Friday, July 20, 2012

Travel July 20-22

July 20:  We left our "couch" in Vernal, Ut but not without having a fantastic breakfast at Betty's Cafe.  This "hole in the wall" local place had the best pancakes I've ever had!  Not only that, we sat at the counter (because it was so packed) and heard all the friendly banter between the staff.  At one point I was trying to get my phone case off my phone and I couldn't get it loose.  Rachael tried, but couldn't get it off either.  Rachael asked our waitress to try and she stopped what she was doing and tried... when she couldn't get it off, she went to one of the other customers who she apparently knew by name, and asked her!   Finally after my phone had been passed around, I said "don't worry, I'll figure it out later".  It was just that kind of friendly, "Andy Griffith / Mayberry" kind of place.  After breakfast we drove... and drove...While driving through western Colorado we were awed by the beautiful Rocky Mountains and laughed as our little 4 cylinder "toaster" struggled to get up the hills and over the mountains.  Then we hit eastern Colorado and all became flat... there was nothing for miles between little towns except corn and wheat fields... for hours the scenery didn't change.  We drove for 7 hours and  finally  stopped in East Colorado in a small town off the interstate.  There were 9 hotels here and so we thought we could find a room at our usual Super 8, Days Inn, etc.  There was not a room available anywhere except at 'Times Square Inn' which charges $130 per night.  We had no choice unless we wanted to drive 2 more hours to the next town... we didn't..  Off to bed we went...

July 21:  More travel... we got to Salina, KS and met our next couch surfing host.  Chris is a bright 25 year old who is the General Manager at Jimmy John's subs.  Rachael and I had our own room and bathroom.  As you may imagine, this young man's house cleaning had a lot to be desired, but we made the best of it.  He and his roomate were so funny to talk to we had lots of laughs.

July 22:  More travel to Springfield, MO.  We stopped at 6pm at Super 8.  Nothing exciting here.... tomorrow, we head to our last "fun" stop.  Ozark National Scenic Riverway in Van Buren, MO.... swimming, tubing, hiking ahead !

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Travel & Dinosaur National Monument

We started out fairly early and drove the 3 hours to Duchane, UT where we stopped and had lunch with our couch surfing host, Erin.  Erin is a wonderful young woman and we really enjoyed getting to know her a bit.  As it turned out, she is working in Duchane and gave us the key to her apartment in Vernal, UT which is 1 hour closer to the Dinosaur Monument.  We were really honored that she would trust us like this.  It just goes to show that there really are good people left in the world.  After lunch we drove the hour more to Vernal, dropped our luggage off in the apartment, and headed for the park.  The monument / park is hundreds of acres of upside-down mountains and rivers.  We didn't go hiking here, instead we took the shuttle to the actual dinosaur quarry where millions of years ago, dinosaurs died near a riverbed, were buried with sand and silt, only to be found in the 19th century.  This is the largest amount of bones ever found in one location.  According to the park ranger, there are probably many, many, more fossils and dinosaur bones in the area, but unfortunately, there is no funding to search for them.  This view of the quarry was very interesting, but to be honest, it was a disappointment.  We thought there would be so much more here at the park, like a large museum.  It turns out that most of the bones/fossils found here have been sent to other museums around the country.  Good thing we've been to the Smithsonian where most of them are displayed.  After talking to one of the rangers who told me that fossils could be bought by dealers in town, we were on a mission.  How I longed to own something that was millions of years old !  While looking for somewhere to have dinner we stumbled upon a little shop.  In the front were lots of photographs, t-shirts, and other memoribilia, but in the rear of the store there were FOSSILS in locked glass cases.  The man who owned the shop talked to us about palentology, hiking, and geology.  I finally decided on a fossil of an ancient, extinct fish which is about 45 million years old.  Touching it I was touching the mark made by this poor fish as it died on the sea floor millions of years ago.  Wow!  After paying for my prize, we went to dinner at one of the 5 restaurants in Vernal.  It was horrible !  the fries were so greasy they were soggy, not crispy.  Ugh!  We decided that we would not need another day here in Vernal, so I we decided to drive 7 hours tomorrow instead of 12.  Heading to bed....

Pictures can be found here:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Timpanogos Caves & Hike

Today we began the morning by going to an early show of Ice Age 3- Continental Drift.  It was funny, but not as good as the first one.  It was really cool how Rachael still holds my hand while we watch movies... It brought back so many memories of when she was younger.  After the movie we had lunch and  packed up some magazines and snacks and headed to Timpanogos Cave Park.  We spent a few hours sitting by the river reading, wading in the river, collecting rocks ( I have a large collection now), and just relaxing.  There was a beautiful waterfall there and for about an hour I just sat on a rock and watched it.  It's amazing how the water just flows and flows and doesn't "run out".   It was a great time to catch up on all the Discovery Mag. issues that I hadn't had time to read.  In the late afternoon we met with Russ's father who is a ranger at the park and began the hike up to the cave entrance.  The hike wasn't too hard as it is paved, but it was very steep.  We went up to 6,730 ft above sea level !

It was more difficult to breathe, but not as hard as in Peru.  As we walked up the trail "Mac" told us how there had been 2 deaths last year from people falling off the edge of the trail.  One was a 3 year old child who "wandered" over the edge.  I was shocked... why even bring a 3 year old on this hike ?  After about 1.5 hours we got to the cave entrance and got a personal tour of the caves.  Inside the caves are rock formations that develop over hundreds and thousands of years from a chemical reaction between the minerals in the rock and water. 

 As you look at the pictures, remeber this is rock... It may appear soft and slimey, but it's not.  The colors are created by the different minerals.  Rock formations that form from drips on the ceiling like icles, are called Stalagtites... If the water just drips to the ground and accumulates up, it's called a Stalagmite... over years and years, if a stalagtite and stalagmite fuse together, that is called a column.  There were so many beautiful structures in the cave.  It was difficult to believe that they were formed by water, rock, and TIME...  The other significant thing to say about the cave is that it is a constant, year-round 45 degrees !  As we went in wearing shorts, I was freezing by the time the 2 hour tour was over !  In the evening we packed the car to get ready to get back on the road.  Tomorrow we head EAST !

Photos at:

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pioneer Village, Salt Lake City

Today we went to an attraction called "this is the place", which is a park attraction based on where the Mormons first came to Utah.  It is a reproduction of their first town complete with barber shop, hospital, merchantile, school, etc.  Each building had period furniture and better yet, there were people in each building re-enacting the way they lived in the 1800's.  It was really interesting because we went to the blacksmith's and saw them making items, went to the tanner and saw how they treat animal skins, went to the bank and got to see what the currency looked like at that time.  I didn't know that each state or territory had it's own currency.  Sometimes I wish we could go live in another time period for a short time, say 1 week, just to see and experience how life was at that time.  Hope you enjoy the pictures !

Pictures can be seen at:

Monday, July 16, 2012

Cascade Springs, Ut

We have been having such a great time here in Utah.  This morning on the way to Cascade Springs, we stopped by Russ's Parents' house.  His father made me a wooden walking stick !  It is so beautiful !  He is so talented and does a lot of wood working.  After this unexpected gift, we went to a place called Cascade Springs.  This was really beautiful and tranquil.  The pictures do not do it justice.  In the evening we just hung out and watched movies.  It was a really fun day.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lazy Summer Sunday with the Mckells

We got to REALLY sleep in today as Russ's family goes to the 1pm service at their church.  I asked to visit their church and they were more than happy to take us.  I like to visit other churches and see what they do and I think it is good for Rachael to know what others believe and to respect their beliefs.  We had a leisurly brunch and then headed to church.  The inside of their church looks like any other interdenominational church.  They had hyms in the beginning and they even sang some of the songs we do in our church.  Their "service" did not consist of preaching like ours does, instead people come and give their testimony regarding what they are thankful to God for.  This was very different for me.  They had communion but used water instead of wine, which is good if you are concerned about people abusing alcohol.  And, it's less expensive !  All the members were very friendly and inviting even though they knew I wasn't a mormon.  After the testamonies, they ended the service with prayer.  Nothing in this service was alarming or out of the ordinary.  After the service we all went back to Russ's house and each did whatever we wanted.  Rachael and Becka who are the same age, went and "hung out" while I cleaned out our messy "toaster".  Russ made us burgers for dinner with grilled fresh pineapple and guacamole !  Now we are just watching movies or reading; I am updating the blog.  In a few I will watch some star trek and head to bed...

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hiking Angel's Landing & Travel to American Fork, UT

July 13:  We slept in today and lounged around the hotel for a while.  I needed to get our upcoming plans solidified and Rachael just wanted to watch TV.  She said she wanted to try to get home as soon as possible because she misses home.  I put together a schedule that would get us home by July 26th, one week earlier than originally planned.  We decided that we would do the same thing next summer and see more of the many places there are to see in the United States.  I have to say how amazed I am about how large and diverse our country is !  It really is very different out west.  I will say that thus far I like North Carolina the best.  I will probably make my permanent, "home base" there.

We finally got ourselves together and headed to the park to hike Angel's Landing.  We were told that it was very steep and difficult with many "drop offs".  It scared Rachael but I told her that we could just go look at it and see how it is.  We started hiking and I have to say that even though it was steep, it was a very easy hike compared with what we've done thus far.  The whole trail is paved !  It started raining when we got to the last 1/2 mile from the top which is really the only difficult part in my opinion.  At that point you have to actually climb a cliff wall holding on to metal chains that are attached to the rock face.  Since it was raining, I decided to head back as it really could be dangerous climbing that in the rain.  When we go to the bottom we were soaked and ready for a hot meal.  We said "goodbye" to the park and headed for the hotel.  We watched some "star trek" and went to sleep.

July 14th:
We packed up and headed to American Fork, UT where our friends Russ and Becka live.  They will be our couch surfing hosts while we explore that area.  Our car ride was uneventful and we rolled in to American Fork at around 5pm.  Russ was there to greet us along with his two daughters "becka" and Aubry.  Russ's wife Tammy is away nursing a sick friend who is dying of cancer.  This family is Mormon and at first I was worried that we would have disagreements.  After talking indepth to Russ about his faith we agreed to focus on what we have in common rather than on our differences.  Like ALL religions and all DENOMINATIONS of Christianity, Mormons believe their way is the "right" way, but they also believe that all other sects of Christianity are valid.  They just think that their way is best.  Which is what we all tend to believe.  I have come to see Mormonism as just another denomination of Christianity.  I am NOT converting, but I don't have the negative view of them that I have had in the past.  Mormons have something that "mainstream" Christianity lacks, a commitment to family cohesion.  It is one of their requirements that families have one night a week as "family night" where they do something together as a family without outsiders.  While there is some divorce, their divorce rate is low.  Because they live in homogeneous communities, they have a very tight commitment to those around them.  While we talk about these things in our churches, they make them part of their requirements for heaven.  While I find many of the details of Mormonism very unusual or 'strange', I have a respect for the values these people hold. 

Russ made us a delicious meal - Gourmet, as he is the cook in the family and loves trying new recipies.   Russ's parents live down the street and they came over to chat with us and I envied the easy relationship he has with his mother and father.  In a park behind their house, the community was sponsoring an antique car show so we went over to check it out.  I took a lot of pictures for Joel as he really loves cars. Rachael and I went to see where we would sleep, and we had our own room and slept very, very, comfortably. 


Thursday, July 12, 2012

Hiking at Zion National Park

We got up late, guess we are getting a bit tired of hotels.  Rachael is homesick, I miss Midas, and we're both ready to head home.... but not just yet... We drove up to the park and were mesmorized with the beauty of the canyon.  There are so many national parks in this side of the country.  Unfortunately for the people who live out here there isn't much but hotels, tourist attractions, and restaurants.  The only industry is visitation to the parks, and we found by talking to some of the locals, there's not much to do in these small "park towns" for the people who live in them.  We hiked a trail but neither of us was really up to it.  I wanted to hike the hardest, steepest, trail called Angels Landing, but Rachael was afraid I'd fall... Hopefully we can do it tomorrow.  We hiked a steep trail to what's called the Emerald Pools.  These are beautiful mountain pools.  We took pictures, but as I told Rachael, no picture will ever be able to show the beauty out here.  We found a great Thai restaurant in Springdale near the park.  Then we went back to the hotel and I had to do laundry.... now I'm heading to bed... more hiking tomorrow !

Pictures at:

Monday, July 9, 2012

More Vegas, more of the same…

Monday, July 9th- Thursday, July 11-  More Vegas, more of the same… For the next few days we looked at more fancy hotels, window shopped, and ate.  I was in a foul mood and at first I didn't know why.  Then I realised that it was because I was missing adult company.  I enjoyed talking with Russ so much it made me feel that empty spot even more.  It did give me hope though that there are  men out there that are intelligent, adventurous, and fun.  I also must note that Vegas is not the place for kids... I might have enjoyed Vegas more if I had come with a great guy, stayed in a nice hotel, saw a show, went dancing, etc.. but actually, I don't have to go to Vegas to do any of that.  I can do all this in NC... it's all about who you're with....

We finally headed out of Vegas and headed for Zion National Park.... I'm glad to get back to hiking! 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Making New Friends in Vegas !

We slept in this morning till 9am. When I checked my phone I noticed a text from one of our upcoming couch surfing hosts, Russ. He and his daughter were in Vegas and were wondering how our trip had been going. I texted him back and let him know that we too were in Vegas and that perhaps we could meet up for dinner. Rachael was annoyed at me in the beginning because she said she didn’t want to meet some girl who might be “annoying”. I told her that Russ’s daughter “becka” was 13 and that if she didn’t get along with her that we could just eat dinner and go off on our own. Rachael reluctantly acquiesced and we said we’d text a location later on. Rachael and I are going to stay with Russ and his family in Utah in a week or so. I thought it would be nice to get to know them. Besides, Russ and his wife are both teachers too and we have a lot in common.

Rachael and I went to Café Cortez for breakfast which is a little café in the hotel. The food was good and the prices reasonable. Rachael started up a conversation with our waitress named ‘Daisy’ who also has a 13 year old daughter. Before the end of the meal, Rachael was on a first name basis with most of the wait staff! I am so glad that she talks so easily with people and is able to make friends with anyone.

After breakfast it was off to the strip. We got bus tickets and headed for the Stratosphere Hotel. This hotel boasts a tower that looks like the Space Needle in Seattle, WA. We were going to go up to the top, but it cost $18 each so we decided not to. We were even more surprised to find out that you could bungee jump from the top of the tower for only $100.

 Inside the hotel were more gambling machines and gaming tables. On the next floor were retail shops.
Next stop, Circus, Circus, the hotel that boasts a large Circus atmosphere complete with Midway, shows, wild animals and of course, casino’s and restaurants with a circus theme. Apparently this hotel caters to gamblers with children. There’s the midway where carnival games allow children to do a sort of gambling of their own while parents can play slots or tables. There is even an indoor amusement park called the Adventure Dome ! To entice patrons to purchase show tickets ($149 each), each hour there is a short 15 minute free mini-show. We watched a female acrobat swing from a circle and hang from her toes. Rachael remarked that even though it was supposed to be a family friendly presentation, the female performer was scantily dressed. We talked about how this town seems to be about money and sex.
 We left that hotel and headed down the strip. While walking along the side walk we saw men and women in bright orange t-shirts giving out little cards. They were only giving the cards to men. Many of the men threw the cards on the ground so since I was curious, I picked one up. It had a naked woman on it and a phone number you could call to have any type of girl you wanted sent straight to your hotel room ! While I figured that Vegas would have its share of hookers, I thought that it would be done on the sly like in any other city… But NO ! Here in Vegas prostitution is LEGAL ! There are even some areas that have working, legal, brothels ! This I learned by ‘googling’ prostitution and Nevada. I guess it should be no surprise in a city where wedding chapels line one side of the street while divorce lawyers line the other side.

It was about 4pm, and we got a text from Russ and Becka. We were going to meet them in the Venetian, a hotel with an Italian theme. It was a beautiful hotel, inside and outside. In the hotel there were Shakespearian type actors walking around promoting a show that would begin at 8pm. There were fancy shops like Gucci, Coach, Neiman-Marcus and a whole lot of designers I’d never heard of. We went into some of the stores at Rachael’s request but I know I can’t afford those things, and even more, I wouldn’t buy them if I could ! Rachael reveled in all the opulence, but it just made me ill. So much waste and extravagance. We met up with Russ and Becka at the Godiva store where I couldn’t help but purchase some chocolate. We walked around a bit more and talked and talked. Rachael and Becka hit it off right away and were soon inseparable. Russ and I also had a lot in common and became fast friends discussing teaching, religion, science, and politics with ease. I hadn’t realized till then how long it had been since I’d had the company of another adult, let alone a man. We decided to go to the Buffet at the famous Bellagio Hotel for dinner. That would mean a trek of several blocks and hotels to look at. We walked through the Venetian, Caesar’s Palace, and finally made it to the Bellagio where we had to wait on line for 45 minutes to get in. Well, it was definitely worth the wait ! The food was incredible and I fear I have gained weight this trip instead of losing it. After dinner we went outside to watch the dancing water show at the fountains out front of the Bellagio. It was very nice, but Disney World had nothing to worry about, the fountains at the Bellagio don’t even come close. As a matter of fact, although all these hotels look pretty and are well kept, they can’t come close to the attention to detail that Disney has at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. So far, all the hotels seem to follow the same general structure. A theme, a casino and shopping centered around the theme, and some big attraction like a show or ride. And of course there is the “sleeze” component that is definitely not part of Disney… Would I come back to Vegas? Probably not, but I’ll head to Disney World instead.

Today's Pictures are at:

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Travel and the Hoover Dam

We woke up tired and sore today but also sad to be leaving the Grand Canyon. We packed up the little toaster and were on our way. It’s about a 5 hour ride to Las Vegas so we listened to another audio book. This time it was “ The Soloist”. I had some interesting discussions with Rachael about mental illness and poverty, and homelessness. On the way to Vegas we had to pass by the Hoover Dam, so we took a short detour and took a few pictures. I am really curious about how there is so much land out here that is barren and appears unused. I wonder how it could be reclaimed for economic prosperity. Some cities are so crowded, we could solve that problem if we could make these lands useable. In some areas it looks so different that you might be looking at Mars.
 We finally got to our hotel, El Cortez, at around 6pm. The first thing I noticed was that when we walked into the door, there were the gambling machines…. I mean right inside the door… It seemed every available foot of floor or wall space was taken up by slot machines or gaming tables. It was VERY noisy and all the lights and sound made it a bit overwhelming. Instead of the glitzy people you see gambling on TV and in the movies, I saw regular people, mainly between the ages of 35 and 70. What I mean by ‘regular’ people is that they were not all dressed up in evening gowns and tuxedos like they do in the media. They were dressed in clothing appropriate to a shopping trip to Wal-Mart. Some were even what I would call “poorly” dressed yet there they were throwing their money away. It amazed me how they would sit alone, drinking and smoking and stay at the same machine hour after hour. I know this because we went to dinner and were gone about 3 hours and when we returned some of the people were in the same places where we had left them. They weren’t smiling. They weren’t conversing with anyone. They just kept pushing the buttons and putting coins in the slots. It was a sad picture to me.

We left the hotel to have dinner once we settled our things into the room. The hotel had valet parking so I explained to Rachael how it worked. We headed two streets over to what is called ‘The Freemont Experience”. This is an area about 3 blocks by 3 blocks that is completely lit up similar to Times Square in NY. There are restaurants, live music, bars, even zip lining ! We walked around a bit trying to take it all in. We found a restaurant and sat down. There were even slot machines in the restaurant! The food was mediocre at best which surprised me, and somewhat pricey. Well, we are heading to bed for now… Tomorrow the “strip” awaits us !

Today's Pictures are at :

Friday, July 6, 2012

Hiking up to the Rim

At 4:30am we were woken up by a knock on the dorm door for 5am breakfast.  I felt so bad because Rachael and I were the only ones in the dorm who had 5am breakfast, the others were not hiking up today so they could sleep late.  Breakfast was another amazing meal.  After filling our bellies and getting our gear together we started up the Bright Angel Trail to the rim.  This trail is longer than the one we took down, (9 miles) but was not as steep.  Another good thing was that this trail had built in rest areas with water and bathrooms.  We started on the trail at 7am and made it to the top at 4:30pm.  On the way we had many small adventures !  We saw a RAM, Deer, Elk, and Squirrels.  The squirrels at the rest areas were so fat because they were fed by the hikers.  They were also very bold and would almost sit on your lap and beg or steal your food !  The squirrels were cute, but not such a big deal because well, who hasn’t seen a squirrel ?  We saw a wild ram come right up to the water faucet for a drink and Rachael yelled at me as I got close to get a picture.  We also met other hikers from all over the country and chatted with them.  There was a group of volunteers from other countries who were at the park helping to repair some of the trail.  This was a service learning project from their universities.  By 2pm I was really feeling tired.  We had to constantly refill our water supply at each rest area because the temperature outside was so high.  To keep cool, we took off our outer hiking shirts, dunked them in water and put them back on to keep our core temperatures down.  We were close to the top of the trail now and that was where a lot of people walk down about ½ a mile to take pictutes and then walk back up.  While we were dragging, smelly, and could barely walk, these people were clean and crisp.  As we walked by them so of them cheered us on because it was obvious that we had hiked from the bottom.  At one point I came up to a spot where the whole passage was crowded with people so that I could not get by.  I thought they were watching a ram or deer, but when I saw that they were blocking the path for a freaking SQUIRREL, I wanted to say “Really ? you are all excited about a squirrel ?  get out of my way !”  Well we finally made it up to the rim, high 5 –ed each other, and went to the cabin for a shower after which we had dinner and collapsed in bed.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hiking to Phantom Ranch

We started out early this morning because we wanted to get to the bottom with time to explore before dark. We decided to take the South Kaibob trail down because it was shorter, but steeper than the Bright Angel Trail. We thought that it might be cold or rainy as that was what the forecast said yesterday, but we were pleasantly surprised that it was sunny. When I first saw the trailhead I thought that the trail would be easy because it looked more like a series of steep ramps than a hiking trail. Boy was I wrong ! This trail had loose gravel and was sloped so sharply that you had to walk carefully so as not to slide. What was worse is that going down puts all the stress on your ankles and knees… with my flat feet, this made for INTENSE pain by the end of the day. Not only that, but as yet we had had cloudy skies to keep us cool. Today was bright sun and the temperature went up as we descended the canyon. I did manage to take some AWESOME pictures so check out the link at the end of this post! It took us 6.5 hours to get down and to be honest I was hurting pretty bad by the time we made it to the bottom. Rachael seemed fine and full of energy the entire time and kept pushing me to “hurry and get to the bottom”. She was anxious to see the Colorado River. When we finally made it to the bottom of the canyon there was an area of beach called “boat beach” where all the rafting trips depart from. We were so hot and tired we just collapsed on that beach and soaked our feet in the ice cold water ! Lying on that beach was so relaxing that I did not want to get up but I knew we needed to get checked in and I wanted desperately to change my clothes. After lounging for about half an hour, we hiked ½ mile more to Phantom Ranch. We were staying in the dorm/cabins so we checked in and put our stuff away and headed for the Bright Angel Creek which is a tributary of the Colorado River. In the creek we soaked our feet and legs and met other weary travelers. It turns out that what was a “feat” for us was not a big deal to many avid hikers out here. Many hard core hikers go from North to South rim in just a few days. We even met a man who RUNS down and up the canyon in ONE DAY ! Still, I am proud of myself for making it down in one piece ! After relaxing for a couple hours it was dinner time at Phantom Ranch. I must say I was a little wary about what the meals would be like. We had to prepay for them over 2 months in advance and $25 per meal seemed a lot for “Hiker’s Stew”. I was very surprised at the dinner. We had an awesome salad, INCREDIBLE beef stew, corn bread, drinks and dessert ! It really was delicious and I’m not just saying that because we were hungry and tired. What makes it really interesting is that all the supplies have to come in via pack mule. After dinner Rachael and I headed for our dorm. We were able to see the full moon in the canyon at night but the picture didn’t come out too well. As for the canyon itself, I took many, many, pictures but pictures just don’t do it justice. AND, there are no words to really describe how AWESOME, INCREDIBLE, MAGNIFICENT, AMAZING, WONDEROUS, the canyon is… you really do have to see it yourself. BUT, until then you have the pictures I took. When we got to our dorm, we got settled in for the night but chatted with the other 6 woman who shared it with us. Most of them were from the same family and they were taking a family trip together. This was the extended family of mother, adult children and their spouses, and their children. Wow, I wish MY family would get together and do something like this !

Today’s pictures can be found at :

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Hiking the Hermit’s Rest (Death) Trail to Dripping Springs

We wanted to hike today so that we would be prepared for our hike to the bottom of the canyon, so we asked one of the rangers if the “Hermit’s Rest” hike is a strenuous hike. He said it was a good hike, so we packed our supplies and headed to the trailhead. In the beginning of this trail I was pretty excited because it had steps and rock crawls and it was pretty difficult. We saw some awesome animals and plants and for the first 2 hours or so we were doing well. After that the trail became REALLY steep and difficult. We saw the cut off for Dripping Springs, so we headed that way rather than doing the complete 14 mile trail. We were pretty tired when we reached the “dripping” springs which was a natural spring that literally “drips” continually from a rock cliff. Had it been warm (cloudy and gray today with cool temperatures), we would have gladly taken a “shower” but it was pretty chilly which in retrospect, was a good thing ! We spent about 15 minutes at the spring resting and then headed back up. Wow, this was a VERY, VERY difficult hike up ! I would put the terrain at about the difficulty of the Inca Trail in PERU ! Thank God we only had about 6 miles up ! While I was able to hike this, the rock “steps” were more than half the height of my legs which made this very hard for me, not so much for Rachael. Also we were going from 4,000 ft to 7000 feet at the rim. The altitude definitely played a part. I was able to hike the trail, but not very quickly. Rachael on the other hand kept getting far ahead of me and I had to keep telling her to slow down or wait for me. She was teasing me, but I kept telling her she is 32 years younger than I am ! At one point she was so far ahead that I couldn’t see her. I started climbing what I thought was the trail, but it wasn’t… How did I know? There were all of a sudden no places to put my hands or feet and I found myself on the side of the cliff. I have to say that I was pretty terrified at this point because if I made any quick move I would have found myself falling off the cliff wall. I called to Rachael, who was able to hear me because of the acoustics in the canyon. She came running and as she could see the trail from above, she was able to guide me back on to the trail. I was SO relieved and couldn’t understand how I took the wrong turn. We kept hiking up, I was very tired and sore, and at this point, so was Rachael. We has started at about 9:30am and now it was 4 ! Finally we made it back to the top and took the shuttle to the Lodge. We were so hungry we went to the restaurant in our hiking gear ! No worries, lots of other people were there dressed similarly. After dinner I went to speak to a ranger to plan for tomorrow’s hike to the canyon bottom. I asked which trail we should take down and which trail we should take up and told him that we had just hiked the Hermit’s Rest trail. He told us that the Hermit’s trail was very difficult and not as popular as the other trails. He assured me that if we had done that trail, we were “good to go” for hiking the South Kabob Trail to the bottom of the canyon. We limped to our cabin, took hot baths, and went to sleep !

Today’s pictures at :

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grand Canyon at last !

We finally arrived at the Grand Canyon Park at around noon. It is a 25 mile trip from the park entrance to the rim. Our first view of the Canyon was the Desert View, which was not that impressive after seeing the other sites here out west, so I was a bit discouraged but did not let on to Rachael. We found our Hotel, but it was too early to check in so we began a walk around the rim. There is a trail that has rocks on it that shows how old the rocks are here. I touched a rock that was over 170 million years old ! It was CLOUDY and cold and looked like rain ! It wasn’t long before we headed to the hotel and gift shop to get sweat shirts to get warm ! We checked in at about 4pm and I was VERY impressed. We had a little cabin and it was much nicer than I expected for a mere $117 per night! It turns out that the Park Service controls the rates so that they can be affordable for people. There are pictures of our “little cabin” on today’s picture link. What was better is that we are located a 3 minute walk from the rim ! After we unpacked we headed for dinner. There are several restaurants here on the rim, and thankfully, they are all different price ranges. We ate most of our meals at the Bright Angel Restaurant which has meals equivalent to prices at Chili’s or Denny’s. After dinner we went back out to the Rim, but it began to RAIN which is a big deal here. While I am happy for the residents and wild life, did it have to rain when we are here! By the way, no fire works as the whole area is under a fire alert because of the drought. Well, we are heading to bed, hopefully no rain tomorrow !

Today’s photos can be found at:

Monday, July 2, 2012

Four Corners and Travel....

We decided to head over to the Grand Canyon and not go back to Mesa Verde today.  I hope at another time I will be able to go back because there are lots of hiking trails.  We did laundry, got gas, ate breakfast, and headed to the Grand Canyon when.... I realized that it is only July 2nd and we aren't due to the Grand Canyon till July 3rd !  Guess that's what happens when you loose track of the day and date !  We decided to just head towards the Grand Canyon and see what we would run into.  We got about 1.5 hours down the road when we saw the sign for Four Corners Monument.  This is a place where four states come together and you can literally be in four states at once !  Today at around 2pm I was simultaneously in Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico ! 

This is located on a reservation so we were able to buy some Native American souveniers.  Once we were through shopping we got back on the road.  This part of the country is desolate... nothing but desert for miles.  This land is practically useless and it angers me that my ancestors took good land from Native Americans and "gave them" this useless land in return.  It is so unfair.  While I am glad that I am a United States citizen, I am ashamed of some of the things our government has done to other ethnic groups in the past.  What makes it worse is that after over 2 centuries our government still has not made things right with the indigenous people of North America.  We have seen lots of Native Americans out here.  Contrary to popular belief, most DO NOT speak Spanish !  Most Native Americans speak English and a native tongue.  Another thing I noticed is that I have not seen any "black" people.  I wonder why 'African Americans' do not seem to live here in the southwest.

After miles of driving through desert we decided to stop in Tuba City, AZ for the night.  We found a little hotel on the reservation which is clean and inexpensive. 

Thus far I have really enjoyed the time I've spent with Rachael.  Short of a few typical teenager arguments, we are doing fine even though we have been together 24/7.  Rachael makes friends with everyone she meets, asks questions, and spontaneously just hugs me and says "I love you".  This has been such a great experience for us both.  Rachael is so cautious with me, always worried that I'm going to get hurt.  I guess since I fell in 2006 and dislocated my elbow, she is afraid I'm going to fall.
Well, I'm going to head to bed for now.  Tomorrow, the Grand Canyon at last !

Today's pictures can be found at:

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

After getting an early start today we headed for Mesa Verde National Park.  The drive to the park is VERY steep and the road just zig sags up the rock face.  The park is located 7000 ft above sea level !  I drove up the mountain slowly but it was so steep there were times I didn't know if the "toaster" would make it ! We knew there was so much to see so we didn't plan on doing a hike today, just viewing the museum and ruins.  We drove up to the park and found that there was a $25 fee (per car) to enter the park.  The cute park ranger was flirting with me (Ranger Tim) and gave us the advice to buy the annual pass for all US national parks as it would pay for itself.  Most of the parks outwest have fees that help preserve the parks.  The larger ones like Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore can be up to $35 per carload.  Just those two parks, plus Mesa Verde paid for the $80 annual pass.  If you like National Parks, I would take Ranger Tim's advice and buy the pass.  There are at present 391 National Parks/Monuments/Historical Sites in the US, and this pass will get you into ALL of them.  (this includes the Statue of Liberty in NYC and other well known monuments)  A list can be found at :National Park Service For now on, I'm heading to any National Parks I can access on long weekends and school breaks !  And this does not include STATE PARKS and monuments which are usually free or have a minimal fee! One thing we have learned on our trip is to always go to the visitors center first and plan our day.  When we entered the visitor's center we saw signs for a special event today- A Hopi Indian dance presentation that was to start in just 15 minutes !  What luck !  We headed to the outside auditorium and found a seat.  Most of the people playing the instruments were adults while the dancers were children of all ages.  The costumes were all ornamental and were made by the children's mothers.  The children did the "Corn Dance" which is a prayer to God for a good harvest.  The hand movements of the girls depicted them grinding the corn while the boy's hand movements showed them planting the seed with "planting sticks".  Before they started, they invited us to join them at the end of the dance and honor them with our participation.  Of course I intended to do so !  Towards the end of the dance they called to us to come down and I looked at Rachael and told her, "you can see lots of people want to go, but no one wants to be the first one".  I waited a minute and saw no one was going so I went to dance at the end of the line.  It was like magic !  As soon as I got there children and adults followed suit !  What an awesome opportunity !  I danced with Hopi Indians ! 

After the presentation we headed to the guided tour of Palace and Balcony Houses.  We had to climb some steep cliffs and ladders but it was worth it to see the excavated ruins.  Even though the trail to the ruins was steep, it was really short, and not a "real" hike.  Even so we brought our camel backs which hold 3 liters of water, by the end of the day we had each consumed 6 liters !  It's really DRY and hot here. How did the Anazai people get water in their mountain face homes?  The homes were located in sandstone which is porous.  Spring thaw and Summer rains soak into the rock and eventually trickle down to "seep springs" that appear at different areas in the rock face.

These people collected this water and built reservoirs to store the water for dry times.  It should also be noted that while this area was still quite dry 1000 years ago, it was much wetter than it is today. 

Next we went to Spruce Tree House ruins.  These ruins are the best preserved and are actually open to where we can walk around the ruins.  We have seen many Kiva's, the spiritual areas for these pueblo people who migrated here from the Chaco Canyon.  Here we saw the first one with the original roof still intact ! -- and the best part?  We got to climb down a wooden ladder that has survived 1000 years and walk around inside the Kiva ! 

 It was a small Kiva, about the size of a small bedroom.  While down there I took a moment to be silent and respect the thousands of years of prayers offered to God here from these people.  This caused me to reflect on my own beliefs... Christianity has it's creation story as written in Genesis in the Bible.  These people believed that the Earth was their Mother and that the Moon  was their Father.  They believed that life came from the earth.  They also honored the Sun and had intricate astronomical awareness of the solstices and incorporated this information into their buildings. This was an Egalitarian Society but it was Matrilineal where family lines and land were passed on through the mother.  In many sects of Christianity, it is taught that "salvation" only comes through belief in Jesus.  What of these people who lived here in Colorado 800 - 1100 AD ?  I choose to believe that throughout the ages of human history people have sought to Worship God as they understood him.  Each culture, including the many cultures and religions today, honor God in their own way based on their culture, technology, and understanding of the world.  In my eyes, there is only one God and the people who prayed in this Kiva prayed to the same God I pray to each day. 

After these ruins we headed to the car to drive over to the Museum.  We found a note on our car that said " Go toaster go, you can do it !" with a smiley face.  We have gotten so many comments about our car and our trip, I'm glad I painted it and wrote what I did on the back ! At the museum we were able to see thousands of artifacts collected at Mesa Verde.  It was amazing how many uses there are for Yuca leaves !  They made fibers out of the leaves and wove them into clothing, mats, shoes, etc.  They discovered how to fire pottery to make it durable.  They figured out how to grow corn, beans, and squash with the little water available to them.  These were not 'savages', but intelligent men and woman who lived a difficult life here in the desert.  They were the ancient relatives of the modern Hopi, Navajo, and Aztec cultures.

We stayed in the museum till it closed, they had to ask us to leave ! LOL and headed back to Cortez, CO where our hotel was located.  On the drive back I let Rachael drive and I must say that I had to hold my tongue several times when I felt she was going to drive us right off the edge !  We chose a place to eat called Nero's Mediterranean Grill.  The food was amazing! I tried a local beer, but was laughing when I found out from Joel via text that New Amsterdam Fat Tire ale is available at Harris Teeter !  We ended the day by watching a couple episodes of Star Trek Enterprise on Netflix... It was a great day!

Today's photos can be seen at :