A Night in Needles (Apr 30 2014)

Time to leave the Grand Canyon.

The road to Williams goes through Kaibab Forest. This forest is mostly ponderosa, douglas firs, pinyon pines and juniper but there is not much other vegetation so it looks sparse. As you descend, the trees give way to lower shrubs, mostly pinyon.

We take I-40 towards Bullhead City, then Old Route 66 for part of the way. It’s finally warming up down here, although it’s still as windy as can be. Most of it is a tailwind, fortunately.

Rte66-1.JPGRte66-2.JPGRte66-3.JPGThere are lots of trains rolling by, hauling miles of containers from China, Korea, Japan, Indonesia, India… All filled with mass-produced non-essentials. These countries may have the edge right now, but when The End comes, it will be the countries that can grow food and have water that will have all the power. Unless we all get used to eating man-made, industrial “food.” And even that will require some real resources, plus we all need water, just as much as we need air.

Bullhead City and Laughlin are like a poor man’s Las Vegas mixed in with the River Rat Culture. What kind of people come to these places? We’ll soon find out.

Big Dog parks in front of his high school pal, M’s house. He’s got land right on the river.

M, his wife G and we all go to dinner – the buffet at Harrah’s in Laughlin. There are several huge tour buses in the parking lot and once inside the buffet, we see that the buses were carrying Korean tourists. At first I think they’re a group from Los Angeles, but Big Dog corrects me.

“No way. They’re lunar! Did you see the way they cut into every line? And how they pile their plates with food? They don’t understand the concept of a buffet at all!”



Trains, Mule Trains, Mules and Mule Deer (Apr 29 2014)

GrandCyn60.JPGIt’s the last day at Grand Canyon and we get up early to get parking at the Main Visitors Center, but we rushed for nothing. At 9am, the parking lot is still pretty empty.

From here, we take the Orange Shuttle to the end of its route and walk back along the Rim. From South Kaibab Trailhead, down the switchbacks to Ooh-Aah Point. There are plenty of older people walking these trails, many with walking poles that look a bit like ski poles. They seem to have become very popular over the last few years.

A family of hyper-amped up Japanese run and skip down the steep trail, paying no attention to anything up ahead.

“So typical,” grimaces Big Dog. It scares us both – they look like an accident waiting to happen.

OohAahPt4.JPGOoh-Aah Point is mobbed by a huge group of school kids. They are not as cute as the two French boys we also meet on the trail. The older one is a teenager and a bit self-conscious, but the younger one who is about 10 or 11 is completely unselfconscious and cute as a button. Apparently, no one has told him that the entire world does not speak French because he asks me where I’m from – in French. (I am happy to have understood his question and been able to reply, though it probably did nothing to change his linguistic world perspective.)

One day, I’d like to hike down to the Colorado River, but Big Dog doesn’t think he wants to do that.

“How about a mule train, then?” I ask and he considers it until we cross paths with an actual mule train. It looked like great fun for me but too uncomfortable for Big Dog.

GCmuleride10.JPG“A river trip would be better. Plus, with the mules, you’re just seeing the same scenery from different heights. You’d get more from a river trip with the ever-changing scenery,” he says. However, at $200/day or more, it’s highly unlikely either of us will ever do this.

GCsign3.JPGThere are plenty of mules but also plenty of mule deer, who are, incidentally, not a cross between mules and deer! The name comes from their large, mule-like ears. The tourists go nuts when there’s one in sight, surround them and get too close. And feed them, despite all the warning signs.

GCmuledeer4.JPGGCmuledeer8.JPGBack at the Visitors Center, we eat, drink water and then take a shuttle to the Village area to check out the Grand Canyon train. There’s a real American train “otaku” on board with us, wearing a striped engineer’s cap.

GCtrainstn1.JPGThe station is small and well-preserved, but the train ride does not go along the Grand Canyon rim like we had thought. It takes you from Williams TO this station, thus Rails TO the Rim. Not Rails ALONG the Rim.

From the Bright Angel Trailhead, we walk down to a natural tunnel. It is incredible how many fit and active old people there are. It’s very encouraging. Plus, you don’t see many massive fatties in these parks. Guess massive fatties aren’t the outdoorsy types. Or even traveling types. How can you be if the couch is your best friend?

GCBrightAngelTrail4.JPGGCBrightAngelTrail5.JPGUnlike the Winter Roadtrip, this trip has not been about American Culture. It’s been about nature’s artistry and the wonders of the wilderness and we have soaked in much during the past couple of weeks.

Including dirt, dust and smells.

I really want to shower. I really NEED to shower. And there are camper services just outside the Mather Campground! Sure, it costs $2 to shower, but you get 8 minutes and even though Big Dog would have wanted to share that time, men and women are in separate sides so I get my very own 8 minutes of nice, warm showering.

When I start showering, I’m the only person there, but as I get ready to leave, another person enters and begins showering IN THE VERY NEXT STALL! Out of a dozen stalls, all empty except mine, she has to be in the very next one? What is up with that??? Water splashes in from her stall and it is a bitch to dry myself and get back into my clothes without getting all wet.

“I want to see the sunset! I think it’ll be a good day for it. We can drive to a viewpoint, watch the canyon colors change while having our beers,” I suggest.

GCsunset5.JPGBig Dog drives Sprockets to a viewpoint, east of the Visitors Center, but it’s a bit of a dud. Both the sunset and the beers. The canyons didn’t redden and “pop” like we thought they would, instead, turning into more shadow, and the beers were…just mediocre and better for their labels than contents.

GCsunset3.JPGWe stop at Yavapai point before the campground. The sunset is better here and there are throngs with cameras. On the west side of the museum, more people are sitting, staring at the setting sun.

GCsunset6.JPGGCsunset7.JPGGCsunset14.JPGGCsunset15.JPG“It’s just going to disappear behind the canyons and then everything’ll get dark,” says Big Dog. No, it’s not quite like a beach sunset.


Grand Canyonitis (Apr 28 2014)

GrandCyn16.JPGIt’s great to be able to spend so much time here. It’s great not to feel rushed and I love the ability to just BE and soak in what the place is all about instead of running around frantically trying to see all that you can in a day or two.

And today’s SUNNY! Even better than the day before! So this is the day for the massive Rim Walk – from the Bright Angel Trailhead to Hermit’s Rest. It’s probably 10 to 13 miles of walking and depending on where you are, you see different perspectives of the Grand Canyon.

GrandCyn28.JPGOne can easily get Grand Canyonitis here. It’s my made-up name for the affliction of the eye that makes you think every new view is somehow better, making you take another exceedingly similar photo. My case of Grand Canyonitis must be pretty bad because I make Big Dog hand over the camera again and again, probably taking the exact same shot he just took.

GrandCyn18.JPGGrandCyn22.JPGGrandCyn25.JPGGrandCyn26.JPGShuttle buses run 3 routes and most people hop on and hop off. We try to time it so that we get to the vista points between the busloads.

We walk mostly in silence – neither Big Dog nor I are big talkers anyway, and somehow silence seems to suit the grandeur of the place more. It’s only when we come across a couple dressed identically that we start poking each other and giggling. The couple kind of looked alike, too, so it was doubly eerie to see them in matching hats, jackets, packs…and even jeans and shoes! Did they get a 2 for 1 discount?

GrandCyn37.JPGGrandCyn45.JPGGrandCyn52.JPGAlong the way, we meet a French guy on a bicycle who is on is way from Alaska from Argentina (Patagonia.) He was trying to sleep on a rock but people kept wanting to talk to him.

The end of the trail is Hermit’s Rest – a very busy stop with souvenier shops, snack bar and so on. It also has a filtered water filling station. These are placed around the Park for people to fill their water bottles. It’s a wonderful way to decrease the number of plastic bottles. Plus, we are able to fill our big water jug at these taps.

GCHermitsRest.JPGOn the way back to the campground, we stop at The Market to catch their WiFi and have a peek inside. It’s a BIG store! And food prices are actually quite reasonable! I even pick up a 6-pack of Grand Canyon Beer.

Tonight’s evening entertainment is watching the couple at the next site and making up stories about them. The woman is on the phone forever – she looks like a stressed out professional. Maybe her husband is already retired or maybe he just wanted an outdoor weekend, but she is not at all into it. He makes the fire, cooks the dinner, cleans up – while she remains on the phone. Then, they split, leaving a stack of papers that fly around (we chase after them) and bags of food that a raven is all too happy to enjoy (we chase it away.)

Getting the Lay of the Grand Canyon Land (Apr 27 2014)

GrandCyn3.JPGWoohoo! There’s sun! (Okay, and some clouds, but…) It’s still cold but not miserable like the day before.

Deciding to walk around the Village, we drive out to the Vandercamp Visitor Center. Vehicles over 20 feet are not allowed in the parking lot but Sprockets manages to wedge into the last available parking space.

An old curio shop doubles as a historical museum of sorts with memorabilia and time lines of the Grand Canyon. Hopi House near by is another Mary Colter creation – she must have been one busy architect here. Hopi House is a gallery-shop of lots of very cool authentic Indian crafts and jewelry – and maybe a few made-in-China knock offs. The building is not as cool as the Desert View Tower, however.

El Tovar is the original lodge and all dark wood and curved shingled roofs outside, dark wood, fireplace and trophy heads on the inside. Right outside is the terminal for the Grand Canyon train.

GCtrain1.JPGThere’s a mid-century type two-story complex and the Bright Angel Lodge, a log cabin-y lodge with a few individual cabins. On the rim, the Lookout House and Kolb Studio are perched right on the edge. The Kolbs were brothers who made films and photos back when the park began and a film shows you how challenging it was to do what they did – carrying tons of big, heavy gear on mules and so on.

GrandCyn7.JPGSome parts of the Village are fine – and the vistas are always dramatic – but a lot of it is very tacky. There are shops in every single building selling nearly the same stuff. Food and beverages are way overpriced. And, of course, the mobs of tourists. They are the same types we’ve been seeing everywhere.

North Americans, all types of Asians, tourists from the Middle East, South and Central America, and of course, tons of Europeans.

Who’s NOT here? The very original residents and uranium miners, I guess, although they are trying to bring mining back into the Grand Canyon, of all things!

But, this is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, so it should come as no surprise that this would be a sort of UN with so many languages, so many tourists from so many countries.

Some things you can only find in America… Like the “no guns” sticker.

From the Village, we walk the rim as far as the Yavapai Geology Museum with its grand lookout view.

GrandCyn11.JPGBack at camp, I make rice with creamed shrimp for dinner.

While washing dishes in the bathroom, I meet a couple of French girls, changing clothes.

“It’s too cold to change in our tent,” they say. They’re on a roadtrip from Miami to San Francisco and tent camping here. Their English is impressively good and they are even nice enough to speak English to each other while I am there! Now how many Americans can do that in France? (Or Mexico… Or…) Language opens all sorts of doors. The more you have, the more doors you can open!

Through Wind and Snow (Apr 26 2014)

rain.JPGThe skies are dark… The wind is howling… Gotta get outa here…

…to Page for breakfast with the local Navajos at McDonald’s and a grocery shopping stop.

Horseshoe Bend is on Highway 89, the road that’s closed after the first few miles. It’s freezing and drizzling but there are busloads of tourists already here. From the parking lot, we hike up a hill and then down a ways to the rim of the canyon, but when we get up to the gazebo on the hill, I realize I’m too cold to continue and have to run back to Sprockets to get our fleece stuff. And here I was, thinking that kind of weather was over after the Extreme Weather Trip in the winter.

There is no real path – just thick red sand and it’s difficult to walk, much less run in it when it’s wet. But when I finally get back with the fleece jackets and make it to the edge of the canyon, wow, oh, wow, is it worth it or what!

HorseshoeBend7.JPGDown below is a big bend in the teal colored Colorado. A big, bulbous rock formation rises out of the bend on the other side. The river, looking greener in this weather, bends almost 360 degrees around the huge rock. Straining your eyes, you can see people camped on the sandy river bank below.

HorseshoeBend18.JPGIt’s all layers of red sandstone here, creating beautiful marbled shapes and textures and colors. Antelope Canyon – that famous canyon with the gorgeous strata – must be extra cool but in addition to a fee (which includes payment to a guide) there is a damn lottery now to get in. Oh well. Better that they limit access than have the place destroyed with these mobs of tourists.

HorseshoeBend3.JPGHorseshoeBend19.JPGThe wind keeps howling as we head south, then east, then southwest, towards the Grand Canyon. We’re not sure where we’ll stay tonight but we’re on Navajo Land, so it won’t be before we enter Kaibab Forest, on the edge of Grand Canyon National Park.

There are lots of places that seem made for the vendors but the Navajo vendors are staying home today. No one wants to get out of their vehicles anyway.

LittleColoradoRiver.JPGJust beyond Little Colorado River Gorge is a viewpoint where we park and have lunch. The rain seems to have let up so we go out to walk to the edge of the canyon but it is bitterly cold. So cold, I get brain freeze. It’s no longer raining. It’s now snowing! Drifts of snow swirl in front of us as we approach the Grand Canyon.

At the entrance to the National Park, we ask about camping. Is it full? We have reservations from Sunday but it’s Saturday now. The ranger at the entrance looks and sounds pissed off about something.

“Ask at the campground,” he snarls.

“Bad Employee! Unfriendly Employee!” I want to admonish him. This is YOUR entrance, for christ’s sake.

First stop: Desert View, with a big stone watchtower built by Mary Colter using native aesthetics. Inside, the rough plaster walls are painted with different native images. Quite a unique and interesting structure!

GCDesertView2.JPGThe view is probably spectacular any other time, but we can’t see much through the drizzle, nor do we want to stay outside in the freezing wind. Plus, we don’t want to lose a campsite if there were only a few left. It is Saturday, after all, so we zip on to the campground.

The campground turns out to be not full at all. Maybe it’s still too early in the season, what with the snow and all. The guy who checks us in is just as unfriendly as the guy at the entrance! What’s the deal here? How can you be so pissy working in this amazing place? Maybe you should find a job in suburbia!

It’s too frigging freezing to want to do much exploring outside, especially this late in the day, so we stay inside and have an early dinner of ham and canned green beans, garbanzo bean soup with bread.

The outdoor faucets have not been turned on yet so the only running water here is in the heated bathroom structures. I hate washing dishes in bathroom sinks but that seems to be the only option here. Once again, oh well.

Sandblasting Day (Apr 25 2014)

LoneRock23.JPGWell, what do you know. The critters are gone. Maybe I scared them away at Wahweap. Or they found a better home.

The day begins well – relaxing with coffee and talking about where we’ll go on the kayak today. After breakfast of yogurt, strawberries, bananas and fig jam, we walk up to the entrance to pay our camping fee for the night.

When we get back to Sprockets, however, the wind starts seriously picking up. And picking up the reddish sand in big dust swirls. I can’t sit outside – it’s in my hair, eyes, ears, nose. And if I leave a door open, it’s inside Sprockets. Gritty dust all over everything. Sometimes it dies down and lulls you outside, only to blast you with sand moments later. This is a scruffing I’d rather not endure.

LoneRock24.JPG“We can’t go out on the water in this wind,” Big Dog says.

“We can’t go out at all,” I add.

After lunch (rice fried with ham and 2 eggs, hummus and crackers) we take the dishes up to the big restroom structure. Big Dog wants to shower. We both want to brush our teeth. When we get to the building, I think it’s hot enough to shower in the outdoor shower but it’s a misty spray that wets you down and when the wind comes… brrrr! No way can you get into that. But I stupidly tough it out enough to wash my hair only to find out that the water is too alkaline and the water not abundant enough to rinse out the soap scum. I feel worse than before.

I do manage to wash our dishes in the tiny bathroom sink, though, with slightly muddy-looking water.

“We have to move,” says Big Dog. We look down at poor Sprockets getting sandblasted on the bluff above the lake.

LoneRock25.JPGLoneRock26.JPGThe parking lot near the bathroom structure seems alright. We don’t know if we’re allowed to be here, but one van’s been here overnight. It’s probably as windy but at least there’s less sand to be blasted. As we look out to Sprockets, we see a mini sandstorm pushing across the ridge every time a gust hits.

We quickly pack up, deflating the kayak enough to shove into Sprockets and move away from Sandblast Central.

The parking lot is reasonably level and close to usable water!

Our neighbor in the van is an old Korean War vet with a fluffy dog that looks like a stuffed animal, a teddy bear. The disabled vet’s name is Jim and his furry friend is Pepper. They don’t seem to mind company at all – we all gab for a long while, sitting outside on chairs with the back of Sprockets open to create wind blocks.

Jim seems like many others I have met: men and women giving up on human relationships and making their “significant other” a dog or a cat. This must be a New American Phenomenon. Men seem to have one dog. Women can have several cats. I can totally understand.

We sit around all day, reading old newspapers, before I kluge together a dinner of canned corn with ham, pasta with fresh tomatoes and parmesan and a bit of arugula.

A young-ish French couple in a rental mini-van have joined us in the parking lot. They’re from Santa Barbara and we get to see their rig, a “Jucy” rental. It’s quite ingeniously designed to stuff the most into a limited space.

A “Jucy” camper at Death Valley

Jucy is one of the hipper, newer rental campers that we are seeing more and more of, like the Escape Campers with their street art paint job, and Wicked Campers.


Return to the Planet of the Apes (Apr 24 2014)

LoneRock2.JPGThe critters were back! They are stowaways from the night in the Kaibab Forest! Unwanted hitchhikers! Or maybe they are new intruders. I rattled around the cabinets last night, hoping to scare them away but I guess I was unsuccessful. Note to self: get more snap top plastic storage bins.

LakePowell6JPGThere’s a shower at the store/office but it’s a pay shower and somehow the fact that the $26 camp fee doesn’t include the shower pisses me off (even though they never did send anyone to collect our money) so we split.

LoneRock1.JPGLone Rock is a few miles up the road and into Utah. Time change, again! The campground charges for camping but it’s a boondocky place without any designated sites. You can drive right up to the edge of the water and park/camp if you want, although you’d need a good 4X4 for that.

There are port-a-potties on shore with micro-flush systems, and up closer to the entrance, an outdoor shower and indoor toilet facilities with running water.

LoneRock5.JPGLoneRock6.JPGWe find a spot on a bluff that’s pretty level. It’s not at all crowded and there aren’t many noise makers on the water either. Most of the campers here seem happy to just chill, and as we help one lady get her car unstuck from the sand, we learn from another camper that the best thing to use is the rug in your car. Slip it in under the spinning tire for traction. If we’d only known that in Death Valley!

LoneRock7.JPGThe scenery here is discomfortingly familiar. Where did I see it? It takes forever to remember that it’s probably the location for the opening scenes of the original Planet of the Apes, where the space capsule crashes down into the water.

And we hairless apes will take the kayak out for her maiden voyage! The lake has a zebra mussel and quagga mussel problem so you can’t put the kayak back into another body of water without a good cleaning and drying but we figure it will be a while before we get another chance to kayak.

LoneRock11.JPGLoneRock18.JPGBig Dog had researched kayaks for months and finally decided on the Innova Swing, an inflatable kayak that weighs only 26 pounds or so. It goes together quickly and we’re able to carry it to the water very easily. Oars seem a bit short but once you get the hang of it, everything seems to maneuver well. It’s a great way to explore this part of the Lake, although to really get the most out of today’s Glen Canyon, you need something motorized since many of the sights are only accessible by boat. Big Dog thinks a house boat shared with friends would be fun.

LoneRock19.JPGThe water is a strange blue-green that pops out against the white of the rocks. The quiet serenity is broken by a couple of big boats going by but otherwise we are all alone out here by a Lone Rock.