The Flower Fed Buffalo
The flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
In the days of long ago,
Ranged where the locomotives sing
And the prarie flowers lie low:
The tossing, blooming, perfumed grass
Is swept away by wheat,
Wheels and wheels and wheels spin by
In the spring that still is sweet.
But the flower-fed buffaloes of the spring
Left us long ago,
They gore no more, they bellow no more:--
With the Blackfeet lying low,
With the Pawnee lying low.
- Vachel Lindsay

Saturday, 14 July 2012

City of Rocks

It’s raining. Properly. Which is okay, as it’s the first time we’ve had a really wet day since we left Penticton. But it is raining. Hard. Thunder is resounding above and there is the occasional burst of lightning.
It’s 1:15 p.m. and we are tucked up in Big Blue below Parking Lot Rock here at the City of Rocks. We’ve had a brew, had a lunch and now Di is reading while I try to catch up on the Blog. It’s cosy in our old crock of a camper and we are happy to prop here for a while.
We got in a beautiful climb first thing this morning - a route called Skyline on Morning Glory Spire. I liked the look of the left start, which made it a 45 metre pitch. Lovely climbing on natural gear. Here is Di following:

Unfortunately - or fortunately, depending on the way you look at it - Di wasn’t feeling well, so we didn’t go on to do the three pitch “Morning Glory” on the other side of the spire. Instead, I led a a 25 metre sport route right nearby, then cleaned it. Di headed back to the van while I hung around chatting with some folks at the base of the spire until it started spitting a bit more seriously. All but one of the other cars that were here in the parking lot when we arrived back have now cleared out, most people having arrived in various states of wetness from being a bit damp to being absolutely drenched. I wonder where the occupants of the other car can be? It has probably rained at least an inch since we’ve been back in the van, and we’d have worn much of that if we’d been been on Morning Glory. So, I guess it’s fortunate in that regard that Di wasn’t feeling very perky after Skyline!

We’ve been here at City of Rocks now for eight days, and climbed on six of those. One day to do the laundry and grocery shopping and a few little minor repairs to Big Blue. 

Yesterday Di wanted a rest from climbing so she took me  on a five-hour hike. Before I tell you about that and the rest of the day though, I should backtrack to our arrival here and relate a bit about the area. (The people who own the other car still in the parking lot here have just arrived back in another car. It looks like they must have been doing a hike and a car shuttle exercise. Now we’re all alone, listening to the rain on Big Blue’s roof. It’s lovely).

I don’t know the population of the little town of Almo, which is just below The City, but it must only be about 30 people. But, because of this great park, the town has changed a lot since we were last here in 2005. Almo now has two stores (one acts as the Post Office), a steakhouse, accommodation and a hot spring/pool. There is no free camping here, but a campsite starts at $12.50 per night for a carful of people. Some campsites are okay, some are very nice and  some  are sublimely beautiful. No campsite is less than okay, and every one has magnificent views.

More about the park itself later. Now I need to tell you about Rock City Their sign will give you a hint about this establishment:

The sign is kinda misleading though. Yes, they sell pizza (and it’s very good pizza), sandwiches and even auto parts. But what they are really about is BEER! I asked one of the ladies (more about that later) working there if she knew how many different brews they have on the shelves, so she pulled out a list and counted 85 different beers (I witnessed this with my own eyes)! They’re all there, either on the shelf or in the wall of beer fridges. A couple of glimpses for you, including the Moose Drool corner ...

... and an interesting juxtaposition of various brews:

What couldn’t help catch my eye though was the poster for Easy Amber
(you've got to click on the photo so you can read the text):

There is a very warm and fuzzy atmosphere in Rock City, and they pay homage on their license plate wall to the strong climbing flavour in the area. Note the one of the plates immediately to the left of the picture:

Most days here have been pretty hot, with thunderstorms coming through in the afternoon, so we’ve passed an hour or two down at Rock City eating ice creams (true!). I’m a bit mystified at the personal arrangements down at Rock City, especially as there is a strong Mormon presence in the area. The place seems to be run by three middle-aged ladies and a bloke about the same vintage. Not sure what is the story; maybe I’ll get enough courage up this afternoon when we drive down into town to check our email to ask the Obvious Question.

Back to City of Rocks National Reserve. You’ll know you’ve arrived when you see this sign:

But before you get here, if you stop off at Park HQ in Almo you’ll see what originally brought people to the area:

City of Rocks was a major stopping off place for emigrants on the California Trail from 1854 until 1893. I think they must have brought some freeloaders on the old Prairie Schooners, because Di spotted this little fella hanging around parking lot:

We had booked our campsite over the internet from Hobart, but when we arrived the people at the Information Centre were really helpful and suggested we get a different one, as our spot had no shade. We ended up with number 25, right in the middle of The City, and here’s Di at our picnic table under some trees, which have provided some shade in the late afternoon on those really hot days:

Di’s eating corn chips, and that’s a bottle of Moose Drool in front of her, while Big Blue is basking in the background, all windows open, trying to keep cool as best he can!

One of the more popular formations is Elephant Rock which is right beside the road, and family and friends can often be seen providing moral support for their climbing relatives. This group comprised three generations plus the family dog:

This is what Elephant Rock looks like from our campsite:

Di got some other good photos from around campsite 25, including this Mountain Bluebird ...

... a cheeky chipmunk right by our picnic table ...

... and what Di tells me is a Female Dickcissel (I believe her),
a member of the grosbeak family of birds...

We can also see some more distant rock formations, including the wonderful Twin Sisters on the left which are unfortunately currently out-of-bounds for climbers:

Maybe it’s because of the thunderstorms, but the cacti have come into bloom ...

... and the other night we saw some great rainbows ...

Of course, what were really here for is the climbing. It’s hard to get good climbing photos when there are just the two of you, but here is Di following the second pitch of a route called Raindance, a delightful slab climb:

(Maybe we shouldn’t have done that route, because man it’s still raining!!!).

From the top of Raindance you look down on a terrific set of formations sporting some great climbs. In the foreground, left to right are: The Slabbage Patch, Bumblie Rock, Transformer and The Cannibal:

We also did a lovely climb called Tribal Boundaries - one of the few 4 star routes in the guidebook - and I include a photo of HJ from Bozeman, Montana for reference:

Although the climb was brilliant I thought the name was even better,
as the route follows the edge of brown patina on the rock.

Speaking of HJ from Bozeman, he was here with a mob of fellow Bozemanians. We met some of them on our first day, and they were great people to hang out with. There were four or five families and a few friends from other places in the caravansary. At least two birthdays were celebrated, including Jono's 50th, and we felt privileged to be invited along. Someone even made up a piñata for Jono's birthday last night. It had his face painted on it and needed some good hefty whacks to break it open. The Bozemanians have been coming here every year as a group for quite a while (they always get the same great camping area) and sure know how to have fun together. Not a great photo, but here are some of the mob getting ready to help Jono blow out his birthday candles:

As mentioned above, Di took me on a long hike yesterday, where we covered much of the reserve. We saw more cacti in flower, including some yellow ones ...

... some unknown berries ripening up nicely ...

A couple of Bozemanians, Dan and his daughter Anna, were climbing the Lost Arrow Spire as we wandered past. You can see Anna about 1/3 of the way up near the right edge:

The detail along the trail is what often makes these walks special. We saw this gossamer-like flower, or remnant thereof near the upper end of the park ...

... and stopped by a tree which had a hole in it, from which came the sounds of baby woodpeckers crying for food. Both parents were about but we weren’t able to get a photo of them at the nest feeding. Di did get a bit of a blurry photo of one of them waiting for us to get out of their territory:

We saw an interesting rock feature along the trail: two intruding dikes crossing one another:

X marks the spot?

Citry of Rocks is mostly above 6000 feet in elevation and I think is classified as high desert. Given the generally  dry nature of the environment, we wondered at the age of this beautiful tree sheltering under Window Rock's east side:

Actually, yesterday was a pretty good day, even with Di's hike taken into account. We got to Skype with the grandchildren in Cairns, which we mightn't have done had we been out climbing all day.

We’ve got another day here, but who knows if this rain is going to stop. It would be nice if we could get a couple more climbs in before leaving, but it doesn’t matter if we don’t. We’ve had a great time here and will be back for sure some time. From here we head back north, eventually into the Canadian Rockies.
Maybe it would be appropriate to finish with a note of optimism  in the form of one of City of Rocks’ special sunsets:

Until next time .... cheers from Doug and Di.

1 comment:

  1. Wow what a great set of descriptions and photos - I think that perhaps you two should be writing a guide book. It is really wonderful evocative reading and as I am writing reports I am really jealous.
    Thank you for the beautiful flower card and even more for the address for this blog so that I could follow you on the way.
    Love Anne