Landscape from a Working Woman’s Perspective; My Favorite Commute

My favorite work commute is Cottonwood Canyon. Ostensibly I came to Page, Arizona to work as a buyer and retail manager, but my underlying motive was to move a bit further down the Colorado River – to see ever more of the great outdoors and sandstone terrain. I knew the job would require a healthy amount of travel, calling on and merchandising seven small non-profit bookstores spread across southern Utah and Northern Arizona. The imperative inherent in the job description was to get to know the landscape of the public lands within my jurisdiction of Glen Canyon Natural History Association. Once I understood the area, I would design and order merchandise that interpreted the landscape; a mug here, a T-shirt there, all merchandise to help educate, tangible trinkets to take home as talismans, memory triggers of time spent in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area or Grand Staircase Escalante.

My business route takes me on a sweeping grand circle of sorts. Down past Navajo Bridge, Lee’s Ferry, Lonely Dell Ranch; Up Highway 89A to Kanab; passing turnoffs to North Rim of the Grand Canyon and Pipe Spring; Highway 89 past the turnoffs to Zion and Cedar Breaks; Across Highway 12 past Bryce Canyon; several stops within Grand Staircase Escalante and through Capitol Reef, a detour to Bullfrog and Hall’s Crossing; Highway 90 with Natural Bridges in view as well as the buttes that are the Bears Ears; possibly 261 through Cedar Mesa and down the Moki Dugway to 191; continuing on Highway 191 to join Highways 163 and 160; and back to Page. It takes several days to drive this loop, more than a week if I called on all the stores in one trip.  I prefer smaller loops. Along this route there are numerous opportunities to choose other back roads and lessor known shortcuts.

My favorite work commute is Cottonwood Canyon. When you take Cottonwood Canyon you experience a variety of colors and geological features. You get out and away from the paved road and any traffic. You can usually go there in a regular car (not so if it is raining or has recently been raining).

All the colors of a commute up Cottonwood Canyon
All the colors of a commute up Cottonwood Canyon

There is no early morning drive I like better than that dirt and gravel road. It gets me to Cannonville 40 minutes quicker than taking the paved route through Kanab and it gives me a panorama of beauty, a kaleidoscope of ever-changing light and colors of sandstone.

IMGGrovesner Arch in early morning_20171228_083342472_HDR
Grovesner Arch soon after sunrise

If you have the luxury of a day off rather than a business commute, several beautiful trailheads are accessed along the way and there is even a written guide to the Geology of Cottonwood Canyon to interpret the rock layers you see. Cottonwood Narrows is a spectacular little hike that can be done in minutes short of an hour if you have a car waiting at the opposite trailhead. If not, double your time and hike back the way you came in, or walk back to your car on the dirt road. On your hike you will enjoy both shadow and sunshine, a little bit of narrow slot canyon, and you might even see a few small arches in the rock walls towering to either side.

Hiking in The Narrows of Cottonwood Canyon
Hiking in The Narrows of Cottonwood Canyon

 

 

Two headlamps is always a good idea

4:48 pm

Without slacking my pace I turned and headed back up the wash the way I had come. I was at least an hour out from the car and the sun would set before six. Twenty-five minutes later I arrived at the spot where I first said, “Just one more bend, I’ll just go around one more bend and see what’s up ahead. We wouldn’t want to turn back now, Self, when there might be a lake inlet just around the bend.”

It was Super Hike Sunday and I started my hike late, very late, after lunching with friends. Once I circumvented the white pothole pour-off via the mini-talus slopes, I set off at a good clip down the level wash that is Wire Grass Trail. I wanted to hike until I saw something beautiful, until I felt good, until I was winded, until I no longer felt fat from lunch and the many desserts I have comforted myself with this week.

I did see something beautiful. An arch. I interrupted my momentum only long enough to take a picture. More beauty. I wanted more. I began to feel good again. I never did get winded so I kept on, chasing the sunlight and then chasing the shadow, always, always aware of where the sun was on the horizon.

At 5:58 pm  on my return trip I reached the slope where I first clocked the sun at 3:45 pm to gauge if I really had time to do the hike. That was the moment I realized I needed two headlamps. I know, I know, one should be enough, but I have been using my headlamp for early morning walks and I left it setting on the table when I shouldered my daypack; that daypack where the headlamp should -and usually does-reside. Knowing that it is still too early in the year to get much daylight after 4:00 pm, I thought to turn back near the beginning of the trailhead when I first realized my headlamp was home in the kitchen. But I also knew I carried a small flashlight tucked into the first aid kit.

6:03 pm said my cell phone when I arrived at the car. The sun was down, yet still remained the daylight. Whew! It’s not that I am afraid of the dark, I’m just afraid of feeling helpless, afraid of causing someone the bother of coming to find me. I am feeling fine. My toes are sore. My biceps ache from swinging my hiking poles, but I am not winded. It’s going to be a great spring for hiking! For putting one foot in front of the other; for not slackening my pace. How about you?

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I have some explaining to do…

I walked over to the liquor store today to post some letters and when I came out the door and headed toward home, the lake water was so blue it called to me. So I took a big sip from my bottle, and seeing there were no cows on the other side today; crawled through the fence onto National Park System property. Actually, I am not quite sure if I was hiking on NPS managed land or ranchland as I made my way toward the lake, but I have a park pass so I figure I am legal.  I am only about a mile from Lake Powell as the crow flies. As often happens in Page, the lines are a little blurred.

Only one paragraph in and if you know me at all, I bet I have some explaining to do.

Page Arizona has no residential door-to-door mail delivery, nor rural routes. Everyone has a PO box. I live in an upscale community about 9 miles north of Page. The two communities share the same zip code. We are each assigned a post office box. The Greenehaven boxes are housed in the last convenience store before the highway enters Utah. And it so happens; being this convenience store is in close proximity to Lake Powell and Lone Rock, and Lone Rock is a location famous for spring breaks and arrests; the most convenient item the store-turned-post office panders is liquor.

I had planned to return straight home and write but the weather was delightful. A light spring breeze was blowing. Birds were chirping. I was prepared with my water bottle and cell-phone because I had walked to the mart. The lake was beckoning me. The water was blue, Air Force blue. And so I crawled through the fence.

Crawled through the fence? Yes. Without ripping my shirt or my pants on the barbed wire. When I first got to Page I was afraid to do this so I spent my time hiking on roads; paved, gravel, dirt; seeing nothing but dust and hearing nothing but off-road vehicles. Over the months I found that National Recreation Areas are managed differently than National Parks. Cattle still graze here. I have met the grazing ranger for the Park Service. Plus, BLM rangers basically say, “This land is your land. Go make your own trail. Be sure and take a map.”

Today, I hiked about a mile cross-desert toward the lake. I meandered along the rim of an arroyo turned slot canyon. I saw no cattle, but bovine hoof-prints were fresh – as were coyote, rabbit, and assorted rodent prints. I saw two tiny lizards scurrying to re-provision on the opportune sunny day.

On the way back, it was warm and I rolled up my pant legs, wishing I had worn zip-offs and sandals rather than skinny leg levis and smart wool socks. Then it was hot and I removed my shirt, tied it around my waist and hiked on in my short-sleeve T-shirt. Imagine that, so warm on February 3 that I am sweaty and will need another shower when I get home.

Arriving at the fence once again, I turned around and looked at the lake. The water now appeared shimmering pearl gray. You can almost tell what time of day it is – or what season – by the shade of blue reflected in the water.

It took less than two hours, and I have benefitted greatly by crawling through a fence and putting one foot in front of the other. Did you remember to get outside today?

The Lone Rock / Wahweep area of Lake Powell looking up lake and toward Navajo Mountain in the distance
The Lone Rock / Wahweap area of Lake Powell looking uplake and toward Navajo Mountain in the distance

The Churches of Page

The Churches of Page (Part one), wherein I visit five out of a baker’s dozen

By way of full disclosure, I must first admit that I was raised in church, steeped in church, schooled in church; in fact, spent an inordinate amount of time each week in church from the age of five days old right on up through middle age. I once held strong opinions on doctrine, standards, predestination, infallibility, life after death – and especially the practice of perfect attendance at corporate worship.

If you must know, I have been from time to time a collector of churches. On my first foray as an adult and away from home, I collected pictures of all the beautiful churches I stumbled upon in Germany; the church in Konigsee, the cathedral in Strasbourg; tiny, abandoned capellas in small hamlets.

The churches in Germany are old, very old, hundreds of years old. The churches in Page are closer to my age, built in the 60s, brick or stucco and often including a parsonage next door. On my first drive into town, they caught my eye. Not because of architectural beauty, but because of church proliferation in such a small population. Church Row. Eleven churches line Lake Powell Boulevard. St Peter’s list of 13 welcome you to Page on Highway 98.

“What small parking lots,” I said aloud as I scanned the neighborhood. “There is a story here. I bet they work together and schedule services so as to share parking space.” As I drove my way down Lake Powell Blvd on that, my freshman day in Page, I came to an ecumenical resolve: I would visit each of the churches in Page. I would find the story.

Page was founded in 1957. That explains a lot. It means Page is relatively young as municipalities go. From the get-go it was planned, engineered. And it was planned and engineered in the 50s, that bucolic time of home, hearth, God and country, and Betty Crocker.

Turns out those churches do work together on special events. They do get together for benevolent purposes. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against thee, oh churches of Page, for you all meet at 10:00 am on Sunday morning.

I arrived at St. David’s Episcopal right on time. I chose St. David’s first for no particular reason except that my father is named David as is my favorite cousin and two other cousins. Also, it was Sunday, so I had missed my opportunity to begin properly with the Adventist Church. Two other cars and my Colorado-bred Subaru had the choice of parking spaces. No shared parking lots needed here, I concluded. Also, it appeared not to matter whether I chose the gospel side or the epistle side. Seats were available everywhere. Shaking hands with the greeter, I explained my mission: to visit all the churches in Page. “We hope you will come back another time,” he said, “When we are all here, every one is at district conference in Utah, today.” How episcopal can you get?

As a self-guided, ecumenical, eclectic church hopper, I hopped right over the next church – the LDS– and saved them until later – besides, they will come out two-by-two looking for me anyway, I reasoned. And they did! But that is another story.

The next available Sunday found me entering the nave of the Lutheran Church – Shepherd of the Desert, to be specific and Page is certainly in the desert. The Lutherans were a few more in number, the parking lot put to use.  On that particular Sunday morning, they were enjoying the acoustic guitar ministry of a visitor from Flagstaff; a man who used to live in Page. While in Page, he was a member of the Assembly of God and then the Nazarene – or was it the other way around? Then he moved to Flagstaff and joined the Lutherans. Apparently I had just found a fellow church connoisseur – or would that be better classified as church drifter?

At the United Methodist Church I met five ladies, four older and grayer than I and one much younger (the minister). The women introduced themselves, were friendly and interested in my quest to visit all the churches in Page. “Where did you go last?” asked one. “The Lutheran Church,” says I. “Oh,” she said confidentially leaning toward me on the padded pew we shared, “I hear they have lots of men there.”

Perceiving that it is good to break up the routine once in awhile, I veered completely off course the next week and cut across from third base to shortstop to try out the relocated Faith Bible Chapel. What have we here? Not all men, not all women, not all gone to conference, but if the red-white-and blue flags and floral arrangements don’t lie; a fine example of God and Country. Furthermore, as I scanned the assembled multitude, I concluded they were also a fine example of the Sunday School chorus, “red and yellow, black and white; they are precious in His sight.” Thus, I was comforted by a good representation of the creative praise and worship music and ethnic diversity usually found in bigger box churches.

Feeling bereft of good manners and dreading making a bad first impression, I nevertheless pealed into the parking lot of the Assembly of God church at 10:02 am. Perhaps I should turn back now? Forsake my bent to tardiness and simply visit another time? Peace, be still my guilty soul. Behold, here was a casual- Friday- clad greeter still shaking hands at the entrance. With a warm welcome, he took my hand, shepherded me to a side door, and flung wide the gate. He announced my name to a room full of baby-boomers all facing me like I had just blindly entered their elevator. Amid questions, I quickly explained myself, “…and so I resolved to visit all the churches of Page…” Interest piqued. Ears perked up. With genuine curiosity one woman asked, “Have you been to the Seventh Day Adventist Church?” “Because we would really like to know what they are building back there in the garden area,” explained another.

The churches of Page; they are interested in you and interested in each other.

Yes, I am well churched. I have played the piano in churches all across the United States. I have played for churches in Karlsruhe Germany, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Seattle and smaller villages scattered throughout the Rocky Mountains. I have been to church for the same reasons I have played the piano: for weddings, for funerals, for revivals and for my own enjoyment.

Ah, churches of Page, you serve such a necessary purpose in the fabric of life and death. No wonder they intentionally plotted you in to the planned community. No wonder your head diocese, general assembly, or conference promptly arranged to build a House of God and to begin seeking the lost in this desert -parched, sandstorm-tossed construction community.

Yes, churches of Page, you well serve that necessary purpose in the fabric of life and death in Page Arizona. Nevertheless, I have somewhat against you for you all meet at 10:00 am. Alas, I am used to larger cities and bigger boxes. I like the option of a Saturday evening service. That way, I can have leisure meditative time on both Saturday and Sunday mornings and spend Sunday morning hiking alone – with my Creator.

But I also carry the guilt of one raised to be in church on Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday midweek. Some feel comfort in the formal liturgies of episcopal and catholic churches – and yes, I mean that with a lower case e and a universal c! Those folks know when to sit, stand, kneel; when to say “Thanks be to God” and when to recite, “And also with you;” when to meekly receive the transformed elements from the one serving as priest.

I, on the other hand, was raised in a congregation that eschewed liturgy, chose to shout Hallelujah and to say A-Men, instead of the more cultured Ah-men. And so, with some feelings of trepidation, I returned to the fold for one Sunday and one Sunday only.

At the Nazarene Church I slipped into the first pew that seemed moderately available to a solitary visitor. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of empty rows up front and no self-respecting Nazarene Church would ever show more prestige to the wealthy than the least among you; nor assign honor and a pew plaque to give importance to select families or well-coffered patrons. Today, I am the outsider, but I know this gig. I know there are pillars of the church who have attended here since the cornerstone was laid and those august persons expect to be and are expected to be in their usual- though unmarked-pew. The pews are cushioned and less severe than those of old. There is the usual sitting and standing and prayer requests and singing of all the verses. After 40 years of absence, I can still sing all the words and harmonies without cracking the hymnal.

There is an entire row of churches in Page. I need to complete my pilgrimage with resolve. So far, I have visited – and in some cases returned – to five churches in 10 months. Not bad at all for a woman who prefers to spend Sunday mornings hiking alone – or with my Creator. I prefer to think of my hikes as following the example of Enoch – just putting one foot in front of the other until I am no more.

 

 

 

Last year at this time we had a new monument

November, 2016. He leaned on the counter next to the cash register, gave me a sparkling white- toothed grin and asked in the friendliest of middle-aged grandfatherly tones, “Any Hayduke sightings lately?”

What was left of his hair was more salt than pepper. The exposed pate, hair and beard were well trimmed. That coupled with the blue jeans and plaid shirt reminded me strongly of my younger brother (who turned 60 last month). The man waited. I smiled my best customer service smile. But I was young – at least in terms of my knowledge of Eastern Utah. Though past 60, I had only been at the park six weeks and I knew little of the history and legendary men and women who haunted the desert.

“Do you know who Hayduke is?” he urged. I shook my head.

“Do you not have a copy of The Monkey Wrench Gang?” he persisted.

“Doug, let it go,” cautioned the younger woman at his side.

“Let me show you the Edward Abbey books I have,” I said, leading the way. “Desert Solitaire, of course; Edward Abbey, a Life; Serpent’s of Paradise; but no, I don’t carry any novels.”

Blithely I continued, “Have you seen the new book, All the Wild that Remains, by David Gessner? It’s a wonderful collection of the writings of Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner.”

The man went away disappointed in my level of intelligence and exposure. I am not used to disappointing folks. I stayed in Utah four more months. I hiked. I listened. I got to know more of the flavor of the area.

Over the winter, while living at the end of a highway, off Highway 90, several miles west of Comb Ridge, I read The Monkey Wrench Gang. The bridges and canyons in the book were very real to me. During that time at Natural Bridges, Bears Ears was declared a national monument. I took a hike in honor of my brother’s 59th birthday. I emailed him a picture of The Bears Ears themselves, which I took right out my store window.

In the earliest of spring, I moved to Northern Arizona and became intimately acquainted with ever more National Parks and Monuments. I made a grand tour of Scenic Highway 12. With my boss, I inadvertently crashed a backyard BBQ in Escalante. My boss was there in search of the host. Two other guests sat on the patio. The man rose and stepped off the deck, “Hi, I’m Douglas,” he said without pretense. We were invited to stay for wine and desert. Content to listen to the conversation, I soon learned this genial and balding man was none other than Douglas Peacock, wilderness champion extraordinaire and the model for Hayduke of The Monkey Wrench Gang. The female half of this couple was Andrea Peacock, conservation writer. They were visiting, they said, after squatting for some of the winter in Arizona.

A few days later, I told my brother about the chance meeting. “You know,” he said, “If I could spend a day talking and hiking with any one person, it would be Douglas Peacock.”

December 28, 2017 I found myself in Escalante taking inventory. A woman came in the store with two books to exchange. “I got them for my son for Christmas,” she said, “but he doesn’t like them. Do you think he would like that book you are holding? He doesn’t like books by conservationists.”

“Don’t say that too loudly,” I thought, Hayduke Lives! (and actually lurks around here), you never know what surprises may be in store.”

And besides, it is my brother’s birthday, last year on this day we got a monument. Amazing what you can learn in a year. Happy 2018!

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS 2017!

The first time in a long time, I really felt like writing a Christmas letter. Looking back, there were so many landmark accomplishments in 2017, we don’t even need to talk about toils, trials and setbacks.

For location, location, location, you can’t beat sleeping in a beautiful place whether in the company vehicle or your own camp worthy conveyance. Here’s a sampling of my favorite, beautiful, sleeping in the car locations:

Ouray Colorado

Notom Road just outside Capitol Reef

Moki Dugway near Muley Point

Williams Arizona near the Grand Canyon Railway

Bluff Utah for a star party

Dixie National Forrest

The main difficulty with sleeping in the company vehicle lies in remembering to transfer all the necessary items from your own, perfectly outfitted Subaru, into the company car while still leaving room for the merchandise you are delivering or the event you are supporting. I spent the night in the company vehicle four times in 2017. I matched that number in my Outback. Though smaller, my Subaru has lots of little niceties- things like curtains, a sleeping mat, a fuller range of hiking gear.

You make discoveries when you sleep in a car – whether the company vehicle or your own. You acknowledge things like:

Burrrr it’s cold. All I really want for Christmas is a zero degree, down sleeping bag.

I spent the first two and a half months of 2017 at Natural Bridges National Monument where I am pleased to say I hiked all the trails. On March 15th I arrived in Page AZ. I waited through a long hot summer in Page for a chance to really get out and hike and explore the area. With temperatures often breaching 100 degrees, all hikes had to be completed before 8:00 am. While I waited – not so patiently – I swam in Lake Powell every night after work just to lower my core body temperature to a comfortable state.

September temperatures slacked off enough to start seeking beautiful trails. In October came reward in a big way for a tedious and difficult summer. With my daughter, Andrea, I hiked the South Kaibab Trail into Grand Canyon, stayed the night at Phantom Ranch and hiked out the next day via Bright Angel Trail.

In November I got the serendipitous chance to drive to Kanab and spend a few hours with son Philip. Also in November, I spent a weekend near Torrey with my brother and sister-in-law. There have been scattered trips to Grand Junction to visit family, friends, son Kevin and grandkids, though not enough to satisfy my parents.

I continue to write and make music-mostly for my own fulfillment. A few more experiences are in my inspirational arsenal and a few more guitar chords under my belt.

I wish you a Merry Christmas 2017!

In the coming New Year, I wish you the healing tonic of getting out in Nature. Nature is beautiful. Nature heals. Nature is God’s gift of love to those of us who are unable to find solace in the arms of a human lover. Whether you hike, bike or drive; camp, glamp, or pamper, I wish you Beauty – and the Great Outdoors.

Sipapu Bridge largest of the Natural Bridges
Sipapu Bridge largest of the Natural Bridges
Lake Powell from the air
Lake Powell from the air
Andrea heading down the steep and multitudinous switch backs of the South Kaibab.
Andrea heading down the steep and multitudinous switch backs of the South Kaibab.
Me smiling at Bright Angel Bridge
Me smiling at Bright Angel Bridge

 

Thanksgiving Eve

It was just another work related reconnaissance field trip. Three administrative staff in a well-equipped Jeep picked up a designated Park photographer and headed off into the dust. After a circuitous and scenic route past Wiregrass Canyon and Warm Creek Bay and a bumpy crawl over some slick rock we arrived at our destination: Alstrom Point. From the point we could look toward Gunsight Butte, Tower Butte, Castle Rock, or overlook the Crossing of the Fathers.

Silently we fanned out in all directions, each seeking our own favorite perspective and meditative silence.

30 minutes later I made a panoramic scan of the edges of the perimeter of the peninsula. There we sat in the vastness and lengthening shadows, four Parcheesi players, little round knobs for heads, Hersey kiss-shaped bodies perched on ledges 200 yards away, spread out across the landscape of Alstrom Point, waiting for sunset photos and the magic light.

Twilight advanced bringing us all closer to the common shelter of the Jeep. We talked some, traded tidbits of information, listened to the click of a dark sky camera, toured the night-sky via a phone ap, enjoyed each and every constellation, satellite and planet we could identify. Down layers kept us comfortably warm until time to efficiently fold and stow all the gear.

There are places of great beauty in this world. Sometimes it is too hot, or too cold, or too difficult to get there. Other times, serendipity smiles on you and a magic carpet rings your doorbell.

This year I am not at Needles Canyonlands near Creeksgiving. I am not near Colorado National Monument with many options for a morning hike. I am not near a beach in the Northwest for a misty morning walk. In fact, I am not near anything or anyone with whom I usually spend this fourth Thursday in November. No one is coming to visit me. Yet, I had an incredible Thanksgiving Eve.

Wishing you the blessing of beauty for all your holidays!

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Wherein my daypack retires but I continue working

I am unpacking my daypack today for the last time. It has become an old wineskin, unable to hold the wine of new adventure without bursting. The seams are frayed. The entire shell is pocked with evidence of tight squeezes and adventurous crawls.

A compact and stuffable travel model, it was designed to be carried in a suitcase, pulled out and quickly packed for spontaneous day hikes; it was never intended for backcountry trips or overnighters-but it served.

There came a time in my hiking life when I knew I needed to graduate from a simple drawstring pack to something with shoulder strap padding. Hikes were getting longer, the climate more strenuous. A water bottle sling fit the bill for morning walks around the neighborhood but not for six-mile hikes down Monument Canyon.

And so, I splurged. In October of 2013, smack dab in the middle of a government shutdown, I used my employee discount and invested in a Chico Travel Pack. Red, of course, to match my adventurous Subaru. Soon I added a 2 liter water reservoir. An emergency rain poncho. Three or four bandanas. A small first aid kit. Then, a change of socks. And still more recently; a pop can stove, matches, a box of soup.

The daypack became my poster child for “Oh the Places You Will Go.” Here are some of the places it has been:

  • ALL the trails and more at Colorado National Monument
  • Crag Crest and snowshoe trails on The Grand Mesa
  • ALL the (non-permit required) marked trails in the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park – those under 11 miles
  • The Ouray Perimeter Trail – again and again
  • Most trails in the south rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison
  • ALL the marked trails of Natural Bridges National Monument
  • Two trails in Zion and two trails in Bryce
  • And this week -as one last hurrah- the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails in Grand Canyon

So today, with great ceremony, I unpack the frayed and worn and torn body glove of my past outdoor adventures, snap a photo, and retire the side.

My red Chico travel pack daypack must be replaced immediately with a nearly identical new model. Spontaneity happens. Opportunity knocks. I need to be packed and ready. Yet, neither my red Chico travel pack or its successor is built for overnight backpacking, so I will invest in some additional expensive outdoor gear, something properly framed and fitted to my body type and build. I am in need of more straps for jackets and bedrolls – and I need a brain. Hiking in the great outdoors is habit forming – and it is a very healthy habit, this habit of putting one foot in front of the other.

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Descending below the rim

Five points of contact
Me: (scrambling down from a rock perch after the mules have passed) Most useful thing I ever learned from a ranger; don’t be afraid to use three points of contact if you need to – or even five (vigorously brushing dust from my behind).
She: Are you sure that’s not six points of contact?
Me: Naw. Five. They are joined at the hip.

What can I write about a once-in-a-lifetime trip into the Grand Canyon? – That I want it to go on forever? That I want it to be more than once? That I am so stiff I can hardly walk? That a river beach is a wonderful thing for the feet after seven miles on a rigorous trail that goes down, down, down, always down?

I have found to really experience a place – to feel I know it and have really seen it – I need to go on my own two legs. And so I did. Heeding the good instruction of those who have gone before, we descended via the rigorous South Kaibab Trail.
“It is rated difficult on all the hiking sites,” she said, “but there IS a trail.” Speaking from the perspective of a wilderness guide, a trail mitigates the difficulty measurably.
“I don’t want to take another step down, ever,” says I, after six miles and the onset of wobbly knees. Wobbly knees? Shaky legs? This feeling that my legs will uncontrollably buckle under me at any minute? Over sixty years of use and suddenly I can no longer trust the calves and quads to do my bidding?

“I’m down,” I said quietly and philosophically as my body involuntarily seated itself in the dust with a soft “whump” after an encounter with a pebble of miniscule size. She came back for me and we jolted on downward. I hiked the South Kaibab. Check one off on the list. I remain convinced it is a trail every hiker should experience once in a lifetime. And only once. When I return, I will take Bright Angel both down and up – despite its additional two mile length.

But oh, the views. Will I ever forget first view of the Colorado River rippling emerald green in the canyon a few thousand feet below? Will I ever forget setting my sites on a sandy beach way below and saying, “There. When we get there we will take off our boots and soak our weary feet in the Colorado River.”

Nor will I ever forget the many fast hikers who passed me on the trail, and those slower whom I passed, convening for dinner after dark and hearing, “Of the roughly 5,000,000 people who visit the Grand Canyon each year, only one percent descend below the rim – and a lessor percent make it here to Phantom Ranch, congratulations!”

I will long remember the sheer luxury of clean feet in the shower house at night and sleeping on an adequate bunk with Egyptian cotton hotel bedding. How else could I rise before dawn on day two and head back up to the rim?

My knowledgeable and experienced friend was right. You want more than one night’s sleep and turn around time at Phantom Ranch. You want a few more days to explore other nearby trails and vistas. You want to be able truly to relax and feel the luxury of a location visited by Presidents (at least one) and other anonymous folks wealthy enough to travel in by mule and have their duffels transported by the same. And that will come, in time, with more financial success and more accrued vacation time.

But, for now, we enjoy it on a weekend. We haul our own duffels. We travel on our own two feet. We open our souls to the beauty and our bodies to the workout and the goal. I feel it in every muscle. I know the location of every bone in my body, whether I can name it or not. And was it worth it? Yes. Yes it was.

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Crying in the forest

It has been awhile. Too long actually. And with the passage of time comes inevitably the melancholy when the memory is revisited. It is has been too long since she hiked in a pine forest, Ponderosa Pine to be specific. Each step forward, each thought, each memory is enough to make her cry. The Sunshine filtering through the needle laden branches, the soughing and lowing-strong but not howling-is urgent in the wind and she cries for what was, feels a touch of anguish for what could have been and was not. Every sensation she feels calls her to weep. The present beauty is devastating. It evokes memories of what has passed. She realizes, even as she puts one foot in front of the other, she is still clinging to the past, still trying to figure out how to fix what went wrong, how to make things right. Perhaps it is time to let go of the past and move into the future-her very own future. The fresh air and evergreen trees seem to nudge her forward. But the thought of what the future can be is painfully dazzling. Can she really leave the past behind? Is it right to let go and move forward?

Twenty steps forward the beauty subtly changes. Without warning she steps into a part of the woods that has been ravaged by fire. Scorched from the ground up to about 20 feet high on the bark of the pines. Burned pieces of log litter the ground like the remains of a giant’s campfire. It is not clear who or what started the fire. It happened. Yet, there is still beauty here. She notices that the trees grew, continued to move forward. Forgetting what was behind – unashamed of their blackened scorched trunks –the trees were green at the top, reaching toward the sky without slackening their pace. Brilliant fall-colored foliage peaked out here and there along the ground. She stops in her tracks to contemplate. If the forest can survive a fire and move on, so can I. So can you.

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Putting One Foot in Front of the Other, Hiking for Life!