Arizona: Southward Bound!

One of the bonuses of being a teacher is that a lot of school districts seem to have gone to week long Thanksgiving Breaks! This actually makes a lot of sense considering the number of families that travel for the holiday and missed some school anyway. Last year I took advantage of the break by spending some time in Denver and then flying to Connecticut to celebrate Lucy and Franz’s wedding. This year, I decided to return to an infant holiday tradition and go to Arizona to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with a dear friend from high school who had been kind enough to invite me to Thanksgiving in 2012 and 2013. I think she’s stuck with me now. ūüôā

Thursday after school, Sprocket and I hopped in Ruth, made a quick stop at the gas station and headed out of town. I decided to take advantage of the long stretch of driving to run a fuel mileage test at about 55 mph so we weren’t making great time but I wasn’t worried about it at all; we were cruising down the highway listening to podcasts and simply enjoying the freedom of the open road.

XJ Selfie

I’d hoped to make it all the way down to Kayenta that night but I’d gotten a start about an hour later than I’d hoped plus it’s amazing what a difference driving 55mph for 200 miles compared to 70mph makes. (I think I drove about 40 from Monticello to Blanding…holy deer everywhere on the side of the road!) We made camp along the San Juan River knowing that it would be more difficult to find a good place to camp once we crossed the bridge onto the Navajo Reservation.

Camp near Bluff, UT

In the morning, we got our start just before the sun crested over the buttes to the east. It was lovely to cruise along watching the desert become fully light.

Originally, I’d planned to take the standard route to Flagstaff via Kayenta but, seizing the luxury of traveling alone with no real schedule, I decided to take US-191 south to Chinle and visit Canyon de Chelly National Monument. I’d passed right by the monument in 2013 but it just so happened to be during the government shutdown so even though the park is run as a partnership with¬†the Navajo Nation it was no dice on visiting.

Roadtrips are my absolute favorite. I almost didn’t take this one to try and save some money but I am so glad I did and I’m excited to share stories of the adventure with you all.

 

Summer! Roadtrip!: Part 2

Continuing our adventure from Ridgway to Green River! Check out Part 1 here.

At the top of the canyon, I was treated to some awesome views of the northeastern side of the La Sal Mountains. I’ve seen them from pretty much every angle but this one so it was pretty awesome. This area was gorgeous and I’m excited to come back this way to grab the Grand County highpoint (Mt. Waas).

FSJ. Uravan area

Colorado-Utah line

This road was so much fun to drive. It’s in great shape and brought a new perspective to a sort of blank space in the middle of my home adventure region.

La Sal Mountains

FSJ near the La Sal Mountains

Just before total darkness, we dropped down into Castle Valley. It was a little odd to be here for the first time since my wedding to F and all sorts of feelings got raised during the drive through the valley. By the time we got down to the River Road though, the air was warm and I was cruising along the Colorado with the windows opening feeling like summer had arrived.

Castle Valley

It was almost 11 when Sprocket and I pulled into camp off of old Highway 6 near Green River. He had a late dinner and we took a walk in the bright moonlight. It was fun to walk around without a headlamp but the moonlight doesn’t differentiate very well between damp sand and mud so I ended up with a bit of a spa treatment.

Late night dinner

Muddy feet

The sleeping temperatures in the desert were absolutely amazing. There was a soft breeze blowing through the jeep and the moon was streaming through. I was enjoying it so much it took me a long time to fall asleep but I slept hard once I did. I woke up to this happy dog checking out the view:

Sprocket in the morning

FSJ in the desert near Green River

Cedar Mesa: Fish and Owl Canyons

I was planning on heading to Utah’s La Sal Mountains for Memorial Day weekend but when I started chatting with a fellow teacher, I discovered that she and her husband were hoping to get out backpacking on Memorial Day so I happily changed my plans a bit and we obtained permits to hike Fish and Owl Canyons off of Cedar Mesa.

Both Meghan and I needed to be at graduation on Friday evening so we set our departure time for very early on Saturday morning. We got a little bit later start than we wanted but still had time to stop and grab breakfast at The Peace Tree in Montecello (I believe it is owned by the same people as The Peace Tree in Moab).

As we approached the Kane Gulch Ranger Station to pick up our permits, I was a little apprehensive about the whole trip. The temperatures were in the upper thirties and it was raining. At the ranger station, we learned about where the water sources were in the canyons (we’d had enough rain that there was pretty much water the entire way except from Fish Canyon about a mile from the confluence to Owl Canyon about two miles up from the confluence). We watched a quick ten minute video about protecting the water and archaeological resources on Cedar Mesa and then we were off.

 

As we unloaded from the car, it started raining and rained on us for pretty much the next couple of hours as we descended into the canyon. The rain did not dampen the spirits of any of us (dogs included) as we stretched our legs after the long ride.

Fish and Owl Canyon Trailhead

The mile and half to the edge of Fish Canyon went quickly and before we knew it, we were at the edge of the canyon. Growing up in Washington State, I hated going to the eastern part of the state because it was a boring desert. Now, I have this big place in my heart for deserts (eastern Washington included!) and the views just made my heart happy.

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Hiking to the entrance for Fish Canyon

Descending into Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

Many trip reports make a big deal about “The Crack” into Fish Canyon and we made quick work of it. My friends’ pup, Wilson, wasn’t so sure about making the descent but Sprocket had quite easily demonstrated the descent into my arms technique and we all made it just fine.

The "Crack," descent into Fish Canyon

Owl canyon exit

Sprocket backpacking

Fish Canyon

I decided to take you all a rainy selfie while waiting for Meghan and Ethan:

Backpacking in the rain

Fish Canyon

Sprocket in Fish Canyon

I love wandering through canyon bottoms. The trail was fairly well cairned as it crossed back and forth across the canyon and we covered about eight miles or so from the car before we made camp. After making some meals, trying to keep the dogs out of Fish Creek (I hate wet dog in my tent!), and a little bourbon, we headed to bed. I’m glad that we were choosy about where to pitch our tents because about 1am, it absolutely¬†poured on us!

The next day, we decided to make the push all the way out of the canyon so we tried to keep up a nice steady pace down the rest of Fish Canyon and then up Owl Canyon.

Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

 

Rocking some serious backpacking style:

Backpacking attire Beth style

Fish Canyon

Fish Canyon

The hiking in Owl Canyon was a little bit easier than it was in Fish Canyon. (The route finding in upper Owl was a little more difficult though). The rock formations were also a little more diverse.

Friends in Owl Canyon

Beth and Sprocket at Nevills Arch

The dogs were super happy when their three miles without water ended and Owl Creek appeared.

Dogs cooling off in Owl Creek

I really enjoyed the route finding on the way out of Owl Canyon (and my curiosity about all the side canyons was totally piqued!). There were some awesome waterfalls, with actual water!, and an exciting ascent out of the canyon.

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Waterfall in Owl Canyon

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The pups and I paused at the top of the canyon to wait for Meghan and Ethan. The views were again, incredible.

Sprocket looking at the view

Sprocket resting on backpack

We’d had a great time in the canyons. There’d been some rain, some fun hiking, beautiful canyons and really good company. Since we’d put in 10 solid miles that day, we decided to head for home to sleep in our own beds. We stopped on the way home at Stateline Bar and Grill near Dove Creek, Colorado for some very needed burgers.

Cows on Cedar Mesa

I think we tuckered out the dogs:

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Winter Desert Weekend, Part 2

The next morning by the time Kelly and I got out of bed, the boys had headed out to take some sunrise photos. To stay warm in the morning chill we walked around the desert near the campground.

Whitehouse Campground

Whitehouse Campground

Whitehouse campground

Eventually we headed back to camp just as the boys were returning. They’d hiked up a trail to the “Toadstools” and insisted that we check them out as we headed out of town. We said our goodbyes since they were headed back to SLC via Zion and we were continuing the desert adventure.

I’m so glad we took their advice. It was less than a mile up to the toadstools and it’s always fun to see unique desert formations:

Toadstools, Kanab, Utah

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

Toadstools Trail

As we approached Kayenta, we stopped at a flea market where I could not resist an Indian taco. I’d been craving one for weeks and I intended to make the most of the trip through the reservation:

Navajo Taco

From Kayenta, we cut north on US-163 through Monument Valley. We stopped to take a picture of this goat and then the following rez dog did NOT want to let us get going again.

Rez Dog

Seriously, we played the “He’s in front of the car. … He’s next to the window! Go! Go! … Oh wait, he’s in front again” game for a¬†long time. SO MUCH LAUGHTER.

Goat

We continued north through Mexican Hat and headed on to Goosenecks State Park. We enjoyed a nice walk along the canyon rim before heading out for free camping on BLM land adjacent to the State Park. I’ve camped at the park before and it can be¬†spectacular but I didn’t feel like paying the $10 and as it turned out we found¬†a spot that was also super amazing as you will see.

Sprocket at Goosenecks

Goosenecks Selfie, Beth

Goosenecks State Park

Here is our campsite for the night. It wasn’t the edge of the canyon but the sunset on the mesa behind camp combined with the silhouettes of Monument Valley in the distance were really tough to beat‚ÄĒespecially for free.

Mule Point

Mule Point

Teton Sports

Sprocket and Monument Valley

We tried to sit on the tailgate of the car with our beers but it was too cold so Kelly and I retreated to the front seats of her car to escape the cold, shared a few beers and talked for a long time about anything and everything. Finally, Sprocket and I headed to bed. I was too cozy in my TurboDown to share so I gave him my Millenium Blur. He was happier about it than he looks. I promise.

Sprocket in Millenium Flash jacket

What’s In My Pack: Day Hiking

Longtime reader Sarah asked me quite awhile ago to do a “What’s in Your Pack?” post. I sort of hemmed and hawed about doing one because of a couple reasons. The first is that what I carry varies widely based on what adventure is on tap. The second is that I’m not totally sure that I’m the right example to follow‚ÄĒwhat you carry depends on your experience, your fitness level, how remote an area you’re traveling in, and so much more.

This weekend, I headed out to the Kanab, Utah area with Josh, Ofa, Prajit and my friend Kelly for some exploring in the desert. Daytime temperatures were pleasant but it was chilly in the mornings. We didn’t hike anything longer than 5 miles and Sprocket was along for all the hikes so dog needs are accounted for.

Day Hiking “What’s In My Pack?”:

Pack:

My go-to hiking pack is my Teton Sports Summit 1500 and it is almost always loaded with everything I need for a day hike aside from food and water.

In the pack:

  1. Lighter: nothing fancy. I prefer the clear Bic types so I can see how much fuel is in it).
  2. Swiss Army knife: I actually bought mine in Switzerland on a trip with two of my oldest friends. Mine is either the “Spartan” or something really close to it.
  3. Toilet paper: I make a small flat-ish roll of TP and store it in a Ziploc. The bag protects it from moisture but also gives me a way to pack out the paper if it becomes necessary.
  4. Baby wipes: I don’t go anywhere without baby wipes. There’s a package in the Jeep, a package in the house, and a package in my pack. Currently, the one in my pack is Wet Ones, which I don’t really like since I try to avoid anti-microbial stuff but I have trouble finding small (12-ish count) packages of other wipes. If I’m hiking a lot, and actually using them, I sometime just put some from a larger package in a ziploc.
  5. Map: I don’t absolutely always carry a map. Fortunately, I’m a total map geek and usually bring one along so I can marvel at things I see and be able to name them.
  6. Dog water dish: I have a collapsible dog dish that just stays in my pack. I have a small carabiner (a non-climbing one like you’d pick up at the hardware store or as a giveaway) that I use to clip it to the outside of my pack once it’s wet so stuff inside stays dry.
  7. Nalgene (between 2-3L): Some people are fans of bladder systems when they’re hiking but I’m a a huge fan of Nalgenes. Mine are, yes, covered in stickers and mountain dings–sorry, not sorry that I’m so cool.
  8. Food: I hate being hungry.
  9. Extra snacks: There’s always a couple of bars in my pack that aren’t actually intended to be eaten during the hike. They’re there in case I wind up hiking longer than I intended, as emergency food, or to stave off being hangry.
  10. Extra layers: I hate being cold. I hiked wearing a base layer, light jacket, and a vest and carried a fleece and my Turbo Down with me just in case.
  11. First Aid Kit: My first aid kit is pretty bare bones. I’d actually like to beef this up a little bit this year. Right now, I carry Bandaids, triple antibiotic ointment (I use the generic stuff so I can keep a little bit in a lot of places for the same price), some athletic tape, a few 3×3 bandages, and some heavy duty pain meds.
  12. Camera: My camera equipment varies from just my iPhone to having the iPhone + GoPro + DSLR + tripod. It really depends on the hike and how ambitious I’m feeling about recording the adventure.

One of my goals for 2015 is to work on packing lists for car camping, day hiking, and backpacking trips so as I work up first drafts and think of updates, I’ll be sure to keep updating you all!

New Mexico Scenery

After our antler hunting adventures, it was time to press on north towards Albuquerque and Santa Fe. The open spaces of New Mexico are so appealing and I snapped lots of photos along the way!

New Mexico Scenery

New Mexico Scenery

New Mexico Scenery

Distant hills

We parked alongside the road and checked out the lava at El Malpais National Monument. I would love to come back to this area and drive the Chain of Craters Backcountry Byway and do some hiking and caving in the National Monument.

Lava, el malpais national monument

Lava

F on lava

Lava

Then just north of where we stopped is an area called “The Narrows” and the scenery got spectacular.

Rocks at El Malpais

Rock Formations

New Mexico Scenery

Rock Formations

Oh New Mexico. You deserve more of my attention. Someday.

New Mexico Mountains

On The Page: The Way Out

The Way Out

Craig Childs’ The Way Out: A True Story of Ruin and Survival wants to be a deeply introspective book. Childs details the story of a trip through canyons of Northern Arizona (specific location unspecified) with his friend Dierk Vaughn. The two have traveled extensively though the deserts of Utah but this trip into unknown territory challenges them both physically and mentally.

Although Childs and Vaughn are traveling together, most of the true narrative takes place in Childs’ mind. Much of the book is devoted to recollections of his alcoholic late-father. One gets the sense that Childs has never really decided how to come to terms with his father’s legacy: was his alcoholism a tragic end to a good man? or was he a father who just did not know how to love? Besides Childs own recollections, he remembers stories that Vaughn has told him about his life as a policeman. To me, these recollections were as much about how Childs saw the world as they were about why Vaughn was who he was.

My introduction to Childs as a writer was his article Heart Shaped River (subscription required) in High Country News this September. That article was entirely more upbeat than The Way Out and I enjoyed it a lot more. In the more condensed article length, Childs was more lyrical and concise. I’m a huge fan of this genre and The Way Out by all indications should have been a huge favorite of mine: reflection, fantastic canyon setting, adventure. Somehow, instead of being a favorite it left me cold, I was always waiting to delve deeper into Childs’ psyche or experience to really understand but I never got the chance.

Cactus of the Week: Saguaro

Saguaro Cacti

Saguaro
Carnegiea gigantea

The saguaro is a tall tree height cactus found throughout southern Arizona and northwestern Mexico. The saguaro can grow to 70′ tall but on average, a mature saguaro will reach 30′.

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaro Cactus

Saguaros flower in April through June and produce ruby colored fruits. Saguaros eventually grow arms (those without arms are called spears) and can be as old as 150 years old!

Saguaro Cactus

El Camino Del Diablo

Last week we had a really nice rain in the desert so Forrest and I decided that it was a perfect time to go out and drive El Camino Del Diablo since the dust wouldn’t be an issue. I’m so so glad we did: it definitely wasn’t dusty and we even saw a ton of wildflowers out on a hike.

El Camino Del Diablo traverses the desert between Ajo and Wellton (Yuma) passing through Organ Pipe National Monument, Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge, and the Barry Goldwater Bombing Range. To drive the Camino, you need to obtain a free permit (available at several locations) but fortunately the agencies work together so you only need one.

Mountains

We left before the sun was up and were treated to some beautiful silhouette skylines and awesome views of the Bates Mountains as the sun rose.

Sunrise

Kino Peak, Bates Mountains

Windmill

As we were driving along through the Pinal Sands, Forrest asked me how close we were to Mexico. I took a guess based on the map and said “Four.” As it turned out, he was able to see the border fence. After the morning in the car we were all ready for a hike so off we went. The hike was awesome! The border was only about a mile away and the flowers were beautiful.

Pinal Sands

Desert Plants

Forrest and Sprocket

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Desert flowers

Forrest and Sprocket, US-Mexico border

Beth, US-Mexico Border

Desert Flowers

As we left the Refuge and entered the Goldwater Range, we stopped to do some exploring at the Tinjas Altas. There’s some beautiful rock with pools in it there. Definitely worth the detour off the main Camino.

Tinjas Altas

Tinjas Altas pools