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 The Trek: The Journals

•
Team: South
Jan Nesset
Sunday, December 1
Canyonlands in December

Rays of sunlight break the morning shadows
Rays of sunlight break the morning shadows
Courtesy Jan Nesset


On the northside of the crater, Chris Nesset heads in
On the northside of the crater, Chris Nesset heads in
Courtesy Jan Nesset

Given the spate of clear weather that the Southwest has been experiencing, our days of hiking and enjoying on foot our public lands just keeps on going and going. I’ll give the bunny a break here and say that my wife and I keep energized the natural way by the endless opportunities that wait not far from our door.

Three hours by car from Durango, Colorado, is Moab, Utah, where mountain bikers, off-highway vehicle enthusiasts, climbers, paddlers, backpackers and hikers covet as a kind of recreation Mecca. In every direction there’s something fun to do.

So yesterday, with Thanksgiving turkey packed into our bellies for sustenance, Chris and I, lusting for adventure, put in mind Canyonlands National Park and started the car. Although both of us had in some way enjoyed the Moab area in our pasts, neither of us had been to Canyonlands. Great two-day weather forecast, two days of nothing but time on our hands and a full tank of gasoline spelled “go”, and in what seemed like no time at all we were handing over a $10 entrance fee to get into the north end of Canyonlands National Park. We inquired about paying the $5 camping fee, too, but the ranger said that the fee box was not yet in place at the Willow Flat Campground. He said to enjoy the campground for free. Okay.

Because we had only 3 ½ hours of daylight remaining we decided that we would spend the time visiting various overlooks. Late sun was clearly best on the easterly views while the sun put a foggy haze to the west. Sun and how it affected the impressive landscape only inspired us to agree to rise early the next morning so we could gasp anew at the vistas. Canyonlands is so named because the character of the land is canyon within canyons. As one layer of sandstone washes from the earth’s crust, creating a wide craggy valley, a new layer begins to wash away by cutting through the valley floors. Layers of rock are eaten back, creating huge and deep canyons in the canyons. Meanwhile, wind blows through sculpting the standing rock. Chris commented that the oil paintings she has seen of the area are nearly surreal, unbelievable in their perfect beauty. Now, she said, she realizes that the painters were just good at capturing what they saw. The paintings were not lying.

We thought we had ended our sightseeing part of the day with the splendid view from Grandview Point Overlook but we were wrong. With nearly an hour of daylight remaining after we set up our tent at Willow Flat Campground, we walked the short 1/10-mile distance to the overlook – and then got carried away.

Candlestick Tower, a tall monolith of impressive sandstone towering to the west between our sandstone overlook and the Green River, which snaked southerly far below, begs a closer look. Between our viewpoint and that begging look rises a steep – hundreds of feet steep – sandstone cliff broken by a ledge of grass and boulders. Ominous-looking from afar, we walked toward the ledge hoping that we could traverse the cliff. Sure enough, a deer trail picked an easy route across the cliff. We followed and got our look, then made an arc around the backside of the sandstone to our camp.

Frosty night -- freezing.

Today broke clear and cold. Keeping our promise to get up early for a new view of the area from the overlook, we watched the sun break slowly over high sandstone to the east. The early strokes of sunshine that hit the valley floor below shined heavenly as they painted golden the distant canyon rims overlooking the Green River and its side canyons. Each golden ray put a dazzle on anything that it reached. An awesome touch, the tops of small towers rising from the valley floor poked through the sheets of light. The Green River grabbed a slice of the sunshine, sparkling.

Two buck mule deer chasing does through the juniper, love drunk in the throes of the rut, stalked about ignoring our presence while two does watched us intently.

Breaking camp with a purpose -- to get on with the day and to put behind the bone-freezing chore -- carried an air of excitement. Our plan was to hike the Syncline Trail, an 8-mile loop around the Upheaval Dome crater (online map: www.nps.gov/cany/ppmaps/island). At the center of the crater rose a dome of salt. Scientists gather around two ideas to explain the creation of the crater and dome. First, the exciting idea, is that a meteor blasted the surface of the earth, giving rise to the dome. The second, the ho-hum idea, is that the crater simply pushed through a thin layer of crust.

With a 1,300-feet elevation loss and gain, the Syncline Trail circumnavigates the crater at the low side of the outer wall, through canyons and along a section of sandstone crumble that asks to be called a slope. We chose to hike the trail counter-clockwise. The hiking is relatively easy on the first and large half of the hike, with the exception of the crumbly slope on the north side of the crater’s west-side breach. Despite the caution required to descend the trail, we enjoyed the scrambling. At one point Chris squeezed through a short “tunnel” while I chose a bypass.

The bottoms of the canyons are often marked idyllic with groves of trees and grassy flats. Creeks that become active during rainstorms cut furrows through the bottoms of the canyons. Shallow pools showed us that rains had recently visited the area.

In the breach of the crater a 1 1/2 –mile trail takes interested hikers into the crater to see the salt dome. We ate our lunch overlooking the main drainage and contemplated where the trail continued from here. It was one of two canyons, both coming in from the east. We wouldn’t know until we followed the trail down the drainage.

At the confluence with the first drainage, a wood sign indicated we could continue about 5 miles down the drainage to the Green River or turn east up the canyon. We stuck to our plan to hike the Syncline Trail around the crater, and began our hike up the canyon. The trail followed a heavily eroded wash, in and out of the creek bottom, to a point it decidedly climbed out of the wash and up a steep slope.

Chris, at two months pregnant, set her pace and found plenty of opportunities to hurrah her progress. She was doing better than she had thought she would do on this hike. In fact, she felt great, feeling happy with her fitness and pregnant well-being.

Hiking a short distance ahead, I had opportunities to take photographs of this impressive area and feel proud about my growing family. Chris and I have often talked about someday taking our child to places that we enjoyed during its stay in its mother’s belly. We are all together, even today, even though our baby floats while we hike. We have so much to be thankful for.

A series of climbs to cresting plateaus took us to a point on the trail where we think we can cut north and intercept the mile-long trail to a dome viewpoint. Our plan couldn’t have worked better. In ten minutes across slickrock our decision proved to be spot on, landing us on the viewpoint platform where groups of people stood to marvel the salt dome.

I try to get into my view finder the entire dome, but couldn’t, opting to take two photographs. The crater is immense. Chris and I notice that Israelis, Danish, Japanese and Germans are enjoying the viewpoint. A lot of cameras are getting a workout. Americans are busy today, too, either elsewhere in the park or nowhere in the park.

Americans are always busy.

Public lands are not an off-season option, not always. I think of last year at this time when I was skiing over wolf and mountain lion tracks in Glacier National Park. Hunting season had ended not long before: we had a good start on enjoying excellent venison steaks from the Flathead National Forest. I was toying with the idea to ski across the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

Public lands. They’re an all-season, any-time phenomena built on American ideals. It doesn’t take a lot of experimentation to discover that today can be a perfect time to visit public lands.
for Sunday, December 1
North South Both




Biographical
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Team: South
Jan Nesset
An experienced outdoorsman, Jan Nesset knows that everyone has to pitch in at camp
A native of Montana and the third of four children, Jan Nesset joins American...
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List of All Journal Entries
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Wednesday, April 28
Jan Nesset
American Frontiers: Part II: Taking Stock
   >> more...

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Sunday, December 1
Jan Nesset
Canyonlands in December
   >> more...

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Thursday, November 21
Jan Nesset
Snow Raspberry Bounty
   >> more...

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Sunday, November 17
Jan Nesset
The Bisti Badlands
   >> more...

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Friday, November 15
Jan Nesset
Public Land Flows Through It
   >> more...

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Thursday, November 7
Jan Nesset
A Day At Earth Analytic's Home
   >> more...

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Tuesday, October 29
Jan Nesset
Slot Canyon Adventure
   >> more...

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Monday, October 28
Jan Nesset
Some Things Never Change
   >> more...

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Sunday, October 27
Jan Nesset
Back To The Wave
   >> more...

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Monday, October 7
Jan Nesset
The Thing About Summits
   >> more...

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Saturday, September 28
Jan Nesset
A New Beginning: National Public Lands Day
   >> more...

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Thursday, September 26
Jan Nesset
Big Day of Sneak and Salvage
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 25
Jan Nesset
History-Coated Strawberry
   >> more...

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Tuesday, September 24
Jan Nesset
The Last Of It
   >> more...

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Monday, September 23
Jan Nesset
Dinosaurlandia
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 22
Jan Nesset
Over The Edge
   >> more...

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Saturday, September 21
Jan Nesset
God Bless America
   >> more...

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Friday, September 20
Jan Nesset
Sometimes It's A Tough Life And We Get To Do It
   >> more...

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Thursday, September 19
Jan Nesset
The Niche Near You
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 18
Jan Nesset
Snow Day
   >> more...

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Tuesday, September 17
Jan Nesset
A Capitol Reef Bull's Eye
   >> more...

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Monday, September 16
Jan Nesset
A Lucky Rift
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 15
Jan Nesset
Riding The Hog's Back
   >> more...

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Saturday, September 14
Jan Nesset
Oh Rhythm My Rhythm
   >> more...

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Friday, September 13
Jan Nesset
Precious Images
   >> more...

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Thursday, September 12
Jan Nesset
From the Hole to the Staircase
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 11
Jan Nesset
Happy Days
   >> more...

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Tuesday, September 10
Jan Nesset
Do You Believe In Magic?
   >> more...

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Monday, September 9
Jan Nesset
The Bridge Over the River Why
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 8
Jan Nesset
Public Lands And…Not You?
   >> more...

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Saturday, September 7
Jan Nesset
That Place So Special
   >> more...

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Friday, September 6
Jan Nesset
Just Looking To Have Some Fun – Be Dammed!
   >> more...

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Thursday, September 5
Jan Nesset
Do The Wave
   >> more...

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Wednesday, September 4
Jan Nesset
The Condors Are Coming!
   >> more...

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Tuesday, September 3
Jan Nesset
Fires Are For The Birds
   >> more...

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Monday, September 2
Jan Nesset
Back On Top
   >> more...

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Sunday, September 1
Jan Nesset
Perfection
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 31
Jan Nesset
The Wheels Have Left The Tarmac
   >> more...

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Friday, August 30
Jan Nesset
Star Light
   >> more...

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Thursday, August 29
Jan Nesset
The Traditional Connection
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 28
Jan Nesset
Onward and Upward On Mountain Bikes
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 27
Jan Nesset
Checkerboard Kings and Queens
   >> more...

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Monday, August 26
Jan Nesset
Aldo Leopold As Ranch Manager
   >> more...

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Sunday, August 25
Jan Nesset
A Story In Everything
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 24
Jan Nesset
Fire In The Whole
   >> more...

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Friday, August 23
Jan Nesset
"Good Morning, Flagstaff!"
   >> more...

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Thursday, August 22
Jan Nesset
Hoping For The Best
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 21
Jan Nesset
Could Get Stinky
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 20
Jan Nesset
Wheels Asunder
   >> more...

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Monday, August 19
Jan Nesset
Hurt Me, Thank You!
   >> more...

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Sunday, August 18
Jan Nesset
Roads Aplenty and Rocks of Pleasure
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 17
Jan Nesset
Of Dragons and Fire
   >> more...

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Friday, August 16
Jan Nesset
Motorcycles and the Zen of Route Mechanics
   >> more...

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Thursday, August 15
Jan Nesset
Puzzled
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 14
Jan Nesset
A Day Off, Sort Of
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 13
Jan Nesset
A Delightful, Light Day
   >> more...

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Monday, August 12
Jan Nesset
Courage On Eagle Mountain
   >> more...

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Sunday, August 11
Jan Nesset
Farewell
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 10
Jan Nesset
My Aching Back In The Saddle
   >> more...

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Friday, August 9
Jan Nesset
Back In The Saddle
   >> more...

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Thursday, August 8
Jan Nesset
In The Saddle
   >> more...

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Wednesday, August 7
Jan Nesset
Shut My Mouth!
   >> more...

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Tuesday, August 6
Jan Nesset
Diversity and Song
   >> more...

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Monday, August 5
Jan Nesset
An Unraveling
   >> more...

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Sunday, August 4
Jan Nesset
A Bagged Peak
   >> more...

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Saturday, August 3
Jan Nesset
Lines On A Map
   >> more...

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Friday, August 2
Jan Nesset
GPS-Marriage Made In Heaven
   >> more...

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Thursday, August 1
Jan Nesset
Free Wheelin'
   >> more...

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Wednesday, July 31
Jan Nesset
An Excellent Start
   >> more...








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