Tag Archives: Natural 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!

Trekking into the Nepal’s Annapurna on the Sikles Trail

From the Sikles Trail: I realize that no matter what anyone says, the adventurer in me is never going to die! I recently watched YouTube videos on packing my rucksack. I want to learn how to best pack my gear so that I am always ready to go and have the equipment for the expedition. To test this I decided to go on one of the treks in Nepal’s Annapurna region. I called a friend and luckily he was ready and available to go with me.

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We had plans of doing the Royal Trek but instead we wound up doing the Sikles Trail. Sikles is longer, and less used than the Royal Trek which can be hectic with visitors. Sikles Trail is also off the beaten path, and only popular among explorers trying to escape the more frequented trails. We spent our first days hiking through the greenest rice-paddy fields I have ever seen in my life. And, beautiful villages with the warmest Nepali people. The first day as usual was backbreaking; we decided only to walk a short, easy distance, and enjoy the incredible views. But, it rained cats and dogs almost the entire day, and leeches enjoyed our fresh blood! Anyway calling a short day is always nice, especially at the beginning of a trek when your body needs to get warmed up!

 UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, Trekking into the Nepal's Annapurna on the Sikles Trail, xplormor, sikles trail nepal, nepal hiking, wevte, wonderful everest view treks and expedition, xplorer journal

In the days to follow we waded across beautiful streams with our boots on, and exchanged words with local farmers working in their fields. Lush green forests merging with these small villages was such a captivating sight that every inch forward took our breath away. The freshly fried fish from the river and a warm bowl of local grown lentils offered us a wonderful mountain meal. Something I always miss when back in the city.

The Sikles Trail has its own charm, but we found navigating its path and direction very difficult. Firstly, this trail was clearly not used since the trekking season ended six months ago. Second, the abundance of rain fostered wild plant overgrowth, and disguised the trail’s path. For these reasons we periodically deviated from the main trail, and ended up on temporary side trails that we made with our footsteps. But thanks to random children, men and women we met in the fields, and a drunken villager, we were shown the right way to continue on the Sikles Trail, and luckily found our proposed stopover for the night.

 UZOL RAI - ROOKIE, Trekking into the Nepal's Annapurna on the Sikles Trail, xplormor, sikles trail nepal, nepal hiking, wevte, wonderful everest view treks and expedition, xplorer journal

Over the course of this trek, we stayed in traditional Nepali tea houses. We walked about 10 hours each day, from one tea house to another. I have always liked lodging in tea houses as they not only serve excellent food and slumber, but wonderful chances to exchange stories and information with the locals.

The days along this trek were all good, except for a few tedious moments where I was drenched by down-pouring rain, and didn’t have any “juice” to continue the ascent. On one of those days I counted the man-made steps from the foot to the summit of a hill. I broke a twig for every 100 steps and figured out there were 7,527 steps to reach the Sikles Village. Sikles is about 850 houses cascading down a mountain side. It is a small village of Gurung people, these are practitioners of Buddhism and have an ancient culture. Everything was fine except the view. We trekked for the view. The view known from this point makes the tedious trek rewarding. But, the mountains were playing hide and seek, in and out of the clouds, and I was feeling disappointed. After waiting for a couple of hours with my camera on my tripod, I had it and asked my friend Govinda if he would go with me to travel further to other possible viewpoints. The chance of denial from my friend who had agreed to join the trip for this reason was very unlikely to say “no”. So, together we made some brilliant pictures of the Annapurna region including its lower mountains and villagers and their wonderful handicrafts.

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The views cleared in the days to follow, but we had already been in the mountains for over 15 days, and could not afford to stay longer. The mountains were so tempting though that I could not resist myself from taking more pictures. We left the village and its beautiful people behind, but we carried them in our memories. The experience was so rooted in us that the drenching rain on our way back home did not change our feelings about this incredible time at Sikles Village. The amazing homemade liquor Rakshi which kept us warm on a cold starry night, the jolly and caring mountain people who served us warm meals, and the beautiful mountain scenery that pushed us a step further on our journey, re all things that I will always think back to when back at my home in Kathmandu.

 Check out more of Uzol’s explorer journals about his adventures in Nepal, and his website, Wonderful Everest View Treks and Expedition… and make your dream of trekking Nepal a reality!