“Up North” at Nelson Lake

6-15-2019

Nelson Lake has a large island in the middle. The dam is on the left side of the picture near where the highway jogs.

We went exploring today. It’s becoming necessary to spend as much time as possible away from the house due to what seems to be an electrical sensitivity that Dennis has developed. He wanted to go north. We went to Nelson Lake.

Nelson Lake was formed when the Totogatic River was dammed, way back when my father was a child. He told stories of how he and his dad cut trees and hauled them out of the river valley before it was flooded. When I look at the land around Nelson Lake I realize what the water covered up as it rose – forest, rock, probably a few farmsteads. The hilly terrain formed a lot of inlets and coves, a very irregular coastline, and a lot of places for fish to hide and breed. It is well known for good fishing.

We drove up S.H. 27 to Dam Road (I love that road sign) and turned in to a rather busy boat landing. Trucks and trailers were pulling boats in and out of the water – pontoon boats, jet skis and fishing boats. We spent some time on the dock talking with people then headed back to our truck where Dennis took a nap. Windows were open, soft breeze, and the real surprise, no mosquitoes.

Right in front of the parking area was the dam. A couple families with kids and fishing poles came and went, along with their strings of panfish. The dam itself is old enough to have been at risk a couple of years ago when the lake was extra high and flooding. It was reinforced and held. A lot of people were worried about it then.

Leaving the boat landing we tried to drive around the lake on the north side. Because of the crazy shoreline, there really isn’t a road that follows along the lake. There are quite a few small lodges, resorts and camping places tucked in here and there but every road we tried turned out to be a dead end eventually.

We traced our route back to the other side of the dam where we took County T along the south side of Nelson Lake and the north side of nearby Smith Lake. We stopped at Etcheyson Park, another small picnic area and boat ramp on Smith Lake. A couple teens were actually floating around in the water on tubes. It’s the middle of June here but that doesn’t mean the water is warm in any of these lakes. Last week we had a morning of 36 degrees, and a couple weeks ago there was snow falling. A cold summer so far, but very refreshing, if you’re used to June in Florida, like we are.

I’m impulsive and suddenly pizza sounded like a good supper choice. I thought of it mostly because of the many times I had passed the Outback Bar and Pizza sign on S.H. 77, only a few miles away. I had read in the local newspaper about the new owners keeping a super good and sort of secret recipe for pizza sauce. It was good! The place is small but the bar was lined with four or five couples who were really into some sports event on the tv’s. We opted for a table outside in the quiet where we could watch the trees and birds. The owner and her dog waited on our table. The dog didn’t actually do anything but she was well behaved.

The day had turned cool and cloudy and I thought to myself that it was a typical day “up north” in many ways. It’s hard to say exactly what is different up here, but I think it has to do with the preponderance of cold weather days. It creates a different landscape, with forests of a certain kind, marshes, wild looking rivers, many lakes, and much more untouched nature than in other parts of our country.

Although it seemed to me like I could have been 4 or 5 o’clock, it was actually 7 p.m. when we left. It is now almost 9 and the sun is still not down, another feature of “up north” life. And the sun will be up again tomorrow around 5 a.m. so I’m going to quit now and get some sleep.

Zigzag

the letter Z

Distances in the Grand Canyon are described in various ways by those who have hiked them frequently. There are straight line miles, “as the crow flies” miles, and the miles spent zigging and zagging, as Colin Fletcher called it.  From “The Man Who Walked Through Time”,

“Cross-country on foot, miles are always misleading: the hours are what count. In the Canyon, miles become virtually meaningless. From start to finish of my journey I would cover, in a straight line, only forty-three. The river mileage came to one hundred and four. When I ran the map measurer from one end to the other of my proposed route, carefully following each winding contour, it registered just two hundred. But I felt sure, and Harvey Butchart greed, that I would walk at least four hundred miles as the foot slogs. And there were times when I would be lucky to travel half a mile in an hour.”

Another word, switchback, is often used to describe hiking trails and roads that go up or down steep hills. The trail will go in one direction up the hill, turn 180 degrees and continue uphill in the opposite direction, and repeat until the hill is climbed. The main purpose of this zigzag process is to protect the hill, and the trail from erosion. It is also a way of controlling the grade for ease of hiking, although it makes the distance considerably longer.

Almost every place I’ve hiked has been in hilly or mountainous terrain. Often there are switchbacks and there will also be signs to stay on the trail and not take shortcuts. Shortcuts that go straight down the hill will get worn down and become a path for rainwater to follow, producing erosion and eventually the trail will be ruined. It’s tempting at times but I’ve learned not to take those shortcuts.

The descent into the canyon includes so much vertical distance in such a short space that there will be a lot of zigzagging, especially on the South Kaibab. The picture below is of a section of the Bright Angel Trail, the upper left corner and lower right corner have a lot of visible switchbacks. Looking at this picture makes me think this is going to be a long, grueling climb. What fun! I can’t wait. The word zigzag is interesting because of the z’s which sort of mimic the shape of a switchback. 

portion of Bright Angel Trail, Grand Canyon
Switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail (most visible at top left and bottom right)
photo from canstock.com by Kelly Vandellen

We are at the end of the alphabet once again. The A to Z is a valuable writing experience for me, but more than that, it is a joy to meet others in this online blogging community. I am always amazed at the creativity, the sharing of comments and encouragement, the friendship extended, and the way it is all shared through the written word. Thank you to everyone who read and commented, and to the organizers of the A to Z. It has become my April habit.

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’…

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

Mules…

Thank you, Mule.

I’ve mentioned already that this hike, sponsored by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute, is titled “Take a Load Off: Mule Assisted Camping 0514”.  My brother was being thoughtful of me and his wife, thinking that we would be better off having assistance from some friendly mules. The mules have agreed to carry a duffel bag for each of us which will lighten our load considerably.

On our first day we will meet at about 10 am to have our equipment checked over by our guide, and then our tenting equipment, some of our food and clothing – basically anything we don’t need on the descent – will be packed in the bag allowed us. I think our mule train will start that afternoon. I’m guessing they will go down the Bright Angel Trail, cross the Colorado on the Black Bridge and stay the night at Phantom Ranch (see this pic of mules crossing scary bridge). Almost everything that goes to Phantom Ranch goes by mule, including supplies for the canteen meals and goods sold in the store. Duffel transport is a common expense for hikers, especially ones going up who don’t want all that stuff on their own backs.

A lot of people ride the mules to Phantom Ranch too but the park video says the people getting off the mules are just as tired and sore as the ones who hiked the trail. Excuse me for laughing, haha. When you don’t ride for hours at a time as a regular thing, that is exactly what happens.  

Our hike guidelines give specific instructions to hikers who might happen to meet a mule train on the trail. We are to back up against the uphill side of the trail and wait quietly until the last mule has passed and is at least 50 feet away. Although the mules are well trained and mostly stick to business, if they are harassed or startled it can result in an accident. It is a real shame when a mule is lost off the trail, as you can imagine. And worse yet if a hiker falls, which is why we are given the uphill side. Lucky us.

Book Cover for Brighty of the Grand Canyon

Mules have a real history in the Canyon. An old children’s book which I read to my children years ago was “Brighty of the Grand Canyon”. It was kind of a history lesson of the prospecting days, when miners traveled the canyon looking for gold, with a mule carrying their provisions. Brighty, the mule, is the star of the book – kind of the Black Beauty of the mule world.  A great book about the canyon, and not just for kids. I loved it. Earlier this month a reader reminded me of this story that she had also read and loved. I’m not sure but I think Brighty might have been a burro (small donkey), which is different from a mule, but close enough for these purposes.

The little corral at Phantom Ranch looks just the same as it did when first constructed in the 1920’s. I’m hoping to hang out there a little and talk to some of the handlers because I’m curious about where the mules come from and how they are trained. I know they are very reliable and sure footed, which makes them a good fit for terrain in the canyon.

Kaibab

I have just been looking at the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. From a distance I could not tell what I was seeing. It was the crooked line of a river made broad by lighter borders unevenly stretching out on either side. Zooming in closer I suddenly saw height and depth. The dark areas were shadow of high cliffs. The light areas were less steep slopes with sparse vegetation. The trails were white lines zig zagging down the descents and they went on and on, seemingly forever, as I followed the route our hike will take.

Google Earth is a unique way of seeing the Canyon – vertically, looking straight down. Although it doesn’t compare to actually being there, it gives a dramatic view of how large and complicated the formations are. Look at it if you can.

I always have a hard time understanding the lay of land from written descriptions but I’m going to try to describe this larger area, and show you where Kaibab fits in. Stick with me here.

A high, mountainous plateau goes from east to west across the northern edge of Arizona. It is bisected by the Colorado as it winds it’s way southwest. It’s hard to believe that the river made such a wide, dramatic gash through the plateau that slopes toward the south. On the north side of the river, from east to west, lie the Kaibab, the Kanab, the Uinkaret and the Shivwits Plateaus. On the south side of the river there is the Coconino Plateau and the Hualapai Plateau.  Hundreds of tributaries run down into the Colorado, cutting their own canyons as they go, especially from the north side.  

The Kaibab Plateau “is covered with a beautiful forest, and in the forest charming parks are found…. The plateau has four months of the sweetest summer man has ever  known.” John Wesley Powell

As far as the word Kaibab itself, well, there doesn’t seem to be a known meaning of it on the internet. It is probably a Paiute Native American word and it’s attached to many things in the Grand Canyon area. There is the Kaibab National Forest, which is home to a herd of large antlered deer (well fed and well managed), there is the Kaibab squirrel which is nearly extinct but still holding on, there is the large Kaibab Plateau north of the canyon and, of course, the Kaibab Trail with its South and North branches. Our descent will be on the South Kaibab Trail, and that is for another post.

map of Grand Canyon National Park

Don’t forget to check out the Grand Canyon on Google Earth. It’s amazing!

Journey

The Journey, Getting There from Here

Although I haven’t taken this Grand Canyon hike yet, I have had to figure out how to get there. I did this quite some time ago to make sure that my reservations were in place.  For me, the hike itself was quite an investment and I didn’t want to risk not being there at the right time.

Driving by land is an obvious good choice. My brother and his wife who live about three hours from me, in Wisconsin, are driving and have room in their vehicle for all our equipment.  I am flying out and meeting them before the hike and will be traveling light. Since there are many great places to visit between Wisconsin and Arizona, including many national parks, my brother will be taking his time and may do some other shorter hikes on the way.

Flying into the Grand Canyon area usually means going to one of the nearby cities with an airport – Flagstaff, Phoenix or Las Vegas. Although there is a small airport in Grand Canyon Village, service there is  limited to private and charter flights. From the cities, car rental is the advisable travel means. My brother’s approach will be from the east which meant that Flagstaff was the most logical choice for me. It is, more or less, on his way to the canyon. We will meet in Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon Village the day before our trip starts.

Did I make it easy enough to see where the cities with airports are?

Our first day of the hike requires us to be present at 10 am, so we have arranged lodging in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim within the National Park. It is a small village and has limited year-round lodging. There are a dozen or more hotels including Bright Angel Lodge, El Tovar Hotel, Kachina Lodge, Thunderbird Lodge, the Motor Lodge and Yavapai Lodge. These hotels have been hosting visitors since the park became a tourist destination and several of them are quite famous. El Tovar is right on the Rim and built like a European castle!  Lodging is also available on the North Rim and at Phantom Ranch inside the canyon, which I will mention in a future post.

My brother was able to get a hotel room, but I was not. Instead, I have reservations at Mather Campground in Grand Canyon Village. I will be tenting the night of our arrival, the first night of the hike before the descent, the two nights at Phantom Ranch, and the night after we return to the South Rim. Hopefully, I can survive five nights of sleeping on the ground.

My airport nearest my home is 240 miles away in Minneapolis so I have transportation complications on that end as well. I will probably travel there the night before the flight and do a park and fly stay at a motel. Living in the wild of northern Wisconsin has its aggravations…

There is so much more that I could say about getting to the various destinations in the Grand Canyon. I didn’t even mention much about the North Rim or the West Rim. It’s a big place.

Elevation!

Yes, ooh aah!

I am not going to give a lot of statistics on elevation in this post. What is significant about elevation, as you would expect, is that this is a very deep canyon. Viewed from the rim, the Colorado River at the bottom looks like a tiny ribbon when, in fact, it is quite wide in all the places that you can see it.

Standing at various lookouts on the rim during my first brief trip, I remember feeling that rush looking out over the cliffs. You almost can’t help but think of what it would be like to fall, or jump. The drops are so extreme.  ( I was saddened to hear the news last week of a tourist who fell to his death. Taking pictures can be hazardous. )

The rims vary from 6000 to 8500 feet above sea level. The drop down to the river at the bottom of the canyon varies from 3500 to 6000 feet. Our gain/loss of elevation on Day 2 and Day 4 of the hike will be about 5,000 feet. That is enough difference in elevation to produce a climate change. It is often much cooler up on the rim and quite warm to very hot at the bottom.

That might make it tricky to pack the right clothing. In May, when I am going, it should not be oppressively hot at the bottom and hopefully, it won’t be snowing up on the rim.

This is what I can expect for May weather:

South Rim (where we start) Max 70 degrees, Min 39 degrees, Precip 0.66 inches

Inner Gorge (lowest point) Max 92 degrees, Min 63 degrees, Precip 0.36 inches

One very curious fact – the plateaus on both sides of the canyon are higher than the elevation upriver. Why did the path of the river run from low to high elevation when it first began cutting the Grand Canyon? Of course, it didn’t. There are several theories about why it appears this way. None of them are certain. Geology is sometimes very strange and although it has stories to tell, we don’t understand them all.

I will end with a picture of one of the bridges that we will cross at the bottom of the canyon – a bridge that still seems scary high, even though it is dwarfed by the walls of the canyon.

It’s difficult to see but there is a mule train crossing the Black Bridge to Phantom Ranch. This footbridge has a solid floor to keep the animals from looking down and freaking out.

Up North: The First Snow

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The hydrangeas never give up, and they look real good with a dusting of snow.

Today it snowed. It wasn’t dramatic. The temperature has been inching down toward the freezing mark over the last week or two. We have had a lot of rain, which usually will spoil the fall color and make the leaves turn uniformly brown and dull. But this year the colors have held out brilliantly. Today, every time we looked out the window the weather was changed from our last observation. The sun would come out briefly and be followed within minutes by a snow squall.

Since I will so soon be taking pictures of snow, I need to finish letting you all know how beautiful autumn has been. I am so blessed by God the artist, that I don’t have to take a vacation and travel to see the woods in glorious color. It’s right here in my backyard. Last Sunday, after lunch with the family, we didn’t want to go straight home. Mom, the husband and I drove out in the country, to the lake, just to see what the trees were doing. Later, I got to explore a park I had never been to with my brother and his wife. It was a wonderful day – that’s what “full of wonder” means. My  phone is so full of pictures – no way could I show them all – but here are some.

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Seriously, the air itself takes on a glow when there is this much gold and yellow overhead.

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But it’s the abundance of reds that stand out this year.

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A path to remember – my hiking companions Den, MaryPat and Scruffy.

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I love the color contrast with the remaining green. We came upon this pond in the forest – magical.

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At the lake, a bald eagle did a circle of the shore while we watched.

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Spatter technique – there was a lot of it this year.

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The color is close and touchable. It is easy to feel submersed in it.

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The goodness is everywhere to be seen, even down on the path.

There are so many more – it was hard to choose. I wish you all could see it. Part of the reason it is so beautiful is that it’s also so short lived, fleeting. As I said, today it snowed…