Red Sandstone, Red Marble

“BURLY AND SUSTAINED” : Rainbow Buttress, Oak Creek Canyon, red rocks

Mike and I serendipitously timed our latest trip to Red Rock Canyon NCA near Las Vegas: last weekend was warm and springlike, but this weekend we’re seeing drenching rain and snow at the higher elevations — badly needed due to the drought, but making for poor climbing weather.

Red Rocks was 2 full-value days going into and out of Oak Creek Canyon, twice, to climb 2 long routes. Oak Creek is one of the larger canyons in the area and has many easier-to-harder routes in its upper reaches. Mike had the good plan of going up Oak Creek on Saturday to do an easier route and familiarize ourselves with the area a bit more, because we’d be returning the very next day.

Oak Creek Canyon after snow. We encountered springlike, snow-free conditions. (Wikimedia Commons)

Oak Creek Canyon after snow. Unlike this image, we found springlike, snow-free conditions. (Wikimedia Commons)

The approach totals about 3 miles to the upper canyon, including ~1.5 mile of trail and ~1.5 miles of boulder scrambling and hopping; and then several hundred more feet of slabs to the bases of the routes. We did Catwalk (5.6) on Saturday and stashed most of our gear up there, so we’d have lighter packs when we returned on Sunday to climb the classic 8-pitch Rainbow Buttress (5.8+). That made Sunday’s approach easier, but the approach and walk-off, combined with the technical climbing, make for full days.

Final pitch of Rainbow Buttress, a few pitches above the "burly and sustained" crux pitch. No photos of that pitch -- I was too busy belaying!

Final pitch of Rainbow Buttress, a few pitches above the “burly and sustained” (as described in the guidebook) crux pitch. And it was, as advertised. No photos of that pitch, or of most of the climb — I was too busy belaying!

Nearing the top of Rainbow Buttress, more than 1500' off the canyon floor.

Nearing the top of Rainbow Buttress, more than 1500′ off the canyon floor.

The walk-off was the same for both routes but longer for Rainbow Buttress — basically you end up almost on top of Rainbow Mountain and you walk back down beautiful, colorful slabs and chutes back down to Oak Creek, and then back out the bouldery canyon, about 3-4 hours for the full deal. Sunday was a full 12 hour day, and we got back to the Sprinter just as it was getting too dark to see. We never had to pull out headlamps.

A beautiful, light-filled afternoon descent along upper Oak Creek Canyon's colorful sandstone slabs.

A beautiful, light-filled afternoon descent along upper Oak Creek Canyon’s colorful sandstone slabs.

red marble: pat metheny at the smith center

Smith Center exterior evokes Art Deco architecture and the Hoover Dam era. (LA Times)

Smith Center exterior evokes Art Deco architecture and the Hoover Dam era. (LA Times)

Monday we did a few tired-but-let’s-go-do-something-anyway routes before heading into town and getting a hotel room in downtown Las Vegas. That night we headed over to the Smith Center for the Pat Metheny Unity Group show.

The venue is brand new and done in Art Deco with beautiful metalwork and red marble.

Red-marbled lobby of the Smith Center, with marvelous Deco metalwork. (NY Times)

Red-marbled lobby of the Smith Center, with marvelous Deco metalwork. (NY Times)

The Smith Center is a new performance venue in downtown Las Vegas.

We had orchestra seats about 25 rows back from the stage. This was a great place to see a show.

And Pat & Co. were amazing, as usual. Here’s a sampler from the new album, Kin:

A Death Valley Thanksgiving

Fossil coral on the huge alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon.

Fossil coral on the alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon.

Mike and I got out of town over Thanksgiving break to take advantage of balmy late-November weather and get in a little canyon exploring in Death Valley.

Mike planned a 36-mile loop that started on the Scotty’s Castle Road north of Stovepipe Wells. We would walk west up the giant alluvial fan of Dry Bone Canyon into the Cottonwood Mountains. Then we’d go around a 600-foot series of huge dry falls, head north along the crest of the Cottonwoods, and drop down eastward into Bighorn Gorge, down into the bottom of Death Valley and back to the Sprinter.

It was three full days of walking, fossils, sleeping under the stars, dry bones and even a five-course Thanksgiving dinner.

Map check and brief respite from carrying 45-lb packs (mostly water), Death Valley Wash.

Map check and respite from carrying 45-lb packs (mostly water), Death Valley Wash.

Inaugural voyage of the super-light-and-warm Feathered Friends double sleeping bag. Perfect spot for a 5-course dinner: Course 1: A nice lemon-lime Gatorade of obscure vintage Course 2: Cheddar + garlic appetizer Course 3: Bean + rice consommé (which was consommé'd) Course 4: Beans + rice seasoned with cheese and spices Course 5: Homemade chocolate chip-oat-pecan cookies of recent vintage

Inaugural voyage of the super-light-and-warm Feathered Friends double sleeping bag. Perfect spot for a 5-course dinner:
Course 1: A nice lemon-lime Gatorade of obscure vintage
Course 2: Cheddar + garlic appetizer
Course 3: Bean + rice consommé (which was consommé’d)
Course 4: Beans + rice seasoned with cheese and spices
Course 5: Homemade chocolate chip-oat-pecan cookies of recent vintage

Getting close to the narrowest sections of upper Dry Bone Canyon.

Next morning, we continue up-canyon and approach some of the narrowest sections of upper Dry Bone Canyon.

Desert bighorn ram skull, Dry Bone Canyon.

Desert bighorn ram skull, Dry Bone Canyon.

Many limestone narrows in the upper part of the canyon.

Many limestone narrows in the upper part of the canyon.

Catching our breath after the 800' gully we had to ascend to get around a 600' series of impassable dry falls. Floor of the canyon is in the background.

Catching our breath after the 800′ gully we had to ascend to get around a 600′ series of  dry falls.  Floor of Dry Bone Canyon is in the background.

Coffee break at the top of the bypass, and a great view down Death Valley, looking toward Furnace Creek. Lots of snow on the Panamints!

Coffee break at the top of the bypass, and a great view down Death Valley, looking south toward Furnace Creek. Lots of snow on the Panamints!

Dry Bone Canyon from above, amid the rugged ridges of the Cottonwoods.

Dry Bone Canyon from above, amid the rugged ridges of the Cottonwoods.

We found a bit more snow than expected on the upper section of old mining road, before dropping into Bighorn Gorge.

We found more snow than expected on the upper section of old mining road and postholed for a couple of miles before dropping into Bighorn Gorge.

North-side slopes had less snow, but the wind had blown that snow into our gully!

North-side slopes had less snow, but the wind had blown that snow into our gully.

After a couple miles of descent, we were below most of the snow and were able to camp in this pretty area of Joshua trees.

After a couple miles of descent, we were below most of the snow and were able to camp in this pretty area of Joshua trees.

Entering Bighorn Gorge proper the next morning. The entire canyon is walkable, with a few scrambles down small dry falls, and one bouldery bypass around a 60-foot fall.

Entering Bighorn Gorge proper the next morning. The entire canyon is walkable, with a few scrambles down small ledges, and one bouldery bypass around a 60-foot fall.

There were several short sections of really narrow narrows of polished limestone.

There were several short sections of really narrow corridors of polished limestone.

Incredible variety of rock colors and tilted layers.

Incredible variety of rock colors and tilted layers.

Fossils were embedded in the walls and floor of the gorge: snails, bivalves, and other ancient sea creatures.

Snails, bivalves and other small, ancient sea creatures were embedded in the walls and floor of the gorge.

Out of the gorge, back across Death Valley Wash, and back up to the Sprinter (see it?) on an old old "road" that is actually still marked on the map! Clearly it has seen better days ...

Out of the gorge, back across Death Valley Wash, and back up to the Sprinter (see it?) on an old “road” that is actually still marked on the map! Clearly it has seen better days.

Amalgamated Federation of Conglomerated Birthdays

Scotch tasting and full utilization of the wee, handpainted Austrian thimble glasses. L to R: Mike, me, Jan, Denise, Chris, Todd.

Scotch tasting and full utilization of the wee, handpainted Austrian thimble glasses. L to R: Mike, me, Jan, Denise, Chris, Todd. Jan’s birthday is in January but we made him an honorary Scorpio for the weekend.

Five of the six of us who spent a weekend camping and exploring in the Conglomerate Mesa area of the Inyo Mountains were celebrating birthdays, so we had plenty to celebrate. We chose a high-desert area this year—an interesting mix of Joshua trees and pinyon-juniper woodland—which made for cooler evenings and mornings, but everyone had warm clothes and there was plenty of dead wood around for campfires. Here are some of the highlights!

Getting a little morning run in before walking adventures begin for the day. (photo: CIversen)

Getting a little morning run in before walking adventures and explorations begin for the day. (photo: CIversen)

Exploring a petroglyph-filled canyon near Conglomerate Mesa.

Exploring a petroglyph-filled canyon near Conglomerate Mesa.

More petroglyphs, with my new birthday hiking poles! Mike snuck them into my pack at the beginning of the walk out here -- great surprise.

More petroglyphs, with my new birthday hiking poles! Mike snuck them into my pack at the beginning of the walk out here — great surprise.

Our camp at the base of Conglomerate Mesa. The road in was sporty but Sprinter-able.

Our camp at the base of Conglomerate Mesa. The road in was sporty but Sprinter-able.

Very large and healthy Joshua trees around camp!

Very large and healthy Joshua trees around camp!

Yes, that is a washing-machine tub being used for a fire container. The little holes make for great ventilation and aesthetics!

Yes, that is a washing-machine tub being used for a fire container. The little holes make for great ventilation and aesthetics!

Rock shelter with chimney, Conglomerate Mesa.

Rock shelter with chimney, Conglomerate Mesa.

Marvelous rock folds in the Inyos, as viewed from atop Conglomerate Mesa. Looking west toward the Sierra.

Marvelous rock folds in the Inyos, as viewed from atop Conglomerate Mesa. Looking west toward the Sierra.

Our birthdays added up to this rather large number atop this Dutch-oven cake.

Our birthdays added up to a rather large number atop this Dutch-oven cake.

Elaborate (relatively speaking) stone shelter on the ridge leading to Galena Peak.

Elaborate (relatively speaking) stone shelter on the ridge leading to Galena Peak.

Whole lotta canyons: Fifty-cent view northeast from the summit of Galena Peak, Nelson Range, CA. Foreground: Saline Valley, with Racetrack Playa (DVNP) at upper left. Background: Cottonwood Range, with the far side of Death Valley at far upper right. [confused yet?]

Whole lotta canyons: Fifty-cent view northeast from the summit of Galena Peak, Nelson Range. Foreground: Saline Valley, with Racetrack Playa (Death Valley NP) at upper left. Background: Cottonwood Range, with the far side of Death Valley at far upper right. [confused yet?]

Bean and Einstein were looking sharp in their pointy party hats. Happy Birthdays for all!

Bean and Einstein were looking sharp in their pointy party hats. Happy Birthdays for all!

Fall Potpourri, without decorative gourds

Here’s a “best of fall” set of pics from various and sundry activities spanning late summer to mid-autumn here on the East Side of the Sierra. Promise: no pictures of decorative gourds.

Visiting snuggly little baby goats at Dori + Martin's Seismic Farms, in Big Pine.

Visiting snuggly little baby goats at Dori + Martin’s Seismic Farms, in Big Pine.

Fall means low-elevation desert weekends, now just an hour from home. Flip flops, creosote, Prosecco and good chips and salsa from Indio.

Fall means low-elevation desert weekends, now just an hour from home. Flip flops, creosote, Prosecco, good chips and salsa from Indio, and endless opportunities for exploring.

Hidden Dunes, Eureka Valley, as seen from the mouth of an unnamed canyon.

Hidden Dunes, Eureka Valley, as seen from the mouth of an unnamed canyon, Death Valley National Park.

Petroglyphs are fairly common around here -- we think the wavy lines = water.

Petroglyphs are fairly common around here — we think the wavy lines = water.

Collared lizard enjoys the sun.

Collared lizard enjoys the sun.

Coolest find of the day, by Mike: an almost-intact obsidian arrowhead!

Coolest find of the day, by Mike: an almost-intact obsidian arrowhead! We left it where we found it, being in the National Park and all.

Standing funny in the thin air at 11,000', near the summit of Boundary Peak.

Standing funny near the 13,000′ summit of Boundary Peak, White Mountains, CA, north of Bishop.

Looking down into Nevada from the summit ridge of Boundary Peak, White Mountains, CA.

Looking down into Nevada from the summit ridge of Boundary Peak.

Intriguing layer of volcanic sand in the canyon wall, Inyo Mountains.

Another day, another set of mountains and canyons: Intriguing layer of volcanic sand in the canyon wall, Inyo Mountains near Big Pine, CA.

Cairn marking something on a ridge above the canyon we'd just walked up.

Cairn marking something on a ridge above the canyon we’d just walked up. We later found a very old footpath that went along the ridge.

Map check and coffee break.

Map check and coffee break, looking down on Owens Valley and ancient red cinder cones.

Mike chugs up the dirt road in the Horton Creek area below Mt. Tom, just west of town.

Local running: Mike chugs up the dirt road in the Horton Creek area below colorful Mt. Tom, just west of town.

Fall colors are all over Bishop right now!

Fall colors are all over Bishop right now!

Palm Springs: A Mid Century Modern Vacation

Coyote Ellery, Living Desert.

Owwwoooooo! Coyote Ellery, Living Desert.

Auntie Carolyn got to spend a few days in Palm Springs in a cool Mid Century Modern house with the Coynes of Boston (Jen, John, Ellery, Sidney) and the Muellers of Portland, OR (Diane, Wendell, Wend, Owen). While the kiddos would have preferred to spend 6 hours each day splashing around in the backyard pool beneath the palm trees and big peaks, we all managed to get out and about a little bit in the Coachella Valley, to Thousand Palms Oasis and the Living Desert.

The vacation was rounded out by Homemade Pizza Night and a visit from Mike’s parents, Don and Sylvia Hay, who live a few towns away in Indio. Everyone got their fill of pool time and desert sunshine!

A stormy morning on Aquanetta Drive, where the cousins rented a house.

A stormy morning on Aquanetta Drive, where the cousins rented a house.

John and Sid peek over Ellery's shoulder before the design and architecture quiz.

John and Sid peek over Ellery’s shoulder before the design and architecture quiz.

Intrepid explorers.

Intrepid explorers.

Some of the "living" at the Living Desert include a gajillion kinds of desert plants, including this aptly-named dinner-plate cactus.

Some of the “living” at the Living Desert includes a gajillion different desert plants, including this aptly-named dinner-plate cactus.

Wonderful carousel was fun for all at the Living Desert.

Wonderful carousel was fun for all at the Living Desert.

Tiny Town, Living Desert.

Tiny Town, Living Desert “G” model train display.

A wee Mt. Rushmore is one of many cool features of the "G" model train display at the Living Desert.

A wee Mt. Rushmore is one of many cool features of the model train display at the Living Desert.

Funtimes with Mamma by the pool!

Funtimes with Mamma by the pool!

John Coyne made the pool playoffs.

John Coyne made the pool playoffs.

Martinis with a twist of lime felt very Palm Springs.

Martinis with a twist of lime felt very Palm Springs.

Mini Cooper sez, "I'll have the cheese, please."

Mini Cooper sez, “I’ll have the cheese, please.”

Mamma Jen helps Sid open his present from Wend and Owen.

Mamma Jen helps Sid open his present from Wend and Owen.

Muellers explore a riparian desert ecosystem at Coachella Valley Preserve / Thousand Palms Oasis.

Muellers explore a riparian desert ecosystem at Coachella Valley Preserve / Thousand Palms Oasis.

Big Daddy Wendell searches for Owen and Wend among the Washington palms at the Coachella Valley Preserve.

Big Daddy Wendell searches for Owen and Wend among the Washington palms at the Coachella Valley Preserve.

Don Hay and John Coyne, up to no good.

Don Hay and John Coyne, up to no good.

Sid and Sylvia get acquainted.

Sid and Sylvia get acquainted.

Sid says, "Yay for Palm Springs!"

Sid says, “Yay for Palm Springs!”

Late Summer Walking

Artisanal, tucked-away trailhead sign for the Gable Lakes Trail. The bone is a nice touch.

Artisanal, tucked-away trailhead sign for the Gable Lakes Trail. The bone is a nice touch.

It’s still definitely summery out there, even though it’s September. The Sierra and the Inyo Mountains beckon, with plenty of on- and off-trail rambling to go around. Pictures from recent jaunts up to Gable Lakes (out of Pine Creek Canyon near Bishop) and upper Marble Canyon, in the Inyo Mountains near where we walked in 2008, are featured here.

gable lakes

Steep trail provides views almost right away of Pine Creek Canyon.

Steep trail provides views almost right away of Pine Creek Canyon.

Some of the old tramway works to the upper tungsten mines are still standing.

Some of the old tramway works to the upper tungsten mines are still standing.

Quaint! Well ventilated! Views! Hantavirus!

Quaint! Well ventilated! Views! Hantavirus!

*Some furniture included.

*Some furniture included.

Who drew the short straw to schlep this thing from the valley floor (~7,000') to here, at almost 11,000', to prospect for tungsten?

Who drew the short straw to schlep this thing from the valley floor (~7,000′) to here, at almost 11,000′, to prospect for tungsten?

Two of the several Gable Lakes, at ~11,000'.

Two of the several Gable Lakes, at ~11,000′.

Impressive washout, mile 4, Waucoba-Saline Valley Road. Although I'm sure the Subaru could have jumped all this, given enough speed, we decided to park and walk from here.

Impressive washout, mile 4, Waucoba-Saline Valley Road. Although I’m sure the Subaru could have jumped all this, given enough speed, we decided to park and walk from here.

Upper marble canyon

We did a nice walk on Labor Day off the Waucoba/Saline Valley Road, an unpaved road that forks off the paved Death Valley Road to drop into Saline Valley itself. We got about 4 miles down this road before a large washout stopped us. We’d only planned to drive about 5 miles anyway, so it wasn’t a big deal to walk.

We ended up doing a longer-than-planned-but-still-fun loop up Upper Marble Canyon (we’d walked its lower section in 2008), with the bonus that it had recently flash-flooded and was still wet and mud covered. Impressive limestone cliffs and some pretty narrow sections too!

Cutting cross country to drop into upper Marble Canyon.

Cutting cross country to drop into upper Marble Canyon.

A hole to nowhere appears amidst some random mining junk.

A hole to nowhere appears amidst some random mining junk.

Checking out the hole but not going all the way to another dimension.

Checking out the hole but not going all the way to another dimension.

A very recent flash flood left this canyon pretty wet and muddy.

A very recent flash flood left this canyon pretty wet and muddy.

Marine Mammal Surveys: Barrow

Folks around here are subsistence whalers. Mike says, "this, while intended as humorous, is also an honest statement of their sentiments. These people can live off of a relatively few bowheads a year, so they don't like industrial extraction. It cuts into their food source."

Folks around here are subsistence whalers. Mike says, “this, while intended as humorous, is also an honest statement of their sentiments. These people can live off of a relatively few bowheads a year, so they don’t like industrial extraction. It cuts into their food source.”

Mike is in the High Arctic to help folks with NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Laboratory (NMML) with their annual Aerial Surveys of Arctic Marine Mammals (ASAMM) program in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas off the northern coast of Alaska. Surveys began in the late 1970s. Objectives include:

  • describing the annual bowhead whale migration across the Arctic
  • documenting abundance and behavior of cetaceans, ice seals, walruses, and polar bears,
  • mapping observations for use by other agencies, and
  • providing an objective wide-area context for understanding marine mammal ecology in the Alaskan Arctic, to help inform management decisions and interpret results of other small-scale studies.
Bowhead whale. Credit: Pete Duley, NEFSC/NOAA(NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML, NMFS Permit No. 14245, Funded by BOEM, IA Contract No. M11PG00033)

Bowhead whale. Credit: Pete Duley, NEFSC/NOAA(NOAA/NMFS/AFSC/NMML, NMFS Permit No. 14245, Funded by BOEM, IA Contract No. M11PG00033)

Wooden whaling boat. There are also walrus-hide umiaks in town. It must be very sporty to hunt large whales from such small boats.

Wooden whaling boat. There are also umiaks (open boats made using skins stretched over wooden frames) in town. It must be very sporty to hunt very large whales from very small boats.

So what’s Mike actually doing? He wrote, and maintains, the software that records detailed, real-time observations of mammals and their behavior while flying prescribed transects over the ocean. He records in-flight observations called out by biologists, fixes bugs, and edits data.

Sitting behind Karen, an observer, and Stan the Pilot, ready to record marine mammal sightings.

Sitting behind Karen, an observer, and Stan the Pilot, ready to record marine mammal sightings.

In-flight display of the plane's actual location.

In-flight display of the plane’s actual location.

The King Eider Inn, Barrow.

The King Eider Inn, Barrow.

He’s currently based in Barrow (pop. ~4200), but will move east to Deadhorse for the second half of the survey. He’s staying at the convenient (next to the airport) and cozy King Eider Inn. If the weather clears enough to fly, the team is right there, ready to go.

Here are pictures of what Barrow and the region look like at this time of year.

The runway. It very often looks like this.

The road along the coast, to the northeast of town. Splendid views.

This rig has both flat tires and is slowly sinking into the thawing permafrost. When cars break around here, this is often what happens to them.

This rig has both flat tires and is slowly sinking into the thawing permafrost. When cars break around here, this is often what happens to them.

Barrow backyards as viewed from the hotel room window. Miscellaneous Arctic stuff, including a pile of wolf pelts.

Barrow backyards as viewed from the hotel room window. Miscellaneous Arctic stuff, including a pile of wolf pelts (center).

Flying along the coast on a clear, calm day.

Flying along the coast on a clear, calm day.

Where the Brooks Range (and maybe the Noatak River?) meet the ocean.

Where the Brooks Range and a large river meet the sea.

Refueling in Kotzebue.

Refueling in Kotzebue.

Typical lagoon-and-wet-tundra landscape.

Typical lagoon-and-wet-tundra landscape.