Monday, April 23, 2018

Ireland day 3: the ancients

One of the reasons I wanted to travel in Ireland was to see evidence of old people. Really old people.  Day 3, May 4, 2017, would be all about megalithic. We would spend the day in Counties Donegal and Sligo, in the northwest part of Ireland.

Our breakfast at the Mount Royd Country Home in Carrigans near Derry set us up for disappointment later in the trip because this morning's feast was superb.  There was fresh scrambled egg with smoked salmon, toasts, homemade sweet bread, yogurt and fresh fruit, fresh orange juice – the works!  All served to us in the lovely dining room by the lovely couple.  Recommend!

A Full Irish Breakfast!

The farm animals enjoyed the pasture behind the house. 
photo credit Drew
 Our host encouraged us to go check out a nearby ring fort that wasn't even on my radar. I was hesitant, because I had a lot on the agenda today, but it was close and we needed to walk off that big breakfast.
The roads are so narrow! Following Jim and Shelly's car to the ring fort high on the hill dead ahead.

The ring fort looked huge even from far away.

We were headed to Grianan of Aileach, which is a hillfort built in the sixth or seventh century. It is thought that the hillfort may have been less for defense than as symbol of royal power.   It is thought to be the seat of the Kingdom of Ailech.  This site probably was the king's principal dwelling and it's high, multilevel walls and the location on a high hill commanding great views show the status of the inhabitants.
I can see why the King of Ailech wanted to build his home hillfort here.
Great views from the top of the wall.

The fort has three terraces connected by narrow steps. There would have been buildings inside.

Down the hill a little ways is a spring dedicated to St. Patrick. 
I'm so glad our host suggested we go see this amazing site. Looking down over the impossibly green farms checker-boarding the countryside, with easy access inlets from the North Atlantic, I can see why a 9th century king would chose this spot to prevail over his subjects.

But back to the program. We had more old sites to see. Unfortunately, I was not able to get us back on track very quickly. Less than a mile from the hillfort, we stopped at The Old Church Visitor Center. 

This church was not on the agenda either

There was some weird figurines in costume and I think they do some shows that are supposed to highlight the history and culture of the area.  Shelly liked it but I wanted to get going. We had shopping to do.
Next stop Donegal Craft Village.  I had read it was an artisan craft village.  We did certainly find artisans there, but it wasn't quite what I expected.  The shops were individual stores in a very nice, square-shaped strip mall of sorts. Each artist had a store to sell his or her wares.  I think most of the shops were also studios. But maybe becuase it was a weekday, the place wasn't very busy.  We looked around and I bought some woven goods from this weaver.

She made my hat and some gifts.
To get to the real old sites, we had some driving to do.  Road food needed.

Almost every gas station we stopped at amazing pastries. Heavenly.

Throwing this pic in for my family, who are candyholics. I love Aero bars. We don't have them in the U.S. but I had them growing up when we would visit Canada.

This was my favorite mountain in all of Ireland. It's called Benbulbin.  It just looked cool to me. A nice landmark.


One of the two megalithic places I really wanted to see was Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery.  This is one of the oldest and largest sites in Ireland. There were probably 60 tombs and monuments thought to be used from 3700 to 3000 year ago.

Tomb 51 at Carrowmore, the large center tomb around which many of the other sites seem to be oriented.

Tomb 51 is a large Passage Tomb.  There would have been a roof over the top of the center passage. 

The passage leads to a space inside where the dolmen is. This is where the people would have been buried after cremation.

One of the boulder circles with a dolmen in the center.  Knocknarea hill in the background. The little nub on top of Knocknarea is a huge cairn 33 feet high and 150 feet wide called Medb's Cairn that might be 3000 years old. The cairn has not been excavated but is probably one of the largest passage tombs in Ireland. 
Carrowmore was a pretty amazing site. Just the number of stone circles, dolmens, and tombs was astounding and I wonder how and why ancient people made these structures.


So Carrowmore was cool, but Carrowkeel was rumored by our Irish friends to be the coolest. The site is huge, but undeveloped. As such, there were no signs pointing the way.   I had not wanted to research this site because i didn't want to spoil the experience, but I should have at least figured out where to go. My lack of research got me into big trouble.

We hiked up a road that was supposed to get us to the site, but at the top of the hill, there were only faint paths. I went up one, and the rest of the group went down another. Separating from the group = Mistake #1. I hoofed it to the top of the hill, but in my haste to find The Site, I overlooked The Site!  Being in a hurry = Mistake #2. Like I said, there weren't really any signs, just what looked to be piles of rocks covered with scruffy grasses. 

 I looked around and didn't see the others, so I figured they must have been correct going down the other path, so I veered off to the east to see if I could see them on the next hill over. I didn't have my cell phone with me because I didn't have international plan activated so there was no way to contact them = Mistake #3. One thing led to another and I found myself almost cliffed out. I could hear some voices, and the wind was coming from the other hill, so I decided I needed to go that way instead of doubling back from where I came =Mistake #4. Once down to the bottom, I decided they were not on the other hill, but must be down in the valley, so I head that way = Mistake #5. By this time, we had been separated for about 45 minutes. I ran all the way down the valley and did find some cool old rock buildings, but definitely not the tombs of Carrowkeel. So back up I went to the place where we separated. It was here that I saw Drew with his bright yellow jacket high on the hill looking out over the landscape. As I got closer, I could hear him calling forlornly. Up I went again as fast as my blistered feet could take me until finally, we were reunited. I think if Drew had not been so relieved that I wasn't crushed inside one of the tombs or fallen off the side of the cliff, he would have been very angry. By this time, and Shelly and Jim had gone back to the car thinking that is where I would go if separated. We managed to get a call through to them to say I was safe and we would be following along soon.   Among my feelings of relief at having not been lost and left behind, stupidity for not being able to find the site, and regret that I made my loved ones worried and angry with me, was anger with myself that I screwed up my opportunity to see one of the best megalithic sites in the world.

This little stunt of mine had cost us well over an hour and we were already way behind schedule for the day, but Drew knew how much this meant to me, so he humored me for a few minutes as I frantically ran around to some of the piles and peeked inside the passageways. Definitely not with time enough to reflect on how great a piece of history this place is or imagine how the ancient ones would have worshiped and buried their dead.

The tombs were partially excavated in 1911, but have not been restored in any way. Most are a big pile of rocks with a chamber inside that is just big enough to squat walk or shimmy into.  

The site is thought to have been constructed between 5400 and 5100 years ago, which predates the Pyramids of Egypt  by 500–800 years.

One of the first archaeologist to enter on of the chambers described it this way, ""I lit three candles and stood awhile, to let my eyes accustom themselves to the dim light. There was everything, just as the last Bronze Age man had left it, three to four thousand years before. A light brownish dust covered all... There beads of stone, bone implements made from Red Deer antlers, and many fragments of much decayed pottery. On little raised recesses in the wall were flat stones, on which reposed the calcinated bones of young children."

Inside one of the tombs. There were no artifacts left to see, but the stone construction, the smallness of the space, and the fact that humans used this space thousands of years ago for ceremony was awesome to me.


Ok, so major screw up and biggest regret of the trip behind us, it was time to head for our lodging for the night.  We still had quite a drive to get to Westport and the Woodbine Cottage B&B, which turned out to be our favorite lodging of the trip. 

 The house had once been a carriage maker's shop, and it had a wonderful sitting room where we lounged after dinner with a bottle of wine.   Photo from

The house had once been a carriage maker's shop, and it had a wonderful sitting room where we lounged after dinner with a bottle of wine. Photo from
And the breakfast room was warm and sunny. Photo from
Westport was a cool town with lots of charm. As we walked to dinner, we crossed the Catholic funeral processional of a prominent member of the community. It was the largest of its kind I had ever seen.  Dinner was at a hip Euro joint with good food. Shelly and I had wanted to go into some of the pubs from which Irish music was emanating, but Jim and Drew were not in the pubbing mood, so we retired to the Woodbine Cottage for our bottle of wine.

Day 3 had been a big day, full of cool unexpected stuff, a major mishap, and above all, big adventure.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

San Juan Huts Day 7: the roll home to Moab

We had one more day to go. We thought it would be easy.

There are multiple route options to get from Geyser Pass hut to Moab.  A significant fraction of us were pretty beat up and mostly wanted to stick to the easy route, which meant no Burrow Pass and no Porcupine Rim. That should have been about 35 miles of mostly downhill on double track or graded road.

The fact that I took 12 pictures on day 7, when my average for every other day of this trip was about 50, says I was ready to be done with the trip. But I was in high spirits to start the day just like the rest of the crew.
Start of Day 7
We chose not to do Burrow Pass, Hazard County, and Porcupine Rim (the Whole Enchilada), opting instead for some trails none of us had been on - Moonlight Meadows and Clark Lake. Moonlight Meadows was especially fun.  After that, we contoured around on a gravel road that was under construction so we could get to some more more new trail. This caused some discontent amount my companions as we were going by map and not by GPS and also because there were a lot of miles on gravel road.  But I thought the new trail, Jimmy Kean, was rather enjoyable. I got the feeling my companions did not share my feelings. Oh well, we would be free of each other soon enough! Ha ha.

Moonlight Meadows

That soon enough part proved elusive.  At the top of Upper Porcupine Singletrack, Kenny and Karl split off to do UPS. The plan was for the rest of us to coast down Kokopeli to Sand Flats Road and meet them where UPS joined SFR.  That was a good enough plan, but we got complacent and turned off our GPS and let our instincts guide us.  What happened next was a bit unfortunate for our tired legs.  We turned left at the intersection of Kokopeli and SFR when we should have turned right.  6 miles, 30 minutes, and several hundred feet of climbing later we realized our mistake and turned around.  At least the downhill was nice from there!

I've biked up Sand Flats Road a couple of times. This time, going down it seemed to take even longer than going up!

Finally, FINALLY, we coasted into town. First stop: greasy onion rings and fresh peach shakes at a Moab institution.

We did it and we deserved those fresh peach milkshakes.
After we cleaned up and grabbed some food at the Moab Brewery, we parted ways with our biking brethren. And so that's it. San Juan Huts Durango to Moab July 2017 edition is in the books.   I can't speak for the other couples, but Drew and I are glad we had this adventure with these four unique and talented bikers.


total miles 41.1 miles (supposed to be 35.6), 2720 feet of climbing, 8401 feet of descending. 4:20 moving time. 1536 calories burned. average speed 9.6 mph

Day 7 recap video link


Drew without a razor for 7 days.

Our gear was SO dirty!

Proof that the region we biked through had seen epic rainstorms while we were out there.  Despite having rain and mud almost every day, we really were quite lucky with the weather.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

San Juan Huts day 6: the penultimate challenge

Day 6 of the San Juan Huts Durango to Moab mountain bike adventure had loomed large in our minds as the biggest day, but to be honest, after the Ultimate Mudder Challenge of day 4, I was relieved we could just do a boat load of climbing and reward with beer. As long as the thunderstorms stayed away and the group pulled together to get our butts and bikes from the Paradox Hut to the Geyser Pass Hut in the La Sal Mountains, we would be victorious.  If we could do that, we would sail home to Moab on day 7. 

Departure from the Paradox Valley Hut with not a cloud in the sky and the promise of a hot climb.

But first we had to do that elevation thing.  At mile 2.5 the route description said simply, "the road will begin climbing 1613 feet out of the Paradox Valley over 3.9 miles."  Cycling friends will recognize that statement as one that should put fear in the quadriceps of even the fittest cyclist. That's steep!

The beginning of the climb

Climbing a graded gravel road. Up, ...

up, ...

up, ...

and up!  At the top of Carpenter Ridge we had cell phone reception.
The climb was long and hot, but everyone made it fine.
Bonus geologic picture. The sandstone poking out toward the viewer was deposited in an paleo river channel. The finer grained, more easily eroded sediment below was deposited as over bank deposits in the floodplain. This is a good example of paleo river channels.
The next bit of riding was quite enjoyable as we continued to climb, but at a much more civilized pace, through pine forest and a large burn scar. 
I think this picture is funny.

Our half way point and lunch stop was Buckeye Reservoir.  This 100 acre reservoir is at almost 8000 feet elevation and looks to be a nice spot for camping and fishing.  I wonder if it is important for storing water for agricultural use down in the valley. 
Buckeye Reservoir lunch stop
Weather can change quickly up in this high country.  It was time to get moving.

Storm clouds brewing = time to hit the trail.
We didn't make it far before we had to duck under an unoccupied cabin's porch for nearly an hour to let the heaviest part of the rain shower pass.
Taking shelter from the rain.
I could have stayed here all day out of the rain, hanging out. Especially since we had more climbing to do.
With the Utah State line in our sights, we hit the road again. We found a spring that half the group drank from. Given the massive cattle impact in the immediate and local area of the spring box, I declined. It turned out no one got sick, but I figured a 40 mile bike ride from flush toilets and hot soapy water was not a place I wanted to get diarrhea. 

Sally and Heather crossing the last flat.
After we crossed into Utah, we really thought we were in the clear, but the last 3 miles was a slog of mostly pushing our bikes in the brush to avoid the mud slick of a road.
We were so close to the hut, but then there was this. Note Sally and Karl being cozy while the rest of us wallowed in mud and self pity.
But finally, the Geyser Pass Hut at 9750 feet elevation! We had climbed nearly 5400 feet in 22.5 miles.

Glorious Geyser Pass Hut filled with beer and food and beds.

Could you ask for a more picturesque potty?

Beer, snacks, muddy unattended shoes and bikes. This picture describes post day 6 in every way.
The hut was a welcome sight. It was situated in a wildflower meadow only a short walk to a grand view of the peaks of the La Sal Mountains.  
Aster wildflower meadow

The high peaks of the La Sal Mountains from the Geyser Pass Hut

Big bucks bounding through the meadow.

We ate "Hawaiian dump pile" (rice with random veggies on top) for dinner and drank our allotment of  beer. We had done the hard part and would enjoy one last night of hut living before rolling downhill to Moab in the morning.

The stats: Ascent 5370 feet, descent 1010 feet, 22.5 miles, 4 hrs 33 minutes moving time. Max elevation 9750 feet. average speed 4.9 mph. 1314 calories burned. A good big day!
Day 6 recap video link