Sunday, September 24, 2017

Hockey Season is Here

Today is the last real day of our trip and it started for us in the Grand Canyon. We had a room for two nights - the first time the whole trip we stayed in one place for consecutive nights. By getting up early, we were up as the sun rose and the best part was we could sit in bed and watch it out or window (and given that it was still cold, though not as windy, that was a huge bonus). After getting ready and packing up, Jess and I went out to walk along the rim and take some pictures. Again, it was absolutely beautiful and while we're ready to get home, it was still sad to leave.

On the way out, we stopped at the entrance sign to take pictures since we missed the one coming in from the east. We also had to fill one of our tires since it was really low as it probably has a slow leak that we've been dealing with for a few days.

The next stop was lunch in Sedona. I know people have said to hike along the red rocks but after seeing the Grand Canyon and Vermillion Cliffs, it was still nice but not as awe-inspiring. We ate a nice lunch in Sedona (which was very busy) before moving on to our final National Park site.

Montezuma Castle National Monument is another ruins site but this was has a multi-story building that's still pretty intact. It was a brief stop - the trail is short and there's not much to see there - but they charge $10 a head to get in. I was surprised at how busy it was there (even for a Saturday) and it was a place like this that made me glad we have a Parks Pass that gets our whole group in without paying anything additional. Plus, I didn't lose our pass this time which will come in handy for Washington and Alaska next year...

The final destination on our trip is an Arizona Coyotes hockey game. It may only have been preseason but it was our first hockey game of the season and I'm pretty sure every trip we take has to have a sporting event in there somewhere. Luckily we could walk to the game from our hotel so it didn't take long for us to walk back after they lost (which angered me because I really wanted the Coyotes to win for, uh, monetary reasons, and they blew a 3-0 lead). And with that, we're ready for the Canes to let us down all winter long.

Tomorrow we're just heading to the airport in the morning to fly home so our trip will officially be over. I think everything went pretty well and everyone had a good time and we were able to see everything we had originally planned to see. The weather held up nicely and no one fell off a cliff. All in all, that's a successful journey.

As they say at the Coyotes games, "I think we can win the Cup this year!" Note: No one says this.

Shortbread Reward

Today was the day we've been looking forward to over a year now - we were going to hike partly down into the Grand Canyon along the South Kaibab Trail. We didn't really know what to expect because although we knew the distance and elevation change, there's no way to really prepare for it around Raleigh and we hadn't done something like this before. Over the last year, we did our best to get into better shape and we just hoped it would pay off.

Originally we had planned to get up really early and get going just after sunrise. Of course, that plan didn't quite work out for two reasons: first, while we were glad we saved the highlight for the end of the trip, we also had been moving hotels every day and driving an average of 6 hours a day so we were getting tired. The other reason was more practical because our original plan assumed it'd be warm and that was definitely not the case. It was still very windy and the morning was cold with temps near freezing. My blood has thinned and that was too cold for me to enjoy the hike so we ended up trying to get our there for 9 AM instead. The shuttles we had to take took some time to get us there so we really didn't hit the trail until 10 AM.

Immediately, it was pretty steep with a bunch of switchbacks and loads of mule poop. That alone was irritating since the rules clearly state I couldn't poop on the trail yet the mules are held to a lower standard. If they want equality and I think they do, we should all have to hold it or put it in a bag and pack it out. Even though the descent was quick, it didn't feel bad and the views were amazing.

At the first point (roughly a mile in), we were all feeling ok and stopped to take some pictures. The only problems to that point were a squirrel that tried to get in our bags and a lady who just walked into the pictures we were taking after everyone had lined up to wait to their turn. The next stop was 1.5 miles down total and that's where we stopped for lunch and took in the sights. It was beautiful and peaceful, except for the constant jackhammering that a park crew was doing to break up some rocks to repair the trail.

It got a little dicey going up. Even though it was higher elevation than any of us had ever hiked before and it about 900 feet up in 1.5 miles, we did it with minimal stops. It was easier than I had anticipated and it's definitely something I would like to do again. Once we got to the top, we met a nice 70-year-old named Patricia who was from Scotland and was with a tour group who just hiked up the trail themselves. She was chatty and as we got to talking, she offered us the best shortbread I've ever eaten (the secret ingredient, she told us, was lots of butter). She then told us where to travel to in Scotland before we said good-bye.

At this point, there were still some sights along the Rim Trail (which is relatively flat) that we hadn't seen so we continued our hike back to our hotel right along the whole rim. All in all, we walked about 10 miles and by the end of the day, we were exhausted but felt pretty good otherwise. Dinner was at the same place the night before since it had the best quality (proximity to our hotel) and then we went back to our rooms. Jen and I did go back out to see how the stargazing was and while not quite as incredible as Yellowstone a few years back, it was pretty good and you could see the Milky Way pretty clearly.

The day was pretty great and it was nice to stay in the park all day and not get in the car once. Seeing the canyon from a bunch of different angles was worth the effort and is something none of us will ever forget.

As they say on the trail, "Mules are people too." Note: No one says this.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Just a Little Breezy

After a less than ideal night's sleep, we got up very early so we could see the sunrise. Given that by the time we arrived we couldn't see the canyon at all, this would also be the first time we saw the Grand Canyon. It was also a lot nicer around there when it was actually light out and we even saw three mule deer right by our cabin. We've been lucky with the weather so far and despite it being dry, it turned chilly and very windy the day we got there.  At that time in the morning, it had to be in the 30's with the wind chill. Luckily, the sunrise was fantastic and it was great seeing the canyon for the first time. We did a little hiking before packing up the car and heading out for some scenic drives.

We originally wanted to do some longer hiking but given the weather and our fatigue, that probably wasn't going to be a pleasant journey so we decided to do some smaller hikes along the drive. Those ended up being great too and the views from Cape Royal and Point Imperial didn't disappoint. We did have 50-60 mph gusts as we were up higher and each us nearly lost our hats into the canyon at least once.

The day ended with the long drive to the South Rim (20 miles from the North Rim but a 4+ hour drive) and this time we were smart enough to arrive in daylight. Our hotel in the South Rim is right on the edge of the canyon and we can see part of it from our window. There's also not much parking but Matt luckily found a spot right near our hotel so things were already looking up. A nice dinner later, we were in bed early and getting ready for our big hike on Friday.

As they say in the North Rim, "Don't let the bed bugs bite!" Note: It's quite possible they say that to many guests.

Hovenweep and Hardly Weeping

We've been going pretty non-stop with early starts and completely full days so it was nice to not have to get up too terribly early to get our day started. The first stop was at Hovenweep National Monument. This is another ruins site but was different in that it was basically a village located around a small canyon and many parts of the buildings are still standing. It was a 2 mile loop that started with a trail that crossed the canyon. It wasn't too bad (the canyon isn't terribly big) so it was a nice precursor to the Grand Canyon. The area was very nice and it was an unexpected gem in the middle of nowhere. It also gave us an opportunity for some good photos...

The next place was visited was in Monument Valley in Arizona. The drive in was through Utah and featured some stunning views of the various rock formations that have been made famous in various TV shows and movies (such as the place where Forrest Gump stopped running in the movie "Forrest Gump"). Unfortunately, to go to the Visitor Center where there were more spectacular views and even more spectacular restrooms, we had to pay $20 but our bladders thanked us.

We ended the day in the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Unfortunately, it took us longer to get there than planned which means we arrived in the dark (though the parts in the light getting to the Grand Canyon were pretty nice themselves). We try not to drive in the dark in general but especially going into parks since it's pretty dark and it's hard to find things. After dodging dozens of deer and cows in the road in the 40 mile drive in the dark, we arrived at the North Rim. Since it was so dark though, we couldn't find where to check in and figuring our where to park was dicey at best. We managed to use our phones as flashlights and find the lodge where we checked in and got our cabin number.

I should mention it's extremely difficult to get a place in the North Rim since there are not many options. I checked daily for 6 months and only found the room about a month ago. It's a cabin near the rim that has two rooms and a bathroom in the middle. It's rustic but seemed ok in the pictures and got decent reviews on TripAdvisor. Well, getting there in the pitch black and lugging our bags a good way wasn't ideal and neither were the moths in our beds. Let's just say the girls had a rough night once they saw the bugs and mouse traps. We did all walk out down a trail to view the night sky and it was pretty amazing. We then turned in and hoped we could get some rest in there.

As the Navajo say, "Run, Forrest, run." Note: They do not say this.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

32 Feet Doesn't Sound So Bad...

After a very long day yesterday, we thankfully didn't have to get going super early this morning. We stayed in Farmington, New Mexico (my first time in New Mexico and the 47th state I've visited) and it was not the greatest place. Last night we had to make a quick stop at Walmart and we had a guy knock on our car window and beg for change. The plus side of the town was we were less than a half an hour from the Aztec Ruins National Monument, our first stop.

This small park contains ruins of a large complex that was built 800-1000 years ago. Much of the original structure remains - including original ceilings and window coverings - and you can even walk through some of the rooms. It was a short self-guided tour and they give you a big booklet with some information at various points. I was narrating and while I was (mostly) reading from the materials, I don't think they believed me. For good reason - I did tell them that one of the ceremonial Kivas was their group toilet.

After this we ended up at Four Corners National Monument. The site is pretty small and I had heard mixed reviews about it but it was fine for what it was. The scenery around there was nice and the monument itself was reasonably well done. They also had many Native American vendors but it was organized with each vendor in a booth so it wasn't like it was a pressure sale. We did find a couple neat pieces of local art that we'll be displaying at home soon. The only questionable thing I saw was one vendor with a Washington Redskins hat. Was he being ironic? Was the team name a source of pride? Did he just like bad football? I was pretty confused.

Our final stop of the day was Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado. This is the park with the cliff dwellings and like Meteor Crater, I had been fascinated ever since reading about it as a kid. (Side note: Did I have a Southwest Time-Life book or something? I don't know how I got so fascinated with this area of the country.) The only problem was to see the better dwellings, you had to get a tour ticket and they go on sale two days prior so they can sell out. We showed up and while there wasn't much left, we did manage to get the tour I wanted all along.

We had a couple hours to kill so we drove up towards the mesa and as usual with the parks, the scenery was great. There were great mountain and valley views from over 8,000 feet up. We also got to see a canyon where you could see some of the cliff dwellings across from us. After that, we got to our tour location and waited.

When we signed up for the tour, they warned that there is a narrow tunnel to crawl through and a 32-foot ladder to climb. The dwelling is below where we started the tour so you have to climb down a bunch of stairs and then climb the ladder into the dwelling. That sounded fine and since I had researched this, everyone knew what we were in for. That said, when the ranger spoke to the group, he said the tunnel to crawl through was on the width of a ranger's hat and the first ladder was 32-feet and then there were two other smaller ones coming out of the dwelling. I think Jess and Jen were getting a little bit nervous but it really set in when we went down the stairs and saw the ladder.

In the picture I saw online, it looked kind of tall but the angle wasn't that steep so it didn't seem bad. However, it was taller than we all thought and was pretty steep climbing out. We waited our turn and watched a lot of other people go and thankfully, we all made it up (though it might have been touch-and-go for a minute). Truthfully, it looked worse from the ground but it certainly was longer than I had imagined.

The dwelling itself was really cool to be in. We saw a couple rooms and finally crawled through the very narrow tunnel, which was very small but this is where Jess and I being small (well, average size for Ancient Puebloans) came in handy. We did have to climb two decent sized ladders out and use footholds to make our way up a steep, smooth rock. We all made it and at the end, everyone was glad they did it.

We ended the day going to a Mexican restaurant and then turning in early. This may be the last post for a day (or more) since the internet connection at the Grand Canyon may be pretty spotty.

As the Anasazi say, "Don't call us that." Note: The Ancestral Puebloans never said that, but their descendants did.