Grand Canyon Leftovers

Yes, leftovers. These things I’ve written about my adventure hiking in the Grand Canyon have probably not taken you more than 2 or 3 minutes to read, on any given day.  When you consider that the whole experience was six days in the happening, you know there were lots of things I did not mention, yet.

There are some significant things I want to record for my own sake, and maybe for yours, dear readers.

I want to remember:

  • The El Tovar Hotel. Specifically, the ice cream shop and the booth where my brother sat as a teen and was encouraged to apply for summer work at the Canyon. He did, and that started his GC experiences and led to mine. Beautiful hotel with such a history.
  • Our knowledgeable, personable female guide, Nina. Her German heritage came out in her motherly care of us, her enthusiasm for beer, and her down to earth “so who needs a swim suit to go swimming” philosophy.
  • That it’s very handy to have an empty plastic Mayonnaise jar in the tent with you at night, ladies. Thank you again Nina.
  • How big, beautiful and dangerous the Canyon is.
  • That people are built to walk up easier (and longer) than to walk down.
  • That trekking poles are lifesavers when you are tired. Four points of balance are so much better than two.
  • That I can live through pain, and that pain’s memory fades (as in childbirth and hiking the South Kaibab)
  • That with enough rain, the desert can look so green and full of flowers.
  • That even in a place stamped with billions of years of time, the fact that I can see it, marvel at it, and wonder about it, means I am uniquely created to enjoy it in my brief span of time. Time is not the only measure of significance.
  • That I am truly blessed to not be living like I’m camping all the time, but that I get to camp out when I want to.
  • That you can get to know complete strangers pretty easily when you camp and hike with them, and most serious hikers are nice people. I enjoyed getting to know you Michael, Marlene, Steven, Mike, Bob and Kim.
El Tovar main lobby, from second floor balcony
El Tovar, second floor lobby near guest rooms

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.

Pink Cloud and the Man Who Lives in the Woods

20180209_182854630926522.jpgFrom where did this one pink cloud come? So singular and alone it was floating in the path of light coming sideways in the evening.  Is it the evening because it divides the night from the day evenly? That’s what I was thinking about. I had to stop and take a picture of the cloud.

Darkness was approaching, and so was a man on a bicycle. He was a friendly man and called out to me, also on a bicycle, and to the husband who was walking. He asked about the electric bike I was on and came over to show us a picture on his cellphone of another electric bike he had just been looking at. He talked fast and easily about bikes, having put about $4000 into his ride, with special rims on the wheels and a rear approach sensor. He was a serious rider. In fact, he only rode bikes, because he had lost his license a while back.

He was riding home, well not exactly home. He was riding to his tent in the woods. Yes, homeless for the time being but making the best of it. Clean (had just showered at a shelter today), well groomed and nourished, and looking more like a yuppie fitness freak than a vagrant, he gave us several stories of life in the woods. He was a loner by choice and kept his camp clean and decked out – 2 tents, because he had lots of stuff. Oh, and he was a veteran of the Gulf War.

He was employed at Goodwill Corporate for three years now. He had another valuable bike which he kept locked up at work. It had always been a problem to keep it safe while he was away from camp. What was he to do, chain it to a tree?

He wanted to get housing but he just didn’t make enough where he was, and there weren’t any better jobs that he knew of.  He told us where his last three camps had been, and I knew every one of them, had driven/walked by and thought “now if I were homeless I might try to hide in there”.  The place he had been just before Hurrican Irma had been by a creek. That night he came home from work and everything he owned had floated off in the flooded field. He said it was a real pain every time he was made to move. When you have a big camp, it takes quite a few trips to relocate it all. Sometimes they don’t give him much time to do it. He has to leave stuff behind.

The husband was getting antsy, tired of standing and listening and it must have been obvious. The man’s  name was Jody. He apologized for talking so much. It was just that he didn’t get to talk very often, especially to strangers who didn’t know anything about him and asked questions that didn’t sound threatening. He rode off on his really cool bike. I’m not going to say that I didn’t think about offering him a meal next time he rode by, or a shower, or maybe a yard to camp in next time he got chased out. I did think of those things, but he sounded like he was handling life pretty well so I said nothing.

Ordinary Times and Travels: Florida Off Road

I am blessed with an eclectic family, people that are willing to share their lives and experiences with each other. As a result, I have had an entertaining afternoon at River Ranch, Florida. It’s not really a town. It’s a community of people bonded by their attraction to off road vehicles and the camping lifestyle. Think classy redneck, lots of flags, dust, dirt, mud, throw in a few guns and lots of food, trailers and serious off road vehicles. That’s River Ranch.

In my family are men who do work with machines – clearing land, building structures, hauling stuff – and that is how they came upon River Ranch. Having done a lot of work there for others, my nephew now has his own campsite and comes up from the city to relax and have fun with his family. Early in the development of River Ranch people picked their campsites and claimed them much like the old-fashioned land rushes. My cousin had his site fenced off and outfitted with a well, outdoor showers and an upscale outhouse.  The camp section is crisscrossed with sandy lanes and trails and covers a lot of territory. There are a few permanent residents but many are weekend regulars in RV’s and trailers that they park under shelters they have built.

For this outing our families had a sandwich making assembly line, packed a cooler of drinks and loaded up our vehicles. A few weeks ago a wildfire went through much of the camp area and destroyed a lot of property. We started our trek through this burn area. All the roads and paths are dirt and sand, and since there has not been much rain it is very dusty. That is why many of us had dust masks and  head coverings. Our next stop was the “play pen” where our twelve year old guide showed us how to get down and dirty. We toured my nephew’s campsite and then headed out into 8 square miles of Florida wilderness.  We had our picnic in an area called “the oaks” for a very obvious reason. We traveled on to the water hole and then back to our starting point. Come with me on a picture rendition of our 5 hour journey!

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These were the multi-person vehicles that we used, along with several single person ATV’s. The small blue one was built by my nephew’s son – it didn’t go with us.

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Our caravan starts out through the pine burn area.

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Trey, our very own “Evil Kneival”, led the way all afternoon. They call this “sugar sand”. It is possible to get stuck in it, yes.

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Sadly, fire travels swiftly through dry palmetto and underbrush. Many buildings and vehicles were destroyed but since it was during the week, few people were present.

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We enter the “play pen” with Trey demonstrating how to play. Mud reigns. Some of these puddles are deeper than others.

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He’s often on two wheels. His dad says he has never gone over, amazing. Funny thing, none of the rest of us did this.

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The stunt man parks his four wheeler on a tree at “the oaks”. Picnic time.

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A tasty lunch, a little tree climbing and swinging from ropes while we rested up for the rest of the trip. There were lots of families with kids out here and they all looked to be having fun. A little dirt doesn’t hurt anyone.

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Trey, not quite sure of what to do with this bump in the road???

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Actually, now we’re sure. We are going around this part of the trail.

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Our guide opens the gate at the campsite. Shower stalls and the outhouse are prime features, along with a nice fire pit.

Many thanks to our host and hostess for an interesting afternoon “off the road” in Florida!

Then and Now: Hatchery Creek

I’m not done recording details about the visit to Hayward, Wisconsin. The Chamber should be paying me for this…

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then (1987)

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Now (2016)

It was thirty years ago but I remember it  like it was yesterday. Two moms, one with two little boys and one with two little girls, needed the kind of break from routine and stressful lives that only nature can provide. They were campers so they loaded up and traveled to an out of the way spot. It was an abandoned fish hatchery, state land I suppose. The cement tanks that had been embedded in the ground to harbor the young fingerlings had been removed and the field grasses had grown to cover the areas. The small road, two tracks with grass growing in the middle, crossed a stone bridge which covered a creek, Hatchery Creek. Chalk it up to mid-westerners to avoid having to name things, by just calling them what they are.

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I was one of the moms. I had driven down the road one day looking for a place of childhood memories.

Sundays, with the whole family in the car, my dad would stop on the way home to look at the fish, in particular the large sturgeon who lived in his own special tank. Other tanks were rippling with the motion of the young fish waiting to be released into northern Wisconsin lakes and streams.

But in 1987 it was obvious that the program had been discontinued and the sign indicated that the natural stream that ran through the property was being restored as a trout habitat. There were no buildings left, no signs of recent activity, just a beautiful meadow surrounded by hills decorated with hardwoods and pines. It was the perfect place to camp. I could hardly wait.

In this day of protected lands, designated camping spots and required permits to camp, it is hard to imagine someone just picking a place in the woods and deciding it’s the place for them. If we were trespassing, I didn’t know it. Plus, we were gutsy women who loved to make independent decisions, and we made the decision of where to put the tent, where to make our campfire and told our kids where they could explore.  That’s what they did all afternoon.

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There is something so compelling about a creek. It’s more personal and approachable than a river. Rippling and clear, musical, fordable, a creek begs you to follow it up river because it has to start somewhere. What would that look like? This particular stream was easiest to follow if you got in it. The banks were sometimes purposely undercut to provide hiding places for fish and the grass and bushes on the banks were tall. A person who didn’t know the stream was there might have a hard time finding it. But you could walk in the middle in water never more than knee deep and every now and then there would be stones or boulders to stand or sit on. The kids were having the greatest time and we were watching, with cameras in hand.

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I had to work my way through head high foliage to get to the place where it looked like water was welling up out of the bottom of the creek. It may not have been the birthplace of the stream but it was certainly adding the major portion of the flow. I have a weird fear of holes spewing an endless flow of water. If I stepped in there would I disappear, falling endlessly like Alice down the rabbit hole, only this hole is full of water which kind of rules out being able to breathe?

I’m again back in childhood, ice skating on the farm pond and hearing Dad tell us to stay away from a certain area where springs kept the ice thin. Springs were mysterious, like faucets that never get turned off.

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The rest of our camping trip was spent cooking supper, sitting around the campfire with visiting grandparents, and sleeping through the night with one eye open. It was “that season” of the year and our tick phobia was full blown by the time we left, nevertheless it was a memorable time for me, and that is why I revisit Hatchery Creek most every time I go home to Hayward.

Two weeks ago daughter Esther and I went to the area where we had camped and observed the ritual of wading in the creek. She was the youngest of the four children present and does not remember the time and the place as clearly as I do. It has changed. It is now an access point for a series of trails including the Birkebeiner ski trail. It is used year round by many people who want to hike or single track through the woods, or skiers practicing their hill climbing and cross country skills. People do not camp there and I feel a bit sneaky (and smug, and fortunate) for having done so. The creek is still flowing, although it seems to have taken second place to the footpaths through the woods. I know where that spring is. I still find it mysterious and I still wonder how it keeps coming, and coming, and coming…

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A short walk up a trail

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woodland beauty

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even in death…