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!

Road Trip - Day 2

There are so many stories from this trip that I'm hoping not to write an entire post for each day, but I'm not overly optimistic. Sunday was another big day of driving. It went something like this:
And then, where two highways diverged, we decided to take...well...probably the one more often traveled, so that we could drive through here:
I was a little sad we didn't have more time there, to be honest. Zion is very pretty and it was a beautiful day. I'm sure we saw very little of the park, all told.
Met some nice folks from Colorado on our way out and had them take a picture of us at Checkerboard Mesa.
Oh, that's a lotta orange. Smunch and I will endeavor to coordinate outfits in the future.

And then it was back to Arizona...
and our final destination. We got out of the mommymobile when we got to the park boundary. It's always fun to take pictures of the kids with the sign, right? But the scene behind us seemed pretty spectacular too.
Still, I kinda couldn't believe we made I got kind of teary taking this next picture. Oh. My. Gosh. We're here!!!
And, so we were. I flashed my newly-minted (at Zion) National Parks pass and we headed for the North Rim Campground, where we received the welcome news that despite the robocall I'd received weeks earlier saying the fire danger was too high, the alert had been cancelled and campfires were indeed allowed. There would be s'mores. Thank goodness.

I guess I should stop here and say that the North Rim is not the favored side of the Canyon. Most people head for the South Rim. It's easier to get to if you've flown, but driving, there didn't seem to be a big difference. And if you're going to book your trip in June, you're NOT going to book a campsite on the South Rim. It suited me just fine, even though I still had to book two different campsites to stay for four consecutive nights.

We had a great spot among the aspens and ponderosas for our first night. The campground is great for car camping. The sites are big and the store is nearby...which is important when you've got constantly thawing coolers. We unloaded our stuff onto a big tarp and I sent Mam to the store for some firewood. While she was gone, I realized it was getting late. The sun was setting and we had yet to catch a glimpse of the Canyon. So as soon as she got back, I piled the surprisingly willing kids back in the car and drove the mile to the rim to watch the sunset.
And what a sunset it was!

If you look closely at the previous picture you can see a faint rainbow angling down from the clouds toward the Canyon. That's because there were thunderstorms rolling across the South Rim, treating us to a spectacular thunder and lightning show, as the clouds turned orange and the rain came down in pinkish cascades.
The rain and clouds also provided for a beautiful sunset.
And about that time, I took note that the rain wasn't just moving along the South Rim of the Canyon. It was moving across the Canyon. And that was O.K., but wait... All our stuff was sitting out on a tarp in our campsite. We hadn't even put the tent up yet.

I grabbed the kids and we rushed back to the car, zipping back to the campground and racing the growing thunder to get our tent up. To their credit, and despite my lack of patience, the kids had never been more helpful. I can't get the tent up on my own. I got the poles in wrong and had to re-do them, but we finally got the poles in their sleeves and arched just right. With just a minute or two left to spare, the rain fly went on and we threw everything in the tent. Phew!

That just left dinner. *sigh* Their quota of helpfulness having been met for the day, the kids hung out in the tent while I put on my rain jacket and went out to heat up dinner in the rain. To their disappointment, I ditched the plans for spaghetti in favor of heating up the pre-made taco meat I'd brought. And we all squished into the tent's small vestibule and ate our tacos while it rained. I wish I had pictures. I suppose I'd left the camera in the car at that point.

Sometimes the memories are better...and funnier than any picture could ever be...