Sedona: Red Rock State Park and Cathedral Rock

18 06 2018

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Ruth Ann, Tully and I managed to get through the traffic south of town, to reach Red Rock State Park. At this time, about mid-day, it was cloudy. Still, the mesas were very beautiful. And if one looked close, the struggle of life in the desert was there for all to see. Our shoes padded through dry, soft dirt. The flora around was very dry, and lots of it had protection like needles or prickers. Evolution created plants specialized to take advantage of whatever rain comes.

Many plants are succulents, evolved to hold onto and store water. And it’s true, the rocks there are red. Or, orange-red.

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And where the rocks are eroded in such a way to capture water for any length of time, even way up on a mesa, oases of life have been created. Life finds a way. On these little places where water stayed on a bit longer, plants that normally grow elsewhere created a miniature ecosystem for themselves!

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Great picture with Ruth Ann. Up above you can see life has taken advantage of every place water has collected.

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I’m holding a nice tumbleweed!

After having our fill at Red Rock, we journeyed further to find Sedona’s famous Cathedral Rock. Using our GPS was of limited use. We kind of futzed around down where we knew it was to be, and eventually found a park and trailhead. During our walk, I kept watch on the sky, and I noticed an upcoming clearing was pending. We waited for it to happen, and it paid off!

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I suck at selfies but this one worked! The sun breaks through!

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On our way out it continued to clear and the red rocks glowed brightly!

 

And what would a day be without a great picture of Ruth Ann!

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So, our day down at Red Rock State Park and Cathedral Rock was a good one! For Tully and I, it was going to be back to Albuquerque. On the way we’d visit the Painted Desert, Petrified Forest, and Meteorite Crater.

 

 

 





Backyard Lakes: Trillium and Timothy

25 06 2018
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Trillium Lake just over an hour from my house!

Anyone who lives in Portland, Oregon like I do, has difficult decisions with free time. Go west 75 mins to the coast? Go north to Mt. St. Helens or the Gifford Pinchot National Forest? Head to the Columbia Gorge? South to Wine Country? Or due east to the playground that is the Mount Hood National Forest. Over the past couple of weeks the weather has been great, so I spent some time up by Mt. Hood.

I spent a day relaxing at the shore at Timothy Lake, and not long after, met my friend Laura up there and spent an evening under the stars. Each time, the weather was spectacular. And early season, before school gets out, these lakes shine and seem like Olde Tyme camping. That’s because they are super warm, nobody’s around, and it’s super off season. And added bonus: You will have spring flowers at your campsite! Rhododendron and Trillium are in full bloom. And the there is still snow on the peaks. The flowers, the blue lakes, the green forest and the snow on the mountains make for a feast for the eyes!

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On the day visit, I needed some “me time” and simply packed a lunch, some stuff to read, and most of my camp stoves to tune up for the camping season. I forgot the old Coleman Dual Fuel 533.

On the “day visit,” campgrounds were maybe 25% full. It was so quiet I only encountered one wife with kids on the shore. Oh. Well, wait a minute! I encountered a whole family! Just not human.

 

The geese have a plan of action. Adults have a guard who keeps up a vigil whilst the kids and other adults can clean and preen. There is a rear guard too. I found the longer I just sat, the trust built and they came up almost to my toes. No worries!

Okay, so then the following Monday I resolved to go up and spend the night. It would be my “birthday eve.” Laura, who was in Bend, Oregon, offered to meet me up there and celebrate. It was another perfect day!

The evening was pretty chilly but in my sleeping bag, with pillows, and a ski hat and the all-important eye shades for the Pacific NW 4:45 a.m. sunrise, I was set. No tent fly needed, the stars are far more important! The sky was absolutely bright with the Milky Way on full display.

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Venus was on hand for my birthday eve sunset. Not the sharpest focus but I hope you get the idea!

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Laura captures an image of the sunset.

For Timothy Lake, my suggestion is its best times are before school gets out in the early summer, or after Labor Day.  In high season summer, it’s best mid week. However, there are plenty of kayak-in or hike-in spots on the opposite side of the lake. There is opportunity for quiet camping over there!

 





Sedona, Arizona: Reuniting with Friends

17 06 2018

Our next destination was Sedona. I’d been there back in 2003 with my girlfriend Tonya. We stayed out in Jerome, about 25 minutes away. I remembered hiking the Oak Creek Canyon section, and spending a few hours by the river looking at Cathedral Rock.

Sedona’s big draw is its beautiful red rock canyons and rock formations. This time we’d be doing some hiking but I’d also meet up with some friends I’d not seen in ages. My friend Ruth Ann, who’d moved to Arizona from Portland and I hadn’t seen in 9 years would meet us. And my high school friend Kim Kroeger Miles lives in Sedona. I had not seen her since the mid 1980’s! We all had a cookout at Kim’s house, which is surrounded by the red rocks. I was a little nervous seeing people I hadn’t seen in so long! So much history has gone on since last we met. Children, marriages, near-death experiences, travel, and triumphs.

 

It turned out to be a lot of fun. Kim made a unique Caesar Salad, whipped up some burgers for the grill, and created an amazing dessert made with some of the fruit from her orchard. So good to visit!

The following day Ruth Ann, Tully and I set out to get outside to see some of Sedona’s outdoor attractions. What I discovered is that Sedona is an international magnet for tourists, so much so that it might not be possible to visit on a budget. And its roads are jammed with tourist buses and cars. The main road just cannot handle all that traffic! And while beautiful, every trail we visited charged a fee, from $5 to $20! It was so busy the Oak Creek trail was “sold out.” I imagine locals know other less busy trails to get out on.

The first park we visited was Slide Rock State Park. It was open, and not busy. We learned it really doesn’t have trails, just a swimming area and picnic area on the river. It would be busy in warmer weather!

Next, we decided to visit Red Rock State Park and Cathedral Rock. We’d be driving through downtown Sedona to get there. Wow, what a traffic jam! On the single-lane on the other side of the road, it was bumper to bumper for a couple of miles. Lucky for us, our side wasn’t so bad. I’ll cover those parks in the next post!





Grand Canyon, AZ day two

7 06 2018

 

OK, yesterday we checked out the eastern side of the South Rim, and glimpsed the sunset. One thing about the Grand Canyon, and some of the other Planet Earth Famous places I’ve been (like Torres Del Payne, and Angkor Wat) is that these are international superstars. We heard Chinese, German, Spanish, French, Italian, Japanese, Hindi, and at sunset, one language we could not pin down. It was a family, so we asked them. It was Portuguese, they were Brazilians!

Okay, for this day the idea was to spend a few hours “getting into the Canyon.” Tully had been here before twice, the first in high school, and he’d hiked all the way down and back up. We certainly didn’t have the time to do that today, but we decided to hike the well-trodden Bright Angel Trail down a ways and back.

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Icicles clinging from flora at the start of our hike!

A well-known fact about hiking in the Grand Canyon is transitional climates. The weather or temperature at the rim might be chilly but at the bottom it can be unmercifully HOT. On the day we hiked we struck a PERFECT balance. It was chilly when we started but nice and warm on the return.

I forgot to mention the altitude. I did feel some altitude oxygen deprivation my 1st 36 hours. But by the day our hike arrived, I was acclimated just fine. So my suggestion if you head to the park: Don’t try to do these hikes your first day. Spend that day doing less strenuous activities like hiking the flat rim. The 7,000 to 8,000 ft. altitude doesn’t sound like much, but if you are accustomed to living within 100ft of sea level, believe me, you will notice it your 1st 24 hours.

 

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On this wall something had “scratched” the rocks.

Today it was much more busy. People had rented bicycles, the “Grand Canyon Train” had arrived, somewhat like some kind of cruise ship, and the “village” was packed with folks from all over. I ought to mention the North Rim was closed. If you get to the Park later in the year, go to the North Rim and you will get a much more up and close personal experience. It gets more snow, and was closed in mid -April when we were there.

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We continued down the Bright Angel Trail to its 1st rest stop. This was only about 1.5 miles. There were a lot of other folks. Some had done the hike down to the bottom and spent the night there, and were coming back up. Others were completely unprepared. I saw women in fur coats. Saw flip flops. And a guy trying to run the trail with his smart phone in his hand. On our way down we passed through millions of years of geologic time. We chanced upon a National Park Guide, who told us that this trail hugged a geologic fault and pointed out that the rocks on one side of the trail mis matched the rocks on the other side because of faulting!

We did not spend as much time down there as anticipated, but it was OK as this place, an international magnet, was getting super busy. Once back at the Rim, we saw even more tourists. It was time to head back. Next stop: Sedona Arizona and meeting up with more friends!





Grand Canyon, Arizona, day one

5 06 2018

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I’d never been to the Grand Canyon. It was way overdue! Since my college and Portland, OR friend Tully Alford moved down to Albuquerque, NM we hatched a plan to visit Grand Canyon National Park as well as meet up with some other old friends in Sedona.

I landed in Albuquerque about Noon, and after a bite we set off to Flagstaff where we’d spend the 1st night. We stayed at the Flagstaff Hostel, in a room on the 2nd floor. I can’t recommend. They forgot to provide towels, and the twin beds didn’t even have top sheets. It’s also noisy, with the all-night-long busy BNSF railway just a block distant. Literally there were 100-car-long freight trains every 10 minutes. It might be cheap, but you pay in loss of rest!

After stuffing down the biggest breakfast burrito I have ever seen, I rode with Tully driving to the Canyon. IMG_0055

Today we’d spend the afternoon on the east side of the South Rim, and then check out the famous Grand Canyon sunset. It was mid-April on a Tuesday – and not terribly busy.

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I’d heard the crowds can be crushing in summer. The road wends its way not far from the canyon rim, with many turn-outs sporting spectacular views.

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A view from the South Rim, the Colorado River cutting through.

Grand Canyon is truly one of the wonders of Planet Earth. The Colorado River runs 277 miles through, and it’s over a mile deep. From the North Rim at 8,255ft to Diamond Creek at 1,500ft, a hike down is a journey covering nearly 2 billion years of geologic history. And on the way down (or up) hikers pass through numerous climate zones, homes to innumerable flora and fauna.  An early morning hike includes icicles clinging to rim flora, then by mid day it can be roasting down below.

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The colors of the rocks, combined with the sky and the spring-green of the trees and bushes made it super vivid.

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We arrived at the Tusayan Museum and Ruin. It’s located right on the rim.

We went back to the village to check out some more information about the park. Then it was time to see sunset fall on the canyon. The canyon is overwhelming during the day, but the sun is at its highest, which can cause colors to seem bleached out. It is at the beginning or end of the day, when the sun is lower, that its colors really pop out.

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The next day we’d take a hike down one of the canyon’s trails and get an up close experience!

 

 

 





Peru’s Cordillera Huayhuash – Whoop Ass! To 16,404′ Cuyoc Pass!

13 08 2017

 

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At Cuyoc Pass, with the Andes stretching away behind me!

With soothing natural hot springs mending our muscles yesterday, this morning it’s time to put up or shut up. Today we must make it to the highest pass of our trek. And then, manage a steep scree-covered descent without injury or accident. As it would turn out, this day would be filled with physical tests, mental challenges, crazy views, lifetime accomplishments, and Olympic worthy feats. And not without some llama entertainment!

Fueled up with breakfast we were on our way early. I was definitely pumped up. But also trepidation was creeping in. This was what all that training was all about. We had the usual chilly start with a gradually warming morning. We take a break to rest, de-layer and hydrate.

We head off again, and it’s not long before we are made aware we need to make way. Looking back we see periscope necks, big eyes and radar ears rounding the bend! Llamas! The camp crew and their llama/donkey train pass us. Always a highlight!

It Took Everything To Reach The Pass

But beauty aside, we’re focused on making this pass. Lots of oxygen needs to feed our legs if they are to get us up and over. My belly seems to swell to bizarre balloonish size on the way up these passes. Cathy Ann tells me it’s normal, the body is gathering as much oxygen as it can to make it. Today the pain of the climb is really getting to me. I am wondering if I’ll need to call in one of our “just in case” horses! One more step. One. More. Step.

There comes a point where I am telling myself that I don’t belong here. I am no match for this. What was I thinking I could do this? I am so involved in the struggle that I ask for The Powers Above for help. I have never done this before, and I am not Catholic. But I start making signs of the Cross and saying Hail Mary prayers to get me over! Then Karla, in front of me, nearly collapses in shortness of breath. And from behind, I hear Chris calling for the emergency horse. WOW. Somehow this makes some adrenaline kick in. With 20 more minutes to go, I manage to make it. SLOWLY. But I make it.

 

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Gen and Jan on the pass!

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From here, the Andes roll away in two directions (see 1st photo above at beginning of the post too)

 

This GoPro video says all! What a spectacular accomplishment! We are all giddy of course, and take lots of photos for our memories.

About Trekking Poles

I learned some things about using my trekking poles on this trip. The first couple of days, I kept them extended all day. Toward the afternoon, I was suffering aching shoulders, which was really annoying. I attributed this to my backpack – I figured I was incorrectly packing or adjusting the straps. But fiddling with the backpack was to no avail. On trail, because I had the poles extended, it meant when it got steeper I was picking them up too much – over and over. Someone suggested I shorten the poles to make things more comfortable. Voila! I could now do a whole day without discomfort.

I also observed “trekking pole behavior” of my trek mates. Some used their poles all the time. But others seemed to only use the poles for tricky trail stretches or uphills. I found myself using them for tricky sections and on the uphill parts. But on flatter sections they just seemed to get in the way – so I’d just carry them on one side. So I guess whatever works best is the right way! No matter what, trekking poles are a big help on these trips.

They are also terrifically handy when crossing streams – especially streams gray with glacial minerals. You can feel how deep a proposed crossing is.

I Think The Descent Is Even Harder

Now that we’ve made it to the top, the perhaps most challenging part – or riskiest – comes. The descent off this peak is steep and filled with “mines” which are small scree-like rocks. These can be incredibly troublesome. With a misstep they roll like ball bearings under your feet.

One by one we start off – Cathy Ann asks that we give each other a good distance in case of a spill. I start down and for the first part it reminds me a little of skiing. This requires a kind of bent-knee stance. And, we DO have poles, like skiing. You’ve got to be able to recover if you slide. At first, I’m doing pretty good with this. Then I see Jan take a good spill! But she is Okay, gets back up and keeps going. Then I hear that Sandy had a mighty slip but managed an Olympic judged 9 on a recovery on the go. Then it happens to me. My left foot hits some of these ball bearings and hyperextends. It extends and then stops just as fast. I don’t fall. But I know it’s one of those situations where while I might make it to camp, the knee could swell up and become a pretty serious problem on a trek like this! No way to know now. I just need to keep going.

I don’t have photos of this descent as it was too taxing – I was just focused on making it down! Some of our group are medical professionals, so I ask if there are any suggestions about my knee. Jan suggests I take lots of Ibuprofen and keep it elevated as much as I can. And, if there is a river nearby and I can stand the cold, dunk it in there! She gives me some ibuprofen – I had acetaminophen but no ibuprofen.

We hear about a mountain here called Diablo Mudo. In Spanish that means Mute Devil. I kept wondering if there were any stories about Diablo Mudo. With a name like that, there have got to be some stories!

We reach Cuyoc, our 14,436′ high camp, with a gorgeous backdrop of 19,000ft peaks and vertical cliff faces behind.

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Terrible weather, huh?

We’re greeted with beautiful sun at camp. I decide I’m  not braving the icy river next to us to treat my left knee. I hang out in my tent and do my best to elevate my left. Leg – I even skip happy hour. I hope it helps! Well, when dinner comes, I don’t seem horribly worse – so I’m optimistic. Then afterward, I go to bed right away with the leg on top of my duffel bag.

Another chilly night of bright stars tonight. So, what did I bring for the 25-degree evenings? How did I manage? I brought an 800-fill down zero-degree sleeping bag. At bed time, I’d wear thermal underwear leggings, with a long sleeved merino wool top and a light fleece shirt over. Up top, I wore a ski hat and a sleeping mask. On my hands, I wore lightweight fleece gloves. I found this arrangement most toasty! I’d also ensure my sleeping bag hood was over the top. The sleeping pad and a (yay) pillow were provided for us!

 





Hike and A Hot Tub Soak!

8 08 2017

Today’s plan calls for a mellow (well, relatively) hike out of Huayhuash to a 15,584′ pass, 5-hours total, and ending with the afternoon at a hot tub soak and camp at Viconga Thermal Baths, at 14,432′ – natural hot springs here we come! Sounds good! We’ll also break out our portable hot shower! After these hard-won days, I’m liking the sound of that.

Like most mornings, our “beast herders” are out before dawn wrangling the herds! These guys sometimes climb hills, yelling urgent taunts to get their charges (donkeys and llamas) in line. Sometimes they disappear behind hillsides. But every morning, they find the beasts of burden, bringing them back. I never understood why the beasts don’t just take off during the night!

We pass through some beautiful valleys, and pass by condors above, and chinchilla below.

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These chinchilla are really cute! Part rabbit, part guinea pig, or something, they inhabit the rocks all around these parts. With alert ears, long whiskers and fluffy tails!

In between certain elevations, our hikes flow through fields of wildflowers. We experience Paintbrush, Mistletoe, flowering cactus, giant six foot lupine, and others I cannot identify.

Then today as every day, our train of llamas, donkeys and horses catch up with us! They, and our crew, carry our stuff and set up camp so that when we arrive, we just crawl into our tents and mend.

Now it’s time to take a break.

 

We catch up with ourselves. Some like me de-layer, whilst others visit, or take in snacks. On the way we pass a good sized lake. It’s the largest we’ll see on our trek.

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Then, after some climbs and descents, we see our destination! It’s a little valley with a glacier-fed stream flowing through. Up above and behind, it’s got three different temperature thermal baths! Wow! It’s going to be a sweet afternoon!

 

Man that bath felt great. But getting out of the water NOT! OMG.

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They had 3 baths with varying temps. But when you get out, it’s chilly!

Along with our thermal baths, which felt EXQUISITE! Our staff also set up a hot shower. Now, this shower was far from automatic. Somebody had to pump up the water pressure for it to work! Cathy Ann and Roger handled the technical aspects.

 

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Regina peeks out ready for the shower!

 

 

So, Regina gets a real hot shower! Got to be worth it!

Tomorrow is a one of our WHOOP ASS hikes! We are due to climb over 16,000ft! We need all the soothing from today’s thermal baths for that one!