Tag Archives: nature

How I spent the past two days

Black Canyon

I must apologize for the lack of posting the past two days. Diane and I have been up in northern Arizona staying at a friend’s cabin, hiking each day. The picture on the right shows Diane (right) and Jan Jantzer, whose house we have been staying, on today’s hike in Black Canyon, a canyon near Heber that is known by locals but is off the radar for most everyone else. Quite beautiful, especially because the recent rain has brought out the wildflowers. In addition, a forest fire about a dozen years ago cleared everything out, leaving behind a scattering of blackened tree trunks, many fallen logs, and open ground on which new growth has blossomed.

The canyon is also different in that it is wide and open, with sloping grassy walls interspersed with rocky cliffs. Most canyon hikes aim for high vertical walls and sculptured rock. Black Canyon instead was focused on the vegetation. As I said, very beautiful, and another example of why I left the crowded eastern United States for lovely Arizona.

I must add that the general news this week is so insane and filled with hatred that I needed a break.

Normal posting shall resume momentarily.

Share

Coron Island Hopping, Palawan, Philippines

An evening pause: There are so many wonderful places in this universe to see. We just don’t have time. From the youtube website:

Coron is one of the famous beautiful spots of the Philippines, located in the north of Palawan. Palawan is considered one of the best islands in the World, and Coron and the surrounding islands offer spectacular views and beautiful beaches. In this video: view on the way to Kayangan Lake (0:28), Kayangan Lake (0:32), Barracuda Lake (1:33), Twin Lagoon (2:18), Atwayan Beach (3:11), Coron town (3:54), Malcapuya Beach (4:20), Banana Island (5:26), Bulog Dos Island (5:48), view from the top of Mt Tapyas (6:15).

Hat tip Danae.

Share

Perseid meteor shower this weekend

The annual Perseid meteor shower upcoming on August 12 is expected to be especially good this year because there will be no moon in the sky.

The Perseid meteors seem to come from a single point, the `radiant’, situated in the constellation Perseus, giving the shower its name. This is however just an effect of perspective, as the meteors move parallel to each other, much like drivers see when driving in heavy rain.

The radiant will be visible from around 10pm and at this time there will be the highest chance of seeing `Earth grazing meteors’. These are meteors that skim the Earth’s atmosphere and so have long, blazing tails.

Observers can expect to see a few tens of meteors per hour, or one every few minutes, once darkness has fallen on 12 August. The number of meteors will peak in the early hours of 13 August, when up to around seventy each hour should be visible.

It is worth it to find a nice dark place and stay up all night at least once in your life to watch this shower. Get a nice camp chair that allows you to lie back, make sure you are dressed comfortably, and sit back and enjoy.

Share

How I spent my Saturday: Removing graffiti in a cave

Yesterday was another of my many cave adventures, but different than most. Instead of exploring and mapping newly discovered or out-of-the-way remote cave passages, I participated in a project of the Central Arizona Grotto (a chapter of the National Speleological Society and located in Phoenix) to remove years of graffiti from Peppersauce Cave. You can see pictures of yesterday’s effort here, published by the Arizona Star.

You won’t see any pictures of me. The younger cavers were far more photogenic.

Peppersauce has become what cavers call a “sacrificial cave.” It is open and ungated, relatively easy to traverse, and very well known throughout the state. Thus, many inexperienced people go there to see it, most of whom know little about caving, the ethics of protecting them, or the proper techniques for caving safely. Yesterday, while we were working to either sand-blast, chemically remove, or grind away old spray-paint (some of which was sadly obscene), I must have seen between 150 to 200 people go by. At least two thirds of them were not wearing helmets. Many clearly had never been in a cave before. Some were not wearing headlamps, carrying flashlights instead (which makes climbing harder because you don’t have use of both hands and can easily lose your light). A few even came in with no lights, depending instead on the lights their companions carried.

Because of this heavy traffic, Peppersauce has been badly trashed. On visits by experienced cavers we routinely carry out bags of trash, only to find that trash reappearing, sometime in mere hours. The walls of the cave had been covered with graffiti, some many layers deep.

Ray Keeler of Central Arizona Grotto (CAG) has organized several projects in the past to remove this graffitti over the past two decades. The effort he is leading this year is the third, and has the help of cavers from grottos throughout the state. This was the fourth clean-up weekend, and the first that I was able to attend (having missed the first three due to scheduling conflicts).

I’ve done similar things before, but never on this scale. It was quite educational using the solvent to remove some graffiti, but unfortunately many types of paint are completely resistant to removal by either sand-blasting or solvent. After awhile I got discouraged doing solvent work. Too often nothing got removed. In the afternoon I switched to our last technique, grinding, and was far more gratified with the results. The grinder, which we do not use on formations, removes only the slightest layer of material, and thus does little damage. It however is very effective in removing all paint, no matter how resistant.

The cave is now about two thirds cleaned. We are racing to finish the rest before the summer, because a typically insane reason forced upon us by the government. You see, according to a law passed by Congress, graffiti that is more than fifty years old is considered historical, and cannot be removed without a great deal of paperwork and complex bureaucracy. Spray paint was invented in the late 1960s (about fifty years ago), and so some of this ugly graffiti, no matter how obscene, is going to be protected by our government beginning later this year. Our goal is to get it removed beforehand, so that the cave can be returned to a more natural state, for future visitors to experience.

Share

Back from the hunt

Gary looking out across the deseart during the javelina hunt

I got back from my javelina hunt earlier today, and am only now getting down to some business.

Sadly, we didn’t bag anything. In fact, based on the lack of gunfire for miles around, I suspect not many others did as well. It seemed the area we were hunting might have become a bit popular in the last two years, and the javelinas have moved on, or gotten smarter about hiding. No matter. I don’t give up easy. We shall try again next year, probably in a different more remote location.

Even so, the weekend was quite pleasant. Got to spend my time wandering about in some beautiful country. The image on the right shows my hunting partner (and mentor) Gary looking across one wash.

Share

Off hunting javelinas again

A javelina

Posting on Friday and over this weekend will be nil, as I am leaving tonight, Thursday, and will be in the back country with no phone or internet service on my second javelina hunt. If we bag something early we will be back early, but that can hardly be guaranteed.

For a description of my javelina hunt last February, go here.

Note that there will be an evening pause on Friday night, regardless.

Update: Due to technical issues, I am instead heading out tomorrow afternoon, so posting will resume for the morning hours.

Share

30 day timelapse at sea

An evening pause: Quite hypnotic, and captures the feel for what a modern ship freighter is like, which is nothing like the romantic past. And somehow, this feels fitting to show on the anniversary of the day Columbus first touched shore in the New World in 1492. He pushed the envelope possibly more than any human has ever done, and changed human history in doing so.

Hat tip Steven Golson.

Share

Timelapse photography of Fort Jefferson in Dry Tortugas National Park

An evening pause: From the youtube webpage: “On a remote island hours away from Key West lies the largest masonry structure in the Americas: Fort Jefferson. Built with 16 million bricks, but never finished, the fort served as a prison during Civil War. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, upon visiting the island, named it a National Monument, and in 1992 it became part of Dry Tortugas National Park.”

Hat tip Wayne DeVette.

Share

Glacier: Why I am not posting this week

The picture below will help explain why I am not posting much this week. My wife Diane and I are in Glacier National Park, and today we did a 12 mile hike on the Highline Trail, considered by many to be one of the best trails in the U.S. I’ve done a lot of hiking in my life, and I have to agree.

I hope good internet access will return next week, and I will be able to post regularly again. Until then, make sure you look real close at the picture. On the right, at the end of the trail line, is a person. This will give you a sense of the scale here.

Highline Trail

Share

At Zion on the way to the eclipse

At Zion

As I have mentioned several times on my radio appearances with John Batchelor, Diane and I today began a two week trip to Glacier National Park followed by several days at Capital
Reef. The trip’s date however was pinned to Monday’s eclipse, with the plan being that we are stopping in Idaho Falls on the way up to Glacier to see it.

Today Diane and I drove from Tucson to a hotel right outside Zion National Park. This was not in my original plans, but when I realized the drive to Idaho from Tucson would be more than 15 hours, I looked to see if there was a nice place midway that we could also do some sightseeing. To my delight I discovered that Zion was perfectly positioned, and that there was a La Quinta hotel at its entrance that I could book practically free by using the points I had accumulated by staying at this chain previously. We had been to Zion previously, but it had been a number of years, and this would give us a chance to do a quick extra sightseeing trip.

After we checked in around 4:30 pm, we ate dinner, then took the shuttle bus into the park. The picture on the right above was taken from a short trail at the Court of the Patriarchs bus stop, up to a look out. When I saw the sun eclipsed in this manner by one of Zion’s many pinnacles, I thought this to be a very appropriate picture for the trip. The picture below is the main view from the lookout of the three pinnacles dubbed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, from left to right. We didn’t see much as we didn’t have much time, but still, the place remains as beautiful as ever.

Tomorrow we head up to Idaho Falls.

Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob peaks in ZionA

Share

At the rim

at the rim

On a lark, last week I called Xanterra, the vendor that runs the hotels on the south rim of the Grand Canyon, to see if they had any rooms available anytime during the summer. Diane and I wanted to do a day hike down the Hermit Trail, and to do it we needed to stay at a hotel the night before and the night after.

To my surprise, they had a rim view room available in Bright Angel Lodge, for tonight and tomorrow. The picture on the right is taken from our room, right after we arrived earlier today. I am right now sitting at that window, watching the sun set on the canyon buttes even as I type. Yowza!

I will post more tonight, and some tomorrow night as well. I will also do my podcast with John Batchelor tomorrow, live, from this room. Most cool, I must say.

Share

Off to Israel + new op-ed!

My April travels continue. It has been too long since I traveled to Israel to visit family, so today I am heading out for the long flight, arriving tomorrow afternoon. I will be there until April 20. I expect I will be able to post, as I have in the past, though my commentary will likely be reduced somewhat.

Note that I will have a new op-ed published sometime this week at The Federalist entitled “What Trump’s space policy should really do.” I am positive that my conclusions will not be what most people expect. The op-ed was inspired by this comment by Edward Thelen, part of comments in connection with this Zimmerman/Batchelor podcast, where I talked about space exploration in the context of the American settlement of the west.

The comparison with the American west is appropriate. There have been other expansions throughout the world, too. In the 19th century, the US was not the only country that had a frontier. We have several examples of expansion from which to learn, but the frontiers in the Americas were clearly the largest, complete with immigration from the Old World straight to the frontier.

An example of a lesson — beyond Robert’s example of the Homesteading Act — is the need for better communication between the US east coast and California. Messages and people needed to move across the continent in far less time and in a safer manner than those that were available in 1860, so government funded a transcontinental railroad, a line longer than had ever been built or operated before. Earthbound or space-born governments may also have needs for similar large projects. Although the needs of We the People has been shown to be best met through private-ownership of free-market capitalist commerce, there will be times when government should also fund projects that solve its needs.

Edward was suggesting that the focus of the federal government — and Trump’s space policy — should be building an infrastructure that will make it easier for private companies and individuals to work in space. My initial response had agreed with him:

What NASA should do is build the kind of infrastructure that private enterprise needs to explore the Moon, the asteroids, and Mars. Build a communications network. Put communications satellites behind the Moon. Set up radiation monitors that private tourists trips will need to monitor solar and cosmic radiation. And even here, the model should be that used in the west with the transcontinental railroad, where the government hired private companies to do the work for it.

I need to think about this more. This needs to be written up properly.

In thinking about it, however, I completely rejected my initial response, and Edward’s suggestion. The infrastructure that the federal government needs to build in space has nothing to do with physical objects. This is the mistake everyone has been making for decades. In my op-ed I argue for something else entirely, and I hope the Trump administration is listening.

Stay tuned. When the Federalist op-ed gets posted I will post the url here immediately.

Share

Another Grand Canyon tour

On the Tonto Platform

Because I live in southern Arizona, I take advantage of this location to make an annual trip to the Grand Canyon. On my previous trips I’ve talked about the right way to hike the canyon (slowly!) and then provided some suggestions for proper preparation.

This time I am simply going to suggest two hikes. One is very easy and should be done by every visitor to the south rim. The other hike is for those who go to the bottom, and reserve themselves one day there for a day hike.
» Read more

Share

Off to Belize

Today, Wednesday, I head to the airport to return to the western regions of Belize for a week of cave exploration and mapping. Last time I was there in May we began a cave survey. I am now the cartographer for this project, and this time I hope we can finish it.

I intend to post while in Belize, though it will likely have to wait until each evening when we get back from the caves. I also intend to do my Batchelor appearances, but this time live from Mayan Mountain Lodge in San Ignacio, where we will be staying. The lodge was gracious enough in May to let me use their office and phone, and I expect they will be agreeable again this time.

Anyway, off for more adventure. The world is much too fascinating a place to see it just from my desk by way of the internet. You have to get out and see it for real whenever you can!

Share

Hunting Javelinas

A javelina

This past weekend I participated on my third hunt, the second in which I was carrying my own weapon with the possibility of making my own kill. (For my first hunting experience I only came along as an observer.) The goal was to find and shoot a javelina, a boarlike wild animal whose range covers the southwestern United States down into Central America.

The hunt itself was what Arizona Game and Fish calls a HAM hunt, specifically limited to the use of handguns, archery, or muzzleloaders. This means that the only long gun you can use must be loaded through the muzzle one shot at a time, use black powder, and function somewhat like an old-fashioned musket. My weapon of choice was the 1911 pistol I use for bullseye competition, with a red dot scope, a customized left-handed grip, a carefully adjusted trigger, and in general carefully adjusted to be as accurate as possible. With this gun, shooting 45 caliber ammo, I can hit the black bullseye 50 yards away shooting one-armed about 70% of the time. At shorter distances, using two hands, I can easily group my shots in a space less than a few inches across. (Such accuracy on my part is actually not very impressive. Among bullseye shooters I am about average. The public’s general belief that pistols are not accurate beyond 20 feet is simply wrong. Practice, make sure your gun functions as it should, and you will reliably be able to hit your target at 50 yards.)

Since I really have no knowledge about hunting, I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing this without some help. My mentor this weekend was a local friend, Gary Kessinger, who has been hunting for decades, has a number of record kills, and routinely comes home successfully from his hunts. When I mentioned to Gary my desire to learn more about hunting and see how it is done, he gladly offered to guide me through the process. He hadn’t hunted javelinas much in the past few years, but decided to get his own license or tag so that he could shoot one himself.

As I told Gary on Saturday morning, I am essentially a babe in the woods, and would do whatever he suggested. My attitude was that I was the equivalent of a 10-year-old on his first hunt. Anything I accomplished well would be a success, even if it was merely learning how to spot javelinas on a distant hillside using binoculars.
» Read more

Share

Famous sequoia tree falls

The Pioneer Cabin Tree, the California sequoia that had had a tunnel carved in it in the 1880s so that people, and for a time cars, could travel through, has fallen.

Jim Allday of Arnold is a volunteer at the park who was working there Sunday. He said the tree went down about 2 p.m. and “shattered” on impact. He said people had been walking through the tree as recently as Sunday morning.

It’s not clear why the tree fell, but probably had to do with the giant sequoia’s shallow root system — the roots only go about two or four feet deep — and the fact that the trail around the tree was flooded due to rain. “When I went out there (Sunday afternoon), the trail was literally a river, the trail is washed out,” Allday said. “I could see the tree on the ground, it looked like it was laying in a pond or lake with a river running through it.”

Share

Canyoneering in Death Valley

Slabby Acres

This past Thanksgiving weekend I joined some caving and canyoneering friends in Death Valley to celebrate the holiday in the great outdoors as well as explore some of the park’s more inaccessible canyons. We did not camp in the park, since campfires are not allowed and the park has a size limit for groups. Instead, we camped on BLM land just outside the park, in what appeared to be an abandoned RV trailer park that canyoneerers call Slabby Acres.

First a primer. Regular readers will know that I have been doing cave exploration and mapping now for about thirty years. This recreational activity not only involves knowing how to use survey instruments in a cave, you need also to be trained in the vertical rope techniques required to reach some remote places underground, sometimes dropping multiple pits on the way in and climbing those same domes on the way out.

Canyoneering is somewhat similar to caving. Just like caving you need to know how to travel over boulders and rough terrain and also know how to rappel and climb ropes. Unlike caving the canyons are open to the sky, and you rarely climb the ropes to travel up the canyon. In canyoneering the goal is to find the head of the canyon and travel down its many drops to come out at the bottom safely, all the while getting to see some wild, majestic, and rarely seen places. In addition, modern canyoneering rarely involves virgin exploration. Most canyoneerers visit already explored canyons whose details are well documented so that they know what ropes to bring as well as how to find the canyons.

This was our goal this past weekend. Some of the western cavers who have joined my survey projects and learned how to cave survey are also active canyoneerers. While none of us had ever visited the canyons on our trip list, several were very experienced with finding and traversing places they had never been before. My plan was to follow them and enjoy the experience. Below are my pictures during one of this weekend’s canyoneering trips. The canyon is Scorpion Canyon. It was the first we visited and was relatively easy to do, only 4.6 miles long with only six rappels and only an 1,800 foot elevation drop. It would take us over one of the mountain ranges that form the eastern wall of Death Valley. In fact, this was how I was going to enter Death Valley for the first time. Rather than drive in, like most tourists, I would rappel in.
» Read more

Share

The world’s longest and highest glass-bottomed bridge

Link here. Lots of great pictures of this new pedestrian bridge in China, including one of a reporter trying (and failing) to use a sledge hammer to break the glass.

China’s economy might have a lot of holes and might face collapse, as many experts have been telling me for years, but at the same time they seem to be successfully harnessing the success they’ve had in the past few decades to get very creative. That creativity suggests to me the collapse is not guaranteed, and will not be as severe as predicted.

Share

The Grand Canyon

Park Service warning sign

When I posted here on Behind the Black that Diane and I were on our way to the Grand Canyon for our annual hike to the bottom, one of my readers, Keith Douglas, commented that he and his family would be there about the same time. In trying unsuccessfully to meet up, at one point Keith mentioned that his two kids, aged 24 and 23, were proposing they hike into the canyon. Keith emailed me to ask, “From what I read, hiking into the canyon and out is not recommended for a one day activity. What about halfway and back up? Can that be done in an afternoon? It seems pretty hot.” I responded,

Though one can hike down and up in one day, this is not recommended for most. Usually you need to be in very good condition and young. It also helps if you are a long distance runner. Hiking down to Indian Gardens [about two thirds of the way down] can be done as a day trip, but if you don’t hike a lot it will be an intense and long experience. Also, having the right pack and gear is essential! People who go carrying a one liter bottle of water and no hat are guaranteed to suffer.

I didn’t tell them they couldn’t do it, or that they shouldn’t, or that it wasn’t possible. I simply outlined some of the basics for doing it, and let them decide what to do.

Keith answered, with humor, “Thanks for helping me talk my kids out of a hike down.” He later added, “I read a hiking guide on the nps website. It seems to be designed to discourage canyon hiking rather than prepare novice hikers.”

In one sentence Keith encapsulated the problem with almost all of the advice the Park Service gives about the Grand Canyon.
» Read more

Share
1 2 3 6