Xeriscape of the Canyon

Xeriscape: a landscaping method that employs drought resistant plants and special techniques to conserve water.  I love plants! Can’t forget to do a little research on plants…

I’m thinking that someone did a pretty good xeriscape job in the Grand Canyon. Looking at the chart below with rainfall averages for the South Rim, North Rim and the Inner Gorge, I see only one month, August, with significant precipitation. The highest number for any month is 2.85 inches. The Grand Canyon is mostly desert.

I am so glad we are not going to the Inner Gorge in July or August (the numbers with the little stars by them – see note about 120 degree temps!!!)

In spite of that, and because of the climate changes with elevation, it is amazingly rich in plant life and almost all are drought resistant. Here’s a list:

  • 1, 737 known species of vascular plants
  • 167 species of fungi
  • 64 species of moss
  • 195 species of lichen

There are 12 plants that are only found in the Grand Canyon (endemic), and only 10% of the plants in the Canyon are exotic (from somewhere else and probably invasive). Those are pretty special statistics.

There is such a variety of eco systems in the canyon. As you can imagine, along the river where there are seeps and springs and tributaries joining the Colorado, there will be willows, acacia, rare plants and hanging gardens. At higher elevations there is desert scrub, then pinyon pine and juniper, then at about 6,500 feet above sea level the Ponderosa pine forests start. On the north rim there are some mountain meadows and subalpine grasslands.

I’m glad I don’t have to forage for food while I’m visiting the canyon, but how good is it to know that there are things there that can be eaten? I found a website telling me that the top three plants that could save me from starvation are the banana yucca, the currant bush, and the cereus cactus. Maybe you should know about them too – you never know where you’re going to find yourself. Click the link. https://grandcanyonhelicoptertour.net/top-3-edible-plants-of-the-grand-canyon/

I would have a tough time creating a xeriscape that would have the natural features and beauty of the Grand Canyon (unless I had a couple billion years to work on it) but I am expecting to enjoy and photograph it – a favorite pastime. Hoping to add some stunning pics to this post after the hike.

Why?

Why?

Do you ever wonder why you are drawn to adventure? Even if you only like to read about adventure, discovery, exciting lives and times, have you stopped to think about why those stories are appealing? Why do we have bucket lists? Why do we purposely choose some challenges and count them worth the pain they may cause? Why do I want to sleep on the ground for five nights, hike 20 miles up and down a distance greater than four Empire State Buildings, in uncertain weather with only what I can stuff into one duffel bag, and do all this with 7 strangers who might snore even worse than I do? Why?

My thinking – it’s because we are made in the image of an adventurous God. Big plans, big ideas, a view of existence so broad and all encompassing that we can’t begin to understand it, all that starts with him. It’s mystery and we are made to be curious and to seek it out.

The Grand Canyon is a project on a scale bigger than we can imagine, yet the processes that formed it were designed and patiently overseen.  Colin Fletcher in “The Man Who Walked Through Time” was trying to wrap his mind around the length of time represented by the Grand Canyon – millions of years.  He had this to say, and I quite agree.

 “Most of us, when we first think deeply about such time spans, tend to draw back in fear from their brink, just as we tend at first to draw back in fear from the brink of anything so immense as Grand Canyon. But it is worth remembering, I think, that some element of fear probably lies at the root of every substantial challenge. And it makes no difference at all whether the challenge is to your mind or to your body, or whether – with richer promise than either, alone – it embraces both.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 4 by Colin Fletcher

That fear thing! I will admit to being drawn to things that are capable of frightening me.  Isn’t that the essence of challenge? I am habitually choosing challenges, small, large, and in between, because I want to know if I can prepare well enough, mentally and physically.  The prospect of seeing and experiencing wonderful things that I would otherwise miss pulls me into adventure.

My adventure is somewhat ridiculous when compared to Colin Fletcher’s goal of walking the Grand Canyon from one end of the park to the other, but another quote from him resonated strongly with me.

 “I looked east and west, as far as my eyes could strain, until cliff and terrace tapered way into hazy distances. It was mysterious and terrible – and beckoning. And some time during the afternoon, as I sat on the rink of this strange new world, it came to me that if a route existed, I would walk from one end of the Canyon to the other. Once the idea had crystallized, no hideously sensible doubts reared up to plague me.  And I did not need such fragile props as “reasons”. The only question I asked myself was whether the project would turn out to e physically possible. Perhaps it is in this kind of simple certainty that most of the world’s ridiculous and wonderful dreams are born.”

The Man Who Walked Through Time, p. 6 by Colin Fletcher

Hmm… I know what he means by “hideously sensible doubts” and from time to time they may plague me.  But sometimes, like with this Grand Canyon thing,  a challenge just comes to me, from out of nowhere, and if it’s physically possible to do it, I don’t need reasons. Just sayin’…

Unable

Unable

It seems I am unable to come up with any U word that has relevance to my Grand Canyon adventure, other than unable. I was complaining about this to my brother and sister in law tonight while we were walking around the wetlands, enjoying 60 degree weather and the sights and sounds of spring.  They felt obligated to help me out with these suggestions:

  • Underwear (not sure I need to write about that…)
  • Ugly (that would be why I’m not writing about my underwear)
  • Underwire (not even in my underwear vocabulary)
  • Under (appropriately broad topic…)
  • Useful (but I think I’ve covered all the useful gear already, or plan to)

 Since I only have a few hours of April 24th left, I’m just going to combine all the above in a very short post.

Yes, I’m taking UNDERWEAR, serviceable, comfortable but possible UGLY underwear, which rules out anything UNDERWIRE. In my single person tent, UNDER my sleeping bag, I will have a USEFUL sleeping pad. I’ve never had a good night’s sleep on it but it insulates and is better than nothing. I also went to the thrift shop today and found a light weight, long handle spoon which will be very USEFUL.

And the last things I will say about this adventure is that it is a bit UNUSUAL but not UNPLANNED. Here is a picture of some of my USEFUL gear.

backpacking gear - tent, sleeping bag and pad, water pack and mess kit.
Top to bottom: Plastic bin to hold my gear, sleeping pad (compressible foam but also can be inflated) Camelback water pack and mess kit, my tent, Naljean water jar, down sleeping bag.

Trekking Poles

On most of my long hikes, somewhere along the way I’ve found a stick I could carry and lean on.  On one of the Appalachian jaunts I picked up a ridiculously heavy branch and kept it because it had a natural hand grip that I liked. It has been varnished and is where I keep all my hiking stick badges – the kind made of metal that you can nail on.  It’s pretty but not very practical.

But now I am happy to report that I have real trekking poles. I’ve only used them once but I was very happy I had them.  They are like having an extra arm, or maybe an extra leg to support, share the weight, and give balance. It’s definitely worth looking at what’s out there and getting some poles if you are going to do a lot of walking on uneven ground.

I searched in all the usual places – Amazon, REI, sporting goods stores – and finally found a company called Montem, that makes trekking poles and, well… pretty much just trekking poles! It’s their area of expertise.

Trekking poles should be strong and light, adjustable in length, and have comfortable hand grips. I’m very satisfied with mine. I chose hand grips made of cork because I thought they looked cool because they are soft, and somewhat absorbent when my hands get sweaty. The adjustable length feature has strong locking clamps that hold well, and they will telescope down to a length that fits in a suitcase. That’s very handy when you fly somewhere to hike.

Close up of adjusting mechanism and hand grips.

I’m sure that the poles will really help on this hike, especially on the knee jarring descent. My brother, who knows, told me so. I’m going to believe him.

Have you tried using trekking poles for a hike or even a long walk around the neighborhood? You never know when you’re going to have to fend off a stray dog, or need to poke something. Might as well have a good pole, just sayin’…

South Kaibab Trail

We are on the homestretch of the A to Z this week with only eight letters to go. As in hiking, this final stretch is going to be challenging since I no longer have posts written ahead and am getting tired (and would rather enjoy spring outside than do writing inside). It feels like uphill all the way…

The South Kaibab Trail is the one my hike will start on – they call it a corridor trail, meaning that it is one of two or three that is regularly patrolled and maintained. It is part of the Arizona Trail system going all the way from Mexico to Utah.

After our first day of having our gear checked over and learning about the area we will walk through, I’m guessing we will meet early at Bright Angel Lodge and take the first shuttle bus of the day to the trailhead. It’s a ways away from Grand Canyon Village and there is no parking there for private vehicles. We will start our descent of 4,700 feet over the next seven miles. We will meet mules and other hikers on the trail. There are a couple restrooms on the way, but no water sources until we reach the bottom of the canyon. About the only shade will be from the canyon walls. The grade will be as steep as 22% at the final section and there will be many switchbacks. Doesn’t that sound like fun? But wait, it’s worth it.

There just aren’t a lot of ways to go down these amazing cliffs.  The South Kaibab was supposedly built to foil Cameron who had started charging $1 per person to use the Bright Angel Trail. It is steeper and shorter but has some of the most amazing views available.

  • One of them is .9 miles on the way and is called Ooh-Aah Point, because that is what most people say when they get there. I’m going to try to say something more original. It’s a good distance for a casual day hike.
  • Next is Cedar Ridge at 1.5 miles, another good point for day hikers to turn around.
  • Followed by Skeleton Point at 3 miles, where there is reportedly a 360 degree view of the canyon, and the first view of the river.
  • Followed by Tip Off at 4.6 miles where the steepest section of switchbacks starts, taking us down to the Black Suspension Bridge, Bright Angel Camp and Phantom Ranch. 

Although it is described as knee jarring, it is all downhill, right? I think I can do it.

The river – there it is!

Reservations

Even as I was typing the R word, I realized several applications of the word to my study of the Grand Canyon and my upcoming hike. 

Reservations #1

As I began reading “A River Running West” the life of John Wesley Powell, I found interesting stories of how the Midwest was settled and the Native Americans living there were forced west. They did not share the concept of land ownership that European settlers had, and eventually found themselves limited by government treaties to reservations. Most of the land surrounding the Grand Canyon is reservation land for various Native American tribes.  John Wesley Powell had very strong opinions about this and also a strong respect for and interest in Indian culture. When he later became influential in exploring and surveying in the western states, he was responsible for putting the Grand Canyon on the map and that is one of his big accomplishments.

I’m pretty sure the Indians didn’t always get a fair shake as this country was settled. I feel bad about that and I think John Wesley Powell did too.

Reservations #2

The other kind of reservation I need to mention is the kind you need for many of the special things in Grand Canyon National Park.  Visitors to the park number around 5.5 million each year. There are long lines of traffic, especially on holidays and other times when people vacation. Because there is limited parking space in the park there are services in nearby towns that include a shuttle bus ride to the park. Flagstaff, Sedona, Tusayan and other nearby towns also have numerous guided tours (do you want to ride in a pink jeep? they have it), helicopter tours, whitewater river rafting and other excursions.

There are five holidays when admission to the park is free. Otherwise, you must have a pass ranging in cost from $35 for a vehicle and all riders to $20 for an individual. All those passes are good for seven days. There are special passes for year long admission, for military families, seniors.  Trip planning suggestions and admission information for all kinds of park passes can be found here www.thecanyon.com/fees or at https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm 

Going into the canyon for more than a day requires a backcountry permit, no matter where you intend to camp. For the preservation of the canyon, the number of people allowed to go in is limited. We missed one whole year because we didn’t apply early enough. The reason we are able to go on this trip is because my brother joined the National Park Conservancy, and got immediate notice when the trips opened for application.

Most of the visitors arriving for a day take one of the bus rides along the rim or hike part way down one of the major trails and back. These ways of viewing the canyon only require a park pass, not any special permits and offer a good taste of the canyon’s beauty, but if you need a hotel for your stay, you had better make a reservation.

Reservations #3

Lastly, on the topic of reservations, are the reservations I have myself about doing this hiking trip. I wonder whether my knees are going to last, whether I’ll get by with little sleep, if I’m strong enough physically and mentally. So, I have them, but my reservations are not going to keep me from going ahead, just sayin’…

Qabab

Yes, it really is a word. It is the name of a dish consisting of pieces of seasoned meat. However, it has nothing to do with the Grand Canyon. I’m hoping the alphabet police won’t notice I’m going off theme.

I could only come up with one Q word having something to do with the canyon and that was quartz.  I didn’t even want to try to make quartz an interesting subject, although I’m sure some would be able to do that. So instead I chose qabab, which interestingly, is kind of like the Grand Canyon word Kaibab – that’s my excuse. There’s not a lot to tell about qabab either, except that it is more commonly spelled kebab. Shish kebab. We all know what that is and have probably enjoyed those seasoned pieces of meat roasted on skewers with vegetables stuck between them.

What I would really enjoy writing this post about is this A to Z exercise of researching my coming adventure.  It has been so helpful to me, as I learn ahead of time about the things I will be seeing and experiencing.

In some ways, it has dispelled the fear of the new and unknown. I have looked at the details of the trails I’ll be walking. The history of the buildings, the inhabitants of the area, the development and tourism aspects, the geography – all of it is a bit familiar now.  I’ve thought through all the travel arrangements and rehearsed mentally what each day will be like. Some of it may turn out differently, but I at least know one way it could turn out.

The only unusual and unexpected result from my posts has been comments from friends and relatives who are now worried about me going on this hike.  I am having to explain why I would want to do such a thing. The husband looks at me and says “you’re not 25 anymore, you know”.  It’s like people are thinking I’m going to run my wheelchair off the edge of the trail.  I’m not going to start having second thoughts about this – that’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it.

And as long as my Q word is unrelated to the Grand Canyon hike, I thought I’d post a couple pics also unrelated to the Grand Canyon. They are from my first extended hike on the AT with four lovely young women. Now that was an adventure. The first one was taken by the gentleman who gave us a ride to our starting point (we hiked back the 30 plus miles to our car). Our packs were so heavy, and we were so “green”. I’m sure he thought we would never make it. But we did.

Julie, Maura, me Esther, Kim
Me in my dork costume.

The countdown has started, 24 days to go… I CAN’T WAIT. Well, I can, but you know what I mean. Just sayin’…

Phantom Ranch

Phantom Ranch is an exclusive place that I have been hearing about for years and have always wanted to visit. Exclusive it is, because there is a quota on how many people can get reservations there or in the campground in a season. There are no other places to stay in the canyon, except for hikers who have back country permits to pitch a tent elsewhere. There is a lottery reservation system and it has a 13 month advance timing. If you are randomly chosen and your requested dates fit open accommodations, you get to stay. If not, you start over.  This one of the reasons why only 1% of the millions of visitors to the canyon in a year will get to stay at Phantom Ranch.

The ranch is at the bottom of the canyon at the intersection of the Bright Angel Trail, the Kaibab Trail North and South, and the Colorado River. The buildings were designed by Mary Elizabeth Jane Colter (what happens when your parents can’t decide what to name you) and built in the early days of tourism to the canyon. They are really beautiful stone and timber buildings that almost disappear into the surroundings. When the designs were approved the plan was to name the buildings Roosevelt Chalets but Ms. Colter said “not if you want to use my design”. She had already named it Phantom Ranch and that’s what it stayed. The rich and famous rode mules down the trail and stayed there, sometimes for weeks. There are cabins housing from 2 to 10 people, and 2 dormitories for males and 2 dormitories for females. Dorms have five bunk beds each and a common shower and restroom.

Meals are served at the Ranch by reservation also. They are rather expensive but that is understandable when you realize that almost everything that comes and goes to the ranch has to do it by mule. Breakfast goes for about $24 and the early seating is at 5:30 am. If you like to sleep in you can catch the late seating at 6:30 am (hmm…). My food will be carried in my pack to the campground by mule so I have no reservations for a meal at the canteen, but I may stop in to buy a postcard or a drink while I’m there.

Bright Angel Campground where I will be tenting for two nights is only a short walk from Phantom Ranch. On this “in between” day we will be doing some day hiking along the river and some side canyons. I’ve heard this is supposed to keep us from getting stiff and sore before the hike back up to the rim again. We’ll see.

Approach to Phantom Ranch

The Park Service has a lovely video of Phantom Ranch and detailed instructions for the lottery reservation system at http://www.grandcanyonlodges.com/lodging/phantom-ranch/

Photos from canstock.com

Oh, What Shall I Wear?

Oh, what shall I wear (that doesn’t make me look like a dork)?

I have photos of all my most memorable hikes. Most of them were taken by me so I am not in them (before selfies) but the ones I am in are always a little embarrassing. Some people look really cool when they’re hiking (and that is SO important) but me, not so much. I just don’t look like I know what I’m doing.

This hike might be different, although I’m not going to bet on it. I’ve had time to prepare and get some real hiking clothes. I justify it more on the practical side so I don’t appear totally vain and superficial. The right hiking clothes do make a difference in comfort, and I have listened to people talk about comfort a lot.

I’ve already shown you about the weather extremes that are possible in May (in post E) so you know that layering on top is going to be important. I also value things that breathe, dry quickly, and are stretchy to allow me to move. I love pants with good pockets, that will not look dirty even if I wear them all three days, and are somewhat water resistant. With these things in mind here is my list.

  • 2 short sleeve T shirts
  • 1 long sleeve T shirt
  • 1 fleece pullover
  • 1 rain jacket (which I might leave behind if the forecast is for no rain)
  • 1 pair convertible pants/shorts
  • 1 pair long pants
  • Socks and underwear
  • Brimmed hat and bandanna
  • Warm hat and gloves

I already wrote about my hiking boots and socks, but I’ll also take along a pair of lightweight camp shoes to give my boots a rest at night.

Actually, I am going to look like a dork on this hike too, because I found this awesome hat that I can also wear all summer in Wisconsin. It will keep the giant mosquitoes and deer flies off my head because it has a bug net that I can lower for ultimate protection.

Front and back selfie – my awesome bug hat.

Another useful purchase for this hike was a set of gaiters. These attach to my boots and come up to my knee to keep my pants and legs clean and dry, and keep debris out of my boots. They are easy to put on and comfortable to wear. I’ve already tried them out – they are good in the snow, an added bonus.

Gaiters

So, what do you think? Am I ready? (ready to look “not cool” in this year’s pictures too?)

Nourishment

A to Z Blogging Challenge, the letter N

(Because we have to eat…)

Eating is a part of hiking that has always interested me. (Actually, isn’t eating a part of almost everything, and what’s not to like about that?) It is challenging to plan for a time when physical demands on the body are great and food is… well, scarce.  On this hike, we will have to pack our meals and snacks for three days, carry fuel and gear to cook the food, and make sure we leave no packaging behind. Some of the food needs to be accessible on the trail as we walk. And, of course, we need to carry enough water for drinking as well as cooking. Here’s our plan.

My brother has some “rations”, dried meals, that he wants to use for the nights when we will be in camp. These will be simple, just add hot water and stir, meals that are designed to be high in calories and electrolytes. We know we will be hungrier than usual and the recommendation is to increase our calorie intake by half – 3,000 calories per day at least.  Other than these two evening meals I don’t plan to have to heat anything – that will mean less fuel to carry and less time spent cooking.

Dried or dehydrated meals are really great because they are light.  Our guidelines say our food for the day should only weigh between 1 and 1.5 pounds. If it’s heavier than that, it isn’t the right food.  

The noon meals while hiking will be short stops, so I want to take tuna or chicken in foil packs, and some kind of cracker. We will also be snacking on trail mix, nuts, Kind bars, and dried fruit. I tend to like salty foods rather than sweet while hiking because I know I need the electrolytes. Sodium is especially important to avoid dehydration (see my D post for more on that). Another way I’m going to watch my electrolyte balance is by putting powder Gatorade or similar drink mix in my water.  The flavor helps me drink more of it too.

packaged trail mix
Jumbo bag to be split up into zip-locks and carried for snacks on the go.

Other than the foil packs for the dried meals and the tuna/chicken meals, I want to repackage my snacks in zip-locks so I don’t have wrappers to dispose of. I can use the zip-locks to hold whatever trash I do have to haul out. 

Our food guidelines included a few other tips such as:

  • Include some spicy sauces to add to bland foods like rice or instant dried beans
  • Hot cereals are great for breakfast if you have time to boil water
  • Dry instant milk, dried meat like turkey or beef jerky are other dehydrated foods that work well
  • Granola gives some crunchy variety to breakfast or snacks
  • Avoid anything in a can – heavy and you have to carry it out too
  • Avoid fresh fruit that will get bruised, or affected by the heat

Just thinking about all this dried stuff makes me hungry and thirsty for fresh vegetables and fruit and something cold to drink. And that brings me to the final part of the hiking experience that I look forward to – the meal after the return to civilization.  Deprivation heightens appreciation, just sayin’…