Grand Canyon: Hiked!

Well, a relatively small portion of it anyway. Marcia and I are home tonight after four days on foot and three nights in a tent deep in the Grand Canyon. It was an extraordinary trip, on every front. The physical scale and grandeur of the Canyon simply beggars belief until you actually see it, go down to its bottom, and come back up again. The natural history evident in the walls and stones also make for an exceptionally remarkable opportunity to travel through time, both in terms of seeing the various layers from the ancient past stacked one atop the others, but also in terms of the plethora of fossils (including animal tracks) pretty much wherever you look. And beyond any intellectual response to the experience, the actual views and vistas that you encounter at virtually every turn are just breathtaking. We hiked around a couple of side canyons that in pretty much any other place in the country (or world even) would be considered as natural wonders meriting praise and preservation. In the Grand Canyon, they’re sidelights.

We booked our trip through Wildland Trekking and I most heartily recommend them to you should you wish to have a meaningful experience in the many natural surroundings in which they plan and lead tours. The booking and planning processes were easy and supportive in advance, and the logistics of getting to and from the Canyon were both flawless. As the schedule played out, another couple who were going to be accompanying us cancelled at the last minute, so our posse for the big adventure was just Marcia and I, our guide Eddie, and his fellow guide Matt, who was shadowing us as part of expanding his own portfolio of tours that he may lead with Wildland Trekking. They were both tremendous at their jobs, and were both absolutely delightful people to spend time with in the Canyon. Marcia and I both tend to be curious about what we’re seeing and doing, and Eddie and Matt’s knowledge of our route, its history, geology, flora and fauna really enhanced our trek, as did the amazingly delicious meals that Eddie was able to whip up for us on a camp stove with a sack of well-curated dried goods. We’re very, very pleased to have had the opportunity to meet them and to spend such quality time in their company. You’ll be a lucky traveler if you’re ever able to book a trip with either of them.

We did have cooler, windier and wetter weather for the first two days of the trip than would be optimal, but that just made the perfectly comfortable last two days feel all that much better. Our trip went down into the Canyon via the Bright Angel Trail, then veered westward after Indian Garden onto the Tonto Plateau. We had the Horn Creek Campsite just to the four of us the first night, which was wild, especially with 50 mph wind gusts rocking the tents through the night, driving rain, and repeated visits by a most confident and assertive spotted skunk. Nobody got sprayed, thankfully. Continuing westward on the Tonto Trail, we spent the second night at the Monument Campsite, and the third night at the Hermit Creek Campsite. Both sites allowed for walks down to the Colorado River at the base of the Canyon after we’d made camp and dropped our heavy packs. Those were good rambles, and you really get an extra spring in your step after setting aside your camping burdens.

The final day was dedicated to the climb out of the Canyon to its South Rim via the Hermit Trail, about 8.0 linear miles on a map (no problem at all for us, usually), but with about a 3,800-foot net ascent in the mix, much of in two exceedingly steep segments at the Cathedral Stairs and the final push up from Santa Maria Spring, it was a bit of a beast. There have been numerous rock slides in recent years that have crossed the trail, so it was rough going at times, especially when the trail was sort of hanging off the edge of truly vertiginous cliffs, and the packs we were carrying made us feel a bit more wobbly and top-heavy than we might otherwise. We were thankful for the cooler temperatures on the final push, but even with that fortunate hand being dealt to us, I would count today’s hike among the most strenuous physical days I’ve ever undertaken in my adult life. I can’t think of a time when I’ve ever been happier to see a parking lot full of cars as I was today when we crested the final climb and saw the Hermit Trailhead picnic area before us. A great ending to a great adventure.

If you’re a map nerd (like me), you might appreciate the image posted below showing what our overall route looked like. We started at the right-hand terminal point, and ended at the left-hand one. For perspective, the average elevation of the South Rim (where we started and ended) is about 7,000 feet above sea level, and the average elevation of the Colorado River (our lowest point in the Canyon) is about 2,200 feet above sea level. So even with the Google Earth view in the map below, it’s hard to capture the sheer verticality of the experience in the Canyon. It’s tough going, suffice to say. (You can click the pic to enlarge, if interested).

As per usual, I snapped photos along the way (supplemented by some taken by Marcia, Eddie and Matt), and have set them up in a gallery over at my Flickr site. You can click on the photo below of me and my very bestest adventure buddy on the Tonto Plateau to see the full collection. And while you do that, we are going to go and really, really, really appreciate our most comfortable bed at home tonight, feeling like we earned a truly dreamy sleep!

The Beginning of a Grand Adventure

Marcia and I are headed up to Flagstaff this afternoon for an orientation meeting in advance of a four-day hike/camp trip down into the Grand Canyon, starting early tomorrow morning. It should be a fantastic, though challenging, experience, made a bit more interesting than it might otherwise be by the weather forecast:

We’ve done cold-weather camping in the past, but it was a long time ago, so hopefully our bodies and bones are up for it still. On the flip-side, at least we don’t have to worry about keeping an infant warm, as we did when we lived in Idaho in the early ’90s and camped at high elevations fairly often, in frigid temperatures, with a little one tucked in between us in our frost-coated tent.

There’s not much of a global connectivity signal expected down in the Canyon, so we’ll likely be completely offline until Thursday night. Which is a good thing, every now and again. No complaints about that. I’ll do the usual obligatory photo post at some point after we get home, and I’m sure nobody is going to lose any sleep about us not live-streaming the experience as it happens. Being in the moment, yo. That’s where it’s at.

So until we’re back late next week . . . keep on keeping on, all. And wish us luck on the trek!

I’ve got an idea: Let’s go DOWN into this thing!

Viva! (Family News from Las Vegas)

Marcia and I just got back home after four days in Las Vegas for a most special event: our beloved daughter Katelin married her long-time partner, John, who we also love dearly. We’re thrilled for them both at the step they’ve taken, and the paths ahead of them. They’ve got a bright future to come, and they are a great team, so we know they will make the most of it, and then some. They’ve been living in Las Vegas since last summer, and we’ve visited them a few times, but this was the first get-together where we were all able to actually go do things other than hang out at home and avoid the virus. Props to the local government in Las Vegas for enacting and enforcing mask mandates. It made everything feel mostly safe, on top of all of our completed vaccination cards. Science FTW!

The wedding ceremony was a small and simple one at the Clark County Office of Civil Marriages. We were joined by John’s lovely mother and her wonderful husband, and by Katelin and John’s most delightful neighbors and friends, Sam and David. A great crew for a special moment. After the ceremony, we walked a few blocks up to Fremont Street for some typical Las Vegas fun (I lost everything I had to bet, but the rest of them left with more than they arrived with), then we went out for an utterly, mind-blowingly good dinner at Sparrow + Wolf. If you find yourself in Las Vegas and need a place for a special meal, I would most emphatically recommend you make a reservation there. The dishes were to die for, the service was sublime, and the space is quirky and comfortable in all of the right ways. A truly memorable meal. (We also had stellar dinners at China Mama and Aromi, and a super brunch at Sunny Side Up, the local outlet of a Chicago brunch institution near where we’d lived in the Windy City. Also all fine destinations!)

The day after the wedding, Katelin and John took us to Area 15, where we all did the immersive Omega Mart experience. It was surreal and strange and interesting and funny and wonderful, just the way I like my cultural experiences to be. It’s another strong recommendation if you’re headed out to Las Vegas, especially if you embrace the unusual with the same level of fervor that I do, and you appreciate artistically-brilliant world-building, of which this is one of the most positively overwhelming examples that I have ever experienced. Good times, and good fun.

A few photos below of the weekend, full-sized views available if you click on them. It was just delightful, on all fronts. We’re happy and proud parents today!

Before the ceremony. No shoes, no shirts, no pants, no masks: No service!

After the service, the happy couple on Fremont Street.

Expanded family photo, also on Fremont Street.

Dinner at Sparrow + Wolf. Eat all the things, all of them!

The shelves at Area 15’s Omega Mart made me literally “LOL” multiple times. That takes some doing!

Elsewhere in Area 15. Weird and wonderful!

Pacific Coast Rambler

We’re home again, home again from our three-week jaunt up into the Pacific Northwest. We flew into Santa Rosa, California, and from there our stops included:

  • The Russian River Valley (We had visited it 30+ years ago, and it was as beautiful as I remembered it, though sadly parched looking in places due to drought)
  • Mendocino County, California (I already posted some of my photos of that part of the trip here)
  • Mount Shasta, California (It was sad to see how small a percentage of the historic glaciers remain on its south and west slopes; the north and east sides were a bit better)
  • Portland, Oregon (Oregon was one of only three states that I’d not been in prior to this trip; I still have North Dakota and Alaska to complete the collection. Portland was one of only three of the 50 largest cities in the country that I’d not visited before; now I just need Fresno and San Jose, California)
  • West Seattle, Washington (We never made it into Seattle proper, staying out on the West Seattle Peninsula, which feels more like an island these days with the bridge between that lovely neighborhood and the downtown area closed for repair, with heinous traffic on the alternate routes. We had a great visit with Marcia’s sister, her son, and his girlfriend while we were there. Bonus!)
  • La Conner, Washington (A lovely little surprise of a town; we had been in the general area together also 30+ years ago, and I had been nearby for work in more recent years. Great restaurants and shops, easy access to Anacortes and Whidbey Island, and a beautiful coastal rental house. We spent time with another of Marcia’s sisters and her partner while there, both in La Conner and in their home of Bellingham, just to the north. Double bonus!)

We did tons of great hikes and spent most of our active time outdoors, though I did visit The Museum of Flight in Seattle while Marcia was working one morning, and it offered one of the finest plane and space collections I’ve ever seen. Worth the traffic, if you’re a flight nerd. I’ve loaded up my photo album at Flickr if of interest; you can click the photo of Marcia and I at Like Siskiyou with Mount Shasta in the background to see the collection. The final photo in the set is a tease for our next big outdoor expedition, taken from the plane on our way between Seattle and Phoenix. It should be a grand adventure . . .

Talk to Me of Mendocino

We spent the first week of our West Coast adventure in (very) rural Mendocino County, California, at the fog-shrouded heart of that vast state’s “lost coast” region. It was hauntingly beautiful: verdant, wild, misty, and mysterious. We had some great meals (all the fish, get in my belly) at small regional eateries where rustic settings and high quality cuisine were not mutually exclusive, and we hiked memorable trails along cliff tops, through redwood groves, up fern gullies, and across wind-swept headland meadows. We’d visited the very Southern end of Mendo some 30 years ago, briefly, and it stuck in my memory as a place deserving a return trip. We finally got that done, and it was worth it. Yesterday, we headed north to Mount Shasta, awesome and amazing in its own right, though very different from the coastal region. We’ll be heading northward again tomorrow, eventually ending up in far Northern Washington, with a few stops for a few days along the way. If interested in what this first leg of the trip looked and felt like, I offer 10 snaps below. I’d suggest you listen to this song while you look at them. Onward!

Tucson 32

This past Thursday marked the 32nd anniversary of Marcia’s and my wedding date. Time certainly flies when you’re having fun with your favorite person! After hunkering down hard through the Anno Virum, we decided to take an actual trip, and eat actual meals, in an actual hotel, with other actual people. Ye Gods! Remember how that used to work? After scouting out a variety of options, we decided to drive down to Tucson to stay for a few days of rest, relaxation and restoration at Canyon Ranch. (Plus one night at the Hilton Resort at El Conquistador). It was a lovely trip to a beautiful locale, a very nice getaway on all fronts. The accommodations were comfy and clean, the food was out of this world good (and quite healthy!), and the various services and treatments offered were delightful. We also squeezed in a couple of hikes nearby, and had a fair amount of down time hanging out around on the quiet and peaceful Canyon Ranch property. I spent most of that time reading and making friends with birds. As one does. If you’d like a peek at what things looked like down there, you can click on the photo of the happy couple (then and now) to go to my Tucson photo page. And if your travels bring you down Southern Arizona way, I’d heartily recommend pampering yourself at Canyon Ranch. Pro tip: you can get the cookies and the ice cream for dinner desert if you ask nicely!