White Rim Road… alone in the desert wilderness
September 3, 2017
Canyonlands, Utah–White Rim Road
To prepare us for this road trip, we took a side trip down the Shafer Trail when we visited Canyonlands, Utah in 2016. This road has to be seen to be believed. It heads over the side of the Mesa and in 8 km it drops 1400 ft. into the canyon. It follows the cliff with many switchbacks and is a single track gravel trail. We didn’t need 4 wheel drive that day, but high clearance is necessary. Once at the bottom, we turned on Potash Road and followed an interesting road out to Moab, with views of arches and the river.
There is another road that continues from where we turned off. It is 160 km and travels around a third of the park with the Green River to the west and the Colorado River to the east. There are a number of campgrounds available for booking along the way. Peter decided then he wanted to take this White Rim Road and explore the desert in his truck.
This was his trip so he did most of the research and planning. He read up on the regulations in the park. He watched YouTube on others who had done it and checked out the route on Google Maps. The campgrounds were analyzed and booked. The truck had all the fluids topped up and the tires checked. Extra water jugs were pulled out of the basement and the backup battery charger for the engine’s battery was prepared.
I was rather anxious about this kind of adventure, but I trust his driving and I knew the truck was safe, so I was in. Not ecstatic, but in. I thought of it more like a backpacking trip with our Coleman Instant Tent, where you needed to be self-sufficient for a number of days, in this case, 4 We had 2 coolers, 1 for ice and 1 that runs off the 12 volt. I checked the first aid kit and made sure we had all the necessary supplies.
After a pleasant journey through Montana, Wyoming and Colorado, we arrived at Canyonlands National Park at 5 pm on a Friday afternoon. It is about 45 minutes north and west of Moab, Utah. We fully expected to have to camp somewhere in the Land Management Area in order to find a spot, but drove through Horsethief Campground just in case. It was almost empty! We couldn’t believe our good fortune. Our site overlooked the desert and although it didn’t have water, vault toilets were available and it was only $15.
It was hot and breezy, but the sky was so dark. The moon was almost new and I enjoyed working on my night photography skills without having to wear my toque and mittens. The MIlky Way was so clear and it was hard to see all the constellations for the stars.
Shafer Road to White Crack Day 1
We stopped at the information center at Island in the Sky to check in. The sites we booked were confirmed and after looking at the entire trip, we decided that 3 nights would be adequate for this trip and cancelled our final night. The fee for our back country permit was only $30 and was good for up to 7 days. It included our camping.
There was water available here and we topped up all of our containers. They recommend 4 liters per person per day when travelling in the desert where temperatures were usually 35 Celsius in the day and 18 at night. We had 47 L plus our filled water bottles. The cooler had a variety of canned drinks as well. There was plenty to drink, but I felt thirsty the whole time between the heat and knowing that my water supply was not unlimited.
We tipped off the top of the world onto Shafer Road. I felt okay since we had been down this cliff before. I had been in the back last time so hadn’t seen how many times the road seems to disappear at the corners. The road was smooth and a little more than 1 lane wide with amazing vistas. Looking back though, it is hard to know where you just drove. As we wound our way to the bottom, there are sheer red cliffs above you, and sheer drops below. Fortunately we didn’t meet anyone until the bottom.
We passed 2 tour vehicles ready to head up the trail. We also met a park ranger whose truck you can see in the picture. The info center told us they drive the White Rim Road daily, but this was the only official we saw in 3 days. We were also passed by a couple of Land Cruisers. They didn’t have any camping reservations and were driving the entire loop in one day. They could travel much quicker than us as they had a shorter wheel base, were not loaded with equipment and could reduce their tire pressure to go over the bumps and rocks more easily.
The road was primarily one lane wide. It was dirt or small gravel in lots of places which made for easier driving. The challenging sections were in the drainage and washout areas. Rain run off had washed away all the small rocks and left large rock or sometimes bedrock called sliprock. There were many large holes in front and behind these larger rocks that required lots of driver attention.
It wasn’t too bad in the flat areas, but the same thing happened on lots of the steep up and down climbs. Some climbs were so steep we couldn’t see past the hood of the truck. Watching for rocks sticking out from the side, holes in the road, drop offs and having no idea if the road turned left or right at the top of a climb made for full-time navigating for us both. Fortunately the 4 wheel-low works flawlessly. 4 high did a good job too when needed.
The advantage of being 1400 ft below the usual viewpoints is that you are that much closer to the canyons. We walked into Mussleman Arch and could look at the other hoodoos and formations and colours that are not apparent from the top. I took a picture of Mesa Arch from the top last year and was able to look at it from behind this time. The Washerwoman looks so interesting from close up. It is just a tiny formation seen through Mesa Arch.
There were a few campgrounds and picnic stops along the way. We had a picnic in the truck and completed 60 km to our first stop. It had taken most of the day as we were travelling between 10 and 40 km/hr. White Crack Campground was 2 km off the road and set on a rise overlooking the lower basins. We were at the very southern tip of Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.
White Crack Campground
The camping area can be booked by a group of up to 10 with 3 vehicles. Since we were only 2 people with 1 vehicle, that is all they booked into this site. It is remote and silent. The sound of jets flying over were all there was to remind us that we were still part of the modern world.
It consisted of a vault toilet with the most spectacular view in the world, a large slab or red rock and a single juniper tree that we moved our chairs around to get a little shade. There was a short squall soon after we arrived but the wind died quite quickly and we didn’t lose any of our supplies over the cliff.
The sunset showed itself with clouds and lots of virga, although by true dark, the stars could be seen through the open windows of the tent, even without my glasses. We got up to watch the sun come up over the mountains and light up the canyon walls in the west. There was a short trail that took us neared the views to the south where we could clearly see the white rim of stone that was the uppermost layer in the canyons.
White Crack to Murphy Hogback Day 2
Our second day was much shorter than the first at only 15 km and about 1 ½ hours. We returned to the main road and travelled over several washout areas. We stopped several times to look at rock formations. Erosion is always at work here. We saw towers with harder rocks balanced precariously on top. There were some rocks that stood out from the canyon walls like fins.
Our first real challenge for the truck was driving up Murphy’s Hogback. It is a section of land raised up from the White Rim where we felt like we were driving straight up like those trucks you see in the commercials. It was very scary but the truck and driver did a great job. By the time I arrived at the top, I had a few tears of relief.
The camping area was right at the top of the Hogback at almost 1600 m. We were there by 11 am but I was glad for a break after all the anxiety of this trip. The steep section was a success, but I knew we had to go back down the other side. We did see one more truck go by all day, and that was the last of humanity that we saw until we completed our trip.
This campground had 3 separate sites, but we were the only ones there. Again we had a vault toilet with a view and a friendly juniper tree to give us so more shade. There were no tables provided, but we had a portable table top that unrolls and sits on a base.
We also had Coleman Instant Screen room. It was really handy on our trip to the Alaska Inside Passage. We set it up over the picnic table and used the propane fire ring in the doorway to keep us warm and dry in all the rain. Since we were encouraged not to exert ourselves in the heat of the day, we set up the room, covered the sunny side with a tarp, spread out our camping mat and had a day off. I worked on my blog and read. Peter read the maps and rested from the driving of the last week. We had lots of water to drink and finished the day with rib steaks on the grilling pan and wished we had brought wine as well. Those kinds of meals are definitely not backpacking meals. (Pinot Grigio)
The sky was very cloudy around sunset. There was rain and virga in the area, but we didn’t get moisture. I didn’t want to have to worry about slippery roads for the way out. After sitting and relaxing all day, we realized that we didn’t need another night in the desert so planned to drive out the rest of the way. We planned to stop at our last camping spot and check it out just in case. It was also the day of the North American Solar Eclipse so we needed to be somewhere open enough to see what effect an 80% eclipse had on the landscape.
Murphy’s Hogback to Potato Bottom and beyond Day 3
Getting up so as not to miss the Canyon sunrise meant we were on the road by 7:30. The trip down off the summit was like pointing your skis down a black run. You just have to go. It was steep and rough, but it was okay. Luckily no one was coming up at the time. We used the GPS more today to see which way the road curved before we got there.
The road today took us along several canyon edges and eventually down to the Green River. The weather was clear and sunny again and the views amazing. We could look up at towers and mesas. We got to our booked camping spot about 9 and decided to carry on to the Mineral Bottom boat lauch for the eclipse, just past the end of White Rim Road.
Or next scary section was up Hardscrabble switchbacks which very quickly takes you up and over a high section and back down to the river again. It really took 2 of us to get through this. I watched for rocks and holes on the right and Pete kept his eye on the left. I was also responsible for any big rocks jutting out from the right although there was seldom any room on the cliff side of the road to do anything about it. Neither of us looked down. There was one switch back that we had to enter a turn around area to get the right angle to continue up the hill.
We got back down to the river again along a narrow trail that caught us by surprise and were soon found ourselves at the exit to the White Rim Road, 3 days and 160 km of adventure later.
We got a chance to see the eclipse through some paddler’s glasses. The light seemed to glare less off the cliffs but it was really not that noticeable, considering how much of the sun was covered by the moon. We did notice some really interesting shadows on the sand and the temperature dropped from about 35 to 25 Celsius for a short time.
After watching the paddler’s prepare for their trip, we finished our trip on the White Rim Road by exiting up the Mineral Bottom Road. It was steep with lots of switchbacks, but it had signs for curves and reinforced corners and felt like a highway. It was time for a shower and dinner in Moab.
Siem Reap Area Temples known as Angkor Wat
March 11, 2017
The Siem Reap Area Temples are generally all referred to as Angkor Wat and encompass 400 sq km. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the actual Angkor Wat temple is the largest religious monument in the world! To help put some of this into perspective, many of these structures were built before or at the same time as the massive cathedrals of Europe, by a people living with limited tools in the jungle. According to some web sources, they completed the construction in only 35 years.
We spent 4 days in this area. I’ll begin with some background and history. The next post will continue with descriptions of the other places we visited besides Angkor Wat temple itself.
Getting to Siem Reap
We took a bus from Phnom Pehn to Siem Reap which takes about 5 1/2 hours on pretty good highways. They picked us up at our hotel and drove us to the Giant Ibis bus terminal. We transferred to a big charter kind of bus and had a chance to see the countryside of Cambodia. There was no toilet on board, but we stopped for a break after about an hour and stopped for lunch in about 2 hours more. They even switched drivers halfway through. This trip cost us $15 each.
We stayed in the city of Siem Reap at the Golden Mango Inn. It was a great place for us for a few reasons. It was a away from the high energy part of town, it had its own restaurant and the pool was shaded and cool in the afternoon after a morning of touring.
We arrived to register and were led to the couch seating and given cold lemonade and towels to refresh ourselves after our journey. They helped us plan an itinerary for the 4 days that we were there. Breakfast was included and the day that we went to see sunrise at Angkor Wat, we were given a breakfast to “take away.” We upgraded to the deluxe room by the pool and paid $217 for 4 nights. Their customer service was outstanding.
This price included pick up at the bus and delivery to the airport when we left. Our tuk-tuk driver at the bus became our driver for the whole week. Chatting with him at the bus station gave us a chance to check out his English, which was great. You can find him on Facebook. The set fee for the driver was $15-$20/day, depending on the distance. The hotel booked him for us for 3 days, and we arranged to have him take us to the Angkor National Museum on the 4th day ourselves.
- Hire a guide unless you are an expert on Buddhist and Hindu legends and symbolism. They know the stories, the history and where it’s best to take pictures. There are few signs showing the names of the temples, there are no descriptions on site, and no wifi to look things up yourself. We had the guide all to ourselves for $45/day. The hotel booked the guide for us for the first day. We booked her again for the fourth day of our visit.
- Hire a tuk-tuk driver. They will drop you off at one gate and pick you up on the other side. Ours also drove us on a loop of temples without our guide, then accompanied us on the boat trip to Tonle Sap.
- Get some local advice for planning. It’s hard to remember all the names and to know the distances between them. Our hotel was excellent at providing that information. There are many travel offices in town to help as well. There is lots of information on line, but it was difficult to make our own itinerary, just because there so much.
- Wear a big hat. There is not much shade in the temples
- Take lots of water-see above
- These sites are large and there is lots of walking.
- Wear sturdy shoes. The temples are not very accessible. There is lots of climbing over high sills between rooms and large steps to get up to the other levels. There are no railings or warnings about low doorways.
- Take a camera, or your phone at least.
- Stay at a hotel with a shady outdoor space.
- If you can’t walk it, check out Google street view–Angkor Wat
There is a great museum in Siem Reap called the Angkor National Museum. It has many artifacts, historical context and a room with 1000 Buddhas. Their audio tour is very informative. We spent 2 hours there, but I could have spent longer. We visited there on day 3 after a day with a guide and a day with just our driver. Some other travellers recommended going there first, but this timing worked for us.
Great Kings who ruled in the area from about 950 to 1180 AD are responsible for these monuments. Kings were not always crowned because of their birth, but often because of victory in battle. The temples and City of Thom were built for the gods, to commemorate battles, and honor family members. The interesting thing is that some of the Kings were Hindu and some of them were Buddhist, although both religions originated in India. The gods they worshiped were different. The Buddhist Kings left the Hindu statues but the Hindu kings removed the Buddhas from the temples. Some of the carvings showing Buddha sitting in lotus position were re-carved by adding a beard and moving the knees up to a new, higher level. Others were removed altogether leaving an empty Buddha silhouette.
Angkor Wat Temple
Angkor Wat temple represents the gods in the center, the walls are the mountains and the moat is the oceans. The outer walls of the temple complex are huge and completely covered with carvings that represent Hindu legends and great battles. It is hard to imagine a society so advanced that they can employ and feed so many workmen to not only build these monuments, but cover them with beautiful art and stories.
The temples were built with a kind of brick called laterite. It looks volcanic but when the clay is dried in the sun, small holes form but the blocks are strong. They were faced with sandstone that had to be moved 30 km to the area. Some of it was covered with a kind of stucco and even painted.
I will include the names of each temple with the pictures. There is lots of information on line if you want to know more about these temples and the history. I found the Travelfish site the most useful for me.
After visiting all the amazing structures, the idea that stayed with me was that these were powerful leaders who built cities and temples as well as conquered large areas of southeast Asia. Cambodia is very proud of this history.
Some pictures can be found within this post. I will also add them and others to the travel page found at the top of my webpage. If you are reading this blog by email, click the link to the site, found at the bottom of the email.
Have a look at some of the comments shared by other readers. Thanks for the interesting conversations.
A regular day in Chiang Mai…and what the heck is a bum gun?
November 25, 2016
Not every day is filled with festivals and Wats. Some are just a regular day in Chiang Mai. I’ll get to the bum gun part later.
Errands on my own
Chiang Mai Photographic Group
I finally feel like I know my way around well enough to venture out on foot by myself. I walked a couple of km to the Chiang Mai Photographic Group on Wednesday night. There were about 15 members in attendance, mostly from Europe. All were men, except for Malonie, another new member from British Columbia, and me. We spent the first part of the evening watching some video tips on using Lightroom for photo editing. That is one of my winter projects already, so I was glad for the new ideas. There was also a little discussion on equipment. I can’t believe the number of lenses and cameras some of these people have. I have 1 body and 2 lenses but I’m still pretty new to this.
We spent the second half of the evening looking at photos that everyone had brought to share. They were on a large screen and a couple of the members led the discussion. The pictures were shot all over the world, including Thailand, and some of them were spectacular. There seems to be quite a lot of time spent editing to make the pictures perfect. They also commented on being past taking pictures of monks, wats and food buthat won’t deter me from continuing to take pictures of the things that make Chiang Mai interesting and unique to me.
I shared a shot of Moraine Lake from June and one of Mt. Assiniboine from July. The critiques had been pretty specific up to this point, but they didn’t have anything to say about either of them. The thing I liked was that both of my pictures had almost no editing done to them. I know how to take mountain pictures and they are such a good subject to work with. I will certainly learn a lot from this group as long as I keep an open mind and don’t take the feedback too personally.
Camera Lens Repair
I have had problems with my zoom lens recently. The auto-focus motor doesn’t always seem to turn the focus ring properly and it makes a terrible squeal. A club member suggested a repair place and had a name and address sent to me by facebook by the time I walked home. I looked it up on Maps and it seemed to be just over 2 km from here.
I am retired, after all, so I didn’t have anything more pressing to do. I headed off, armed with my hat, water bottle, sturdy shoes, money belt and camera-toting day pack. Most importantly, I had a small paper map and the location on Google Maps on my phone, as well as a screenshot of the route in Google Keep. Maps uses a lot of power and heats up my phone, but I had an extra charger pack which was useful later in the day.
It takes a lot of energy to walk in Chiang Mai. I will have some pictures on another day of all the things you find on the sidewalk here, but suffice it to say, sidewalks are not meant for pedestrians. Wheelchairs or walkers would be impossible. Almost everyone here travels by scooter. You often have to step onto the road to get around scooters and food carts parked on the sidewalk, or step into the traffic lane to get around a parked car next to the impassable sidewalk.
The pavement is uneven and the curbs are high. You see many tourists with bandages on their knees, me included. This happens when you start to look around too much and miss a high spot, a low spot, or a starfruit fallen from the tree hiding in the leaves.
Observations from my walk
Although walks here are not opportunities for reflection like they are on the walking trail at home, I did notice a few things.
- Scooter riders here look completely at ease, even when riding with a baby sitting on the driver’s shoulders with mom holding her in place from behind
- Some streets just have a row of tailors, working in rooms open to the street. Some of the hand work was done by people sitting on the floors
- Other streets have a row of hair dressers, one shop after another
- In Thailand you take your shoes off before entering a home. I saw a Ballroom and Latin Dance studio with a pair of shoes left outside. What do you dance in?
- Walking through lanes of cars stopped for a light is not only acceptable but recommended
- A man with a disfigured foot limping down the sidewalk had the biggest smile and hello for me
- Just when you realize you are the only white face in a neighborhood, someone will suddenly approach you in a red shirt with CANADA written across the front.
- The neighborhood around the mosque sold more headscarves and served halal food in the restaurants
- When you get lost and wander down a dead-end lane and end up in someone’s yard, no one seems concerned.
- There are some quiet boulevards that look like they are from any North American small town with traffic moving one way on each side with small stores alongside.
- The western style grocery stores will offer to check your other bags for you while you shop
- A fruit vendor with ice-cold bags of cut up papaya appears on a seemingly deserted street just when you need a little sustenance
AV Camera and Lens Repair
I overshot one street but did find the repair store. He tested the lens and declared he could fix it for about 1900 baht, or $70. That seemed a lot better than a new one. His assistant spoke a little more English and made up an invoice and wanted a phone number. I have a phone number here, but only a small credit on my plan to use it. I have unlimited data and wifi at the apartment so I asked her to email me when it was ready. After lots of Thai/English, Thai/Thai back and forth, I determined that the best way is to Facebook message them and they will use Facebook to let me know when it is ready, but I did record their phone number, just in case. I was glad I had the recommendation from the Photo club. It’s the kind of issue anyone in a new place must face when leaving their personal things with someone.
I returned a headset at the mall for Peter. It took 3 young clerks to understand my gestures that we had a computer with a single hole for headset/microphone and their headset had 2 separate plugs. I did apologize for not knowing more Thai. The service was wonderful. One of the staff took me to the customer service, offered me a chair and waited with me until the transaction was complete. Tourists are exempt from some of the VAT so I had to provide the picture of my passport as well to make sure the totals were correct.
After one more stop for milk and a Thanksgiving gift of a package of English White bread of only 4 slices in a package, I walked to a main street looking for transportation home. A tuk tuk was stopped at a red light so I ran across 3 lanes of traffic and piled in. He dropped me right at my gate for $3.78 or 100 baht.
Google Maps timeline
Here is a copy of my travels.
You can see where I got lost, the dead end lane and the journey in the tuk tuk. I actually walked a little farther than it shows, but the route is accurate. This feature is in the Google Maps app under timeline. You can see each day on a calendar. In a new place, it is great to see where you have been each day. Sometimes we forget names of places we want to return to and can find them on these maps. You can add notes of your own and confirm the places you were. There is a list below the map for each part of your journey. When I enter the locations I want, Maps gives me the distance in km so I’m not sure why this timeline map is only in miles. Fortunately, I am still bilingual in metric and imperial. Except for the overheating issue with Maps, I don’t know if I would feel so confident heading out on my own in a country that speaks a language not familiar to me. Many of the street signs are only in Thai so navigating with just a map would be so much more difficult
This is not related to my walk, but it is not really related to anything and it came up in our apartment Happy Hour group discussion yesterday. Take a look at the pictures from our apartment bathroom (and really any bathroom we have seen in Chiang Mai). See if you can guess how barbaric toilet paper is compared to this system.
Have you got it? After describing the squat toilets in China, and thinking that was going to be the way of toilets in all of Asia, we were pleasantly surprised to find this set up in our apartment. There is a sign on the elevator for newcomers that is very clear that toilet paper is not to be put into the toilet, at all. I had heard that before we left and wasn’t looking forward to having a garbage can open in our bathroom for that. We were also told to bring toilet paper with us since the apartment didn’t provide any. I did that, but still.
Once I saw these hoses in all the bathrooms here, I finally googled Thai toilet hose and got the instructions I needed. What a wonderful tool. In our apartment, only the shower has a hot water heater. All the other taps send out room temperature water. That is great for the bum gun here. I talked to a Californian who found one on Amazon under diaper sprayer and had it installed in their bathroom at home. I’m not sure I want the cold water of the North Saskatchewan coming through that hose at our house though. It would be a pretty quick rinse with some descriptive language I imagine.