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.

Navigation Training Hike

Every other year, Alpine Rescue Team takes on a new group of prospective members, or PMs and puts them through many months of training on pretty much everything we do.  The goal isn’t to train in the outdoors as much to get used to how we do things so we all do it the same way. Although for navigation, it’s key to learn how to navigate many different ways so you can figure out where you are and how to get where your’ going with a map and compass, GPS using Lat and Long or other datum types, miles, kilometers, meters, feet or iPhone.

Cactus near EvergreenSo, today, we were off to the Colorado Mountain Club’s navigation course near Genesee to practice and work with our PMs to get them a bit more acquainted with navigation.  It was a nice day for a hike around .  It started out cool and breezy and then got a bit warmer. Fortunately, once we got into the trees, the wind was buffered enough so it felt like a really nice, warm spring day – until you left the trees. The sunlight is still a bit harsh for plain old snap and shoot photos, but I got this nice one of a pretty round cactus in the shade.

When I was in Boy Scouts a few years ago (maybe more than a few), the very first merit badge I ever earned was Orienteering.  I like maps and navigating and enjoy watching others learn it and teach it, and of course being outside hiking around while doing it. In Mountain Rescue, it a definite necessity to be able to navigate and find your way around. Avenza PDF MapsWhile you can’t always count on being able to use your iPhone, I for sure had to start looking for navigation apps that I could download.  One of the ones I like is PDF Maps from Avenzaicon.  It has many free 7.5 minute topo maps from around the country.  And while you can enter locations to search for in different formats (Latitude and Longitude, WGS84, UTM and Military Grid Reference System seem to be the ones so far) it’s really good at showing where you are on a topo so you can see where you are and where you might need to go.

I was able to enter a UTM to show where I wanted to go, then turn on the compass, orient it properly and know where I was and where I needed to go.  With the exception of learning how to change my format to UTM and then enter my UTM, it was extremely fast and accurate.  Much more so that the folks plotting our UTM, shooting the bearing and figuring it out on the map.  Of course, I would never trade those skills for a technology solution, but, it’s fun to have. As part of my ongoing gear reviews, I decided to wear my Patagonia Drifter A/C GTX Hiking Shoe which I really like.  Sometimes I tend to not tie my shoes tight enough and I think today was one of those days.  I rushed out of the house so quickly, that they felt a little sloppy and loose. These are my most comfortable shoes that I wear all the time right now and that was probably part of it.  I wear these all the time and they’re breaking in really nicely. 

patagonia-shoes

Because we were on an orientation course and not a trail today, these shoes probably weren’t the best choice.  We were side-hilling a lot and with the shoes being a bit loose, that compounded the sloppy-ness issue.  Tightening them more would certainly have helped, and they’re great for bounding from rock to rock, but on loose hillsides, I’d probably still rather have my favorite boots.

I’m still looking for a great new pair of boots and would love to know what you use!

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.

Grand Canyon Trip: Part One

The Road Goes on Forever*

The Calving & Hobbes sled run we normally do in the snow.

The Calving & Hobbes sled run we normally do in the snow.

We were an hour late, but it didn’t really matter as we were gonna be late anyway. Having finally all piled in and buckled up, Sally the Sienna bravely ventured out of her protected parking and plowed fearlessly up our driveway through 8 inches of newly fallen snow. It was still snowing and would for several more hours, but we were finally on our way to the Grand Canyon!

The kids were excited for their very first trip to the canyon and have been counting the days; Lynn and I were too because it had been many years since either of us had been here, 12 years for me and 11 for her, I think. My last time was a self-supported kayak trip that left on tax day of 2001 and I have really missed being there (a story for another time). Even though this won’t be the same type of trip as that, I knew it would be great! Seeing the excitement in the kids and knowing we get to take them to one of the most amazing places on earth makes it even more exciting for me. I know they’re young, but this is how excitement for the outdoors begins, get them out early and incorporate them into your lives and activities. Don’t stop doing things because you have little ones. Hike the trails, ride the rapids, skate the lakes, ski the slopes and so on.

When I was growing up, I didn’t have a very outdoorsy family – but this isn’t a complaint, it’s just the way it was being born in suburban Chicago and then moving to Northern Virginian. My dad was a Government man and he worked and traveled a lot and the government took good care of us. But it didn’t leave time for much outdoors time besides summer evenings at the local community pool or yard work (and fond memories of each!). Fortunately, I was a Boy Scout and made some great friends from Boy Scouts in our neighborhood, some that remain to this day and will forever. That’s where my love of the outdoors came from – the back yard camp outs, teepeeing neighbors houses, camping trips to Burke Lake and Goshen, ski trips to nearby Pennsylvania, 20 mile hikes along the C&O canal and more. Oh, and the occasional father-son camping trip with scouts that I think my dad endured because I was his son, yet I think it made him uncomfortable as I don’t believe he ever camped much. But that was ok, and I am truly grateful for him for pushing beyond his comfort zone for me.

For now, though, I wanted to show my kids how to do all the things I learned how to do on my own or with friends. Because I DO love to do these things and it was time to head to Grand Canyon.

We ventured out, not knowing exactly what to expect for the roads. Our first stop was to be Buena Vista, where two long time friends live, and the BV Roastery, that one of them owns (he also happens to be the Mayor). Instead of the normal 2 hours, it was about 30 minutes more. Not too bad considering the blowing wind across South Park, but it took concentrating, so the hour long stop for a coffee refill and breakfast burrito was most welcome. And seeing these friends is always a much needed and long-missed treat.

Then it was time to venture out again. In the snow again. Headed south towards Poncha Pass, Saguache and finally Durango for the night. Of course we had snow, blowing snow and packed roads the whole way down and then up Poncha Pass until about 20 minutes over the top, then the roads got clear and dry and the going got much easier.The San Luis Vally is really pretty in a high alpine valley sort of way, and today was no exception, the Sangre de Christos rising steeply and strikingly to our left, their snow capped peaks blending into the clouds over head made them appear to be much taller than they already are. The whole rest of the way was dry, even Wolf Creek Pass. Finally, Pagosa Springs, then past Kurt and Goldie’s ranch and into Durango.

The Elephant's Feet

Cruising past the Elephant’s Feet

After an evening swim and dinner and then a restless night in what I might call a 2 star hotel, we were back on the road for another 6-ish hours. It was mostly an uneventful ride south and west through the four corners, then the Navajo Nation and Tuba City, we finally made a stop at some ruins off the highway north of Flagstaff in Wupatki National Monument. We enjoyed a short, but much needed walk around the ruins and then back on the road to Flagstaff and another much needed stop for a Breve and couple of pounds of coffee at Macy’s.

Our next stop was Williams, AZ where we were to spend the night and then board the Grand Canyon Express for the 2 hour and 15 minute ride north to the Grand Canyon. This was yet another adventure the kids were really looking forward to doing.

To be continued…

*Apologies to Robert Earl Keen

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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