Nine Mile Creek

A few weekends ago, I planned a short visit to Central Utah in search of new rock art sites. Being based in Colorado, most of my exploration has been limited to Southeast Utah near Moab, Canyonlands, and Cedar Mesa. My motivation for exploring this new area was seeing some interesting and unfamiliar pictographs in Polly Schaafsma’s The Rock Art of Utah. So I decided on making Green River, Utah a home base for the long weekend, and focusing my search beyond the reef in the San Rafael Swell region, starting in Nine Mile Canyon. My two big takeaways from this trip are that petroglyphs can be just as impressive and awe-inspiring as their pictograph counterparts, and that the rock art in Central Utah is abundant – well deserving of repeat visits.

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East Inlet, Rocky Mountain National Park

Despite feeling familiar with Rocky Mountain National Park, I have only visited the side West of the Continental Divide a few of times. Compared to the popular Bear Lake Corridor – closer to Estes Park – the west side sees far fewer visitors. The trails on this side are also often longer, warranting an overnight stay to truly feel acquainted with them. One of these trails is the East Inlet trail outside of Grand Lake, and my only prior experience here was visiting the first of a series of lakes in this basin, back in 2020. At the time it was late May, and snow prevented any exploration past this first lake. I remember being impressed then, and made a mental note to one day hopefully return.

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The iconic Crystal Mill, standing since 1892

Since moving back to Colorado after my time as a nomad, I have prioritized exploring places I didn’t get around to the first time I lived here. One of these areas is the West Elk Mountains around Marble and Crystal, Colorado, and in early July I decided to visit a friend who lives in the range – down near Carbondale, Colorado. This trip reminded me that Colorado has so much to offer, and that even after five or six cumulative years in the state, I can still be surprised by new experiences and adventures.

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Holy Ghost Group, Great Gallery; Canyonlands

MotivatioN

I have admired Utah’s canyon country since first visiting Arches National Park with my brother almost six years ago. After moving to Colorado in 2017, this love deepened; I made annual trips to the Moab area for New Years, exploring new places in southern Utah, from Canyonlands to Capitol Reef. My first visit to the Needles District in Canyonlands left a big impression on me, placing the park as “number one” on my list of favorites. Something about its maze-like sandstone spires felt like an endless playground, and each time I return I am reminded of this feeling.

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The first adventure outing of mine during my solo stay in Cortez, Colorado was to Sheiks Canyon out in Cedar Mesa. Truthfully, this hike was a backup plan – decided upon at the very last moment. My original plans were to join a guided hike in the Needles District of Canyonlands, but a bad winter storm rolled through. I was staying in Monticello, and decided to hunker down the night before the hike in a warm hotel. When I woke up before dawn to head north on U.S. Highway 191, I found a line of semi trucks parked on slick and iced over roads. They were so icy that I almost spun out on control going only twenty or so miles per hour.

Remnants of green foliage at the bottom of the canyon
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View from atop SC1

After having visited Salt Creek Canyon in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park for the first time in May, I returned twice; this time in the fall. While I had expected the landscape to dull out this late into the season, I was instead met with dramatic weather, fully-grown flora, and an almost “second spring”, as new wildflowers littered the ground after the heavy rains of monsoon season. It reassured me that any time is a great time to visit this canyon, and I am grateful to have witnessed it at a later time in the year. I am on the fence as to whether spring or fall is preferable – I will admit that the weather at this time of year is much more pleasant. In May I had to start my hike early to avoid 90 degree weather later in the afternoon; in October we essentially started hiking around noon.

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The past two months in Ouray, Colorado, I have thought a lot about the intersection of the natural and technological world. The title of this entry asks the question: “living for whom?”, as it is one that I often ask whenever I have the almost automatic impulse to post something online, after experiencing something in nature.

Me, soaking in the magic at one of my favorite places.

I just got back from an incredible backpacking trip with my brother a few days ago. My typical routine when returning from such trips is to take a day to let everything simmer, then browse through all the photos on my iPhone – culling potential content to post to my Instagram story. This time, however, I felt more comfortable staying in that place where I let things simmer. It is in this place that I am able to integrate such wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime memories that I created with my brother.

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Casa Grande bathing in dawn sunlight, from the ascent of Lost Mine Peak

Big Bend holds a special place in my heart, as it was where I had my first National Park camping experience, shortly after moving to Dallas. I went with a group of co-workers in the same rotational program I was in – we were a close-knit bunch and I have fond memories of that trip. I returned later that year with some college friends who also happened to live in Texas, which only cemented my passion for this park.

Ever since those two visits, I have remembered how much Big Bend has to offer. With 1,200 square miles of pristine wilderness, it would take too many trips to see the whole thing. During my stay in Marfa in January of 2022, I visited Big Bend three times; I simply could not get enough. And as with many places, I have discovered just how much more is waiting to be explored.

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View from the top of Sugarloaf Mountain, during a terrific sunset

WONDERLAND OF ROCKS

Last winter I stayed in Marfa, Texas during the month of January. When February rolled around, it was time to transition to a new place called Bisbee – a small and historic mining town down in Southeast Arizona. Southeast Arizona is known for its “sky islands”, or regions of isolated mountains surrounded by a “sea” of otherwise barren and desolate desert. While I had not learned the term until my stay in Arizona, I had technically visited one in the Chisos Mountains of Big Bend National Park in Far West Texas.

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A cactus forest brimming with biodiversity

This post is about a visit to Organ Pipe Cactus Monument in late February, 2022. It was written months later, in May 2022.

Organ Pipe National Monument is truly one of America’s treasures. It is famous for its concentration of Organ Pipe Cactus – rare in the United States, but common in the Sonora and Baja California regions of Mexico, our neighbor to the south. The cactus is named for its resemblance to the pipe organ, a musical instrument found in many churches, cathedrals, and concert halls. The last time I remember seeing a pipe organ was in the campus auditorium of my alma mater, the University of Florida. While I can appreciate its namesake, I personally associate the Organ Pipe Cactus with something more aquatic… The wavy manner in which the cactus’ arms reach to the sky remind me of something that should be underwater, like an octopus or a squid. In any case, this particular cactus is a sight to behold – it is unlike any plant you have ever seen.

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