Purple Hazy Clay Beds

The desert is full of surprises, especially when you know where to find them! These clay beds outside Kanab, Utah made me feel like I was swirling in the midst of a Jimi Hendrix song circa 1967(cue phsychedelic guitar riff of “Purple Haze).

BuckskinGulch copy10Even without mind-altering enhancements, these clay beds are a far-out, surreal landscape of magenta, violet and mustard. Ombre ribbons adorn these strange, dried hills to create an art deco museum in the middle of the desert.

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Claybeds copy

Lucky for us, however, this museum is completely free and created by nature. Called the “chinle” formation, these vibrant clay beds are made of fine sediments left from ancient lakes, river beds and volcanic ash, where they are then deposited into these cracked, speckled mounds.

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Whoever said geology wasn’t a party obviously hasn’t been to this trippy geologic wonder!

Clay Beds

claybeds

Confession of Love: Townes Van Zandt

When all the world seems mad and upsidedown, truth is obscured and I find my heart turning bitter, I know it’s time to seek out some morsel of art, beauty, or goodness. This week I found my hearth in the rusty rhythms and stories of a folk legend too many have never heard of- the late Townes Van Zandt.

Townes

His voice is the dusk of Americana. Singer of bandit lullabies, lonesome trails, and wistful loves, Townes Van Zandt’s mournful melodies could uncover that place in your soul buried deep in the soil.  His voice was raw as chickory and smooth as a river stone. His simple, yet intricate picking style could both chill you to the bone and melt the superficial until left with nothing but pure, dripping truth.  He could bring you to the most tragic, somber of places and pull you back out with a simple tune of the wind.

“And now you wear your skin like iron…”

Born March 7th, 1944 in Fort Worth, Texas he epitomized the journey of the pained, struggling artist.  Many of his songs were made famous by big names, such as Merle Haggard & Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, and even the Rolling Stones. However, Townes himself wasn’t keen on being in the limelight.  He was haunted by heroin and alcoholism, diagnosed with bi-polar disorder, yet disavowed money and fame. He lived in a ramshackle cabin with no electricity, plumbing or telephone service for many years in the 1970s.  He made money on the road playing dive bars and staying in seedy motels and cabins in the woods.

Despite being in a circle of famous musicians, Townes never signed onto a record label or developed large commercial following, mostly by choice. He was a legend in his own right, never needing to prove it or get monetary validation of his genius. Although plagued by tumultuous relationships and mental illness, the purity, vulnerability and soul with which he sang is unmatched by any era’s standards.

“Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that.” -Steve Earle

Rather than vanish into obscurity, Townes’ legend is like an aging whiskey, developing in complexity over time. In a world torn apart by greed, machines, and out of control egos, we would all do well to listen to the sweet, dusty lullabies of Americana’s folk antihero-Townes Van Vandt.

Five Song Introduction to Townes Van Zandt

  1. “Poncho & Lefty”
  1. “If I Needed You”
  1. “Tecumseh Valley”
  1. “To Live is to Fly”
  1. “Our Mother the Mountain”

 

A Grand Weakness

Peering out

Visiting the Grand Canyon for the first time is an experience I’ll never forget. Peering out into the vast, surreal desert void makes you feel as if the whole thing could swallow you into oblivion.

Yet, despite its breathtaking power and grandeur, the Grand Canyon somehow asserts an introspective and quiet vulnerability.

Truly, what is the Canyon but a massive open wound in the skin of the earth? A wound revealing the tender and humble weakness of rock that once appeared indestructible.  Over millennia, with each silky passing of water and ripple, the mighty rock has given way carving the canyon deeper and even more spectacular. What exquisite weakness, indeed.

As I stand the limestone precipice, fear rises into my chest. Vertigo disorients and confuses.  Stories my ego fabricates comfort me in distress. “Tragedy strikes at The North Rim as woman loses her balance and plummets to her death…”

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Fear is a necessary function of human existence. Without it, our whole species would have been gobbled up by predators long ago. Yet, often our minds run amok and we allow the fear to be in control and to twist the unknown into a wild and ridiculous spiral of speculation.

Yet, rather than be defined by fear, or by our “weakness”, we can get to know it. Address it, say hello to it, then kindly allow it to pass by as a beautiful creation of our experience. Like the flowing water eroding unstable sandstone,  the “weak” aspects of our personality can ultimately become what creates the most dazzling and spectacular version of ourselves. Without fear, there is no such thing as courage. Without struggle, there is no catharsis or depth.

Don’t run from your weakness, embrace it with both strength and vulnerability. Who knows what beautiful canyons and ravines you might create?

Hazy Canyon

 

Four Ways To Really LOVE Your National Parks

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Admittedly, my last post was a bit was of rant. Living and working near a national park, I see firsthand the catastrophic level of use and abuse these wondrous lands receive. And it makes me irate. (For those unfamiliar with the issue, check it out here and here).

Yet, rather than drivel on about the hegemonic industrial-consumer paradigm that is the basis of the problem (it is), I will spare you and offer up a few solutions. Cultivated out of experience and observation, this is my short list of actions individuals can take now to connect on a deeper level to their national parks to ultimately become their fierce protector.

  • Don’t go to them. I don’t mean this in a cynical, misanthropic sense-people should go out and experience the wild and rugged public lands of America. The problem is, national parks are neither wild nor rugged. You’re more likely to hear to the screeching of a car alarm over a screeching owl, or the depraved howling of drunks over the howling of a coyote.  Be creative and go somewhere off the beaten path. Take the Crooked Trail! While the Grand Canyon is epic, there are 6,223,221,336 people posting and posing at the South Rim. Meanwhile, hundreds of beautiful monuments, wildlife refuges BLM, Forest Service lands are awaiting the creative, intrepid and saavy traveler like yourself to explore. Try something new and give the parks a break.
  • Do your research. Visitor centers are wonderful resources, staffed with knowledgeable Park Rangers who are there to help. Yet, they are inundated with visitor questions that could have been answered with a 10 second google search or quick glance at a map. While most rangers will answer “where is the bathroom” or “how do I get to (insert most popular hiking trail here),” with a smile, they shouldn’t have to. Consider a visit to the parks an exercise in rugged self reliance. They are a place we can learn to be without, or get to know our higher, capable selves. Rangers have a litany of knowledge, allow them to astonish us. Ask them to identify a cool species of spider or the age of a rock formation.  If you’re already an expert park visitor, go deeper. Grab a topo map and hit the trail-less wilderness! A little preparation also prevents impulsive decision making that can be destructive to public lands.
  • Go alone.   Cities are for socializing, wilderness is for internalizing, so goes the motto I just made up. I know many will squirm at the idea of camping in the woods alone, with only the dubious grunts and howls of mysterious creatures lurking in the darkness to keep you company. Others may revel in the sense of of freedom and self-discovery solo travel can cultivate. I place myself in the 2nd camp. Something about being in the open air, with no external distractions is both terrifying and unbelievably magical. Your senses awaken-you notice every splash of flowing water, every hoot and whistle, every crunch of grass. The land comes of alive more fully when alone and in silence to hear it.  Yes, it fun to go on trips with your friends and family, but the level of connection you receive from the land alone is unsurpassed. If you can’t camp or backpack alone yet, just try out a day hike! Challenge yourself and push through your fears.  Of course, if you go solo always make sure someone knows where you are and when you’ll be back.
  • Be an advocate.  They need you. Despite overwhelming support and record number of visitors, budgets for public lands are stagnant and/or dwindling. Public lands once thought forever protected are in danger, just look at Grand Staircase Escalante and Bears Ears. Fossil fuel industry executives are salivating at the thought of mining, drilling and privatizing public land to fulfill their insatiable greed. As users of public lands, we have a responsibility to protect them. If every visitor contributed through time or money to a conservation agency, we would have unstoppable environmental progress.  I recommend finding a local organization in your area that also works in the political arena.  It’s also a great way to connect with other like-minded individuals and your community. In the Southwest, we have the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance who does amazing work. The Access Fund, Sierra Club, and the Center for Biological Diversity are wonderful organizations working diligently on a national level to protect our natural heritage.

Don’t just let public lands be a pretty  background for your Instagram feed. Take the time to connect to the land itself, find peace and solace from the burdens and incessant noise of all that ails you. Hear nothing but the sound of your breath colliding with wind. Address your fears. Then, with your new found vitality, become the lands’ fierce protector. The parks’ (and our) existence may depend on it.

I would love to hear your thoughts! What do you think we can do to protect our National Parks?

Stop saying our National Parks are”being loved to death…”

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It’s a common trope I hear these days that our National Parks are “being loved to death.” (Looking at you New York Times). While much of the conversation is accurate and valid-that our parks are seeing record, unsustainable number of visitors, budget strains, and unmanageable waste calling it “love” misses the mark and the larger, systemic problem at hand.

If what is happening in our National Parks is “love,” it’s the love akin to swiping right. Love would imply stewardship, responsibility and deep, mutual connected-ness. Yet, we collect parks like Tinder matches, as we stamp our passports and vie for fleeting likes and followers, with our parks playing the pretty background.   Moreover, this “love” for our National Parks is not translating into higher budgets, larger and more robust protections, nor a collective environmental consciousness.  It is, however, allowing for the continued commodification and commercialization of our public lands.

America’s “Greatest Idea,” to instill within an industrial culture so disconnected sense of re-connection and wonder has fallen victim to the inevitable effects of industrialism itself. The very nature of capitalism leaves nothing sacred, nothing holy enough to prevent its parceling and selling, including our sacred National Parks. Concessionaires like Xanterra and Aramark make billions off of our parks in a  Walmart-esque race to the bottom. They hire young students and college graduates, provide squalid living conditions, and barely enough salary for employees to afford the bare necessities.  According to Indeed.com, the average salary for a server at Xanterra is a measley $8.70/hour. In Yosemite, concessionaire Delaware North is in litigation over the names of famous landmarks, including the Ahwahnee Lodge and the iconic logo of Half Dome.  (Ahwahnee is actually the name of an Indian Village, so I’m very confused as to how a U.S. Corporation has the rights to it…) Furthermore, private online booking agent Reserve America runs the majority of camping reservations on Public Lands, obtaining sweeping user data and cashing in on what should be a public resource.

If the National Park Service expects visitors to cherish and “love” our parks, we must treat public lands with the sanctity and reverence they deserve.  A real ethic of stewardship and respect for ALL life must be the ideal in mission and in action. This leaves no room for cheap contracts, no matter how good the deal seems. As most people know, if it seems too good to be true it probably is.  Of course, the NPS needs a higher budget, yet more than anything we, as a culture, need a new land ethic.  We need connection. We need solace from capitalism, not more of its insidious tentacles woven into wild spaces.

We go to our Parks to find our higher selves, to quiet our minds, to connect to something bigger. With every new cheap contract signed, with every new monstrous RV digesting peace and silence, with every plastic selfie stick and egoist Instagram post, we’re losing the magic of our National Parks. I believe we can find it again, but it will take a shift to which we are all responsible for creating. Like Terry Tempest Williams lost in the silence and terror in Timpanogos Cave, or Edward Abbey wild and free on the Colorado River, creating a new land ethic will require listening. It will require slowing down and paying attention to the howl of the coyote, to the whispers of desert rain. It will require paying attention to the dance of the june beetle and monarch butterfly. It will require keeping the damned capitalists the hell away.

“Never for money, always for love…”

 

 

 

 

The Wonders and Mysteries of Pisac

Pisac

After playing tourist in Peru’s most famous-and suffocated-  sites including Machu Pichu and Cuzco, the quaint town of Pisac was like a cool breeze on a hot day. I left the crowds and chaos behind as I stepped into the tranquility of this Peruvian gem.

Pisac Market HDR

Known for its touristy Sunday market, Pisac is much more than its vendors and crafts (although they are quite lovely.) It’s bewitching and mysterious ruins and chill, chakra-aligning energy, left an indelible imprint on my journey.

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The Lively Sunday Market

Referring to both the town and the ruins, Pisac is perhaps derived from the word “Pisaca,”  the Qechua word for Partridge.  While nobody know exactly why the ruins were built, I was told by a local that if Cuzco was the “Puma” and heart of Inca Civilization, Pisac was the underworld.  This makes sense considering one of the biggest collection of Incan tombs rest just opposite the valley from the ruins. You can see the honeycomb holes that adorn that hillside, yet are no longer accessible to visitors as they were raided by grave robbers long ago.

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Pisac remains a mystery to visitors and historians alike. In no Spanish conquest texts is this mighty fortress even mentioned. Yet, its perfect stone architecture is captivating.  The precision to which each block was placed cannot be replicated even with modern technology.  The canals and irrigation systems built by Ancient Inca still flow with Andean spring water while its impressive agricultural terraces contour the hillside and feed the village.

PisacRuins

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The precise stonework indicates these ruins were used ceremoniously

Part of Pisac’s beauty is in its mystery. Perhaps we will never uncover the secrets and wisdom of the Inca, but perhaps we may catch of a glimpse of that elusive cosmic thread they were tapped into.

 

Laughing with the Wildflowers

Aster and Sunflower

They say the Earth laughs in flowers, and, with names like Orange Sneezeweed, Sulphur Buckwheat, Mountain Coyote, it’s no wonder why.  At Cedar Breaks National Monument, July is quite the jolly jubilee, indeed, as it erupts in plumes of wildflowers of every color.

Cedar Breaks Indian Paintbrush

Cedar Breaks is a hidden gem of a monument. Only one hour away from the scorching heat of the red rock desert, it sits over 10,000 ft. in elevation and gives visitors a brisk alpine breath of fresh air. This was the monument’s thirteenth annual Wildflower Festival, and photographing the event enlivened my heart and soul.

Purple Plant

 

Asters
Penstemon up close & personal

 

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The intense, regal color of scarlet paintbrush, to the perfect symmetry of the sunflower, made it easy to capture their beauty. I love the refreshing splatter of fresh rain on the lupine leaves, giving the flowers an ethereal twinkling effect.

Sunflower Symmetry
Sunflower Fractal Symmetry

 

Upclose Parsnip
Sparkly Southern Ligusticum

 

Parsnip

 

Aster Up close
Huddled on an Aster

 

Asters

 

Lupin Leaf Water
A lively lupine leaf

 

water Droplets

 

Lupin Field Vibrant
Happy Lupine Flowers

 

Indian Painbrush

 

Cedar Breaks

Just try not be joyful at the Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival!

“If the thunder don’t get you, the lightning will…”

Zion lightning

It’s monsoon season down here in Southern Utah, my favorite time of year.

I love the dark, brooding atmosphere cast from thunder and lightning. There is something elemental and primordial about it, reminding us of our powerlessness against the fury of nature herself.

Lightning Zion 7.22

A few days ago my friend and photography mentor Dawn2Dawn Photography  and I set out on a mission-to capture the ephemeral energy of one such lightning storm.

Up a dirt road a few miles from Zion, we set up our tripods in the midst of several ominous, tempestuous storms. Capturing a lightning bolt is no easy task; its elusive nature makes photographers work hard. We took thousands of photos, moving our cameras around, changing the settings and making sure we were constantly watching for changes and movement of the storms.

Storm Lightning

All the work paid off in capturing these fleeting electric moments.

I was also reminded, after deleting the thousands of images without lightning, to embrace the tedious toil of the process- the hours of sitting and waiting, the thousands of empty handed exposures, the experience of being in the thick, brooding storm.  It’s not merely about the end result,  but the effort, intention and awareness that creates it.

Gooseberry Storm

 

 

It isn’t “brave” to travel solo as a woman. It’s normal.

When I decided to venture solo off to the mystical land of Peru, some friends and family members expressed  concerns, a few expressed astonishment and a lot of folks reminded me to “be careful.” While I certainly appreciate the consideration, I think the overzealous warnings from loved ones can be a bit misguided.  Here is why:

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Here is me not getting murdered by this predatory alpaca

Despite being the fool-hearty adventurous type, I have often considered myself rather timid and awkward. I’m possessed of an inner dialogue that years for adventure and wildness, simultaneously crippled by anxious rumination about whether or not I possess the  heartiness to go out and seek it.

Perhaps the timid voice is simply an internalized manifestation of our paranoid culture.  (I will take responsibility for the awkward one). A culture that reinforces the notion that women have to be extra careful, vigilant and scared while traveling alone.  For women, internalized weakness turns basic  vacation and trip decision-making into a life or death scenario, often causing unnecessary anxiety.  Not only is this fear-mongering rarely directed at men, rarely is it directed at the riskiest, yet most mundane of behaviors-driving, eating sugar, not getting adequate sleep, etc.

Yes, the world is dangerous. But I’m tired about worrying whether behind every kind gesture there is a rapist. About whether behind every shadowy alleyway, a predator.  It is clear why many women choose to ignore their yearning for adventure, to believe in their own weakness rather than their own strength. It also is clear why a simple act such as going on a solo vacation seems profound and utterly courageous.

We can and should raise the bar. Telling a woman going a trip alone is “brave” may sound kind, and likely the intention is, but it can also be condescending.  I know the risks of traveling alone.  Just like I know the risk of eating sugar (it’s bad). Or not getting enough sleep (really bad). Or driving. (crazy super bad).

Our culture sees going on a trip alone as a woman as brave. But I wish it didn’t. As long as courage is measured differently between women and men, we have a long ways to go.