Friday, February 16, 2018

Hiking to Utah’s Toadstool Hoodoos in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

An impromptu weekend roadtrip last fall took me from Phoenix north to the Arizona-Utah border, where I split my time between Kanab, Utah, and Page, Arizona. U.S. Highway 89 runs between Kanab and Page—two of the most isolated towns in the country—passing through some of the most desolate, stunning scenery on the way.

U.S. 89 also skirts the southern edge of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, a national park that basically acts as a preserve of all the federally-owned land between Bryce Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. A roadside pull-off led me right inside the park boundaries to the Toadstool Hoodoos, otherworldly formations eroded from the rock by wind, rain, and snow.

Toadstool Hoodoos, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The hoodoo
Because the park spans so much of far-southern Utah, it’s difficult to grasp what exactly it contains. Most folks typically split it up into wedge-shaped thirds. The western section encompasses the Grand Staircase, a vast domain of successive plateaus that abruptly end in white, red, or brown cliffs, giving way to one geological layer after another in a south-to-north stairstep fashion: a staircase on the scale of the gods.

Sandwiched in the middle rises the Kaiparowits Plateau, a rugged landscape that silently guards fossils—and fossil fuels. Although it’s the perfect destination for those keen on desolate backcountry adventures, the plateau has somewhere around nine billion tons of coal deposits, putting it at the epicenter of the American West’s decades-old fight between resource extraction and natural conservation. The Toadstool Hoodoos balance precariously at the foothills of the Kaiparowits, their future uncertain in a monument whose boundaries were drastically reduced by the Trump administration.

To the east flows the Escalante River and its tributaries. This is slot canyon country, where backpackers whisper the names of claustrophobia-inducing narrows like “Spooky Gulch” and “Peek-a-Boo Canyon.” Perhaps one day I’ll have enough courage to risk death-by-flash-flood and squeeze between the vermilion walls of these slot canyons, but for now, I’m content with day hikes to see hoodoos.

Toadstool Hoodoos, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
More hoodoo

Monday, February 5, 2018

Photo Post: Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near Kanab, Utah

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Sand dunes
Just outside the seasonal tourism hub of Kanab, Utah, stretches one of the rare sand dunes in North America’s Colorado Plateau. The first thing you notice when you step off the creaky, weathered boardwalk onto the sand is how incredibly soft it is. I’ve been on my fair share of beaches, but the sand at Coral Pink Sand Dunes is so much more delicate and light; it welcomed my bare feet onto a vast, otherworldly sea and gently gave way as my feet left smooth depressions in the dunes. Silent trickles of sand spilled down the corrugated flanks of the dunes as I made my way to a lookout point in the center of this Utah state park.

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park
Edge of the protection zone
Views from the top were cool, offering a comprehensive take on far southern Utah: the undulating fields of sand stretching from the southwest to northeast, the pines and junipers slowly encroaching on the periphery, and several cliff “steps” of the Grand Staircase rearing up in the distance, each a few thousand feet closer to Heaven.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Newberry National Volcanic Monument near Bend, Oregon

I’ve been fascinated by volcanoes for as long as I can remember.

Growing up, I would pore over coffee table books about the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, read storybooks about Parícutin (the Mexican volcano that formed in somebody’s backyard in the ‘40s), and marvel at my mom’s Ziploc bag of ash from Mt. St. Helens that my great-uncle collected in Spokane, Washington. My favorite culture chapter in my elementary Latin textbook had to do with the devastating eruption of Vesuvius that wiped Pompeii off the map.

Life in flat, flat Dallas—almost entirely geologically inactive—left much to be desired.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument
Lava Butte
So it shouldn’t be surprising that Crater Lake National Park has long been on my to-visit list, an eerie lake that formed after a volcano fell in on itself 7,700 years ago. The caldera holds America’s deepest lake, but it’s also home to satisfying hikes and stunning views, especially of the beguiling Wizard Island.

I tried to make a daytrip to Crater Lake from Bend, Oregon, last September—but, sadly, raging forest fires from 2017’s horrendous season forced authorities to shut down the highway south due to smoke. Even if the roads had been open, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything on the crater rim.

Newberry National Volcanic Monument
My friend Jonathan, who I was staying with in Bend, and I came up with a Plan B: Newberry National Volcanic Monument. One of the few national parks administered by the U.S. Forest Service, Newberry NVM is just a 20-minute drive outside of town—far more attractive than the 2-hour drive to get to Crater Lake.

Not only did I get my volcano fix in here, between a cinder cone and lava fields, I also got to explore a lava tube and get up close and personal with the ecosystem of central Oregon.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Iznatoraf, Spain: (Little) City on a Hill

I step into my hotel’s elevator, hit button zero for the ground floor, and rub my eyes. I’m exhausted from jetlag, culture shock, and apartment hunting. When I open my eyes, I notice that a bullfighter has joined me. She’s a slim twentysomething sporting a bedazzled jacket and multicolored tights. The doors close and I ponder how in my first week in Spain I’ve already encountered not my first torero, but torera.

Telling the receptionist hasta luego, I head south down Villanueva del Arzobispo’s main drag and am immediately confronted by a white-and-goldenrod Moorish Revival bullring where it seems half the town is pouring into. Posters advertise a Gran Novillada—a bullfight where novices face off against young bulls. My elevator companion meets up with her family and heads beneath one of the horseshoe arches that support this modern-day Colosseum.

Iznatoraf, Spain
I walk against the current of bullfight attendees and soon my destination comes into view: an imposing hill outside of Villanueva, crowned by a town called Torafe.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Photo Post: Checking off Cannon Beach, Oregon

Cannon Beach, Oregon
The Haystack
I had a couple of things on my Oregon bucket list when I flew to Bend over Labor Day this year. Obviously the first was to catch up with my roommate from college and best friend, Jonathan, and visit all his favorite haunts in Bend. But I also wanted to see the stunning landscapes (seascapes?) of Cannon Beach on the Pacific coast, make an appearance in Portland, and drive around Crater Lake National Park. That last item never happened, unfortunately, because roads were closed due to the smoke of raging forest fires, but I did make good on my goal to set foot into the Pacific Ocean in America.

Cannon Beach, Oregon
Cannon Beach
Cannon Beach’s main draw is its collection of whimsical sea stacks, eroded columns of rock that float out in the water. Haystack Rock is the largest of these sea stacks. This conical mini-mountain commands the beach and dominates Instagram feeds, too. After several long hours of driving across the state of Oregon, choking on the smoky, ashy air, and getting lost in the farmlands of the Willamette Valley, it was so refreshing to emerge from the woods at Cannon Beach, walk barefoot on the wet sand, and breathe in the salty ocean air.
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