Monday, September 2, 2013

A Long Trip Home

Sometime before dinner on Wednesday, I realized that everywhere we could stop overnight on our way home was going to be HOT. And having taken a shower, rinsed off all the caked sweat and dirt, I wasn't feeling so inclined to camp in the desert again. The North Rim isn't anywhere near as hot as everything we needed to drive through on the way back.

So, I pulled out my secret plan, devised just for this eventuality. And using the very iffy internet connection at the campground general store, I booked a hotel room in Las Vegas. Smunch was ridiculously excited. He couldn't wait to see The Strip. Somewhere along the line, he'd heard about the Luxor and was dying to see the beam of light shooting from the top. Um. O.K.

Smunch also wanted to see the Hoover Dam. And you know what? We don't just drive out to Vegas all the time, so I decided we'd make time for that. It involved driving through Las Vegas, driving to the dam and then driving back to Vegas. We arrived at Hoover Dam around 3:30 in the afternoon, which was just enough time to take a tour. And when it's 110 outside, a tour is really kinda nice. There's a lot of security at the dam and most of the tour revolves around taking a big, gold elevator up and down. Ooh, a big tube!

The generator room:
And after learning a lot about how the dam was built and what it does, we were thrust back out into the heat, where the kids whined mercilessly as I took a few photos.
And because I'm a mean mommy, I bought them ice cream, but then I also stopped the van and made them walk across the bridge in the previous picture with me so I could take one last photo.
I admit that feats of engineering don't impress me as much as feats of nature. But this was something my son was totally psyched about. Mam complained a lot that she didn't want to go visit a dam, but even she seemed pretty fascinated with the whole thing. Turned out to be a good choice.

Of course, Mam really just wanted to get to the hotel and play in the pool. And we did that too. As soon as we checked in, the kids changed into their suits (Mam had packed only half of mine and I didn't think anyone would appreciate my showing up in half a suit) and we found the one pool that was open until 8pm. I let the kids play as I dangled my feet in until 7:45 and then made them get dressed so we could eat some dinner and they could see what they wanted to see before we all crashed for the night. There were lots of "neat" things we didn't see. But they saw one end of the strip at least. Fortunately, we stayed at the same end as the Luxor.

It was hard to tell because we were all very tired, but Vegas seemed to overwhelm the kids pretty quickly. As soon as I asked, they were ready to go back to the hotel room...where Mam quickly asked if she could get in bed (of course!). I turned around to ask if she had brushed her teeth, but she was already fast asleep.

I learned that while Vegas is an interesting curiousity and a convenient place to stop, it's not my kind of place. I do not belong there. I may go back, but I'll just be passing through.

Anxious to get home before dinnertime, we got up early Friday morning, ate a quick breakfast at the most expensive Starbucks on the planet and hit the road.

Back in California, we were all getting bored with the driving and Smunch needed a bathroom. We pulled off where there was a sign advertising the Calico ghost town and although I'd read some things about this place, I made the critical error of asking the kids if they were interested in going to see it. Of course they were! And I wasn't about the dampen their enthusiasm, even though it rapidly became clear that this was going to be the most expensive bathroom stop EVER.

It cost plenty of money to get in, so I figured we might as well make the most of it. But it turned out that making the most of it certainly wasn't the same thing as getting one's money's worth. The latter was pretty much impossible. Every "attraction" in the place cost more money. So the kids and I took a little walk in the old silver mine.
We explored old dwellings on the dusty, hot hillside for free. That was kinda cool, actually.
And after we took in some views of the town that Knotts Berry Farm rebuilt as a tourist trap, we waited in the scorching heat for a short little ride on the train.
I bought three overpriced sodas and we were back on the road again.

We arrived home just in time to meet the extended family for dinner, find out who the kids' teachers would be for 4th and 6th grade this year and who their classmates would be. They had just 4 days left before the first day of school...

At least they had something to write about!

Along the Edge

Wednesday was the last day of our stay at the Grand Canyon. Gosh, how sad. There are always more things to do than we accomplish, but I felt like we'd done pretty well. The only thing missing was a cool wildlife sighting. To be honest, the kids' favorite wildlife sighting was a pair of bald eagles. And they were very neat, perched in a tree...just an hour from home. Dangit. We saw a deer on the road as we came back fro our long downhill/uphill hike on Tuesday. But we've all seen lots of deer. It was pretty and all. We saw a kangaroo rat or two in the desert and a lot of pretty cool moths. But aside from a Kaibab squirrel in the campground, the Grand Canyon hadn't been a big animal-sighting experience.
photo courtesy of Wikipedia

So, we had pretty modest hopes when we set out on the Widforss Trail on Wednesday morning. I'd left this trail for the last day because it was a hike along the rim and relatively easy. After Tuesday's hike, maybe we all needed that. I would have loved to hike to the end of this trail. I'm sure there are some neat sunsets from there...but a 10-mile hike was out of the kids' range that day, for sure. Instead, we kept it to the 5-mile round trip on the nature trail.
This hike had lots of meadow-y areas full of wildflowers. And a lovely view of the Transept Canyon, that changed very little as we walked.
Turns out that Smunch was the wildlife spotter on this trip. Not only was he the one who spotted the bald eagles, but he saw this guy too:
I would have missed him. And that would have been a bummer. He was a very willing photo subject, this Mountain Short-horned Lizard. Cool.
After an hour or so, we passed the last marker on the nature trail and sat down at a rocky outcropping for a snack before heading back. I also tried to take a little timer photo of the three of us. Guess I should have tried to take it a little closer up!
And, naturally, in line with the grace I'd exhibited so far, I banged a knee on a rock as I tried to zip over to join the kids. It caused a great big bruise that was a nice addition to my still-painful impaled shin.

After a nice long rest at the outcropping, we headed back up the trail.
I had big plans for the cream and showers! There's nothing quite like the first shower after (or even during) a camping trip. I might not have bothered with the showers, but we had dinner reservations at the Grand Canyon Lodge and I thought they might appreiciate it if we didn't stink. That was probably good thinking since we also left a tad late for our reservations and then found the entire parking lot packed. We had to park down the road and walk the half mile the Lodge as fast as we could. They'd already written us off, but we had no problem getting a nice table. We cleaned up pretty well, I think.
It was fun to treat ourselves to a dinner with a great view, even if the food was nothing spectacular.
I even treated the kids to dessert, which I oh-so-generously mooched off them. Dinner took a little longer than I'd thought, so the sun started setting while we were still waiting for dessert. I had the kids take the cameras outside and take some more pretty pictures...pretty pictures that are nearly indistinguishable from many of the other pretty pictures we took from the lodge.

As soon as we paid the bill, we wandered back out to Bright Angel Point for the rest of the sunset. Mam took off to go climb rocks and I missed much of the sunset while trying to find her, but eventually, we all reconnected...
you know, after they figured out how to get down!

It would have been nice to stay at the lodge longer, but not anticipating trouble parking, we had no flashlight (actually, I think we did, but I didn't think it worked!) to use to get back to the mommymobile, way up the road. We walked back as fast as we could and it was still very near dark when we arrived.

And then we set about packing up, so we could leave first thing in the morning...

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Long Hike Down

The kids recovered pretty well from that traumatic little hike on Monday. I wish I could say the same for my leg. Although it looked fine and there wasn't a hint of infection, it HURT. In retrospect, I'm thinking it probably poked through the skin into the bone and bruised it pretty good. I had to take Advil just to walk in the morning.
But the kids were up for another hike. I can't remember now why I chose Tuesday for the most challenging hike of the trip. There was thought behind it and that's all I can say.

The thing about staying along the rim of the Canyon is that there's no real direction to hike but down. And if you hike down far enough, it's a long, long way back up. I knew that. I had my book of easy hikes handy. And while I'd chosen the hike down the North Kaibab Trail, I reminded myself repeatedly that we were going to turn around at the Supai Tunnel. Tunnel. Tunnel. Tunnel...

We stopped at the Coconino Overlook and took pictures of each other.
Although the views were beautiful, as they were everywhere along the rim, the top of this trail is frequented by the park's mule trains. It's no big deal to move aside for a mule train. But what they leave behind is...well...stinky. So we spent much of our downhill trip stepping around steaming piles of poo and avoiding cesspools in the trail. Still...pretty.
And before too long, we reached the Supai Tunnel.
But one can't just look at a tunnel and not go through it, right? So we did.
And this was the view from the other side, down, down, down into Roaring Springs Canyon. If you look closely, you can see a tiny little footbridge down there. And since I'm me, the tunnel just wasn't challenge enough and that footbridge looked mighty tempting. And the kids weren't smart enough to talk me out of it. So down we went.
On a map, this part of the trail is a very thick line. That's not because it's wide. It's because there are so many switchbacks that they basically just color that part in. Down and down and down, we went. Smunch, ever in a hurry (or perhaps to warn of impending danger) was far ahead and made it to the bridge well before Mam and I did. He's kind of a red speck in this picture.
From the bridge, you couldn't even seen the white-ish Coconino stone near the top of the Canyon, just the red rocks stretching up into the sky.
We found some shade, had a snack and then started the long, hot trip back up the Canyon.
Naturally, there was plenty of whining and complaining about why we'd gone so far down and just how far up it was going to be. I admit, it was long. It was especially long with two hot, whiney children. We got back to the Supai Tunnel, where there was a water fountain, and the kids filled their hats with water before putting them back on their heads.
They were moderately happier for a while after that.
But nothing beat getting back to the parking lot and driving back to the campsite. They were tired and hungry. We got some ice cream and made dinner.

I'd hoped to take a hike at sunset that evening, but I wasn't too anxious to press my luck on that one. Instead, we took a drive out to Point Imperial, which I'd noted didn't seem to have much in the way of a hike. It was just a drive and at twilight, the parking lot was nearly deserted.
That's a pity for all the people who didn't get to see the amazing light on the Canyon that evening. But it was pretty awesome for us.
The kids were not altogether impressed since you couldn't actually see the sun from this vantage point. Once the light left that portion of the Canyon, they wanted to go back to the lodge and head to Bright Angel Point for sunset. I didn't see any reason why not. (Ohmigosh, is that my little boy walking next to me? He's all the way up to my shoulder!)
It's hard to get tired of views like this. We could have done this every night and never gotten bored.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Grand Adventure

You know that feeling when you're in a new place and you just want to see EVERYTHING?? I understand there are people who would like nothing better than to finish up a road trip with a week doing nothing but lying on the beach. I'm not those people.

I was armed with a book of "easy hikes"...because I know my propensity for getting into things the kids can't handle. I vowed to do nothing outside the book. I almost succeeded too...sorta. Anyway, the first order of business in the morning was to vacate our pretty campsite and move to the new one.
This was the original site. It was beautiful and a little out-of-the-way, but also on a slope. I'd been happy to note, the night before, that our new, very flat and more central site was occupied by a couple of young guys with tiny little tents and backpacks. I figured they wouldn't be hanging out enjoying their morning coffee the next day. And, as luck would have it, they were gone before we got up.

In another major win, I'd purchased a collapsable wagon earlier in the summer. And it rocks! It was a pain to fit in the oh-so-full van, but worth every bit of frustration. I made breakfast while the kids took many, many trips to our new site with the wagon. By the time they were eating their pancakes, the move was nearly complete.
Just the cooking stuff and the tent left to go. It's another time when I failed to take pictures. How will I ever prove that my often-uncooperative kids had a great time trucking all our stuff a few campsites over? How will I ever know how funny Smunch and I looked as the two of us carried our giant tent through the campground to the nice, flat space we'd occupy for the next three nights? I'll just have to use my imagination, I suppose.

I did manage to talk Mam into pigtails. That's a moment to be recorded in the history books...or at least in a blog. For at least a day, she wouldn't look like an unkempt ragamuffin. And it was pretty darned cute, really.

Once our stuff was all settled in, the kids were anxious to go back to the Grand Canyon Lodge for a look at the Canyon in the daylight. My original arrival plan had been to drive straight to the Lodge and surprise them with the view. You can't see the Canyon from the front of it, but as soon as you walk in, you have a floor-to-ceiling view. But I was too anxious to get there in the waning light and we didn't go inside the Lodge in the evening.

The kids were impressed. We had willing strangers take our photo at the overlook nearby.
The dining room was very impressive, right at the edge of the Canyon. I had secret plans to have dinner there on our last night, if we could make it to the showers beforehand.
The kids wanted to know what in the world this was:
I had plans...because I always have plans when it comes to go back to the campsite for lunch and then take a short hike along a trail called the Cliff Springs Trail. It included the ruins of an Indian granary, which sounded kinda cool. So we ate our lunch and headed back out on a drive up towards Cape Royal. There are so many different overlooks and beautiful views along this route that we found ourselves stopping a lot.
And every time we stopped, we took a whole bunch of pictures. When a place is this breathtaking, it's hard not to.

Ultimately, we missed the tiny sign along the road that pointed towards Cliff Springs Trail, so we kept going up to Cape Royal to take in the view up there. It's one of the few places you can actually see the Colorado River, far, far below.
And it features Angel's Window, which is a pretty cool piece of rock, especially since it frames the river.
We met a guy from home up there. His T-shirt advertising the competitive rock-climbing team at a local gym was the giveaway. Turns out he was a pretty decent photographer.
Mam was enamored with all the flowers along the route.

On the way back down the road, we finally spotted the trail sign, and despite having walked out to Cape Royal and Angel's Window, the kids were still game for this little adventure. I admit that this was one of my favorite hikes on this trip. The granary was mildly interesting, although there was very little information about it except for what it said in my hiking book.
And there was a funny, fat little ground squirrel who insisted on posing for us until we took our fill of pictures.
Aside from that, the trail ran along the side of a cliff face where water trickled out here and there.
There was nothing particularly picturesque about the oozing water, but once you got around this bend, the view into the Canyon was magnificent.
Mam kept exclaiming how this was the best hike she'd ever been on and how every thing was SO cool!
We were having so much fun that when the trail kind of petered out, we kept going along the narrow, less-defined trail. Other people were hiking the opposite direction, so it didn't seem like a big deal. We got to the end, where it was clear that you could go no further and we stopped for a rest against the big, red cliff face.
Mam and I did a little exploring, making Smunch a tad anxious. We weren't doing anything dangerous. He's just high-strung that way and he was doubtlessly tired. We met Smunch back up on the rocks and turned around.

It's a funny thing about ill-defined trails. They look so very obvious going one way, but they can be near invisible when you turn around to go back. I'm not sure if that's what happened to us. But I know we lost the trail. And before long, we were climbing around cacti and slip-sliding across a sandy, rocky, rather steep slope. It was hard. It was frustrating. And perhaps I should have made some connections about Smunch's anxiety about then because the struggle to traverse the terrain and find the trail became punctuated with announcements like, "Mom, I don't want to die out here!" and "Well, I guess we could just sleep here and find the trail tomorrow."

All that sounds pretty alarming, but in truth, we were in no real danger. The biggest danger was that someone would truly get hurt while we were off trail..more than the myriad bumps and scrapes we already had from the rocks and prickly plants. The cliff face curves and from the point where we'd stopped, you could look back and see the trail. We could always see the main trail. We just weren't on a path to get there.

Before long, Mam started buying some of Smuch's hysteria. And a slightly stressed and frustrated mommy, who'd been calmly, but firmly reassuring moments earlier started to slowly lose it. And then there was this:
I suppose I shouldn't single out this particular agave plant. It wasn't this particular individual, but at some point, I stumbled and planted my shin firmly on the outstretched leaf of one of these plants. Know what? The spikes at the end are really sharp and they can stick into your skin a good long way. Knowing that the kids were already panicky, I muttered something under my breath and vowed to ignore my newly-impaled leg, but gosh, it hurt!

We scrambled up and down, trying to make sure we stayed close to the level of the trail in the distance. I kept thinking we'd found it, and being quickly disappointed. Finally, as we walked along a rocky outcropping, I saw the trail...about five feet below. Thankful that I could manage to keep my calm, I kept walking until we came to a small tree close to the rock and we all shimmied our way down.

Back on the main trail, tired, relieved, scraped and bleeding, we made our way back to the mommymobile. It wasn't far. We really hadn't gone that far. I said something to the kids about hurting myself, at which point they noticed the blood streaming down my leg, staining my socks and dripping on my hiking boots. "Oh, Mommy! Are you O.K.??" Mam cried.

Of course, I was O.K., I reassured her. I had her take pictures of the damage, just to prove it was merely a flesh wound.
It's not really impressive. It hurt far worse than it looked. Turns out that having an agave give you a nice hard jab in the shin will hurt badly...for days. Thank goodness I brought the Advil.

The kids declared this hike an absolute disaster. Secretly, I thought it was kind of awesome, despite the challenges...possibly because of the challenges, at least in part. There's some freedom to having the absolute knowledge that you can get out of a situation that makes some people (even little people) panic. I hoped the kids felt like I'd gotten them through the ordeal, even if they maintained their stance that it stunk.

Whatever I had planned for that evening no longer mattered. The only thing that mattered was getting back to the campsite, cleaning our wounds, making a campfire and having spaghetti. Spaghetti...and s'mores, of course.

I wouldn't have minded drinking a big, cold margarita in retribution though!