A Postcard From the Grand Teton

When I travel internationally, I like to send postcards. I have quite a long list of contacts now, many in the USA, some abroad. Every person on my list means something to me; the postcards serve as a way to let them know that no matter where I was, what I was doing, they were on my mind.

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The Hitchhiker

Las Vegas, Nevada.

It was the final day of our climbing trip. Three weeks of uninterrupted time together: me y mi hermano Jose.

I had introduced Jose to bigger, more complex forms of climbing, while he had mentored me in Spanish, my second language. We had shared a soggy tent, shivered through a few cold January nights, spent half our budget on alcohol, eaten like dirtbags. Laughing, learning. We had made a strong memory.

But it was just about over.

We planned to end our trip with an exclamation point: climbing Birdland (5.7+) in Red Rock Canyon, a five-pitch route that would take us higher than anything we’d climbed previous. The route had been recommended to us by a free-solo climber we met in Joshua Tree.

Jose had been sad to trade Joshua Tree, where we passed almost three weeks, for Las Vegas.

I had pushed for Vegas. I wanted Jose to get a taste of real multipitch climbing. I wanted to get high — something you can’t really do in Joshua Tree.

In the end, I’d won. We drove to Vegas for a few days.

Our final day, we slept late and headed in to climb Birdland around noon. We stopped at the First Pullout in the Red Rock Loop Road, to look at some of the beautiful rock formations, and see if we could glimpse some of the sport climbing crags — shorter, bolted cliffs.

The rock at the Calico Hills in Red Rock Canyon is filled with swerving  lines: undulating waves of red, white, and shades in between. Without hurry, Jose and I walked the trails off the pullout, breathing in cool, fresh air. Despite being so close to Las Vegas, a major city with plenty of pollution, Red Rock feels crisp.

Short video feature on Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area

Walking back to la camioneta (our truck), three people around a small folding table waved us over. “Free food?!” they yelled. Dead broke after three weeks of too many cervezas, we swerved right over.

Two of the group were ambassadors for Climbstuff.com. The third, a guy in his late twenties or early thirties, was looking for people to climb with. We chatted for a bit while we ate bananas and tortillas.

“Well,” I say, “we were going to go climb Birdland, if you want to tag along. Multipitch.”

His face lights up, he thinks about it for a sec, and he says: “Yeah, that would be great! You guys got wheels? Just let me grab my stuff.”

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The Free Soloist

Joshua Tree California

No lo permitiremos para quedar, I tell my climbing partner, Jose. We’re not going to let him stay.   

He nods, voices his assent in Spanish as we pull up to our site in Hidden Valley Campground, in Joshua Tree National Park. Hidden Valley Campground is the center of the Joshua Tree climbing scene, and on a Friday night, the place is swamped with after-work weekend warriors heading out from Los Angeles and San Diego.

Twenty-four million people live in Southern California. The 42 camping sites in Hidden Valley aren’t nearly enough to handle the demand. Luckily, Jose and I had arrived early and staked our claim.

Still, when we returned from town, we found a minivan parked in our campsite. The campsite could accommodate two vehicles, and we had only one. Graciously, the interloper had left space for us to park. Still, I wasn’t in the mood for company. We’re not going to let him stay, I told Jose.

Immediately after we’d parked, a young man walked up to the driver’s side window, and started to plead his case. Before he had time to get two sentences out, Jose interrupted him: “Yeah man, you can stay.”

Awesome! he said. Thanks guys. I’m gonna run off and try this boulder!

And he was gone.

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Why We Travel

A reader left a comment on my 2017 in Places post:

“The more you travel, the more you will find that it is the people you meet along the way that matter most… Keep on travelling!!”

I couldn’t agree more. I’d like to share just one small story from this year about some people I met on the road. You saw them last week, at the tail end of my 2017 in Photos post, and you see them again, above.

They are Patty and Jeed. I met them on Koh Lanta, a Thai island, at the end of 2015.

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