September 14, 2010

sunrise on the west end of the Grand Canyon.  fabulous.

i drive up through monument valley to moab.

willie plays in the Colorado River to cool off.

i stop by the Needles District of Canyonlands and find the fantastic petroglyphs called Newspaper Rock.

i camp in the LaSalle Mountains for a change of weather and it is cold.  still i find a great camp spot and enjoy the evening.  in the middle of the night there is a full domestic situation going on in the next camp over but really?  after Scary Dave i just turn over and go back to sleep. 

in the morning we hightail it out of there and run into some guys who have a bunch [like 20] hound dogs.  i stop to ask why so many dogs and they say they are looking for a bear.  concerned because i've been camping just down the road i ask if th bear has been disturbing people and they reply, 'no, we've just got a bear tag' so of course i obseess for the next twenty minutes over whether they would dare to kill a mother bear for whatever trophy their egos need.  all this while i'm driving in the wrong direction.  it's hard to get lost out here but i've taken a wrong turn and i'm starting to sweat becuase the gas gauge is very, very low.  i come to a cross roads.  two choices, go 20 miles in the wrong direction to Moab where i know there will be gas or twenty miles in the right direction with little chance to find gas.  sitting undecided in the middle of the intersection i notice a woman in the truck who has pulled up behind me.  she's making an exasperated motion with her hands at the huge delay i'm causing.  i jump out ask her which way to gas and after a few minutes of talking about my options i head for Moab.  she [A TOTAL STRANGER] agrees to follow me incase i run out of gas so she can ferry me in the rest of the way.  i live such a blessed life.

the moab detour was necessary not only for the gas but breakfast at the Jailhouse.  this, my most expensive meal of the trip, was $20. for breakfast.  it was good.

no matter how many times you visit Moab it is always a place to go again.  so spectacular and we take the slow road out stopping at putt ins and pull outs so willie can swim and i can dunk myself before we head out to I70 and the drive back to Boulder.

September 10, 2010

up, up, up

after feeling the brutal force of the sun on the canyon floor i am happy to get up at 4:30AM for breakfast so i can be on the trail by 5:30AM to get as high as possible before the heat is punitive.  i start out with Alan. he hiked down yesterday as well and we chatted several times yesterday.  he's 68 years old and in really good health except his knees [like everyone's] are trashed after the hike down.  we laugh a lot and the time goes quickly.  there is a campsite 1/3 of the way up the Bright Angel Trail and it's here at Indian Garden that he sits down for a longer rest and asks me to go ahead up.  i have struggled so many times to keep up with hikers that i understand all too well how he feels.  about a mile later i run into a park service worker who had gone up earlier and was on his way back down and he asks about Alan.  i tell the park worker i think his knees are preventing him from going up and he says he will check on him.  i feel better because i know Alan won't ask for help. 

when i top out of the canyon at 12:30 it feels amazing.  the German family is coming out at the same time and we celebrate the moment together.  they say less than 1% of the park visitors do the trip to the bottom so it feels like you are part of cool club.

since i am parked over at the backcountry office i take the shuttle over and stop in to pass some information on Alan to a ranger. HERE IS WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW if you hike into the canyon.  YOU ARE ON YOUR OWN.    the park rangers have strict guidelines on what they consider safe and recommend.  next, there are PSAR [preventive search and rescue] rangers who are stationed a mile or so down the main trails to assess hiker ability and preparedness.  still they rescue 250 people a year from the canyon.  in fact, i find the rangers coldly objective when discussing foolish hikers but kind and compassionate when required to assist in an escalation.  the night i am at Phantom Ranch a ranger woke up the guys in the men's dorm and rearranged them to accommodate a few hikers who were injured and being brought into the ranch.  there is, however, a threshold that triggers assistance.  blown out knees is not one of them.  the ranger at the backcountry office explains if someone is vomiting or unconscious then they would call down for a ranger to assess the situation.  in part i feel they are justified because there are so many opportunities for the hiker to be warned of the dangers and clearly there were poorly prepared hikers that we saw in the canyon.  but having just completed the trip i know there is no way to really explain how hot 120 degrees is or what your knees feel like after hiking down 4800 feet and turning that around the next day.  it easily compares to hiking a 14,000 foot peak in Colorado but how many people know what that feels like?

i pack up Willie who gets a 5 star report from the kind lady at the kennel and head over to the east side of the park where i want to camp.  there is a first come first served campsite at the Desert View which has spectacular views looking west into the canyon.  also, Gary is working on preservation of the Watch Tower there so i want to stop by and say hi to him.  he offers me space at his camp area and Willie and i camp there.

September 9, 2010

into the abyss

wake up. take down tent. rush to find parking at Bright Angel Trailhead. no parking. find parking at Backcountry Office. meet other hikers who think this setup is a cluster. get shuttle to South Kaibab trailhead. i don't even stop to adjust my boots i just start right down the trail. it's 6:30AM. the sun is just hitting the canyon and it is beautiful. the trail is very steep and so each minute takes you farther and farther.

 i stop for photos along the way but i know that i am not going to be able to capture the feeling of being surrounded by these magnificent walls. walking down through the layers, picking up the rocks and feeling the texture and weight is both a history and science lesson. when the full brunt of the heat kicks in around 10AM i take short breaks in the shade and chat with other hikers. because of the altitude change [3-5 degrees per 1000 feet] it is twenty degrees hotter at the bottom of the canyon. 120 degrees. this trail is quite spectacular but it is very steep 4800 Feet over 6.5 miles and for the last two hours i feel like one of my knees is being ripped out of socket and the heat is punishing.

the bottom is marked by a short tunnel that leads you onto a suspension bridge 70 feet over the river.  i get in at 11:30AM and immediately join all the other hikers who are sitting fully clothed in the Bright Angel Creek. in this heat it takes about 15 minutes for your clothes to fully dry so there is no need to change clothes [even if i had brought extra].

the water pipe has been repaired so there is water for everyone and even showers. the main building of Phantom Ranch serves as an office/gift shop/bar/snack shop/restaurant and so most everyone hangs out there for an hour or so because it's air cooled. plus they have beer.

all the meals are preordered when you book reservations and there's a couple of choices and given mules haul this stuff to the bottom, kinda pricey. it's standard Xanterra fare so nothing to rave about. i'm feeling lucky to have gotten a bunk at Phantom Ranch because they open reservations 13 months out and typically sell out in just a few hours. so there is a mix of people who booked space a year in advance and others who booked less than a week out like me. here's the thing... there are two ways of getting down to and up from Phantom Ranch. the first is free and uses your feet. the second is a cost of $400 per person and you ride a mule. since Xanterra is in the business of making money they hold a certain number of spaces for possible future bookings of mule riders. when those spots don't get booked they open them for hikers. this leads to a whole slew of challenges for hikers that is really unnecessary. for example, i met a lovely German family with three boys who had only secured space at the ranch at the last minute so they had been hauling camping gear around the US in the event that they had to use the campground. which requires a backcountry permit which you CAN NOT obtain online or by phone. you must write to them via the postal service or fax. i am not making this up. i heard this from multiple hikers. so when i say i am lucky to have called in and gotten a spot i mean REALLY lucky. this just sucks for visitors who miss out on the experience because they don't have the kind of flexibility i do.

so if you are visiting and can not get into Phantom Ranch the other alternative is the Bright Angel Campground which is also beautiful and this time of year tents aren't needed but you still need to haul down [and up] a sleeping bag. unless you use the duffel service offered by Xanterra via the mule train. it's a $70 charge for a bag not exceeding 30 pounds.

September 8, 2010

scary dave

day three finds me up and ready to get everything together for the trip to Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon the following day.  sooo freaking excited and nervous and filled with anticipation of a unknown journey.  i get myself a shower and head out to find the kennels. i check in and tell them i won't be leaving Willie until the next day because we are having so much fun. i go by the back country office looking for information on a float trip but they know nothing about it. this is the first of many times today i'll be asking myself if i am expecting too much. standing at the backcountry permit office asking about rafting permits and they just shrug their shoulders and assure me i should be able to find information online. okay. next stop the Bright Angel Reservation Desk to confirm i am planning to hike down to Phantom Ranch the next day.

there is a whole bunch of stuff going on here that is off the rails and when i ask a few simple questions i soon have two Xanterra employees barraging me with such nonsense i walk away thinking i must be the biggest bitch. well, now that all the administrative stuff is done i should be able to spend the afternoon enjoying views from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, right? well i head over to the visitor center and i chat with the park rangers. my last question is since i'm hiking down to Phantom Ranch the next day is there anything else i should know. this provokes a 15 minute discussion involving three rangers about options for getting me to the trailhead since the regular bus is not running due to the road construction. wtf? why didn't anyone at the Bright Angel Registration Desk mention any of this? let me tell you my opinion. Xanterra [the concession manager in the park] is in the business of making money and the NPS [National Park Service] is the business of conserving and protecting the park and the safety of the visitors. Xanterra has already collected my money at the time of the reservation so they don't care if i show up at Phantom Ranch. the rangers, however, don't want to be dealing with an escalating issue due to the fact that i planned on a 7 mile, 4000 foot descent to the river and because of a road project i have to add an additional three miles to that trip.

so, instead of leisurely stroll around the south rim i rush to call the kennels back. please, may i drop off my dog today instead of in the morning. [the kennels are fabulous and easy to deal with - just bring him by before five they say] with Willie safely tucked away in the kennel i sort through my gear and get ready to break down the campground early so i can get the 6AM shuttle to the trailhead which most everyone has agreed should be running. the campground is empty although i had noticed the guys who had set up camp earlier two sites over. first, because i heard them using a chainsaw. second, because when i was at the dish sink there were two baby chipmunks in it and since they were close and just lazing about their site i asked them to help the chipmunks find their way back home.

in a separate campsite across from me is a parked a white car which i was paying no attention to until the owner, Dave, came over. well i was planning a meditation on the rim over sunset since i was alone but Dave invites himself along and although i'm sure he is high on something i think he is harmless so i say okay. i put myself together and go by the camp of my chipmunk saviors. i learn their names are Justin and Eric and they are from Louisiana. they tell me the happy fate of my chipmunks and i let them know i'm camping alone tonight just a few sites over and i always sleep with my remote car alarm next to me in case a bear or any other critter comes uninvited into my camp [while i am silently pointing in the direction of the white car guy]. they say they have already met Scary Dave and will be keeping a close eye on me. i say i am sure he's harmless and that he had invited himself along to see the sunset at the rim with me. they do not like this at all. well, off i go with Scary Dave and i'm determined not to be judgmental of him.

 i lose him after he stops to get a cigarette from someone after the first shuttle ride. i don't think about him again as i ride out to the far rim and watch an incredible sunset. i end up at Hopi Point which must be in the European guide book because it's me and 100 Europeans. i find a rock to myself and enjoy every moment of it.

getting back to the campground is easy but i detour off to see if i can find a glass of wine and plate of pasta but Xanterra doesn't make it easy for travelers like me and it is not to be. as a result it is about 9PM before i make it back to the campground and as i'm rounding the final loop into my section a truck approaches. it stops next to me and i step aside waiting for it to continue. down comes the window and it's my chipmunk hero Eric. he asks about Scary Dave and i say i lost him right after i left the campground. i ask where he is headed and he says out to look for me. i am overwhelmed at the thought that these two guys who didn't know me were so concerned about my safety that they were going to leave the comfort and warmth of their campfire to go look for me in the Grand Canyon National Park. in the dark. with no idea where i could be. i am so blessed.

turns out they had been chatting with the rangers about Scary Dave and the rangers were keeping an eye out for him. about ten minutes after i get back into my site i see the lights go on in Scary Dave's car so i mosey on over to the chipmunk hero's site and sit with them for a while. it takes less than 30 minutes for the park service to get over, collect and escort Scary Dave out.  these girls and guys know what they are doing.

meanwhile, i need to get myself ready for a 5AM start in the morning. have i mentioned before i am not at my best in the morning?

September 6, 2010

ancestral pubeloeans

my first night on the road is camping at Mesa Verde National Park which is surreal.  i've been before but i really want to check it out again. i camp inside the park and get up early for a ranger led tour of the cliff dwellings. each tour is an hour but i'm disappointed because the first 20 minutes are spent talking about how strenuous the 100 foot descent will be and reminders not to touch anything. after the first 15 minutes i'm shifting from foot to foot and wondering exactly how long the shade under the tree i parked will last. nothing the ranger tells me is something i can't read in the literature or signs but you have to be on the ranger guided tour to get into the dwellings themselves and there is a limited number of tickets for tours.

in the end the cliff dwellings are amazing and i go through several getting out of the park a little after noon.  there is so much to see it would be easy to spend two full days in the park.  the cliff dwellers are called ancestral pubeloeans instead of indians.  i never figure out why.  i get stung by a bee and i try to remember what happens when you go into anaphalactic shock.  it just itches so i think i'm fine.  what is really cool is on my way out i see a group of wild horses.  they are beautiful and there is a foal with them.  the ranger talk i went to last night talked about the 'problem' they are because they compete with wildlife over resources. i guess it's more complicated than my little brain can follow cause i'm thinking if they are wild horses are they also 'wildlife'?

also in the really cool category is the regrowth after the widespread fires in the park.  i'm a fan of LET IT BURN because it's part of the cycle of life so i love it when the park services let nature do it's thing.  i cruise on over to the Grand Canyon National Park and get into my campsite just before sunset. the camp is empty and i'm in a great spot.

September 5, 2010

taking on number one

today i left my new home in Boulder for a quick run out to the Grand Canyon. i sign in at the new position in a week so I am going to clear my head, log some miles on the hiking boots and dip my feet into the mighty Colorado. plus when i tell my brother he comments that of course I should go because it's been AT LEAST three weeks since i've been on a roadtrip.

feeling on top of the world and knowing i'll be out of mobile service most of the week i put a call into mom. without going through the painful details of what transpired i never got to the part of "hey mom, i'm headed for the Grand Canyon for a week, isn't that cool?" instead, the first moment i feel she is threatening my new happiness I go off uncontrollably about how she is never supportive of anything I do. so unless someone else told her she has no idea that i'm hiking down the Grand Canyon and camping at the bottom.
willie dawg, however, is up for anything, anytime and a roadtrip sounds good to him.