The air is changing here in Durango as Chris & I prepare to leave. There’s a cool breeze, a promise of fall. Last week I saw a few leaves turning orange. It’s beautiful. Just like when I fell in love with Durango last year. I am going to miss this place — and not just for the Colorado sunshine.
One of the best things about Durango, by my book, is David Holub, man about town. Of course I love it here; I’ve been introduced to Durango via Dave’s enthusiasm for people who are creative, brave, and dedicated to their passions.
There is, truly, a lot of awesomeness in Durango. It felt really good to fit into a community for a few months, to get to know people more than “I’m just passing through” tends to allow. I’ve been lucky to have Dave introduce me to writers, makers, artists, friends — always with a story about why each person is amazing. He is so generous about sharing his life.
Even more so, I’m so grateful for all the hours Dave and I have spent talking about life, love, and writing (and probably one or two other things too). It filled my well.
I like that Chris and Dave have fun, too.
And, oh, Durango! I think I got what I needed here.
I’ve grown in some good ways. The place, and the people allowed that to happen. The friendships helped. The landscape to walk in helped. Being inspired by others helped. Having consistent time and space to myself helped.
Even little things helped, like how friendly the grocery clerks are in Durango; I’m going to miss City Market. It’s impossible to walk around this town for very long without sharing a smile with a stranger. People’s eyes have light in them, more frequently than I see in most other places. (And, I’ve been to many other places recently.)
It’s been a good summer.
Durango is special.
Chris and I just purchased a new annual National Park pass at the Grand Canyon. We purchased last year’s pass at the Badlands in July 2015, and the pass just expired while Chris was at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico last month.
I had a lot of fun at the Grand Canyon (Chris already posted pics from his visit this spring). While there, I also reflected a lot on a year’s worth of lessons about how I enjoy experiencing our National Parks. It got me thinking back to a year ago, in the Badlands.
The parks usually require some time in cars, which makes me restless. At the Grand Canyon I used some of this car time to write a list of that I’ve learned as we hit between the Badlands and the Grand Canyon.
- Keep going back to look again, and from new angles
- Get outdoors early in the morning and at sunset
- Midday, find shade wherever possible
- Sit and look, walk and look
- Sketch or find another way to connect your hands to your eyes
- Find something(s) in the park to be curious about
- Get out into the landscape
- Know your limits
In Part Two, I think there’s more to say about the ways Chris and I have learned to do the parks together. While I’ve been contemplating this topic though, my mind has gone in a different direction.
Between the Badlands and the Grand Canyon, I’ve learned that my park experience unfolds best over a series of days as I find my favorite places and times to experience the landscape. I wrote in my notebook, “learned to give it time” — which is an attitude I am also considering in the rest of my life. Interesting lessons from the Grand Canyon.
I recently discovered a beautifully illustrated and narrated book called “Go Where You are Drawn.” It was a moment of good synchronicity.
Author Jeremy Collins is a climber and illustrator who, upon finding himself restless and searching, decided to head in the four cardinal directions – and up. I like discovering people who are called to keep exploring.
I also appreciate knowing that other people bleed, too, and keep going.
Jeremy used his travels, and his existing climbing skills, to create a journey of discovery, personal challenge, and growth. Climbing and fear again, it seems. An interesting theme.
And I love the way Jeremy draws and paints.
After google searching for more information on this interesting book, I discovered that Jeremy is also a filmmaker.
My first reaction is admiration and excitement. I like what Jeremy has done, it resonates with me, and I always appreciate knowing there are people out there adventuring in creative ways. If I’m being honest, this work also brings up some insecurity for me. Will I be able to share my lessons as effectively as this? How? Where?
Indeed, what are my lessons? Do I know yet? I can feel something crystalizing here in Durango and my sense of “what’s next” becoming more clear. At the same time I’m also still in the discovery process, still a traveler. I remind myself of this because my urge is to rush to the end, to find out what’s next simply because I am curious. I am still learning to slow down.
“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and grass grows by itself.” This zen saying is something I repeated to myself a lot this winter in San Clemente, to help myself through moments in which I wanted my lessons of this “year” to come faster.
This summer I’ve learned by settling in, and next week we leave Durango to learn by being on the road again until October. Burning Man, and then points east, by way of — Canada? We don’t know yet. We’re just beginning to talk about routes again, get excited about those possibilities.
Go where you are drawn. It’s a good principle, and a book or video I recommend checking out.
I had never seen the Grand Canyon until recently. A surprise to many after learning I grew up in Colorado, which is considerably closer to the canyon than Massachusetts. This wonder of the world was something I didn’t want to miss during our travels. It would be like going to Egypt and not seeing the pyramids. This was a must see for me. But why? Why would 6 million people travel from all over the world to view this giant chasm? But before that question can be answered, I feel we need to step back and ask why do we even have the National Park Service?
But what is the National Park Service? Surprisingly, it is much more extensive than I thought. The National Park Service includes: International Historic Sites, National Historic Sites, National Historical Parks, National Military Parks, National Battlefield Parks, National Battlefields, National Battlefield Sites, National Memorials, National Monuments, National Parks, National Parkways, National Preserves, National Reserves, National Recreation Areas, National Scenic Trails, National Lakeshores, National Seashores, National Rivers, and National Wild and Scenic Rivers!
What determines a National Battlefield from a Battlefield Park or Site, or even a Historic Site, or Historical Park is beyond me. I’m sure our government has clear and defined qualifications, regulations, speculations and determinations on how these decisions are made.
As complex as the Park Service seems, its mission statement is simple: “The National Park Service preserves unimpaired the natural and cultural resources and values of the national park system for the enjoyment, education, and inspiration of this and future generations”.
Yet perhaps this statement is too simple, and the word “unimpaired” has different meanings to different people. In 1913, congress approved the construction of the O’Shaughnessy Dam, which would provide San Francisco the majority of its fresh water. Once completed in 1923, it flooded the entire Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park. Often compared to Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy Valley was similar in its beauty and historical significance. For over 6,000 years, people had lived and admired the valley’s stunning granite cliffs and the waterfalls that cascaded down them. And even though this valley fell within the Yosemite National Park boundaries, the dam was approved and the landscape forever changed.
Afterwards, many thought what is the purpose of setting aside and preserving federal land if it can only then be developed latter on. So in 1964 the Wilderness Act was born. This is the highest level of conservation our country has and its definition is almost poetic:
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”
The Act continues to read: An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.
I find clause 2 especially meaningful and forward thinking. It provides people the opportunity to temporarily escape our developed world. Some may ask, well don’t the Parks provide that? Yes and no. There are 106 million acres of Wilderness, 53 percent of that resides within the National Park System. But not all National Park land is Wilderness. Take the Grand Canyon as an example, a Park loaded with accommodations like a bus system, campgrounds, lodges, restaurants, bars, grocery stores, gift-shops, galleries, and laundry mats. It’s a small city of traveling citizens. Most of its visitors will never come close to a primitive and unconfined type of recreation. For those who have had the opportunity to backpack or float into Wilderness, you’ll know what I mean. It has that primitive solitude with nature that’s hard to get anywhere else. You escape the cars, ATV’s, motorcycles, mountain bikes and motorboats. Your distance from society buffers you from seeing houses and buildings. You don’t hear the chainsaws or sounds of road construction, just the jets flying overhead. You know you can walk for days or even weeks and see nothing manmade but the trail you travel (if that). It’s a timeless feeling that resonates and becomes even more important as time passes. As our world population increases, development furthers and the Web expands, finding that isolation will become even more crucial.
Now I want to jump back to another and perhaps even more exciting phrase within the National Parks Service mission statement, which is to provide inspiration of this and future generations. That right there might sum it all up. It might answer my original question as to why people visit the Parks – for inspiration. Sure they inspire the artists, the writers and poets, the musicians and the dancers; but they inspire more than that. They can arouse any visitor to pause and contemplate what lies before them- a place of unique beauty. People travel from all over the world to be moved, stirred and aroused by these natural wonders. As they stand there, one can only hope, if for a brief moment, they forget their place in society and realize their place in the world.
As 6 million people gaze across the vast and expansive canyons we call Grand, they are humbled. What lies before them is nearly two billion years of Earth’s geological history. Perhaps here, more than any other place, one can try to contemplate time. You can stand at the edge and peer down into its very depths. At 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide and over a mile deep, the Grand Canyon is larger than Delaware. It is like an inverted mountain range. To hike down to the Colorado River is like summiting a 14er in reverse. As strong as our natural instinct is to climb to the highest peak, it is just as strong to want to descend to the bottom of the canyon. Doing so you traverse through 6 million years of erosion. The further down you go, the more centered you become, until you’re standing at the rivers edge, in the present. You are grounded by the flow of water like the seconds of a clock, it is the here and the now. You are no longer overwhelmed by the scale because you can no longer see the rim. The course of time switches from vertical to horizontal and sinks in the muddy water. Perhaps this is why so many seek the Grand Canyon. It is truly a natural wonder.
Grand Canyon, Zion and Bryce seem to be the big hitters in this region. It’s a wagon train of RV’s between these three parks and the cricket hopped right along with them. Now that school’s out, I’ve noticed a huge increase in college kids and families and less snow birds (retired folk). The latter have better sense than I to avoid these popular parks which are completely mobbed now. The Grand Canyon gets over 6 million visitors a year, Zion 3 million, and Bryce 1 million. Each is like a city with the Grand Canyon (south rim) being New York, a huge international city with lots of public transportation. Zion is a bit smaller, like Boston, it too has its global visitors and developed transportation. Finally there’s the smaller Bryce, more like Denver, lots of people and it’s own bus system.
Because of their popularity, camping inside the parks seemed impossible but luckily I could camp just outside parks for free on either BLM or in National Forest. I had never camped in a campground in my life before moving to the East coast. To me camping was finding a nice quiet spot (for free) in the woods were no one else was around. Just you and the outdoors. Not some overcrowded campground where you pay $15-40 for a picnic table, fire pit, toilet and 500 sq ft you get to call yours for the night. But just like the buses, I realize these campgrounds are necessary to dampen the impact that these millions of visitors can have on the environment. The buses were actually kind of nice, making me feel I was going to work everyday. I’d ride the bus to my location first thing in the morning, do my hikes, and then ride it home at the end of the day with all the other commuters.
Bryce Canyon is one of those driving parks, as Alexis would say. Where you drive from one scenic view to the next, snap some shots and move on. Like the Grand Canyon, very few people actually seem to hike down into the amazing voodoos. I ran into less than a dozen tourists on a Sunday afternoon while down there.
Just by chance, I arrived at Bryce the last day of their 16 annual astronomy festival. Bryce is suppose to be one of the darkest places in the United States. The other “darkest places” we visited – Badlands, Death Valley, and Big Bend were all around a full moon, which was nice, but made for poor stargazing. Not that I’m big into stars, I’m lucky to find the little dipper. But I do love to see a sky loaded with twinkly lights.
So at 10:30 pm I’m standing in line for a bus that transports hundreds of people to a dark location outside of the park. This was a whole new crowd of people for me, or should I say dark figures, because I never really fully saw anyone. I just listened to them talk about galaxies, constellations, and use terms like star A467. There were volunteers with green lasers that shot up way into the sky, pointing out any consolation people questioned about. Even then, I failed to see Hercules, Scorpio or Cancer. I just saw stars, lots of them.
Imagination failing me, I decided to get a closer look. There were about a dozen volunteers who brought their high powered telescopes, which were focused on different objects. I could wait in line to see Saturn and its rings, Jupiter and its two bands and three moons and of course the red planet. These telescopes were all bigger than anything I’ve even seen. And then there were a few BIG telescopes. I mean, transported by horse trailer BIG. These of course had the longest lines but I felt I may never view the stars like this again so I waited and waited for my opportunity to glance through one of these. And when I did, I got to see the Sombrero Galaxy 65 million light years away. I was looking at light emitted at a time the dinosaurs roamed our planet. I thought the Grand Canyon seemed old.
When we set off for a first night’s stop in New York State, waving to my parents in the driveway at the farm, we were towing the Cricket with the Subaru.
We went 6,000 miles in that vehicle before trading it with the Nelsons for the Ridgeline in which we’ve gone 18,886 more to date. That’s a grand total of almost 25,000 miles. Yow! We’ll hit that marker on the next (short) Cricket adventure, which we set out on tomorrow.
You can see our full route from the year, updated with Chris’ southwestern adventures in orange, below and interactively here.
Last night we toasted our anniversary with wine that we purchased while towing the Cricket through the Alexander Valley (above Napa, and much prettier we thought).
Soon, we’ll post a FAQ page. We have been getting more and more questions from people thinking about purchasing a Cricket, and we’re compiling our answers for this site. We don’t write as much about the Cricket itself as we do our adventures and lessons, but there is a lot to say. Now that we have a year under our belts, we’ve really put this camper through some good tests!
At Esalen’s Summer Solstice Sadhana I took a workshop on body, breath, and meditation with Jody Greene — and she blew me away with the depth, vulnerability, and thoughtfulness of her teaching.
Jody has a really dry sense of humor, and a bluntness about the way she speaks. She is SO funny, I laughed about 35 times in our morning together, about things that matter like learning how to be sweet to oneself. (This article is something of an exaggerated version of Jody’s directness of thought that I experienced.)
I love the way Jody teaches both what she has personally learned works for her, and that it is important to find what works for you. And that what works will change. I love that she takes a mind-body approach to how she works on well-being.
My time with Jody was limited. Usually she was leading meditation at 6:15 a.m. while I was writing and soaking in the hot springs, and later she was hands-on-assisting in one of our classes. I attended the workshop led by her on the second-to-last day of the festival. Had I known sooner how much her style of teaching connects with me, I might even have disrupted my morning pages routine for some more time with her meditating just after dawn.
I would definitely seek out Jody’s workshops again. If you are a human being, are into self-knowledge, struggle with pushing yourself too hard, have injuries that need to be accommodated, or just want to learn more about yoga or mediation, I encourage you to do the same. I can’t say so enough.
One of the nicest things about our travels is the greater ability to visit with the friends and family who live on the western half of the U.S. Both my parents turned (will turn) 70 this year and to celebrate this milestone, we all met up near Big Bend National Park in Texas. We chose this remote location for several reasons:
- It would be warm (a bit too warm in the end of April as we found out)
- None of us has been there
- It fell in line with our travels
- Several people recommended this park
Instead of lodging inside Big Bend, we rented a very cool adobe in Terlingua, about twenty minutes west of the park entrance. This gave us more space and a kitchen to make meals in. It was more enjoyable to come back from exploring the park and hang out in a relaxing place while cooking dinner.
Terlingua itself has a lot of character, thriving off of the many ruins scattered around. Once a mining town in the mid 1880’s, this area peaked with a population of about 2,000 people. The draw was cinnabar, from which mercury is extracted. Now the attraction is its location to Big Bend, drawing in tourists like us.
Situated on the Texas/Mexico boarder, Big Bend is a nice quiet park compared to places like Zion. It’s a long but scenic drive through western Texas to reach it. Their long strait open highways encourage a heavy foot as you cruse from one isolated town to the next. Marfa is one such town, surrounded by stretches of open country. This unique destination will be covered more in its own blog, but if you ever get a chance to visit Marfa, take it.
Out of all the states we’ve traveled through, I believe Texans to be some of the most welcoming and friendly folks we’ve encountered. Texas is full of friendly faces, welcoming smiles, and honest hospitality. Once while in Zion, I was inquiring about getting a tire patched at a gas station. The stations mechanic wasn’t in that day but the gentleman waiting in line behind me said he’d be happy plug my tire for me. He was a Texan, visiting Zion with his family, and was kind enough to help me out.
I think the last time we as a family all vacationed together was when I was just a kid. It’s always special to have everyone together, and even more so in a new place. Though the main reason for this gathering was for my parents 70th, Alexis and Andrea also had big birthdays as well, both turning 40. There was plenty to celebrate and there was no shortage of food and drink to do so.
I use to think 70 was old, and it use to be, but now not so much. We’ve met many retired folks on the road, active and enjoying a full life. I’m happy both my parents are able to do the same. I value now more than ever that time spent with them. Living on the East Coast, our visits are usually once a year. I’ve seen my parents three times already during our travels and my Dad four. I plan on seeing them at least two more times before we head back. It’s been really memorable to spend so much time with them. It was also a special treat to see my sister twice in one year; that rarely happens. So I’ll end this blog how I started it, saying how one of nicest things about our travels is that it has enabled us to visit more with friends and family in this neck of the woods. As our time wends down, I hope to see more of them before heading back east.
I had a conversation with a new friend at Esalen about the Cricket and sailboats. In telling him about our Cricket travels of the last year, I found that he could relate to small space adventures via sailing. Instead of talking about the places we saw, we talked about how one lives day-to-day.
(There are things that resonate for me about sailing: I’ve been obsessed with this version of this song in recent weeks, and I have some happy memories with my dad, like the summer we won a sailing medal at Club Med.)
Life things like cooking outside, or not cooking at all. He had good ideas that we can take to Burning Man, for a variety of meals that take little prep or washing up, but feel a little special. Avocados that start hard and ripen, cured meats, I remember now. Monochromatic color schemes for clothing. The benefits of grey: I’m interested in coordination, he accidentally wipes engine grease from his hands to his shirt. Sharing space with a loved one. Spending time outside.
Chris and I once talked hypothetically about living together on a sailboat, long ago. Ways that he could build and I could write about it. When the Cricket feels small, we joke now about the blessing of being able to walk into the outdoors, to find space in the land. We joke that we’d need a raft, towed behind the boat, for me to get some alone time. Maybe for him. We both have these needs.
I talked with new friend about what drives that need to pack it up and go and what it’s like once you do. He shares, or has his own version that seems related to my story, the experience of disconnecting from what I thought I wanted. I think it was the first conversation this year in which I heard someone else so clearly echo that sentiment (or, again, offer his own version, with his own details). It was kind of comforting.
One lesson from my week at Esalen, because of this connection and because of others, is that it’s OK that things haven’t gone as expected. I am winding my way towards resolution, learning things along the way. [Insert sailing metaphor here, about tacking. If only I had the day-to-day presence of mind to shout “coming about!” as things change inside me.]
New friend was curious about Chris and how we made this adventure happen together, in the first place. It’s a fun story (one I said I’d write on this blog, and I don’t think I’ve made good on that, yet, so maybe I will soon). I have a short, glib version that I tell often, in campgrounds, to the other RV couples or people we meet on the road. It was fun to tell more, to talk at length about our lives when Chris and I were planning the trip, in the early stages. To remember how I would feel in the evening, the ways I dreamed about escape and tried to find a way that would provide Chris with something he wanted, too. It also reminds me of how lucky I am to have a great partner for this adventure.
On these travels, we’ve been lucky enough to see several of the big land art pieces, which we wrote about here and here. In May we rounded out the group with a night at Walter De Maria’s Lightening Field.
We only have my color studies to show because photographs aren’t allowed. This helps participants stay in the moment to interact with the piece. If you want to know about the strange, awesome, immersive way the piece is viewed, the NYT outlines it well. Those of you are who are sold on the idea of a visit can learn about reservations. (It’s so worth it.)
Drinking cocktails and discussing the ways we could commemorate the experience on our blog, Chris and I decided to write an exquisite corpse poem.
A Experimental Poem. By Chris & Alexis.
The field is best viewed when the sun is
low, was the sun.
When the sun hits the poles and
glimmers. As the light hits the aluminum rods.
Quiet. Because everyone separates and goes their own way to
explore the 1-mile by 1-kilometer piece.
By the time we went to bed we were tired in a full satisfied
way to turn 40.