Thursday, November 5, 2009

Winter (catch-up part II)

OK, hopefully this entry will get me back up to date, or at least close to it.

With the snow flurries in Page, I entered winter weather for a few days. That next day out of Page was by far the coldest yet; I'm sure it didn't get out of the 30's all day-at least it wasn't snowing on me! I rode nearly six hours and 70 miles straight that morning because each time I tried to stop I froze instantly. Once I finally found a gas station I went in and spent at least an hour trying to thaw out and eat. Two people even offered to give me a ride, of course I had no where to get a ride to as I'm not ready tot give into a motel just yet. Luckily I found a decently hidden camp that night where I could relax a little and wait for things to warm up a bit the next morning. Though I didn't get any more snow the next few days, my water bottles were frozen each morning and I spent all day in leggings, booties, jacket and gloves.

View from the road

Disappointed to have missed out on so much of southern Utah, I made my way back in for an abbreviated version of what I had hoped to do. Riding up through Monument Valley to Utah was a treat, wide open spaces with random rock spires and such.

Monument Valley

Then, headed for Natural Bridges National Monument, I rode a quiet back road that turned out to be one of my favorites. Signs warned me of 10% slopes and gravel road ahead; a German couple stopped me to try and disway me from going that way. Stubborn as usual, I just smiled and told them I'd walk me bike if need be. As I rode further and starred at the cliff ahead, I searched for the way up but was clueless. Once I reached the bottom and the road turned to gravel I understood why; it was super narrow and wound in tight switchbacks up the cliff. Luckily it was mostly hard-packed dirt and I was able to enjoy the climb enormously. It gave an incredible view of the valley below and then topped out on a flat mesa covered in juniper with a view of snowy mountains in the distance. I was in haven! This also made for a great camping spot, and being BLM land I even even legal for the first time in quite awhile!

View of the switchbacks

Mesa with mountains

Natural Bridges came next. I saw two NOLS groups-one just heading out and the other part way through their canyoneering sections. From what I'd seen of the area I was ready to join them. Natural Bridges is a small monument, but filled with canyons, three large bridges, and Anasazi ruins. I enjoyed the walks to the bridges and saw some very neat petroglyphs up close.

Canyon with natural bridge

Bridge view

Continuing through southern Utah, I was constantly impressed by the views and canyons that cut around me. I started to fall in love with some of the BLM land out there and am seriously considering moving to the area for awhile (though summers would probably kill me). There is just so much to explore that a trip through, or even a few week vacation, isn't near enough time. Southern Utah now tops my list for places to hurry back to.

Anasazi ruins on BLM land

The morning I slept under the "welcome to Utah" sign off the road, my poor frozen bike. This did not make me excited about mounting it this morning.

Back on the Navajo Reservation and in Arizona, I rode to Canyon De Chelly National Monument. This are is unique in that although it's a National Monument, its still lived in and worked by the Navajo. Cows scattered across the bottom of the canyon and houses were all over the canyon rim. At each overlook, people had spreads of their jewelry and artwork. Being on the Reservation, you can only go to one little area in the canyon, otherwise just to overlooks-you must have a guide to do anything else. I was able to get great views, see some ruins and enjoyed hiking through the sandstone down to White House Ruins.

View of Canyon de Chelly

White House Ruins

Nice cottonwoods on the valley floor

At the grocery store on my way out of Chinle (town next to Canyon de Chelly), I drew a bit of an unwanted crowd-mostly drunk ( I later found out this is a dry reservation). One guy made me sign his t-shirt with "world champion" underneath. From another, I learned that the Spanish built the ancient structuresn south America using native slaves, I should take a train across Russia, then get my commercial drivers licence (a ten wheel will do) to drive to China, the Dali Lama is a thief and China is helping Tibet, that Prince Andrew and another British royal are doing an unsupported charity ride in the US (he hung out in these types of circles), and much more-he was difficult to get away from through had entertaining theories on everything.

Next stop was Petrified Forest National Park. After riding 75 miles there and arriving at 2:30, i was informed this was a day-use park and I had to ride the 28mile road and be out by 5pm. So, although unintentional, this ended up being my first century of the trip (and longest ride ever at 106 miles). Fortunately, much of the last 50 miles were flat and fast, but I still had to race through the park. Two rangers stopped me to make sure I knew I had to be out, one calling me "sir" which I'm getting tired of. I was able to see some nice views of the Painted Desert, some ruins and petroglyphs (from a telescope), but didn't have time to see much of the petrified wood. As a raced out of the park and started searching for a place to camp close by in order to return the next morning, all I saw was flat, grassy land. I thought it would be another one of those nights I've come to dread where I can't hide my tent of the life of me and spend an uncomfortable night with very early morning. However, to me pleasant surprise, right outside the park was a sign that read "free camping" outside a gift shop. This was excellent, though no water or bathrooms, it was a safe, convenient place to camp and even had a picnic table. Having been so log without a table I felt quite civilized cooking dinner that night!

Painted Desert

Back in the park the next morning, I rode to the Rainbow Forest area to see all the petrified wood. In the visitor's center, I met Jonathan. Having been awhile since I'd had a good conversation with someone in person, I was really nice to talk with him and we ended up walking around the area together. The petrified wood is so cool! The colors are unbelievable! Thinking about how this land that's now just grass used to be swamp land with huge trees is mind-blowing.

Petrified Wood

Rainbow Forest Area. (Look, all the woods been bucked already!)

There are some big trees (now stones) there!

Alright, that takes me to Holbrook where I wrote the last post. I didn't bring my camera chord in so can't get pics of this next section so I'll add them next time. I do have to say, I'm back in forest with real trees and it's so nice! I did have a coyote circling me last night that I had to scare off a few times (and with an article headlined "Death by Coyote" that my mom had just sent me, but hadn't had a chance to read yet, made for not the best sleep. The weather is great though and I'll be able to enjoy trees for another two days I think, then back to desert.

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