Category Archives: Geological Wonder

Shiprock in New Mexico is Something to Behold

XplorMor Team, Bryan and I, were on a road trip across the United States last year. On this particular day, we were driving along US Route 160 from Four Corners Monument in Teec Nos Pos, Arizona to Valley of the Gods in Utah when in the distance the peak of what looked to be a ginormous rocky outcrop appeared. I googled for what it could be, and found a vague write-up on something called Shiprock in New Mexico. So, we decided to take a detour as it was early enough in the day, and turned off on Highway 64. As we drove closer, the size became more and more unbelievable. It’s jagged details coming into focus, looked as though we were headed straight into J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor. We’ve both traveled around the world but never seen such a solitary massive formation jutting high out of low-lying plains.       

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Shiprock, also known as Tse’ Bid’ ai’, is located in northern New Mexico, USA

Shiprock pierces the flat plateau, looming an incredible 1700 feet over the sparse desert lands of northern New Mexico. This magnificent rock formation, left from an ancient volcanic plume, is sacred to the Navajo Nation. It is known to the tribal people as Tse’ Bit’ ai’, or translated into English, The Winged Rock/Rock with Wings. The Navajo name comes from an ancient myth which tells how the rock was once a giant bird that transported the ancestral people of the Navajo Nation to their lands in the American Southwest.

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Looking out to Shiprock in New Mexico, USA

The Navajo ancestors fleeing a war-tribe crossed a narrow ocean far to the remote north but could not outrun their enemy. Their tribal shamans prayed to the Great Spirit for help. Then in answer to their call, the ground rose beneath them and formed into an enormous bird. The myth says that for an entire day and night the ancestral people flew south on the bird. Finally, at sundown the bird landed at the sight of where Shiprock now stands.

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Shiprock, also known as Tse’ Bid’ ai’, is located in northern New Mexico, USA

From ancient times, Tse’ Bit’ ai’ has been a pilgrimage place of major importance to the tribal Peoples. When the rock was climbed in 1939, it was taken as a disrespect of the site’s holiness. Finally in 1970 the rock formations were designated as off limits to climbers, and once again accorded the respect due a sacred place.

Shiprock in New Mexico is something to behold, and if you have time, we’d recommend the detour. But be warned that signage and roads to the site are poorly monitored and not maintained. If you go, we’d love for you to share your photos and experience with us!   

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Further views from the area around Shiprock in northern New Mexico, USA

Joshua Tree National Park: Land of Subtle, Stark Wonder

I’d never been to Joshua Tree National Park before. I’d heard about it from friends, and often said to myself I should go there, but I never got around to it. Like a lot of things in California, it was so close that it was easy to forget it was there. California is like that, so full of things to see and experience your choices become as congested and difficult to maneuver as the freeways of Los Angeles. A friend of mine, back from teaching kids in Korea for the winter, asked me to join him on a day long excursion to this special place, and not having seen him in almost two years I could not refuse. Besides, it would be good to get away after a truly awful divorce from someone I thought I could trust. This is also a common thing in California.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Like most people, in my youth I thought of a desert as a barren, boiling wasteland choked with sand. I thought of Lawrence of Arabia leading a charging army of fierce desert nomads. Deserts were places for the lost and the damned, filled with shallow graves just off the road and swarmed by nefarious hitchhikers and shady characters. Giant worms ridden by noble Fremen charged across endless dunes. It was easy to believe the Hollywood vision. And nothing could be further from the truth (except when it is). Deserts (yes there are different kinds), as varied as any other environment you’ll pass through, team with survivors, creatures so well adapted they thrive in places that can suck the life out of a person in a few hours.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick at XplorMor

Joshua Tree National Park is a place of subtle and stark wonder. It snuck up on me, refusing to compromise its existence just because I happened to be there. I became bound to it, not the other way around. As I drove along its lonely road (however many other drivers there may be), I couldn’t help but wonder what mysteries existed unseen in the natural cracks of its distinctive purple-brown, crumbling hills. This place came to be because of a very specific set of conditions, including, but not limited to, elevation, soil composition, and the climate created by the mountains around it. It is a place that sits in a fragile equilibrium, which is now threatened by climate change, yet it persists.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California by Garrick

Joshua Tree is home to its namesake, a strange Frankenstein tree that looks like a cross between a cactus and an oak tree. Before the pioneers came and cut down the old growth, these wondrous inhabitants of the desert grew massive, but slowly, beholden by the trickle of precious water they receive each year, only able to grow a few inches or less each wet season. The Joshua trees now struggle to become the heirs of their pre-Colonial ancestors, but what they have achieved is still impressive, slowly remaking a desert forest.  Out of this persistence in such harsh environments, I gained a better understanding of what I can endure, and how I can thrive in the hardest times. The desert’s heat and silence burn away all but the essential pieces of you, leaving behind something stronger and clearer than the person who first entered its mysteries.

Joshua Tree National Park, California, National Park, Joshua tree, rock formations, Garrick's Xplorer Journal, explorer journal, XplorMor,

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Xplorer Journal written by Garrick Thomsen; photos courtesy of Patrick MacKay. Great work!

Clouded Mountains on the Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal

From Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal: On any day I find myself sitting all day, I pretty much get bored. I am not the kind of guy who likes his butt glued to a chair. I can’t stay at one place for long. Every time I get bored, I have an itch to go somewhere where there are fewer people, and where the presence of nature is in abundance. A serene place where cool wind blows and scenery is set by snow-capped mountains is absolutely my kind of escape. I find such a place very relaxing.

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

After Nepal’s tragic high magnitude earthquake earlier this year, I visited many places for relief work. But these visits are not the “getting out” I itch to experience. I was going to these damaged places, and that in no way is fun travelling. I went from village to village, but not for me, it was for a responsibility to my people, the people of Nepal. Nevertheless for five months I missed mountains; the mountains that I have visited since I was a teenager. I call them my home.

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

With the amount of severe damage from the earthquake, I wasn’t sure that the trails to the Himalayas would be safe to hike, or the villages of the mountains would still be intact! I wasn’t sure I would find any lodging for my stay on such travels. So I packed my tent along with my usual trekking rucksack. I had everything I needed, plus some Snicker bars with some dry fruits… great energy and quick nutrition for a hike! Nothing could stop me now as my mountains were calling me!

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

The thought of travelling did not let me sleep that night. I began to have the kind of feeling I always get when I am to head back into the arms of Nature. I had jitters in the middle of the night thinking about the bus ride, gushing rivers, the warm people of the mountains, and the mountains themselves. I was headed to one of the off beaten trails in Annapurna, Nepal. I usually take the tourist bus to Pokhara, rest a day there and take another bus the next day to the gateway. But, this time I hitched straight to Kande. Kande is the gateway to the Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal’s Himalayas. I was so desperate to see the mountains that I did not even stop to eat my main meal, just a bowl of noodles.

It was scorching hot but often the rains cooled me off. Most of the time it rained buckets! After a long, tiring first day hike, we spent our first night in the mountains at a place named Deurali, a focal point for the Mardi Himal Trail and the Annapurna Base Camp Trek. I was excited to be headed to the Mardi Himal Trail for the first time. We had the opportunity to stay in traditional Nepali tea houses, which I was not expecting. Just as the entire world must picture, I thought all of Nepal must be devastated from the enormous earthquake, but instead the houses in these mountain areas did not even show a single crack.

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

The day started with pouring rain. I didn’t expect this as we were in August! We spent half our time on the trail removing leeches, and finding our trail hidden behind the overgrown bushes. At times it was raining so heavy that our tents got drenched, and we were forced inside the local hotels: tea houses. I found the Mardi Himal Trail pretty easy. I’ve experienced much more difficult treks into Nepal’s Himalayas. So in no time that day we reached Low Camp. We arrived late in the evening to find only three tea houses, and all of them closed. Luckily I had taken a phone number for one of the owners. Thankfully he made sure a member of his team trekked down from High Camp, opened the tea house and served us a meal before bed.

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

So far along this trek the view had been pathetic. Most of the time the mountains played hide and seek within the clouds. It was no different this morning. We had a heavy breakfast of Tibetan bread, and set off on the trail entering an amazing dense forest of Rhododendron. Arghhh. I was pissed. It was raining relentlessly. We had been on the trail three days, and not even a single glimpse of the mountains. And, we now had arrived at the scenic vantage point, the zenith of this trek, High Camp, and nothing. If you don’t get a good shot from here, you don’t get a good shot from anywhere on Mardi Himal Trail! I made a call that we were staying at High Camp for another night, in hopes of the view clearing and getting a good shot. Staying another night came as a godsend as we were blessed with one of the most exotic views of the mountains!

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE

After all the heavy rain, bites from leeches, 8 hours of trekking and a lot of patience, the trip felt worth it. We met our purpose, and finally after seeing what we came to see, we headed down the mountain. The experience energized us, and we headed home with such pace that we covered 3 days ground in 1 day! We reached Pokhara the same day from Mardi Himal High Camp.  And that was the end of our expedition on the Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal.

 Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, nepal, himalayas, hiking, UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, uzol rai, wevte

If you enjoyed the Mardi Himal Trail in Nepal, check out more of Uzol’s Xplorer Journals from further adventures in Nepal, and his website, Wonderful Everest View Treks and Expedition… and make your dream of trekking Nepal a reality!