Friday, January 30, 2009

Day Thirteen: Finding My Inner Little Boy

Ledges Camp

Tuesday, April 18, 2000 - Last night I had pitched my sleeping bag on the fine white sand underneath the overhanging rock next to the cliff face. I decided to camp there for the novelty of sleeping under several hundred feet of rock and not because of the passing clouds that I had seen during sunset of the previous evening. All the crew were sleeping on their boats and the clients were scattered out among the pissweed behind camp in their tents so I had the place all to myself. At least for a while. In the early morning hours, a rainsquall must have hit. I found this out when opened my eyes and looked right into Elaina's sleeping face right next to me. Surprised, I sat up only to find Nick on the other side of me and most of the other crew and Jorge the German sardined into what had been a roomy place for one but quite cozy for the eight of us now sharing it. The other hint that a squall had hit was the dusting of sand that was now on and inside my sleeping bag.

It was overcast and windy when I woke up with my new bed companions beside me but today was a leisure start day so I was in no hurry to get out of the bag. One of the cooks brought up some coffee and cocoa and Elaina, Jorge and I sat under the overhang sipping our drinks and watching camp life unfold for quite awhile. It was only the lure of pancakes and bacon that lured us out from our sandy cocoons. We loaded up the boats and held a geology lecture but in the end, despite our leisure, we all stood around and waited for over an hour on Roy and Joanna to get their stuff packed.

We picked up Roy and Joanna at Phantom Ranch and they are certainly the most disorganized pair of people I have ever seen in my life. Their brains are apparently unable to multitask or think more than a single step in advance as they spend most of their time walking to and fro with glazed looks in their eyes. They will get down to the boats and then remember that they forgot to bring their bags so they will go back and get them only to realize they forgot their shoes so they will go back and get those only to remember they forgot their sunglasses…. so on and so forth. It takes them ten trips what takes the rest of us one. They also missed out on the common sense whenever it was handed out. At one of our previous campsites, I had found a nice secluded site for my sleeping bag on a sandy ledge across a little rivulet of water flowing over some mossy rocks. With my long legs, I could easily hop over but Joanna, who has trouble walking on flat pavement, came up and was eying it with her tent bag in her arms. I really didn't want the company on the small ledge but told her that it was very slick and that if she wanted to come over, she should not attempt to step on the sloped and very slippery mossy rock but to go down below and cross where it was sandy and she had some grip. She instead chose to step right in the middle and promptly fall down on her back in the middle of the rivulet thoroughly wetting herself and her tent. I helped her get up and after drying her hands she said that I had been right and wandered off in another direction with that glazed look in her eyes.
Bighorn Sheep

When Roy and Johanna finally got all their gear down and in the boats, we pushed off into a now very stout upstream wind and the coldest weather we have seen so far. We paddled through Fishtail and Kanab Rapids, both of which got us soaking wet. I was very cold and shivering by the time we pulled over for lunch. We all hunkered on the lee side of some clumps of pissweed and soaked up a brief appearance by the sun. When we finally got warmed up again, we pushed off and by the time we got to Upset Rapid, the wind had died off and it had warmed up a bit.

We paddled around the bend to a camp at mile 151-3/4 named Ledges Camp. There was no sand at this camp only a series of ledges hewn into the rock by centuries of river water. As I was hiking up a ways behind camp to find my secluded camping spot, I came across a family of bighorn sheep not twenty feet away. Counting tents, at least 4 groups of clients had walked right by this spot and were so engrossed in getting their camp set up, never noticed the sheep. By the time I got my camera and telephoto lens out, they were already well up the ledges behind camp. It is amazing how well they blend into their surroundings and if it weren't for their movement, they would be impossible to spot.

After camp was set up, Bronco, Jorge and I set out on a little walk across the ledges upstream from camp. We were joined by others and idly began tossing rocks into the river. This soon degenerated into a contest to see who could throw a rock clear across the river in which only Jorge and I were successful. Ote started tossing big rocks into the river and soon we were trundling boulders off edge into the river the size of small beanbags. Nick, Lee, and Duffy, hearing the noise from camp, joined us and then we found it, the perfectly shaped Volkswagen Beetle sized rock perched near the edge of the cliff and chocked in place by a few small basketball sized rocks. We cleared those out and with some sweat and leverage, we heaved the behemoth over the edge and to the river 50 feet below. In made a cannonball splash shooting a plume of water 30 feet over our heads. We stood their lost in our childhood when a hooting and hollering roar greeted us from the direction of camp. Jubilantly, we decided that was probably enough and we scampered back to camp like little boys who had just pulled a great prank.

Lee was reading the book "Grand Canyon: A Century of Change" by Robert Webb and occasionally read some excerpts out loud to me and the assistant cook Mary who was nearby. It is an interesting book and one that I will have to read sometime. I am developing pretty good friendships with the crew mainly because I think a lot like them on many subjects. I find myself hanging around and hiking with them more than I do the other passengers. I don't want to wear out my welcome as I know they need time away from the clients but every indication has shown that they think of me as one of the crew. I often help out with the crew duties not to garner their favor but because that was the way my parents raised me on our backpacking trips. Everyone helps out with general camp duties.

Supper was broccoli cheese soup, scalloped potatoes, coleslaw and pork chops. Everyone but the usual crowd bed right after the dishes had been done. It was still cool but a bottle of Lee's Wild Turkey and a bottle of Jurgen's Cognac were being passed around so I was plenty warm inside. There is a full moon tonight and it is lighting up both the upstream and downstream side of camp but due to the cliffs directly across the river that tower over us, not camp itself. I feel like I am sitting on the dark side of the moon with bright light on all sides. Finally Mary and I were the last two standing. With a belly full of warm spirits, I made my way towards bed and a sleep sure to come quickly.
Bighorn Sheep

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

I'm a Bad Neighbor

I gave up on getting to know my neighbors many years ago. I used to make a point back then to get to know who I lived in close proximity too but eventually I started getting weird looks. People acted as if I were intruding upon their lives by introducing myself. I never gave up but I didn't make any outward attempts to get to know them. I just let it happen. Gradually I met my neighbors mostly by being in the yard at the same time or on an evening walk by their place.

I met my neighbors down the hill on a summer evening as we were just finishing up our evening walk. The house had been for sale off and on since shortly after we bought our house and it was nice to see some people there for a change. The new owners were an elderly couple and seemed almost desperate to talk so we stopped and talked for awhile. They had just moved into town so that the wife could be near her elderly mother in the nursing home. The husband was retired and mostly did woodworking. That is about as much as I can remember.

As summer progressed, we would wave to them now and then as we walked by but never stopped. They always seemed busy with yard work. One night in early fall, I noticed an ambulance backed up to the house. After about fifteen minutes, the EMT's wheeled the wife out on a stretcher and loaded her up in the back. The husband came out and stood in the back looking in the doors and I assumed was talking to his wife. It was probaby ten minutes before the ambulance closed the doors and drove off obeying the speed limit and with no lights on. The husband followed in their mini-van. I assumed his wife had fallen and broken something which explained the non-emergency speed at which things happened.

I thought that I should go over there and ask if there was anything I could do but time got away from me and I forgot. As fall turned into winter, I didn't see any of their vehicles or tracks on the snow in the driveway but being retired, I assumed they had gone south for the winter. All those assumptions upon my part fell apart last week when through an unrelated conversation that I learned what had happened that early fall evening. The wife had evidently fallen over dead from a heart attach and the ambulance had been there to pick up the body.

I inquired about the husband but the man who had told me about the wife didn't know. Now I feel bad that I didn't even know that my neighbor had died and so much time has gone, it is probably too late to offer my condolences. Worse yet, since nobody has seen the husband. Do we go over their only to find him dead or has he gone to other places now that his wife is gone? It makes me wish that the days of old were still here when everyone knew their neighbor and stopped in now and then just to say hi without any hint that we might be intruding upon their lives.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Day Twelve: Thunder River/Deer Creek Traverse


Sunset & Approaching Storm

Monday, April 17, 2000 - Morning dawned with a crystal clearness not seen outside of the arid western lands. We ate some breakfast burritos with eggs and hash browns, packed a sack lunch and did a quick splash in the dories to Tapeats Creek where six of us and some of the crew were dropped off for a hike downstream via several rivers and a couple passes. The rest would take the dories and meet with us downstream later.

Tapeats Creek

We hiked up Tapeats Creek and were forced to cross it twice and only with great difficulty. Once involved us forming a human chain to give the weaker members of us something to hold onto as they crossed the waist deep water roaring downstream. We made it to the junction of Tapeats Creek and Thunder River and from there, it was almost straight up. Thunder River was one continuous maelstrom of white froth as its fall was equal to or greater than its run. After 500 feet of altitude gain, we finally came upon the source of Thunder River, a mammoth spring pouring out of the red wall cliff and crashing down 50 or 60 feet below.

Thunder River


Thunder River Spring

After eating our lunch, we climbed another 1000 or so feet up and over a pass to a big valley aptly named Surprise Valley since it runs parallel to the river and is thus surprising to find. The hike through the valley was a very hot, dry march and full of prickly desert rose bushes. By the time we climbed over the second small pass and began to descend, everyone was either bleeding or were picking spines out of their flesh. I was doing both.

We dropped down into Deer Creek, which began life as another spring pouring out of the red rock into the valley below. Like dusty forgotten mops, we all fell into the water and absorbed way more than I thought I ever could. I climbed up behind the waterfall where it was hollowed out a bit and sat in the shade absorbing even more through the misting spray. As we continued down, the water carved a beautiful and deep slot canyon. As we hiked the rim of this slot canyon on a very narrow trail, to narrow to pass each other safely, it was slow going for every corner we stopped to take a picture of it that we deemed more beautiful than the last corner.

Deer Creek Spring


Deer Creek

In places, there were Anasazi handprints on the rock due to their belief that this was the seventh and final place where you were tested after death before you were allowed to reach the afterlife. They had to leap across the canyon and the hands were there to help you. Lee told the story of his younger days after having too much to drink perhaps, deciding to jump across for himself. He ran for all he was worth and leapt in the air at the perfect point at the very edge of the canyon, instantly knowing that there would be no way in hell that he would even come close to making the jump. He said midway as he hurtled downwards certain broken bones and possible death, he felt something grab him and pull him across. He said nothing ever sobered him up quicker than that feeling and he swears that those handprints hold some sort of power. The sincerity in his voice as he told me this was hard not to believe.

Anasazi Handprints

We hiked on down to the river where we were the dories were waiting and floated a 1/2 mile downstream to a camp at mile 136.5 on a beach near some overhanging cliffs. Mary gave me an "extra" beer and I decided to enjoy it while taking a bath. I found a nice private sand beach upstream and did just that. Our camp tonight is a beautiful sand beach with an overhanging cliff on the downstream side. After everyone settles down and if the spot is still taken, I aim to camp underneath the overhang tonight just for the novelty of it.

As supper was being prepared, I sat in a chair and watched a beautiful sunset on the cliffs upstream and a natural arch downstream near Cranberry Canyon. For supper we had noodles and stir-fry that was excellent as usual. Per our habit, we built a little fire after supper and sat around swapping stories until late in the evening. The overhang was vacant and I update my journal from there now.

Above Lower Deer Creek Falls

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Walk West


Almost two years ago, I went with my wife on a business trip of sorts to a part of the country I hadn't been too. The reason for that business eludes me but I like seeing new territory so I jumped at the chance. While she was off doing her thing, I remember having several hours to kill and while doing just that I drove by a second-hand bookstore, my kryptonite. As I was perusing the non-fiction section, my double strength kryptonite, I saw three books with similar book jackets on a lower shelf. By the looks of the jackets, they were all published sometime in the 70's or early 80's and the price was cheap. Knowing nothing but the titles, I bought them along with perhaps a half dozen other books and walked out of the store.

The first book was "Walk Across America" by Peter Jenkins and I reviewed that on my previous blog. It described how Peter, a recent graduate disillusioned with the Vietnam War, Watergate and the United States in general, set off to discover America's soul by walking across it. He set off with little money and headed south stopping here and there to work at odd jobs to pay his way. He made it as far as New Orleans where he met a girl named Barbara and married her. That is where the book ended.

I got side tracked on other books and soon forgot all about the other two. However, after finishing up my review of the biography on George Washington, I rediscovered the books on my shelf and decided that it was time to continue the journey. Book two this time by Peter AND Barbara Jenkins, "The Walk West", picked up with Peter working on an oil platform out in the gulf saving money up for Barbara and him to continue the walk west.

This book is almost identically written as the first and while it was a pleasure to read through the first, this one just didn't have the same sparkle. The simple writing style of Peter makes it an easy read but as I read through the pages as they worked their way through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Oregon out to the coast, it just felt like more of the same. To make an analogy, it was still that same sport car that you bought a couple years ago and still drive every day. You wouldn't take back having bought it and you still want to drive it but it has undeniably lost some of the luster and newness in your life.

At the end of the trip, his wife Barbara is pregnant and Peter writes that they both want to settle down. During the book they write about a couple fights they had, they wrote as a new married couple and somewhere inside me I had my doubts that the marriage worked out. They just seemed to be opposite personalities and I had a suspicion that Peter's wanderlust would eventually drive a wedge in it. So I did some Googling and discovered Peter Jenkin's website. On the site in the Frequently Asked Questions portion, he goes on to say that he and Barbara did get divorced for personal reasons but remain on friendly terms. I got the impression that lots of fans were so disappointed of this but it really didn't surprise me. He later married someone named Rebecca and is still married and writing today.

So if you haven't read any of his books, this one and the first one are both definitely worth reading though I would recommend just picking one, probably the first one just because it is the start of the story. If I had treated it as just one massive tome and read them back-to-back, maybe I wouldn't have the "more-of-the-same" feeling that I had by reading them almost two years apart. In any case, the third book, "Across China" will probably remain on my shelf for awhile until I clear out some other books and partly because I'm already reading another much more current book on China right now. In my Googling, I did learn he recently published a book called "Looking For Alaska" with rave reviews so I might have to add that one to my list.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

An Unhistoric Inauguration


I guess a very historic day is upon us. Today, a half-white, American born citizen will be sworn in and live in that big white house built by slave labor but whose ancestors had nothing to do with slavery or were slaves themselves. If I were a black American (there is no such thing as African-American because dual citizenship isn't allowed in the U.S.), I would feel gypped. I would feel like I was hoping for a Ferrari and instead got a kit car. Yes it looks like a Ferrari but it wasn't made by Ferrari and hasn't had Ferrari's engineering or reputation involved.

I still think this is a historic day and I do plan on celebrating because tonight I go to bed and George Bush is no longer running the country into the ground! That is why I will be celebrating today and not because of a half-white, American born, non-slave related citizen of the United States takes office. To me, he is just anybody but Bush and time will tell how my opinion of him will form. I pray that I can have a high opinion of him because right now, our country does need someone who can lead.


Sincerely,
Desert Rat


P.S. To those who are not long time readers of my previous blog, Desert Rat is my satiricle alter ego who has been hibernating for awhile.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Laying Low

A survey in a Iowan newspaper asked residents what their favorite winter activity was during this time of the year. Not surprisingly to me, it was staying home. Up during my five year stint in the frozen tundra of central Minnesota, staying home was apparently not an option. There was always ice fishing, snowmobiling, skiing and drinking. Yeah you could drink indoors at home but them hardy Swedes wouldn't have any of it. I remember being forced to go sledding one cold evening where all the beer was stored in coolers not to keep them cool but to keep them warm. I would pop the top on my can and get maybe a couple swallows down before icy pellets started tickling my throat. Within a minute or two, it was frozen solid.

Post holidays when the cold snowy wind blows is perhaps one of my favorite times of the year to get caught up on that reading I've been meaning to do. I've made a pretty sizable dent on my bookshelf in a the few short months since cold season began and my main time for getting reading done, now until March when things begin to thaw, is just getting started. I also get time to do some of my other joys such as writing and genealogy work. These days it seems as if most of my writing is in the form of blog posts which I have well over a dozen qued up waiting to be published on some future day. Most of my genealogy work is tracking down small tidbits through email, phonecalls or correspondence with distant courthouses or libraries that I may never see anytime soon.

Another enjoyment these days is playing with Little Abbey. She loves to play with her cards and now knows all but two letters of the alphabet. Y, Z are the lone holdouts. She can also get a quite a few numbers, shapes and most of the basic colors. Little Abbey's favorite toys now are most definitely the Legos that we and her grandparents bought her. She loves to build things out of them and I can't help but be amazed at how much creativity she has exibited with them already. She built a lego version of her Elmo and lots of towers. Perhaps there is another engineer in the works in the Abbey household.

I'm hoping that isn't true because right now, life as an engineer isn't so good. As you may have heard, the economy is in the tank and we are at 7.4% unemployment and rising, half of that from the manufacturing industry where we engineers seem to congregate. My business in which I am part owner is no exception and we've had to lay off quite a few people last year. This year doesn't look to be much better. Even though we are in good financial health, we are voluntarily cutting back here and there. One of the best ways to do that is to lay low and that brings me back to the beginning and my favorite time of year. Thanks to the economy, I now have an even better excuse to light a fire in the fireplace and work even more diligently on that bookshelf crammed with books that are unread. Ah the sacrifices we must make.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Day Eleven: A Fine Day

Stone Creek

Sunday April 16, 2000 - I woke up in the middle of the night for the first time and watched the moon set over a downstream rim. The sky was clear and shone brilliantly with starlight even with the absence of the torch-like moon. When I woke up a second time, clouds had moved in enshrouding the inner canyon and would stay with us until mid-morning before dissolving away. As a treat for the cook and her assistant, Bronco cooked breakfast this morning to let them sleep in and for a half hour, it was just the two of us. With the heavy clouding, people slept in and after they finally gathered in the kitchen area, we ate a breakfast of French toast served with an apple/raisin sauce and bacon.

After we got packed up and shoved off, I almost immediately saw a coyote scrambling for cover in the rocks overhead. They are definitely a hardy animal to be found way down here at the bottom of the canyon. We pushed through Forster, Fossil, Specter and Bedrock Rapids, all of which had large waves. We did hop out and quickly scout Bedrock but ran it without difficulty. The last rapid of the half-day on the river was Duebendorf Rapid and it was a dandy. We pulled into the eddy below at Stone Creek and after a lunch of pita sandwiches, hiked up the creek.

Although it had obviously been scoured clean in a flash flood several years ago, there were many waterfalls and Anasazi ruins left behind. At one point, there is an old Anasazi ruin with a door still sealed, something that may not exist anywhere else. Whether it is a forgotten grainery or perhaps a burial chamber, our guides didn't know and forbade us from walking up to it. Although it is visible with the naked eye, unless you knew what you were looking at and where, it can only be seen by binoculars. It is that well disguised and I was content to see it through the binoculars and use my imagination as to its contents.

At the very end of Stone Creek was a beautiful slot canyon with a thirty feet tall waterfall. Nick, Lee and I hunkered down in the icebox coolness of the shade and just waited out the heat of the day. We were wonderfully successful and by the time I got back to camp, supper was underway. We had turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, dressing and a salad. Eleven days out with no supplies brought in and we are still eating like kings. I'm glad I've been doing a lot of hiking or I surely would have put on several pounds by now.

I must say that the pre-dinner entertainment before supper was particularly good today. Our campsite was fairly open and little in the way of hiding behind for those who decided to bathe tonight which seemed to be a few of the younger women among the crew. For privacy sake, I kept my eyes averted as much as possible but I wouldn't be a red-blooded man if I didn't sneak a few long peeks now and then. In a land full of sharp rocks, prickly cactus and stinging scorpions, their well toned, tanned and now wet bodies certainly fell softly on the eyes.

Just as dinner was finishing up, the moon rose from behind the upstream rim of Stone Creek. The usual crowd sat around a fire and told stories well into the night while passing around some of the German's apparently bottomless supply of brandy. Why would anyone else want to do anything else with their life but repeat this day over and over?
Stone Creek

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Freezing Cold and Flat Broke

Living in a small town with a five minute commute, I often go great lengths of time without looking at my fuel gauge so when it flashed on this morning on my way to work, I wasn't to thrilled since it was a balmy minus 18 degrees outside. I pulled into the gas station, pulled the lever to release the gas tank flap and got out into the frigid air. The gas tank flap was still in place so I opened the door and pulled it again with the same results. I pulled out my pocketknife and stuck it in the crack thinking maybe it was open but just hadn't kicked out and pried gently. It was still firmly latched so I pulled the release for the third time and this time I was rewarded.

I turned my attention to the pump and pressed the pay with credit outside button and again received no reaction to my action. I tried again. The third time I pressed with all my might and finally heard the beep from the machine as the screen shot slowly dissolved into the next screen with instructions. Instead of the usual fraction of a second transition, it took a full 30 seconds. It was agony as I waded through the various options before I finally got the gas to start flowing. I can't say I blame the pumps because I am moving pretty slowly to myself this morning. In fact, I did something I haven't done in years. I gave up my normal farthest from the building parking spot and trolled the parking lot until I found a spot close to the doors.

On another topic, I received my quarterly statement for my retirement accounts from my financial guy a week or so ago that covers the last quarter of last year. It took me until this morning to find enough courage to open it. I wish I hadn't. All the money and gains that I have put in over the last five years since I opened the account upon starting my current job are gone. It is down 50% from the high less than a year ago. Had I known then what I know now, I wished I had stored all that in my mattress instead and opened it up today to dump back into the stock market. But I didn't and thus I am stuck with the knowledge that retirement certainly isn't going to come this year. Of course when I am in my 30's, I've got time for that but I still want it to come as soon as possible. I'm just glad I opened it up this morning when I have the full day to forget about it and not in the evening right before bed.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Garage Unlike All Others


In Iowaville, most of the old brick buildings along main street have collapsed into rubble and eventually turned into empty lots or occasionally, having a new prefab building built in its place. One of the few remaining brick buildings resides at the south end of main street and is the home of Bell Garage. Where the apostrophe 's' went or if it ever existed, I don't know.

Mostly what I know of Bonar Bell and his garage are what I can see from the sidewalk and a couple stories that I've heard. I'll start with what I can see from the sidewalk, which is that Bonar is the mother of all packrats. The inside of his garage is completely full of various engines, transmissions, tangles of belts, hoses, pipes and several cars one of which appears to be a mint condition and very dusty 30's era car. Judging by the surrounding content on all sides, it hasn't moved since it was in its prime.

My neighbor runs a business and took one of his trucks into Bonar Bell's garage to get worked on and it was the last time he saw that truck for four years. Why it took so long or why he didn't do more to get it back and take it somewhere else, I do not know, but that story is always heard at gatherings where people talk about the Bell Garage.

The final story involves the ancient wrecker truck that sits parked out front. My cousin who was helping with the spring dirt work on the farm buried the tractor up to the axles in an old "buffalo waller" as my grandfather called them. It was a Sunday afternoon and time was tight and Bonar was the only one who would come. He brought that wrecker and a huge pile of chain. I gathered up every bit of change that I could find and met Bonar out in the field. We chained the wrecker to the nearest tree a very long ways away and using all the cable and the rest of the chain were able to hook onto the tracker. Bonar fired up the wrecker with a belch of black smoke and began to reel in the cable. How the tracker came out without the wrecker twisting up into a wreck and coming apart at the seams I will never know.

So on a recent foray into Iowaville when I spied that old wrecker sitting out in front of his garage, I couldn't resist taking a few pictures and posting them here with those few snippets of memory I have.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Day Ten: Bath Time

Sitting there on a shelf of rock in the cliffs behind camp, I sipped the beer given to me by Nick who was one of the baggage wranglers and watched people scurrying around like ants below. The conversation came easily and the pauses were comfortable as we overlooked the canyon like kings from a throne. Jurgen the German hiked up and joined us after awhile smoking on one of his big cigars that he always lit up in camp. I hate being around the smell of cigar smoke especially when enjoying all the clean, dry air here in the Grand Canyon, but he was always polite and sits downwind. Besides, he often passes around his bottles of very fine brandy in the evenings around the campfire that he brought along with him on the trip.

During one long pause in the conversation, Jurgen reached into his small pack and brought out a pair of binoculars. He glassed the horizon for a few minutes before coming to rest on one particular point. I stared intently at the little peninsula of rocks that stuck out into the river downstream of camp that Jurgen appeared to be looking at but couldn't see anything of interest. After about then minutes of silent looking, he handed me the binoculars and pointed in that direction. I raised them to my eyes and immediately saw what he had been staring at so intently. One of the women who was in our group, had taken a bath in the river and was air drying nude out on a nice flat rock beside a tiny sand beach nestled between alongside a large boulder that blocked the view from camp. Although she had a nice body for being thirty years older, I wasn't exactly interested in voyeurishly looking at her so I handed the binoculars back to the German who went back to watching her. But I did make a mental note of the location so that I could take a bath there later on in the evening.

Several hours later and back in camp, I noted that the German had made it back into camp with his binoculars and headed over land through the cacti and rocks towards the peninsula and the bath location that I had spotted earlier. I came out a little further downstream than I had anticipated and started heading back upstream towards the direction of camp. Soon I came to what I thought was the spot and disrobed. I waded thigh deep into the river which was an icy cold 48 degrees at this point having warmed up two degrees from where it emerged upstream from the bowels of the Glen Canyon dam. I dunked myself under the surface briefly before coming up for air. The extreme cold made only shallow breaths possible and the nether regions crawled up into my belly as my skin went numb. I quickly took advantage of my numbed senses in my extremities and finished the rest of my bath before the aching cold would set into my legs.

I climbed out of the water and walked across the small beach, which way maybe five feet wide, to a large flat rock in the sun and climbed on top. The warm rock, instantly drained the cold out of my feet and lower legs as I dried myself with a towel. I dropped the wet towel on the rocks and stared out over the river while letting the sun warm the rest of my body. I stood there for a couple minutes in silence admiring the beauty when I heard a soft sound coming from upstream to my right. I turned and saw to my horror, the same nude woman I had seen earlier only this time about ten feet away on another almost identical flat rock beside another almost identical sand beach. She had been lying asleep on her stomach and was in the process of turning over onto her back. I froze in my tracks wishing and hoping that my white skin would blend into the red rock but it turned out to not be necessary. She didn't even open her eyes and fell right back into the slumber that she had evidently been in.

Relieved, I turned around towards a downstream rock where I had left my clothes and froze yet again. There, sitting on a rock not twenty feet away painting a picture was Ote, the wife of the owner of the dory company that was providing me the opportunity to join them on this trip. I again tried to melt into the rocks but this time I wasn't as lucky. She looked up from her painting, waved at me and went back to painting. I couldn't think of what else to do so I waved back, quickly walked back to my clothes and got dressed. As I started to make my way back to camp, I turned towards her and said that if she included me in the painting, she had better make me look good. She just laughed as I scurried back to camp.

As the month long trip progressed, I became more comfortable with the whole nudity thing and didn't worry about it so much. The cliffs would keep us fenced in around our camps most of the time and getting out of sight of camp wasn't always possible. You either got used to bathing in front of others or you stayed dirty. I chose bathing and trying to keep my eyes focused towards the river.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Day Ten: Elves Chasm

Lower Falls: Elves Chasm

I woke this morning to a sky filled with clouds but rapidly clearing out. By mid-morning, they were gone. After a breakfast of grapefruit, eggs, bacon and English muffins, we struck camp and shoved off for a day of mild whitewater, comparatively speaking of course. The hard black schist and granite are behind and we are now in the softer Topeats layer that tends to smooth out the rapids. Around mid-morning, we pulled in near the mouth of Elves Chasm and after switching into footgear, set off up the canyon. The mouth of the canyon is arid desert and has been painted in colors of gray and brown. Inside the canyon proper, much brighter colors were used and it was a lush green dotted with lots of wildflowers like yellow columbine (the yellow version of my personal favorite flower that I love in blue), globe mallow, scarlet monkey and red orchids.

Perhaps 95% of the people who visit Elves Chasm only visit the main falls and don't go any higher. Most likely that figure is even higher and that is just fine with me. A thing of such beauty should only be seen by those who can physically make it because in my experience, they are the ones who are likely to leave it the way they found it and not those who simply ride in on horse back or drive up it in their vehicle. Getting up and around the main falls requires sure-footed legs and no fear of big exposures. At times, my legs trembled at the prospect of only being six inches away from a huge drop onto rocks below but with patience, I was always able to persuade them to take another step. Further up it required a belly crawl on an overhung ledge giving one a real sense of what it is like to be a snake. I remembered Edward Abbey writing about doing this very same belly crawl at this point and I was honored to have been in the same spot, perhaps choking on the very same dust that was being kicked up during the slither.

Eventually, the few of us that made it this far, came to what appeared to be a dead end in a hollowed out section of rock with a huge boulder leaning against it. But where that boulder meets the cliff some eight feet in the air, there is a narrow opening of sorts. By standing on my tiptoes and reaching up through the opening, I was able to get a good handhold and pull myself up by brute strength alone. Only five of us, three of them crew members made it past this obsticle. Further up the canyon, I was forced to blindly reach around a boulder perched on the top of a thirty-foot drop off to find another handhold. With my arm essentially belaying the rest of my body, I leaned back to get enough pressure on my feet to friction walk the shear face around a corner and to the safety of another ledge. Definitely not for the faint of heart. Had it not been for the crew members who had been here before and could talk us through where the "holds" were, I wouldn't have made it this far.
Yellow Columbine


The last obstacle, which wasn't really and obsticle, was a "doorway" formed by huge bolders obscuring everything beyond. Bronco paused briefly to say that it is tradition that no words be spoken beyond this passageway and once inside in what has been called the "green room" or "weeping wall," I could see why. There, your route is once again rimmed in by a half bowl ledge of red rock over which the water spreads out some fifty feet and seeps over the lip to fall and trickle down thirty feet of moss and wildflowers to the green pool below. Yellow columbine and red monkey flowers were everywhere. Magical is the only word to describe a place of such beauty. For twenty minutes, I sat completely entranced watching the hummingbirds flitting around sipping nectar from the scarlet monkey flowers. I sat in silence, never blinking, never moving, never enjoying myself so much as I was then. As if on cue, we sensed that our time in this sacred place had run out and we silently made our way back to where we had left the group. Only later after we found them did I realize that I hadn't taken one single photograph of the weeping wall. Its beauty had been so great, it had lulled to sleep my photographic instincts.

Back down at the mouth of the canyon, we munched some lunch of pita bread sandwhiches and assorted vegetables and cheeses in what shade we could fine and pushed on downriver to the mouth of Blacktail Canyon at mile 120. After pitching camp, the entire group hiked up the canyon a couple hundred yards to a nice waterfall and a pool where the river rim rocked us in. There, while crew member Elena gave a geology lecture, I searched for a comfortable spot on a rock shelf and laid down letting the coolness of the rock remove the day's heat from my body. The next thing I can remember is waking up an hour later as people were starting to file away from the now ended lecture. I offered a sheepish apology to Elena and she fully understood. It happens to the best now and then.
Scarlet Monkey Flower

Now fully refreshed, I hiked with a couple of the crew who were my age up to the top of the Topeats layer where we had a nice view of camp below and the river. Sitting there sipping a river cooled beer, we were kings on a throne over looking our kingdom and what a magnificent one at that. We watched another private group eddy out where our boats were evidently intent on camping right where we were. After much confusion and looking at maps, they pulled out and headed on downstream to destinations unknown. When I had finished my beer, I hiked down wanting to clean the grime from the last couple days and little did I know that I would take part in the great nude bathing incident which I will blog about next.

Cleaned (and now fully clothed), I found a big flat rock on the water's edge and watched the sun sink behind the downstream rim in brilliant oranges and pinks. After a supper of fish fajitas and pineapple upside down cake, everyone retired as usual except for the crew and myself. We remained behind to swap tales and to admire the stars and the nearly full moon. The shadows cast off the cliffs by the moonlight is absolutely stunning and later is felt like trying to sleep with a car light shining in your face. But the gurgle of the river passing by my patch of sand among some rocks out on a point in the river finally lured me to sleep. The trip is exactly half over.
Blacktail Canyon

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Quest For the Perfect Barbeque

Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue

I've eaten lots of good barbecue over the years and some of it close to perfect, but I've never found what I have deemed the perfect barbeque. I've found the perfect sauce and the perfect rack of ribs cooked to perfection but never combined. So in that lull of days between Christmas and New Years when most people work and Mrs. Abbey and I have off, we decided to go on some sort of mini-vacation to kill some time and get away from the home. We kicked around a lot of ideas before finally agreeing to head to Kansas City in search of the perfect barbecue.

We set off one morning and pulled into the plaza area of Kansas City where the number one barbeque place was said to be according to numerous critiques; Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbeque. We opted to go there for lunch since it was a pretty upscale place and we wanted to save money in these tough times. Splitting our orders to maximize our culinary experience, my wife order the BBQ pork ribs and BBQ chicken while I got the BBQ Burnt Ends plate which consisted of chunks of pork and beef.

The sauce was excellent though it still placed second to my all time favorite sauce Cookies Original BBQ sauce. The meat in all forms, was good but a little tougher than I would have expected for a top BBQ place. I suspect it was because we were eating there for lunch and were receiving the lesser grade stuff with the highest grade stuff getting served for supper. Even though it wasn't what I would classify as the perfect BBQ and probably ranks toward the middle of my top ten list, it was still far superior to anything I could get back in SE Iowa where I live and thus well worth the visit.
Mrs Abbey's Chosun Korean Barbeque

Many hours later after spending an afternoon visiting the Kansas City Zoo, checking into our motel in Overland Park across the state line, keeping an eye out for a Toyota truck but never spotting any despite driving by its suburban stable, and visiting a Bass Pro Shop to see the stuffed fauna, we finally felt hungry enough to try round two of our search for the perfect BBQ.

This time we widened our search to asian BBQ and ate at Chosun Korean BBQ in Overland Park, Kansas. Mrs. Abbey deviated to other foods but I kept true and ordered some Spicy Pork BBQ with onions and peppers. It soon arrived with a half dozen other dishes served family style and I dug in with my chopsticks. It was exquisite and perfectly spiced in every way. I alternated between chopstick fulls of the spiced pork, steamed rice, pickled tofu, picked cucumbers and radishes with some onions, pickled fish cake flakes, pickled kimchi and radishes in some sort of red sauce. As with perfectly spiced, spicy food, I couldn't stop eating until it was all gone. When we had finished, they brought out a drink that looked like weak tea but turned out to be a sweet rice water that was extremely refreshing after so much spicy food. Little Abbey gulped hers down almost before I got mine to my lips.
My Chosun Korean Barbeque

Although it isn't the classical barbeque that I was in search for and thus not the perfect BBQ, I would highly recommend this restaurant to all and will definitely stop back the next time I am in the area. The next day, we visited several more places but due to a cranky Little Abbey, we didn't find a third BBQ place to eat at and instead found an Olive Garden where we had a $50 gift certificate to use up and ate there before working our way north.

I didn't find the perfect BBQ but I did find two places that are definitely worthy of stopping by if you are in the area. I'm glad I didn't succeed in my quest because that allows me to continue it and will hopefully take me to lots more BBQ places in the future.
Sweet Rice Water

Monday, January 5, 2009

Attending a Huge Social Occasion in Rural Iowa

It was one of the more spectacular sunsets I have seen in a long long time. This is partly due to living in town where sunsets are obscured by your neighbors house but mostly because it was truly a spectacular sunset. Almost a third of the sky was a brilliant orange and another third was various shades of pink. As I drove south alone, I had a hard time concentrating on the road instead of looking always to the right. It was a shame that house after house that I passed was empty. In fact, probably most of the southern west corner of the county was empty. Where were they? They were all where I was heading, at the visitation for a former neighbor of mine and father of some close friends.

Richard was the father of the other two boys in my graduating class. There were only three of us boys and the other two were fraternal twins. On a side note, there was also one of the five girls in our class of eight also there so with half our class there, it would have been almost like a mini-reunion had it not been for Richard's death. He had a heart attack while driving and ended up hitting a concrete bridge railing head on. The coroner and witnesses to the accident have surmised that he was dead before hitting the railing so it was a quick way to go and nobody else was hurt. You can't ask for anything more than that.

In the very rural area of Iowa where I grew up, there are no bigger social occasions than when a disaster strikes or someone dies. More than once I have been to a house or barn fire where half the county stands and talks with the owners while the volunteer fire department puts out the fire. In this case, it was a death and since I knew the man of honor and his sons well, I decided I needed to show up. I saw people I haven't seen in twenty years and I spent a long time talking and laughing with everyone before I got through the receiving line and started on the long drive back home.

I hadn't made any new year resolutions because that has never been my sort of thing to do but on the way home, I resolved that I should make an attempt to contact all seven of my former classmates and set up some sort of reunion this year. Its been seventeen years and I'm sure we all have stories to tell. With the older generation of farmers dying out and almost gone now, there won't be too many more social occasions where we can all meet up.

Friday, January 2, 2009

A Sledding Story


Although my part of the world gets its fair share of snow, it is often not the right kind of snow for sledding. Early in the season we get snow but never a base that builds up so steel runnered sleds cut through to the earth underneath. Later in the season when we do get a base, it is often icy which makes for fast sledding but very tough hiking to get back to the top of the hill. This sledding story that I'm about to tell you happened during the latter part of the sledding season.

As a kid, our normal sledding hill was a rarely used dirt road but the road had been mudded up by hunters during the wet fall and the surface was rutted and full of clumps of dirt which made the surface less than ideal. So instead we opted to go to the Wellen Farm, which has a large hay field on a steep hill that sloped down to an unnamed seasonal creek at the bottom. The hill was a dome of icy snow and perfectly free of any imperfections. My brother got on the front of the sled and slipping and sliding I pushed until we started over the cusp of the hill and hopped onto the back.

More weight equals more speed and we were speed junkies. However, whatever part of the brain that allows someone to be a speed junky also turns off the powers to reason things through, at least initially. We were halfway down the hill and going approximately Mach 2.34 when I realized that perhaps we should have thought things out before launching. There was no way except for a hot day in hell that could instantly melt the snow that we were going to get stopped before we launched over the twelve foot undercut banks of the creek at the bottom. As our eyes blurred in the self-created wind, I didn't think we would even be done accelerating before we hit the bank of the creek.

I contemplated bailing off but reasoned (funny how I started doing that after starting downhill) that I would be lucky if all I broke was my arm. I didn't have the courage but fortunately, fate intervened and solved my indecision. We hit a cow pie. Yes I did say it had been perfectly free from imperfections, or at least as we drove by on the gravel road beside the field towards the gate at the top. An icy white mound covering a cow pie in an all white field of white is hard to spot but we hit it dead on with our sled.

The sled left the field and went sailing through the air with my brother and I still hanging on for all we were worth. I'm sure we set long jump sledding records that day because it seemed like forever before we came crashing back down to earth. The sled hit and bounced off to one side sending me flying. I hit the ground on my stomach taking my breath away and continued to skid down the hill at breathtaking speed. I managed to get my arms out in front of me to try and get some sort of grip on the snow but to little avail. Only because the front of my jacket with me in it had more surface area and traction that the bottom of the sled's runners did I begin to slow down. After an eternity of sliding, I came to a halt some forty feet from the creek bed.

I got up and went running towards the bank where I presumed my brother had rode the sled off because both he and the sled were nowhere to be seen. I wasn't prepared for the carnage that I saw. The sled was impaled into the opposite bank of the creek some twenty feet from where I was now standing and I could see the outline of where my brother had hit above it like something you would see on the cartoons. My brother had either bounced or peeled off the bank and slid down on top of the creek ice ten feet below where he lay motionless. By the time I got to him, he had sat up and announced that he was okay but that I sure was bleeding a lot. I looked down and for the first time noticed that my gloves had been chewed away by the icy snow along with about eight inches of skin from my wrist to below the elbow. Thankfully do to the ice, I could feel no pain and we started laughing like madmen there in the bottom of the creek, my brother holding his head and me bleeding all over everywhere.

We made it up out of the creek and while my brother pulled the sled, I staunched the bleeding with handfuls of icy snow as we climbed the hill and went home. To this day, I still bear faint scars on my right wrist from that day. I would say we learned a lesson that day but I'm not sure we did. Instead we talked about how little of a ramp would be necessary on the near side to allow us to jump the entire creek all together. Fortunately we didn't get any more icy conditions like that during childhood and the mortality that comes with aging prevented us from ever finding out.