Monday, June 23, 2014

Cold night, but worth it. Oh, yeah.

I scored a camping permit for Cape Final last weekend. All backcountry camping, on the rim and in the canyon, requires a permit and they're limited. The great thing about Cape Final is it's exclusive - only one permit is given each night, which meant I had the place to myself.

The weekend before, my neighbor's husband Glen and I went out to Cape Final to see what we could see. We got there about 8:30 am, just in time to greet the previous nights' campers as they were leaving, and we were the only ones there. On our way out, a couple of hours later, there was a river of people heading in. The hike is only a couple of miles each way and pretty easy, so that makes it popular with folks who don't want or can't do a challenge. It was good knowledge to have because it told me I needed to be up and out early after my night to camp.

There are so many wildflowers in bloom, and day by day the butterfly population is increasing.

Lupines are now on the decline but last week there were sweeps of their unmistakable color.


Not just butterflies, either; as I've been trying to get close-up shots of flowers like the one above, I've seen insects everywhere. This spider did its best to hide from me no matter which direction I took to get a good view.

Until I gave up because it could move in more directions than I could.

Locusts are also in bloom. They're large bushes covered with delicate flowers and protected by huge thorns.

 Their buds. Amazing, isn't it?

I waited until late afternoon to head in. I'm pretty sure this isn't a hotbed of crime, but I still didn't want an audience to see that I was a single person out there that night. I planned well because when I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead, mine was the only vehicle there.

Glen and I had found the campsite easily enough, but when I was toting my backpack in, it had disappeared. I hiked up and I hiked down. I followed the trail, I went cross country. I dropped my pack and wandered to places previously unseen, and the campsite was nowhere to be found. I finally said to heck with it and put my tent up on an overlook point, grateful that I'm not a sleepwalker because there are no fences and the canyon is deep.

The view from my front porch.
And in another direction.

 Now I'm running out of directions.
OK, one more. 

I have a new tent, different from last year. I really liked my old one but it weighed six pounds and my new one is half that. Thankfully, REI takes back items even if they've been used so I got all my money back on the other tent. The old one was free standing and the new one requires a couple of stakes. Generally that's a good idea anyway if the wind is blowing, but just to give it what little interior room it's supposed to have, it has to be staked. So I snapped all the poles in place, attached them to the tent, and when I went to pound in the stakes I found I was on solid rock with just enough dirt covering it to get into everything I owned but not enough to sink a stake into. I had to move back on the trail about twenty feet before I found enough dirt to nail the tent down.

This is what I looked like when I finally set up. The big rock at the top of the tent isn't doing anything. I was just too lazy to move it. I hung my pack on a tree, not deceiving myself for one minute that it would keep critters out. When I got my permit, the backcountry ranger asked me to let them know if I had a rodent problem when I was out there. Immediately I was suspicious: what kind of rodents, exactly? Mice. Oh, all right. I thought maybe she meant skunks or raccoons, but I saw nothing at all.

I got everything set up in time to watch the sun fade over the canyon. Even with some cloud cover there wasn't a fiery sunset but a gradual leaving of light that softened the edges of the chiseled terraces and the pinnacles and valleys in front of me. I found a large rock at the edge of the rim to watch from, and drank it all in.

For the longest time since I got there, all I heard was the wind among the Ponderosa pines. Then an intrusion far above me and heading away: the distant, diminishing drone of a plane. I watched its contrail scrape straight as an arrow across the sky until the winds aloft blew it to cotton wisps and the plane disappeared into the clouds. Then another, but traveling in a different direction, and I didn't see it or hear it for long. 

The evening began to chill. A bird chittered close to me and I heard the far-off drill of a woodpecker and the hum of a fly. It was me and nature; what a life.

The rock I sat on offered views that held my attention as much as the ones in the canyon.

And then the light got wonderful, highlighting tips and edges, giving this part of the canyon the look of the Great Wall.

It wasn't a perfect trip. The tent seemed so small, my sleeping bag confining and cold, and I couldn't seem to get comfortable all night long. When the sky lit with pink the next morning I was up and packing to leave. But everything's a trade off. I could have stayed home and not seen any of this.

Thought of the day:

'Just living is not enough,' said the butterfly, 'one must have sunshine, freedom and a little flower.'  - Hans Christian Anderson

Monday, June 16, 2014

Two old broads on the Widforss Trail

My friend Cheryl and I hiked the Widforss Trail on Friday. Before anyone gets excited about me hiking ten miles, let me just say that Cheryl is 77. As in seventy-seven. Years old. I know!

She was here almost two weeks and left for home this morning. I'm going to miss her. Last night she and I and another friend who works here met for dinner, where Cheryl said we are an inspiration to her. The other friend and I looked at each other with our jaws hitting the floor and told Cheryl that she's the one who's the inspiration. It's true. I've been asking myself, way back in the recesses of my mind, how long I'll be able to do the lifestyle I'm so enjoying now, and across the table from me sat my answer.

We took our time on the trail. It took us about eight hours, less a half-hour to stop to talk to a Preventive Search and Rescue (PSAR) ranger who was on patrol, another half-hour to talk to a German couple who gave a roll of the eyes when I mentioned George Bush (apologies to the Bushies out there, but ain't America great that we can say things like that?), and another half-hour or so for lunch, but even so, at that rate we moved at a mosey. It was fine.

This trail was high on my list because I read somewhere that there are a lot of wildflowers there; it did not disappoint.

Not a dozen steps onto the trail and we found this cute rodent. Chipmunk? No, a ground squirrel. I'd never heard of ground squirrels until I got to Arizona. That's how travel is educational.

There are full, lush stands of ferns, mostly full-fledged, but some still have emerging fronds.

And so it begins - uphill. Why does everything seem uphill around here?

The Widforss flirts with the canyon rim, curving inland more often than offering views of the canyon. Some people give a waggle of the hand when asked how they like this hike because they prefer spectacular views all along the way. I compare it to living in the Pacific Northwest: yes, it rains a lot, but when the sun and mountains come out, you can't imagine a more beautiful place to be.

I've noticed this cross-hatching on tree stumps and wonder if it has anything to do with encouraging faster decomposition. A hiker before us, though, took it as an invitation to set up a game.

I checked out a wildflower identification book from the park library and think I've discovered a half-dozen new species because I can't find most of the flowers I've come across, but this one is in it. It's a bristly hiddenflower, from the borage family. It's a perennial, growing about three feet tall, and has large flower clusters at the top of the stem and smaller ones at stem/leaf junctions. The flowers themselves are less than 1/2 inch across.

The trail skirted the canyon again, here giving a look at the Transept Canyon.

Who could not enjoy a walk in the woods when it's like this?

This silver-blue feather was just a couple of inches long. Maybe from a Stellers jay or a western bluebird? The electric blue at the tip makes me think jay.

The sinuous elbow of ponderosa pine made me think of my sister, who'd love to have it for her woodworking. Beautiful lines.

More canyon.

I would say this is perennial cranesbill/white geranium with its own personal pollinator, except the book's photo shows petals that are pointed rather than clipped like these, which you can't see, and there are ten stamens here as opposed to five in the book. Otherwise, it's identical!


I was sure this was Solomon's Seal or false Solomon's Seal, but when checking online (because the book didn't have this either), these flowers don't look anything like it. These could be last year's flowers but if they were, they weren't brittle as they should have been.

Fire scars are on the trunks of these ponderosa pines. The one on the right is dead and has fractured into a huge splinter. Ponderosas can withstand fire better than some other trees because they have very thick bark and they self-prune - they shed branches that form several feet up the trunk which offers protection from ground fires.

This is a new pin needle cluster, just emerging from a sheath that encapsulates the needles. I need to find out more about this because I haven't seen a lot of this cottony stuff.

Here we were nearing the turn-around at Widforss Point, and lunch.

Thanks to a ranger for clearing the path.

I also need a reptile book. What great camoflage!

I was surprised to see prickly pear cacti at this elevation but here's proof.

The view from Widforss Point, well worth the hike.

Hiking compadres, ready for lunch and to sit for a while.

Someone left this message right next to the trail.

I have no idea but can't wait to see it in bloom. The bud is about four inches tall.

Heading back on the trail, and why is it uphill? Wasn't it uphill coming in?

Another new species. At first I thought the petals had insect damage but not all five; they're just deeply lobed. Pretty, and not more than an inch across.
I thought this might be elderberry, a member of the honeysuckle family, but it's not tall enough. Elderberry is at least six feet tall and these are about three. Nice bugs, though.

The park brochure says to allow two hours for the five-mile round trip, which has to be a typo. Even four hours for the ten-mile hike would be moving fast. More and more, in so many aspects of my life, I'm learning the truth that it's not the destination, it's the journey that matters.

Thought of the day:

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity; that mountain parks and reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and invigorating rivers, but as fountains of life. - John Muir

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Drifting grace

I wrote some time ago that you can never judge how a person’s life is, who a person is, by the trappings that surround her. A lovely waterfront home means nothing. A long marriage that appears happy and compatible signifies nothing. Gifts of expensive anything are a weak substitute of things for meaningful time with and attention from someone.

Many years ago I worked with a woman who said everyone has a story. As time went by and more life happened to me, I saw with crystal clarity the truth of it. There is no veneer that can accurately predict the glory or the ashes of the book of someone’s life.

I met a woman here the other day, a sister hiker, and we hit it off immediately. How does that happen? How does it happen that sometimes there’s an immediate connection with a stranger, before any conversation much more than hello takes place? I don’t know if there’s a scientific answer but I attribute it to grace - a sifting of grace dust that drifts on life’s current to the two of you just at the moment of meeting. I can count on one hand the number of times it’s happened to me and the rarity and pleasure of it makes me wish for it and value it all the more.

We met just as I was leaving a trail and she was beginning one and we talked for half an hour. I invited her for dinner the next night, she and I met for dinner last night, and we are hiking the Widforss Trail, a 10-miler, on Friday. Over these couple of meetings we’ve been telling our stories to each other and retelling the stories of women we admire as well. There’s a commonality, a pattern, a silver streak of strength that threads itself from one woman to the next. We leave failures, disappointments, loss, betrayal, or abdicated dreams behind us and soldier on, knowing that what we have now, the lives we are making for ourselves now, is what is important. The past is called the past for a reason. They’re gone and over with, those memories touched with anger or wistfulness, bitterness or bittersweetness – they’re behind us, but that doesn’t mean they never happened.

My friend went through a painful divorce 35 or so years ago, has long been happily remarried, and told me she still has dreams of her ex-husband. Oh my. I still have dreams of mine, not often and not ever pleasant, and wondered if they would ever stop. Now that I’ve heard her say she still has them I can let go of the anxiety I have about mine. As she said, she had a life before the one she’s living now, and there’s nothing she can do to make it disappear. It’s obvious, isn’t it, yet I thought I was such a special case that it made it different for me. Of course I’m not special and now, recognizing that I’m not the only one who is sometimes subliminally haunted, I feel lighter and freer. It reminds me of a Patti Scialfa song, Romeo, where she reminisces about someone from her past: “You’re a part of me forever, like a troublesome tattoo.” That’s exactly it. I can never get rid of that past life; all I can do is cover it up, not feel the need to pick it apart for all of its flaws, nor fret about the bad choice I made when I got it.

Thought of the day:

Taken in Metropolis, IL while visiting my sister last fall, just to show I don't take myself too seriously.

One day she remembered that the only person that could make her happy was herself. So she took back her power, reclaimed her place in the world, and shined like never before. 

– Anna Taylor, with thanks to another woman I greatly admire who has her own success story, for sending it to me, and who also told me that some of the people I would meet in my new life would give me valuable help. How right she was, and always is.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Gravity works

So far I've been walking easy trails here at the north rim but have been eying the start of the North Kaibab trail with the hope of getting a permit to camp at the Cottonwood Campground down in the canyon. It's not all the way down, but it would be an accomplishment and I'd be happy with that. Until Sunday I hadn't gotten around to doing anything more toward that goal than walking over to the trailhead, peering down the trail, and becoming slightly alarmed watching people emerging from the depths, heaving for breath, red-faced, and sweaty. Yikes. 

On Saturday my HH and I met the husband of our next door neighbor. HH had already learned that she is a retired librarian/archivist and is working in the book store for the season. Her husband is also an archivist and he comes up from Phoenix on the weekend. They're both outdoorsy types and he told us he'd hiked the North Kaibab part way to the Supai Tunnel the day before, turning around before getting there because he wasn't sure how much farther it was. When I said it was on my list, we agreed to give it a go on Sunday. The trail guide says it's 3.8 miles round trip and how hard could that be?

There is no such thing as level on this trail. On the way down, your every step is downhill, and I think you can see where I'm going.There ain't nothin' level going back up either.

Coconino Overlook is a stop on the way to Supai Tunnel, .7 miles from the trailhead. Great! That means it's only a little over a mile more to the tunnel. I was leading the way because my hiking partner wanted me to set the pace, and I was taking my time. I think it took about an hour from the top to the tunnel. There are a lot of rocks, loose sand, loose sand over rocks, tree roots, and mule poop to be careful around and I just went slowly.

Those are my hiking poles leaning against the rock and am I glad I took them. They make a big difference with stability in both directions.

There's not a lot to see on this part of the trail. It leads to a kind of slot canyon so there aren't wide, expansive views but what is here is predictably gorgeous.

Look closely at the bottom, almost center, of this next photo.There's a faint light bridge spanning the canyon. That's part of the trail and one I'd cross if I ever have enough nerve to hike to the campground.

We finally made it to the tunnel, which was blasted open by the CCC in the 1930s. Just to prove I made it that far I asked to have my picture taken; it's better that I had it taken then because later I wasn't in a peppy mood.

We went just beyond the tunnel to sit for a bit, take in the view, have something to eat, and get fortified for the trip back up. Even though I'd just come down that trail, I still didn't quite get how bad it is going in the other direction.

I meant to count the switchbacks going back up but after the third I was really too busy breathing and lost track. Here is a view going uphill, the trail on the left. It looks easy, doesn't it? It's a liar.

Having to have some excuse to stop other than saying if I don't stop I'll die (although in my defense, the elevation is around 8500 feet), I tried photographing wildflowers along the way. It wasn't overly successful because I was constantly sucking in air and my hands weren't particularly steady, but I managed to get a couple keepers.

After my saying about a thousand times that there's no prize for a quick exit, it took us an hour and three-quarters to hike back to the trailhead. I've considered myself in good shape but apparently have been sadly misinformed; I've never walked slower in my life, I've never had to stop as often or as long to catch my breath, and I've never in my life felt I was holding someone back, but there's a first time for everything. So I have a new goal. I'm going to hike to Coconino Overlook twice a week and work on fewer stops coming back up. When I'm better at it I'll think again about going down to the campground, and won't think twice about hiring a mule to carry my gear in and out. There's no prize for being a martyr, either. 

Thought of the day:

Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did. - Newt Gingrich