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Monday, March 30, 2009

Western extremes

It's a good distraction for me to write about our trip while I anxiously wait for news about S's health. I talked with an experienced vet from our regular vet hospital today, and she offered a more optimistic view than the emergency vet. In her view, the good news is that an infection set in yesterday. In her long experience, it's not common for an infection to accompany an anal sac cancerous tumor. So, it's conceivable that S has a treatable condition. Although her assessment helped buoy me, all of us are nervously awaiting the biopsy results. Yet again, we're being reminded to savor each day with our dogs.

As I write, I'm sitting next to a fire, as winter has gripped the Front Range again. It's ironic to be sorting through desert photos while immersed in a snowy and cold landscape. Earlier today, I rode my snowbike over deep crusty snow. Temperatures skied to 50 degrees yesterday and then plummeted to the mid-teens this morning. Those extremes set up a perfect snowpack for snow biking!

After our Fruita area adventures, we had a wild and windy drive to Moab. We took Highway 128 that follows the Colorado River with looming red cliffs on either side. The river canyon funneled a whirling, gusting, and destructive west wind. Swirling and looming clouds of dust obscured the view of the river and cliffs. Tents erected in riverside campgrounds were being pummeled and shredded by the wind.

Red sandy dust clouds blocked the sun so that it felt like a storm cloud hovered over us. In fact, few actual clouds marred the sky - just red dust. The scene was so freaky that I forgot to take any photos. Also, we were worrying about where to spend the night because forecasters predicted sand drifting that could close desert roads and rain showers that could turn red dust into impassable gooey clay.

We stopped at the Visitor's Center where the prevailing advice was 'Do Not Camp' - go to a hotel. We didn't heed that advice but headed for a developed campground where being stuck in sand drifts or mud seemed unlikely. We planned to dive into undeveloped areas the next day.

We holed up in our van and watched a psychedelic sunset as the van shook and shimmied in the gusting wind and the sound of sand blasting the van almost overwhelmed us.Two members of our pack told secrets to tease the rest of us.The wind dwindled to a stiff breeze overnight, and we headed straight for a dramatic canyon-side campsite in the morning. Once we arrived, K and I geared up for what I expected would be rollicking fun ride in the cool weather. Alas, K's boots terrified her so much that she visibly shook - even though she's worn them before. Then, when I started to ride, she repeatedly stopped and finally refused to budge. To make sure that the boots were the terror-inducing culprit, I tried taking them off - and she sprinted ahead as if I'd relieved her of a 2 ton weight that she'd been hauling up the canyon.

Unfortunately, I knew that bare-pawed running wasn't a viable long-term option because the slickrock would scrape the leather off her paw pads. So, we did short and sweet rides each morning (sans boots), trying to avoid the slickrock that surrounded us. Some of K's irrational fearful behaviors have recently reemerged. Last summer, they disappeared almost magically after we fixed her low thyroid condition. I think that I need to get her thyroid levels rechecked - after we get through our current veterinary crisis.

During our rides, the red cliffs towered over us. Junipers, pinyon pines, paintbrush, and Newberry's Twinpod flowers eked out an existence in the shallow patches of cryptosoil that punctuated the otherwise endless expanse of rock.Our young lab, R, didn't like his boots either. However, once his passion for running kicked in, he happily joined my husband on trail runs. As I watched them depart from our campsite for a run, they looked tiny compared to the grandiose red cliffs.
When we explored the area around our campsite that evening, we saw that people had inhabited these harsh canyons thousands of years ago and left us petroglyphs to enjoy. It felt mysteriously eerie to be standing in the same place as our ancient ancestors. The petroglyphs combined with the landscape accentuated the feeling that I'm an inconsequential tiny being in the history of the Earth.The winds blasted each evening. They blew away everything that wasn't anchored down, including large metal dog bowls filled with water. It was impossible to prepare dinner outdoors because anything that we didn't hold with an iron grip blew eastward. But, each morning dawned much calmer, allowing us to play in the canyons.

On the last day, I did a point-to-point ride and met my pack on a road across the canyonland. I savored one last view from our campsite near Courthouse Rock and pedaled off.I followed a Rim Trail, teetering on the edge of cliffs but seeing incredible 360 degree views. The faraway and snowy La Sal mountains contrasted with the imposing red rock formations.
I looked across the canyon and saw towers of red rock - the 'Determination Towers'.I descended from the rim and had 1.2 miles of deep sand to reach my destination of the Monitor and Merrimac buttes. I foundered, swerved, stalled, walked, and sometimes pedaled to them. I saw lots of cacti plus rabbit, fox, and perhaps bobcat tracks.While I passed between the buttes, I glided easily on red rock and felt like a tiny speck in our spectacular world.
I marveled at the tough juniper and pinyon pine trees surviving and even flourishing against the cliffs of the buttes.After passing between the buttes, it was about 3.5 miles downhill to our meeting place. When I planned the ride, I assumed that I'd glide down in a short time. But, I didn't count on dunes of wind-drifted sand covering the trail (see right photo). I wished for my Fatback snow bike since the wide tires might have floated across the sand. Alas, those few miles took almost an hour with lots of trudging next to my bike. Fortunately, my husband and dogs didn't abandon their chronically late mountain biker.

We spent the rest of that day driving to the wintery world of Aspen, where we winter camped in our van and visited family. In a few hours, we traveled from sand drifts to snow drifts. What a day!

As a former East Coaster, I never cease to be awed by the extremes, the wildness, and the expansive landscape of the west. This is where I belong.


  1. Awesome views! I hope your findings with S turn out to be okay.

  2. I'm still keeping my fingers crossed for S - I hope that you get some good news soon! And for K, too. I had a friend whose dog had thyroid issues, and her meds needed to be adjusted periodically throughout her life. Hopefully a little dose adjustment will put K right back on track. Beautiful vacation pics!

  3. Poor K and the mean, awful booties. I'm glad she bounced back when you took them off. That's a good sign.


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