“You become what you think about all day long.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson ~
Jury duty can be pretty intimating especially when you have been summoned by the Federal District Court for Eastern California. The official summons said that I was I was on call for the entire month of July. I would serve if asked.
So, on July 1, I began calling for instructions. The recording told me that I was not to appear but that I must call back on July 7th. Again, the recording instructed me that I was not to appear but that I must call back on July 14th. July is one of my favorite months for my motorcycle trips so this impacted me dearly. I told myself, “Plan a trip for five days, and if called to serve, you race home quickly.”
So with my own biker logic, I set off for Zion National Park in Utah. I had been there many times before but this trip was special. I wanted to get a very particular picture at Zion National Park. By the google map, Zion National Park is 542 miles from Three Rivers, California; a long distance for sure to get a single picture.
It is early when I leave my home. I’m not a morning person but I love the early hours once awake and on the open the road. There is less traffic and the air just smells new. The people that are out at 6 am are off for work.
My bike hums along and the morning sun begins to warm me as I shiver a bit. Denise is still sleeping when I approach Bakersfield, some 90 miles into my journey. My plan is to stop quickly in Barstow to see my brother Leo and sister, Paula. Both are home and each offers to provide lunch. Dilemma. OK, lunch with Leo first at Plata’s Restaurant and then off to see Paula at her house for some delicious New Mexico red chili, tortillas, and beans. I love it but I am really full.
Any biker knows that riding on a full stomach is not the best idea when crossing the Mojave Desert, especially in the middle of hot July. I’m sleepy just after 30 miles but I push on towards Beacon Station along Highway 15 and the Veterans Memorial Highway. This is in the middle of nowhere. It is hot. My guess is that it is easily 100 degrees. When I reach Baker, California, the temperature is actually 112 degrees. The proof is in front of me on the world’s tallest thermometer. I try to stay hydrated and I always carry four or five Gatorades and water. Near Las Vegas, the temperature cools down with some rain clouds that never produce rain. I always try to get gas at most eastern part of Las Vegas where it is a bit less hectic. This is the last gas station and I feel like I am still in the middle of a busy city. Time to get out of Dodge.
Crossing into Utah, the pace is slower and the scenery agrees with me after some stressful miles near Las Vegas. I hope to make St. George before dark but that will not happen. Thank goodness I reserved a room at Motel 6 while getting gas in Las Vegas. Arriving at 9 pm and having the clerk say, “Your room number is 144” is comforting, especially as the rain begins to fall. My plan for tomorrow is to get to the South Campground in Zion National Park by 6:30 am. That is a good hour drive from St. George so I set my alarm clock for 4 am, whether I want to or not.
It does its job precisely at 4 am and I am not very happy. My breakfast at the nearby Denny’s Restaurant is easy, fast, and good. “Where are you going? the waitress asks as she pours my second cup of coffee. “Zion National Park,” is all that came out from me. I think she undertook. She pours more coffee and the few extra moments allows me to shake the cobwebs from my head.
My bike was packed earlier and with food in my belly and caffeine to keep me awake, I point my bike towards Virgin, Rockville, and Zion Nation Park.
|Zion National Park as seen from the Angels Landing Trail
It is good to have goals in life. On this trip, my goal is to find, hike, and take pictures of Walters Wiggles along the Angels Landing Trail in Zion National Park.
I arrive at the South Campground in Zion National Park at 6:30 am. I am the 6th vehicle in line and I feel my chances are very good to get a campsite. There is a young man behind me from the Netherlands. We begin to make small talk. Now, he has an adventurist spirit to travel abroad and have the sense to be here early for a campsite. I like him right off the bat. Living life to its fullest at the ripe age of 25 years old is my guess. We swap stories while we wait and I learn that his parents lived and worked in Africa. Since we were in Botswana, Africa, the conversation flows easily. Later, I would meet this young man hiking on the Angels Landing. He barely broke a stride up the steep trail towards Walters Wiggles while I was dripping in sweat.
My campsite is number 63 and close to the Virgin River. The rain forecast is for 30% chance of rain by 8 pm. By 9 pm, the skies are clear so I set up my hammock between two cottonwood trees expecting a good night’s sleep. There are three guys camping nearby and they appear to be having a good time at Zion National Park. Just before dark, we meet and talk briefly. They are on a tour of Utah’s national parks. “My name is Bob and I’m camped over there,” I say. “I’m Matt, Jeff, and Harlan,” as we shake hands. These guys are from Connecticut and so enjoying Zion National Park and soon Bryce National Park. When they see my motorcycle, we begin talking about travels into nature. It turns out that Harlan is a professional photographer and I say, “I sure wish I could afford you to take pictures on my motorcycles travels.” He laughs, thinking I’m joking, but I’m serious. We exchange information and I hope to hear from these guys again. Later, Harlan sends me some of his amazing pictures while at Zion National Park. The Zion shots are beautiful. His web site is called Catching the Mist. He has some amazing photographs. Love them all -- check it out.
After we depart, sleep comes easy in my comfortable hammock. That is until about 2 am when the first rain drops begin to fall. A few at first at, then thousands. My tent is packed securely in my saddle bag and by the time I find it, I would be soaking wet. Decisions are often best made by the circumstances before you. The picnic table was there and it could provide a dry piece of dirt for the night. I quickly lay down my ground cover and I squeeze between the legs of the table and fall asleep. It rains hard all night but I am dry, though I was a bit cramped.
|Up towards Walters Wiggles
In the morning, I hope to be hiking the Angels Landing Trail and to see Walters Wiggles for my first time. The immense landscape slows me down considerably. The higher elevations, with each step, create panoramic views of the Zion canyon below. It is not easy walking, but I continue. Finally, I stop at Walters Wiggles. There are twenty-one short switchbacks leading from Refrigerator Canyon to Scout Lookout.
|The amazing Walters Wiggles
I think about how this man conceived, designed, and constructed this trail up this sheer rock face. Then, I begin to see a pattern. At each important turn along the zig-zags, there is a natural rock from which he built his trail. The pattern was distinct though the steps forward seemed impossible. I am breathing heavily. I am much higher. The view down into the canyon is a bit alarming. I think about the workers who spent months building this trail for me to enjoy. "Thanks Walter," I whisper.
|This trail is not for the faint at heart
This portion of the infamous Angels Landing Trail was designed and built by Walter Ruesch. He was the first Superintendent of Zion National Park and grandfather to one, Scott Ruesch. Scott and I worked together at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and while I knew that his mom and dad were National Park Service professionals, I had never heard about his grandfather until I took the Zion National Park free shuttle and the ranger announced, “Walters Wiggles was built by the first Superintendent of Zion National Park.” Those simple words were my inspiration to travel some 600 miles from Three Rivers to see this landmark for myself. I had never met the man, but I was determined to see the marvel that he created with my own eyes. Pictures do not really capture the switch backs or the steep grade. You must walk this trail, breathe the thin air, and see the breathtaking views to really appreciate the rock work along this iconic walk way, called Walters Wiggles. An amazing engineering feat! I love rocks so this seemed like a perfect fit.
|Beautiful Zion National Park
In the morning, I plan to ride towards Great Basin National Park in Nevada. I once worked here and it has been years since I have been back.
|Great Basin National Park before a rain storm
In Minersville, I stop for gas not knowing how far the next gas station is along this lonely road. I’m sleepy too, so I buy a cup of coffee from the lady at the gas station. “I’m heading for Great Basin National Park; can you tell me how many more miles.” She replies quickly, “I don’t know.” “There is nothing out that way anyway,” she adds. For me, when someone tells me about “nothing,” it is usually a place of immense beauty. What she described as “nothing” was low-level desert that touched the mountains. I didn’t see many cars on this road, but I felt so connected to nature in this place called “nowhere.”
|Rain is coming as I head towards Great Basin National Park
The sign ahead is comforting – Great Basin National Park is 6 miles ahead. I buy some groceries at Baker, including one ear of white corn and a frozen rib-eye steak. Tonight, I’ll camp at the Lower Leman Campground, campsite #9. It is quiet here and I quickly build a fire to cook my dinner. It is perhaps the best steak I’ve ever had and the corn is cooked perfectly. I am content. The night sky is dark and alive. Laying in my sleeping bag, I look up at the brilliant stars. In less than ten minutes, I am fast asleep -- the Big Dipper sees to that.
In the morning, my Pocket Rocket heats water for my coffee, Spam, and oatmeal. Today, I'll explore this national park.
|Great Basin National Park - Mather Overlook
The ride in Great Basin National Park is awesome. I once worked here on an Operations Evaluation Team and found that this park was well run. Today, I feel that the Park is doing well. The park is clean, signs are appropriate, and the roads are in good shape. The views are, well, some of the most beautiful that I have seen. The rain clouds are forming and I can hear the thunder even with my helmet securely strapped to my head. A flash of lightning persuades me to keep moving. It is impossible to outrun the rain so I brace for the worst. The smell of rain is heavy.
Then, just like that, the storm turns south and is behind me. I continue due west along Highway 50. The scenery makes me feel like I am the only person on these vast roads. My pictures try to capture the moment.
|The rain suddenly turns south
By the time I reach Ely, Nevada, I’m a bit sleepy. It is best to stop, drink water, and have a snack. In the past, this has helped. I feel better, and I continue on towards Bishop, California.
|A lonely road leading to "nowhere"
My camp is just below Mount Whitney and I have been here many times before. The mountains welcome me and the night sky is brilliant. The Big Dipper, sitting just above Mount Whitney, is there almost for me to touch. I am tired, but just before I fall asleep near my campfire, I think that about my goal at the start of my journey. It has been about 1,200 miles and the tired makes me sleepy.
My thoughts go back to Mr. Walter Ruesch who might have said, “Thanks, I’m glad you took the time to walk my trail” – And my response, “The views are amazing. I love your rock work.”
|My camp in the Alabama Hills below Mount Whitney