Monday, April 28, 2008

the grand canyon was... GRAND

it is so hard to wrap my finger and my thoughts around this trip... but here's a go.

i went to the grand canyon in high school on a girl scout trip. we had wanted to do a camping trip below the rim. so we started planning, but we weren't allowed to take a troup of 3 girls. so after doubling the size ofour troup, the backpacking was out as none of them knew how. so the trip was very touristy and not what i had wanted.

THIS was my dream grand canyon trip. something i was not prepared for a decade or so ago...

mom picked us up at the airport with the exciting news of a new condo! we spent a wonderful night at the rim and she dropped us off at the trailhead. first warning you are in for an adventure... when the description of the trail is "the new trail a crazy old miner made when the old native american trails washed out." second clue... when the directions to find the trailhead are: go a mile past the outlook and look for a no parking sign. this trail (the new hance trail down red canyon) was amazing. curt and i got lost twice and it was like grand canyon desert meets rockslides in the white mountains... the drop-offs were incredible! we made it down to the colorado in about 6 hours and set up camp on a dune (i know, i cringed too, but there is one dune set aside for camping and the others are ecologically sound).

the real issue with the grand canyon is that it is one mile deep and 10 miles across. this means that the perspective you get from the top, the middle, and the bottom are all completely different. and to make it more interesting, each individual tributary further amplifies the canyon with their own lead-ins. so... if you start down from one of the tributaries and end up at the colorado, you cannot see the actual top from where you came down. it is too far back. it is a maddening trick of perception similar to, but more intense than the false summits experienced when climbing mountains.

the next day we went up to a plateau about 1000ft above the colorado to a trail called the tonto trail and headed west to hance creek. it was freezing above the rim, but it got into the high 90's every day down at this elevation. so spring was in full swing. all the plants were flowering... yucca, cacti, desert rose... EVERYTHING! desert flowers are such a contradiction in terms that it is constantly startling and brilliant. finding the creeks running is an added benefit... and you know you're getting close when you see green cottonwoods. color perception is weird in the canyon. the first day we looked at so much red rock that when i looked at my skin (slathered in as much sunblock as it could hold), it looked blue! so these cottonwoods were GREEN. we camped in a box canyon with a fabulous waterfall and the sounds of frogs.
from hance creek we left the tonto trail for a day and went over horseshoe plateau. we got to see a spring (tainted with especially heavy levels of arsnic), and found an old mineshaft. well, we're crazy, so we got out our headlamps and headed in... wow. mines of moria has a whole new meaning now. man-made holes are frightening. 200years is not a very long time when you think of rock formations, and it wasn't long before the heebie-geebies set in... but we found a couple of branchings, saw the old iron rail and enjoyed what we could with our feeble light. can't wait to look online and see what we can find out about the depths of this mine! from the debris pile, it looks like it was a copper mine.

continueing to the top of the plateau, we could see other mines that were started, as well as the remains of their old camphouse and tin can trashheap. very cool. we had heard from a park ranger when we were planning the trip that there was a cave on top of the plateau and we set off to find it. we were not disappointed! the cave of domes, which we later saw from our campsight on the other side of the plateau, is literally on the side of the plateau, and goes in far enough for us to find a caver's box (sign in and out if you want to go caving there) and has some great features in the rock. there is apparently some graffitti from the 1800's but our headlamps were not strong enough to find it. in fact, only one was strong enough to navigate by at all, and i was taking pictures with the flash in order to see what was in front of me! needless to say, we could not explore too far without the caving gear necessary, but boy was it ever an awesome sight! made doubly strong by eerging from the cave to views of the grand canyon... some cosmic sense of humor that was!

we rejoined the tonto trail and followed a level path westward towards the more touristy area of the canyon. this course gave us amazing views as we wound in and out of tributary canyons and got to see slit canyons, box canyons, and astounding drop-offs as well as some amazing sandstone features! the rocks change depending on how deep in the canyon you are and it is common to see petrified shells and such in several of the layers...

in our free time we followed the creek beds in several areas. at this time of year, it was easy to find springs and areas where the streams come up above the ground for a while... loads of tadples, frogs, and other creatures we associate with water (even mosquitoes) having a lovely time... and every night our camp was somewhere completely different. we found antlers and deer jawbones, and lots of feces (deer and small mammal) everywhere we explored... and there were TONS of lizards.
our last night was the only dry campsite we had, and so we loaded up on water at a spring a couple miles from boulder creek and hauled 12 liters around the dry cremation creak to a camping spot out on the plateau. this was the only night we were not sheltered from the wind. for some unknown reason, i did not expect it to be as severely windy as it was. which is really silly if you think about it, as there are channels to funnel the wind, and the wind is responsable for many of the features that make the canyon so extraordinary... so. it was windy the last night, but the view was INCREDIBLE. and because no one wants to haul heavy water around, the trail was barely used and sometimes difficult and fun to follow. we also got some solitude in the best sense of the word. we thought there would be fewer people than there were, but due to the season and the easy availability of water, we found 10-15 people camping near us every night the first 3 nights! from the afternoon of the 4th day to the evening of the 5th day, we saw noone. amazing.

the last day we had 4 liters of water each (what was recommended, but nearly twice as much as we needed) when weset out. after 1.5-2 miles of well travelled trail from dayhikers staying below the rim, we hit the tip-off point, where the south kaibab trail intersects the tonto trail... 4.4 miles from the top and 2.5 miles from the colorado. we resisted the urge to see the river again, wanting to be sure there was enough time to catch our bus... and headed out of the canyon. the south kaibab is one of the most heavily used trails... even used by donkeys to restock phantom ranch at the river... so it was an abrupt change from what we had been doing. there was trail maintainance and stone edging nearly the entire way up, and we could walk side by side when there was no traffic. i was sad not to meet a donkey team, but there was plenty of fresh feces to go around... and we flew up the trail, admiring the areas of cobblestone and built-up embankment made by the ccc boys during the depression. this is one of the rare trails that goes up the butt, instead of following a tributary, so the views were a consistant inspiration and the breeze very welcome. we got to the top before 11am, having made such good time that we were laughing and giggling about it. we had time to shower and refresh and embiggen ourselves with food before meeting our van to return to the world of the living. spent the night in an old hotel in downtown flagstaff, enjoying local entertainment and antique elevators and fabulous thai food... and caught the van back to the pheonix airport in the morning.

Friday, April 18, 2008

dum de doodle dum!

well, i am sorry that i have fallen out of touch. it all started with a bad headcold, which, combining work and weather, still is bothering me, but to a much lesser extent. but enough about work!
i have spent most of my free time in the last month sleeping off this funk! but on the odd day when it was sunny and i was awake:
spring apparently hit us late this year, but i thought it was really early, after a decade of being frozen in the wastelands of michigan! just look at my neighbor's yard! loads of dafodils were in prime bloom almost 2 weeks ago... my rosebush has lots of leaflets and looks FABOOOOOOO. nothing worth a photo yet... but i'm sure there will be buds soon...

we bought a share in a community agriculture at uk, and so i don't have a big garden this year. this is a good thing, as we have a lot of outdoor work to do this year. we're planning on fixing the cement around the house and repairing the holey garage.

and speaking of house repairs, we replanted grass seed in the front yard in march just before that huge storm. i thought our timing might have been bad, but as it turns out, we may have hit just the right time window, as now we have lots of little baby grasslings yaawning into the sunlight!

life is truely amazing, even if it is weedlike and non-indiginous. but what is the bluegrass without bluegrass?!

in the area of fun, curt and i have strung up a slackline in the back yard. it is like a tightrope, only made out of 1" wide webbing and not so high off the ground. so far we both suck at it, but it is lots of fun, and hopefully practice will be rewarding.

we also have been out climbing, and learning how to climb trad (or traditional), where you place little pieces of metal into cracks on the wall and wedge them into place to hold you to the wall if you fall. then, you have to climb up again to remove it when you are done. it takesa lot more time and skill than we currently have, but it is a fun and new, and we have great teachers. and it doesn't hurt the rock (faq).

and tomorrow (starts singing from the musical annie), we are leaving for the GRAND CANYON! i am soooo excited to see mom, and hike below the rim... i promise to take loads of pics! i am so ready for this vacation!