Monday, September 11, 2006

Black Canyon of the Gunnison

Along arid western highways, it's typical to see strips of green vegetation at the pavement's edge. This seems to contradict my suspicion that toxic oil and rubber compound residues washing off the pavement would pollute the adjacent land. Do these plants actually thrive on the "pollutants"? Does the pavement capture moisture underneath, forcing it to rise near the margins? Does rainwater flowing off the highway form a more fertile zone on the margins? Anyone know?

11:00 p.m.

Camped at the north rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. There are very few visitors on this side of the canyon. Taking a rim drive at sunset, I had the road and observation platforms to myself. It is amazing how the river sliced right through the soft strata of this plateau, creating the deepest canyon with such a narrow width.


Starting the day at 6:30, the sky was light. I had experienced a disturbing dream: San Francisco was devastated by an earthquake. I was trying to get to Santa Rosa to find Jessica, Sergio was assisting me.

Outside the tent, there were fresh hoof prints nearby. I hadn't heard any animals during the night. A "splash bath" would have to suffice. After a few days on the road, my clothes are "ripe". Feet riper. Dusted them with foot powder to keep the decay at bay.

Pumpkin muffin and Gatorade for breakfast.

No sign of anyone else out here. No explanation for the vehicle sounds last night.

Riding the rough dirt road back toward Potash, I came upon a large white "event tent" set up out here in the desert. Not a soul around. Strange.

Mondo Coffee in Moab, Utah. A welcoming, comfortable atmosphere, good coffee and wi-fi!

Back in Moab, I settled in at Mondo Café from 8:30 until 11:00, with a good strong coffee and bagel with cream cheese. It's a great spot, a welcoming atmosphere, with a used book store adjoining it. But the wi-fi connection was poor (perhaps because so many were on the internet here), so I had difficulty uploading photos and streaming Democracy Now!'s show on the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Finally, I had to give up and move on.

After leaving the café, I stopped at the post office to send a couple of post cards, then drove east along the Colorado River Scenic Byway, covering old ground. Skies much hazier than the last time I passed this way. Moisture, dust, man-made pollution? A combination? It takes some of the spectacle away from the remarkable vistas.

Kayaker on the Colorado River, just east of Moab

As I ride along the river, I realize the noise I create is probably unwelcome for those rafting and kayaking. We can’t help but infringe on one another’s solitude.

At the historic Dewey Bridge crossing, I stopped to have a look. This must have been the bridge I crossed with Drew in 1971. It has been retired, replaced by a modern concrete span paralleling it.

As I parked, a biker came over to talk. I detected a Canadian lilt in his voice. Harry Vogels is from Port Perry, Ontario, where he helps keep the production line running at GM’s Oshawa plant. (Home of the 9000 series trucks, and soon, the new Camaro.) A major re-tooling at the plant allowed him time to take an 8-week ride out to the Canyon Country around Moab. He’s riding a Yamaha FZ1, he calls “Black Betty”.

At Dewey Bridge on the Colorado River, I met Harry Vogels from Port Henry, Ontario. He rode his Yamaha FZ1 out to Moab to spend a few days exploring the canyonlands

We talked for quite a while about travels, what he’s seen across the U.S. and Canada, and a bit about my travels south. He hopes to do the same with a friend. He said there is a fellow named Emilio Scotto who has been traveling the World on his Honda Goldwing, taking the bike places those things aren’t intended to go. I think we talked for over an hour.

He was off to do another in a series of scenic circuits around the Moab area. Reconnected with Interstate 70, and immediately felt it was not for me – at least on this trip. It becomes all a variation on the theme d = vt. Distance equals velocity times time. Manipulating the variables to achieve the desired outcome. The mind goes numb, attention turns inward, perception diminishes. Stopping is discouraged. (On the secondary roads, it’s not at all uncommon for me to stop every five minutes along certain stretches of road, just to look at the sights.)

Throughout the west, skies were unusually hazy. Moisture, dust, pollution? Maybe a combination. (Cathie suggests "fires".)

The Interstates are safe and sanitized, which is a remarkable achievement. An engineering wonder. Perhaps the World’s greatest engineering marvel, this Interstate Highway System. Transforming landscapes that nature has taken millions of years to sculpt. But it’s also a trap. It’s one of those tools you must use judiciously.

I found Grand Junction appalling in its enormous growth. The population has more than doubled since the last time I was through here in 1971. With the Rockies as its eastern backdrop, polluted air is trapped within the valley the city occupies. It is not unlike L.A. in this regard.

I stopped to fill up on gas (remarkably low prices!), but couldn’t wait to get out of there.

Naturally, I missed the Highway 50 exit and had to negotiate around downtown to find it again. Outside of Grand Junction, U.S. 50 is also a four-lane highway, so I found it little different than the interstate. I was eager to get off the highway and slow down.

Harry recommended that I follow Colorado Route 92 east out of Delta, which winds along the North Rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. On the outskirts of Delta, I spotted “Red Shed Produce” (owned by Robert & Jennifer Conley, their card says) and quickly pulled over. I’ve been dreaming of some farm-fresh produce. Grocery stores have begun to seem dismal in their offerings.

I asked the young lady tending the small shop which of the four or five local apple varieties was the most tart. She gave me a slice of one (I think a Jonathan). It tasted great. Bought three apples and two ears of fresh corn, and a “Clif Bar” they had displayed on the counter. The total was $2.35, and $1.25 of that was the highly-processed “Clif Bar”.

Climbed into the Rocky Mountain foothills, through rolling farmland that seemed to show much more respect and care. The towns of Hotchkiss and Crawford (not to be confused with Crawford, Texas) are quaint and inviting. I would have considered an overnight, but wanted to get a little further. I only had gone about 120 miles today.

Reaching Crawford State Park, I was struck by the well-maintained park, and absence of visitors. Strange. Pulled into the empty campground and was delighted to find a restroom offering a shower ($1 for 4 minutes.) Didn’t hesitate a moment. I was long overdo. Indulged in a full SIX minutes (for an extra 50 cents). God, it felt wonderful! (And the temperature was preset – hot!)

As they say, I felt like a new person. With this, I avoided the urge to find a motel for one more day. (But laundry has to happen soon.)

Came to the turn-off for Black Canyon National Park and drove by. I didn’t think I wanted to see it. On second thought, I might not be this way again. 11 miles in, 6 of it gravel. The visitor center was closed, so it was self-registration. $4 entry for a motorcycle, $12 to camp. A bit steep, considering recent expenses, so I drove in to have a look at the campground.

Only a dozen or so sites, with less than half occupied. And all but one were tent-camping, so no generators! Good sign. Next I took a ride out along the rim to see if it was "worth" staying. The first overlook convinced me it was. Incredible.

Looking into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison at sunset

Back, unpacked and set up the tent, wrote checks for entry and camping then set off before sunset to have a more thorough ride along the rim. Only thirty minutes or so before I lost the sun, but I’ll be back tomorrow. Unfortunately the haze really obscures much of the terrain.

Started a small campfire and laid the two ears of corn on the grill until the husks were blackened. With a little salt, heavenly. That and a small apple, food of the gods.

Fewer aircraft passing over here. I can hear the roar of the Gunnison River deep in the canyon, and the loud chirping of crickets and a lone owl. Oh, and now there’s a jet…

To bed about 11:00 – late! Sitting in the tent, felt some unusual chest pains. “Oh, this is interesting…” Thought about my mortality.


Dicky Neely said...

More nice traveling pics. I have a guess about the green along roads. I have seen this in a few other places too.
My guess is that rain and moisture runs off the roads and concentrates along the edge where without the road it would be dispersed in a wider pattern.
Just a guess!

babycondor said...

Interesting speculation about the resistance of these weeds to petrochemical pollutants. I wonder what their secret is.

timtraveler said...

After observing how moisture accumulated around the perimeter of the tarp I used under my tent, I began to suspect moisture transpiring from the ground, but trapped under pavement moves outward to the edge of the pavement.