Tag Archives: camping

Wanderlists: night lights

I have a thing for lights at night. Maybe because I’m afraid of the dark, and I’m so thankful for any light that alleviates that. Maybe it’s because light seems more precious in the dark. More specific and intentional.

Best I can tell, I’m not alone in that. The world seems to have a love affair with all that twinkles, sparkles, and glows. All things that light does in the dark.

These are my top five encounters with light at night. (Note: I don’t have pictures for most of my favorites, and I’ve always been terrible at night time photography…so I have substituted in other pictures of light at night, which are not favorites, and not particularly good, but the post needs pictures…so….)

These famous lights at night are also nice.

These famous lights at night are also nice.

1) Chiang Rai Night Bazaar– coming from my conservative Christian college, on my first travel abroad, I stumbled into the Chiang Rai Night Bazaar in northern Thailand. A fine mist hung in the air and caught the yellow light from the merchant tents lining the walkways and the string lights over picnic tables where people were eating, among other things, fried grub worms.

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Last Call Adventure: Bruja Canyon Part II

When we last left our intrepid team of trekkers, they were setting off across the desert in the dark…

Part II: Up, over, around, and down

With our gaiters firmly in place and the desert air still dry and “cool,” we crossed Terlingua Creek (which was exactly as technical as Lewis nudging a rock into place and us skipping across), walked the dry tributary creek bed, and out on to the clay flats.

The terrain.

The terrain.

The expanse of soft clay felt like we were walking across a macaroon, leaving easily trackable footprints that we would later appreciate. The clay also radiated heat that it had been holding from the days before. Suddenly we all started doing math in our heads, wondering how it would feel to walk the flat in the scourge of the afternoon sun on our way back to the car.

My guess was that it would feel really hot. Like if you were put in an oven. Satan’s oven.

The open flat was soon interrupted by a stubble of desert plants. Mesquite, all thorn, prickly pear, lechuguilla, ocotillo, cholla, and the particularly sinister claret cup. Everything in the desert wants to kill you. Or rather, it wants to keep you from getting close to it, which I respect. Since some unfortunate childhood experiences, I have given cacti a wide berth. While my gaiters did reduce the diameter of my bubble, it was soon popped altogether by invading spines.

We got up close and personal with some very surly plants.

Bruja is a slot canyon, like a stab wound in the side of a Mesa de Anguilla. Standing on top of the mesa it would have looked like a fissure running across the ground. From where we stood on the plain, the vertical face of the plateau’s northeastern wall loomed, Bruja was just a void. A crack in the wall.

We picked our way through and eventually scrambled up the rocks at the base of the wall, still dodging the “pokies” as Jenna named them.

Then it was time for the adventure to begin in earnest.

The grade of the wall varies from report to report, but it’s in the high 4’s or low 5’s, if that means anything to anyone. There were some moments where those extra inches of arms and legs that the boys had on us girls really made a difference. My own first hurdle came somewhere near the bottom of the wall when it was fingers,toes, and pokies  between the ledge I was on and the ledge where I needed to be. There was a rope too, but we were not tied to it.

The little white dot is Colin on reconnaissance.

The little white dot is Colin on reconnaissance.

In life, I’ve made a habit of saying “one, two, three, go!” and jumping off of things. Or cutting things. Or pushing buttons. I can count to three and shut off my brain. But lunging at the next hand hold or sloped surface requires, “one, two, three, quickly-do-the-next-thing.” That’s harder.

Our feet on the first ledge.

Our feet on the first ledge.

Jenna on the other side of the gap.

Jenna on the other side of the gap.

So we needed a new chant. Fortunately as I hung there quivering, Colin said, “Trust yourself!”

And then I was on the next ledge. The rest of the wall was no problem, not simply because I now trusted my feet, but because it really was a lot easier. We just walked on up the sticky rocks.

From there we walked two miles along a ridge that was like the rim inside the rim of the canyon. This was pretty thick cactus habitat, but we were high on life after a quick ascent.

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At the back of the canyon we had snacks in a cave with burn marks on the cieling, and little Native American grain grinding holes outside. We were like ancient peoples…with Camelbacks, a decided evolutionary advantage.

From there we dropped down into the canyon itself. It was a fairly mild drop, just sliding down the smooth walls of the shallowest pool, which happened to be dry. From there we would slowly work our way back to the plane, dropping from pool to pool via rope, wiggle, and hopping.

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We moved along in full sun, finding shade along the edge or in crevasses where we could. We were almost to the highlight, the big rappel into water, when came to what would be, for me, the scariest moment of the trek. To get to our rappelling point for the first major drop, we first had to clear a gap. Colin suggested we take a running leap.

“Um…I don’t do run-and-jump,” I said. Playing the one princess card I would allow myself. I don’t. It’s one of those “one, two, three, be coordinated” moments that I avoid. Whenever I try to run and jump, I second guess myself at the last second, try to stop mid-flight, and fall.

Aborting this jump would end in death…or paralysis…and waiting to be rescued…in the heat.

Colin is setting up the rappel on the other side of the gap...while we pretend not to worry about the crossing.

Colin is setting up the rappel on the other side of the gap…while we pretend not to worry about the crossing.

So we figured out another method, which still required leaning across the gap, hands on one side, feet on the other, and pushing off into a precarious hand hold. But “trust yourself” did the trick and we all made it safely across.

From there Colin rigged the rappelling system. I say rappel. Really he lowered us into the pool of water beneath. There was little rappeling involved. Somehow even this uncomplicated plan still found me with my bare feet above my head, butt against the wall. Laughing too hard to help myself.

Once we were lowered into the pool, and safely past the floating cactus on the other side, we watched Colin actually rappel, put our boots back on and continued.

Before long we would rappel again. This time the drop was far more dramatic, into a bigger pool. The boys swam the pool with the packs on their back, keeping them amazingly dry while Jenna and I cleared cacti from the exit of the pool.

Just before we exited the canyon I got to rappel one more time, thanks to a particular feature of my anatomy wedging itself so tightly into a hole that everything from my ribcage on down was dangling in mid-air. I wiggled back out and opted to go over the boulder, rather than have a distinctly female reenactment of 127 Hours.

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We polished off the snacks, and made a mad dash for the mouth of the canyon, stunned at our quick pace thus far, and now just going for a quick finish. So many of these adventures fall apart in the last hour.

Ours did not. We were quiet, yes. My trudging was more trudge-like. I’d been wrong about what the clay flat would feel like in the heat of the day. Not an oven. A griddle. Satan’s griddle.

We ran out of water about 1,000 steps from the car. Part of the strategy game that is desert trekking is rationing water, and we were shocked at how well we’d done.

We soaked our top layers in Terlingua Creek (long sleeves are a must in the desert, in one of natures cruelest ironies), and made the final push to the car, where the beer was still cold.

Campsite number two, 1,000 feet higher, 10 degrees cooler.

Campsite number two, 1,000 feet higher, 10 degrees cooler.

That night at our 10-degrees-cooler campsite in the Chisos Basin, we marveled at how well the hike had gone. No injuries. No water shortage. And we all still liked each other.

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Last Call Adventure: Bruja Canyon, Part I

Prologue:

This was the big one.

When Colin first told us about canyoneering Bruja Canyon in a remote corner of Big Bend National Park, I was hooked at “rappel into a pool of freezing water.” I also knew that to make it happen, we would have to find a rare surplus of two extremely scarce resources: time and water. Looking for that magical moment when it had rained in Big Bend, and all four of us were free to skip town would be a challenge.

That magical moment was this weekend, July 5-7, 2013.

And whyever not? The forecast seemed totally amenable to a 10 mile desert trek. (Hike scheduled for Saturday)

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Part I: The journey West

So we loaded up Colin’s car with 4 friends, an ice chest, and every durable synthetic fiber known to man.

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Along the way we carefully rationed our David Sedaris Live CD, and did our best to listen to a Cormac McCarthy audiobook (by doing my best, I mean that I went straight to sleep). At some point everyone indulged in “I-only-eat-this-on-roadtrips” snacks. A sharp contrast to the meals we would be eating for the rest of the trip.

Yes, Lewis is using a sour straw to drink a Cherry Coke. We'd been in the car for many hours.

Yes, Lewis is using a sour straw to drink a Cherry Coke. We’d been in the car for many hours.

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What we ate outside the car.

 Once inside the Park we went through the rigmarole of permitting, paying fees, and not getting to go into Mexico.

We’ll save that for the next adventure, because it does involve 1) ferrying across the river, 2) possibly riding a horse into Boquillas, Mexico, and 3) chatting with U.S. Officials via virtual passport control upon return. All things I’m dying to do.

However, we were informed by the helpful NPS employees that we’d probably be stuck over there if we left after 4 pm. They reassured us, however, that there was no night life we were missing. Something about our sunhats and trekking shoes must have screamed, “I like to party hard.”

Here’s my question…do people really still go party at night in Mexican border towns? That’s terrifying.

This fancy border control station closes at 6pm folks.

This fancy border control station closes at 6pm, folks.

Jenna utilizes to topographical map at the headquarters to make tomorrow's hike look like "no biggie."

Jenna (who conquered Bruja back in March) utilizes to topographical map at the headquarters to make tomorrow’s hike look like no biggie.

So from there all we could do was set up our campsite along Terlingua Creek. We camped under the stars, being slow roasted by the desert floor which radiated heat through our inflatable sleeping pads like some device used by celebrity chefs to make the perfect braised duck.

It was far too warm for sleeping bags, so we slept largely exposed, which is thrilling in it’s own way.

Few things are more majestic than falling asleep under a glittering canopy of shooting stars with Scorpio rising up from the horizon as you drift off to sleep with no one around for miles… except the three other people lying shoulder-to-shoulder with you on a tarp.

Our first campsite, and the tarp we shared.

Our first campsite, and the tarp we shared.

We set our alarms for 4:40 am, only to awaken to a completely dark sky that looked no closer to daylight than when we’d gone to sleep. Big Bend is at the western edge of the timezone. So we slept another hour, until distant coyote howls woke us and the horizon was growing lighter.

Still, this is what “getting ready” looked like:

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Jenna and I added a clever, if not particularly trendy, piece of equipment to our desert gear: gaiters. Mine were “3 season” gaiters. I’m willing to guess that blistering summer is not one of those seasons. But I didn’t care. The desert is thick with pokey flora, and I intended to trudge like a pro. Gaiters on!

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From there we set out and the adventure really began.

Stay tuned for Part II of the story to find out if all four intrepid travelers remain intact as they climb, rappel, scramble, and swim their way out of Bruja Canyon.

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