I live high above northern Manhattan, where we get to see a lot of the city and some of the Palisades and Englewood Cliffs area of New Jersey. This is the view from our terrace.
... or why New York City is amazing in a 41 second video:
If I were in a relationship with Facebook, that's how I'd describe it on Facebook. This post marks my return to that particular online time-suck (if you're reading this on your newsfeed) after a roughly two-week absence. I tried hard to fully remove myself from Facebook and keep our relationship entirely professional, but, alas, I'm weak.
So, I'm going to attempt to only post blog entries to Facebook. I'm sure you'll hold me accountable if I stray from that effort.
About this photo: I recently upgraded to the iPhone 6 and I'm putting it through its paces. This was sunset on Oct. 28 over the Hudson River in Peekskill, with the Ramapo Range in Harriman State Park forming the skyline in the background. I don't have a photo taken with an earlier iPhone to compare this to, but despite the obvious pixelization, this is a major improvement over the images I got from my old iPhone 5. Stay tuned for more...
In Penobscot, "Katahdin" means "the greatest mountain."
And though it's not the highest peak east of the Mississippi River, Mt. Katahdin is certainly one of the greatest mountains on the eastern seaboard. A few weeks ago — late August, actually — a group friends of mine and I climbed The Greatest Mountain, the highest point in Maine and the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.
You can find my photo album of Katahdin here.
But the highlight of the trip wasn't the peak itself. It was this:
That's my partner Jacob paddling in the sunset over the Penobscot River on the south edge of Baxter State Park.
Maine is very much the wild place that I always imagined it was. The loons on the river and the darkness of the night sky were all the proof I needed.
I get a lot of questions about what it's like to commute by Brompton through Manhattan, so I rigged my iPhone to my backpack with Velcro straps, and shot this video last Friday on my roughly two-mile evening commute from Climate Central's SoHo office to Grand Central Terminal via Lafayette St., Union Square and Park Avenue. Please forgive the vertical angle and the camera shake. I'm still perfecting shooting video without investing in a GoPro. Check it out:
New York City is an addiction.
It's a rush, a titillating vice, a near-death experience you can't bear not to re-live daily, an ever-inspiring muse and elaborate work of performance art whose encore is always an excuse to part with cash you don't really have.
New York City is biking 6th Ave. and the blast of adrenaline from dodging a speeding left-turning taxi at 39th St. It's the rejection on the face of an old hard-up grey-haired man as you smile and raise a glass with a scruffy erotic photographer at a Greenwich Village gay bar, and the a smirk on the face of the "Bearded Alchemist" as he lights your whiskey drink ablaze at a hipster cocktail bar on the Upper East Side.
It's the late winter evening shadow of bare trees cast upon the curve of the Guggenheim and the impromptu ballet performance on a Central Park sidewalk. It's clogged streets of tourists and shoppers buying designer jeans and sneakers and hand bags at the Carhartt and Camper and Louis Vuitton boutiques, and the filming of the latest "Girls" episode in a SoHo park.
It's the cheap falafel shop across the street, the scammers hawking ripped-off DVDs on Broadway and the lines of exotic Chinatown produce stands stinking of raw fish from the South China Sea. It's exquisite croissants and $3 shots of espresso.
It's the Wall Street banker whose suit has been soaked by the rain and sour milk leaking into a puddle from a trash bag piled on the sidewalk. It's the flight over Manhattan as your Airbus sweeps over the nation's most majestic skyline just before skimming the whitecaps on Flushing Bay and landing with a swerve and a jolt at LaGuardia.
It's the mad scramble to the train beneath the stars on the ceiling of Grand Central and the subway beggar praising Jesus as the 7 Train fills with smoke in a tunnel beneath the East River. It's the doo-wopping, Bible-thumping panhandler on the A Train passing around cheap candy and a collections plate. It's the jackhammer beneath my office window and the staccato honking of horns on Houston Street saying in a single punch of the steering wheel welcome, screw you and scram.
It's the rawness and electricity of life and the illusion of infinite possibilities experienced in a single day making you just want more, more, more, making the morning slog to work not an annoyance, but a grand reintroduction to the daily fix of the city.
I bought a Brompton folding bike in April because I was tired of the hassle of riding the NYC subway, and MetroNorth, which I ride south down the Hudson River from Westchester County, only allows folding bikes on the train during rush hour. So for me, the ultimate sense of freedom in NYC is riding the Brompton.
Last week, I took my Brompton out to Colorado. My partner, Jacob, and I drove out to Denver, then spent six days visiting friends in Denver and Fort Collins. The plan was for Jacob to stay in Colorado for several weeks to take care of some business, and for me to fly home with my bags and Brompton in hand.
One of the reasons to get a folding bike is the freedom it provides while traveling. Most airlines charge extra to check a bike, and they're never permissible as a carryon. So, when I read that it's possible to bring a Brompton on board a plane as a carryon, I decided to give it a shot.
The internet is full of mostly horror stories about attempting to fly with a folding bike as a carryon. Flight attendants and crew members insist on gate checking the bike, or they refuse to allow it aboard at all, the stories go. My experience flying with my Brompton on Southwest Airlines from Denver to New York-Laguardia Airport was simple.
Before the flight, I was worried that I'd either have to spend hundreds of dollars on a hard-shelled case for the Brompton and check it, or the flight attendants would insist on gate checking the bike like a stroller, getting damaged along the way. I bought a cheap canvas flight bag for the bike from a military surplus store a few days in advance of the flight just in case I'd have to protect the bike if it had to be checked at the gate.
When I arrived at Denver International Airport, this is what my luggage looked like with the Brompton in the canvas bag:
Flying with my Brompton required a bit of strategizing. Before bagging the bike, I removed the seat to ensure it would fit in the overhead bin, and protected the seat post with a tennis ball.
I'd read in Brompton online forums that the TSA insists that folding bikes ride naked on the security X-ray scanner belt, so when I arrived at the checkpoint, I removed the bike from the bag after arriving at the airport and strapped the rolled up canvas bag to my black backpack carrying my camera and laptop. DIA was extremely busy on a Monday afternoon, so I skipped the big lines and headed for the more obscure TSA checkpoint at the pedestrian bridge between the main terminal and the A Concourse, where there was nearly no line at all.
Security was a mild hassle. The bike went on the scanner belt first, then my laptop, shoes, jacket and backpack, all in separate bins. The Brompton fit through the scanner perfectly, and once through, I headed to the gate:
I wanted to make sure ahead of time that I could board the plane early, so I paid $12.50 for Southwest's EarlyBird Check-in, placing me in the A boarding group. That way, I could head to an empty section of the plane to make sure there is enough overhead bin space for the bike.
Once boarding began, passengers asked me all kinds of questions about the bike. Will it fly in a Cessna? How does the bike work? Where did it come from? How much does it cost? Are you a bike tourist? It's quite a conversation piece.
Boarding was easy. The gate agent didn't say anything when he saw the bike. The head flight attendant asked me what I was carrying when I stepped inside the plane. When I told him it's a foliding bike, he said, "If you ride that off the plane when we get to New York, you know we're going to have to shoot video of you, right?" He smiled, and then I headed directly to the back of the plane. Hoisting the bike into the overhead bin, I made sure the handlebars were facing upward to ensure I wouldn't damage the shifter, bell and other accessories on that side of the bike.
And, it fit!
... with room to spare!
When flying Southwest with a Brompton, you have to pay attention to what kind of plane you're on. Southwest flies only Boeing 737 jets, but they fly four kinds of 737s. The older planes, the 737-300 and 737-500 series aircraft, have smaller overhead bins and may not fit a Brompton. The newer and more common 737-700 and 737-800 aircraft have larger bins, and can easily fit your bike. Southwest will tell you what series aircraft you're flying when you buy your airline ticket. If you're not sure what kind of 737 you're on, you can figure it out at the gate if you look at the plane carefully. Look closely at the plane's wings, and you'll see wedge-shaped "canoes" on the trailing edge of each wing. If the "canoes" are bare metal, you're in a -300 or -500. If they're painted red, you're in a -700 or -800. Also, -800s have two emergency exits over the wings instead of one, and only -700s and -800s have the hump on the top of the plane that allows it to receive streaming internet and satellite TV.
For the last decade, home has been somewhere around 40 degrees north latitude.
Glenwood Springs, Colo., is at 39.53 degrees north. Grand Junction, Colo., is at roughly 39 degrees. Denver is 39.7 degrees. Fort Collins, Colo., is 40.5 degrees. Today, I work in New York City — 40.725 degrees — and I live in Westchester County, New York., which is at 41.28 degrees.
So, my mean latitude is roughly 40 degrees.
As my previous blog and my photography website both imply, I'm a pretty restless person. I've explored every county in Colorado and New Mexico. I've visited every state in the contiguous United States. I've been to more than half of all the national parks, and I love venturing into obscure places in major cities as much as I love exploring obscure wilderness areas and back roads by bike, by car and by train.
I moved to New York with my partner last year, opening up an entirely new region of North America to explore. And so this blog is about my wanderings from my home base somewhere near 40 degrees north. Join me!
The emptiness of the Great Plains presents the ideal opportunity for the mind to wander while speeding down an empty highway. So yesterday, as I was driving 80 mph along Colo. Highway 10, the narrow two-lane between Walsenberg and La Junta, it occurred to me — perhaps inspired by the realization that the low mesas and gulches in eastern Huerfano County are quite beautiful — that there are so many Coloradans who've never really seen Colorado. I talk to locals all the time who've never really explored the state they grew up in or have lived in for a long time — Denverites who've never seen Poudre Canyon, Pueblo natives who've never been to Great Sand Dunes, Fort Collins residents who — believe it or not — have never been to Rocky Mountain National Park even though they can see it from their backyards. I've even talked to people who grew up in Larimer County who have never ventured west to Cameron Pass.
Of course, most of us who live here know what dramatic, beautiful and diverse landscapes Colorado is endowed with, it's just that it seems so many of us haven't really gotten out to see it all. Some don't leave the metro area. Some stick to the ski resorts along I-70. Others stick to certain regions of the state without venturing farther out. My goal when I moved here seven years ago was to do just that — see it all. I've made pretty good headway. I've lived on both sides of the Continental Divide, visited all of Colorado's 64 counties at least twice, visited almost every municipality in the state with a population greater than 500 people (although new cities and towns within the Denver metro area seem to pop up every day, so I can't claim to have visited, say, Castle Pines North and the like.) and, with a few exceptions, driven nearly every mile of state-maintained pavement west of Interstate 25 and quite a lot of miles east of it, too.
So, Hwy. 10 inspired me to put together a top 10 list of my favorite scenic stretches of highway in Colorado. The list is limited to paved roads, not the countless other unpaved roads, such as Phantom Canyon, Mosquito Pass and Kebler Pass, which usually make people's lists of favorite drives. Many of these routes are off the beaten path, some are famous, but whatever you think of them, they're my favorite rides in the state (so far).
10. Rim Rock Drive, Colorado National Monument
This is one of the best road cycling routes in Colorado. Clinging to high sandstone cliffs above deep redrock sandstone canyons, Rim Rock Drive is worth the $10 price of admission and a trip from the Front Range just to drive its 23 mile course through Colorado National Monument. There's no other stretch of pavement like it in Colorado.
9. Colo. Highway 109 from Kim to La Junta — The Purgatoire Valley
Believe it or not, Colorado's Eastern Plains offer up more to see than just the Pawnee Buttes. Highway 109 angles north from the tiny village of Kim in eastern Las Animas County to La Junta in the Arkansas River Valley. On the way, the highway drops into the Purgatoire River Valley and blows past the entrance to the Picketwire Canyonlands, a shallow but rugged sandstone gorge with outcroppings of redrock sandstone similar the canyon walls you'll see in Colorado National Monument and Arches National Park in eastern Utah. Highway 109 passes beneath buttes and bluffs that make the region look more like Utah than Colorado's Eastern Plains.
8. Colo. Highway 92 from Hotchkiss to Sapinero — Black Canyon Country
Drop south from Hotchkiss and you'll eventually find yourself in the rugged canyon country high above the Gunnison River. The turnoff to the wonderfully remote north rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park leaves from Hwy. 92 near Crawford, which is reason enough to visit this area. The highway continues to the south and east, twisting and turning beneath the West Elk Mountains high above Morrow Point Reservoir before depositing you on U.S. 50 west of Gunnison.
7. Colo. Highway 17 from Antonito to New Mexico — Gateway to the South San Juans
One of my favorite trails in Colorado penetrates deep into the South San Juan Wilderness along Elk Creek, a raging winter in the middle of spring. The trailhead is just off Hwy. 17 near La Manga Pass. The famous Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad roughly parallels this route, which is evidence enough that this is one of the best scenic drives in the state. The highway eventually ends in Chama, New Mexico, by which time the San Juan Mountains have become the Tusas Mountains south of the Colorado border.
6. U.S. 550 and Colo. Highways 62 and 145 from Cortez to Telluride, Ridgway, Silverton and Durango — The San Juan Skyway
This is a classic scenic loop, one of the most well-known and scenic drives in Colorado for good reason. It takes you through the highlights of the San Juan Mountains, it's fun to drive and, most importantly, exemplifies all that's famous about Colorado.
5. U.S. 34 from Loveland to Grand Lake — Trail Ridge Road and Big Thompson Canyon
The moment you leave Loveland, which is at the edge of the Great Plains, you immediately find yourself driving between the exceptionally narrow canyon walls of the Big Thompson Canyon. From there, it's all uphill to the 12,000 top of Trail Ridge Road in Rocky Mountain National Park, often considered the most superlative drive in the state (if not for those damn tourists creeping along in their RVs!).
4. Colo. Highway 149 from South Fork to Gunnison — La Garita Country
This is a 120 mile mountain drive through some of the most remote areas of the San Juan Mountain frontcountry, skirting by the La Garita Range, visiting Creede and Lake City and summiting Slumgullion Pass, the steepest paved mountain pass in Colorado. Driving this road, you really feel like you've penetrated one of the state's least-populated regions (Mineral and Hinsdale counties hardly have 2,000 residents between them). You'll see the Slumgullion Slide and get a bird's eye view of Uncompahgre Peak, one of the state's most distinct Fourteeners. This is really one of the most amazing highways in Colorado.
3. Colo. Highway 12 from Trinidad to La Veta — The Highway of Legends
Have you ever driven over Cuchara Pass? Had coffee in La Veta? Heard of the Devil's Stairsteps? If you've driven Highway 12 south of U.S 160 and La Veta, you have. This region is (in June, at least) one of the most verdant and lush regions of Colorado I've ever seen. It's also one of the most geologically interesting regions on the east side of the Rockies. Highway 12 penetrates giant stone dikes that radiate from the base of the Spanish Peaks like giant rock walls, one descending in terraces as if resembling a stairway. Volcanic plugs abound and even in dry years the Culebra Range holds plenty of snow just above the old ski slopes of the defunct Cuchara Mountain Resort.
My first trip along Highway 12 was in 2005 while reporting on a story about oil and gas development in northern New Mexico. Just south of the eastern leg of the highway, just west of Trinidad, is the Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area, where even in 2005 was replete with drilling activity from the coalbed methane boom. This drive is a one of great contrasts: The incredible scenic beauty of Cuchara Pass region and once-wild wildlife areas full of industrial development.
2. Colo. Highway 14 from Fort Collins to Muddy Pass — Poudre Canyon/North Park
Stretching, sometimes painfully, nearly 237 miles from Sterling to the Continental Divide at Muddy Pass, Highway 14 is Colorado's longest state highway and passes through some of northern Colorado's most striking country. After a long haul through the plains west of Sterling and a four-lane thread through Fort Collins, the highway turns west for 60 or so miles through Poudre Canyon.
Poudre Canyon is Fort Collins' local playground for rafting, hiking, backcountry skiing and mountaineering with access to five wilderness areas, the north side of Rocky Mountain National Park and hundreds of thousands of acres of national forestland. The second-best canyon drive in Colorado, Poudre Canyon alone is worth a few vacation days to explore. But Hwy. 14 continues over Cameron Pass into North Park, home to some of the state's coldest winters and most sweeping scenery and most abundant moose crossings. Walk into a bar in Walden, and you're likely to see more than a few chaps and spurs-clad cowboys throwing back a Coors Light after a day on the range. From Walden, you can see the Rawahs, the Never Summers, the Park Range, the Sierra Madre and the Bear's Ears Range. After this winding journey from the plains, 14 continues to its junction with U.S. 40 at the Continental Divide, making this longest of state highways one of the best roadtrips the state has to offer.
1. Colo. Highway 141 from Clifton to Dove Creek — Unaweep and Dolores River Canyons/Disappointment Valley
If you follow this blog, you've read plenty of my posts about Hwy. 141, which looks like a giant wiggle on the map over by the Utah line. It's not an exaggeration — Hwy. 141 does a lot of wiggling on its way from the industrial-suburban Clifton area of the Grand Valley to its end between Dove Creek, Colo., and Monticello, Utah. If you think Colorado's best road trips take you through the Rockies' highest mountains, treat yourself to a few days in the Dolores River country because you're likely to discover that this state is much more than just fourteeners. It has some of the west's best redrock canyon country, too. Hwy. 141 showcases that canyon country at its best.
Hwy. 141 starts in a hellhole of fast food joints in Clifton beneath Grand Mesa before joining and then splitting from U.S. 50 to climb into Unaweep Canyon, one of Colorado's most unique gorges with streams flowing out of both of the canyon's ends. After 42 breathtaking miles in Unaweep Canyon (don't forget to stop at the Unaweep Seep), the highway drops into Gateway on the sandy shores of the Dolores River, far beneath the redrock pinnacle of the Palisade (not to be confused with the town of Palisade near Grand Junction), which towers high over the kitschy Gateway Canyons Resort. From there, 141 twists through the narrow red sandstone Dolores River Canyon and rises over San Miguel Creek as it curves past old uranium and vanadium mines around Uravan and Vancorum. 141 gives you a chance to get gas in Naturita, then continues south through the Big Gypsum, Dry Creek and Disappointment valleys, some of southwest Colorado's emptiest frontcountry. Then it's back down to the Dolores River again at Slickrock before heading south to Egnar and 141's south end at U.S. 491 just west of Dove Creek in Dolores County.
The landscape through which Hwy. 141 passes is remote, empty and beautiful, making this route the best road trip you can treat yourself to in Colorado...unless you hate the desert. If you think canyon country is desolate and ugly, I entreat you to spend your day on Trail Ridge Road stuck behind throngs of jackass tourists blocking traffic as they capture priceless snapshots of their kids swinging from an elk's antlers or scratching cute black bears behind the ears.
Finally, here's a list of 10 honorable mentions:
• Colo. Highway 78: Beulah to Colo. Hwy 165 — One of Colorado's few unpaved state highways, this travels through the Wet Mountains' amazing lushness. Beulah, southwest of Pueblo, is one of the state's most scenic hidden enclaves.
• Colo. Highway 82: Independence Pass — Very pretty, very narrow, very high altitude and very busy. It's worth a trip, but it's not among my favorite drives in the state despite being one of the state's highest paved roads.
• Colo. Highway 5: Mt. Evans — It's awesome to drive to the top of a Fourteener. The problem is, it's too easy to get there. Get out and hike the peak instead.
• Colo. Highway 318: Maybell to Brown's Park — The highway to nowhere in the state's northwest corner, the pavement runs out at the Utah line, and then it's a long haul into Wyoming through some low mountains before you reach another highway. I blew a tire just over the state line, and then my spare was flat. My fault. Brown's Park is worth the visit for its remoteness, but I'd rather raft the Green River through the nearby Gates of Lodore before spending much time here. It's an angler's paradise, though.
• Colo. Highway 65: Grand Mesa — It's a hell of a climb from I-70 to the top of Grand Mesa — more than 5,000 vertical feet — especially on a bike. Certainly one of western Colorado's more scenic drives, the views stretch from the Roan Plateau to the north to the San Juans to the south.
• Colo. Highway 90: Bedrock and Paradox — This is really an amazing ride, threading through one of the state's most secluded desert valleys before climbing through a redrock wonderland as it ascends the La Sal Mountain plateau on Utah's border.
• U.S. 285/Colo. Highway 17: Poncha Pass to Alamosa — Crest Poncha Pass heading south and you're greeted with a view the massive arc of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from their northern most point. The Sangres are a narrow wall of peaks towering high over the gently sloping San Luis Valley. 285 turns west toward Saguache, but Hwy. 17 continues south to Alamosa before you pick up 285 again. This stretch of Hwy. 17 one of the straightest highways in the state, and you've got a hell of a view of the Crestone peaks, the Blanca Massif and the distant Great Sand Dunes, all of which catch the light of the setting sun just right.
• U.S. 385: Granada to Cheyenne Wells — Certainly one of the emptiest highways on the Eastern Plains, this 75 mile or so stretch of blacktop threads through some of the Great Plain's most peaceful country.
• Colo. Highway 165: The Wet Mountains — Apparently, the Wet Mountains are named as such for a reason. This highway threads through the heart of some of the lushest territory in Colorado. It's the closest thing you can get to the Appalachians while still being in Colorado.
• Colo. Highway 150: Great Sand Dunes — This highway dead-ends at Great Sand Dunes National Park after taking you beneath the base of the 14,345-foot Blanca Massif and by rotted-out trailers and other derelict curiosities strewn about the San Luis Valley. Then, near its end 16 miles north, it squeezes between the continent's highest sand dunes and some of its highest mountains. Surreal.
Great Sand Dunes National Park in southern Colorado is a photographer's dream in one of the West's most surreal landscapes. I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning at the dunes, where the best light occurs at sunset and within about 30 minutes after the sun peeks above the Sangre de Cristo Mountains not long after sunrise. My best images have been added to my National Park Series on my Restless West Photography website.
The campground at Wind Cave National Park, which is just as much about wildlife-rich rolling mixed-grass prairie as it is about the cave itself, hasn't filled up in 30 years. It's a special place at the foot of the Black Hills in South Dakota, certainly one of the most peaceful places I've been. See my entire photo album from Wind Cave and the rest of our Black Hills trip here.
Deep within the Black Elk Wilderness in Black Hills National Forest is the highest point east of the Rockies — Harney Peak. The mountain, which once served as a fire lookout over the South Dakota's most rugged terrain, is a massive rock promontory from which you can see the whole of the Black Hills.
Previously, I'd stood atop four other state high points: Wheeler Peak in New Mexico, Black Mesa in Oklahoma, Clingman's Dome in Tennessee and Mt. Mitchell in North Carolina. Next up: Panorama Point in Nebraska and, of course, Mt. Elbert in Colorado.
I didn't know this when I posted about the Pawnee Buttes on Monday, but Carrizo Oil and Gas has received a permit from the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to drill several wells from a pad to be built within about a half mile of the buttes. The drilling and fracking site would be on the right side of the image above, just to the right of the easternmost (righthand) butte. To wit:
Here's an overview of all the wells around the Pawnee Buttes:
Here's the data for the Carrizo well, which you can see permitted above as the red dot inside the green circle just south of the Pawnee Buttes at the south edge of Section 22:
The North Boundary Trail doesn't have much to do with Rocky Mountain National Park's north boundary. The trail very roughly follows the northeast boundary of the park north of Estes Park and west of Glen Haven. The most important thing to know about the North Boundary area is that it's isolated, wild and very infrequently traveled compared to most of the rest of the Rocky Mountain National Park, one of the busiest national parks in the country.
And, it's quiet. No screaming kids or throngs of tourists or mountain climbers here.
Today, Jacob and a friend of ours took a short hike to West Creek Falls, one of the park's lesser-known waterfalls. The cascade is extraordinary because it's far off the beaten path — on a spur of the North Boundary Trail in the remote and incredibly wild West Creek Research Natural Area. According to Lisa Foster's Complete Hiking Guide to the park, the RNA is left about as wild as possible, serving as a baseline from which to measure human impacts in other parts of the park. (View my entire photo album for the hike here.)
The trail begins at the pastoral McGraw Ranch, a National Park Service research station north of Lumpy Ridge. For about two miles, the trail briefly leaves the park and enters the Comanche Peak Wilderness in Roosevelt National Forest, where it becomes very clear that the trail, while well-built, doesn't see a lot of hikers. Once you ascend a pass and drop down into the West Creek drainage, the trail becomes fainter especially along the 0.7-mile spur to West Creek Falls. The North Boundary Trail splits off to the right and over another ridge before re-entering the park. The West Creek Falls spur trail enters the park from the national forest about 0.2 miles below the falls.
The hike is about five miles roundtrip, and we only encountered two other people the entire time. And, like us, they were locals from Fort Collins, only about an hour away. No tourists in these parts.