Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Morning Meal

Morning Meal. I approached a fork in the trail with dawn to my right and had to choose between left or right. I chose to stay down and away from the light a little longer and went left. This led me to pine tree arch. The arch is gouged out of the right side of a narrow corridor between two sandstone fins. The arch opens up to a downward sloping field of sand and low scrub flanked by walls of stone.

I sat in the sand at the top of the scrub field between the two stone ridges with the rising sun casting the shadow of pinetree arch onto the wall behind me. The first thing that I began to notice was that there was no wind and with no wind the scrubs weren't chattering and the loose sand wasn't rolling along the foot of the stone. I watched swirling clouds of mosquitoes rising from the scrub to look for a mate as my ears grew accustomed to this aural stillness. Then a new sound cut through my deafness, a slicing of the still air and a ruffle of feathers. The first of it was barely audible and as I turned to look for the bird, another slid through the air right above my head. The only sound produced was that of the Western Meadowlark's slender shape shearing the still air as it glided through the circling column of mosquitoes. There was then a rippling sound as the bird flapped his wings to circle a boulder at the edge of the field and dove through the mosquitoes once more. Soon there were three birds sweeping back and forth, three feet from the ground. If I was quick I could have grabbed one from where I sat.

As I sat watching the birds have their morning meal I became aware of some reddish ants toiling near my feet. Soon, I could hear them too; tossing sand as they scrambled over pebbles. I almost thought I could hear the stridulation exchanged between ant compatriots on their linear path to and from their occupation. I got onto my knees and put my face near the sand to get a closer look at the ants. Some of them seemed to have strange bulges on their abdomen that looked like grains of sand had merged with their bodies. As I looked around, I saw that every open sandy space was covered in ants. I wondered if these were all from the same colony and if not, how far did these ants travel from this particular patch of sand over the course of their lives.

Now, within the shuffling of the ants and the rushing of the meadowlarks I heard the scratching of small rodent claws on a boulder 10 feet away and turned to see a kangaroo rat sitting on top of the rock. I watched her for a while as she waited on the boulder hoping to conceal herself from my gaze by remaining motionless. I slowly rose to walk over for a closer look. As I began to walk slowly towards the boulder my shins ached. I looked down, wondering if I had really been sitting that long only to find a dozen ants clinging to my legs, bravely trying to drive me away from their colony. Now that I noticed them the pain began to grow rapidly and I quickly brushed them off. This was not before they had produced red marks the size of a 50 cent piece on my shins. With the pain of the bites subsiding I made to continue my pursuit of the rat only to see that she had taken advantage of my preoccupation with those jingoistic ants to make good her escape.

As I made my way back up the hill I heard one last sound, the scraping of hiking boots over the rocks as another hiker emerged from the arch into the scrub field. I could no longer hear the sounds of the meadowlark and the ant and the rat, only the ordinary daily sounds of sand on boot soles and zippers clicking and jacket swishing. The morning was over and the day had begun and I made my way out of the field. As I left, I turned to look at the boulder and saw that the kangaroo rat had resumed her place at its summit.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A visit to Arches National Park benefits from a knowledge of the history of the geological oddities that have formed in the area over the last 150 million years. This way, when you're looking at a prime example of a fin arch like Skyline Arch, you can also realize that you're standing on top of what was once an ocean, then a 2 mile tall pillar of salt. You're also standing under the space were 5000 additional feet of sediment had settled before being washed away to reveal the 140 million year old entrada sandstone that forms the arch you now see.

The mechanisms that generated Arches National Park were set in motion at the bottom of an ocean 300 million years ago. The paradox basin was a deep bucket with its lip at sea level. As a result, Southern Utah was frequently submerged under an inland sea during interglacial periods when ice thawed and raised sea levels. During each ice age, sea levels would drop as water was collected into glaciers and the inland sea would be cut off from the retreating ocean. As a result, massive volumes of salt and other minerals were collected in the paradox basin as the trapped stagnant seas evaporated.

As this period of flowing and ebbing seas subsided, the great well of salt was being buried beneath sediment washed down from the Uncompahgre uplift to the Northeast. Squeezed beneath thousands of feet of sand and mud, the salt became liquid and flowed southwest in subterranean waves. These saline swells migrated southwest until they crashed into 6000 foot sheer cliffs that had resulted from northwest trending faults in southeast Utah. Their progress halted by these underground walls of stone, the salt began to push upward through the surrounding rock. At the same time, the red entrada sandstone that you see in Arches national park was solidifying at the surface. The intrusive strips of salt bulged and cracked the surface sandstone like a baking loaf of bread, parallel to the underlying fault lines.

These cracks allowed surface water to flow down to the rising salt to dissolve and wash it away to the ocean. This continued until less soluble gypsum left behind as the salt dissolved, formed a cap over the salt pillar and the sandstone collapsed into the void left by the departed salt. The cracks in the sandstone remained access points for water to enter and weather the sandstone. These cracks widened as freezing water broke them apart and wind cleaned them out, eventually leaving the long fins seen in The Devils Garden. Fins are crucial to the formation of arches, because it is the careful demolition of these fins by weathering that allows for holes in the fins to widen into great arches before falling completely.

The other crucial factor in the formation of arches is the composition of the fins. This is another aspect in which the Moab area is exceptional. The hard Entrada sandstone in underlain by the fragile siltstone of the Dewey Bridge member. As you look at the formations in Arches national park, you'll notice that most arches form at the junction between the Entrada and Dewey Bridge layers. The Dewey Bridge stone wears away much more quickly than the entrada and thus the entrada is undercut in many places. After being under such immense pressure for so many years, the newly exposed base of the Entrada layer begins to break apart as a way of decompressing. The pattern of weathering extends radially out from the division of the two strata and eventually widens into an arch. Water accomplishes this weathering by seeping into the cracks in the sandstone and expanding as it freezes, literally pushing out and breaking the stone apart from inside. These holes continue to grow through weathering until the fin becomes unstable and collapses.

Arches in all stages of life can be found in the park. The most recent arch to collapse, Wall Arch, is very close to Landscape Arch, the longest in the park. Landscape Arch is an arch near the end of this life cycle as well. By luck, none of the chunks of stone littering the area around the arch were vital enough to its stability to bring it down when they fell out. Large chunks have fallen out as recently as the 90s and it would appear that there aren't many more pieces that can be removed before this arch falls. At the same time, new arches are growing throughout the park. This means that the Arches National Park that people see 1000 years from now will look quite different than the one we see today. The spectacle of arches can remind us that while orogeny may progress at a ponderously slow pace, noticeable changes to the earth occur within a human lifetime.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Erosion and decay characterize the desert. Everything new in the desert is formed through the destruction of something old. A canyon gets deeper and more grand because older and older layers of rock are eaten away. It is the same for the stone monoliths; at some time, “ground level” was the top of the pillar of stone. Then slowly the ground was broken and washed away and by some luck in the makeup of the stone a pillar remained standing, marking where the earth’s surface used to be. These markers cannot last forever themselves and with the sides of the rock now exposed to the elements, water begins to whittle away the perimeter. Quirks in the distribution of the elements cause the stone to wear unevenly giving us impossibly balanced boulders and arches for a geological instant. These may look eternal in the way that they stand against the sky but they are just the last strands of sea foam that linger on the beach after the retreating wave, they will be reabsorbed into the earth. The obliterated stone will find its way into the Colorado River which will carry it to the sea where it will be pulled under the crust of the earth to be recycled into the matter that will one day emerge as new land from the seam in the middle of the pacific ocean.

Friday, August 12, 2011

I had only been here an hour and already I'd gotten myself into trouble. When I arrived at the entrance station to Death Valley National Park I had a plan. First, I would find a water spigot which I could use to refill my canteen. Second, I would scout out a good spot to camp that night so that I wouldn't have to go looking in the dark. Third, I would get a map so that I would know the location and length of the trails.

I got about half way though my search for water when the gilded Manly Beacon caught my eye in the distance. Change of plans, I had to stop and walk up to the top of Zambriskie Point to get a better view. At the top there was a large crowd gathered looking out from this observation point. Zambriskie point looks out over a vast area of intricately eroded petrified saline mud, which collected at the floor of Lake Manly which existed until rising mountains to the west cast a rain shadow causing the lake to dry up 5 million years ago. The occasional rainwater passes through Gower Gulch from which innumerable dendritic mini canyons branch off. All this can be seen from the observation point.

As I looked closer I started to notice trails that had been pounded out by thousands of footfalls on top of some of these eroded forms far below. I looked over the edge of the stone wall encircling the viewpoint and found an entirely separate group of people that had walked down to get a better look. My other tasks could wait, I had to explore this immediately. I started off on one of the trails and soon came to the first of many forks. I chose the branch that headed towards Manly Beacon and continued my descent towards Gower Gulch. I reached the base with my legs already a little tired from easing myself downhill and faced another fork. I think it said "To Golden Canyon: via Gower Gulch 2 mi, via Golden Canyon 1.6 mi", which didn't make any sense to me because how could I travel via Golden Canyon if it was 1.6 miles away? I figured if Golden Canyon was what everyone was hiking to then traveling via Golden Canyon would be more scenic and chose that route.

This route immediately required that I climb back up another dusty hill to about half the height I had just descended. When I reached the top I stopped for a drink only to find my canteen nearly empty. I had been gulping water all day on my car ride, no longer feeling to the need to treat it as a precious resource while flying by convenience stores in my car. I looked back at the long climb up to the observation point and decided I really didn't like the idea of having come all the way down here just to climb back up and continued on my way. The trail seemed to be on a downhill trend and I guessed that I would find the entrance to Golden Canyon just over the next hilltop...or the next after that.

4 or 5 waves of climb and descent later with my canteen now empty I could see a sign in the distance, finally, Golden Canyon. I walked up to the signpost, it read "-> Golden Canyon 4 mi", that lying, no-good sign at the previous fork said 1.6mi! My resolve finally broken, I turned to retrace my steps but remembered the altitude changes in the route I had come by. No problem normally, but I wasn't so eager with no water. It's always been my dread that I'll be one of those idiots who wanders off without water and dehydrates himself and has to be carried out of the canyon by rangers, or worse, flown out. There had to be an easier route back, I had to find Gower Gulch and walk upstream to the observation point. The earlier sign had said 2 miles via Gower Gulch, and 2 flat miles were preferable to 1.6 hilly miles so I turned left towards where I thought the gulch would be. A few minutes later I found a signpost with no sign. I could see where a sign had been nailed to the post, but it had either been broken or stolen. I hoped it was a marker for hikers that were traveling via the gulch and headed upstream.

As I walked, the nagging sensation in my head that I was wandering farther and wasting more time would grow in my head until I managed to spot a footprint in the mud. Most of the gulch was full of gravel so footprints were rare and I could never follow a set for more than a couple of feet. Whenever I came to a branching in the gulch I guessed that the smaller corridor was the tributary and the larger was the main and followed the larger. This winding path continued and I sensed that I was headed in the right direction. The sound of gravel crunching as I walked began to grate on my nerves. I looked at my feet as a I walked, seeing the impression that my steps left in different size gravel, and trying to spot similar impressions made by other hikers that may have passed through. I weaved from side to side as the gulch curved, trying to weigh the benefits of shortest path against those of the path that stayed in the shade.

I was starting to lose confidence that I had chosen the correct path back to Zambriskie Point. I tried to visualize all of the walking that I had done on an imaginary map to see if it appeared to be approaching a complete circle but all the winding of the gulch had me disoriented. Suddenly I rounded a corner and there hill of the observation point stood, tiny photographers strewn about its sides. The going became easier now that I knew how much farther I had to go and I made my way back up the hill and back down to my car where my water jug was waiting.

This may seem like a trivial little problem that took place over just an hour and a half, but managing your water is extremely important. This is most true in dry environments like Death Valley. Not only does one lose water though perspiration but by evaporation inside the lungs to the dry air that is being breathed (more rapidly when hiking uphill). The symptoms of dehydration can make it more difficult to continue hiking, further prolonging your time without water. I hadn't begun to show any symptoms of dehydration, but if I hadn't found my way back and stupidly continued walking in the wrong direction, then I could have placed myself in a very dangerous situation without anyone having knowledge of where I was. My typical approach is to always start a hike with a full canteen, no matter how short the hike, and to turn back when its half empty. I'd like to think I'll continue to stick to this.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Book

The Rare Bowl is a compilation of all of the posts that I've made on this website about traveling to the southwest US so far plus some that I haven't yet posted. Additional photos related to each post have been added so that there would be a photo on every page. I've uploaded it in book form to's printing service where it can be previewed or purchased here. Its not cheap, but only because its not cheap to have it printed one-off this way.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Deja vu, for most people. Mesa Arch is one of the most photographed features in the American southwest. Not so much the arch itself but the view of the canyons below the La Sal range as seen through the exceptionally well placed arch. If there is anything interesting about so many pictures existing of the same exact scene it is that one can compare the method by which the photographer dealt with the problems inherent in shooting into the sun at sunrise. Much of the landscape is facing away from the sun making it difficult to get a good exposure without blowing out the sky. One trick is to wait until the sun has risen high enough that it can be hidden behind the arch in frame. However, if you wait that long, the twilight glow is completely gone. Another choice is to get tricky with a computer and create a high dynamic range (HDR) photograph by basically blending multiple exposures into one even toned picture (for example, one exposure to get the shadows, one to get the sky and another in between the two). I feel that HDR is a cheat that undermines a photographer's creativity by not forcing him or her to think about how to get the best exposure possible of a scene. "Art from adversity", the hard work and thought that goes into overcoming an obstacle give the photographer a chance to consider the scene at length and the result will make the viewer feel like they are really there in the picture.

There are plenty of incredible recreations of sunrise from this location, my picture isn't really one of them. However, looking at it has the desired effect of placing me back in the morning I recorded it. I stayed there throughout the morning snapping pictures as the sun rose, but this particular picture before the sun had even crested the horizon resonates the most with me. To explain, let me describe how I came to this spot. I was staying in Moab and had decided that I would make the roughly 1 hour drive into Canyonlands NP one morning to watch this famous sunrise. I wasn't really sure of the length of the drive or the trail to the arch so I set out early around 4am in late February. I had seen the abrupt turn off from the highway to Canyonlands the day before but it still surprised me, the sign's reflective paint aged and hard to read in the dark. After leaving the highway the road became much darker with few reflectors to give me an idea of what was more than 50 feet in front of me. For what seemed like miles, the road switchbacked up into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. I knew that this area had been used to raise cattle because it was a large surface surrounded by canyons with only one way out, through a bottle neck. With this in mind, in the pitch dark I imagined that on either side of the road the ground fell away to the canyon floor 200 feet or more below. I hovered over a thin strip of winding road that seemed to be materializing just as I reached it until I found the pull-off for Mesa Arch. As I found the trail head, I still couldn't see any light on the horizon in the direction that I guessed was east. The trail was slightly illuminated by moonlight. As I went I pulled out my flashlight and turned it on, then instantly turned it off again. Without the flashlight I could get just a hint of everything around me. When I had turned it on, my world had shrunk to a disc of light at my feet and my peripheral vision had melted away to darkness. Without the ability to see any movement that may be occurring at my side, the sound of even a single grain of sand shifting became terrifying. I stopped briefly to regain my night vision after turning off the flashlight and the proceeded along the trail. I had begun to see a glow on the horizon when it was suddenly interrupted by a black band. I had arrived at Mesa Arch.

I was all alone and so was able to choose any spot to set up my tripod. I lay down on the cool rock and watched as the sun started to make a halo over the La Sals. As the light grew brighter I began to get glimpses of the canyon floor. Somehow the rocks appeared to me to be still asleep, waiting for the sun to get higher before unleashing their red glow. As the details of the canyon floor emerged I began to piece together what I must have been driving through earlier that morning. While I had been encapsulated in darkness high up on the road, this landscape had been slumbering below. I wanted to capture that moment of realization before the sun came over the horizon and this was the result.

Just as I had finished taking this picture I saw out of the corner of my eye a pinhole of light bouncing down the trail behind me. I flashed my light at the visitor a couple times so that I wouldn't startle him when he reached the arch, as he must have been sure that he'd be the first one there. After greeting him when he arrived, I turned back to look at the canyon and the sun had come up and the rocks had begun to glow red, just like in the many pictures I had seen of this place. I was content knowing that at least for this morning I had been the solitary witness to the waking moments of this landscape.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The End of Antelope Canyon comes suddenly as you round this corner and the canyon walls melt away on either side to expose you once again to the sunlight which seems all the more harsh after the dim glow of the canyon. Walking through the canyon, its easy to imagine that you are in a cave. The lack of direct sunlight, especially when the sun stays low in the winter months keeps the canyon much cooler than the rest of the area. The Navajo guide that accompanied me told me that a shepherd had once used the canyon as a place to keep her flock safe from the sun in the summer months.

The canyon itself can become very dangerous after rainfall, with flash floods rushing through from rainstorms that may not even be overhead yet. The end of the canyon pictured here would be the upstream end. Standing there I tried to imagine water crashing around this bend, climbing 30 feet up the canyon wall. There is evidence for the height of these flash floods in the form of a tree trunk wedged between two rock faces 40 feet off the ground.

A slot canyon like antelope occurs when a drainage route for a large arid area passes over an especially hard region of stone. Rather than cutting a gently sloping V-shaped canyon into the stone, the flash floods rush through existing cracks in the stone. The path of erosion traces the crack and the canyon is cut deep rather than wide. The narrow, tortuous path creates eddies which in turn cut the curling crests that line the canyon walls, overlapping and blocking out the sun.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hiking in Death Valley is very different than hiking in Arches. In Arches, you want to walk everywhere but you can't; you're restricted to well maintained trails. This is necessary to protect the delicate microbial life that lives in a crust on the desert soil and makes plant life possible. Your wanderings are restricted to areas connected to trails or accessible over a path of bare sandstone. Death Valley has no such restrictions, you can hike anywhere you please. Hikers are free to make their own trails, and trails that have been made are very subtle and seem to disappear completely at some points. The majority of hiking in Death Valley takes place in canyons cut into the sides of the mountain ranges running through the valley. The valley floor appears almost as a vast inaccessible ocean that you cruise through in your car on the way to another canyon trail. Arches has its areas like this too; the petrified dunes are begging for a trail that would let hikers explore the vast field of navaho sandstone swells.

This leads me to one of the problems I encountered with an extended stay in Death Valley. Hiking in the park, for all its vastness, lacks variety. The geology of the area has led to the creation of a number of canyons acting as conduits for rivers of gravel being slowly pulverized to dust as they flow. The majority of the trails follow these usually dry gravel gulches into the canyons at a slight uphill grade. Marching uphill on gravel is an experience akin to trying to walk up a sand dune. For every two steps taken forward, one step worth of forward progress will result. Gravel of fine in consistency slows you down further, while stones too large will quickly wear out your ankles. I found myself searching for a path of perfectly sized gravel to ease my passage. This also results in a constant crunching noise that will echo in your ears long after you leave the trail.

Where does all this gravel come from? It comes from the conglomerate rock canyon walls that replace the slick red sandstone you would find in Arches. Conglomerate rocks are those that consist of rock fragments that have been trapped in a cementing matrix of finer grained sediment. As a cat owner, my first reaction to these giant boulders of conglomerate was that they looked like giant clumps of kitty-litter strewn about a massive litter-box.

That's not to say that Death Valley doesn't possess spectacular beauty. On entering mosaic canyon as the canyon narrows and the walls begin to rise, the conglomerate gives way to a smooth white marble that glows with reflected sunlight. Combined with the sudden relief from the sun provided by the high walls of the slot canyon, one can't help but feel that they've discovered some kind of spring, with glowing marble flowing through the walls from some inclusion deep below. Another is the contrast of red and black and yellow stone that flows in every direction from Manly Beacon. As you climb out of Golden Canyon towards Manly Beacon, you'll have to stop each time you turn around, thinking that you've found the most beautiful spot from which to admire these ridges of stone that are so sharp they look like folded paper; but it only gets better as you continue. On a windy day, the mesquite sand dunes will shed plumes of windblown sand that reach almost as high as the mountains and carry far along through the valley. From a high vantage point you can watch entire storms pass over part of the valley while watching the sun shine at the same time in another area. As you leave the village at Furnace Creek and get your first glimpse of the vastness of the valley, with the road ahead trailing off to the vanishing point, its hard to comprehend the scale of what you're viewing.

For me Death Valley wasn't about exploration along trails, it was more about the experience of trying to comprehend what I was looking at when I first saw the valley floor stretching as far as I could see in either direction and being able to see the shadow of a cloud as it moved towards me.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The coming storm roiled over the Amargosa Range at sunset, giving the illusion that the mountains were on fire with 1000 foot tall wind whipped flames rising from the peaks. This seemed so far away from my perch atop a tall dune at Mesquite Flat. There wasn't a spot on the dune field that didn't have a footprint in it. Steep inclines and deep pits had all been tread on by visitors and there had been no wind to whipe away the evidence. It's what the moon would look like as a tourist destination. It was amazing to me that this place could stay so calm while stormclouds surged past on all sides.

As it got dark I started to make my way out of the dune field. The ground became pitch black before I found my way out and I had to follow the sounds of people in the parking area talking to find my way back to my car. They always seemed so close that I was sure they would be just over the next dune but I would always come to the crest just to find another expanse of darkness below. Luckily when walking on sand you almost always keep your feet at the same angle. If you're walking uphill, you dig your toes in and if you're walking downhill, you dig your heels in. This made it easy to climb up and down in the dark without fear of twisting my ankle if I hit an unexpected slope.

I finally got back to my car and started to drive to my campsite. As I pulled out onto the highway, the wind started to pick up. In the distance I could see a stream of taillights heading towards the park exit. As I continued to drive I lost sight of the other cars as the wind began to hurl sand and twigs accross my path. My headlights were no help other than to allow me to study the suspension of sand that I was driving through. I finally arrived safely at my campsite and listened as the wind continued to blow through the night.

The next morning, 25 miles from the dune field, I could already see sheets of swirling sand drifting through the air above the valley floor. I returned to the dune field to find all of the footprints of thousands of visitors finally erased and the dunes restored to a virgin state. I wondered how long it had taken for the entire field to become covered in prints the way that it had been. Considering that storms had been passing through the valley with unusual frequency that winter I would guess not long.

Friday, January 14, 2011

It must be a beautiful landscape if bighorn sheep that see the sun rise here every day still scale a boulder to watch the day break. I've always heard that bighorn sheep are out there, but that they will always spot you first and freeze in place so that you'll never spot them against the composite palette of stone. However, this morning, I caught this ram in a moment of vulnerability as he watched the sun surge over the limestone mountains in the distance to draw out the surreal red of the Aztec Sandstone that pushes through the valley floor.

As I got closer, the ram was joined by two others who stood entranced by the sunrise until they noticed me creeping along the base of the boulder about 150 feet away. Suddenly self conscious, they began to climb down and walk along a stony ridge. Pretending not to notice me, they paused occasionally to chew some long grass protruding from cracks in the sandstone. Led by the elder, the trio began to trace a meandering path towards me and my car. I took the hint and hurried back and left them to enjoy the rest of their morning.

After all the time that I've spent out here, the largest animal I'd seen had been a jackrabbit. To reach the top of that hill and see a full grown bighorn standing on that rock was both more startling and overwhelming than I had imagined.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Retraction, my wandering will not be limited by my threshold for enduring cold nights but by the extent to which I can experience isolation without paranoia setting in. I would like to admit that I jumped in a little over my head traveling in to camp in Death Valley alone. I had thought that it would be no different than my experiences camping alone in Arches. I found a spot to sleep on Artist Drive, one of the only concealed roads in Death Valley, and a one-way road to boot. I could face backwards and see anyone who might be coming my way.

The first night was difficult. I couldn't get to sleep at first, I wasn't tired, I had been driving for most of the day and hadn't really exerted myself. When I finally did get to sleep I would begin to dream only to be awoken by headlights shining through my eyelids. I checked my watch to see that it was 3am. Just as the ranger's truck pulled up to evict me I would wake up again to realize that my being discovered had also been a dream.

After hours of 15 minute naps, I decided to give up on sleep around 3:30. I drove the rest of the way through Artist Drive and down to Badwater Basin. It had rained the night before and I thought that I would be able to get close to the water and catch the sunrise. I spent the next hour stargazing, amazed at how much I could see so far from streetlights. Just as the horizon had begun to show the slightest hint of sunrise, I saw a light out of the corner of my eye about 30 feet away. I panicked, feeling extremely vulnerable at the thought that there might have been someone so close to me without my realizing it for who knew how long. I didn't want to shine my flashlight at them, so I set my camera to its highest ISO and propped it on my window sill and set it to a 15 second exposure. I held the camera down low and checked the image and saw nothing but a building containing a pit toilet. Had I seen a light on some kind of ventilation system? I forgot about it and went back to watching the sunrise.

Throughout the day I realized the huge difference between Death Valley and Arches. Arches is near the town of Moab, a relatively large town that is only a 30 minute drive from the park entrance. The park itself requires about 45 minutes to drive from one end to the other. Death Valley on the other hand is near no towns and one can spend 45 minutes driving from one area to another. At the center, there is a gas station with $4.50 gas and $3.00 sodas which is to be avoided, along with an out of place resort hotel with tennis courts, also to be avoided. I quickly realized how comforting it had been to know that I was no more than 45 minutes away from a Wendy's in Moab if I was longing for a hot meal.

Sleep deprived, I returned to my hiding spot on artist drive the next night hoping to finally be able to get a good night's sleep. I decided to record some time lapse movies of the stars passing overhead. You realize how quickly the earth spins when you use the stars for reference. After taking pictures for about an hour, I fell asleep.

I woke again at 3:30 thinking that I had heard the sound of a car passing as I slept. I didn't see anything but decided to move anyway. I wanted to brush my teeth first though. As I brushed, I bent down to look out at the dark sky to see if I could find any of the constellations that had been hanging on the horizon when I had fallen asleep earlier. Then I saw a light sitting on the hilltop right next to my car. It wasn't a star, because it didn't appear round, it was a small irregular orb of light that could only be a flashlight. I watched it for a while, once again feeling intensely vulnerable that someone had gotten so close without my knowledge. The light didn't move, it just remained on the hill, pointed directly at me. I panicked and started the car and took off, toothbrush still in my mouth. I'm not sure why I was so unnerved by a light being aimed at my car, but I couldn't think of any good reason that it should have been there. I drove 10 miles through the rest of artist drive before I stopped and looked back. The light was still there! hovering just over another hill, and now I saw what looked like a tent, illuminated from the inside resting on the edge of a cliff. As I ran through more and more outrageous explanations for what I was seeing, I moved slowly forward in my car. As I moved, I cleared the hill and the "illuminated tent" was revealed to be the top half of the crescent moon. I then searched for the "flashlight" and found it hovering now high in the sky, above the moon. It was Venus, which was passing directly over Gamma Librae in the constellation Libra, the overlap creating the oblong shape I had mistaken for a man-made light. I had noticed Venus just as it had risen over the hill next to me.

Feeling pretty ridiculous, I decided that it was time to get out and head to Utah. I wasn't ready for my experience in Death Valley, and I would have to return another day.