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There isn’t much here in Canyonlands other than a wilderness of rock. I love the rocks, rock formations, mountains, valleys that one finds in southern Utah – beautiful formations of vivid colors – but here in Canyonlands not so much. Perhaps the ugly duckling of the Utah National Parks, one has to reach into the soul of the area to find the richness that lies there.

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Water and gravity formed this area rendering vast stretches of flat rocks that evolved into hundreds of canyons, mesas, arches and spires. Three distinct areas are found here, created and separated by two rivers, the Green and the Colorado.

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The Maze, which we didn’t get to, is supposedly Canyonlands at its wildest. You drop 600 feet into this canyon and are greeted with a “wilderness of broken rock, scant water and stunted junipers to find solitude, silence and challenges that call for self-reliance”. This was where the rugged ancestors lived over 2000 years ago and they left a treasure of rock art, especially in the northwest corner of Horseshoe Canyon where one finds detailed pictographs of the life and culture that existed back then. I’m not getting any younger and I think this might be one to look at through the prism of a travel guide, but were I thirty years younger I would be all over it.

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Island in the Sky is the platform for viewing the rest of Canyonlands. Vistas that stretch for hundreds of miles that include the two rivers 2200 feet below, continuous benches that lie 1000 feet below, endless trails that once were shared by horses and cattle, now abandoned because of the lack of rain. Desolate but still a monument to the severity of the Park.

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To the west is the third region formed by the Colorado and Green rivers, The Needles. A formation of fractured rocks,  formed much like the hoodoos in Bryce that came about as water froze, thawed and eroded and then started the whole process over again. What results is a scattered landscape of towers and mesas and canyons punctuated by the Needles in the distance. Stunning vista from afar.

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Desolate, sometimes flat but also with deep canyons etched over 100 million years, pretty much uninhabitable, but there for the adventurer, lies a history book waiting to be explored.

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If you don’t like spicy this next recipe is not for you. As I traveled the Orient for over a dozen years I was subjected to any number of  dishes, most recognizable, some not so much so. But I loved the variety, the flavor and the freshness of the meals. I first had Mapo Tofu in an authentic Sichuan restaurant, actually more like a dive, in Hong Kong. Before I sat down I was sweating, the aromas alone generating a spicy heat that would be substantiated when food came to mouth. Ma, or Mazi, is Mandarin for pockmarks and Po, or Popo, is old lady in Mandarin. Hence, loosely translated, what you get is tofu from a pockmarked old lady.  It is a simmering dish laced with pork in a sauce of black beans, numbing Sichuan peppercorns, garlic, green onions, rice wine and a few other gems. Legend has it MaPo had a restaurant in Chengdu where diners would order MaPo tofu by weight, protein, and spiciness, cooked fresh in front of them. Chinese beer is the only liquid to wash this mouth-searing dish down with.

So, for those of you with a sense of culinary adventure go for this Weeknight MaPo Tofu with Ground Pork.

weeknight mapo tofu with ground pork

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