Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A “Grand” Adventure–Getting Ready

When people ask up what has been our favorite place to visit, it really is hard to say. Each place has been unique……some more amazing than others, of course. But the place that we seem to keep coming back to is the Grand Canyon.


For me it started years ago (as a child) when I first read Colin Fletcher’s book “The Man Who Walked Through Time” about his journey, on foot, through the length of the Grand Canyon. Since that time…..and through many more of Colin Fletcher’s books, including “The River, Source to Sea” about rafting the Colorado River, I have maintained my fascination with the Canyon, and with that solitary ‘backcountry’ experience.

Years ago……21 years, I believe…..we took a trip out west with our kids. That was the first up close experience we had with the Canyon. Then, in 2004, we hiked the canyon from the south rim, to the bottom with our children, then mostly grown. Fred and I did the same hike again, in 2012 (see blog). We had hiked the canyon halfway down to Plateau Point in 2010 with Becky, a friend and cousin.  I guess the only way left to see the canyon seemed to be from the river!


Now, rafting the Grand Canyon conjures up images of massive rapids being run by adrenaline junkie types. After all, the Colorado River is noted for its awesome whitewater. But, that is not the reason that we were drawn to a rafting trip. Fred and I like the outdoors, and we like to see and experience those places that you might not be able to get to any other way other than backpacking or rafting. Rafting allows for a much easier trip than backpacking, especially when going on a guided trip with an experienced outfitter. Our first such experience was in 2012  (Rafting the Copper River ) in Alaska, and again in 2013,  (Rafting the Snake River) in Idaho. These two trips convinced us that we could, indeed we should, experience the Canyon on a rafting trip.

Our friend, Becky, had always said that if we got ready to raft the Grand Canyon, sign her up! It had been a dream of hers since the age of 16! You can follow Becky’s adventures on this trip at Kinexxions. (By the way - Becky is the one who got me started on blogging)   : )

So, about a year ago….Yes, they say that you should reserve your trip a year in advance…..we paid our deposits and took a leap of faith…….scheduling a 15 day rafting trip beginning from Lees Ferry just below the Glen Canyon Dam and ending at Pearce Landing at Lake Meade. We will start on Sept 17th and be at Lake Meade on Oct 1st. (note- during this time we will be ‘off-line’ and out of touch. I will have to catch everyone up on the blog when we get back to ‘civilization’).

We are rafting with an experienced outfitter, Outdoors Unlimited. On this trip, we will be in an oared raft with our guides doing all the work of oaring us down the river.  The trip usually books 18 guests and 6 or so guides. The guides also do all the cooking and camp chores, making this really ‘luxury camping’.

This particular trip is considered an ‘extended ‘ trip, allowing a slower pace and more time hiking the side canyons. We picked this particular time of the year because the season for powered boats would be over, making for a quieter run of the river. Also, the weather should be cooling down a bit and be more pleasant for hiking and for sleeping.

We invited whichever of our kids to join us on this trip that could, and our daughter, Sarah and her husband, Jason, who live in the Phoenix area, decided to join us for the 9 day, lower half of the canyon trip. They will hike down to the River and join us at the Phantom Ranch area to continue the second half of the trip.

Taking on a trip like this requires a certain amount of ‘nerves’….and I get nervous before just about any trip that we take. I keep wondering….Is 15 days going to seem like forever? Answer – Yes, probably at some point in this trip, we will all be wishing we could just be home in our own cozy beds. I know that the challenge of a 15 day trip will stretch our comfort zone, but that is what trips like this are about…….and it is precisely what we are looking for.

I worry about meeting a bunch of strangers and having to all get along and work as a team. Will I fit in….will they like me….will I like them? But, once again, that is part of the appeal of these kinds of guided group trips……the chance to meet and really get to know a new group of people.

And….will I have packed everything that I need? (remember, no Wal-Mart close by). Truthfully, I am more likely to have packed way more than I need….so the worry really should be  “Will it all fit in the small dry bag that they will give us?”

What about being out of touch and off the grid? I must admit that I worry a bit about this, but I know that we CAN be reached in a real emergency. And, I am looking forward to ‘unplugging’ and just settling into a bit more ‘real time’ living. I think that the quiet time will lend itself to reflection and time for deeper thinking - or just staring at the river.   ; )

I don’t worry so much about the ins and outs of the rafting trip. I know that we have some experience and that we will be able to adapt pretty easily. I am not that worried about the very large rapids. I just plan to HANG ON! The side hikes should be fun……and I feel well prepared for any hiking challenge.

So…….A year later….and what seems like waaaay too much anticipation and preparation……the time has finally come!

We stopped through Chandler, AZ to visit with Sarah and Jason before the trip. Being somewhat more experienced at the rafting trips, we felt like we could help them pack what they need in the small backpacks which they will carry down with them.

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We are also meeting up with Becky in Chandler and she will ride with us to our starting destination…..Lees Ferry.

See ya when we get off the river!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Canyon of the Ancients and Hovenweep

Sept 11th, 2014

Today, we decided to drive a loop drive through the nearby Canyon of the Ancients and Hovenweep National Monuments to see some additional ruins. This is the kind of day that just suits us……driving out some pretty lonesome roads….even toss in a dirt road or two……not in any hurry….to discover something pretty awesome!

Our first stop was the Anasazi Heritage Center just north of Mesa Verde. The National Park Ranger had mentioned that this was a good place to stop and get a map of the area and more information. He was right…and then some! This Heritage Center did a better job at presenting the Puebloan culture and setting the stage for visiting the ruins than the National Park did.

Our first stop was Lowery Pueblo in the Canyon of the Ancients. This settlement was constructed around 1060 AD and was occupied for 165 years. What first started out as  a small village with a few rooms and a kiva grew to a complex of 40 rooms 8 kivas and a Great Kiva. It is thought that maybe 40 people lived at Lowery Pueblo, but the presence of a Great Kiva (a large, 47 feet in diameter kiva) suggests that this location may have been used for larger seasonal gatherings of different villages.

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After driving about 9 miles on an unpaved road, we got to Lowery Pueblo and were delighted to find only one other car in the parking lot. We could walk around and explore at our leisure, stopping to get a real feel for the people who once lived here. note- the roof in the picture was added to protect the larger area of walls from erosion.

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The native peoples believe that the spirit of their ancestors live on in the places that they lived.


These stone walls……

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Which were once two or three stories high……formed an ‘apartment building’ complex, with the smaller kivas functioning (I like to imagine) like living rooms where an extended family or clan would gather.

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This is the Great Kiva.The stone figures on the floor of the Kiva are thought to represent the Winter People and the Summer People.

We took our time at Lowery Pueblo……..imagining the people who lived here….who laughed and loved and worked and played here. This was the experience that had been missing yesterday.

To top it off, we had a lovely conversation with a young couple who, with their 5 year old daughter, were traveling about documenting the remotest place in each state. They have an organization called Remote Footprints that you can follow at www.remotefootprints.org. They are advocating for fewer new road developments and preservation of the remote area in the USA.

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Our next stop was Painted Hand Pueblo, another nice drive down a dirt road. We did not hike around to the ruins, but took this picture from across the canyon. Then, we pulled up in the shade and enjoyed our lunch.


Last on our sightseeing tour was Hovenweep National Monument, which is actually a collection of ruins at several different locations. We were stopping at the main Visitor’s Center at the Square Tower Group.


There is a nice 2 mile hiking trail that will take you around all the ruins in this grouping. It is mostly level, with an easy surface and outlined with stones. There is just one short section that goes down to the canyon floor and then back out that is a bit steep.


We hiked/walked this trail….stopping to admire the stone buildings along the way.


You know….building construction is an interest of ours……..


And we marveled at not only the construction……


But the placement of these buildings……Right on the very edge of the cliff!


Unlike the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde or the Lowery Pueblo, these buildings seemed to be one or two rooms….or maybe a tower…..single family homes (or a family clan) instead of an apartment building…..


All clustered around the edge of this small canyon, where there was a natural seep and water run off at the bottom.


The building styles were similar in all the different Pueblos, incorporating both round and square elements.


And using wooden beams joining double thickness stone walls.


This ‘Boulder House’ was unique……built rather like the houses that we saw in Turkey that were hollowed out of the rock.

Hovenweep provided the perfect combination of experience…….solitude, a nice hike, and interesting features…..and a chance to imagine the people who had once lived here. 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mesa Verde

Sept 10th, 2014

We had visited Mesa Verde 20+ years before, but remembered only having a short time to tour the ruins. We had wanted to go back to take a bit more of an in-depth look. We lined up a morning tour that would give us a good bit of history of the “Ancestral Puebloans” (the newer designation for what were called the Anasazi Indians) as well as a tour of the Cliff Palace Ruins

About 550 AD, the people of the ‘Sage Plains area’ (the four corners region of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah) moved onto the Mesas. The ‘Mesa Verde’, this green table-top region was well suited to the growing of  corn, beans and squash that the Ancestral Puebloans now depended on.They inhabited this region for over 700 years and the people flourished and their numbers increased.

At first, the Pueblo people lived and farmed on the Mesa tops, first living in pit houses and later building more elaborate stone houses above ground.

About 1200 AD, the Pueblo people began to build their villages in natural alcoves beneath the overhanging cliffs. Why they moved to these cliff dwellings is still a mystery. Perhaps it was defensive……

Building along the cliff faces increased at almost a frenzied pace, but lasted  only about 100 years. Somewhere around 1300 AD, all the inhabitants of Mesa Verde left this region. The reason they abandoned the area is not clear, but it coincided with a long drought period. That, coupled with the depletion of trees and game, and perhaps internal strife led to migration and relocation of the Pueblos further south into New Mexico where the Pueblo, Zuni and Hopi people live today.


Though it is the cliff dwellings that Mesa Verde is best known for…..


We enjoyed learning about the history of the Puebloan people who first inhabited the mesa tops, and seeing some great excavations of pit houses. These round dug-out houses later evolved into more elaborate Kivas, which were used not only for religious and ceremonial purposes, but functioned rather like a gathering space or living room. They were all constructed similarly and were roofed, not open. The roof tops were used as social space as well as living and working space.


We were also treated to a little native flute music by our guide David Nighteagle.


When we got to Cliff Palace, we had a ranger guided tour…..


These cliff dwellings are elaborate, multi roomed complexes with several stories and a number of towers and kivas (the round open pits in the front would have been roofed and used like patios).


We were surprised to see round towers built right next to square construction. They said that as many as 160 people may have lived in Cliff Palace….and there are many of these complexes in almost every alcove in the canyon.


To lend an air of authenticity, I think, we had to exit the Cliff Palace by way of these narrow stone cut stairs…..


And a series of ladders. Fortunately, they did not go for the truly authentic experience, or we would have had to climb out using toe and hand holds!

After our tour ended, we had lunch at the Terrace House CafĂ© (Navajo Tacos – YUM!). Then we toured the museum and walked down to tour Spruce Tree House.


One could appreciate the sheltering feeling of living under this overhang……


But, the people farmed the top of the mesa…..climbing up and down the cliff face from home to fields.


I believe that this was the ruin that we had toured many years ago with the kids……Spruce Tree House had an example of a roofed Kiva, with the ladder access from the roof.


We were able to climb down the ladder into the Kiva (which I remembered doing with the kids) to get the feel of the coziness that would have sheltered the people in Winter.

We had a full day of touring by the time we got back to our camper that afternoon. In reflecting on our day, however, we both felt that something had been missing……we were a bit disappointed in our experience of Mesa Verde. Perhaps it is just the ‘National Park experience’…….the crowds, and bus loads of people (though less in this off season)…..Perhaps it was the structure of a tour, without enough time to just reflect (though we do like the background and history that you get with a tour guide, the structured visit is limiting). I was even a bit disappointed in our pictures, which just don’t seem to do justice to the size and complexity of the stone buildings. Whatever it was……it is good to realize that sometimes the experience does not match the expectations…..and that is OK.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Crested Butte and Moving On to Mesa Verde

Sept 8th, 2014

Today we enjoyed a quiet morning, then headed into Crested Butte to look around a bit.


Note – the blue painted street was compliments of the Bud Lite “Whatever’ promotion. They pretty much bought out the town over the weekend for their contestant winners. All in all, it looked like no harm done…..

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We browsed the quaint little shops, then had lunch at The Coal Creek Grill…….fabulous BBQ pulled pork sandwiches!

Rain was predicted for today, and by early afternoon, it was sprinkling. Looked like time for a cozy afternoon curled up in the camper……..In between rain showers, we did get the camper hitched up and ready to roll in the morning. More rain was predicted for all day Tuesday.

Sept 9th, 2014

As predicted……rain…..all last night and sputtering this morning when we pulled out. We were headed for Mesa Verde National Park, about a 4 hour drive. The rain came in showers….off and on the whole drive……Until just before we got to Mesa Verde……then, it POURED! We pulled up at the visitor’s center and waited for it to slack off a bit.

I really LOVE our camper! A few minutes to get pulled into a campsite and set up….then we could climb into our cozy camper and get dry and warm. (Oh- the temp has been hovering around 55  degrees today.)


When the rain cleared a bit, we drove back out to the Visitor’s center, newly built a year and a half ago.


I love this sculpture of an ancient cliff dweller climbing up the face of a cliff with a basket of corn on his back.

I remember touring some of Mesa Verde when we first headed west with the kids…….21 years ago! I am eager to see this area, perhaps in more depth this time. Tomorrow, we have a tour scheduled bright and early to see the cliff dwellings. The weather is supposed to be sunny and nice……..  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Altitude and Attitude

Going from Farmerville, with an elevation of  171 feet, to here in Gunnison/Crested Butte, Colorado at 7,700 at our campground to 10,000 to 12,000 on our hikes, has gotten me thinking about shifting attitudes as well as altitudes.

It has certainly been a humbling experience to set out on a hike at 10,000 feet elevation and find ourselves winded with the least bit of uphill climbing. At home, Fred and I might consider ourselves somewhat fit. After all, we do our workouts at the gym and jog on the treadmill (though at a much slower pace than we once did). We harbor no real illusions about that routine, knowing that jogging on the roads, or hiking on trails offer their own challenges. Hiking at altitude just imposes one more factor to consider.

As we adjusted our expectations to the reality of the trails and the higher altitude, I found myself thinking a bit philosophically…….

This trip, we had set out with a much more relaxed attitude. We were here to enjoy the weather, the landscape, and each other’s company…….nothing more. Sure, there are times, whether in the gym or on a hike, that we enjoy really ‘pushing our limits’. It feels good…….really, it does…..to push ones self and to find that you really can do more than you think. There are times for that…….and there are other times. This part of our trip has been more focused on the journey, rather than the destination.

With each activity, we would ask (to help set the proper focus) “What are we here for?” And the answer was invariably “To enjoy ourselves and have a great hike!” The hikes that we had selected were all rated ‘5-6 stars’, meaning that the entire hike was filled with spectacular scenery. There was no end point, or destination that was going to be a  “Do not miss……awesome….amazing…..must see experience!”  And we did not have a set time frame that we just had to get the hike done by. We were free to enjoy the journey…….no need to ‘push to the summit’…..nothing to prove to ourselves….or to anyone else.

Rather than fret over the effect of the altitude, (I must say here, that we had acclimated enough that we were not headachy or nauseous, which can happen at first, and we did make a concerted effort to stay hydrated, which helps. The only real effect that we were dealing with was the increased effort and breathlessness whenever we exerted ourselves). So…rather than fret over this, we just slowed down…….and the slowing down had the added benefit of allowing us to really focus on the journey. More time to pause and take pictures, while catching our breath!

All of this also got me thinking about personal capabilities and limitations. All of us have things that we can do…..and thing that we can not do. Some, has to do with age (and no, age is not ‘just a number’). Some of our abilities have decreased with age as orthopedic limitations have increased. Some capabilities, or lack of, are individual. But whatever ones capabilities……the important thing is to know oneself and  to figure out how to do what it is that one wants to do.

Knowing oneself is difficult. What, exactly, are we capable of? Is it reality or fear that is holding us back? Am I able to climb that mountain? If I am, at what cost? Perhaps that goal is really out of my reach……..or, perhaps not? Objective self assessment is not easy……and a good argument for pushing ones limits occasionally.

The harder part of that equation is knowing what it is that one wants to do. What is it that will bring satisfaction? There are times when reaching the summit is the only thing that will satisfy. Other times, when a pleasantly spent stroll in a lovely setting feeds the soul. Just as there are times for adventure and there are times for the comfort of home and community.

I ask myself just what is it that I want? What will bring me the greater satisfaction? I try not to focus on what others are doing, or have done, but rather on what sort of activities I enjoy. What is it that brings purpose or meaning, spirituality, appreciation, or enjoyment to my life.

I try not to be pushed by the need to ‘keep up’ with others on the trail, but I don’t shy away from pushing myself if it seems appropriate (or necessary). Along the way, I ask myself “How am I right now?” If I am breathless….I stop a few moments to catch my breath. If not, I go on. I try not to let the fear of not being able to continue stop me.  And all along the way, I try to answer the question of “Are we having fun?” with an emphatic “YES!”

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Oh Be Joyful Trail

Sept 7th, 2014

This trail was one that my sister Sally and her husband Tracy had told us about from their time in Colorado earlier this Summer. The trail gets its name from the creek that the trail follows, I don’t know where the creek’s name came from, but one just has to love something that beckons “Oh Be Joyful”!

This hike was rated as “easy” with a gradual incline of 0-400 feet of elevation gain per mile. It is an out and back hike, and we were planning on covering about 4 miles out before we turned around. We would start at an elevation of 9,295 feet and end at 9,980 feet, gaining only 695 feet. All of this hike would be at a lower elevation than our other hikes had started at.

Note- One could add a moderate section of trail and go on to Blue lake, at 5.5 miles out, or even make a much longer loop hike. Today, however, we just wanted a nice, pleasant hike……not too challenging.

To get to this trailhead, we drove about 20 minutes out of Crested Butte to the Slate River Campground. There, you are faced with either wading across, or driving across the Slate River at this shallow crossing to get to the trailhead. The water level was low enough that we opted to drive across and keep our feet dry.


Note- This picture was taken after we had driven back across in the afternoon. I was a bit too ‘nervous’ to think of getting a picture on our  first crossing.

From there, the ‘road’ was supposed to go an additional .8 of a mile before we were to park at the trailhead. The guide noted “If you park at the river, add an additional 1.6 miles (round trip) and 350 feet elevation to this hike.” We had decided to see if we could drive on to the trailhead, when, at just .1 miles later, we encountered this mud hole.


Perhaps we could get through this without getting stuck (we do have 4 wheel drive) but……getting stuck would really mess up our plans for the day! We decided to just park here and walk the rest of the way.


The roadbed looked pretty good in spots….but then would become VERY narrow and rutted. We were glad that we had decided to walk, though we did see a few AWD cars or trucks parked along this section.


The Oh Be Joyful trail meandered in and out of the wooded area…….We had to occasionally divert around the muddy tracts left by the horses and riders which also could use this trail. But, the overall trail was very nice, and the woods were cool and serene.


The trail would open up to the rock edge…….Here is a glimpse of Fall coming with the changing colors of the Aspens.


The Oh Be Joyful Creek ran below us…….


With waterfalls tumbling along the way……..


I later read where, during times of high water, kayakers would run this 1 mile stretch of the creek. The pictures of them flying over these falls with the creek swollen 2-3 times this size………..Glad that is not me!


The trail emerged onto this wide valley, strewn with driftwood. They call this the ‘Avalanche Valley’. I think that the downed trees that we saw must have been uprooted during an avalanche.

We had been keeping our eyes out for any wildlife, but other than a few chipmunks or ground squirrels, and a few birds, we did not see anything. We know that there must be coyote in the area……We have heard them at night from our camper.


But this, was the closest that we came to spotting a coyote!


The trail was mostly flat, with a packed dirt surface, and easy walking. The views were breathtaking! And on this trail, I can truthfully say that it was the views, not the altitude, taking our breath! That is Scarp Ridge in the distance. Our last hike had been on the other side of that ridge.


We stopped to take a picture of this sign, noting the wilderness area. This trail, as a number of the area trails, crossed private property, local ‘Land Use’ areas, and National Wilderness areas. Recreational land is a wonderful resource and I am glad that we can still access such beautiful wild lands.


Our destination for the morning was a stream crossing – noted in the trail guide to be at about 4 miles from where we had started our hike. It was 11:30 am, we had hiked about 2.5 hours, and it was time for lunch. A peanut butter sandwich and pretzels always tastes so good on a hike!     : )

After a nice 1/2 hour or so break, we picked up and headed back.


The return trail seemed to fly under our feet. We were back to our truck by 2:15pm. Total mileage, about 8.25 miles in 5.25 hours (including breaks).   This was a lovely day spent hiking a beautiful trail! Thanks Sally and Tracy for the recommendation!