Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Night in Monument Valley

Last spring I had a chance to take the VW bus to Monument Valley with hopes of getting some night photography. Of course some sunset photos would be in store, but they seem pretty cliche. Pretty, but cliche. I have a theory about cliche photos. Although everybody has taken the same (or similar) photograph, or tried to emulate a famous photograph (a la Ansel Adams), the image may be considered cliche. I only consider it cliche if I have taken the same photo, without adding any additional element personality or processing. The drive there was long, and although the weather called for clear skys, we were having a particularly windy spring. 50 -60 mph winds seemed the norm around there, and as far as Flagstaff. It lasted for a month and a half, and we were not spared from the wrath during this trip. The first night we checked in to the primitive campground, and found a spot down and along the edge of the rim. We were so close to the edge there was no way any campers would be parking in front of us. We poped the top and a couple of beers, and settled down with a perfect view of the Mittens.

The rest of the campground had views of us ( how rude huh?). In reality we were in a bonefied site, with a fire ring et al. It's just the 30 ft deisel pushers couldn't dream of driving to where we were, and we had gotten there early enough to claim such a spot. I roamed around a bit, trying out different compositions for the night shots I was planning once the sun set. We were getting hungry once the sun started hanging low in the sky, the wind was blowing maybe more than gently. After dinner I set up for sunset and grabbed a couple of 'cliche' shots, shooting until the sun was at the horizon, lengthening the shadow of the giant monuments, and bathing the scene in a red glow. After sunset I set up a shot I thought would be great for a star trail shot. I grabbed my favorite wide angle, a Vivitar Komine A1 f2.0 close focus 28mm lens. It is one of those legendary lenses from the full frame film age, for the Pentax 35mm camera. Crystal clear and wide opened I took the first of my frames after the sun had set and the first stars were visible. Leaving the shutter open for 5 minutes at that time, referred to as 'civil twilight,' captured the Mittens with a bit of glow on them. This left some detail in the foreground and on the rock face, so I might blend it later in Photoshop. I poped open a couple more beers and waited until 'astronomical twilight' arrived. This is when there is no light refleced off the atmosphere, and when the stars will be the brighest. enter the irony. Although I was situated at the furthest campsite to the edge of the canyon, I wasn't going to be alone. Some Asian campers pulled up at this time, and parked thier overloaded Ford Escort about a foot off my front bumper. They began unpacking thier gear and walking down the hill each with ther own headlamp shining and bouncing up & down. This was, of course happening while I was shooting. I guess karma got me back for parking in front of all the big motorhomes, detracting from thier view. Each frame had headlamp trails streaking through them. I kept shooting, knowing that photoshop might be able to save me. The next day we drove through the park, on our self guided tour, scoping out possible additional star trail photo ops. There was the three sisters, Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei , The Thumb, and of course the Valley floor. I decided to start with Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, and see what I can fit in from there.The sun went down and the wind kicked up.

 It was blowing at a pretty good clip, stirring up dust into huge clouds. I set up on the leeward side of the van, and threw caution to the wind. I took ten 5 minute shots, not worring about the dust getting in my weather sealed Pentax (just don't try to change lenses). I didn't know that the end result would be a capture of dust clouds, and intermittent star trails. It was an effect that I couldn't have re-created if I wanted. It just goes to show that any kind of weather can help make an interesting image. It probably wouldn't have been as cool without the dust clouds. It reminds me of the Tv series "Land of the Lost". The cable relase got kind of gritty, but a session with the rocket blower seemed to fix it. With that session 'in the tin' I moved on looking for my next subject. Then the wind started to blow. And blow. The wind was blowing so fast that the dust from my tires was passing me. I decided to bunker down for the night. We slept in the van, being shaken all night by the gusts. After a few hours of disturbed sleep I got up and moved to get a better view of the valley for sunrise.

I found a nice vantage point, and shot a number of different comps. My favorite was a large red rock that sort of mimmicked the contour of the valley monuments. The day broke and the wind never let up. We pulled up stakes and made our way to Page, as we had a tour booked for Antelope Canyon. That drive was interesting. It was more like floating a boat, than driving. That is a story for a different day .

Monday, November 7, 2011

Red Rock Crossing Color

Oak Creek is getting a lot of representation lately, no wonder, it's one of the state's treasures, and photographers from all around are flocking to see the fall color. For those who don't know, Oak Creek flows here just below Cathedral Rock at one of the most photographed landmarks in Arizona. I live about 45 minutes away, and though I have been there many times, never for photographing sunset, or during the fall. I can remember when all of Sedona and Oak Creek was free to hike, and camp and play in the water. Twenty some-odd years ago Slide Rock, Grasshopper Point, and Red Rock Crossing were our favorite stomping grounds. My sophomore year I joined the seniors on 'Senior Ditch Day' and drove to Red Rock Crossing to partake in the revelry. Someone got a hold of a keg of beer, and when I got there one student was already so drunk he was passed out faced down in the shallow water. I showed up just in time for the party. I had just finished a glass of beer when the school's administration arrived. I can still remember Ms Fisher pulling up in the district's brown station wagon. She got out and proceeded to take names. Man you've never seen a full size keg run so fast up stream in your life. The students scattered, and within minutes the dirt parking lot was empty excpet for a brown station wagon, some paper cups and the poor sot face down in the shallow red rock water. Red Rock Crossing is a state park now, that charges $9 to enter. Its much better kept, and equipt with bathrooms, water machines, sidewalks and interprative signs. I have mixed feelings about our public lands becoming bumper to bumper amusement attractions, but realize that if our natural treasures weren't protected by the almighty dollar, it could very well be laid to waste. This shot was taken a couple of weeks ago just after a rain storm. I decided to head down to Red Rock Crossing in hopes that the sun would dip below the large rain cloud and bless the scene with some magic light and clouds. I showed up just in time for the party. The bank of the creek was filled with photographers and tripods, I knew the light would be fleeting, so I bracketed the shots on a couple of different ISOs, and kept the shutter speed up so I could hand hold the camera with shake reduction on. I brazenly squeezed between a couple and stepped out into the squishy mud to take the shot. Crescent Moon Ranch, a settlement preserved from the 1800s.
Back in the day there wouldn't have been anyone standing on that bank waiting with tourists for the light to turn gold. But times have changed, and we must change with it. So get out and enjoy the last of the best, before they're loved to death. Oh, and never be late to a party.

Night in Sedona

Since I got my DSLR I've been dying to get to Sedona and photograph the red rock country at night. I loaded up the gear and dogs into the VW bus and started to hit the major land marks. The plan was to grab the tripod, makes some star trails, then find a camping spot out of city limits in the national forest. The first stop was Castle Rock. I set up the tripod right in the empty parking lot. A light storm had recently passed and the clouds just began to clear. Normally a clear night is preferrable to a cloudy one, but one takes the time one has. I have found that any weather makes for more interesting photos. Here there was still some color in the sky, and the lights of Sedona were reflecting off the clouds. The light illuminating the front of Castle Rock is ambient light from car headlamps and the Village of Oak Creek. The shutter was left open for 30s, ISO 200, at f2.0 using some old legacy glass, the Vivitar 28mm f2.0. The next shot here, I just turned around toward Courthouse Butte and took three 10 minute exposures. I stacked them in Photoshop afterward to align the startrails. The high clouds made them a bit dotted by diminishing the light as they passed. The next two were taken from the parking lots of each land mark, Bell Rock and Capitol Butte.

They were just some quick 30s exposures. The last photo here was taken of Cathedral Rock, but not from the Red Rock Crossing area, which is where most photos are taken of the landmark.
I found an out of the way dirt road and perched there for about an hour, dogs waiting patiently in the van.

Here you can see Cathedral Rock, and the lights of Cottonwood reflecting off the clouds. Again it was 3 ten minute exposures with the same settings as Courthouse Butte. This concluded my foray, after which I drove out of town to the national forest to camp out in the VW bus for the rest of the evening (about 11pm).

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Old North Church in Winter

My biggest fan, my Mom, was so impressed by my photo of the Old North Church from my trip to Boston for Christmas 2002 that she was compelled to enter it into the Coconino County Fair. She didn't tell me she had entered it, and to my surprise it had won 3rd place. Woo Hoo. I proudly accepted the award, a huge $1.00. That's one dollar. Basically I kept the check and mounted it to the back of the framed print, so I may remember it my whole life. So with out any further ado...

There are a few more photos I took from the trip.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Oak Creek Color

October 2008 marked a turning point in my photography. It was when I decided to buy a new DSLR. As a Pentax SLR user I had quite a few lenses already in my kit, just sitting there. Oak Creek Color 1 I did a bunch of research and for $500 I got a K200D that met all of my needs. The camera body was weather sealed, had in body shake reduction, mirror lock-up and a sensor that paralleled the current Canon 40D (at half the price). I could go on and on about the camera, not to mention the amazing durablitiy, but I will digress on a mile long rant. Oak Creek Color 2 On the way back from my Nephews birthday party I decided to stop through Sedona, and try to capture the last remaining fall color. I didn't have a tripod, but set the camera on a rock to give the small falls some longer shutter speeds. These are one of my first photos with the K200D.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Sierras- Duck Lake

The last leg of the trip from Oregon after Rich's wedding brought us back again to the Sierras. The Sierras hold a special place in my heart not only due to the beautiful vistas, numerous lakes and peaks, but it's accessibility and hikability.

Mammoth Lakes is the perfect jumping off point to make a big loop full of all that I love of the area. We started at one of the campgrounds at the back of Lake Mary and made a long loop around Duck lake, behind Lake George, and Horseshoe Lake.

The trail makes a sharp ascent from the back of the parking lot, and passes a smaller lake and along a creek. Duck lake was less than 5 miles away, and we found an unlevel camp spot surrounded by grass.

The view was beautiful, and I took photos non-stop.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Humbolt Redwoods & Lost Coast

On the way back from my friend Rich's wedding, we took a trip along the Oregon and California coasts. Starting at the Humbolt Redwoods, Kristi and I drove the bus south and down to the Lost Coast. We loved the towering Redwood trees. Walking throught the forest we felt like tourists in New York, constantly looking up. The little campground we stayed at was nestled in between some young growth trees, and raspberry bushes. Black bears frequented the area to breakfast on raspberries and trash cans.

On the advice of Rich we planned a back packing trip down the Lost Coast of California. It is said that this 26 mile section of beach is the longest section of beach bereft of development and multi million dollar mansions. This is good news for sea lions, and back packers alike. We started the trip on the north shore. We followed the map down a windy narrow road to a campground. We pulled into the last remaining campsite for the night, and were greeted by a large man claiming that the site we were in was occupied. It was obvious that the site was not inhabited, and that he simply did not want anybody camping next to him. So I put it to him one way: "I don't see anybody's name on it!" He backed off once he saw I wasn't going to be pushed around. We spent the night there and had quite a few Downtown Brown beers (& Kristi had too many ha ha), and the next morning headed down the coast with our backpacks.

The wind was blowing at a pretty constant rate, and you could see the moisture from the rainforest being pulled out to sea. Once we made it out to the point the clouds lifted and the sun came out, but the wind persisted. About five miles in we came to a cabin, that the lighthouse keeper lived in once upon a time. We continued on to a natural spring, and decided to make camp there behind a large wind break someone had erected out of huge logs of drift wood. Out of the wind it was downright hot, but as soon as you stepped away from the wind break, the wind dried off the sweat and cooled you down to a chill again. It was a pretty area, with the light house and some sealions laying around. Around sunset the sky & clouds got beautiful.

Ancient Answers to Modern Questions: Lessons from the Puebloan Culture

The wind whipped up in a subtle gust, pushing dust in swirls, ruffling the feathers of an eagle caged with chicken wire and wood. The hot sun beamed down further baking the dry mesa, cracking the already dried mud intermixed with polychromic pottery shards. A mangy mutt barks, and whines then whimpers and as if trying to welcome the students emerging from the van squinting in the bright daylight.Students from the Sustainable Communities Masters program at NAU have arrived at the United States oldest continuously inhabited settlement of Orabi on the Third Mesa on the Hopi reservation. They are there to learn lessons from an ancient people, who have survived and preserved their culture in the same location for over 1100 years.
Dr. Miguel Vasquez proceeds to lead them on a brief tour through the village accompanied by the friendly dog that greeted them upon arrival. The students move into the plaza, surrounded by low stone housing with flat roofs and wooden beams protruding. “This is where the clans of Orabi have their ceremonial dances. The spectators sit around, sometimes 4 deep on the ground, and 4 deep on the roofs to watch. The ceremonies are also a time for the villagers to give. They share what they have, and make sure that everybody goes home with food. You have to be careful, though, one time I was hit in the nose by a flying orange.”
The students move through the plaza toward the end of the Mesa, and stop short of two Kivas, or subterranean places of worship. The kivas are identified only by the ladder that protrudes from a hole in the ceiling of the pit house. There, tribal members gather by clan to perform ceremonies, each clan having their own kiva. The mesas offer long views from three sides, which served as an early warning device for villagers against invaders. It also allows them to see their crops growing on the valley floor, and protect the structures against floods.
“You can see behind us the ruins of a Spanish mission, there at the edge of the mesa.” Dr. Vasquez motions with his head toward an incomplete stone structure with half of a tower still standing, “The Hopi destroyed the mission during the Pueblo revolt of 1680, when they eradicated the Spanish from the village. Again, it is we are not allowed to visit the ruins, so we can’t get any closer.” The Puebloans have had a rocky history, from the invasion of Spanish Conquistadors looking for the legendary gold ridden El Dorado then Spanish settlers and missionaries, to modern anthropologists and archaeologists, each force threatening their very survival. The town appears to be abandoned, except for a small shop vending cultural wares. There is, however, a small enclave of residents that continue to live there year round, usually elders spending their last days of retirement. Most villagers live on the valley floors, close to running water and electricity, but clan members occasionally return to the mesas for special ceremonial dances and re-inhabit the small structures.
Small raindrops fell from a partly cloudy sky in the village of Bacavi, home to the people “of the reeds.” The students are there to visit the ancient spring irrigated terraces that once flourished with corn, beans, melons and orchard crops. In the early 1990s the Hopis approached the NAU anthropology department with a reciprocal arrangement to restore their terrace gardens in exchange for cultural fellowship. This was a great opportunity for both parties. Historically anthropologists haven’t been well received by the Hopis due to their insensitive infiltration of their communities. “Intruders were not welcome, especially if they were dressed as anthropologists.” (Vasquez and Jenkins 1994) This was mostly due to the fact that the Hopi haven’t been on the receiving end of the academic study. No compensation was directed to the Hopis as a result. Since the leaders of Bacavi were trying to rekindle their agricultural traditions, they sought a reciprocal arrangement. The students had the opportunity to study an ancient culture first hand, and help the Hopi reinvigorate their terraces. The students worked together with the Hopi youth rebuilding walls, digging out spring fed pools, stabilizing the footpaths and documenting plot tenure and horticultural practices. They were able to motivate the villagers from a few families working tiny plots to as many as eighteen families cultivating gardens. But, alas, their efforts again became un-stainable. Reeds were planted, their pueblo symbol, ultimately began to draw moisture from the springs. This combined with declining interest in traditional horticulture practices, reduced the terraces to some tomato plants, and a few unproductive fruit trees.
The Native American work ethic is oriented toward necessity (Van Otten and Vasquez p7), and since the onset of the twenty first century it has become easier to shop for groceries, than to laboriously farm in hot fields for a meager yield. This along with the temptations of the modern world, the Hopi as well as other Native Americans, are starting to take another look at not only the preservation of their culture, but their continuance.
These problems are what the students have come to examine. Having looked at the problems of their own society and the growing disparity between the rich and poor it is becoming obvious that our habits are unsustainable. They have seen the writing on the wall and are looking at not only how to preserve what they have, but to continue and sustain itSmall puffy white clouds speed by as two elk and their calves hang closely to the arroyo cut by the muddy Chaco river. Slightly startled by gawking tourists they stand their ground, unwilling or unable to give up their meager source for moisture. The students emerge into the hot sun and sand to visit the Ancestral Puebloan ruins of Chaco Canyon, in the northwest area of New Mexico. They have come with the hope of understanding what mistakes this ancient civilization made causing their rapid decline. Here archeologists have discovered a striking similarity with the Ancient Chaco civilization, and modern society.
Once an intricate network of farms, roads and pueblos complete with multi-level structures rivaling the great civilizations of Central America, Chaco lays in ruins, producing little more than archaeological evidence to describe their rise and fall. The Chacos were in a delicate balance with their environment. When the rains came life was good. Across the Chaco farming districts, the farmers pursued this opportunity with all the obsession of those absolutely certain that good fortune will not last. With reliable rains, one good harvest became many. They were able to produce a surplus, and began to store corn and expand farmsteads to new even more precarious spots within the San Juan basin (Stuart p65-66).
Lasting from approximately 1020 to 1130, the Chaco phenomenon, as it is referred, was based on clusters of far-reaching communities interconnected by trade, ritual, and sharing (Stuart p.66). Farming, storing, trading, sharing food and pottery with other farmers allowed them to have more babies and finally separated them from the hunters and gatherers. Their whole identity was intertwined with their expansive community and their religion. The formation of Kivas, their ritual house, became an integral part of local family life. Between 1020 and 1080 “Great Houses” began to be constructed. These pueblo style houses began with 10 to 12 rooms. Without windows or doors they had to enter through a ladder in a hole in the roof, which doubled as a chimney. Soon these great houses expanded, and multiplied. Many became multi-storied and some included over 100 rooms. Much of the space in these Great Houses was used for storage of varieties of corn that were carefully separated. Combining ritual space, storage capacity, and some living quarters, the Chacos were able to maintain connections and trade among the expansive farming communities in the area (Stuart p107).
So, why did the ancient Chacos walk away from their civilization? Climate change and drought is what brought the civilization to its knees. Something happened in the early 1090s. There was no answer from the heavens to their rituals and prayers. The huge storage rooms lay empty and rains had begun tapering off. For four years the rains became more and more unreliable. In a stunning but final effort to “boost the economy” the Chacoan elites began to erect their grandest buildings and roads (Stuart p121).
The explosion in kiva building in about 1100a.d. indicates a ritual life that had become bloated and stopped nurturing the communities. The religious elite had grown increasingly demanding and obsessive and were requiring more and more resources to survive. The land was becoming over-hunted and the agriculture unsustainable, with the decreasing rains. Ritual alone was not feeding the babies or adapting new food-producing techniques. Failure to address these problems destroyed Chacoan society (Stuart p123). So the farmers walked away and returned to hunting and gathering or migrated to further upland communities. Their failure brought forth, however, a success story, that of the highly efficient Pueblo civilization. Stuart says, If we “listen carefully to their past, we can retrieve an important message for all surviving traditional societies, for the rest of us, and for all of twenty-first-century society to come (Stuart p. 8).The lessons that the students were able to take away are four fold. Foremost is that a successful community is egalitarian and unified (Stuart p163). The Hopi share their possessions and accumulation is seen as threatening and counter-productive. The well-being of the individual relies on the cohesion and reciprocity of the group at large (Van Otten and Vasquez p7).
Second is that a compelx and diverse economy is more sustainable. By the 1400s the puebloans had dozens of corn varieties that displayed selected characteristics such as cold and drought resistance, fast and slow maturation, deeper roots, and a variety of sizes and colors of kernels (Stuart p164). In modern times the puebloans have had to diversify economically in order to survive. The Acoma Pueblo may be the best example of using tourism to boost their economy, with their large visitors center, museum and bus tours. The Hopi have gone into the coal business with the Navajo, and even own shopping centers in Flagstaff. Other tribes are building casinos on their lands and use the gaming revenues to provide opportunities for their members.
The third lesson is that any investment into the infrastructure must focus on producing necessities and preserving their culture and environment. This is immediately evident on the less than aesthetic condition of their housing. Appearances are low on the list of priorities, and organized labor that was used to support great building projects for only one segment of their society was never used again. This dictum kept the religious leaders from imposing or gaining too much power (Stuart p165). Business decisions are made by consensus; if anybody disagreed the topic would be tabled for further discussion. This dramatically slows the possible economic development of the tribe, but at the same time reduces the possibility of being taken advantage of and making hasty decisions that could lead to mistakes.
Lastly the Puebloans realized that efficiency was more important than power. Efficiency was valued and enhanced in their high un-irrigated fields. They planted corn, beans and squash in microenvironments where the bean vines could climb the cornstalks, and the squash could retard weeds with the shade of their leaves (Stuart p167). By having a more egalitarian society it reduces the power that an individual can have, and by reaching a consensus for big decisions it keeps power out of the hands of the corruptEven though the Puebloans can teach us valuable lessons about sustainability, the threats of modern society have effected their very survival. The Hopi are concerned with their ability to weave ancient traditions with the modern lifestyle and continue to battle controversies over the environment, resources, joblessness and the erosion of their culture (Vasquez p83). These issues are same issues that threaten the sustainability of our entire civilization today, and if we cannot learn from our past we are destined to repeat the same mistakes in the future.

Stuart, David E., Anasazi America, University of New Mexico Press, 2000.
Vasquez, Miguel, The Hopi in Arizona, unknown.
Van Otten, George A. and Vasquez, Miguel , Economic Development On Arizona’s Native American Reservations.
Vasquez, Miguel and Jenkins, Leigh, Reciprocity and Sustainability: Terrace Restoration on third Mesa, Practicing Anthropology Vol. 16 No 2, 1994.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flip flops in Paradise

This was written as a creative essay tongue-in-cheek:

“Absolutely no rental cars,” read the sign, “ 4 wheel drive vehicles only. Vehicles traveling uphill have the right-of way.”
After looking down the steep 25 percent grade I decided to heed its advice. It was extremely steep. Although paved, I couldn’t i
magine a rental car getting up that road. A normal road would switch back. Not this one. The road descends into the Hawaiian valley from high on the cliffs and drops to the rumbling surf below. We parked our rental car at the small area at the top, got our backpacks out and headed on foot down the concrete ramp scored for better traction.
Our destination was Waimanu Valley, a distant and remote valley only accessible by a trail. We first had to pass through the beautiful a
nd more visited Waipio Valley to reach the best backpacking the Big Island had to offer; the Muliwai trail. My girlfriend, Kristi, and I try to escape the stresses of modern life as much as we can afford, and this trip was to be a respite from society’s constant bombardment of advertisement, rampant consumerism and the consequent war over depleting resources.
We stopped half way to rest o
ur calves.
“Feel the burn!” I said stepping to the side to catch a glimpse of Kaluahine Falls plunging off the cliff face in to t
he surf. “Wow.”
The paved road ended at the bottom in a wet marsh, then switched back to reveal some rental cars that had dared to make the journey. They were flipped over and burned by the locals in retribution for the drivers not reading the sign.
“I hope they got the full damage waiver,” I said smugly.

We arrived at what the Hawaiians called the Valley of the Kings. Traditionally taro, bananas, guava, and coconuts were grown here among the native trees. This was a favorite destination for King Kamehamea, and also where he was commissioned as guardian of the war god Kukailimoku. They celebrated luau style by hunting wild pigs, and cooking them buried in the sand with banana leaves. The ceremony is still observed by torch carrying “Night Warriors,” to this day.
Toursits delivered here in masse b
y four-wheel drive, frolicked in the waves where the Waipio River meets the sea. Then something sinister caught my attention: a lost and abandoned flip flop. I started to look around, another one, and another, littering the beach. They remained, after the tourists had left, flipping and flopping in the waves. One moment they appeared to be headed for open sea, the next they were washing up on shore. Our hike had begun with a slap, a wake up call: did I actually think I could escape society’s blatant disregard to its natural counterpart? There was a war going on over the same resources that constructed the flat rubber soles, and they were cast away, left floating like flotsam. There was something wrong with this picture.
I don’t spend too much time thinking about fashion, but flip flops were becoming more difficult to ignore. They’re found in the most far-reaching places in the world, and cheap enough for even the poorest to rely on them, but seeing them half buried in the sand made me take a closer look at the negative effects that these seemingly necessary footwear has had on the environment.
I tried to put up a wall, and deny the existence of man’s destructive wake, and headed back to the trail, after all I was also culpable. I had a pair of rubber flip flops strapped to the outside of my pack. The trail quickly left the beach and made it’s way up the valley wall. The jungle closed in as we trotted over fallen berries that stained the rotten trail floor. The smell of leaf matter mixing with ginger root stimulated my olfactory nerves in alternating cycles of curious pleasure.
The trail dipped into smaller and more rugged overgrown valleys and wound over the course of 12 more miles. Occasionally I was reminded that the ocean was only a few hundred yards away from the top of a valley cliff. Rising and falling 500 feet, each valley became more and more difficult to navigate. Rain and fallen leaves made it wet and slippery, providing a constant challenge.
The humidity and the mid-day heat was relieved by a small waterfall and pool, right off the trail. We stripped down to our skivvies, put on our camping flip flops, and plunged into the jungle run-off. Drying off our feet, we put on our boots, ate lunch and continued. Valley after valley we snaked our way down the coastline.
My mind kept flashing back to the littered beach we left. I couldn’t keep from thinking of the flip flop as a metaphor for the destructive effects society imposes on the natural world. My fascination with the flip flop stems from what the sandal means to modern society. Were we ever going to be able to shed our unsust
ainable dependencies in favor of the environment? I started to take stock of the social and physical ramifications that flip flops have brought upon the world.
The first traditional flip flops were designed by the Japanese and were woven bamboo, or wooden soled sandals. Ironically they are called “biisan” in Japan, derived from English meaning “beach sandal.” The flip flop has infiltrated almost every country, spawning specific nomenclature in many languages. For example in Italy they are refered as ‘infradito’ translated literally as ‘inter-toes.’ Danes call them ‘Klip-clapperes.’ New Zelanders call them ‘Jandals’ condensed from Japanese sandals. The Hawaiians affectionately call them “jap-slaps.” Like the pig, the flip flop was introduced to Hawaii as a foreign species. Now they are deeply ingrained into the society.
I kept hiking and thinking. Was I opposed to flip flops? No, they were useful, after all I had a pair. Comfortable and perfect for camping, they are light and pack down to a minimum. I can wear them at river crossings to keep my boots dry. They are perfect for drying out my feet after a sweaty day locked in hikers. They are too useful to be opposed to… until they’re trash.
There is a fine line between something utilitarian and trash. Two flip flops are utilitarian. They provide protection from the rough rocky ground, a necessity in today’s tender-footed world. One flip flop is trash. Not only is it trash, it is trash that lasts forever. The rubber will not decompose. They will last and last until a pile of unmatched flip flops gathers on shore, or in a land fill. Eventually
the world will begin to fill up with unmatched flip flops. Perhaps an environmental organization will need to be developed to battle the population explosion of lone flip flops. The groups mission: to gather mis-matched flip flops of similar sizes and re-sell them to concerned conservationists. Transients will collect them like aluminum cans then trade them for a few meager bits, proud that they contributed to the mitigation of the destruction of the natural world. A new fashion trend will be born; the ‘U2 Unmatched Flip Flop Special Edition,’: all proceeds to help fight foot fungus cancer- coming soon to a retailer near you.
We arrived at the top of Waimanu Valley with plenty of daylight to spare. This was the steepest and slipperiest valley yet. Layers of wet fronds and leaves lin
ed the trail. We slid down 500 feet to the valley floor. Covered in mud and little cuts we stumbled out of the jungle and onto stable river rock. Before we could access the camping area we had to cross the Waimanu river. We took off our backpacks and put on our flip flops again. The river was deep. We had to carry our packs over our heads and navigate submerged boulders. Waves broke on shore and flowed upstream creating surges that kept us unbalanced. Slipping and falling forward I managed to toss my pack to the opposite shore. Since I was already wet, I swam up the lazy stream and frolicked in the luke-warm water.
Emerging from the water I found my self at an impasse. I was actually thankful for my flip flops. This was a symbol of wanton destruction and resource depletion. It was made from fossil deposits for the comfort of my foot. This disturbed me. Modern variations made out of rubber and plastic are un-sustainable, and float. The backless sandal is easily lost in strong currents. The freedom that it gives the foot is directly disproportional to the dependence society has on its consumption. Why couldn’t they just be made out of bamboo, I wondered. Then they could decompose when they were lost.
My thoughts of the evil sandal faded with the beauty found at the bot
tom of this remote Hawaiian valley. The ocean breaking on the rocky shore provided a soothing soundtrack. Distant water falls cascaded down steep green cliff faces. The swirling clouds that obscured the top of the valley gave fresh water to feed each fall.
Stumbling into camp we plopped down our packs to take it all in. We were alone amid a dozen campsites. We decided to look around to see which site was the best.
“Grunt, grunt.”
We both turned around to face the source of the grunting: a large pig was rustling in some leaves a few feet away. Startled, it squealed slightly and scampered off toward the far side of the valley. “Oooh, there are wild pigs here.” I said.
“Cool,” Kristi said, “Lets try to get a better look.”
We followed what appeared to be a game trail. It took us into the muddy and mosquito infested jungle. We could see depressions in the ground where many pigs had made their beds.
“There.” She pointed at a huge daddy sized pig. Behind him there were three or four piglets. They scampered away making little pig sized grunts. Weaving through the jungle we pursued them, catching quick glimpses until we could
no longer keep up.
“Bananas.” She said. Sure enough, there were a bunch of bananas just lying there, with no banana tree in sight.
“The pigs must collect them from the jungle.”
“Pigs can’t climb trees!” I shrugged, baffled.
A distant rumble of a waterfall piqued our interest, and we followed a game trail in that direction. Slightly overgrown, we couldn’t gain direct access to the falls, but we got as close as we could. It was cascading down a cliff face and into a dense gathering of bush and bamboo. Slipping on the wet rocks, we approached the falls. There, at the base, obscured by leaves and mud, was my nemesis, the source of much internal debate.
“A flip flop!” I declared. “Only one.” It blew my mind. I had been “jap-slapped” again.
“I can’t believe this! I just hiked 12 miles into the jungle to get away from people, found wild pigs and a remote inaccessible water fall only to find an f-ing flip flop!”
I was livid. This was it. It was time to do something drastic. A short rant ensued, but was short lived. After all, I was preaching to the choir. We returned to
camp with the flip flop, not sure what was going to be done with it. It wasn’t going to stay there.
We set up camp and started a fire, then passed a Nalgene bottle of wine back and forth. I began to relax and return my thoughts to nature. The sun had set and a subtle glow lingered in the canyon. While looking through the other campsites for firewood I found some animal remnants.
“Check this out!” I said returning to camp.
“What is it?”
“A pig skull.” I declared. Grabbing a short piece of string laying on the ground, I tied the skull to a tree near the fire.

“Just like Lord of the Flies!” That was it! My primal instinct took over. I knew what I had to do. I disrobed, applied some soot to my face and began to chant. Holding the flip flop over my head like some holy grail, I danced around the fire. Our silhouettes flickered and reflected off the trees while the pig skull peered over our shoulders nodding in approval. I’m not sure what happened next, as the effects of alcohol and mounting frenzy took over. I was channeling some ancient Hawaiian pig ritual. It was time for the great ‘Jap-slap’ sacrifice. I offered a few choice words, mostly unintelligible, then, committed the flip flop to the fire. It resisted a few seconds, as if to reinforce its perseverance. It would not disappear so easily,
it was destined to exist forever! Slowly it succumbed, drooping, lowering into the flames, then, finally, it caught fire. The light from the burning plastic flashed and died: the final catharsis.
“Nature, One, the Corporate Flip Flop Conspiracy, Zero!”

“We should throw all our flip flops on the fire!” Kristi said caught up in my psychotic episode.
“No don’t!” I stopped her. I was overcome with a moment of clarity, “We need those!”

The Colorado Trail

This post outlines the backpacking trip Kristi and I took along the Colorado Trail just out side of Durango, Co. All the photos taken here were from my Canon S80. We got up not extrordinarily early, and it was already raining. We had breakfast, which consisted of left overs from dinner the night before and the remaining hard-boiled eggs we still had. We drove up the short rough road to the trail-head parking, then locked up the Bus. It was still raining, but shortly after we started hiking the sun came out, and we started a game of hide and seek. This game consisted of not only rain and the sun hiding but a constant rotation of clothing trying to keep up with the moisture and temperatures. We passed a couple of lite hikers and exchanged iteneraries. They appeared to have spent the night in thier clothes and ate grubs or something. They each had a small day pack and crocs. I could see no sleeping bag, tent, or food per se. I personally would like to pack some comforts, even if it takes longer to get to a destination. They were bushed, and still had to hike to Silverton. They were considering hitch-hiking the rest of the way. We told them where we were headed, and they grunted a little and said "big climb." We parted ways and continued down the trail. The sun came out to display beautiful wild flowers, then hid again behind rain clouds. After about a mile the trail came to a deep canyon. We could see the Animas river below backed by tall 14k peaks surrounded by swirling rain clouds. Every so often we could catch a glimpse of the Durango-Silverton railroad tracks as it paralleled the river. The rush of the surrounding cascading water falls permiated the still forest. It was the relaxing soundtrack as we zig-zagged on the innumerable switchbacks 4 miles to the bottom. Just as we reached the canyon floor we heard a whistle. It was the Durango-Silverton train. We rushed across the bridge over the raging Animas. It was the same bridge the forest service built in the 70s for hikers. Story goes, it was built in response to a backpacker who drowned trying to cross. Krisiti and I agreed that neither of us would have wanted to cross that river, no matter what the conditions. We could see the plume of black smoke progressing closer, then the chug a chuga, and around the bend we could see the head- light shining brightly. I quickly got out the camera and shot as many pics I could get. We waved at the passengers who looked at us like we were interesting wildlife. Then it was gone. Black smoke and the smell of burnt coal still lingering in the air. Cool stuff. From here on it would be up hill the rest of the way to camp. We moseyed up the trail a piece more and came upon some Boy Scouts who were determined to get to an old mining camp just below the pass. They were impressed with the dog's saddlebags and were even more impressed that they were carying the wine. Again I reiterate the necessity of the simple comforts in life, especially if I don't have to carry them. We stopped at a nice rest stop next to Elk Creek, a tributary of the Animas, for lunch. The trail will now parrallel Elk Creek up to the contintental divide topping off at about 11,480 feet. The trail follows the along the canyon passing talus slopes and glacial boulders, as Elk Creek rushes below. At times the trail becomes steep in all directions, not forgiving any mis-steps. According to the trail guide there would be a few level campsites below the treeline. One such place was located just below a boulder field, and on the other side of some beaver ponds. After some wet rock-hopping with backpacks we came upon a camp that was left by mountain climbers who used it as a base camp for some nearby peaks. Protected by trees somewhat, we arrived and sat in the rain shadow of the bigger trees, admiring the view of the near-by peaks. The large can opener looking rock formations were creatively named peak one and peak two. Anyway we arrived about 4 pm and leisurely set up the tent, started a fire, and cooked dinner. We had packed in some Mahi, and seared it in a wasabi-teriyaki sauce. Yum. The dogs suddenly started barking, and looking around a hill I noticed we had neighbors in the less desirable camsite next to ours. A couple of other campers just arrived. We dried out our wet pants and socks, ate some smores and went to bed shortly after sunset. Then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. Oh did I mention it rained. Yes until 6 am it rained. Fortunately, I had brought some other creature comforts for occasions just like these. No not an instant hotel room, ear plugs. Something you wouldn't think you would need when you are away from traffic, train horns and children. Well, when large rain drops are pummeling the tent for 10 hours you can see how hard it would be to sleep. That was the problem our neighbours had. I don't think ear plugs made it to thier list.
We woke up the next morning not too sore. We ate oatmeal for breakfast and prepared our day-packs and dog's saddle bags, ready to leave Extreme Base Camp and push for the Summit. The rain had lightened to a faint mist as we left camp. As we were passing our neighbours camp, Kristi asked how their night had been. He muttered some expletives ranting about how he and his wife had to be camping through the worst thunderstorm all year, and couldn't get any sleep. I don't think Kristi knew how to respond to his rants, all she could have said was "earplugs." For fear of any repercussions she just continued smiling. The first couple of miles were really relaxing. The soft forest floor padded the sound of our footsteps. We passed a camp, and had to grab the dogs so they wouldn't spook their horses. After we passed over a couple of creeks, we heard the pounding of water. We followed the sound and came upon a beautiful waterfall. At the waterfall we took some pics and discovered a really pretty flower. I will have to look up what kind it was. Soon the trail became steep and passed through more talus and glacial remains. After the recent rains the canyon was now cascading with little waterfalls all around. Soon we met up with more Boy Scouts at a deep creek crossing. They had their boots off and were trying to wade through. Kristi and I didn't pause and trudged right through, hoping our Gore-Tex boots would live up to their name. For the most part they did. The trail squeezed through a notch dripping with seep springs, then came to an old mining camp. An old cabin sat dilapidated with wall boards strewn about. Since it was above the treeline some campers tried to use the boards for campfires. With out adequate kindling it would be tough to get it going. Judging from the number of unconsumed boards burnt on one end laying around they weren't entirely successful. Luckily we arrived at the cabin before the Boy Scouts did. I was able to get some great pics. After leaving the cabin the trail continued along the now dwindling Elk Creek. The trail then took a turn straight up. Then another turn. It continued to switch back about 30 times. We actually counted. There was some debate where we were counting from, however. Either the corner, or the entire tier. Since Kristi was the one keeping count, she decided to count the corners. Eventually Elk Creek disappeared into the mountain. Talk about headwaters. The trail continued to switch back all the way to the top. I always love coming to the top of mountain passes. The anticipation of what awaits is always worth the climb. Sure enough there was no disappointment. There were a couple more cabins down a thousand feet on the other side. The sun was out and we were surrounded by hills of wild flowers and snowy mountain peaks. Time to collapse and eat lunch. I think I heard Kristi snoring. She was feeling a little light headed. We were right up there at 13,000 ft with the 14,000 peaks surrounding us. Clouds swirling around, and distant rumbles of thunder. At the top we had some choices to make. There were trails going off in many different directions. The guide book steered us toward a couple of high altitude lakes. After some more climbing we reached a ridge, then followed it past Lake El Dorado. The trail kept going along the continental divide, so since it wasn't raining we thought we had better look to see what was around the corner. Another mile or so and we reached what seemed the end of the world. With clouds below us swirling around we were awe stricken. We spent two hours exploring the various trails, careful not to loose too much elevation. Alas, it was getting late and the clouds were closing in. As we started to leave the Boy Scouts were just arriving. They remarked that we were like a couple of jack rabbits for having gotten up there so fast. It makes a huge difference if you don't have an extra 40 lbs on your back. We were actually thinking how hard it would have been to summit with our packs, not to mention not having any shelter away from the thunderstorms. The decent back to base camp seemed to take forever, and the adrenaline faded fast. Our feet were pounding by the time we got to camp, and I could feel my blood sugar level falling. We quickly made an Indian Tofu dish, with fresh vegetables and wolfed it down. Bellies full, we crawled into bed. Then it started raining again. It was a replay from the night before. The dogs curled up at our feet and we slept.
We woke up late the next morning, and leisurely made breakfast. We drank a few extra cups of coffee, with our neat coffee press that fits inside a Nalgene bottle. Since we only had to hike 8 miles that day we just hung out at the campsite. The weather was nice, the view spectacular. A little creek dribbled by. The dogs were entertained by ground squirrels. We didn't want to leave. Food was running low, and we were out of dog food too, although they would have loved squirrel fricassee. Oh well. All good things must come to an end. Slowly packing, we bid farewell to our base camp. We hiked to the train crossing again, calves sore from the previous 12 mile day. It was lunch time, and starting to rain. Just as we got grumpy about having to eat lunch in the pouring rain, we discovered a huge spruce tree. It made a perfect shelter. We watched the train pass by again, with the little chase cars behind (I'll fill you in later). The camping party with the horses passed by. Now for the 4 mile climb up the switchbacks. We didn't count the switchbacks this time. We did pass by some campers with a 2 way radio. They had two parties of parading ponchos. Must have been a sale on ponchos. It never quit raining. It was pouring buckets by the time we got to the van. We were ready to get dry by this time. Off to Silverton. As were were driving down the hill we could see a campground. That's where we would be headed. As we pulled in, the sign said no vacancy. Kristi went inside, and no one came to help her. We left, and pulled around the corner to find 3 more campgrounds. We chose the farthest one away. It was the emptiest. I went to the mobile home office and inquired within. They were practically empty and I chose a spot with a great view, and no campers blocking it. They had a jacuzzi, showers, and a sauna. And the sun came out. With our site secured, we drove to the brewery to get dinner. It was closed. So we went next door. They had a nicer place than the brewery, it looked like an old time bar. I ordered an interesting looking taco. It had home smoked pork, smoked on the premises by the proprietor, using apple wood. It was so yummy. We returned to our site, with beer in hand. We laid out our gear to dry, showered and relaxed in the jacuzzi, then dried off in the sauna. Then we snoozed.