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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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The best season ever

It is fall and I am nearly giddy. Something broke in me yesterday. Some chain or bondage or oppression – I think it was the heat. Today I took my morning walk and rejoiced at being alive, stopped and talked with my neighbors, started to think I will survive this leg of my life’s journey. Over these past 10 years of being alone and single, I have often pointed out that Nature loves you back. I go for a walk; I am refreshed. I take a long hike; I am restored. Yes. Nature loves me, feeds me and cares for me. But Nature does not coddle. Nature can be brutal. This year I have been in the desert. This year I felt Nature abused me with the heat – and then turned around and comforted me with a lake. But that is behind me now. The weather has turned. It is nearly time for sweaters and hoodies. Definitely time to plan those long weekend hikes to all the beautiful places.

 

My Hospital, My Church and Daily Meditation

There are places in Colorado where the water comes gushing out of the igneous rock at temperatures exceeding 110 degrees. These spots were well known to the Native Coloradoans: Utes, Arapahoe. For Chief Ouray, the hot springs that issue from high in the mountains at around 8,000 feet were a known place of healing – both physical and spiritual – for decades.

Water is an amazing healing agent. Walking beside it is calming. Swimming is cooling. Soaking in a hot springs, you can absorb all the mineral nutrients and warmth Mother Nature has to offer you. And rain, yes rain washes away the things that are past, maybe things we would like to forget, and carries them on down the river.

I have only recently learned to be a water baby. A variety of factors caused me not to favor swimming in my youth. But when I returned to the high desert of Western Colorado as a middle-aged woman, my favorite get-away was Chief Ouray’s old haunt in Ouray Colorado. I would go there tired and bruised and come away healed. The vapor cave I frequented was once a hospital and it became mine – and sometimes my church – my place of spiritual renewal – because it evoked such peace and gratitude in me.

This summer-in the desert of Arizona- the temperature inside my car clocked 120 degrees. The water bottle in the console was beyond lukewarm, beyond tepid – it was hot enough to pretend I was drinking tea. During a summer like that, it is important to find a beach, walk into the water, and thereby escape the temperatures over ninety or 100, or 110. What is the use of living next to massive Lake Powell if you never venture in the water? For the hottest days of June, July and August, I went to the beach more often than not. Yet, sometimes my habitual swimming and cooling is interrupted by travel or urgent business.

I returned to the lake in the desert the other night. The last time I swam was on a weekend trip to Ouray. It had been nine days. I missed the water. It seems water is a thing I must have daily just like a walk, or meditation, or prayer.

When I was growing up we had everyday clothes and Sunday clothes; workday activities and Sunday activities.

Ouray is my Sunday place, my church. But Lake Powell is my daily maintenance. One is natural and one man made. One is Sunday best and the other is for everyday.

Wade in the Water. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To swim or not to swim and other weekend choices

In terrain so barren the ephedra is stunted, the crypto sparse, and even though it is the desert, the cactus few and far between; she took a hike. A rejuvenating and fulfilling hike. She found places of beauty and refreshment in The Coves. And when her hike was done, she shed her shoes and walked from the beach out into Lake Powell to take a swim. It was all completed by 9:00 am – orchestrated to avoid the heat of the day and thus make the refreshment and rejuvenating as effective as possible.

In the first place, she parked at the Wahweap swim beach and followed the paved path on the edge of the lake past boat ramps, boat rentals, and a state line sign. She was now in Utah. Judging by the iconic Lone Rock formation immediately ahead, she figured if she climbed the hill to the west she would be able to see her apartment – which was still in Arizona. She did. Her home looked to be only a mile away as the crow flies.

For a moment she contemplated running on home, enjoying a big breakfast, and then hiking back for her car and the swim. “Tomorrow,” she said. “I’ll start from home and hike this direction. I’ll bring my beach towel. I’ll hike back wet.”

Accordingly, her Sunday morning plan was to hike down an arroyo, swim in the northernmost vicinity of Wahweap Beach and then hike back for a weekend style breakfast. She found a place to crawl under the fence and made her way to the dry creek bed, not sure if the trail she followed – and those she saw on the opposing canyon wall – were coyote or human, but confident that the descending runoff she chose was the most direct route to the lake. “This is nearly a slot canyon in places,” she mused as the gray rock walls rose ever more steeply on either side. And then, abruptly, she was on the precipice of a 30-foot waterfall. Time to skirt.

Back up the creek bed and on the wildlife trails, next a mile or more atop a windswept sand dune replete with familiar tracks of small mammals and reptiles. At last she came to the lake, or a finger of it, expanded back up the canyon by the final July surge of Rocky Mountain snowmelt. No beach here. Not another soul in sight. Possibility of cliff-jumping without being caught; also without your paralyzed body ever being found. She followed the edge of the cliff until she came to another fence. The grass was not greener. Every imaginable brand of ATV track decorated the hillside. And what was that? The mouthwatering aroma of Sunday morning camp breakfast. “The beach,” she said, “Is right over that hill.”

From the rocky crest she looked down on the secluded, but crowded beach. Directly below her, about half the length of a football field, two portly men of approximately 60 went about their morning activities on a houseboat. An assortment of other watercraft parked side by side like pie wedges of the tiny bay. “Nah,” she said, “I’ll not crash the party and swim today. I think it’s time I went back home and cooked myself a good breakfast.”

If You Do Love Colorado

If you do love Colorado, but for some reason or another there is not a perfect place for you in Colorado at the moment;

If you do love Colorado but you are living further downstream in the desert – not quite the Mojave and not quite the Sonoran – but the desert nonetheless;

If there is a heat wave and the temperatures are quite high;

It is very beneficial to go take a dip or a swim in the lake – Lake Powell.

After you have cooled yourself off by wading chin high into the water several times and then swimming back to shore, you might contemplate the following facts while you lie beneath a very blue sky on a beach towel on the hot sand:

This is the Colorado River

165 miles of the Colorado River

Backed up

Dammed up

5,041,636,850,517 gallons of water stored to recreate, irrigate, and oh by the way, power seven states or more with electricity

Some of this is water you kayaked in on from Dominguez to Bridgeport

Some is leftover from your kayak trip from Palisade to Corn Lake

This is not your first swim in this water

Remember when you tipped the kayak and took on water somewhere between Dominguez and Bridgeport?

Some of this water melted from snow you hiked through in April of 2015 when you went through Lulu in your quest to reach the headwaters of the Colorado River, everything was frozen, the roads were closed. Still you hiked on

Some of this was snow you sank in up to your waist in Dillon that one winter

Some of this water came from your beloved Ouray, and from Telluride and Durango

Some of this water is snowmelt from 10,000 feet where your daughter works in the summertime – snowmelt that collected in Taylor Reservoir and then made its way gurgling and laughing right on down to Almont where it became the Gunnison River and cascaded noisily through the Black Canyon eventually joining with the Colorado

This water is dark and muddy like ditch water, ditch water you waded in as a single digit child; water diverted from the Colorado River somewhere in the neighborhood of the Roller Dam on the way to Debeque and channeled to the Highline Canal and then the concrete slip ditch that watered the 35 acres on which you cut your farming teeth. Do you think some of that very water is still present?

This is the water you wrote about in a college class on Colorado History; the water that evokes the cliché “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting over.”

This water is familiar; both a comfort and a lesson to you;

See? This is where you end up when you thaw out, melt, run merrily away from Colorado. Dammed or reclaimed? It’s all a matter of perspective.

 

 

Crème Brûlée and the Great Outdoors

It was a familiar, though unwelcome, feeling. There were things she couldn’t fix. Too many things. Challenges without recourse. Problems without solutions. Insidiously, the depression crept in. Numbing of emotion. Flat-lining of feeling. No dreams, no desire for anything.

Instinctively she retreated to the beauty of nature – a long hike in the wilderness. The remedy learned with the wisdom of years.

It was wiltingly hot when she locked the car and started out, but she was headed for a shady glen. A sandy trail led into a canyon, crisscrossed a gurgling stream. Moss-covered rocks lay calm and green in the water. Up ahead sandstone mountains sported a variety of coniferous vegetation and a burst of blue sky.

Each step was refreshment. Return of vigor of thought. Hope for the future.

Typically she could judge distance by the state of her emotions. It usually took about a mile for the tension to begin to loosen- sometimes two.

About a mile and a half out she turned. The afternoon was waning. Finding the end of the canyon would have to wait for another time. Then, just like clockwork, her appetite returned. Appetite – the signal of lifting depression. This time she craved crème brûlée or custard or flan. She hungered. But not for egg rolls – her usual fantasy food.

“How odd,” she thought, “right out here in the wild and I can almost smell dessert cooking, wafting warm and sweet from the kitchen.”

It was then she realized she was striding through a stand of ponderosa pine, inhaling great gulps of air two feet away from thick sun-warmed trunks. And ponderosa are known by their faint vanilla scent.

Dream on, Happy Wanderer. And may all your desires and appetites be healthful.

 

I smiled yesterday

I smiled yesterday. Smiled despite the excessive heat and the gritty dust and sand and the annoying no see ums. I smiled and it felt a little strange, a little different than the furrowed brow and stressed frown that has become part of my office attire. I smiled involuntarily because I went out to meet Nature and I found her. I found the road less traveled. And yet that road-cautioned as unimproved – was actually a well- graded dirt road that led to somewhere; somewhere famous and beautiful. Grosvenor Arch is about 20 miles from Cannonville, Utah in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. It is featured on a sticker that I buy and sell hundreds of regularly – one of those stickers for National Parks Passport Books. It is beautiful. Grosvenor Arch is named after Gilbert Hovey Grosvenor – known as the father of photojournalism – the president of National Geographic Society – and a friend of National Parks. Grosvenor Arch is situated fittingly as a neighbor to Kodachrome Basin State Park.

And here’s the thing; Grovesnor Arch is way out there on the dirt road, yet there is a sign. More noticeably, there is a concrete path that leads from the parking area up towards the arch. This path has resting benches along the way. The path is intentionally constructed and maintained to lead visitors to the best possible view of the arch – the photographer’s perspective. The path ends in a pedestrian cul-de-sac that clearly indicates “stand here.” “Take a photo here.” And still Nature beckons me deeper into the juniper forest, the cool cleft of the rock. Beauty restores. Nature refreshes. And Nature makes me smile.

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