Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The White Rim Road

I have been to Canyonlands National Park a number of times. There's lots of very high viewpoints, looking deep into the canyons. Of course I wanted to get down there and explore. Just as soon as I had enough time. Dead Horse Point State Park is right next to Canyonlands and it has one of the best views in the area. See that road down there it's called White Rim Road. 100 miles of 'off-roading', meaning you need a couple of days to do it and camp down there.

So I dropped by the Park office and got my camping permits. I also got lots of dire warnings from the rangers about rockfalls and ice on the road and questions about do I have enough fuel to get back out the way I came if I get blocked. 100 miles or so doesn't sound very much and on the normal road I'm getting a range of about 500 miles. But when you go off-road fuel consumption skyrockets. On a steep hill in 4Lo I've seen it go under 5MPG, at which rate I wouldn't make it round. So it totally depends on road conditions. I didn't want to have to buy extra fuel canisters, so I thought I'd wing it.

One of the campsites came highly recommended by the Park Ranger because it had the tree! The only facilities were what you brought with you. This campsite had a rock.

Alot of the road is fairly smooth gravel, but there are some very interesting spots where 4Lo is very handy. When it's very steep and rough, crawling along slowly is the only way to go.

Sometimes it doesn't look like there's enough road for even one car. Plenty of river though. That's the Green river, the biggest tributary of the Colorado.

But why is it called the White Rim Road? Seems like there's more red than anything else, right? Well here's another view of it from above...

If you like you isolation, I can highly recommend this trip, I saw one other 4x4 and 2 bikes in three days. Take a copy of Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" with you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Wish I'd Ignored my Geography Teacher

My last exam in Geography (a long long time ago) was the worst exam I ever did. My sole remaining memory of the course was learning why Heathrow Airport was located where it was over and over again. But if he'd taken me to places where Geography came more alive I'd probably have pursued it further. The desert South West is somewhere every budding Geographer/Geologist should be taken.

If you have difficulty believing there are huge forces involved, there's Waterpocket Fold, where the strata have been broken and forced above the surface. You can drive along it for miles, although the best views are from the air.

If you have difficulty believing water can erode the landscape dramatically over eons giving us the Grand Canyon. There are smaller versions such as this in Canyonlands National Park, where you can 'help' the process if you trip over the wrong rock.

The whiter rock on top is the hard stuff, and the red rock is is like a very soft sandstone. Note the columns on the left where the red rock is eroding underneath the white, eventually the whole thing completely collapses.

On the way it creates some wonderful shapes.

But as you wander about taking photos, you can't really tell what is underneath you. Every now and then you realise you've crossed a crack like this. Any stones you drop in just completely disappear. So does mean you're standing on one of those columns?

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Wave

Well enough commentary on the 4x4, time for it to get me out there and see the world.

One of the most famous photography Spot in the Desert South West is The Wave. Not known by everyone, but serious Nature photographers pretty much all know it.

It is a whole area of the Coyotes Buttes region in Northern Arizona, just full of weird and wonderful rock formation. Many of them petrified sands dunes like the wave.

These two girls had come a long way to try and get in, but access is limited to 20 per day, with 10 available by lottery the day before. They'd been staying in the area for days trying each day to get in. The day I was there, they finally got in and screamed the place down.

The Wave is a major focal point of the area, but it is full of many other weird and wonderful rock formations.

Car Camping (in the car)

I was pleased to find the 4Runner is big enough to sleep in. Either put the front seat down flat, or flip the back seat down. I've never actually slept in a car before, always setting up a tent, even when I couldn't see where I was. I presumed I'd need curtains or something to even get to sleep.

So somewhere in the wilds of Utah I found this spot and got out a few home comforts ...

Yep, I'm camping in luxury these days, with table and chair! Always had beer of course.

Note the table was specially selected to be compatible with the 22 year old Trangia Stove. Meaning it doesn't burn easily.

Later on the advantage of having windows in my tent really struck home.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Using ALL Those Buttons

So I headed out to the White Mountains to see the Bristlecone Pines. This time I'm headed directly for the Upper Grove which is along enough of a dirt track to stop my M3 - believe me I've tried. One of the reasons I knew I needed to go back to a 4x4.

The usual route up their from the town of Bishop is to go roughly 15 miles south then 15 miles east on the highway then 15 miles north, alot of it on dirt roads. Then I found another option - going directly east for about 15 miles. The difference is that the climb is very steep and on a dirt road - Awesome!

So I get to use all of the buttons on my new truck...

The green icon means 4x4, yes it seems like everyone has that these days. "4 Lo" - is an extra low gearbox for pulling up steep hills or heavy engine breaking, and is the big differentiator between car-like AWDs and 'real' 4x4s and the main reason I went for a heavier truck rather than one of those modern mall-terrain vehicles. Below that is the diff-lock on icon, meaning there should be less wheel spin. "VSC OFF" means Vehicle Stability Control Off - ie. you're in charge now. The "D" for those in the UK means 'go forwards and wake me up when we get there' in American ;-)).

The start of the trail was quite innocuous, although it did include a few surprise river (well stream) crossings. Then I passed a National Forest sign requiring "4 Lo" and "High Clearance" for the second half. It suddenly got really steep, with big drops to the side - well the route description did say "Exhilarating". It certainly was. I wasn't even stopping to take a photo.

At the top of the very steepest part the view was superb. That's the valley below, and you can just see the trail near the left edge by the dark hill. Tough to show just how steep it is in a photo (from above, anyway).

I have to say I was pretty impressed with the 4Runner, the trail was similar to some of the Land Rover driving we'd been doing in Costa Rica. I'd say it handled the trail just as well, and with more comfort too. It will be interesting to see how well the engine braking compares on the downhills. (I went home the easy way as it was dark.)

By the way there is another button I haven't mention - more to come later. Just a hint - It's why I bought a new(ish) 4Runner and finally accepted an Automatic.

M3 9538 points, 4Runner 11800 points

A few years ago when I bought my convertible, my little brother scoffed at what he saw as a City Slickers car (who me?). So I sent him a picture like this (but with the convertible in the same spot). It shut him up for a coupla minutes.

Ellery Lake just the other side of Yosemite, 9538 ft high.

I got both of them up in to the White Mountains to see the Bristlecones...

Trees so ancient they used them to correct Carbon Dating. There's 2 groves of them, the Schulmann Grove then the Patriarch Grove, higher up. The road to the Schulmann Grove is paved, so they both got there no probs. I tried to get the M3 further up but the pavement stops and the road gets quite bumpy. I got so far but the amount of rocks bouncing off the underside made me stop and turn around.
No such problems with the 4Runner of course. I had made it up to the Patriarch Grove in 2001 in my Jeep, but I'd stopped on the way to catch Sunset light on trees on the way up, and arrived in the dark.

In fact I got quite a bit further, all the way to 11800 ft, right to the start of the trail to the top of White Mountain. It's nice to be able to go anywhere again.

In this case those points don't mean prizes - they're vertical feet.