Sunday, April 15, 2018

Home again safe, sound and freezing

Laura & Joan at the distillery

The long ride home is over. After a wonderful stay at my sister’s house in North Aurora, Illinois along with her husband, we made the final 5-hour leg trip home to Lapeer on Wednesday.

We had dry, but cold weather from Des Moines to North Aurora on Monday. The only obstacle on that trip was some extensive construction on I-88 which was surprising because that is a fairly new toll road.

The highest temperature during the day Monday was a 39 degree temperature just before we arrived at Laura’s house.

My sister was still working (she works from home) so we entertained ourselves by catching up on email and Facebook until she was done working.

As is the custom, my sister cooked my favorite dinner, spaghetti, which I consumed in great quantities. If I haven’t said so previously, my sister is a great, great cook.

In the morning while my brother-in-law worked, we headed to Fox River Distillery near my sister's house to get a personal tour of the place from my sister. I'm not a drinker, but they have won a bunch of awards for their Bourbon, whiskey and moonshine, so we bought some bottles for the Family Literacy Center Auction later this year.
Some barrels of bourbon

The next day, all of us went to the Ellwood House in DeKalb, Illinois for a wonderful house tour. Built in the late 1800s and early 1900s, the home was the residence of a man who produced barbed wire and turned it into a multi-million dollar operation.

Our tour guide was wonderful and we learned a lot about the house and its family. Afterwards, we went to a really nice restaurant (the name of which I can’t remember right now) and then headed home for our final night on the road.

My sister and brother-in-law were kind enough to remodel the guest bathroom for us prior to our arrival so we felt very special, although I’m sure she didn’t do it just for us.

The "still"
The next morning we were up early and then on the road for the short trip home through Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

As we always seem to do, we hit a major traffic jam on I-80 through parts of Illinois and Indiana which was due to a traffic accident. That cost us about 40 minutes, but soon we were off and running and the rest of the trip was uneventful.

From the time we left California we never had a temperature above 57 and Wednesday was no exception although we did hit 57 a couple times during the trip.

The product
Entering Michigan we were immediately struck by the poor conditions of the freeway, but then that is always the case in Michigan. We have some of the highest gas taxes in the country, yet still some of the worst roads. Gas prices in Michigan are second highest to any we saw with the exception of California.

The house came through the winter in good condition (thanks Tim) but we do seem to have a little bit of a septic back up issue brewing, something we are in the process of taking care of. We had a nice dfinner Friday night with daughter Elin and son Tim at Whitey’s in Davison and I have already started back to work driving my bus.

Of course, the weather has turned crappy since we’ve been home and as I write this we are in the middle of a stupid ice storm. I guess if I want to avoid Michigan’s bad weather we’ll have to stay in Tucson until June.

Laura & Me
So another winter trip to Arizona is in the books and life is back to real here in Michigan. I thank all of you for following along and the Lord willing we’ll do it all over again next year. Peace!

Mileage out (Des Moines): 103945

Mileage in (North Aurora) 104255

Time out: 10:12 a.m. (Central Daylight Time)

Time in:  3:10 p.m. (Central Daylight Time)

Mileage out (North Aurora): 104255

Mileage in (Lapeer, MI): 104589

Time out: 8:40 a.m. (CDT)

Time in: 3:08 p.m. (Eastern Daylight Time)

Sunday, April 8, 2018

A white knuckle ride to Des Moines

A day that started out with the first clear skies we had seen since we left California deteriorated quickly as we approached Omaha and turned to white knuckle driving from inside Iowa to Des Moines.

Fortunately, the temperature never dropped below 31, although it hung there for a long time on the ride across I-80, and we made it safely to the Hampton Inn this afternoon.

Even when it was clear at the beginning of the drive there were tail winds (which is actually good for gas mileage) of up to 40 mph as we drove the long, boring stretch across Nebraska.

Dodging, not always successfully, the tumbleweeds flying across I-80 was the only entertainment that I had for several hours.

Temperatures ranged from a high of 57 somewhere in the middle of Nebraska to the 29 degrees as we pulled into the Hampton Inn. It was 42 when we started out in Cheyenne in the morning.

About 12:30 p.m. (Central time) we passed field after field of Sand Hill Cranes near Kearney, Nebraska. The big birds are the same ones that we enjoy watching during the winter at Whitewater Draw in Arizona. We always wonder if we are seeing some of the same birds we saw there.

Kearney, Nebraska is the breeding ground for the birds, but this is the first time we have seen them in such large numbers as we drove across the state. In one farmer’s field the birds shared the forage with a bunch of pigs.

Because of the wild ride there are no photos of today’s drive. Sorry. Tomorrow we are stopping to visit my sister Laura and brother-in-law Philip outside Chicago and will be with them a couple days so this will likely be my last post until we get back to Michigan, which is scheduled for Wednesday, barring any more goofy weather.

Mileage out: 103315

Time out: 8:09 a.m. (Mountain Daylight Time)

Mileage in: 103938

Time in: 5:49 p.m. (Central Daylight Time)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Loving the 80 mph speed limits today

Highway memorial

Our stay in Wendover, Utah was brief and the Quality Inn was a little disappointing, but the room was clean so we made do.

It would help the image of a hotel to clean up the grounds around the outside so that the first thing you see isn’t a bunch of empty booze bottles in the landscaping.

We ate dinner at the Montego Bay Casino and Hotel and of course, we spent just a short time paying reparations to the Native Americans before turning in early after a long day’s drive.

Lincoln monument
Morning broke with no rain, but that would change later. We departed Wendover and made the boring drive over the Bonneville Flats to Salt Lake City. I remember this stretch as a young man and it seemed shorter, which is probably due to the new speed limit which is 80 mph.

In fact, most of Utah and part of Wyoming has the 80 mph speed limit which makes traveling very enjoyable and quick.

There was plenty of snow in the mountains around Salt Lake City and later through Wyoming, but the roads were clear, but we did run into the rain again for several hours on Saturday.

Albany Restaurant
Having done this trip several times we decided to make a stop at the Lincoln Highway monument in Wyoming. We usually drive by, but have often noticed the statue of Abraham Lincoln up on the hill as we sped by. (Besides, Joan really needed to use the rest room there).

Joan at the train depot
It turned out to be an interesting stop as there is a marker designating this location as the highest elevation on I-80 from coast to coast and a memorial marker for a man who foresaw and pursued the dream of a coast to coast freeway.

Our XM radio kept us entertained with comedy, music and radio classic programs and we arrived into Cheyenne ready for some food.

Joan and a big boot
It is fun to find local restaurants to eat in, so we searched the Internet and found a downtown restaurant called the Albany Restaurant which has been in the same family since 1942. It is located in a vintage building across from the 130-year-old railroad depot.

We had a nice dinner for a reasonable price and then spent a few minutes walking around downtown before heading back to our Quality Inn, which fortunately had no booze bottles littering the grounds. Temperatures today ranged from 57 degrees at the start to the  low of 44 at the end in Cheyenne.

Mileage out: 102746

Time out: 8:39 a.m. (Mountain Daylight Time)

Mileage in: 103307

Time in: 4:24 p.m. (Mountain Daylight Time)

The long, wet, cold slog for home is underway

Joan's "frosting" cake

Our time in California came to a quick end and our journey back home has begun.

The trip to Cynthia’s house in Danville, California began on Easter morning in Bakersfield and through the food basket valley of California. From my many trips up and down the central valley it is apparent that many farmers have given up the idea of farming. Many once rich agricultural fields are now standing fallow and groves of trees have been deliberately knocked down.

All of this is the long battle over who gets water in California. There are many signs posted at the farms decrying the lack of water farmers are allowed for growing crops. “Is growing food really wasting water?” said one sign. The temperature climbed to 77 by the time we arrived in Danville.

William at home
A whirlwind of visits with my wonderful cousin Cynthia, my son, William, my ex-wife and her husband, William’s care giver and finally our good friend Jan made the time in California fly by.

I spent three days with William and Joan and I celebrated our 19th anniversary Tuesday night at cousin Cynthia’s house. After we arrived on Sunday, Cynthia prepared a wonderful ham dinner for Joan’s birthday (a couple days late). My cousin is a great cook and I think we cleaned out her refrigerator and cupboards during our short stay.

We all dressed in party hats, which we have used many times previously, but Cynthia really knows how to throw a party. Cynthia's friend Ed also joined us for dinner.

On Wednesday we had a wonderful dinner with my ex-wife and her husband Bill, William, Joan and William’s caregiver Mike at Hindquarter Bar & Grill in Santa Cruz. It was a wonderful time and yes, we all get along very well.

Dinner with the family
Then on Thursday, Cynthia, Joan and I made the trip to Napa Valley to visit my friend Jan. Jan and her late husband Norm traveled to San Antonio a number of years ago to spend time with us there during a winter getaway. We all miss Norm, but we love Jan and always enjoy our time, however short, with her.

The trip to Jan’s house in Hidden Valley Lake took an hour and 40 minutes. The trip home through incredible California traffic took 4 hours. But it was well worth it to see Jan.

Whenever we travel I keep a close eye on the weather and for a week there had been predictions of heavy rain on our route (I-80 through Donner Pass) out of California. Well, the predictions were correct and on Friday we drove through a continuous downpour for more than 9 hours all across California, Nevada and into Utah.

Donner Pass monument
The highest temperature we had on Friday (getaway day) was 57 degrees and that was when we left Danville in a pouring rain. The lowest temperature was 39 degrees at the summit of Donner Pass. The snow level in the Sierras was about 4,500-feet and there was a pretty good snow pack on top.

Somehow during the Friday trek I caught another stone and my new windshield (the one I replaced in December before our trip to Tucson) is cracked again.

One irony noted on Friday is the place called Donner Pass Ski Area. I can only imagine the poor people who were stranded in deep snow and left to die and struggle through the winter of 1846-47 would likely not appreciate that there is now a ski area named after the place they so miserably spent in the snow.
Donner Pass snow pack

Sort of like opening a park in Jonestown, Guyana and serving only kool-aid. 

Another nostalgic moment happened when we drove through Battle Mountain, Nevada. When my brother and I were kids (probably mid to late 50s) my Dad and stepmother drove us through the same town. In fact, I remember we had breakfast there. My recollection is clear because my brother and I were laughing because the mountain near the town had a large “BM” brand burned or placed in it. In our family BM stood for bowel movement and my brother and I thought that was about the funniest thing we had ever seen. Please keep in mind we were young boys at the time. The memory did make me smile today as that big old BM is still on the mountain.
Hilarious, right?

Mileage out (Bakersfield): 100301

Time out (Bakersfield): 9:47 a.m.

Mileage in (Danville): 100558

Mileage out (Danville): 102132

Time out (Danville): 8:47 a.m.

Mileage in (Wendover, UT): 102746

Time in (Wendover, UT): 7 p.m. (Mountain Time)

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Good bye Tucson, hello Michigan (via California)

Our last week in Tucson was filled with packing, good byes and some fun. Just a few days after my hike down into the Grand Canyon the Voyager hiking club was back on the trail and we did an 8-mile hike on Tuesday, March 27, into the Chirachua Mountains.

Chirachua Mountain man
The past two years this hike had to be cancelled due once to weather and the other time due to road construction in the park. So it had been a full three years since I had been on these beautiful trails and it was well worth the effort as it always is.

With our time winding down Joan has to do some serious meal planning so that we arrive on getaway day with little or no food left in the refrigerator. That is a challenge because there are always friends who want to go out for a final dinner during the final week, but Joan did a great job and we had very little food to off load to friends and neighbors on Thursday.

The last concert of the season was Wednesday, March 28, and it was Jovert, a steel drum band from a local high school who we saw a couple years ago at the Voyager. The kids are talented, enthusiastic and the show was a big hit.

On Thursday night we invited our friend Walt to dinner at the Voyager Grill and we were joined by our friends Charlotte and Roger who have become great friends over the past few years. Parting is such sweet sorrow, but we always look forward to the times we will be together again.

There is also a pull towards home and we also look forward to our lives and friends back in Michigan so while leaving is hard, it also holds the promise of a summer with friends and family.

So while Joan did laundry on Thursday I began the process of packing away our table and chairs we use outside, taking up the mat on our site and getting the hardware together for hooking up the trailer on Friday.
Parked in Flagstaff

We attended Maundy Thursday services in the ballroom and then began packing suitcases Thursday night.

Friday morning came and it was time to finish the sheets and towel laundry so that we will have all clean linens and towels when we arrive next winter.

I pulled up the trailer stabilizers, emptied the grey (dishwater) and black (you can guess what tank that is) tanks, took up the sewer line from the trailer to the park and disconnected the water to the trailer. After disconnecting the cable TV line I added the hitch to the Tahoe and began the process of hooking up the trailer.

The post box key was returned to the Voyager post office as well as our gate card that lets us in the park after hours through the gate.

With all those chores done it was time to leave our happy place and start the long drive home to Michigan via Northern California.

First stop was the local Camping World where I had the trailer winterized so the pipes won’t freeze in Flagstaff this spring and next fall and getting the trailer wheel bearings greased and repacked. While that work was being done Joan and I used some free movie passes we had to go see the movie “I Can Hardly Imagine.”  It was a wonderful movie and very appropriate for Good Friday.

After the movie we headed back to Camping World and picked up the trailer and headed north to Casa Grande for dinner and to let the heat of the day pass for the long trip up the mountain with the trailer to Flagstaff. Temperatures were in the high 80s which makes me nervous pulling the heavy trailer. That is why we take our time and drive at night to let the air cool a little.

After dinner at Mimi’s the trip up the mountain began and ended about 10:20 p.m. in the rest stop near McGuireville. We parked between two semi trucks and trailers. The noise from the running diesels lulled me to sleep and we slept until sunrise about 6:30 a.m.

We finished the hour or so left to Flagstaff and successfully stored the trailer in its usual spot in the storage lot.

The drive to Bakersfield was uneventful exception for the fields of California poppies in bloom in all the beauty they have to offer.
Joan enjoying the Bakersfield sign

Everything went well this year (we had all the appropriate locks we needed) and we were on the road to Bakersfield.

I should mention that Saturday was Joan’s birthday and the good sport she is she didn’t complain about spending her birthday night in a truck rest stop without heat or amenities. I owe her a nice dinner.

So when we arrived in Bakersfield I took her for a steak dinner at Logan’s Roadhouse, where the staff serenaded her with a little sweet treat for her birthday.

California has these weird gasoline nozzles that make it impossible to gas and wash your windows at the same time. Unless you are securely holding the gas nozzle it will keep shutting off. Just one more reason I no longer live in the Golden State.

On Easter we will head north and arrive at my cousin’s house in the afternoon and I will bring you up to date on how that goes later.

Mileage out at Tucson: 100547

Time out at Voyager:  11:40 a.m.

Mileage in at Flagstaff: 100827

Time in at Flagstaff (with trailer) 7:38 a.m.

Time out of Flagstaff (without trailer) 8:23 a.m.

Mileage in to Bakersfield 101301

Time in at Bakersfield 3:40 p.m.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

A Grand dream come true

Waiting to step off on South Kaibab Trail for the trip down

   Sometimes words are inadequate and sometimes they just fail to describe an experience so let me start out by saying that both things will be true of this post. The hardest part of this post will not be the words, but choosing from among the 140 photos I took during my three days in the canyon.

   From the time I was a young boy, I have been fascinated with The Grand Canyon. The first time my parents took me there I was awed by the majesty of the place. Later when I went there with a church group on the way to a Utah mission trip I was simply moved by the beauty of the Canyon.

An early view
   Over the years we have visited there with just Joan and I, with other relatives and the last time I was there I left behind a good portion of my brother’s ashes in sight of the Watchtower Gift Store, a place he loved and worked after his time in the US Air Force.

   To say that the Grand Canyon has a hold on me, is to speak a severe understatement. So when a friend in the Voyager hiking club asked me last March (2017) if I would like to be part of a three day adventure to the bottom of Grand Canyon and a two night stay at Phantom Ranch, I jumped at the chance.

Ooh Aah Point
   For more than a year I had anticipated and trained for what I knew would be a significant and difficult hike, but one that held the promise of eternal memories and an overwhelming sense of accomplishment at its conclusion.

  As we learned during our stay of the 5 million annual visitors to the Grand Canyon, less than 1 percent make it to the bottom, which puts those who do in a very exclusive club.

   A group of 19 people from the Voyager signed on for the adventure and we left the resort on Tuesday morning headed for Bright Angel Lodge. We had people from many different states and Canada with us on this journey. I took five people, including me, in my Tahoe. My group was Chuck, Gayle, Jean, Dave and me.

Taking a break at Cedar Ridge
   I was like a kid on Christmas Eve, I could hardly stand the excitement and anticipation of what was to come. I hiked three days a week, some long and grueling hikes to make sure I was prepared for what was to be. A new Osprey back pack was purchased and a set of boot chains in case the trail was icy, which it often is this time of year.

   For two days I packed and repacked my gear to make sure I had enough, but not too much for the trip. Staying in the dormitories at Phantom Ranch and eating in the chow hall there eliminated the need to take tents, sleeping bags and food, other than trail snacks, but there is the ever present need for water and some food on any hike. Water is usually the heaviest single component of any back pack, but also the most important.

Section of trail
   Despite the careful packing I re-thought things Wednesday morning in the room at the Bright Angel Lodge that I shared with Chuck and off loaded a couple things (and one extra bottle of water) in an attempt to have the perfect sized pack for the hike.

   After breakfast Wednesday (March 21) we caught the 8 a.m. Hiker’s Special bus to the South Kaibab Trailhead and the start of a dream come true for me. I stepped off the bus and smack dab in the middle of all my fears and doubts. “Could I really do this?” “Was I ready for the challenge ahead?” and that worst of all fears “Would I fail?”

   In the face of those screaming doubts I started down the trail accompanied by my three friends (and car mates) Chuck, Gayle and Jean and began the steep plunge to the bottom of the abyss known as the Grand Canyon. I should note here that my other car passenger, Dave, had to return home on an emergency basis because his wife was hospitalized with a difficult heart issue. We would miss Dave very much during the next three days.

Angelic looking clouds
   We were not alone, probably 40-50 people jumped off that bus and began the descent with us, but soon the groups naturally spread out and we were alone. With every knee wrenching step down the trail I came closer and closer to my goal of reaching the bottom, but inside my head was the nagging thought that every step down meant a grueling step up on Friday, but my goal overcame my doubts and we kept plunging down the trail.

   And what a beautiful trail it is. At one spot (called Ooh Aah Point for good reason) I started to cry, thinking of all the years that I had wanted to do this and remembering that somewhere my brother’s remains were part of the scenery around me. It was all very overwhelming.

Another outstanding view
   Around each corner was a new and more beautiful view than the previous one and the only thing busier than my aching feet was my camera. As I snapped each photo all I could think was that I wasn’t taking enough pictures, but also realizing that any photo I took would not capture the smells, the air and the emotions that I was feeling at those moments.

   The pictures would be beautiful, I knew, but they would never capture completely what I was truly seeing and feeling at that moment. Past Ooh Aah Point (very appropriately named) we stopped for a rest at Cedar Ridge (1,120 feet below the rim), then Skeleton Point (2,040 feet below the rim), then the Tipoff (3,280 feet down), and then finally Phantom Ranch (4,700 feet under the rim).
Leaving my shadow behind

   There I was at the foot of the canyon and at the dream of a lifetime all at once. As I walked over Black Bridge over the Colorado River I had to nearly pinch myself to believe I was there. But there I was.

   Once in camp we did the mundane chores of picking a bunk in the 10-man dormitory (I got a lower one) and then took a quick shower, which was a huge relief because there had been reports on the rim that the water had been shut off at the ranch due to a malfunction in the system. Not having a shower would have put a slight damper on the enjoyment of the rest of the day.

   I put my hiking boots under the bed and put on the socks and crocks I had carried down to give my feet a little rest. Some of our group was already at the ranch when we arrived and others would arrive later. All of us were tired and pain relievers and liquids were the order of the day.

A mule train has right of way
   For the rest of the day some of us drank ice tea and others celebrated with a beer, but all of us were happy that the descent was behind us. Never far out of my mind was the fact that now that we were at the bottom the only way out was up, and up, and more up, but that was more than 24 hours away so I tried putting that away for awhile so I could enjoy my time at the ranch.

   Our group had dinner at 6:30 p.m. and we inhaled several helpings of home made beef stew, salad, corn bread and chocolate cake at the family style seating in the chow hall.

   The interpretation ranger, his name was Radan, gave two talks a day, one at 4 p.m. and one at 7:30 p.m. and on the first day he talked about the human history of the canyon and the night talk was on the re-establishment of the California Condor to the region. More on that later.

   After the talk I fell into my bunk about 8:30 p.m. and the next thing I remember is a woman knocking and then flinging our door open and yelling “It’s 5 a.m., breakfast is at 5:30, don’t be late.” Fortunately for me my breakfast time on that first day was 7 a.m. so while I didn’t have to get up, I was now awake for the day.

Getting closer to the bottom
   The accommodations at the ranch are spartan, but clean and adequate.  The presence of running water (hot water too!) and a flush toilet in the dorm was a big bonus.

   On Wednesday, Gayle, Jean and I opted out of a 16-mile hike to Ribbon Falls and instead chose a 5-mile easy hike along the Colorado River. We spotted a female big horn sheep who was very cooperative with our photo taking.

   Back at camp, we sucked down some unsweetened ice tea and talked to a young  brother and sister who had been brought to the camp by their parents. The girl, who was 10, was reading a book she found in the ranch lending library called “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.”
Crossing over the Colorado River

   We talked with her and told her how lucky she was to have parents who would share such a great adventure with them.

   After another shower, we headed to the 4 p.m. ranger talk and learned about the geology of the canyon and specifically about the 2-billion-year-old rock walls that surrounded the ranch. It was a fascinating and enlightening talk. You can’t help but wonder about your place in the universe when you realized what a very small part of it you are. But in another sense you feel very connected to the creator and in awe of the majesty of it all.

My home for two nights in the canyon
   At 6:30 p.m. we lined up again for another meal of beef stew, salad, corn bread, but this time a slice of chocolate brownie instead of cake. It tasted like a five-star meal.

   At 7:30 p.m. we listened to our final ranger talk, this one called “Ask the Ranger.”  He answered questions on how he commutes to work (he walks the trail back and forth like the rest of us), he works 8 days straight and then he is off for four days. He talked about mountain lions, more geology and the influence of Native American people on the canyon, among other topics.

Ranger talk on the bottom
   As soon as it was done I headed back to the bunk house and fell blissfully asleep before 9 p.m. But this time I was startled awake about 10 p.m. by someone pounding on the door. Apparently someone had locked the bunkhouse door (not too many burglars are prepared to hike 9 miles down a trail to steal someone’s sweaty hiking clothing) but someone had been locked out.

   After that the next thing I heard was the same female voice opening our door and announcing the time (5 a.m.) and “breakfast is at 5:30, don’t be late” but this time I had to get up and get to breakfast as this was our seating time.

Our dormitory
   After a full breakfast of scrambled eggs, pancakes, sausage, bacon, and fruit it was time to don our packs and begin the uphill journey to the top of the South Rim. I’ll admit I had butterflies in my stomach thinking about the task ahead. And it wasn’t going to be easier considering that it had rained hard during the night which meant trails would be wet and muddy, but at least it wasn’t raining now. That would change.

Female big horn sheep
   We took a final photo of our group before heading out of the ranch at 6:20 a.m. and once across the Colorado River it started to rain, which necessitated a stop to don rain gear and back pack covers. Nothing like adding the weight of rainwater to an already full pack.

   Fortunately, the rain only lasted about 25 minutes and within a short time we began to sweat under rain gear so we stopped and stripped off the rain gear.

   The first part of the Bright Angel Trail (the trail we took up the cliff) is fairly flat, but at the River Rest House it begins the long road up. Switchback, after switchback leads you through this Garden of Eden, complete with flowing steams and waterfalls.

Phantom Ranch
   Our goal at this point was to get to Indian Gardens, the halfway in miles point of the hike up, but most of the “up” is still ahead of you there.

   Indian Gardens is also the last place you can get drinking water so we refilled our water containers, spent about ½-hour resting and using the two-story pit toilets (or “big drops” as the Canadians call them) before heading back on the trail up the canyon. We decided to make our goals short, first we would get to 3-mile house and then after we stopped there we set our goal of 1 ½-mile house where we had lunch and then we set our obvious last goal for the finish line at the Bright Angel Trailhead at the top of the South Rim.

About halfway up Chuck was keeping watch on the sky above us after the admonition of the ranger two nights before that we might see a California Condor soaring high above us in the canyon. As we were ascending, Chuck spotted one of the rare birds (only about 400 remain, but are improving in numbers due to conservation efforts) soaring above us. The bird is huge with a wing span of many, many feet. They stand about 4-feet high. The tell tale markings described to us by the ranger were all there and we were excited to see the bird.

During our three day canyon visit we also had close encounters with big horn sheep, elk, deer and many variety of birds.

Departing from the bottom for the top
   It was a long and tough, knee crunching slog up the side of the cliff and 2 billion years of earth’s geological history. Each step represented hundreds of thousands or more years of history. The only scary moment was one punctuated with the sudden sound of a scream from a woman walking right behind us as a large boulder (about ½ the size of a small car) that was tumbling down the hill just behind us. The boulder bounced on the trail just feet behind the woman and continued down the mountain from there. It would have killed anyone it hit and I couldn’t help but think that if we had left our last stop 20 seconds later it could have been a real problem. Or, we could have been the newest entry in the book “Over the Edge: Death at the Grand Canyon.”

My Garden of Eden
   But on we slogged, onward and upward until at last we reached the top of the trail to the sounds of applause and cheers to a number of people gathered there watching folks come up from the bottom. One Japanese lady ran over and asked to pose with us for pictures like we were some explorers. We obliged and smiled and are probably now an entry on a Facebook post for some friends of hers in Japan.

Indian Gardens - the half way point to the top
   We felt for a moment like real “rock” stars.

   We then headed to the car (which was parked and left nearby the end of the trail when we arrived on Wednesday) for our over night stay at the Miswak Lodge Friday night. After a quick shower we walked (yes, we walked) back to the Visitor Center for some souvenir shopping. What did I buy? A copy of “Over the Edge: Death in the Grand Canyon.”

   But I also joined the Grand Canyon Association. It is clear that the federal government is not fully supporting the park system anymore and without donations and fees our precious parks would fall into more disrepair than they already are.

Climbing out of the canyon
   More than any other hike I have ever done, this one has changed me, hopefully for the better. There is something magical, spiritual and eternal about the Grand Canyon that has always held a fascination for me. Now, after visiting its source, the very river that carved it, I feel more connected to it than ever. I think it would be impossible to do this hike and not be moved in some major way.

   Would I do the hike again? In a heartbeat. Perhaps someday I can take some of my children and grandchildren on the adventure of a lifetime with me. Another dream yet to come true.

Our lunch stop
   At the end of the hike the only thing in my pack that I didn’t need was a set of boot ice chains that I purchased in case we ran into icy trails. There was some ice, but not enough to require the use of my boot chains. Everything else in my pack, the rain poncho, the backpack rain cover, all my snacks and clothing were used during the trip. I did have one ½-liter of water remaining when I arrived at the top which meant I planned the ascent almost perfectly.

   The dedicated and experienced hikers at the Voyager are the best. Over the years they have taught me many things and I appreciate them for be willing to share tips and for the encouragement they give so many people. I would not have achieved this wonderful goal without them. Thank you Voyager hikers!

About 1 mile to go
   I should mention that all of this came to pass because of my wonderful wife Joan, who allowed me the time and money to make this all happen. She stayed behind, landlocked in our trailer without a vehicle to take her anywhere so I could do this.

   She did have my blessings for a date with the pastor of the park who used my Wednesday night concert ticket to see the Everly Brothers Tribute group. She said it was a very good concert.

End of the hike up
   We now head into our last week here at the Voyager. There are lots of things yet to do, but we also have to start the packing and off loading of perishable food that needs to be done before our Friday (March 30) departure. We are looking forward to seeing family and friends in California on our way home.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Hikes, hikes, jewelry and friends!

At the end of an 18-mile hike

It’s been busy here again, but then it is always busy here. Our friends, my former boss and his wife, Roger and Jessica, are almost at the end of their visit and two weeks from this Friday we will also be wheels up and on our long trip home.

But until then there is much to tell and much to come.

The shows at the resort have been top caliber this year and since we last talked we have seen some really good shows, including an Eagles Tribute Show and a singing comedian and impressionist, Scott Record.
One great view from the long hike

The latter was very good and was once a close associate of Rodney Dangerfield (he did an outstanding Rodney Dangerfield impression). The Eagles concert was likewise very good, but the loudness drove some of the older audience members home at intermission.

 Just last week we saw “New Odyssey” a group of three men who play (and play well) 30 different instruments. It was an incredible performance with a lot of humor, and of course, music.

As I have mentioned previously in this 55-plus park you have a variety of musical and entertainment tastes. With ages varying over three decades it must be a challenge to offer up entertainment that keeps everyone happy. When the Rap tribute concerts start being booked I’ll know that it’s time for me to stay home. I would welcome a Jimi Hendrix or Janis Joplin tribute show, but it would likely not be popular with the older folks here.

Blackett's Ridge Memorial Hike for Dave
This has been my best hiking year here ever. I’ve been average more than 2 great hikes a week (in part due to the visit of my friend Mahlon) and about 10 days ago a group of us here in the park set out on a hike I have wanted to do for a long time.

The hike starts in Bear Canyon and goes past Seven Falls (I’ve been there twice already before this season) and continues on up the mountain into the Sycamore Reservoir area in Catalina Mountains and then circles back on the Hutch’s Pool Trail and finishes on the Telephone Line hike.

Joan showing her jewelry creations at Show and Tell
We were told that it was a 14-mile hike. When we finally finished the GPS devices carried by two of our hikers logged us in at 18.8 miles for the day, which was more than 9 hours of hiking. The last four miles of the hike was pretty quiet as we were pretty exhausted in the heat and just wanted to put one boot in front of the other to get to the end.

Hockey night in Tucson
The views were outstanding and there was plenty of water in Bear Creek and Sabino Creek so that was refreshing to see. Most of the other hikes were in the 7-8 mile range and all are in preparation for next week’s adventure as we hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, stay down in the bottom of the canyon for two days and then hike out on the fourth day. I think I’m ready, but I know it will be a grind.

Joan has been working hard at the health clinic, as long as doing her jewelry making.

She showed off her creations at “Show and Tell” here at the resort and I manned the Bible Study table at the same event. There are some very talented people here and they all showed off the stain glass, silver jewelry, stained glass creations, quilts, wood carving and other great activities offered here.

I know it probably sounds like bragging, and I really don’t mean it that way, but this park offers more activities both indoors and outdoors than any park we have ever stayed at. People here for the first time simply are stunned by the range of activities offered here.

Also since I last checked in we have attended a dance and a dinner show.
Lunch on the Bug Springs hike

Joan has been faithful about attending her aquacise class and I recently was asked to come on  board as a hike coordinator for the hiking group here which means I will be leading a couple of the hikes during our stay here next year.

It had been three years since we had our trailer carpets cleaned and the desert dirt and dust had taken a toll on our floor despite Joan’s constant attention to cleanliness. So we called the man who cleaned them before and he came out and cleaned them again.

However, because the carpets need time to dry, we decided to visit a new casino resort in the Apache lands north of here overnight to let the carpets dry. When Joan booked the hotel she thought she had lodged us at Apache Sky Casino which is about two hours north of here. As soon the carpets were done, we left for the resort arriving about 6 p.m.

Lunch on the rocks (with my friend Jim)
As we drove up the new driveway I was pretty confused to see the casino, but nothing that looked like a hotel. Inside we asked the clerk where the hotel was and she said “there’s no hotel here.” That’s when we discovered that Joan booked us into Apache Gold Resort, which was another hour north of Apache Sky.

We asked if they had a restaurant at the new Apache Sky Casino, because we were really hungry, and she happily replied “There’s a food truck out back.”  Not what we were looking for so we caged our hunger, got back in the car and headed to Apache Gold where we checked in and grazed on a nice prime rib.

The next day we returned to Apache Sky used up the free $30 free play they gave us and then headed back to Tucson in a small rainstorm because we had tickets to the Tucson Roadrunners hockey game. A number of our friends from the hiking club were also going and because it was $1 hot dog night we feasted on those.
A really bad hike selfie

We were also supposed to go on a Boneyard Tour (that’s a tour of the aircraft being stored in the desert at Davis – Monthan Air Force Base, but the Pima Air Museum really dropped the ball and never got back to us about the reservation we made for the tour. Not sure what is going on with the museum, but their customer service, at least in this instance was really lacking.

Well, another week went by so I’ll add an additional two great hikes, one at Bug Springs and another 13.2-mile hike to a back country campground in the Catalina Mountains. All of these hikes are in preparation for my big challenge coming on Wednesday, March 21, when 18 of us hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spend two wonderful days along the Colorado River at Phantom Ranch.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, our friends Roger and Jessica have left the park to start their long amble home. They were stopping in Albuquerque to visit friends and I know they probably hit some pretty cold weather when they arrived there.
Arizona sunrise

They took us to dinner on Wednesday as they were going to be locked up with grandchildren for the last two days they were in the park. After saying good bye to them Saturday morning, March 17, I felt pretty sad when I returned an hour or so later and saw that there motor home had left. Safe travels friends!

So look here in a week or so and there should be some wonderful Grand Canyon photos to view. Looking forward to seeing our son, William, my cousin Cynthia, and sister Laura on our way home.

Talk to you all soon.