Slot Canyons (Utah 2019 II)

Escalante is a dreamy little village on spectacular Utah Highway 12, featuring a great little restaurant in the annex of the outdoor outfitter store. For some, this place is just a stop at the most scenic portion of the highway, for others the place to begin an exploration of the many slot canyons nearby.

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Our destination was Dry Fork Trailhead, a 30 minute drive away on a bearable dirt road (Hole-In-The-Rock Road). Bring plenty of water. 

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There are four slot canyons accessible from this trail head. They are all long and narrow. We went through one of them, forth and back, because we couldn’t get up the steep boulders at the end. It would have been easier to enter at the other end at slide down.

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But only in retrospect: These canyons are really narrow, and you should never make a move that you cannot undo.

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Often one has to wedge oneself through, trying various body positions. I wonder how many people get seriously stuck there.DSC 1752

Small occasional caverns let you take a break and rearrange your limbs. I found that the most unreal part about this place is that I actually fit through. This doesn’t happen in real life.

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Don’t forget to save some water for the long hike back.

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The Grand Gulch II (25 Years Ago)

A little while ago I posted a few pictures from the Grand Gulch in Utah. This year, almost to the day, it is 25 years ago that I went there with a few hiking friends from Berkeley.

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One of them is now Math Professor in Utah. I don’t know the fate of the others in the picture. I see him occasionally at conferences.

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Pictures like the ones above are misleading. The gulch is mostly a narrow canyon, and if you think there is an exit just around the corner, it is a dead end.

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There is water, but not much. Seeing a stream like the one below is rare and means you better fill your water bottles.

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The week long hike leaves ample time to contemplate the beauty of natural walls.

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Flow

The recent flooding has once again changed the landscape in McCormick’s creek, removing everything from decaying leaves to trunks that have been around at least a decade.

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Rocks have been cleaned and assembled nicely.

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Even the obvious mud seems relieved and shows off curious patterns.

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It won’t stay long like this: Spring is around the corner.

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Things will grow and grow over, obscuring again what we should not see.

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Some rocks will be picked up and thrown. 

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No need to panic. The water will keep flowing, out of nowhere to nowhere.

Ice, Rock, Air

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Heavy flooding followed by a deep freeze without any snow fall left the floor of the quarry in the DePauw Nature Park in a perfect state to study everything frozen.

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Last week we took care of the plant life under ice, today we enjoy the even more abstract world of ice, rock, and air.

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Usually we think of frozen surface water as relatively thin, tw-dimensional layer of homogeneous white ice. Here, the few inches fo water were frozen solid and provided an unusual view into a short-lived world.

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 Of course the rocks and ice structures where already pretty, but streams of frozen air bubble provided a three-dimensional appearance that I hadn’t seen before.

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What else is there when we don’t look?

Just Looking …

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When you stand there looking at stuff, inevitably people stop and look, too (the major cause of traffic jams). This time, I drove the other lone hiker away by claiming that through shear conecentration, I would make the icicles fall. As it was way above freezing, I had not much to do for a proof…

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More serious was the encounter with the quarry warden who had been driving in his little electric cart forth and back along the rim trail, trying to clear the ice that had caused the responsible people to close the trail (it wasn’t that slippery).

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He had evidently spotted me down in the quarry, off trail, wading over frozen ponds, crouching down and using weird equipment.

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It took him 20 minutes to get to me. He turned out to be harmless, so I decided to pretend the same.

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I started talking about how the bubbles and the ice crystals had begun to emulate the shape of the frozen plants, and I was wondering whether there were any special spirits behind it. Off he went, leaving me alone with my little world.

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If I suddenly stop blogging, chances are somebody has seen through me.

Flatland

The recent dramatic temperature change from less than 30ºF below to more than 60ºF above within a few days left some woodland areas with quickly melting thin ice sheets that had previously captured some of the decaying vegetation.

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The unusual part here is that everything happened quickly, shock-frosting and shock-thawing, leaving everything in a rather pristine state.

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It felt like encountering the remnants of an alien civilization, that had left us some of its writing, with only hours to capture their message.

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Of course there was nothing else to do but frantically take pictures, hoping that what looked interesting might also be significant.

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The chances are of course slim that after this will have happened to us, an alien civilization will arrive in time to decipher what’s left of us.

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I am afraid it will be less beautiful anyway.

Pu’Er

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Now that winter has arrived here, it’s time for a warm cup of tea and a few in-house pictures of the experience, as threatened.

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Late last year I received two small Pu’er tea cakes as a gift. My conception of tea has changed over the years from tea bags over branded tins with generic names to loose tea from single tea gardens, and my expectation likewise from powder to beautifully rolled leaves, to be consumed as fresh as possible.

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So how would one dare to press tea leaves into bricks or cakes, and let them ripen? It helped a little that the cakes were nicely wrapped. So I took a quick course. Pu’er tea undergoes a special kind of fermentation that  can take many years. People buy raw Pu’er and let it mature like good wine. Alternatively, one can buy cooked Pu’er tea that has undergone a special procedure to accelerate aging. Prices vary considerably. Preparation is a story by itself. 

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One carefully breaks the cake into chunks. I placed about 10g of Ripe Pu’er into a steal tea infuser, and brew cup sized portions, using boiling waters. The first infusion steeps only 5 seconds to clean and loosen the leaves. Then I let the tea steep  for 30 seconds, increasing the time by 15 seconds for each subsequent infusion. This seems to do the job. 

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What you get is strong brew unlike anything else. It is very far away from the elegance of a Darjeeling or the floral delicacies of an Oolong. You get strong earthy notes, some fish, some mushroom, which I found, to my surprise, not unpleasant. Later infusions become more mellow and reveal complexity. The best: Near and far, I seem to be the only one around who likes it, so I can have it all for myself…