The Top 2 Places on my Travel List are Now Gone

Water-clear selenite crystal "floater&quo...
One of the little crystals from the Naica Mine. Size: 18 x 14 x 13 cm., weight 2.6 kg. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, I found out that one of the places in the world that I want to visit most is no longer accessible. Back in 2017, operations at the Naica Mine ceased. That allowed water to re-flood the absolutely incredible Cave of the Crystals.

Cave of the Crystals is the second of my to-do list to be lost (though I always knew it was long shot, anyway): The Dr. Seuss-ian landscape of Ol Doinyo Lengai‘s volcanic crater blew itself to dust in 2013. I’d read a National Geographic article about this amazing volcano in Tanzania years ago; the photos were amazing, as were the tales of its inky-black, cool-and-fast-running, natrocarbonatite lava. (UPDATE: Please be sure to read the extra info about this amazing volcano at the end of this post. One of my most-interesting Facebook friends saw this post and had some great big-picture knowledge of this volcano’s possible role in the development of humanity.)

At one point, hikers were able to walk among the hornitos and lava flows in the crater. And then -- boom. It’s still an impressive crater. But with 60-percent grades into it, going into it probably isn’t an option. Notice also how the greenery around the summit is completely gone.
Cave of the Crystals
And here’s Ol Doinyo Lengai today.

Hey, I started this with the Cave of the Crystals and then jabbered about Ol Doinyo Lengai! Sorry about that. I just happen to love the idea of that place. But the Cave of the Crystals ain’t half-bad, either, with its 40-foot-long crystals nearly 1,000 feet underground. And then there’s the 136-degree, 90+ percent humidity to deal with. Ouch!

Cave of the Crystals
A cutaway view of the earth around the two caves. Thanks, Wikipedia!

People entering the cave had to wear special cooling suits. As far as I can tell, it wasn’t possible for just anyone to gain access. It was a working mine – and a thousand feet underground, like I mentioned. That’s a shame. This would be an amazing, one-of-a-kind experience.

I’ve found conflicting info about whether the shallower Cave of Swords, with its 6-foot-long profusion of crystals, is open for visiting non-scientists. This blogger claims to have been in it, though I’m skeptical (the writing is also vague – if I get in there, I promise that I will do a far better job). There also seems to be very little content devoted to the Cave of Swords minus the bigger Cave of the Crystals.

Inside the Volcano
The Inside the Volcano tour takes visitors straight into the world’s only known example of an extinct volcano with an intact magma chamber. Literally one of a kind!

At this point, I’m just hoping like hell that Thrihnukagigur doesn’t suddenly become un-extinct and blow the Inside the Volcano tour off the map. That would just about make me retire from traveling, I swear.

OL DOINYO LENGAI UPDATE (compliments of my Facebook friend, Ellen)

“Ol Doinyo Lengai has been active for millions of years, it will reform – there are other cool,active volcanos you can walk right up to the edge of, see stuff in the Danikal Depression in Ethiopia for one. But in my opinion Ol Doinyo Lengai is THE most important volcano in the world.

Why? I’ll try to keep this short: it is a carbonic volcano, with very very deep ‘roots’ so when it blows, as it has been pretty much constantly for millions of years, it spews lots and lots of carbon into the air. That carbon floats on the prevailing wind right down to the plains betweeen Ngorongoro and the Serengeti. This feeds the grass there into ‘super grass’ very nutritious and this is why millions of zebra and wildebeest return there every spring to have their babies at that sight so they get a head start in life by eating that super grass. Further, the wildebeest migration is a very likely candidate as to why humans evolved the way we did – with big brains and walking upright.

The whole idea that humans were great hunters is a bit off, we were mostly likely excellent scavengers who occasionally had a lucky hunt. Early humans evolved in the rift valley/Serengeti area and started following the migration to pick off the weak and scavenge kills from predators. You can see this in the footprints perfectly preserved at Olduvai gorge, a site that sits just miles from the fields of ‘super grass’. So, basically, without Ol Doinyo Lengai we might not be who we are today.”

A Few Bonus Images of My Gone-Away Destinations
Ol Doinyo Lengai Crater, Tanzania. Taken from ...
Ol Doinyo Lengai Crater, Tanzania. Taken from south-western edge, showing recent lava flow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
View into the crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanz...
View into the crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai, Tanzania – Photo by Michael Rückl, Arzberg – November 2006 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai in January...
English: Crater of Ol Doinyo Lengai in January 2011. Lake Natron in the background. Deutsch: Krater des Ol Doinyo Lengai im Januar 2011. Natronsee im Hintergrund. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

November Bicycles – Review of a Wheelbuilder

November Bicycles solved a big problem for me: trying to pick gravel bike wheels. Nobody seems to agree on what gravel bikes (or their wheels) really are. The genre/category spans everything from touring to 200-mile offroad races, with a few stops like "road plus" in the middle.

I didn’t want wheels that were made for something else. I wanted to buy with complete confidence on that point. When I ran across the blog for November Bicycles, I knew I had the right people.

I don’t even remember what that first post was about because I took an immediate deep dive into their blog content and products. I was amazed at the detail and thought they put into the most microscopic minutia of building wheels.

The Current State of Bicycle Wheelbuilding

This is important because machine-built, pre-made wheels are the norm. And some of them work extremely well, like my original Stan’s Arch mountain bike wheels and my Ultegra WH-6800 road wheels. Good pre-built wheels have made wheelbuilding a declining-though-not-lost art. Go to a local shop, and not all of them will have someone ready to lace up a custom set of wheels.

They’re more likely to push you toward pre-built wheels. Or they might have someone good, but -- a retail bike shop is (to me) not the place to build a quality wheelset. A stream of customers and other demands can turn a build into a stop-start process.

November Bicycles
One of the nice builds you’ll see on the November Bicycles website. I shamelessly borrowed this from their website.

November Bicycles seemed like people who just might listen to what I’m going to do, make recommendations and then assemble them in the manner of Shaolin monks turned bike nerds. I emailed them to introduce myself and my needs:

  • 6’2, 200-ish pounds, likes beer
  • mostly does weight training
  • building build a road bike that can do canal paths and gravel, but is still speedy on the road
  • likes riding events like Tour de Tucson
  • not so into blingy hubs, somewhat of a cheapskate

First Contact With November Bicycles

Dave from November Bicycles soon replied with a friendly email. He gave me options, asked insightful questions and made some recommendations. He didn’t just recommend, though: He told me the “why” behind his suggestions.

In the end, November Bicycles built me a wheelset based on Bitex hubs and Belgian HED+ rims with Wheelsmith spokes and brass nipples. They arrived neatly packed.

No, not those kind of brass nipples.

After opening the box, I installed a set of 38-c Vittoria Terreno tires. Even without sealant, the tires and rims seated immediately to each other. They showed barely any air leakage as I waited for the rest of my parts to arrive. They didn’t PING with the authority I’m used to, but they’ve seated perfectly. I’ve since deflated them, put in sealant and re-inflated.

First Ride and Final Thoughts

I’ve also had my first ride, which was an exercise in happy riding. Is it the November Bicycles wheels? They’re definitely part of the whole, and I get the impression that their true worth will reveal themselves over time. That’s often the way quality components born of quality labor work. They just keep doing what they do without complaint or undue fuss.

november bicycles

As for the experience of being a November Bicycles customer? I’m largely a local-vore and try really hard to keep my business in Arizona. Most of the new parts on my bike are locally sourced. But the November Bicycles blog showed a depth of thought in the wheelbuilding craft that I don’t see from my locals – at least not publicly.

The way November Bicycles shared their knowledge convinced me that I wanted them to build my wheels. That’s the way to get my money. Good advertising amuses me. But as much as I love The Most-Interesting Man in the World, I would only drink Dos Equis if I was dying of thirst. Blog posts that show me knowledge and absolute enthusiasm for what you do are the most-effective way to market to me. November Bicycles nailed this.

Consequently, I wound up with a wheelset that is exactly made for me and what I want to do on my gravel bike.

Hungry for more gravel bike talk? Here’s my main post about the process of building my new bike. I’ll update it with more links as I kick out more content.