Thursday, December 14, 2017

Down into the Grand Canyon; Old Rocks Rock! Brachiopods; Mules and Husbands; Phantom Ranch; BUNKBEDS???

One of my all-time "bucket list" items was hiking down into the Grand Canyon, spending a night or two at the bottom, and hiking back up to the rim. I was able to check this item off recently when Robert Hunter, a retired US Air Force colonel, and I flew out west from The Villages for a week. 

On the way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped and had dinner with our great friends Jerry and Karen Facciani in Las Vegas. Jerry had selected Table 34, where we enjoyed a delicious meal of Colorado lamb chops and some excellent wine.

Then on to the Canyon! Back in March, I had made reservations at the El Tovar Hotel (regular rooms preceding and following our two-day hike) and the iconic Phantom Ranch (dorm-type bunk houses for two nights near the Colorado River - dorms because all of the private cabins had been booked for over a year). Originally, Jessica and Suzanne were supposed to go, but nighttime temps in the teens discouraged their participation.  I called the reservation desk and spoke to a 20-something woman about cancelling the girls' dorm reservation. She really surprised me when she said, "Oh, don't do that! Those reservations are so hard to get that you could go into the bar at the Yavapai Inn and pick up a couple of girls who would die to make that trip with you!" I replied that Our Lovely Brides might not be so understanding, and she just snickered... sigh...

We spent a day doing some short hikes around the South Rim and Grand Canyon Village, reconnoitering the area, especially the South Kaibab Trail (our route down) and the Bright Angel Trail (our trail back up). These two corridor trails are the principal access routes from the South Rim. (The North Kaibab Trail is the access route from the North Rim, but it's about 100 miles away by car.)

The South Rim averages about 7,300 ft. elevation, while the Colorado River is at 2,500 ft. I have been to the Canyon at least six times, but its stunning beauty and grandeur always leaves me breathless.

During our day hike, we saw a group of ten desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) on this outcropping of rock a few hundred feet below the rim. I still can't figure out how they got there - there is no apparent trail or ledge wider than a foot or so, but they are among the most sure-footed critters on earth. I asked Robert if he wanted to try that route, but he wisely declined.

The vistas are truly amazing, and the constantly-changing colors due to shadows and passing clouds make every scene unique. The canyon is about 277 river miles long by about 18 miles wide and a mile deep.

I could sit for hours just looking down into the void, thinking how insignificant mankind is compared to the creation and carving of these layers of rock over past eons. The oldest rocks which comprise the Grand Canyon are up to 1.8 billion years old. (That's even older than My Good Friend Bob who gives me such a hard time when I return fishless from fishing; but I digress.)

The day before our hike down, we attended a Fossil Walk with Ranger Tish. She gave an excellent talk on fossils of Grand Canyon, and showed us several splendid examples of brachiopods found in Kaibab limestone, which is from the Permian Period, about 250 million years old. Brachiopods are similar to bivalves, but unlike their distant relatives, process most of their food, sneeze some waste out, and have no anus. (They also don't taste as good as oysters and clams... perhaps there is a lesson there for Darwinian-oriented folks.)

We started our hike down on the South Kaibab Trail, which winds down steep switchbacks for 7 plus miles to the Colorado River. The drop-offs are significant, and even impressive. Going over the edge here would result in a big splat

Just a mile down, we met two muleskinners riding their trusty steeds up from the river. This was evidently a training evolution for the mules (which is the sterile hybrid offspring of a male donkey {jack} and a female horse {mare}). Mules are alleged to be less obstinate and smarter than donkeys and more patient, longer-lived, and easier-riding than horses. (For those who were about to make snide remarks about mules being like some husbands, please don't go there!) 

Our hike continued down and down. We took a break once an hour for about 5 minutes to drink water and have a snack (mostly GORP, Good Old Raisins and Peanuts, the backpackers' classic snack). The weather was still chilly, but warming up about 4 degrees for every 1,000 feet we hiked down in elevation.

Flora was pretty sparse once you dropped below the South Rim. This area gets very little rain, and the soil isn't exactly rich. This skinny little extension of a cactus is about as good as it gets, unless there is a seasonal stream within a few yards...

A moment's reflection at lunch... the Grand Canyon has to be one of the best places in the world to meditate. It's hard to comprehend how much rock was cut away by the Colorado River, wind and rain over the past 5 million years.

Down and down some more! Here we see another 12 or so switchbacks, and teenie-tiny dots way down there that are actually humans...

As you descend, you look north and up at the soaring Sumner Butte and Zoroaster Temple. The latter is climbable, but has at least one 5.9 pitch near the end of the climb. (The scale only goes to 6.0). "Darn, I forgot my rope and pitons..."

Finally, the Colorado River comes into view, still about 1,000 feet below; and yes, that tiny ribbon is indeed a bridge across the river...

Wildlife! Not a blonde female hiker, but a desert bighorn sheep, just 20 feet above us off the trail. There are also cougars, bobcats and coyotes here, but this was the only large mammal (other than mule deer) that we saw during our hike.

The Kaibab Black Suspension Bridge was built in 1928, and the 122 tons of equipment and cables were transported by mules and humans all the way down from the South Rim. 42 Havasupai Indians carried the one ton, 550-foot long cables in single file every foot of the way for over 7 miles, snaking down the switchbacks we had just hiked.

Phantom Ranch isn't exactly the luxurious dude ranch you might expect. While the greeting signboard was friendly enough....

... the bunkbeds left a lot to be desired. Since our bunkhouse mates had arrived the day before, Robert and I got both top bunks. Oh Boy!!!

Meals were simple, but pretty satisfying. Breakfast was especially hearty, with all the eggs, bacon, sausage and pancakes you can eat.

We spent two nights "at the bottom", with a day hike of the Clear Creek Trail, which runs along the Tonto Platform below the North Rim. This trail offers unique views of the gorge cut by the Colorado River. Totally impassable on foot, it can only be run by... 

... river rafts and kayaks like these. This boats were on a 25-day adventure through the Canyon. (As much as I like boats, I would not want to be in a stinky wet suit for over three weeks!

That's all for today... Come back in a few days for the finish of our Grand Canyon Adventure!!!

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuscumbia, Alabama; Back Home Again! A One-Eyed Barber? Doggie News; Happy Ruthie; "The Cork is Where?" Asheville; Backpacking the Art Loeb Trail; Irene's New Mop; Planning for 2018

The last stop on our summer trip was in Tuscumbia, Alabama, to visit our great friends Judson and Donna Jo Emens and their daughter Nadia. Judson had set up a reservation at a lovely riverside campground in nearby Florence, and when I went to check in, the camp hostess told me that not only was there no charge, but "Please take that basket of candy, cookies and other goodies that your friends left for you before I eat it all!" Judson took us for a four mile run to work off some of the sweets, and then the five of us enjoyed dinner together in town. It was a most pleasant end to our cross-country adventure. 

It was a fabulous 2017 Tour, with many events where My Lovely Bride Suzanne helped people and shared her Messages of Hope. We visited 21 states (Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and Pennsylvania), putting around 12,000 miles on The Coach (she now has over 64,000 miles under her tires, but since she's built on a Freightliner truck chassis, that's not so much - truckers often put a million miles on their semis - although a motor coach is a bit different... imagine driving your house down the road at 55-65 mph, especially with the fun of potholes!) For example, I had to get the front windshield repaired - fortunately just a chip and not a big crack that would require total replacement (been there, done that!).

While traveling, we have to do normal things like finding a barber... We have had more than our fair share of (mis)adventures getting haircuts in small towns. We were in Oregon, an hour from the nearest town, and I looked on my phone for a barber shop. Cindy's Barber Shop (a pseudonym, to protect her reputation and me from lawsuits) was the only place nearby. I called, and asked Cindy if I needed an appointment. "No, but how did you get my number?" "It was in Google Maps." "Ok, come on by in 15 minutes." I pulled up to a modest ranch house surrounded by hop fields. A tiny 75-year old lady wearing a patch over one eye walked out as I drove up. "Don't mind the patch. I just had eye surgery, but I've been cutting hair for 30 years. You'll be fine. I asked how you got my number because I haven't cut an outsider's hair in years, just locals." With more than a little trepidation, I walked into her house and was directed to the kitchen, where Cindy pointed to a wood straight-back chair in front of  a mirror propped up against the sink - it was one of those 5 dollar, four foot high mirrors that you see attached to the backs of doors in cheap motels. "I am doomed" kept running through my mind. But I got a decent haircut, and even a straight razor shave (that gave me some pause) without shedding any blood.

It's good to be back home, but the past few weeks have been filled with lots of yard work. Summer rains caused our yard to grow more weeds than expected, and Hurricane Irma didn't help - we didn't have any significant damage, but our yard guys evidently found more lucrative work in South Florida, because our lawn hadn't been cut for over two weeks when we arrived home. Suzanne even had to chase after another lawn crew and offer them triple-time to do an emergency cut on our yard. (I suggested renting out 20-30 goats at half the cost, but was overruled.) One day later we saw this rainbow over the house and knew that all was well.

Rudy and Gretchen are also glad to be home, probably because the resident rodent population (squirrels) has burgeoned to the point where you can't walk down the street without seeing a pair of the little beasts doing what squirrels do... I'll leave the rest to your imagination. Rudy has again found a favorite spot astride pillows to take a nap, while demure little Gretchen keeps watch for geckos and squirrels.

Speaking of dogs, My Good Friend Bob was walking his Chihuahua when Roscoe decided he had gone far enough. Fortunately the event was preserved on Jan's phone...

In St. Louis, we saw this preposterously pink and purple poodle... what were they thinking???

It's great to be home again with family. Suzanne's Lovely Mom Ruthie is very happy to have her daughter Suzy home. (Ruthie, by the way is a bridge shark - her biggest complaint these days is not having enough challenging bridge games. We should all be so lucky at 90 years of age!)

We had dinner last week with Ruthie in her assisted living dining room. To celebrate our return, I brought an especially nice bottle of Cabernet, and asked our server to open it. She returned in a few minutes, and I went to pour Ruthie a glass... but nothing came out. Perplexed, I looked into the open bottle and saw that the cork had been pushed in, rather than pulled out! I stifled a laugh, and had to push the cork down with a pen to get the wine out, until the cork was down a few inches. 

Note: wine was not involved in the next picture! Suzanne and I have a saying, "Never take yourself too seriously". We will extend our hands in an "okay" gesture and turn them inwards over our eyes into a "Space Cadets" look... recently Suzanne posted this photo on her Facebook page. 

We thought we were pretty cool, at least until we received this image from our dear friends Jeff and Lynn Hollahan, who said "This is what happens when you're at the confluence of good friends, nice weather and tequila!"  

We just returned from a short trip up north; Suzanne had flown to Wilkes-Barre, PA, to give one of her Serving Spirit classes. Meanwhile, I was driving up to Asheville, NC, where we would meet for another event and some hiking. I had planned on stopping for two nights in Marble, NC, almost as far west in the state as you can go, where Tennessee, Georgia and North Carolina come together. The night before, while south of Macon, GA, I looked at the weather forecast... snow... SNOW??? Driving The Beast, our 42 ft motor coach, is interesting enough in rain, but the prospect of a combination of mountain roads and snow was a bit much, so I diverted to a campground near Greenville, South Carolina, where a balmy 50 degrees awaited me and the pups. 

Greenville is very close to Clemson University. Football fans know the Tigers well, their having won a national championship a few years ago. Everywhere you look in Greenville you see orange tiger paws. 

We drove on to Fletcher, NC, near Asheville, where Suzanne met us after her flight from Wilkes-Barre. She then had a very successful event at Unity of the Blue Ridge, in Mills River, NC; thank you, Reverends Darleen Christie , for your warm hospitality and a great dinner! Asheville is a delightful area; the coach was set up next to a small lake with this sunrise view...

The following weekend found us backpacking overnight on the Art Loeb Trail in Pisgah National Forest, located in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Brevard, NC. The first day was pleasant, and the six mile hike mostly uphill. This windblown stand of trees was not the typical foliage. 

The forest floor was littered with fallen leaves and not a few trees that were slowly returning to where they came from, while hosting moss and lichens during their decay.

We had planned to camp near a lean-to shelter which had a small spring and a privvy nearby, but when we arrived, four yahoos had a boom box blaring and were awaiting the start of a football game. "Really, in the wilderness? Why didn't you just go to a sports bar?" In disgust, we marched on aways, and just before the rain began, Suzanne heard "We have selected a perfect spot for you."  We indeed found a beautiful (flat) spot on a gap beside Cedar Rock Mountain. The weather was cooling down, and long pants and fleeces were donned.

The rain squalls stopped long enough to have an al fresco dinner. I was the designated chef - a tough job, requiring boiling water and pouring it into the bags holding our freeze-dried dinners, chili mac for Suzanne and chicken gumbo for me. Wait 10 minutes, and "Presto!" hot meals, if not gourmet treats. 

The next morning loomed misty and grey, but we had slept pretty well, considering it had rained most of the night, and the two-man tent was just barely big enough for our sleeping pads and down bags. Our packs and food bags remained outside under the tent fly in a small vestibule (staying almost dry); a passing bear could grab the food, but just in case, I positioned Suzanne by the tent door with the bear spray so she could protect our food supply. She looks amazingly chipper, all things considered. Fortunately, the 6 miles back to the trailhead was mostly downhill. 

Our dear friends Sandy and Lisa had volunteered to stay with Rudy and Gretchen, and to find out what "glamping" in a big motor coach was like. After our backpacking, we enjoyed a nice lunch together at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in Mills River - a very popular spot for Sunday brunch.

Leaf peeping was winding down near Asheville, but at the Carl Sandburg Estate in Flat Rock, we found a few gorgeous trees still showing their colors. The five miles of hiking trails here were also fun. 

One of our shipmates (and DEAR FRIEND) on our boat trip earlier this year is Irene Vouvalides, who became famous in the Virgin Islands charter fleet for ensuring we had the cleanest decks of any boat in the area. We received this photo of Irene standing proudly with her new Rubbermaid Reveal mop. (Irene, this "reveals" something about you... Ha!)

Someone asked recently what I do with all my spare time... well, I am hard at work planning our 2018 Summer Tour, and already Suzanne is booked for events in The Villages, Florida; Chicago, Illinois; Scottsdale, Prescott and Sedona, Arizona; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Los Angeles, California; Denver, Colorado; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Creve Coeur/St. Louis, Missouri; New York City; Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada; The Monroe Institute, Lovingston, Virginia; and Orlando, Florida. It looks to be another 12,000 mile summer.

Finally, Suzanne and I would like to thank everyone we met this summer who made our trip so much fun. You gave us many memories that will last forever, and we look forward to seeing you again, maybe next summer! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

Chair with a View; Homeward Bound; Frog Bikers; Salt Lake City; Carbondale and Breckenridge, Colorado

Well, it's October, and our 2017 Messages of Hope Tour is winding down. We are now officially eastbound after spending the summer out West. Here's what's been happening lately:

After being cruelly abused by our personal tormentor (er, trainer) Heather (see my previous post for details), Suzanne took off for Scottsdale and the Afterlife Research and Education Symposium, while I took a break to paddle on nearby American Lake and ease my sore muscles. The view of Mt. Rainier was impressive, and early morning/late afternoon paddling was delightful.

Our campsite was right on the water, and this was the view from my camp chair (wine glass with Zin not shown)... not too shabby, eh?

While MLB was away, I also took the opportunity to get some culture, and enjoyed the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), where this Georgia O'Keefe still life (From Pink Shell, 1931, oil on canvas) caught my eye. I also learned about Ghost Ranch, one of her favorite places, which I will have to visit one day...

Another favorite of mine at TAM was this mixed media by Montana artist Kevin Red Star, titled Buffalo Horse Medicine. He was born on the Crow Indian Reservation, and his work graces the Smithsonian, the National Museum of the American Indian and the Heard Museum, among many others. 

After an exhausting visit to the museum, I simply HAD to stop at "Hello, Cupcake". (Sounded like a tart greeting to a young woman, or a sweet greeting to a tart... but I digress...) The cupcake (vanilla topped with pink vanilla buttercream and a sugar flower), was simple, but elegant. (Reminds me of me!)

Leaving Tacoma, we headed south to Portland to pick up I-84 eastbound through the Columbia River Gorge, which had spectacularly "gorge"-ous scenery. But the fire and rain gods laughed at our presumption... I-84 (on the south side of the river/gorge) was closed down because of a series of fires/rain/rockslides, so being very clever, I thought we'd follow Washington Highway 14 on the north side of the Columbia River. Everything was going swimmingly until I saw a sign saying "Tunnel Ahead in 4 miles - 12' 6" clearance". Hmmm.... our coach is 12'11" high. I did some quick mathematical calculations and figured that (a) we would not fit, without (b) taking off the three air conditioners, either intentionally with tools or unintentionally using the top of the tunnel. Option (b) would be quicker but messier. Option (c), which My Lovely Bride suggested, was to take a bridge across the Columbia and try to find an alternative route east. Knowing how smart she is, I chose option (c). Unfortunately, we found that there was no alternative route east, so we had to return to Portland for the night, where we actually found our old campground in scenic Boring, Oregon, to have a spot for us. 

The next day we proceeded north up past Mt. Hood, expecting to reach Hood River where I-84 was open. Alas, MLB was reading the latest weather forecast, with words like "winter storm advisory", chains, caution, high winds, etc... Jeez, it was September 20th, for Pete's sake!!! So, we had to divert south almost to Bend, OR, to find clear skies and moderate weather. What was supposed to be a relatively easy 840 mile all-Interstate trip turned into a harrowing epic of 1066 miles (averaging 355 miles a day, quite long when you're only doing 45-55 mph in the mountains and on backroads). The scenery changed, for the better in that there was no threat of snow, but more "deserty", like this sculpted mountain somewhere in Utah.

In Green River, Utah, I met this French family cycling from Canada to Mexico. They were two months into a six month trip, and really enjoying the US. Thinking I was a local, they asked me an important question: where the laundromat was located... I had to regret that being a visitor, I couldn't help them out. 

We arrived safely in Salt Lake City and enjoyed a break from driving for a few days. Suzanne hosted a Serving Spirit class there, and we enjoyed the warm hospitality of Kate Young and Jim Morse at the Cottonwood Country Club. (Regrettably, Your Esteemed Photographer neglected to take photos... what was I thinking?)  While I am doing a lot of walking and hiking preparing for a Grand Canyon hike over Thanksgiving, Suzanne is keeping in shape with her TRX straps attached to the ladder on the coach.  These instruments of torture were introduced to her by Heather the Slayer and developed by Navy SEALs.  If anyone thinks this is a wussy workout, I suggest you try it... it is a killer!

Carbondale has always been one of our favorite places. We had an offer to stay at the beautiful, palatial home of our wonderful friends Connie Mariano and John Weber, but our puppies might have destroyed their home, so we opted to stay in the coach. But we did have a glass of wine on their patio, with a spectacular view of the double summits of Mt. Sopris (12,965 ft), in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness of White River National Forest. The next day found Suzanne giving a presentation to the Davi Nikent Group in Carbondale. Thanks to Rita Marsh for hosting Suzanne's full-house event! 

Suzanne and I took a hike on Mt. Sopris's north slope. The day started out relatively warm and sunny...

Later in the day, the clouds building behind us reminded me that during summer in the Rockies, one should start early and finish below treeline by noon or so, because thunderstorms often develop by noon or 1:00 PM, and one does not want to be on open rock slopes during a thunderboomer...

We next visited Kris and Wendy Reitz in Breckenridge, Colorado. They moved from Illinois to a cabin at 11,000 ft about a year ago. Here are Wendy and MLB out behind their cabin. It is September 28th, about 90 degrees back at home in The Villages, and they had 4 inches of snow that morning!  A year ago when Wendy and Kris moved to this high altitude home, Suzanne thought she would never be able to visit there due to life-long altitude sickness.  Thanks to some spiritual lessons prompted by Wendy, this visit became a reality!

Kris has climbed many of the "fourteeners" (mountains over 14,000 ft) in the area, and took me on a hike on the slopes of Quandary Peak (14,271 ft), the highest peak in the Tenmile Range. We only had 2-3 hours to hike, so we started at 11,000 ft and hiked up to 12,500 ft. Kris is wearing gloves not to save his hands from gardening blisters... it was COLD!!!

The views were spectacular. Far below is Monte Christo Lake, where we began our hike. (For My Good Friend Bob: the white stuff is not confetti.)

We saw some furry critters on this hike: several pikas and a couple of yellow-bellied marmots (Marmota flaviventris), one seen here peeking warily from his rocky burrow... he was very shy. In the Sierras of California, the marmots come right up to hikers, begging for food. I asked Kris if this isn't a popular hiking destination, and he replied that most people don't hike this route or this high, unless they are headed to climb some serious pinnacles about 1,000 ft higher up. (Fortunately, we weren't equipped for that - I haven't done any serious rock climbing in 40 years!)

 Lake Monte Christo took on a different appearance on our way down the mountain due to lower sun and intermittent clouds. There is little question that these mountains would be a fabulous place to live...

After a couple of hours, I was getting a bit thirsty... "Hey, Kris, is there anywhere to get a beer up here?" I think he thought I said, "Are there any bears up here?" and was pointing up the mountain...

We will be home in one week. While it will be great to be back in Florida with family and friends, we will both miss the mountains.