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Grand Canyon

Hopi House at Grand Canyon

This image is from our spring break trip to Grand Canyon.  The beauty of this image is that it’s something that is out in the open, but most people don’t ever really see.  My wife’s grandmother grew up in the Hopi House on the South Rim, so when we were there, we talked to the folks at the Hopi House and got to get a tour of the upstairs.  While the third floor is really just an apartment and there’s not much special to it by today’s standards, it was certainly fun to see.  We also got to see some of the places where the Hopi used to hang out. This picture is from the exterior rock wall of the third floor.

Hopi House Wall

Here are some other interesting photos from the Hopi House.

Randomness on the Trail

Since @WildernessDave posted a story about his recent Grand Canyon trip and random stuff on the trail, I finally had to post this.

When we are at Grand Canyon over spring break, my wife and I got to take a good chunk of the day and hike down the South Kaibab Trail.  We didn’t have all day, but, enough time to make it down the 3 miles to Skeleton Point and enjoy a snack while looking over the river and then back up.  It was a great hike, and like most tourist hikes, we saw hundreds of people, most of whom were unprepared for a spring hike into Grand Canyon.  As a member of a mountain rescue team, it’s very sad to see so many ill-prepared people who feel the need to tempt fate by heading out with little or no water, preparation or fitness.

Anyway, on the way back up, we were passed by this lovely bit of randomness:

South Kaibab trail hiker with a suitcase

I particularly like the clothes hanging out and flapping in the wind.  But, this young man may have everything he needs in the suitcase and the shoulder bag to last for a while; maybe a tent, water bottles, a little stove, some food, etc in this lovely, bright blue, wheelie, hard case luggage. We’ll never know…

Grand Canyon Trip: Part Three

Today started out fairly early, as did all of our days on the Canyon. We were told that Spring Break on the South Rim was about as busy as it ever gets and that they can have up to 50,000 people per day there, and there are less than 1000 rooms available. I can’t imagine there’s more than a couple hundred campsites, so, I’m sure a large percentage of visitors are Griswolds.

It’s worth it to get up and out early at the Canyon, mostly to miss the crowds, but also to escape the heat of the day (which wasn’t really a problem this time of year). We were very grateful to miss the crowds and get out as the sun was rising and see things many people miss. When you stay in one of the rim lodges, they deliver the daily USA Today to the door of each room. It’s somewhat interesting to see how late into the morning some papers are still in the hallway in front of the door. I’m somewhat of a night owl usually, but on this type of vacation, it’s worth it to get up early.

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

With our down coats and mittens on, we headed down to the shuttle bus, which is about the only way to get out to Hermit’s Rest and the stops along the way by vehicle. We made a couple short stops on the way out, but decided that it would be easier to get out to the end early and then casually make our way back and this was definitely a good decision.

Hermit’s Rest is a nice place to stop, rest, enjoy a cup of coffee, and hang out and enjoy the view for a while. I decided this was a house that I could live in if the opportunity ever arises (I won’t hold my breath).

It was somewhat windy out there and with it being a little chilly, the kids weren’t all that interested in hiking a lot. But, Lynn and I were. So, we sent the kids back on the shuttle bus with the grandparents and Lynn and I kept going. Beyond Hermit’s Rest lies the Hermit Trail which leads down into the canyon on a much less used trail than say, the Bright Angel trail. It’s a really beautiful trail and it’s not to miss if you can help it. It starts out a bit rocky, but then quickly drops off the edge and get’s less rocky and, fortunately, less windy! We didn’t have a lot of time, so we only went down a mile or a little more, but only saw a few people and were treated to some pretty great views, ricks and trail engineering as you’ll see in the slideshow below.

After a snack on a nice overlook, we had to turn around and head back up as we couldn’t count on being away for too long. We hiked back up, our legs remembering the happiness that comes from being on a trail, yet sad that it was a short hike today.

Back up at the top, we hopped on the crowded shuttle as close to a door as we could be since we knew we wanted to get off somewhere and it was crowded and only gonna get more crowded. We rode in silence most of the way, listening to the other conversations that seemed fairly pointless while in this amazing place and fighting the sleepys caused by the sudden stop in activity and the hot bus. We didn’t want to ride it back the entire way so at Hopi Point, we hopped off and cruised the rim trail for the last couple miles back to the rim and the kiddos.

I wasn’t sure what I’d think about the shuttle bus, but ultimately decided that it’s a good thing. There’s just no place for all the cars out there and this seems to be a working solution to get out there. Of course, you can walk or ride a bike and they do make exceptions for the handicapped so all in all, I think it’s a good part of the park management plan.

Dinner that night was at the Bright Angel Lodge which I would only recommend if there was nothing else. It wasn’t very good. The service was poor, the food was sub-par and it was too expensive. It’s hard to believe that this restaurant is run by the same company as the Arizona Room and the El Tovar. Xanterra really needs to do something to bring the quality up here.

In Part Four, we head the other way to Desert View and the Watchtower.

Learning Adobe Lightroom

Our Grand Canyon trip, was really fun, and somewhat hazy, chilly and breezy the entire time we were there – well, except the day we left when it cleared up and calmed down.  That didn’t keep us from taking lots of pictures with the new Nikon D3200, which, while not the highest end camera out there, really is fun to use and play with.  I’m a big believer in the theory that the camera matters less for good photography than it does the subject, but it sure is nice to have!

Last year during Spring break, we took one of our thrice a year trips to Moab and headed to Dead Horse Point for sunset.  On the rim were all sorts of folks with really high end cameras on tri-pods and shooting hundreds of pictures, and me on, elbows on the railing, with my iPhone snapping away. I think I did pretty good.

deadhorsepoint

So, I thought I would try to edit this in Adobe LightRoom and I’m still learning, but a few edits later and I’m fairly happy with the results.  To me this just feels richer with more depth and texture.  It’s how you make photography feel more like being there.

Dead Horse Point - from iPhone, edited.

Dead Horse Point – from iPhone, edited.

So, back to Grand Canyon and it’s hazy views. I was somewhat disappointed that the pictures weren’t coming out very good.  They were dull and lifeless.  That’s when I stumbled upon Wilderness Dave’s post about Editing photos in Lightroom. I was suddenly inspired!  So, that night, I decided I needed Lightroom, ordered it and downloaded and started playing. Many times I turned the canyons purple and the sky red, but as I’m getting the hang of it, I’m finding it really powerful. Here’s an original photo:

grand canyon first look original

Grand Canyon First Look Original

After importing this image into Lightroom, I discovered that it can see through the overcast haze and distance to see what the camera sees and bring it out easily.

grand-canyon-first-look-edited

Grand Canyon First Look Edited

Original and Edited Side by Side

The crazy thing is I don’t really know all that much yet. Seriously, between reading Wilderness Dave’s post and watching the video below, I’ve figured out a great deal.  I can’t wait to learn more as I know I’ve still got a lot to learn.  But, so far, I’m pleased!  And while the camera might not always be the most important part of photography, sometimes some really good software helps.

Grand Canyon Trip: Part Two

I think in my whole life I’d been on a train twice. Once was a ride years ago from St. Louis to Chicago and once was on a Polar Express ride a few years ago in Durango. I wasn’t exactly prepared for the Grand Canyon Express from Williams, AZ to Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon Rail Company runs a daily train to and from the Grand Canyon. They also have a hotel, restaurant and Wild West Show. I would definitely recommend doing the whole shebang. The hotel was super comfortable and very nice, the breakfast buffet was really good and the food was good in the old town along historical Route 66 (I had an organic, grass-fed burger at a nice Italian place in town that was quite tasty!). And they also have a pool which the kids love!

Grand Canyon Railroad car

Grand Canyon Railroad car

The Wild West Show is set to begin every morning before the train departs. In reality, I think it’s designed to get all the passengers to the train on time as it’s right next to the platform, but that was ok, because it was pretty good. We got there early and had a fun time talking to the actors, taking pictures with them and listening to them joke with the audience as the stands filled up. Then I was lucky enough to have them select me to be their stooge for the performance which was about me cheating at poker and them trying to blame me to the sheriff for shooting one of them.

Being the youngest of 3 in a somewhat sarcastic family, fought me many things, one of the most important is to be able to laugh at myself. I also had some theatre classes in high school by a fantastic teacher named Joan Bedinger, and one of the most important things I ever learned from her was to never be afraid to fall flat on my face. Done it many times now and I’m sure I will many, many more times and it’s allowed me to do things I never would have. So, when the “Outlaws” selected me and told me to grab the purse belonging to the woman next to me (whom I didn’t know), I grabbed it and slung it over my shoulder like I owned it. Then, of course, I helped them get lots of laughs at my expense and had a grand time. They even posed for a picture with me during the show.

With the show over and some more chatting on the platform with the family and with some of the actors, we boarded the train! It’s a 2 hour and 15 minute ride to the south rim and there’s entertainment, corny cow jokes, a fiddler, and snacks along the way, not to mention beautiful scenery. We enjoyed the ride, yet were excited to get to our destination.

The current view of the Grand Canyon is always the best! There’s always something to look at, and it’s usually pretty magnificent. Today was no exception. After a quick lunch in the Arizona Room (Ask to have Mark from Hawaii be your server. He took great care of us and, more importantly, great care of the kids!) we ventured back out to check in and move luggage to our room overlooking the canyon in the Thunderbird Lodge. Then walked along the rim for a while. We started to venture down the Bright Angel trail about 20 minutes, but the kids weren’t quite ready and my fairly worn out 4-year-old Patagonia flip-flops wouldn’t keep me going too long. We promised we would do more of the Bright Angel this trip (which we did later).

Hopi House Chimney Pot

Lynn’s family is connected to the Grand Canyon and had relatives that lived in the hopi House many years ago, so we got a special tour of the Hopi House and got to see the 3rd floor apartment, some of the roof and amazing rock work and some hidden Fred Kaboti paintings in the back stairwell. I’m an explorer at heart and love going places that most people don’t get to go, so this was right up my alley. Wherever we go, I have a need to get off the trail to bushwhack and explore whenever possible. I always have and this was a great treat!

Then, an amazing dinner at the El Tovar and planning for the next day. Going to Hermit’s Rest.

My Favorite Hiking Boots

I have some married friends that have a deal that they can buy any car they want, but they have to keep that car for 10 years. I always thought that was a good way to balance getting something you really want while making sure it’s practical. I have to say, however, it’s probably not the best rule of thumb for hiking boots.

I have two pairs of boots that I’ve used for many years that have both been quite good. So good in fact that I used them longer than I probably should.

hit-tec-boots-1The first pair is one I’ve had for about 20 years. It’s one of the T 50 Peaks boots. When I started working for Outward Bound, one year I needed a new pair of boots. I wrote a letter to Hi-Tec detailing that I was an instructor with Outward Bound and in need of a new pair of boots for a 3 week Canyonlands course I was about to head out on and instruct. A couple of days later, the mail showed up with a box from Hi-Tec with two pairs of boots. Both, 50 Peaks models!

Obviously, new boots the day before a 3 week backpacking trip in the canyons of Utah is maybe not the smartest thing, nor was it probably the best gamble, but we instructors didn’t get paid too well back then and I was really hoping for free boots. So, the next day, when the students arrived, I practiced the “Rule of Befores” and loaded my feet with moleskin before they had a chance to blister, pulled on my hiking socks, tied on my boots and set off. I’m grateful to say that I never had a blister that entire trip. I also broke those boots in really well and used them the next few seasons with Outward Bound and on personal trips during and after being an instructor. These Hi-Tec hiking boots were the first really good boot I ever owned.

montrail-boots-1The second great pair of boots are ones that I got about 8 years ago when I joined the Alpine Rescue Team and started putting on a lot of miles. I still wear them today. They’re from Montrail and have been incredibly comfortable over the years. I remember many of the searches and rescues I’ve been on over the years that I’ve done while wearing these boots. In the rain, sun, some snow, mud and dust, they’ve been constant, comfortable companions.

But, I think almost 9 years is probably enough for these boots as they’ve become less and less comfortable on long hikes. On our recent trip to Grand Canyon, I wore them down to Skeleton Point, about 3 miles down the South Kaibab Trial and on the way back up, the balls of my feet started hurting. Interestingly, though, when we got back to the top, it was the flat walking through the woods back to the car that I noticed the greatest soreness in my feet.

Unfortunately, I can’t find these same Montrail Boots for sale again. I really wish I could because these were the best boots I’ve owned. These boots were comfortable, easy and quick to break in, never came untied, solid, easy to waterproof and the tread held up incredibly well. Besides the foot bed seeming to wear out, a short bit of stitching also started to come undone, but not enough at all to worry about.

Overall, if I could, I would buy these again. And, I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for a good, solid, 3 season, mid-weight boot. Since it doesn’t look like Montrail does boots much anymore (their website is all running shoes), I am on the lookout for a new pair of boots. Any recommendations?

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