent, then on the climb up the next PCH roller, as we approached them from behind, I said quietly to her,  "OK, now roll past them ... this is your time to shine."  After I said this, and as she did roll past them, I thought to myself that I might have added: "... and make it look easy!" 

But I needn't have added that last part, because making it look easy came naturally to her.  She cycled past them without the least hint of any strain or that she had to exert herself at all.  Her posture was the same as when she was riding easily on the flats, in our paseline.  And as I watched her glide past the others, it occurred to me that I was the one (not those other riders) that looked at her with envy, amazed at how easy she made the climbing look!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

More Death ...Troy Passes, Way Too Early

There was another death recently.  He was a bicycling friend.  Most of the friends I see on a regular basis are cycling friends.  When I first heard about the death, I supposed it was as a result of a bike accident.  I later heard it was an "accident at home".  I was curious how the death occurred:  fell from a ladder, and hit his head? electrocuted?  I suppose we justify our curiousity with the lie that we want to learn what mistakes not to make.  Would the death be more tragic, or the loss more severe, if it was the result of a inattentive automobile driver crashing into the bicyclist-victim?

In the end, the important part is that we, who are left behind, have lost a part of ourselves.  Troy was an especially lively person, the one who organized a new ride that everyone then found to be one of their favorites.  When we descended from the wonderful climb up Mt Laguna that he put together, it was a party.  We hooted and hollered, and screamed down from the top.  I remember he had just got a new video camera that he had mounted on his handlebars to record the descent.  He was the one who had the latest and coolest gadget.  And he was always so proud of having got a great deal on it.

The church was filled with his friends and acquaintances, and especially with those who were friends and acquantances of Troy's family and closest friends.

He had recently returned from a cycling trip with two of his closest friends.  They climbed the fabled Mt. Ventoux from each of its 3 directions this day ...
Several weeks aftet the memorial service, I ran across some UCC Cyclery teammates of Troy and I learned how Troy died.  He had been shooting a classic shotgun, I think one that had belonged to his grandfather, and a shell got lodged in the chamber.  He took the gun home and later was trying to dislodge the shell, when the gun went off and hit him in the chest.  God, what a waste!  RIP, Troy.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Tour of California, 2010, Stage 8 Anti-Doping Control

A close friend was in charge of volunteers for stage 7 of the 2010 Tour of California, a time trial stage.  I volunteered and was assigned to be a chaperone for one of the racers who had to undergo testing for doping.  I had no idea what was involved; didn't even know what a "chaperone" did.  However, the experience gave me some insight of the inner workings of professional racing, and I thought I'd share the experience here.

We were told to meet at 1:00, at the same time as the time trial was to  begin.  We met at a back corner of the parking lot where the team vehicles were parked.  A spanish fellow explained the protocol to us.  There were four of us who would be chaperones for the riders to be tested.  Two of those to be tested had been selected at random, with he other two being the stage winner and the GC leader, who would not be known until the completion of the race.  I was selected to be a chaperone for one of the randomly selected racers, Francesco Bellotti of Liquigas.

Each of us was given a Amgen staff badge to hang round our neck marked "Anti-Doping Chaperone", a pullover top marked "Chaperone" and a clipboard with a sheet for the details of the person to be tested.  For the two of us assigned to the randomly selected racers, our sheets had the name of the rider, and we were required to keep it secret until the person finished the race.  Also, we were required to make sure the person started the time trial, because if he didn't, another rider would have to be selected.  Once the person started, we were to make our way to the finish, and wait for the person to cross the finish line.  Then we were to identify ourselves, and tell the person that he had been identified for anti-doping control.  We were to write down the time that we identified ourselves to the person, adding 30 minutes, because each identified racer had 30 minutes to show up at the doping control station, an RV.  In addition, the racer had to sign his name to acknowledge the time limit, among other things.

Before Bellottii started, I went by his team warm-up area to watch him to make sure I could later identify him easily.  Of course, I did this discreetly, making sure he didn't suspect he was a racer who had been selected for testing.  Afterwards I watched him start, then made my way to the finish area.  I found a good place to find him at the end and waited for him to arrive.  It was a spot where the racers had to stop and go up over a curb before making their way back to the team area.  When Bellotti got to the curb, I identified myself and had him sign the form after writing down the time plus 30 minutes. 

He was very pleasant, and said he would follow me.  Part of the protocol was that I was not to let him out of my sight.  He asked to be able to first go to his team RV to change and relax a minute, and I accompanied him inside while he toweled off and got out of some of his cycling clothes.  I offered him some water that I had been given for the purpose, and he drank one bottle.  When we got to the testing RV, the official in charge spoke with him to find out what language they should use.  I believe she was Scandinavian, and her english was very good, but Bellotti's english was not as good, and after a bit of trial and error, they settled on french.  After agreeing on the language, he showed his racing license, as is required, and went into the RV to undergo the testing.  I was supposed to wait outside until the testing was over.  We were told earlier that it was only a urine test, so I was surprised when it took a very long time before he came out, perhaps more than 20 minutes.  I didn't ask why the testing took so long.  I thanked him, and he was very gracious, not appearing at all inconvenienced by the testing.  My responsibilities over, I then returned to the rest of my day.

Mt Whitney Stage Race, May 2010

I haven't posted for some time.  More about that later.  For the present, let me try to describe the wonderful Mt. Whitney Stage Race.  I heard about it from Jim Morehouse, the terrific climber from Las Vegas, who, like me, races for Paramount.  I saw him at the Paramount Masters Crit and he asked me if I was planning to do the Mt. Whitney Stage Race.  I said I didn't yet know anything about it, but later checked out the website, and found out it was scheduleld for May 15-16 and put on by Steve Barnes, who is the one who also puts on the Everest Challenge.

I have some personal history with the Everest Challenge.  In about 2000, I met Tom Reid on some of the California Triple Crown double centuries.  At the time we climbed at about the same pace (he's now a much stronger climber than I ... he's much younger than I am), and I found myself climbing with him on one occasion.  As we climbed together, I found out he lived in Bishop was also a skier, and enjoyed backcountry skiing, as do I.  Later, perhaps the next year, I saw him at the end of the Eastern Sierra Double Century where he had left out some fliers on a table with the title "Mt Everest Challenge".  The fliers described a ride he had dreamed about:  a series of climbs in the eastern Sierras that had elevation gain that totalled the height of Mt Everest.  His idea at the time was to do the entire collection in a day, and he had set a particular date for it.  By coincidence the distance travelled was also about 200 miles, an appropriate distance for a double century.  I picked up a flier, but didn't seriously consider doing the ride.  climbing had always been my weakness.  The maximum amount of climbing I had done in a day was the Devil Mountain Double out of San Ramon, which totalled about 18,000', and that had been more than enough for me.

The next time I saw Tom, it was more than a year after the date he had set for the original Everest Challenge, and I asked him what happened on that first day.  He told me that no one had signed up and no on showed up, but he decided to try it anyway.  He started from Bishop at 3 am and rode to the top of Rock Creek, the first climb in the series.  It was still in the 30's when he descended, and he was so cold that he called his wife to pick him up, so the very first Everest Challenge ended in a DNF.  After that he had the idea of doing the climbs as a 2 day event, making things much more manageable. I'm guessing that it was the second year before it became a USAC stage race. 

In two consecutive years, I did the race on tandem with Anny Beck, a terrific climber and, at 100 pounds dripping wet, a blessing for a tandem captain.  Both years it was ungodly hot, especially at the bottom of the third climb each day.  The last climb of each day was so long I thought it would never end.  Also, I got badly dehydrated and had to stop and beg water from passing cars.  But we finished , albeit dead last on both occasions.  I think Tom kept the course open as a favor, so that we could finish.  The good news is that Tom gave each of us a championship EC jersey, as first place in the tandem category.  The second year there was another tandem that attempted the climb, a male-male pair, but they DNF'd.  In later years, Anny did the race twice on her single, but I haven't attempted it solo, at least not yet.

In any case, when I saw the plan for the Mt Whitney stage race, I was intrigued, because both stages are wonderful climbs.  The eastern Sierras has what have to be some of the best climbs in the world.  With the clear desert air, and the lack of forests on the terrain, the vistas are unparalleled.  Also, Steve had established a Masters 65+ age category, and I had just turned 65.  Yes, I'm a card-carrying geezer now.  Just ask and I'll show you my Medicare card!

Originally the ride was planned to begin in Furnace Creek and climb Townes Pass, similar to the old Death Valley to Whitney Road Rrace, which I never attempted.  I've climbed Townes from the west a number of time as part of the Furnace Creek 508, so the pull of doing the pass from the east also attracted me.  But due to some new Park Service rules for Death Valley events (dedicated EMTs and ambulance available the entire time!), Steve changed the stage to Horseshoe Meadows, the huge set of switchbacks carved out of the eastern face of the southern Sierras that stares at you as travel south out of Lone Pine.

Saturday's stage climbed Whitney Portal, and a 10:00 am start allowed everyone a leisurely morning.  There were about 90 racers in all categories. As I looked over the group of cyclists preparing for the race, I thought to myself: "Golly, these are some seriously thin dudes.  I'm really out of my league!" I hardly saw anyone with any bulk at all.

The 55s, 60s and 65s, numbering 10 in total, raced together, but were scored separately.  The pace began pretty easily, but when we arrived at the first climb up Tuttle Creek Road, I was struggled to stay in touch at the back of our group.  Finally I resigned to climb at my own pace and began to drop back.  But as I did so, I realized we were almost at an intermediate top, and I pushed to see if I could keep in contact.  By sheer luck, it was an intermediate summit, and I managed to hang on to the group as they descended.  We the turned down Lubkin Canyon Road and toboganned down the single lane road.  At the bottom, we did a U-turn and began climbing the same canyon road.  On the descent I had decided that I would climb at my own speed when this climb began.  And it wasn't very long before all in our group had passed me.  It was about 11:00 am by the time we began this climb, and it was noticably hot. I figured it wouldn't be too long before we would gain enough elevation to begin feeling some cooling effect. Also, there was a strong cooling tailwind as we climbed toward Whitney Portal.

The climb approaching the first switchback, and then the lower portion of the first switchback is the steepest, over 16% best as I could tell.  With my compact crank and 11-28 cassette, I was barely able to keep my wheels turning.  I certainly wouldn't have wanted any less in the way of low gears.  The road stayed very steep for the first half of the climb, then tipped down to a more manageable level, say 10% or so.  The gradient stayed about that steep until we approached the portal area itself, where is was only 5% or so.  When I finally crossed the finish line, I had been riding about 2:28.  I was the last finisher of our group of 55 and older racers.

Steve Barnes, the race director, arranged a fine picnic that afternoon and evening at a ranch at the base of Horseshoe Meadows Road.  The ranch had a breathtaking view of the the valley floor, about 2000' feet below.  I visited with several people and commiserated over the sorry state of the driving public's consideration for cyclists.  There was also some agreement that the increased number of bicycling commuters should eventually help turn the tide of public opinion.

Sunday's beginning was much more relaxed than that of Saturday, there being no registration needed.  The pace at the beginiing was somewhat faster, and a couple of cyclists in our group fell off the back.  A bit later, and before the first top, I also fell off the back.  By the time I neared to top, the other two had caught up with me, and we figured we could help each other on the flat before the big climb.  At first I thought I'd only be able to stay at the back of the three of us, but as I recovered from the climb I found I was able to take as long a pull as the others.  We then had a U-turn and retraced our steps approaching the climb.  When we first started up, I stayed at the back awhile, but after recovering I was able to continue taking regular pulls.  There was a pretty stiff quartering headwind and even though we were climbing, we echeloned across the road, making good progress up the approach to the beginning of the real climb.

When you drive south from Lone Pine, you see a series of 4 or 5 huge cuts into the eastern side of the Sierras, going up toward the top as far as you can see.  These switchbacks are part of the climb up to Horseshoe Meadows that we were then approaching.   The first switchback begins after the Horseshoe Meadows ranch where we had the picknic on Saturday afternoon.  I continued climbing with my 2 partners.  They were Bob Dahlgren, who eventually finished first in 65+ and Mike Crystal, racing 55+.  The climb was very exposed to the southerly headwind, and working together really helped, making the miles go by much more easily.  Someplace towards the top of the first switchback we caught up with Bob Llamas, the other 65+ racer.  He had been riding by himself in the wind for a long time, and was pretty beat.  After we caught him, he jumped on the back of our group, but before long I saw he wasn't able to stay with us, and dropped off the back.  We continued together until about the middle of the 4th switchback, when Mike slowed a bit, and I filled the gap.  After awhile Mike had to drop off the back, and a bit later still I had to let Bob go ahead.  Each of us was now climbing at his own pace. 

Eventually I arrived at Walt's point, where a plaque to an early flier of hang gliders is mounted in a bolder.  This is where hang gliding enthusiats jump off to glide to the valley floor, 6000 feet below.  There was one longish climb after that, then a descent of about 300-400 feet, followed by the final climb to the top.  Before the summit preceeding the descent, a volunteer offered me a bottle.  I figured I was close enough to the finish that I could do without the water, and I declined it.  What a poor judgement on my part!.  

Shortly after this intermediate top, I drank the last of my water, and cramps began to threaten.  After the descent, as I began the final climb to the finish, I had to unclip and shake out my leg while pedalling with my other leg.  I had to let the one leg dangle, as I shook it out to try to calm the cramping.  Will I nver learn? Around the 1 mile to go mark, I looked at the right side of the road and saw a water bottle on the ground.  I stopped and picked it up and found it was half full of water.  I drank it right away, then resumed the climb to the finish.  I had to go easy until the finish because when I tried to push, the cramps would return.  I finally crossed the finish to the cheers of the earlier finishers.  What a relief to have finished!  It turned out that I picked up enough time on this day's stage to come in 2nd in my age group.  By some mixup, the race director put me first and Bob Dahlgren second.  I emailed him about the mistake, but as of 1 week later, he still hadn't corrected the published results.  I know he's been having trouble with his website, and he'll eventually correct things.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


(Diary Entry January, 2010)

Henry Block, Tom McCray, Bill Ryder, and I were in Peace Corps in the early 60’s in the outer islands of Micronesia. They were in Truk District, now called Chuuk. I was in the Marshalls. Henry and Tom were island mates (Peace Corps volunteers on the same island). The four of us shared similar experiences of living on very small atolls with very small populations of locals, about 65 individuals in my case, up to 250 in the case of Bill and Henry. Those shared experiences provided a bond for us and have helped keep us together over the years.

Since the late 70’s, some combination of the four of us has gotten together each winter for 2 or more weeks to ski and relax. Henry died from natural causes 2 years ago, so now there are 3 of us. A couple others have joined us for shorter periods in the last few years (Tom’s brother, Rob, and our good friend and ski-mentor, Fred Torrence, who we met in Teton Valley, ID in the 80’s). The point is that we’ve kept in touch with each other over the years, and have gone out of our way to make these winter get-aways happen. They comprise a highly valued anchor for my life and this is one of the times of the year I most look forward to.

This year’s trip began last weekend when Bill arrived from Hawaii, where he spends late fall and early winter. The 2 of us drove from my house in Irvine to the place we’ve stayed in recent years. We have one of two apartments that Ted and Shana Kasper built over their garage to supplement their income. The place is small, but just right for us, with a living room/kitchen, bedroom, and bath. We rent it for a month, and it’s very reasonable. The cost of these excursions is minimal since we do our own cooking, and don’t have to buy expensive lift-tickets to ski at the resort, preferring to ski backcountry where we earn our turns, by ski-hiking to the top under our own power.

Backcountry skiing is like chairlift-serviced skiing, except we ski-hike to the top of our ski destination rather than riding up in a chairlift. It’s not unlike bicycling, where you spend a long time riding up a long ascent, then enjoy a short, often thrilling, ride down from the top. Modern backcountry skiing gear allows the heel to lift up from the ski's surface when climbing (with alpine gear, the heel is fixed to the surface, preventing raising the heel to go uphill), and climbing skins (synthetic fabric that adheres to ski bottoms with fibers that extend backwards along the ski, preventing the ski from slipping when pointing uphill) allow you to climb uphill. But it’s not ski-gear, or the skiing experiences, wonderful though they may be, that I want to talk about. It’s friendship.

What’s the value of a friend? It’s the value of life itself. Without the close contacts of friends and family to share with and confide in, life hardly has any meaning at all. Take today: this morning a friend we’ve known here in the valley, Glenn Vitucci, called in response to an earlier call of Tom to him, asking if we could get together for a visit, or a ski. Glenn returned the call this morning, and we arranged to meet him at one of our favorite backcountry ski locations.

We skied at a place we call Henry’s. It had snowed about 2 feet over the last several days, and the snow was heavy and almost too deep to ski. We did our best, and after several runs, headed back to the trail-head about 4:00 pm. On the way back we stopped at our favorite pub for a basket (of French fries) and a pitcher (of Sweetgrass IPA Beer). We talked about the day, and about the prospects for skiing over in the upcoming days. We also shared news about mutual friends. One of whom was Heny, who isn’t with us any longer. By the way, we call the place we skied today “Henry’s”, because it was one of his favorite places to ski.

Henry never gained the level of fitness of the rest of us, and always carried a considerable amount of weight. I’d guess his weight fluctuated between 180 and 200 pounds. Being large makes gravity sports, like ski-climbing, more difficult. It’s never as easy for a 185 pound person to work against gravity as it is for someone lighter. Fred (damn him!) weighs in at not more than 125 pounds, dripping wet. And he can climb like a mountain goat. None of us can keep up with him if he wants to get to the top of the hill.

Henry’s is the lower portion of a backcountry ski area called Lone Pine, named for the single tree (actually a very small group of trees) toward the top of the open ski slope. By the time Henry got to the lower portion of this area, he had exhausted his strengths, and didn’t want to go any further. He would ski there, even when the conditions weren’t great. Because he always wanted to stop there, we named the spot “Henry’s”.

Henry was a bigger-than-life kind of guy. He went out of his way to make everyone comfortable. He was the eighth of a family of 10 children (Henry, the eighth), mostly males. Growing up in a large family like that, he learned to get his share and have his voice heard, while still protecting his siblings. He started a men’s support group at one point, and kept it active for years. His wife (second wife) was a counselor and Henry soon learned that the informal support structures that women develop are frequently lacking for men. Men grow up competing with each other, and often don’t know how to ask for help and offer it to others. So Henry jumped in the fill the gap.

Henry was something of an iconoclast. One of my memories of him is one winter, about 1999, when driving through Jackson Hole on one of our excursions. Likely, we were on our way to the Visitor’s Center at Grand Teton National Park. We stopped in Jackson; perhaps to enjoy the wonderful sourdough pancakes at Jedediah’s Restaurant, named for Jedediah Smith, one of the wilderness pioneers of the Jackson Hole area. On the way, a hat made from a badger skin caught Henry’s eye. After admiring his image in the mirror with the hat, he looked at the pricey $175 tag, and returned it to the shelf. But on the way back through town after having completed our excursion, he bought the hat. He said he couldn’t resist getting it, partly because it was so politically incorrect. Here’s a photo of the four of us:  Bill, Tom, Henry wearing his badger hat, and me.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

A Gray Day at Dachau (1964)

I took a year off from school after my sophomore year at UC Santa Barbara to travel in Europe. Planned studies in the fall at the beginning of this period (Goethe Institute in a small village south of Munich) and at the end in the late spring-early summer (University of Goettingen) served as bookends for 6 months of intentionally unplanned travel. The travel began in Munich in late fall. Gowing up in southern California spoiled me for weather.  I hardly knew what it was like to have your breath visible in the cold air.  I sure had some lessons to learn about the real world, and the fact that in the winter things get very cold many places was the least of my world lessons.

I stayed mostly at youth hostels during this unplanned travel time.  One of the best things about staying in youth hostels is the local color you can get from other travelers. One evening I asked what I shouldn’t miss when in Munich. More than one fellow traveler told me to make sure I visited Dachau, which was not far to the north. The next morning I made my way to the Autobahn and hitchhiked north towards the infamous destination. Drivers who picked me up would ask where I was going. When I replied “Dachau”, the response was uniform; the conversation quieted to silence. In retrospect, the response shifted from awkward embarrassment to naked shame.

I had to walk the last 2 or 3 kilometers to the entrance, as it was far away from any settlement. There was no commerce or residence in the area. The day was very gray, and it was as if the whole countryside was sterile. As I approached, there was a very long border of high wire fence. Walking through the entrance I found no one in attendance. I moved in turn through all the buildings and the displays. I never found a soul the entire day, at least none that were living. The dead were extremely prominent. I recollect photos of bones covered by skin, of “scientific” experimentation by hypothermia, of long, unheated wooden buildings (still standing at the time) where the inmates slept and became infected with lice and typhus.

It wasn’t the crematoriums that impressed me. What hit me hard was the fact that the crematoriums turned out to be far too slow at processing bodies, so they were largely abandoned, in favor of firing squads and tossing bodies in large pits dug by bulldozer.  Although plentiful, I'm not including any photos of this, because the images are ones that I don't want in our minds more than they already are.

My other memory was the undeniable stench of rotting flesh. I know it can’t have been actual odor because this was 20 years after the war, but the smell in my nostrils was nonetheless visceral.

Monday, December 28, 2009

My Daughter, the Naturalist

My son and daughter grew up with their Mom in Davis, California. I haven’t been able to live with them closely since they were very young.  While being away from them has been very difficult for me, they are now grown and we sometimes now have wonderful times together.

My daughter graduated from UC Santa Cruz last June, and she decided to stay with me while applying for grad school and work. She wanted to take a year off before continuing with school. Unfortunately she made that decision well before the economy went to hell, and she hasn’t had the job opportunities that she hoped for. She has always been fascinated with the natural world, and wants to do field research on marine mammals.  Due to a great deal of effort and persistence, she recently managed to land a four month internship in Gloucester, Massachusetts studying humpback whales starting in February. 
She and I decided to take some vacation time this fall.  We followed a fantastic clockwise loop through many of the national parks in the Four Corners area. I won’t attempt to do a full narrative, but here are some highlights, along with a few photos to illustrate the wonder of these places, and some of the wildlife we saw there.
Zion – This was our first stop. We hiked Angel’s Landing. If you haven’t had the pleasure, try not to miss it. It’s a wonderful climb, especially for novice hikers. We both qualify by that measure. It’s promontory pinnacle that juts out into Zion Canyon. You have to climb up a knife ridge, but there are ample manmade handholds to help in climbing.

Bryce – After leaving Zion, on the way to Bryce, we came upon some Big Horn Sheep crossing the road. Only time I’ve seen them in the wild. Bryce is amazing. Richly sculpted landforms in reds, yellows, and browns that just don’t stop.

Capitol Reef – We climbed the Golden Throne, an area that doesn’t get many visitors. Beautiful vistas, some small, like this circular patterned lichen beside the trail.

Arches – We got seriously dumped on one night. I thought we were going to get washed away in our tent, but it kept us dry. The next morning, waiting to hike the Devil’s Kitchen, a bolt of lightening came within a few hundred yards – no delay at all between the light and the crack of the sound. While we were here and in Moab, we read to each other from Ed Abbey’s books, especially Desert Solitaire.

Fisher Towers – After having hiked many of the Arches best areas, a ranger suggested we hike out of the Park. Fisher Towers is southeast of the Colorado and east of Moab. It’s an area that’s as spectacular as Arches, but hardly travelled. We took this photo with a self-timer by setting the camera on the tip of the overlook. I stepped past it very gingerly to lie down beside Danielle, because the drop was several hundred feet straight down.

Mesa Verde – We visited these cliff dwellings, but some of the best times we had there were hiking the snake trail where we spied a pair of falcons (prairie falcons, we suspect) at the top of a sheer cliff.

Natural Bridges – Like many of the vistas in the national parks area, you can drive very close to the 3 huge natural bridges and get a great view of these bridges. There’s another way to see them, however, by an 8 mile loop hike in the bottom of the creek bed that has formed the bridges. This was the way we enjoyed the bridges, and the effort it takes to get to them makes the views that much more satisfying. Also, because they can be seen by car, few enjoy this hike, which means you have the place to yourselves. It had rained the night before, and there was only one hiker ahead of us (we were the last for the day, just extricating ourselves from the canyon as night fell; now that was a close call!). Well, there was one other traveler on the creek-side trail that we followed for about 3 miles: a good sized cougar! We never saw the animal, but it saw and heard us, because it was only a short while ahead of us, and the canyon was narrow, with only one trail through it.

Grand Canyon North Rim – This was our last National Park that we visited. It’s vastly more enjoyable than the South Rim, but both have a very large number of visitors. Being high on the North Rim, you can look down on the hawks and vultures, some soaring below you; some resting on rocky prominences below. I visited South Rim a couple years ago, and my main recollection there was the huge number of tour buses. Give me the North Rim!