Archive for October, 2015

Epic Hiking and Majestic Views All At the Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

I made reservations at Trailer Village at the Grand Canyon a couple of months ago so we pressed on after 3 nights in Flagstaff.

This is the third time Jeff and I have been to the Grand Canyon. Our first trip was after a sales conference in Scottsdale about 7-8 years ago. It was December and we only had a few hours to explore. So we hit the South Rim and the restaurant in the Village at Bright Angel Lodge.

Our table was overlooking the rim with spectacular views. Our brief time was enough to create a longing to come back to spend more time at one of the Wonders of the World.

Grand Canyon

Jeff catching his shadow during sunrise hiking the Canyon

And that’s exactly what we did last year (2014). A group of us from Arkansas trained for about a year in order to do the Rim2Rim (And Rim2Rim2Rim), crossing the Canyon from South Rim to North Rim via the Bright Angel trail and the North Kaibab trail. You can read all about the experience here.

After completing such a hike we were left with wanting more. So here we are. At the Grand Canyon. Planning another epic hike into the bowels of the canyon.

This time we wanted to start and finish on the South Rim so we chose to go down the South Kaibab trail to the Colorado River and up Bright Angel…for me (Rim2River2Rim). Jeff on the other hand wanted to do a double, so he started at Bright Angel down to the river then up South Kaibab. Then, turn around and head back. (Rim2River2Rim2River2Rim)

Grand Canyon

Rain and rainbows delaying our hike

The plan was for Jeff to leave at 1am and get to the South Kaibab TH by the time I was starting my hike at 6am.

We arrived at the GC on Thursday hoping to do our hike on Saturday. But thunderstorms were predicted and the hike was called off for the day. Then Sunday…Monday…Tuesday…Wednesday. We had rain, rain and more rain, hail and wind gusts until the weather finally broke the day before we were to leave.

There is a lot of preparation that goes into a 10-15 hour hike, especially when the canyon had some of its water sites shut off

due to repairs. Water, nutrition, extra socks, moleskins, headlamps, electrolytes filled our slim running packs.

Grand Canyon

Stuffing our running packs full of supplies

We had prepared as best we could and the hike was finally on!

Jeff left at 1am sharing that at some points in the hike he stopped on the trail, turned his headlamp off and just took in the stillness, the quietness, the moon and stars in the canyon. Not another soul around. Totally unplugged. Just him and the trail.

I met Jeff about 7:30am halfway down the South Kaibab. What a refreshing face to see! We got to share our experiences up to that point and enjoy a snack before heading our separate ways…him going up…me going down.

The day before the hike I wasn’t feeling up to doing the 18 miles of Rim2River2Rim. So my plan was to hit the Tonto Trail off the South Kaibab which heads west to the Bright Angel trail…cutting off 1000’ elevation drop/gain and 5 miles. But I took my first 10 steps on SK and I new I had to make the full journey down.

I am so glad I chose the longer route. The dramatic cliff views made green and lush from the week of rain. Trickles of water were flowing out of the rocks. Such a fresh smell in the air. It’s all too grand, broad, high, and vast to take in. I couldn’t open my eyes wide enough!

While hiking down I heard a clop, clop, clop sound up in the hills above me only to see my first mule train carrying supplies down to Phantom Ranch. The mules are bred for their solid disposition and sure footing to take packs and people below the rim. Though they had moved out of sight, I could still hear the clopping down below as they continued on.

The SK trail is narrower than BA trail and a little more worse for ware. The mules have worn a steady path into the trail, sometimes 12” deep. And with the recent rains had created a couple miles of deep puddles and sticky mud to navigate.

After 4 hours I made it to Phantom Ranch, 4600’ below the South Rim, to rest, eat and fill up my water bottles. An hour later Jeff had made it back down and joined me there.

I stayed long enough to dip my feet into the Bright Angel Creek before starting the steady climb back up and up and up.

The BA trail is the least steep of trails out of the canyon. From last year I knew that I was in for a hike at the Devils Switchbacks. I was dreading them from the moment I left Phantom Ranch. I remembered them to be numerous, steep and grand. But Jeff and I arrived at Indian Gardens to realize that we had already hiked them. My mind had made them dramatically different than it actually was…to my great relief!

Grand Canyon

Monumental swithbacks on the SK trail

Things look incredibly different when you hike the trails from a different direction. Last year I hiked down the BA trail. This year I was hiking it up and I couldn’t remember most of the trail. Everything looked new. Like I had never hiked this trail before. It was a completely different perspective!

Grand Canyon

Views of the Colorado River

For 4.5 hours we hiked switchbacks with heavy legs and heaving chests as we climbed to higher elevations until we finally crested the top. The glorious, level, finally stop moving, TOP!

The Grand Canyon is one tough hike. But I think the majestic views; the grandness of it all feeds the senses to a point of a natural high that carries you along the trail, one foot in front of the other.

I’m not going to lie…my legs and chest hurt for days. But my memories of this epic hike will last me a lifetime, which should more than cover my momentary pain.

Grand Canyon. I WILL be back!

Grand Canyon

We did it!

PS…We were once again camping with our friends John and Becky and also Paul and Nina of WheelingIt. We had fun with Happy Hour and a grilled pizza night…in the rain…which will make for good story telling in the future.

While we were hiking Paul and Nina were gracious enough to keep Sam for us. It was hysterical to see Sam and Polly together. They were like two long lost pals who where on their first date. I’ve never seen two dogs kiss each other. No, really. They were actually kissing each other. Polly giving Sam sideway glances. Sam sitting as close as he possible could to Polly. It was all so amusing!

Sam had a great time with the WheelingIt crew. I hope we can return the favor sometime soon!

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Flagstaff Boonies and Peaks

Flag 2015

Welcome to 7,000 ft…catch your breath!

Comment: Im having a problem with my font and spacing the last couple of posts..so bare with me until I figure things out.
After an amazing time in Albuquerque, Jeff and I have made our way to a favorite boondocking site at Walnut Canyon in Flagstaff, AZ. It’s 5 miles from town, has great connectivity and so much space you can’t see your closest neighbors, except for the invited ones.
We were joined by our friends John and Becky who we met at the Xscapers rally in ABQ. We hit it off and wanted to spend more time with them and they were wanting an opportunity to boondocks. So we both ended up at Walnut Canyon.
Boondocking is spacious here, but its downfall is the difficulty of getting INTO the sites. Weather worn ditches and road grating make it challenging for even the smallest and nimble of rigs. Jeff and I had found the only site we were confident we could get into.
As a result, it was the only site our friends could get into as well. But we didn’t mind! When you travel with kindred spirits cozy campsites are easy to endure!
Flagstaff is a great town and has a bit of the “it” factor for Jeff and I. Even our dog Sam loves it here. The ease of getting around. Great swimming pools and cycling abound. And oh the hiking!
That brings me to something tough. Something I have never shared.
You see. I have had a secret thought for a while now and wasn’t sure I wanted to verbalize it. If I say it out loud then there is no way of backing out of what I’ve thrown out there. If I say it out loud, then something would have to be done about it. If I just keep the secret in my head, then my fears could prevail without anyone knowing. No expectation, no disappointment!
I’ve spent a lot of years operating in such a way, so that my self-inflicted perfectionism wouldn’t be let down.
But that all changed when we got to Flagstaff and Jeff asked a “simple” question. “What do you want to do in 2016 that gets you out over the tips of your skis? Something that challenges you and possibly scares you?”.
And then it came out.
“I would like to hike the highest peaks in each state”.
There. I said it and there is no going back!
ABQ

The trail calls and I must go!

I’ve always enjoyed LOVED hiking. Being out on the trails is my THING. The PLACE that fills my heart and soul with joy. My chest feels like it will burst open as I breath in mountain air. I love the smell of the forest. The smell of dried pine needles baking in the sun. I love the sound of the wind pushing it’s way through the trees, the resistance of the leaves creating a gentle whoosh. My mind empties as I push up and up the mountain. And the views! Oh the views from the top. Nothing can compare.
I come alive on the trails.
But the Highest Peaks? That’s another story. When I hike I can choose trails that are within my known limits. I know that I can finish and enjoy the journey. But the Highest Peaks? I don’t get the choice. To make it a goal to hike them is to commit myself to challenges that exceed my self-limitations.
Flag 2015

Agassiz Peak from Humphreys Peak Trail. San Francisco Mountains.

Well, here we are. In Flagstaff. And I just found out hat the highest peak in Arizona is right at our back door. Humphreys Peak smack in the middle of Flagstaff just staring me in the face saying, “did you said something…out loud?”.
And there was nothing I could do about it but to accept the challenge. Squash my fears and climb up that 12,636′ mountain.
We couldn’t have picked a more beautiful day. Clear skies, cool air and aspens in full yellow fluttering glory.

Jeff, Sam and I left Humphreys Peak TH from the Arizona Snow Bowl following a smooth trail that took us through a field of glowing aspens. But the smooth trail was short lived as we quickly entered a hole in the tree line and the trail quickly turned rugged and rocky. It was an ankle turner almost the entire way and Jeff rolled his and launched himself over the side of the trail, only to be stopped by a small tree. That. Was. Close!

Up and up we went, scaling boulder fields, loose sandy gravel and roots. Lots and lots of roots. The higher we went, the steeper the climb, the thinner the air.
Mt Humphreys

Navigating the rough trail

We reached the first “false summit” and doubts started flooding my head. My leg muscles were on fire, my chest was heaving from lack of air and all I wanted to do was call it good and start the slide back down.
But, I had said something out loud and there was no turning back.
With the aspens far behind we pushed on to the second and third false summit. With the final peak in sight we managed to make the final push, and Jeff, Sam and I had summited our very first Highest Peak! Mt. Humphreys. You have been concured…along with my doubts!
Mt Humphreys Peak

View from Mt. Humphreys with aspens far below and controlled burn in the distance!

I am so glad I didn’t turn back. I am so glad I didn’t miss those views, the smell of pure clean air and feel the wind gusts push me around while I read the sign: Humphreys Peak. 12,636. I had made it to the very top!
WHAT A FEELING!
I wish I could say that the hike down was easy, but the rugged terrain made descending even more technical on the way down. More ankle turns and a fall reminded me that getting to the top is only half the hike.
After a total of 6 hours we were again poking through the hole in the trees and we were greeted to a fine display of a sunset turning those same morning golden aspens to a fiery orange glow.
Mt Humphreys

Sunset from Mt Humphreys TH set off by a controlled burn in the distance

I was warmed by the sun and by the feeling of accomplishment.
I don’t know how many High Points I will be able to achieve in my life, but I will take this first with me. To remind me to press on, even when I don’t think that I can. Arizona is considered one of the easier western high points. If that is the case, then I have my work cut out for me.
Maybe I should keep my big mouth shut next time!
And if my husband asks a simple question about a challenge again, I think I will say, “take a soak in a hot tub in all 50 states”. Yea. That’s what I’m going to say!
A soak in a hot tub! OR…a nap!
Sam

This is how we roll…me driving and the boys sleeping!

Up next? The Grand Canyon!

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The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta 2015

ABQ

Beautiful start to the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta

The internationally known Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta has wrapped up and what a spectacular event it was!

The Balloon Fiesta is a bucket list item for a lot of folks. It’s  one of the most “hands on” events there is as you can be right on the field with Darth Vader, The Bumble Bees and the crowd favorite, Spider Pig.
Have questions about ballooning? Just walk up and ask the crew how things work while they are airing up. Or better yet, volunteer on a balloon crew and get free entrance for the week and possibly get a balloon ride as a thanks. Stand in one place too long and your liable to be bumped in the behind by a rapidly expanding balloon preparing to launch. Hear the Zebra’s whistle as the balloons take flight right over your head…by the hundreds! (550 of them to be exact)
Our camp site was in the General campground just south of the launch field. It was dry camping so no hookups for $30/night. What you lack in amenities is made up by the close proximity to Balloon Fiesta Park.
While thousands of others sat in traffic for hours we walked to the field in 15 minutes flat, 5 minutes if you catch a shuttle right from the campground.
However, the biggest bonus was being woken up to the whoosh of balloons firing right about the RV…for two hours straight. RIGHT OVER OUR HEADS! If we didn’t feel like going to the field in the morning we just waited for our whoosh alarm clock, made tea and headed to the lawn chairs right from our campsite.
Landings in the campground happened pretty much every day, so be prepared to set your coffee down and jump up to help.
Though we went to the Dawn Patrol a couple of mornings our very favorite event was the Glowdeo where the Special Shapes balloons were ignited after dark. Nothing is more magical than walking around the field being surrounded by glowing balloons. It’s enough to make grown adults feel like kids again. There is so much laughter and smiles at this event…it’s the happiest place on earth (Sorry Disney World).
Want more info on the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta? Check out RV buddy WheelingIt who did an amazing 4 part recap of the event, including some gorgeous pictures!
While we were at the Balloon Fiesta we were a part of the newly formed Xscapers RV club.
RV club, Escapees, was originally created to provide encouragement and resources for full time RV’ers. But as the Escapees population has aged and retired a resource for a younger crowd was needed. Thus, Xscapers has been created in order to appeal to a bit younger crowd who are still working on the road.
ABQ

A small group of Xscapers sharing dinner our last night in town

Xscapers came into being just this year and the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta was our very first “Convergence”. A convergence is a rally of sorts, but without all the fan-fair and stringent structure. Since most people in the group are still working, Xscapers intentionally do not schedule seminars/workshops during working hours. There were a few activities and happy hours scheduled through the week but not until late afternoons after working hours.
Other activities and socials organically formed, creating plenty of opportunity to get to know our group better. Drive Dive Devour hosted an impromptu, “How to make pizza on your grill”, The Roaming Pint set up a teekee bar complete with gas fire pit. We invited others for a hike in the Sandia Mountains and there was a bike ride to a bike-up coffee bar.
We made lots of new like-minded friends that we hope we run in to on our travels down the road.
Well, that’s it from Albuquerque.
Next stop…Flagstaff!
ABQ

Heading down the road to Flag!

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The B-line to Albuquerque

ABQ

Sunset from the road heading west

We made a B-line to Albuquerque to take in the splendor of the Balloon Fiesta and IT IS SPECTACULAR!

From Dumas Texas we made a 2 hour drive to Ute Lake State Park to camp for two nights. This is a dry, barrow campground overlooking the very nice Ute Lake. Evidently this is a great spot for birders and fisherman alike. The lake is shallow with a lot of reeds and grasses along the banks. What is brown and desolate by day turns to an incredible glow of oranges, yellows, blues, purples and pinks when the sun hangs low.

The sites are packed gravel, super long and have great separation. Each site has a covered patio with picnic table, fire pit, grill and lots and lots of goat head stickers. Sam enthusiastically jumped out of the camper ready to explore his new surroundings and was stopped in his tracks with paws full of stickers.

If it were not for the goat heads we would have stayed a bit longer. But after two days we decided to move on.

Our next stop was just 20 miles down the road in the little town of Tucumcari, New Mexico. Tucumcari mountain is an isolated mountain in a sea of brown dessert that was a landmark back in the 1800s for those traveling west from Arkansas to California.

We camped at the nastalgic Cactus RV Park, one of those original destinations back in the hay day of Route 66.

Tucumcari New Mexico

Tucumcari Mountain…a landmark for wary travelers heading West

Tucumcari banks on those who follow old Route 66 as a bucket list travel trip. Though the town is a bit weathered and tired, The Cactus RV park had charm. On one side of the unimpressive office is a vintage looking “motel” face with the look of old New Mexico brick and stucco with a courtyard RV parking lot of crushed gravel.
The sites are maticulously groomed with lovely shade trees on some of the sites. Though the sites are fairly close together the trees offer defined seperation, giving the impression of space. And for $24/night (includes tax) for full hook ups, you can’t beat the price. Don’t come here looking for amenities because you will not find them.
From their website, “This is a BASIC OVERNIGHT PARK with 30/50 AMP, working WIFI and CABLE TV, and easy PULL-THROUGH spaces.  This is a SATELLITE FRIENDLY RV Park. We are mostly an adult RV Park.  We do not have a pool, playground, game room, laundry, showers, or restrooms.  To those people who expect too much, we say that, “you have the pockets of a pauper and the expectations of a prince.”‘
Would I stay here again? Absolutely! It’s convenient to Hwy 40, clean and quiet. What more could you ask for an overnight stay.
After two nights it was time to make our last push to Albuquerque, arriving two days before the big kick off, on a Thursday.
We pulled in around 1:30pm at the “General” campground just south of Balloon Fiesta Park. There was no traffic on the highway nor pulling into the campground. Lots of folks were here already, but most would be pulling in Friday afternoon.
This is dry camping, so be sure to have empty holding tanks and all the water you can carry. The General campground does have a third party provider who will pump your tanks for $25 and fill you water for $25 if you need it.
ABQ

Sandra’s Mountains from our ABQ campsite

This will be our first boondock camping with the new rig which meant Jeff had to get to work at connecting the new solar panels to the batteries. Before we left Arkansas we had just enough time to mount the panels on the roof and put the batteries in their assigned compartments. But we had no time to connect anything. And, our solar controller was on the slow boat from china…so we didn’t even have all the parts.
Fortunately for us Technomadia had an extra solar controller that they let us borrow until ours arrives here in ABQ. So up on the roof Jeff went to connect the panels to the combiner box with the help of our ABQ neighbor who is an electrician with some really nice tools.
As of day 5 with no hook ups we are generating power, still show 95% full on our water, 0% on our gray and 10% on our black.
Boon docking life is good!
ABQ

Be sure to check your shoes. You never know what you will find in the desert!

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Albuquerque Here We Come

2015 Trip West

FINALLY back on the road…so exciting!

Jeff and I made it back to Arkansas. We had 10 days to attend our nieces wedding and prepare for our long awaited trip out West. We are now on the road to Albuquerque completely exhausted from our final push to get out of town.

Every time I am away from Bentonville for any length of time I go back with a new appreciated for my city. It’s beautiful, it’s clean and it’s familiar.

Jeff and I made a quick run out to the lake to check on our cabin. It’s a place that my soul connects to and I always get a little weepy every time we pull away to drive back to town. Even when we stayed there every weekend it pained me to leave our little Bella Cottage on the shores of Beaver Lake.

Beaver Lake AR

We love our time on Beaver Lake

But as much as a I love NW Arkansas I know that our next adventure awaits in the land of burning sunsets. One look at those expansive views and mountain trails and I will be filled to overflowing with food for my soul. I love the West too!

While in Bentonville we received our shipment of Solar Panels from AM Solar. They arrived two days before we were to leave, which didn’t leave us enough time to completely hook up our system. We ordered four 160w panels that Jeff mounted on the roof of the Domani (one arrived broken)and two 100w panels that we will either mount on the roof or use as mobile panels on the ground in shady situations. That’s 840w of juicy power…once we are all hooked up.

Jeff researched batteries and found NorthStar Battery in Springfield Mo that offered to donate two batteries for us to test out on the open road. They were originally designed for marine use and NorthStar is interested in some feedback for RV application. Sure. We will try out your big batteries!

The hardest part of this Solar installation so far was trying to lift the 150lb batteries (each) into the basement of the RV. We used a little ingenuity and backed up the truck right up to the bay door to slide them into place. The batteries can be installed upright or on their side, making installing in the right spot easier.

Jeff installed our Victron 3000w hybrid inverter graciously donated by Technomadia. Victron is coming out with a new Solar Controller but it is on a slow boat from China (literally). It’s the last piece of equipment we need in order to complete our system, so here’s hoping it arrives soon.

In the mean time, we started our westerly migration. We tried to leave Arkansas by noon on 9/24, but by the time we squeezed in our last family visit and reloaded the RV we pulled out of the driveway about 4pm. We thought we could get through Fayetteville before rush hour hit but we completely forgot about BBBBQ.

Bike Blues and BBQ started this week which is the 3rd larges motorcycle rally in the country. It is held every September to the local non-motorcycle riders frustration. There are around 100,000 motorcycles that crowd our roads and 300,000 spectators that call NW Arkansas home for 5 days. It’s loud, it’s crowded and we were stuck in the middle a sea of motorcycles pulling a RV.

We made it through Fayetteville without running over any hotwheels and headed to Oklahoma City for our first stop over. Jeff’s college swim coach lives there and we parked our rig in front of his house before moving on the next day to Dumas Texas.

We stayed at the Dumas (Texoma) City Park Campground about 1 ½ hours North of Amarillo. We found this campground on our All Stays App that was an awesome surprise in such a small town. It ‘s free (donations accepted), level, has 30/50 amp hookups, dump station and water available.

It’s your basic chip and seal parking lot adjacent to a nice park with picnic tables, grills and restrooms. There is a train track very close by, but compared to our train experience in Elkhart Indiana the train noise is tolerable. The campground was only meant to be a “quiet” place for travelers to get over night rest, so they ask that you only stay 24 hours. There were two other people here when we arrived around 5pm, but by 9pm there were 12 rigs total. Most all campers had moved on by 10AM.

We normally would not have even gone to Dumas Texas, but Jeff had entered the Texas Tumbleweed 100 Bike Ride that is held in Dumas. It’s part of his Ironman Arizona training before the big day in November.

Dumas Texas

Texas Tumbleweed 100

Since Jeff’s ride will take around 7 hours our plan is to rest for another night here in Dumas (with the cities permission) before continuing our trip west. We are going to camp somewhere between here and Albuquerque for 4 -5 nights before pulling into the Balloon Fiesta dry camping lot this Friday.

See you next time from Albuquerque!

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