Archive for April, 2012

On Thursday, we languidly explored the back 40 of the Portals Campground. Told that the property went all the way to the Colorado River, we managed to find an algae-covered canal, along with a snake and 2 river otters. We spent the next half-hour trying to capture the otters on film (no longer accurate, I guess, with digital cameras) but they were elusive. We would study the water and then hear their chuffs from an area we weren’t looking at. Later, we saw a pair of Canadian Geese with 6 chicks. They were assiduously protecting their offspring, but we managed to get a few pictures of them.

We remained at the campground through mid-afternoon, waiting for the expected thunderstorm to arrive. The clouds still were off in the distance when we headed to Arches to see what would happen. We went to the Windows, an area we hadn’t yet visited on this trip. As usual, there were loads of people there. As we meandered, the clouds began to flock our way and the thunder and lightning came closer. We tried, via images and movies, to capture the lightning, but failed. Before long, we were speeding to the car; it’s not wise to be the tallest thing around in the middle of a thunderstorm.

Having reached the car before the heavy showers started, we moved to a better vantage point and experienced a heavy thundershower, a gullywasher. Cool! It soon died away and we decided to drive all the way to the Island in the Sky viewpoints. A good decision.

When we reached Island in the Sky, it was considerably cooler and there were still a few brief showers occurring. I stayed in the car for the first stop, but the clouds and light enticed me outside after that. You know those earlier pictures of Island in the Sky? Forget all of them – just look at these. Whew! We got home around 7:30 but it was so worth it. One of the best days of photography we’ve ever had.

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We drove to Portals RV Park for the third time this trip and were amazed to see it snowing in the 85+ heat. No, it wasn’t snow; it was cottonwood seed fluff. It was piling up along the fences, but lawn tractors cleared it away before I could photograph it. The trees are also full of icky-looking cocoons, crawling with loads of caterpillers. I guess the air will soon be filled with pretty butterflies or moths.

Wednesday was another Jeep trip with Don and Janet. We took off around 8:30 and headed into the hills. We found the Dubinky Well Road on Island in the Sky mesa (it’s not in Canyonlands) and embarked on a busy schedule. First on the list: one of tributaries leading into Big Spring Canyon. Eons of heavy rain runoff has created a twisted chute plunging into the canyon. The varieties of erosion are unending: nodules, twists, caverns, holes, depressions, and sometimes just smooth rock. There are many more wildflowers blooming now, adding more beauty to the scene.

After bumping around on slickrock in the Jeep, we reached the Dellenbaugh Tunnel, full of pack rat nests and dung pellets, spider sacs and other things to avoid touching. But it’s short and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. From there, it’s a wonderland of rock, with a short trail leading to another canyon overlook.

After Dellenbaugh, the Secret Spire was our next destination. It is a very odd rock formation, plunked on top of a smooth white sandstone hill. Beyond it is a great, open landscape.

But wait, there’s more! After Secret Spire, we headed further south to a view of the Green River, from 1,000 feet up, of course. The contrast of the green water and red walls is interesting.

By this time, it was 2:30 so we started to head back to Moab. But we had one more destination – the Rainbow Terrace. This 4-wheel trail had one difficult area where small white stripes were painted on the slick rock to indicate which way to go. Various tire track trails told the story of former trailblazers wisely backtracking to follow the white stripes. Don used Dave as a point man and found his way up the rocks.

Having been to the nearby Rainbow Rocks years ago, Dave and I were anticipating these colored rock formations and were not disappointed. However, as kindred souls to Dave and me, Don and Janet wandered around the area with their heads down, looking at the strange dark rocks that didn’t resemble any of the nearby rock formations. How did all these small rocks get distributed so evenly across this part of the landscape? Another unexplained mystery – my life is full of them.

We finally headed home in time to clean up and go to dinner at Buck’s, a very nice restaurant in Moab. Don and Janet enjoyed steaks, Dave had the cowboy pork chop, and I slurped down my elk stew. All good after a great day of exploring.

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We headed up to Island in the Sky (isn’t that a great name?) on Friday morning and didn’t make it into one of the 12 campsites in Willow Flat, the Canyonlands campground. That meant driving 20 miles back out of the National Park to Horsethief Campground, a BLM camp with 60 sites. We got one of the last sites there, a nice one with an open view.

Not wasting any time, we planned to take a hike to Aztec Butte, one of our favorite places on the huge mesa. That didn’t happen. The appeal of Aztec is that there are Anasazi ruins tucked away under the rim of the Butte. A precarious, narrow trail files by them. But the overhang had a partial collapse and engineers couldn’t guarantee that more cave-ins wouldn’t happen. Bummer. So we got directions for a hike that isn’t listed on the trail guide. False Kiva is in a recessed amphitheater in a huge cliff. It’s reached by hiking under it, then scrambling back up another narrow trail. Though it was pretty warm, it was worth the trouble. A very dramatic site with a great view. Apparently, it is not considered a real kiva; I’m not sure why. There were other people coming and going, so it is known to many, I guess. As we were departing, Dave looked up and saw wonderful zigzag patterns in the rock above the alcove.

Since the weather was supposed to get hotter, we decided to go on another hike Saturday morning. The Neck Springs Trail departs from “the Neck”, a 35-foot wide stretch of land that allows people and vehicles to access the Island in the Sky mesa. We descended into a nice canyon, but it’s been a dry spring and winter, so it isn’t as green as we’ve seen it before. However, I did see some wildflowers blooming that we haven’t seen much of on this trip. We trekked pretty steadily along the 5.8-mile trail, ate lunch overlooking a great view, and were back at the Shafer Trail Road that descends 1,200 feet to the White Rim, by 1 pm or so. We returned to camp, showered and sat around the rest of the day. When the stars came out in the dark sky, we looked for meteors (the Lyrid meteor shower was supposed to occur) but never saw a one. The night sky was nice anyway and it was a balmy night to be outside.

We tried Willow Flat campground again on Sunday and this time we nabbed a campsite. This enabled Dave to get up and travel about 5 minutes to catch sunrise at Mesa Arch. I have had a case of sniffles for 2 days, which I hope is not a cold. On the other hand, I hope it is not an onset of allergies. I’ve been very lucky to have avoided them so far. We’ll see.

We went to Green River Overlook for sunset. Very nice, but an unremarkable sky with a few paltry clouds.   The stillness of the place is so amazing. It’s so quiet you can hear the wind moving pas birds’ wings. Went outside around 10:30 pm to see meteors; not a single one. Disappointing.

Dave arose at 5:30 yesterday and went to capture sunrise at Mesa Arch, which he did nicely. I slept in. Very pleasant. When he came back, we ate a quick breakfast and headed out to Grand View Point, the overlook at the end of Island in the Sky. The light wasn’t great, but the view was. I was thinking we might do a short hike to the Upheaval Dome Overlook, but it was so hot at 9:30 am, we decided to skip it. We had a long very warm day of sitting around. It was pleasant.

On our last morning at Island in the Sky, we drove out early to the Shafer Trail Overlook. When there is a lot of haze in the morning, the layers of mesas, buttes and mountains are all silhouetted. Of course, the White Rim, directly below, ain’t bad either.




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Time has slipped by quickly in the Moab area. We spent 2 days with Don and Janet Curley at their place in La Sal. The La Sal Mountain range is visible from Arches, Moab and other points, but they can sit in their kitchen and watch the mountain change. After pondering the view for a while, we watch “A Perfect Storm” in Blu-Ray on their hi-def television. The image is so clear, it looks like a documentary shot on video. Maybe I want our ancient Sony at home to break down.

On Wednesday, we went for a drive in the La Sals and down into Paradox Valley in Colorado. Don and Janet guided us to Buckeye Reservoir, an agricultural lake (not used for human drinking water) that the local people enjoy. They hadn’t been up there for a long time; the campground around the lake was being “improved”. What a shock! As we approached it, we began to see wooden poles lined up, 3 feet apart. Each one was about 3 or 4 feet tall and 8” across. The poles herded us along, diverged into separate lines going down to the water and soldiering along small groves of trees. Where there weren’t posts, solid wood fences separated the refurbished campsites from the shoreline. It was ludicrous. The message: you can camp here, but don’t get near the water or trees. A sign posted on the information kiosk said that the poles were to prevent illegal off-highway vehicle usage, but this was way beyond overkill on that issue. Don found a label on one of the posts that gave it’s value as $21. You do the math: $21 times thousands of poles. Our tax dollars at work.  We ate lunch at the reservoir in the company of an Osprey. It never left its branch for the 40 minutes we were there. Maybe he was trying to decide what post to fly to.

The ride down the mountains into Paradox included great views of the valley. We returned home and that night Janet provided us with one of the best discoveries of the trip: Private Selection Amaretto Cherry Cordial Ice Cream with Hershey Syrup on top. Oh man, is it good. Thank you, Janet. Dave and I polished off our own half gallon in four days. I’m resisting buying more until we’re about to leave the area. The cherry on top of the cherry ice cream was that Chewy, one of Don and Janet’s shy cats, settled down on my lap for about 15 minutes. The glow of her regard was diminished by the fact that I was sitting on “her” chair and I was just an additional impediment between her and her usual seat.

Thursday, we bade a temporary farewell to Don and Janet and headed for Moab. On the way, we stopped at “Hole in the Rock” an amazing housing project. 5,500 feet of living space was carved out a sandstone butte by Albert and Gladys Christensen. It is worth a visit if you are in the neighborhood.

Friday the 13th did bring us some bad luck: our laptop died. Dave couldn’t get it to boot up. So he took it to a computer doctor in Moab and we waited to hear the prognosis. And waited… We only had our iPhones for email for the next 6 days.

A storm was supposed to arrive sometime Friday, but the sun was out that morning, so we made our first foray into Arches National Park. We were shocked and saddened to discover that they no longer offer first-come, first-served campsites from March to October. The on-line reservations are totally booked for weeks ahead, so we won’t be camping in Arches on this trip.

Friday night, we met Don and Dorothy Malpas at the Blu Pig, a Moab restaurant with good ribs. We stayed in an RV park on Saturday to see if a storm was going to have much effect – it didn’t. Just some gusts of wind. So we went back to dry camping on Sunday at Goose Island. Don and Dorothy are ensconced there in their “KoKo”-brown Lazy Daze and they saved us a spectacular campsite right next to the Colorado River. We can watch the 1,000-foot cliff walls change color over the course of the day. It’s mesmerizing.

The clouds came in on Sunday and it began to sprinkle right before we began the guided hike into Fiery Furnace in Arches. Victoria, our ranger, was a wonderful guide, talking about some of the flora and fauna in the area and about how important nature is in our lives. We learned about the spade-foot toad, who stays buried underground until it hears the vibrations caused by thunder, the harbinger of rain. She also demonstrated various ways to shimmy and monkey-walk through narrow crevices in the rock. It was clear during the hike and only began to sprinkle again at the end of the hike.

Monday, we drove all of a mile from camp to Negro Bill Canyon. A 2.25-mile trail follows a pretty little creek and a right turn takes you to Morning Glory Bridge, a large, high natural bridge. As on our first hike here, with Don and Janet, a few years ago, we were lucky enough to see people rapelling down the bridge and drop into thin air, lowering themselves about 200 feet to the ground below, where we are. After hiking back, we lazed away the rest of the warm day.

Our primary activity on Tuesday was driving out to Arches in mid-afternoon to walk a part of the Devil’s Garden Trail. We slogged through sand to reach Navaho Arch, a favorite of Dave’s. On each visit, he tries to recreate or better the fantastic light he recorded years ago. This time, he was foiled by afternoon overcast that left us with flat, boring light. It was a pleasant walk, but not great for making images.

Dave was getting increasingly restive about the lack of action on the laptop repair. The outfit in Moab wasn’t moving too fast. On Wednesday, we drove into Moab with the laptop backup drive and then walked around until their shop opened, 40 minutes later than their stated opening time. So we whiled away the afternoon (I frittered, Dave fretted). They managed to reinstall the operating system but really didn’t know what had gone wrong. Dave retrieved it that afternoon at 5:30, updated the operating system and installed the backed up data. It seems to be working again, thank heavens. That forced us stay an extra day in the Moab area to insure an internet connection so we could do banking, blogging and email.

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Friday took us to Natural Bridges National Park. With only 12 campsites, we managed to beat out a motorcycle for the last available site. We were about 2 feet away from another rig in the adjoining camp, but we stepped out into a wide, private space surrounded by junipers. It was warm and breezy and after relaxing a while, we drove the 9-mile road that loops around the edge of the mesa. The primary viewpoints are those looking down at the three, huge bridges down in the canyon. From above, they are often difficult to spot because it’s hard to differentiate what’s behind them from what’s in front of them.

The next day we planned a 5.3-mile hike that turned into a 7-mile hike. Funny, how that happens. A little of it is due to us wandering around an area to photograph and a little of it is due to getting lost. It was a nice hike, although the last 2 miles across a relatively flat mesa is a slog.

Sunday included another descent into a canyon. It was down 400 feet, spend some time at a pool of water, then slowly ascend again. I started to look at rocks and couldn’t think of many names describing rocks once they have fallen away from the main mass. The words that come to mind: boulders, slabs, stones, rocks, pebbles. The thesaurus provided one more descriptive term: cobbles. That’s not a whole lot of terms. I wonder if there are more words in other languages. The weather gradually deteriorated that day, getting gusty and cold. We had planned to dry camp in a remote area and hike to a petroglyph panel on Monday, but the cold weather sent us scurrying to Blanding, where we could use electricity to run our heater. So it was Canyonlands for Tuesday.

As expected, we didn’t nab a campsite in Needles’ Squaw Flat Campground. So we camped on BLM land, Indian Creek, about 5 miles outside Needles. It was beautiful out there. After settling in, we drove out to hike the Slickrock Trail, one of our favorites. As we bumped our way to the highway, a tan Lazy Daze was heading towards us. Dave recognized “Koko” emblazoned on the front of their rig from the Lazy Daze Yahoo user group, so we stopped for a moment and told them where we were parked. Our hike was uneventful and fairly unspectacular. We have had so much incredible weather here (mostly involving clouds) that a clear day is kind of boring, photographically.

We returned to our rig and after dinner, we went over to visit with Don and Dorothy. They are a fun couple, enjoying life on the road, though they have maintained a home in Alabama. They aren’t hiking as much as they used to, but they carry a couple of kayaks and paddle when they can. They are interested in learning more about various aspects of the country they travel through. It is so much fun to talk to people who travel like this. We all agree that we are so lucky to be retired and free to spend significant time on the road. It’s a very positive group of people.

On Wednesday, we entered the park early to try to get a campsite inside the park. Being Easter Week, the park is as full as it ever gets. A few people due to check out had already promised their sites to somebody else. We managed to get one, but I’m thinking that maybe we should carry an extra six-pack of beer with which to bribe campsite occupiers. We set up in Campsite #1 and hosted Don and Dorothy for evening cocktails. A very pleasant time ensued.

I’d worked out a 7.5-mile hike for Thursday. But I got the trails mixed up and we ended up retracing most of an 11-mile (round trip) hike to Peekaboo Canyon. The best part of that hike was a mile or so along 3 spectacular amphitheaters. The wind was blowing hard by early afternoon, and my hiking pants were flapping hard. We reached the really windy top of a rock formation and were amazed to see Peekaboo Canyon. We knew then that we were going to have retrace our steps and miss Lost Canyon. Oh well, next time.

Friday involved no hiking, but did involve a whole lot of getting in and out of the back seat of a Jeep. Don and Janet Curley are friends who loved southeast Utah so much that they moved from California to here. They live in the small town of La Sal and enjoy their life on the foothills of the La Sal Mountains. They love to explore the area with their camper and their Jeep. They worked out a couple of possible 4-wheel-drive possibilities for us, depending on which roads were open and passable. The drive they chose began at Elephant Hill in Needles, graded a 3.4 on the road difficulty score. I would probably score it as a 7 or so, but the only time we’ve been out in a Jeep is with Don and Janet on a trip a couple of years ago.

The route included pictographs and ruins, and then Don decided to “go for it” which meant driving a route into the Abajo Mountains on a road they may well still have ice on it. Turning around if the road wasn’t passable wasn’t a great option due to the amount of gas available – we might run out. While pondering this, Don said we’d also be doing Bobby’s Hole, a really steep hill graded 7 out of 10 in difficulty.  Both Janet and I said we’d get out so we could take pictures and video of Don driving up. Don forewarned us: “I’m not stopping to pick you up in the middle of the hill. Janet and I puffed our way up the very steep slope to good vantage points and up the guys drove. Don made it look easy. Unfortunately, I managed to get about 5 seconds of the trip. For some reason, the video just cut off. Too bad.

The road steadily rose after that up to 8,000 feet plus. We got to the north-facing section that Don was concerned about, but the road was clear, other than some ice on the side of the road and some mud. The payoff on this route was Cathedral Point, a very high, 3-mile peninsula overlooking Salt Creek and Lavender Canyons. The light was getting lower and the view was spectacular. Don pulled out a really good pair of binoculars and we looked for arches and windows in the candy-colored rock below. What a great afternoon. These are places we could never reach in our low-clearance Rav.

We got back to our rig around 7:30 and enjoyed Janet’s margaritas, then ate dinner at our intimate (small) table. A great day.

We spent Saturday relaxing and then drove to Monticello for gas, groceries, alcohol and internet access. Don had laughed when I mentioned replenishing our wine stores in Monticello. As he said, the state-licensed liquor store looks like a jail – a very small gray, one-story building. Inside, there is one long counter, back by shelves of hard liquor and one short counter, with 13 different bottles of wine displayed: one French, 3 Australian and 9 mostly California bottles. You picked what you wanted and the very nice guy would pull your bottles from boxes behind the counter. He helped me select a bottle of Tequila, but said he couldn’t help with the rum because he didn’t drink rum. Not too much like Beverages and More. We dropped in on Don and Dorothy and told more tall tales. Then Dave photographed them with their kayaks in front of their Lazy Daze for his Nomads project. We are planning to get together in the Moab area, as we are both going to be around for at least another week. It is a pleasure to spend a lot of time in one area.

Chesler Park is one of our favorite places in the country, so we planned the 6-mile hike for Easter Sunday. We departed fairly early and were rewarded with solitude. The trail takes the hiker up and down steep rock formations by means of slab stairs, fool holes carved in the rock, piled rocks, and narrow crevasses between huge boulders. We also crossed about 3 large “parks” (flat, sandy areas with juniper, cacti, Indian Paintbrush, and other plants we don’t know the name of. There were several types of bright yellow flowers blooming that was nice to see because it’s a little early for much to be in bloom. The afternoon return hike was quite warm, but not bad. We returned to the rig, tired but not exhausted. Then (thank you, thank you, Janet) we lounged around in the balmy weather and drank the rest of the Margaritas that Janet had left us. After napping and eating dinner, we were sober enough to attend the campfire and learned how the ancient ones found and stored food and water, defended themselves and obtained pretty knick-knacks (like parrot-feather sashes).

After a sunrise foray up into the rocks behind the campground, Monday was a sit-around kind of day. We read our books, updated our blogs and Dave watched some of the Giants game in Colorado. It’s a good day to laze around because the high today is somewhere in the 80’s.

We had time for one short walk on Tuesday. We chose the Cave Spring Trail, a traipse around a rock formation that passes by some old cowboy and Anasazi camps. It’s been a great stay at Needles.

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We were back in Arizona for a couple of days. Having checked out Antelope Canyon (a spectacular slot canyon) a couple of years ago, we instead visited Lower Antelope Canyon. Both locations are on Navajo reservation land, but the experience is totally different. Two years ago, we were escorted by a guide, who helped us find good images, but also herded us along. There were probably 50 people moving through the short, narrow canyon. The Lower Antelope Canyon is a quarter-mile long, so more people can clamber through it. They also allow photographers to proceed unescorted and allow them two hours rather than one. We descended into the canyon and were immediately entranced. The colors of the sandstone alter according to the amount of light available and the distance from the camera. We crunched our bodies into cramped positions to get the pictures we wanted, hurried to make images while others waited, watched sand drifting down from above, and tried to avoid the sunny spots on the rock that “blow out” and turn out pure white despite any efforts made in Photoshop.  At one point, one of the guides strolled through, playing a guitar that sounded fantastic with the cavern acoustics. After 90 minutes, we asked one of the guides how far along we were, figuring we’d be out after a few turns. He told us we were about three quarters through. So we hurried through the last part. Next time, we may start at the end. It was a great experience. Afterwards, we celebrated by going out for a burger at a nice restaurant.

Tuesday found us in Monument Valley. After settling in today, we set off on the 17-mile bumpy drive around the Monument Valley loop. The sky was very clear, which is a detriment to photography. I wasn’t much inspired as we drove around. The sunset was wonderful, although we had the distraction of a dead Lazy Daze engine battery. I had forgot to turn off the headlights when we camped and they were dead after our return from our drive. Luckily, the Rav4 was perky, so we jumped off it and brought the Lazy Daze back to life. It’s always something!

I’ve had trouble deciding if Monument Valley is in Arizona or Utah. Literally, it’s in both, but the Navajos seem to consider it Arizona. We had some clocks set to Utah and some to Arizona, but we’ve forgotten which are which and we had to go up to the hotel to check on Wednesday so we knew when to meet our tour guide. We were going to Mystery Valley, south of Monument Valley. It has ruins and can only be seen with a Navajo guide.  But first, we had trouble. Dave couldn’t find his wallet. We searched diligently and neither one of us could find it. We finally assumed he must have dropped it out of his pocket. So Wednesday morning, after checking with several places in the Navajo hotel and tour providers, we re-drove the 17-mile loop again. We saw some goats, but no wallet. So before our Mystery Valley tour, Dave called several credit card companies and cancelled them. He was bummed out, to say the least. Dave’s got the more detailed account in his blog.

Tano Haycock showed up promptly at 2 pm in a truck that seats 10 or 12 people. We were the only passengers; I guess most people opt for the extended tour of Monument Valley. Tano led us on a wonderful tour. He talked a lot about Navajo life. The odd thing with touring the areas where Navajo live is that all the ruins that we want to see are Anasazi ruins, not Navajo ruins. There’s no positive connection between Navajo and the Ancient Ones who lived in the area under 1200 or so; the Navajo came later. Our first stop was a double arch with a little bit of a ruin in it. I saw a couple of tall, thin, twisty tree trunks leaning against a tall wall; little did I know that was a ladder I’d be climbing. Tano hauled me up there and I was looking down into one of the deepest potholes I’ve ever seen. Then, up another steep incline, using holes pecked into the sandstone.

The tour continued with ruins, arches and pictographs galore. This valley has about as many arches as Arches National Park. We saw Square House, set on a stunning ledge. There was a large collection of pottery shards and 2-inch corncobs. The pottery shards seemed to reflect pot making over a long period. The corncobs reflected that they had to grow a lot of corn to feed themselves.

When we reached Honeymoon Arch, Tano provided us with a special treat – music. He sang a song, accompanied by his drum that spoke of the importance of family. Then he pulled out a beautiful flute and played a lovely tune. What a peaceful moment, looking out over the striking landscape and listening to Tano play.

The final ruin we saw was called Many Hands House, and in fact, the walls were covered with hands and figures and animals. One figure looked exactly like a running man, and Tano thought that the strike marks under the figure might be a way of keeping score in some type of sport. The trip was really amazing. Tano’s business is Monumental Adventure Tours and I would highly recommend going on a tour with him. His business name is Monumental Adventure Tours.

Dave couldn’t find his sunglasses as we were departing on the tour, so both the wallet and the glasses were missing when we returned from the tour. When Dave searched the Rav4 for glasses, he found his wallet, wedged in between the passenger seat and the middle console. Both us had examined this area carefully, not seeing the wallet. I think it is our Bermuda Triangle. It’s really hard to believe we missed that wallet. So we celebrated with Cuba Libres and potato chips. As we sat there, I made a joke about leaving things like coffee cups on the roof of the car. Dave leaned over and looked out the window and there they were, the sunglasses were on the roof of the Rav4. Dave attributes all this to Kokopelli, but it’s the Bermuda Triangle, I tell you.

We moved 20 miles north on Thursday, settling in the town of Mexican Hat. We checked out Goosenecks State Park, where the San Juan River makes many 180-degree turns. Then it was on to Valley of the Gods, a 14-mile drive that passes by many eroded rock buttes. There was nothing outstanding, but it’s wonderful just to be out in a quiet, beautiful place. I love this country so much.



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