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All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.

- JRR Tolkien

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Destinations

Feb 11, 2019

Forever Moab

Arches, Canyonlands, Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef…. Five of the most beautiful National Parks in the US are a stone’s throw from Moab, Utah, America’s capital city of extreme sports.

WRITTEN BY

Georges Dutigny

This story originally featured in the Spring 2014 issue of the Outdoor Journal. 

I will never forget Moab, even though we did get off to a bad start, on those first few days there. Alas, Moab itself is nothing more than a small, run-down, backwater town, utterly devoid of charm.  Originally a mining community, constructed after World War II, it was known for its Uranium mines right up until the 1980s. Not exactly a spot you dream of vacationing, even if you are an extreme sports enthusiast.  The architecture is uninteresting, monotonous, boring, without a soul. Even its restaurants are just so-so – what a let down for the taco and red pepper fan in me. In short, Moab the city doesn’t really merit a stop.  And yet, it is known worldwide for the exceptional beauty of its natural surroundings, as well as the infinite number of skydiving, slacklining, trail running and rock climbing sites immortalized by unbelievably talented athletes, in epic movie scenes and most notably, on YouTube.

Driving through Arches National Park, Rangers lead popular walks into this maze of sandstone fins twice each day from April through October. Photo: Apoorva Prasad.

A MILD, WILD, OR EXTREME EXPERIENCE

The thick red cliffs surrounding Moab beckon you to take the plunge as BASE-jumping is legal in most spots. Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking and trail running on foot or by mountain bike. Some of the most difficult bike trails in the US are Slickrock Trail and Amasa Back, the latter ending at the mouth of the Colorado River.  As for the river, whose waters never exceed 10⁰C, even in summer, it offers class 4 and 5 rapids, making it ideal for kayaking and whitewater rafting. And then, everywhere you walk, there will always be that next rock, more stunning than the last, calling out for you to go bouldering: any number of climbing adventures is within reach. When the rock is soft and loose, like sandstone, it can be quite capricious.  Guaranteed to get your blood pumping!

When I think back on my stay in Moab, my blood pressure goes up, my body floods with endorphins and adrenaline. I slip on my trail running shoes, pack my Camelbak, adjust my bike helmet and make sure that my parachute is securely fastened to my back.  You never know. Moab makes you feel like flying! The town is bursting with enterprises ready to accompany you on any one of these marvellous activities. The logical first step in planning a trip is to pay a visit to the office of tourism or to check out the website: www.discovermoab.com.  This will allow you to take in the magnitude of possibility, but also of potential dangers. Remember the movie 127-hours!

Turret Arch in the Windows Section of Arches National Park. In the background, the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Mountains attain heights of nearly 13,000 feet. Photo: Moab Area Travel Council.

MOAB BASE CAMP

As an outdoor sports vacation destination, Moab gratifies the eyes while invigorating the muscles.  You will sleep, eat breakfast, and have dinner there, but the rest of the time you will get away. If you have the means to pay for a stay in one of the two absolutely amazing resorts, then I highly recommend it.  My preference is Red Cliffs Lodge (www.redcliffslodge.com) because of its warm, familial atmosphere and superior service. Converted to a hotel in 2002, it was formerly a cattle ranch, typical to the region, and is located on the banks of the Colorado River.  Frankly, there’s nothing not to like. All right, maybe the pool is a little conventional, but it was also ranked as one of the pools with the best view in the United States. Whether you are in the pool, your bed, or the restaurant, steep canyons tower all around you. Obviously, it can feel a little enclosed, but that’s inevitable in the area.  Besides, if you borrow a horse, you will be at the summit in a couple of hours. It’s worth noting that the outright finish line for Primal Quest, a very prestigious event and one of the most difficult expedition-length adventure races in the world, was at the hotel in 2006.

Countless canyons bid beautiful escape, whether by hiking on foot or by mountain bike.

Once a genuine working ranch, the hotel has a western themed décor, complete with authentic articles from all over the area.  The owner of the hotel rules her roost with an iron fist and a real sense of showmanship. In the basement, there is a movie theatre and a museum dedicated to all of the actors and movies that have filmed in the region over the years from John Wayne films to Thelma and Louise. Don’t forget the opening scene of John Woo’s Mission Impossible with Tom Cruise, or still yet the notorious 127-hours that I mentioned earlier, the Danny Boyle film with James Franco which is entirely set in Canyonlands, less than 50 km away and Utah’s largest National Park.

For those seeking a bit more luxury, at the price of less local colour, I would recommend Sorrel River Ranch.  Very classy and even more sumptuous, the hotel belongs to a rich family from New York. The villas for rent are magnificent and very cosy.  I don’t have a single complaint about the service in this high-end establishment. It is perfection. You can even bring your own horse (50$ a day) and your dog (100$ room cleaning fee).  It’s a slice of peaceful extravagance in the middle of the Far West, and an ideal couple’s retreat. Hey, what about a honeymoon in Moab? Bring your in-laws. They’ll love you forever!

Cover Photo: The Colorado River’s source is in Colorado but crosses Utah and Arizona while flowing southwest.

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Environment

Aug 19, 2019

Should we Turn the Sahara Desert into a Huge Solar Farm?

According to NASA estimates, each Saharan square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000-kilowatt hours of solar energy per year, a farm would be equivalent to 36 billion barrels of oil.

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WRITTEN BY

Amin Al-Habaibeh

Whenever I visit the Sahara I am struck by how sunny and hot it is and how clear the sky can be. Aside from a few oases there is little vegetation, and most of the world’s largest desert is covered with rocks, sand and sand dunes. The Saharan sun is powerful enough to provide Earth with significant solar energy.

The statistics are mind-boggling. If the desert were a country, it would be fifth biggest in the world – it’s larger than Brazil and slightly smaller than China and the US. Each square metre receives, on average, between 2,000 and 3,000-kilowatt hours of solar energy per year, according to NASA estimates. Given the Sahara covers about 9m km², that means the total energy available – that is, if every inch of the desert soaked up every drop of the sun’s energy – is more than 22 billion gigawatt-hours (GWh) a year.

This is again a big number that requires some context: it means that a hypothetical solar farm that covered the entire desert would produce 2,000 times more energy than even the largest power stations in the world, which generate barely 100,000 GWh a year. In fact, its output would be equivalent to more than 36 billion barrels of oil per day – that’s around five barrels per person per day. In this scenario, the Sahara could potentially produce more than 7,000 times the electricity requirements of Europe, with almost no carbon emissions.

Global horizontal irradiation, a measure of how much solar power received per year.
Global Solar Atlas / World Bank

What’s more, the Sahara also has the advantage of being very close to Europe. The shortest distance between North Africa and Europe is just 15km at the Strait of Gibraltar. But even much further distances, across the main width of the Mediterranean, are perfectly practical – after all, the world’s longest underwater power cable runs for nearly 600km between Norway and the Netherlands.

Over the past decade or so, scientists (including me and my colleagues) have looked at how desert solar could meet increasing local energy demand and eventually power Europe too – and how this might work in practice. And these academic insights have been translated in serious plans. The highest-profile attempt was Desertec, a project announced in 2009 that quickly acquired lots of funding from various banks and energy firms before largely collapsing when most investors pulled out five years later, citing high costs. Such projects are held back by a variety of political, commercial and social factors, including a lack of rapid development in the region.

The planet Tatooine from the Star Wars movies was filmed in southern Tunisia.
Amin Al-Habaibeh, Author provided

More recent proposals include the TuNur project in Tunisia, which aims to power more than 2m European homes, or the Noor Complex Solar Power Plant in Morocco which also aims to export energy to Europe.

Two technologies

There are two practical technologies at the moment to generate solar electricity within this context: concentrated solar power (CSP) and regular photovoltaic solar panels. Each has its pros and cons.

Concentrated solar power uses lenses or mirrors to focus the sun’s energy in one spot, which becomes incredibly hot. This heat then generates electricity through conventional steam turbines. Some systems use molten salt to store energy, allowing electricity to also be produced at night.

A concentrated solar plant near Seville, Spain. The mirrors focus the sun’s energy on the tower in the centre.
Novikov Aleksey / shutterstock

CSP seems to be more suitable to the Sahara due to the direct sun, lack of clouds and high temperatures which makes it more efficient. However the lenses and mirrors could be covered by sand storms, while the turbine and steam heating systems remain complex technologies. But the most important drawback of the technology is its use of scarce water resources.

Photovoltaic solar panels instead convert the sun’s energy to electricity directly using semiconductors. It is the most common type of solar power as it can be either connected to the grid or distributed for small-scale use on individual buildings. Also, it provides reasonable output in cloudy weather.

But one of the drawbacks is that when the panels get too hot their efficiency drops. This isn’t ideal in a part of the world where summer temperatures can easily exceed 45℃ in the shade, and given that demand for energy for air conditioning is strongest during the hottest parts of the day. Another problem is that sand storms could cover the panels, further reducing their efficiency.

Both technologies might need some amount of water to clean the mirrors and panels depending on the weather, which also makes water an important factor to consider. Most researchers suggest integrating the two main technologies to develop a hybrid system.

Just a small portion of the Sahara could produce as much energy as the entire continent of Africa does at present. As solar technology improves, things will only get cheaper and more efficient. The Sahara may be inhospitable for most plants and animals, but it could bring sustainable energy to life across North Africa – and beyond.


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This article was updated on April 30 to correct an error. Saharan solar could potentially produce more than seven thousand times the electricity requirements of Europe (not 7).The Conversation

Amin Al-Habaibeh, Professor of Intelligent Engineering Systems, Nottingham Trent University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo: Photo by Arthur Aldyrkhanov on Unsplash

Introducing The Outdoor Voyage

Whilst you’re here, given you believe in our mission, we would love to introduce you to The Outdoor Voyage – our booking platform and an online marketplace which only lists good operators, who care for sustainability, the environment and immersive, authentic experiences. All listed prices are agreed directly with the operator, and we promise that 86% of any money spent ends up supporting the local community that you’re visiting. Click the image below to find out more.

 

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