Red Rock Canyon: Hiatus, then Hiking

I took an unexpected and rather abrupt hiatus from this blog, as you might have noticed.

Perhaps it was the election. Perhaps it was my sudden bout with sore throats and abdominal pain. Perhaps it was the conclusion of my Japanese contract. Perhaps it was all of this that crippled my desire to write.

If it makes you feel any better, dear reader, I didn’t write anywhere else either. I didn’t work on my book. I wrote no poetry. I kept no dream journal. I barely touched my actual personal journal. By all measurements, my ability to write simply dried up like a desert streambed in summer.

Speaking of…

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Before my recent re-relocation to Japan (having gone home briefly), I visited one of my favorite places in the United States: Red Rock Canyon just outside of Las Vegas, Nevada. I don’t know if Red Rock Canyon is my favorite spot – I love the Sequoias in California, the Hudson River Valley, and the tumult of Chicago – but it certainly ranks. If I had to give it a number one rank, it would be “Favorite place to go in the winter.” The desert in winter is something alien and unexpected. There is snow in the mountains, and in the late winter the melt swells the streams.

I’ve been going to Red Rock Canyon since I was a child. We’d always go in the late summer or mid-spring, coinciding with spring breaks and the end of summer vacations. I remember finding the small spherical stones that had fallen off the sandstone like pimples (I learned later they were vaguely magnetic, attracting particles around them). It’s not a national park, but it is protected under the BLM’s National Conservation Areas, specifically for the tortoises. When I was young, there was nothing leading to the park – a sparse collection of old gas stations and parched houses. Now, Summerlin abuts the park almost to the inch of the protected space.

When I visited in February, it was with the intention of seeing the sunrise. Unfortunately, it was a rainy day in the desert, so there was no sunrise to watch. The sign at the gate warned against climbing on the sandstone (already a slick stone). Though I didn’t get the sunrise, I got a bounty of other sensations. Desert plants must act fast, and the aromas getting out of my car hit me like a wall of spices. Mesquite, yucca, agave sage – these are the plants that opened up to welcome the brief morning rain, and the scent was cleansing.

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Looking out over the vast living landscape, full of cacti that would dry out in a few months, pools of water that wouldn’t last, I felt free again. There is something so…fragile about the desert. I find it almost unbearable to be in Red Rock in the heat of the summer, when everything is bleached and dry and desperately holding on. But in the winter, the colors deepen and the whole place comes brilliantly alive (the desert is always alive, mind you, but its much more practical about it in the summer).

So I hiked around Calico Hills, the patchwork sandstone mounds near the entrance of the park. I kept a lookout for animals, but saw only hummingbirds and a hawk. I met a nice Naval man on the trails, who proved good company and thankful hiking buddy (I kept my distance from him for awhile at first, uneasy at being alone). From Calico Hills, I went back to my car and started the long scenic drive through the park.

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Note: Make sure you get gas before you arrive at the Park. There is no access point out of the park once you start the scenic drive – it’s a big loop.

I’ve hiked part of Pine Creek Canyon, about three-quarters of the way through the 13 mile scenic drive, but I’ve yet to hike the whole thing. I get too interested at the beginning, where they did a controlled fire. There are Ponderosa pines there, and I’ve seen the wild burros once as well. It’s a forest that doesn’t belong in the desert, which is why it’s so fascinating. Much like the geological face of the mountains, which feature old rock pushed on top of younger rock (due to the fault lines), it’s sort of out of place. I love it.

Sitting on a rock, I watched the stream/almost river flow across the road, and felt the tuggings of inspirations again. I can’t tell you how relieved I was to feel the desire to write and describe. I had been feeling isolated and numb. Much like the riverbed, I felt the great need to open up again, and let the life in.

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Addendum: I worry, as I have been worrying for months now, about how Trump’s environmental lethargy is going to hurt places like Red Rock Canyon. I’ve watched Summerlin’s cookie cutter homes encroach more and more on the space, and I’m genuinely worried that in this new administration that does not care about protecting anything except their own wealth, spaces like these will fall victim.

So go buy this shirt from Cotton Bureau, or one similar to it. Maybe some good will come of a “gentle” visual reproach…

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Here comes the…

Oh my God – the sun is out today!! It’s been almost two weeks of grey skies. The last time I saw the sun was when I visited Chengdu. I can’t believe how goofily happy I am.

So I did what anyone does on a beautiful, bird-filled sunny day – I played video games. Just kidding. I’ll do that when the sun (hooray!) goes down.

No, I went for a walk. There’s this park I’ve been meaning to check out. It’s got the Olympic rings all over the place – I think it might be a sort of sister site for when the Olympics were in Beijing. Maybe it was a gathering place to watch the games on the monster screen on the side of the nearby building? The reason I wanted to go to this park was because it appeared that there was a sort of gym for grownups. And I was correct – there is some free exercise type equipment dotted all over the place. Nothing fancy – the treadmill is a series of metal rods on a slope, for example. Most of the contraptions were for promoting movement in general – twisting at the torso or stretching the arms.

I considered advocating for adult parks back in Chicago – adults deserve to play as much as children, and goodness knows we could use our worries and cares taken away for a few minutes. It’s nice to see something like that implemented, even if it is here in China. Again, I wonder if we could be trusted to have our own exercise equipment in the parks.

Someone would probably sue. That’s why our parks have grown lame – we treat it like it’s someone else’s fault we fall over. In Germany, there were some absolutely fabulous parks for kids. The equipment was amazing and probably not that safe in some regards, but the kids loved it. And when they fell off or over (or, in the case of the centrifugal handle-less merry-go-round, were thrown bodily into the sand), they sniffled and bounced back.

Remember parks – the old parks? The ones with rickety metal slides which burned the back of your legs? I remember jumping off of swings into pea gravel, skinning myself up a little and moving on. I chipped a tooth on the merry-go-round (got that fixed when my braces came off). While I do think that modern playgrounds offer more options for kids – rock-climbing walls, for example – I wonder at how soft and rounded they’ve become. The asphalt got replaced with pea gravel, which got replaced with wood chips, which got replaced with rubber mats. I mean, what’s wrong with skinning your knee every now and again?

That’s off topic – point of this update: It’s sunny. I’m glad it’s sunny. Spent lovely afternoon at park. Don’t know whether the weather helps me weather the stares…