March 2008 Arizona Trip
Hmmm. July 12 ... it must be about time to say something about my March trip to Arizona!
Jack and Ian visited the Grand Canyon a couple years ago, and vowed that they would return and hike to the bottom. Jack, knowing that that sort of craziness would appeal to me too, invited me along. I, knowing that that sort of craziness would appeal to me, accepted.
Figuring that the Grand Canyon alone would not be interesting enough, we also decided to visit Sedona – a place I'd heard was nearly mystical in its beauty. And it would be a good opportunity to see Joy for the first time in several years.
I flew into Phoenix on Saturday, rented a wholly inappropriate car (Chrysler 300M), and drove up to Flagstaff to pick up Jack and Ian at the Amtrak station. The next day, Easter, we drove down to Sedona.
First of all, I'll stipulate that Arizona is beautiful. The drive from Phoenix to Arizona was a wonderful kaleidoscope of changing scenery. And Flagstaff turned out to be a nice little town with a great view of Humphrey's Peak.
But Sedona took the whole business up a level. The town is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, canyons, and rock formations created from the erosion of red sandstone. I completely understand why someone might reach this spot and decide there is no need to go anywhere else – which is exactly what Joy did.
When we arrived in Sedona Joy met us and took us to lunch. She looked great and seemed very happy with Sedona life.
After lunch, Joy took us to the Chapel of the Holy Cross, a Catholic chapel built on the side of a mountain, and a popular tourist spot. Here we got our first close-up glimpse of some of the weird shapes that the rocks have eroded into. Like a Rorschach test, or looking at the clouds in the sky, people see all sorts of images in the rocks: Jesus, Charlie Brown, nuns, and so on. I was particularly dense at seeing what other people saw. For example, this one:
Clearly this is an Indian chief in ceremonial garb, right? Yeah, whatever.
The incredible building in the above photo appears to be someone's private residence (someone very rich!). Note the observatory on the top. When we had seen enough of the chapel Joy went on with her normal Sunday while Jack, Ian and I headed across the valley to Cathedral Rock (in the background of the photo above).
The trail up Cathedral Rock is not that long – about 1.5 miles round trip – and does not have a large change in elevation – about 600 feet. But it is relatively difficult because it is steep at points. You can't hike it without using your hands to hold on in places.
The photo above shows the most difficult stretch of the trail. It was very steep and the rocks on either side came together narrowly along a line, so there was hardly enough space to put your foot down on a flat surface. You had to lean well forward, lift one foot at a time, and press your hands against the rocks on either side. The guy whose butt features so prominently in the photo was stuck here. He wanted to continue up the trail, but couldn't summon the gumption needed, and was mired in indecision. I have to admit that I also hesitated here – I was confident that I could get up this section of the trail, but I was not so sure about the return trip: I have a phobia about getting stuck somewhere and not being able to get back. It turned out that the return trip was actually easier. You just had to sit down, lean back, and use your arms and legs to lift yourself down one bit at a time.
For every person like that guy who wouldn't go any further, there were probably several daredevils on the trail. For example, by the time Jack and I got to the halfway point, Ian was most likely already at the top of the trail. And on the way down we met someone who was climbing the trail in flip flops, and another who was hiking it barefoot.
How is it that Jack and Ian were able to go stomping around in the wilderness without the girls (who wouldn't have wanted to stomp around in the wilderness anyway)? Easy: The girls were stomping around San Diego! Thanks to modern technology, both groups knew at all times what the other was doing.
Once at the top of Cathedral Rock, Ian found himself a comfortable spot on some rocks ...
Actually, it looks more treacherous from a distance. Once you get up close, you find that even Jack can get up there:
But there was no way in hell that I was going up on those rocks! (Someone had to take the picture after all.)
All is well in the photo above, but getting down from those rocks turned out to be more difficult than going up them.
The Airport Mesa was our next destination for Sunday. We hiked the 3.5 mile trail that circles around just below the top of the mesa.
Before hiking the Airport Mesa Trail, we stopped at this scenic outlook on the mesa. It is the location of one of Sedona's many vortexes – large concentrations of Earth's spiritual energy. The contented girl in the photo above is perhaps channeling that energy – or maybe she's just enjoying the awesome beauty of the place. In any case, she was a little too close to the edge of the cliff.
At one point the trail peeked out onto the mesa and we caught this biplane taking off.
One of our motivations for stomping around Sedona was to practice for our Grand Canyon hike. We wanted to ensure that we were acclimated to the high elevation, that we were in good hiking condition, and that our equipment was in order. To that end, we scheduled a very difficult hike for Monday: up to the top of Bear Mountain and back. It's nearly five miles round trip with a steep 1800 foot climb (even more when you consider the ups and downs). It's rated as a difficult hike, so we knew it would be a good test for our Grand Canyon hiking potential.
Bear Mountain turned out to be the test we hoped for. The trail was very steep and both Ian and I soon got nauseous. Ian was particularly affected, needing long breaks between short climbs. This was an ominous development. Not only did it look like we may not reach the summit of Bear Mountain, but it also called into question whether we would be able to complete our Grand Canyon hike. The idea that Ian should have trained more for this trip may possibly have crossed my mind.
But eventually we decided that the main culprit behind the nausea was not us, but ... drum roll please ... our equipment! On Sunday we had purchased a large supply of CamelBak Elixir, which is basically a powdered electrolyte mixture to add to your water bottle. It's like making your own Gatorade, but without the sugar. Prior to ascending Bear Mountain, we had mixed the CamelBak Elixir into our water – Ian at the recommended concentration, and I at half the recommended concentration. (Pat's husband Richard had once suggested to me that I mix some salt with my water when playing volleyball doubles; from that experience I had already learned that it made me a little nauseous, so I wanted to be conservative.) Meanwhile, Jack used a slightly more palatable Gatorade-like mixture in his water.
Thus, none of us had any unadulterated water. I gave Ian some of my water, which helped a little, but not enough. Jack switched water containers with Ian, and that also helped somewhat, but it was still not enough. Finally, fortune shined upon us. We met another hiker who was on his way down the mountain. He had an extra pint of pure refreshing water that he gave to Ian. After that we motored on without further difficulty. That was the last time Jack or Ian ever used CamelBak Elixir; I used it for the Grand Canyon hike, but in an even less concentrated solution, and I was careful to carry pure water too.
By the time we finished the Bear Mountain trail, our nausea was long forgotten and we all decided it had been an incredible hike. Maybe overcoming the nausea made us feel all the better about it. But it also must have been the physical accomplishment along with the spectacular and ever changing views we saw along the way. Anyone in shape to do it should take this hike! (A word of caution though: If something goes wrong up there, you're in deep shit. The trail does not get a lot of hikers, so help may not be readily available. And if you sprain an ankle while you're up there, it is a long, long way down.)
Joy very graciously put us up for three days in the retreat resort managed by the Dahn Center, for which Joy works. (Thanks, Joy!) The retreat is a place to get away from the world and be at peace, perhaps with the help of meditation or yoga.
And it was here that my rented car proved its inappropriateness. Getting to the retreat was a 45 minute trek from Sedona, and a good part of that trek took place on a long dirt driveway meandering into the desert. And here's one thing for sure: You don't want to be driving behind someone on that dusty, dusty driveway, because your nice Chrysler 300M luxury-mobile will look like a big red blob afterwards. And you do want to drive very carefully on the driveway, or the low bottom of your 300M will scrape the numerous rocks strewn along the way!
We often availed ourselves of the free communal breakfasts and dinners at the retreat. I learned at those meals that rice milk doesn't taste too bad (good to know, because I hate soy milk). I also learned to chew my food 30 times while savoring its flavor and meditating on it's life-giving properties. I have since resumed chewing on my food twice before swallowing, but the whole 30X thing isn't too bad if you have the time for it. After 30 chews, whatever you were eating basically becomes a liquid.
Having successfully faced the Bear Mountain test, we decided to forgo any additional difficult hiking until Grand Canyon day. Now that we knew we were up to the challenge, there was nothing to be gained by wearing ourselves out. So on Tuesday we did a relatively easy hike up Fay Canyon, which Joy had recommended as one of her favorite hiking locales.
The photos above show Ian doing his thing: Going to places that neither Jack nor I wanted to go. In fact, when it was time to go, Ian realized that he didn't even like being in this spot.
Minutes later all that was forgotten when we found a natural arch to explore. First we had to climb an extremely steep rocky trail to reach the arch. That was enough for me and Jack. We sat precariously on the edge of a very steep slope and waited while Ian did his obligatory explorations. He followed a narrow path along the drop-off below us, then climbed up a cliff, then followed another path along the top of the arch. Owing to my precarious perch, I wasn't able to get good photos of all this.
While on top of the arch, Ian met some fellow adventurers: a women and her son, who was a little younger than Ian. I was really taken with this stunning athletic women who was a complete roll reversal: she was the one charging up and down the cliff, walking around the top of the arch like it was nothing; her son was the one who had to be coaxed and encouraged every step of the way.
After Fay Canyon we treated ourselves to a fancy lunch at Enchantment Resort, a gated luxury hotel nestled into one of the red rock valleys. Room rates start at $450/night. Ian and I loved the place; Jack thought it was a bit over the top. One thing for sure: The three of us, caked in dust as we were, were a tad out of place there. No matter. We enjoyed our lunches and the luxurious surroundings.
We also made friends with a couple of kids whose parents had abandoned them to their own devices. We played a little chess and ping pong until it was time for us to resume our hiking. I felt sorry for those bored kids, stuck in that resort while their parents were off getting massages or something, and while we were off to find another adventure.
Next stop: Climb Doe Mountain. It's an easy hike, just two miles round trip plus 450 feet of elevation change. But the views are great!
The above photo gives an idea of our Bear Mountain hike: We parked in that lot near the bottom of the photo; walked across that plain; then hiked up the mountain, eventually ending up at the highest point shown in the photo.
The photo above shows how our Sedona hikes always ended: Jack and Ian waiting for me at the car. I took a lot of photos! It slowed me down a little. So sue me!
Our main ambition on Wednesday was to drive to Grand Canyon Village. But first, while Jack and Ian had breakfast, I cleaned my Chrysler 300M – I could no longer stand to see that car caked in Sedona's red dust.
We took the winding scenic route out of Sedona, and then took the less popular eastern route to the Grand Canyon, following Rt. 89 north and taking a sharp left at Rt. 64. Route 64 follows along the Little Colorado River, which itself flows through a very impressive canyon. In any other state, tourists would drive hundreds of miles just to see this canyon. But we were in Arizona, and I didn't even pull over to take a picture of it.
Thursday was the centerpiece of our trip. It was an amazing day! (And get's its own web page.) I was high from the Grand Canyon hike for a month afterwards.
On Friday we drove back to Flagstaff, stopping along the way at Red Mountain. (Drive south on Rt. 180; pull into the park entrance at mile post 247.) It was recommended to us by a couple we met on top of Doe Mountain, and a good recommendation it was! Red Mountain is a volcano with a portion of the mountain blown away, perhaps by a steam explosion nearly a million years ago.
For this hike, Ian stayed in the car reading Death in the Grand Canyon, still wiped out from Thursday's Grand Canyon hike. Jack and I trudged through the one mile hike to get to the mountain. On our tired legs, it seemed a lot longer than that!
To get to the blasted away portion of the mountain we walked through a surreal valley between gigantic hills of cinder. Closer to the mountain we encountered fantastically colorful and eroded rocks reminiscent of Sedona.
On Friday evening Ian decided to stay at the motel while Jack and I went out to experience Flagstaff's nightlife. No, that isn't an oxymoron! Flagstaff is home to the University of Northern Arizona, and there's a tiny section with a thriving bar scene. I really enjoyed it and would like to go back there sometime. We had some Mexican food for dinner, then called it a night.
The next morning we all woke up at some ridiculous time like 4:00am. I drove Jack and Ian to the train station, only to find that the train was late. We slept in the car for a while until the train finally arrived and Jack and Ian commenced the final leg of their trip.
A bit later I drove back to Phoenix and flew home to Philly.
Jack and Ian, It was a great trip! Thanks!