Posted on

Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon

Descending hike on the Bright Angel Trail view from the Upper Tunnel - Grand
Descending hike on the Bright Angel Trail view from the Upper Tunnel area – Grand Canyon, Arizona

I started the descent on the Bright Angel Trail about seven hours from sunset. I calculated that I would do an average twenty-five minutes per mile on the descending hike, but would probably double that time on the ascending hike. If I hiked down to the three miles point I would need approximately four hours to complete my round trip; that would not account for rest stops and stopping for pictures. Based on the Hiking and Camping Destinations pamphlet listing the trails, with the time I had for a day hike I could reach the 3-Mile Resthouse. The Resthouse, located three miles on the descent sitting at the 2120 feet elevation change from the top, has a round trip of six miles with an estimated time of four to six hours.

On the descent at Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
On the descent at Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona
View from the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
View from the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

The Bright Angel Campground elevation change from the trailhead is 4340 feet with a nineteen miles round trip. The minimum time recommended for the round trip is two days. Warning signs highlight that people who have attempted the round trip in one day have experienced health related accidents or have died. As it was early Spring, the average temperatures at the top were in the low 30 F degrees, rising at lower altitudes toward the river. Temperatures at the river level average about twenty degrees higher than at the top. About two miles into my hike it became very windy which made it feel colder than the actual 40 F degrees at that point. One of the brochures notes that the Bright Angel Trail is the “easiest” trail, “but still incredibly steep.” The sudden drop in altitude is felt at each step taken, which makes for a faster hike down with high impact on the joints. Hiking poles are essential here! Hiking out will take twice as long or longer as the gain in altitude makes it steadily steep.

Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

Captivating views, a relatively ease and surely fast descent mislead those who are not exactly what would be called experienced hikers, but tourists turned into accidental hikers who go too far down in the hike not realizing how much physical preparedness is required on the way out. ‘Far’ in this case is an absolute relative concept! Five hundred feet can be treacherous and challenging to too many people I passed on my way down. Posted warning signs and advises on pamphlets are not to be taken lightly nor ignored. In a jokingly way, the challenge of the trails in the Grand Canyon is well summarized on a t-shirt for sale at the gift shop which reads “Going In Is Optional; Coming Out is Mandatory”, or something along those lines. As I continued to descend I saw pain stamped on some faces and at the same time I saw guilt written on the faces of those who brought their elderly parents and grandparents down for a stroll. That’s what the viewpoints are for!

About half a mile down the trail became at least half crowded and by the time I reached the one mile mark I had the trail almost entirely to myself. It was also at that point that the wind was blasting against the cliff walls. Blowing gusts forced me to make some stops and exercise added caution as the wind was blowing and pushing against my back. I went an extra mile down from the 3-Mile Resthouse as I averaged about twenty minutes per mile taking one hour and twenty minutes on the four miles descent. Rested, I turned around to ascend as the sun was still high at three o’clock. I could comfortably reach the top in four hours or so enjoying the sunset and the landscape changing colors as a rosy sun lit the rocky formations in different angles.

Sunset at the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Sunset at the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona

The point where I decided to turn around was more or less between the 3-Mile Resthouse and the Indian Garden Campground and with calm winds it felt comfortable at 45 F degrees. By the time I climbed about two miles, the temperature continued to drop every hundred feet; or so it felt! As the sun continued to set by the time I reached the Lower Tunnel it was 27 F degrees, about five degrees below the low averages for season. Because of the low temperatures even as I got closer to the trailhead at the top, I still had the trail almost exclusively to myself. There was not more than a dozen people watching the sunset. The Spring and Fall provide the most comfortable hiking experience, as I learned from talking to the Grand Canyon National Park Service rangers and other hikers, although the temperature can vary dramatically. However, after some of them described how beautiful the canyon is in the Winter, I convinced myself to plan hiking to the Bright Angel Campground by the Colorado River in the Winter time. And I can’t wait ’til I hit the trail again!

Bitterly cold sunset at the Bright Angel Trail - Grand Canyon, Arizona
Bitterly cold sunset at the Bright Angel Trail – Grand Canyon, Arizona
Posted on

Grand Canyon South Rim

When I left Sedona, Arizona it was already too late in the day to try and arrive at the Grand Canyon National Park without a reservation for a camp site. As the north rim does not open until later in May, my plans were to visit the south rim and a few weeks later swing by the north rim. I was also fully aware that trying to get a camp site at the park was slim to none, but if I did arrive early in the morning maybe I would be lucky enough to land a spot in one of the campgrounds. So, that night I sought to stay close enough to the east entrance of the Grand Canyon to arrive the next morning as early as possible.

The Colorado River seen from the Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim - Arizona
The Colorado River seen from the Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim – Arizona

The following morning I arrived at the east entrance gate of the Grand Canyon National Park south rim and I was greeted by one of the most cheerful National Park Service rangers I had met to date. As I handed my driver’s license to her, she said “Oh! So you have been hiking in the Grand Canyon of the East?” No! – I replied, adding that I never heard of a Grand Canyon of the East. She recommended that as I returned to New York to check it out. It is located thirty-five miles southwest of Rochester, New York in the Letchworth State Park; proving that often we don’t know what is in our own backyard. Well, one more for the bucket list! When I asked her about the possibility of camping at the park, she replied that the Desert View Campground was already full and she had heard that the Mather Campground was also sold out but she could not confirm that information. Instead, she advised me to drive to  the campground which is located in the Grand Canyon Village. The Village, as it is commonly referred to, is located twenty-five miles from the east entrance of the park and it would take me more than half an hour to get there.

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

Although I was anxious to get there and find out whether or not I would be able to stay for at least a couple of nights, the ranger at the gate suggested that I first stopped by the Desert View Watchtower, which according to her is one of the most fascinating and breathtaking views in the Grand Canyon. Otherwise, she alerted me, “you will have to drive back twenty-five miles to see this astonishing view.” I said that I could always see it on my way back out of the park. Again, she pointed out that it may be raining on my way out of the park a couple of days later. She really wanted me to stop at the Desert View Watchtower! Despite my urgency to get to the Mather Campground to find out my fate for the night, I followed her ‘persistent’ advise. And I am glad I did! The view is indeed so incredibly beautiful and powerful that I almost forgot I was in a hurry to get somewhere.

Seen from the Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Seen from the Desert View Watchtower – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

 

Desert View Watchtower - Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona
Camping at the Mather Campground – Grand Canyon South Rim, Arizona

Arriving at the Mather Campground I got the good news that I could have a camp site for two nights. I was thrilled! It was still mid morning and I could set up my tent, get a bite at the Grand Canyon Village, and pick a hiking trail for the day. It was great to get a good cappuccino at the Canyon Coffee House, sit down and download some pictures, recharge my phone and camera at the lounge of the Bright Angel Lodge. After considering the time left until sunset; the fact that I was a little sore from hiking the day before; and knowing that my choice for the day, the Bright Angel Trail, is quite difficult going down and even more strenuous going up; I knew that I could not go down more than three, maybe four miles. What I was planning was to still be on the trail at sunset and enjoy what I expected to be an unforgettable hiking experience.

Munds Wagon Trail

 

Posted on

Munds Wagon Trail

Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

After arriving in Sedona, Arizona at dusk I did the scenic drive to acquaint myself with the surroundings while enjoying the dazzling views. The skies turned into a serene blue dashed with streaks of red and orange created by the fading sunset. Instead of finding a place to eat and continue on to the Grand Canyon, I decided to spend the night over and hike at least of the trails. The following morning I chose to hike the Munds Wagon Trail which is four miles in length one-way.

On the Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
On the Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

Perhaps because of the weather conditions on that day, few people were hiking. I heard and saw just a few of the all terrain and safari-like jeeps that tour through the Schnebley Hill Road that sometimes crisscross and intersect with the Munds Wagon Trail. I was fortunate to have been there early in the Spring because some hikers have noted that in the Summer the road is “infested” with jeeps. Luckily that was not the case that day and for most part the trail runs far enough from the road that the vehicles are rarely heard.

The weather was rather unstable that morning going from sunny to cloudy to rain and sunny again a couple of times. I had hiked for about two miles when it started to rain. For about one mile I hiked under the rain until the skies cleared and the sun came back. Throughout my eight miles hike that day the weather pattern switched back-and-forth several times. Prepared with a water proof jacket, plenty of water and food, the weather constant changes did not bother me at all. It did make it a bit challenging as parts of the trail became a little slippery in the more strenuous sections, although overall this is an easy and pleasant trail to hike.

Creek in Bear Wallow Canyon - Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Creek in Bear Wallow Canyon – Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

The Munds Wagon Trail crosses the intermittent creek in the Bear Wallow Canyon, ducking in and out of trees and slick-rock washes opening up to incredible views of Mitten Ridge and Cow Pies.

Cactus Blossom on Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Cactus Blossom on Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona

Alongside the trail cactus blossoms nested in the rocks are reminders of the rich desert ecosystem contrasting with the red rocks. As you hike further in the views only get bigger and better! This is a paradise for mountain bikers who share the trail with hikers and indeed, I encountered more bikers than hikers.

Views from the Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Views from the Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona
Hangover Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Hangover Trail – Sedona, Arizona

I initially had planned to hike the in-and-out eight miles only, but on my way out I could not resist the temptation to do a portion of the Hangover Trail. I guess I felt quite gnarly and willing to test myself after having already done more than five miles. It might have been quite a bit more than five or six miles because, although I rarely hike off trails, this is a place where I felt that I could safely wander off the trail. There are plenty of rocks and plateaus or mesas that offer amazing views. There were also a few spots where I realized that I had lost the trail and had to go back to find it. The trail is marked by cairns that are distant enough from each other to make it confusing leading you to easily get off the trail without noticing; specially if it is raining and you have the trail all to yourself. Getting back on track is not difficult because the landmarks in the surrounding landscape rise in front of your eyes throughout the entire hike.

The Hangover Trail is a lot more demanding than the Munds Wagon Trail and a bit slippery on a rainy day. While the Munds Wagon Trail is a gradual uphill climb to a 1200 feet elevation, the Hangover Trail presents a more challenging abrupt climbs at some sections. I only hiked on for about a mile and a half when I decided to turn around to go back to complete the Munds Wagon Trail. At that point I realized that hiking eleven miles before leaving Sedona to the Grand Canyon was quite enough for what was supposed to have been just a stopover.

Off the Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Off the Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona
Early Spring Blossom - Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona, Arizona
Early Spring Blossom – Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona, Arizona
Munds Wagon Trail - Sedona. Arizona
Munds Wagon Trail – Sedona. Arizona
Posted on

Oro Valley, Arizona: Meeting Familiar Faces

A glimpse of sun through a storm in Arizona
A glimpse of sun through a storm in Arizona

As I could not camp overnight at the White Sands National Monument, after hiking the Alkali Flat Trail and knowing that a storm was on its way, I decided that moving on was the best thing to do. My next planned destination was the Grand Canyon, which meant crossing the state of Arizona diagonally in a southeast to northwest route. I reached out to a dear friend who worked in New York with me and now lives nearby Tucson in Oro Valley. I was to at his hotel for the night and he invited me to join him and his wife for dinner. It was estimated that I would be arriving in Oro Valley around nine o’clock that evening. About an hour later I realized that because of the time difference I was gaining one hour and my arrival would be around eight o’clock local time. Well, it would’ve been! The storm that I had heard about while I was at the White Sands Monument had finally arrived! The wind was so strong that many drivers just pulled over on the shoulders of the road. I figured that I would just slow down and keep on going! At some spots it was really rough, but I thought it was best to continue on and beat the storm. After all, it was very “spotty”. I drove through torrential rain for a quarter of a mile to come out on the other end to the most beautiful sunset skies and calmness. Those moments did not last long either. I had had my initiation on rattlesnakes while I was hiking the Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas, but now I was about to graduate!

Welcome to the Grand Canyon State - Fair warning at a rest stop in Arizona
Welcome to the Grand Canyon State – Fair warning at a rest stop in Arizona

Along with the welcome sign to Arizona, the Grand Canyon State, I was shocked to see the warning signs about poisonous snakes as I got out of the car at the first rest stop in the state. Later on that evening I would learn more about rattlesnakes and why the adult snakes are not as much of a threat as the baby snakes. Delayed by the storm and an attack of gigantic tumbleweeds on the road, I ended up losing the hour I had gained and still arrived around nine o’clock that evening. After agreeing that I would meet my friend Roger in the lobby of his hotel around ten o’clock, it was time for a serious clean up! When you’re on the road for days and camping or sleeping on the road, and you come to a hotel and have a hot shower, that is priceless! No matter how hungry your are, that shower comes first! Sorry, but anything else will have to wait! I was at the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Oro Valley, Arizona, which is a comfortable and beautiful property. I knew I was in good hands! About an hour later I met Roger and Helen in the lobby of the hotel. We headed out for dinner and although it was a bit late they seemed to have everything under control. They took me to the restaurant Noble Hops Pub in Oro Valley, Arizona. As we got to the parking lot of the restaurant, Hellen had a flash light with her. I learned that she carries a flash light everywhere to spot rattlesnakes whenever she goes out at night. That’s when I realized that this rattlesnake thing in Arizona meant serious business! She went on to educate me about the fact that the adult snakes do not pose as much risk as the young rattlesnakes do. The adult rattlesnakes have the “bells” and announce their presence in the area. The problem, she explained, lies with the infant snakes that do not have the bells yet and cannot let you know that they are there. She also told me that the young snakes do not have a control over how much poison they dispense and can be more lethal than the adult ones. With all that in mind and the information to be digested, it was time to eat! I was famished to a point that I think I could bite a rattlesnake! Obviously, the margaritas were fabulous and my hamburger was delicious! It is always so great to catch up with friends I haven’t seen in a while and we had a great time. There was a fire pit just a few feet away from us where a lively, joyful group seemed to be having a grand ol’time.

With Roger O'Campo at Noble Hops Pub - Oro Valley, Arizona
With Roger O’Campo at Noble Hops Pub – Oro Valley, Arizona

It was during our conversation that night that Roger suggested that I at least stopped by Sedona on my way to the Grand Canyon. He tried to tell me about how magic and spiritual Sedona was. I must admit that although I had heard about Sedona, I hadn’t really paid too much attention to it. Probably because I was focused on the Grand Canyon. A couple of months before I started on the road, I mapped a tentative route for my road trip which included one or two national parks per state. However, once I got on the road and met old friends or made new friends along the way they gave me advises and suggested a stop here and there. In some cases they dissuaded me from stopping at a location that I had my heart set on. Well rested, the following morning I left Oro Valley heading to Sedona, Arizona.

Hiking the White Sands in New Mexico

It’s Better Outside

Destination: From Texas to New Mexico

 

Posted on

Hiking the White Sands in New Mexico

White Sands National Monument - New Mexico
White Sands National Monument – New Mexico

I walked in at the White Sands National Monument‘s visitor center with many questions and high expectations about hiking the dunes. But, just how white is the White Sands when everything else around has a terracotta color? Just to make sure, I implied that I knew that camping is not available at the monument in a inquiring manner. It’s one of those comments that I make when deep inside I’m hopeful that I’m wrong. Not this time! All I had read about the monument was right. No camping! Hiking! Oh, yes!

I knew that this was a one day visit and I wanted to hike the longest trail in the park. The park ranger I spoke with couldn’t have been friendlier and more helpful. Perhaps, however, my appearance suggested that I should or could  not go hiking the longest trail. She first tried to tell me that there are nice, short trails. But after I told her about my trip and my goals she agreed that the longest trail would be more enjoyable and suitable to my purposes.  “There will be less people in that hiking trail and the dunes are much higher” – she noted.

Alkali Flat Trail - White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Alkali Flat Trail – White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

As I drove the two miles to the trailhead, I overshot it because I was looking for the promised quieter area with not many people and dogs around. Enchanted by the surroundings I just kept on driving until I realized that I had arrived at the end of the road. I turned around, this time paying attention to the hiking trails signage along the way.

On the Alkali Flat Trail at the White Sands National Monument - Alamogordo, New Mexico
On the Alkali Flat Trail at the White Sands National Monument – Alamogordo, New Mexico

Frankly, I was discouraged when I found the location because I could barely find a spot to park the car. A larger crowd than I expected covered the sand surrounding the first 100 yards from the trailhead. It looked like a playground where dogs were having a great time. But, as it is the case with most hiking trails, after half a mile into the hike the number of hikers drop drastically.

Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Alkali Flat Trail at White Sands National Monument, New Mexico

I was also a little intrigued when she told me that the dunes would be much higher on this trail, reaching 60 or 70 feet high. Lots of ups and downs, but the name of the trail was Alkali Flat Trail. Just to be sure, know that the only thing flat in this trail is the word “flat” on its name. Be prepared for a great hiking!

As I hiked the first quarter of a mile and went up and down a few dunes, suddenly I was all by myself! I almost broke down in tears overwhelmed by the beauty around. I had not felt that way in a long, long time. Not at least while hiking. What I like about hiking dunes, especially when they are white dunes, is that you can look at or take several pictures of the same frame and they will always look different. Shades and shadows continuously changing the landscape around can be mesmerizing. Depending on how the clouds cover the sun, and the density and speed of the clouds, the scenery scintillates and flashes before your eyes creating a spectacular light show. No, it’s not boring! Someone asked me once if I didn’t get bored by “walking on sand” for miles and miles. No, I do not get bored!

White Sands National Monument - Alamogordo, New Mexico
White Sands National Monument – Alamogordo, New Mexico

There was a chance of rain for that afternoon. I made sure I had the appropriate hiking gear which included a water proof hiking jacket. I particularly like having my hiking poles with me at all time, and this is a trail that requires hiking poles if you set yourself up to hike the five miles loop.

Except for a few moments during which the clouds got a little thicker and darker, the weather was excellent and the rain never came. For at least four and a half miles I hiked in complete solitude, only seeing a few people when I was close to finishing the five miles loop.

Alkali Flat Trail loop - White Sands National Monument - Alamogordo, New Mexico
Alkali Flat Trail loop – White Sands National Monument – Alamogordo, New Mexico

The White Sands National Monument offers other activities which include guided full moon walk, among other events. If you plan a visit I would recommend checking their website for scheduled events. Most likely I will plan a return trip to coincide with a full moon cycle. Many years ago I did a similar hike in the company of a small group guided by a ranger at midnight in a rain forest at the Iguazu Falls in Argentina and it was a spectacular experience. I imagine that the White Sands is equally, Although in a completely different environment and ecosystem, I imagine that the White Sands is an extraordinary location for hiking under a full moon light.

 

The Questioning!

 

Destination: From Texas to New Mexico

 

Posted on

Destination: From Texas to New Mexico

Traveling is more about what happens on the road than it is about reaching the destination. That’s what makes a road trip more exciting to me. It’s what I see and who I meet on the way to a destination that feed my curiosity; becoming a learning experience and a journey of discoveries. A road trip takes away the comfort zone of getting on an airplane, reaching the destination, hopping on a cab, and checking-in to a hotel before visiting a landmark. The morning I started out in Texas on the way to New Mexico, I expected it to be a smooth road trip. According to the GPS, it would take 9 hours and 8 minutes to cover the 582 miles!

In a road trip it means that the restroom is not a few feet away from your airplane seat, and you don’t know if the next rest area will actually be open or closed for construction. Confronting the unknown is what drives me to take the road with an open mind. Reaching the destination sometimes becomes an obsession when a hurricane is approaching. Other times, if time is not an issue, reaching the destination becomes secondary because even that destination could change; as it has many times in this road trip.

I left Dallas around ten in the morning. It was a beautiful sunny day with clear blue skies. The vibrant yellow and purple colors of Spring peppered the road sides in Texas. All appeared to be going very well until just about an hour on the road I came across the first slowdown caused by road construction. Soon I after that first few miles of one lane slow moving traffic, it did not take long for a second, then a third, and a fourth road construction zone. It did not take long before I stopped counting them. Driving through a mostly unpopulated area I spotted a sign for a rest area. At that point that would have been a much needed stop. Unfortunately, to my dismay when I approached the rest area a sign indicated that it was closed for construction: the next rest area would be eighty miles away!

At dusk on the seventh day of April, I was still about three hours from Alamogordo, New Mexico. By then I had seen immense wind farms and smelled the oil horses and the flaring stacks dotting the landscape for miles and miles in Texas and New Mexico. I watched the sun setting in the desert heading west on US-82. The most scenic portion of the road would have been through the Lincoln National Forest, a mountainous area where the 9,260 feet high Alamo Peak stands, if I could have seen it. I was out of luck! I was exhausted and still not a rest area in sight. Besides, I couldn’t see a thing! After sunset the skies became pitch-black and the road went from a straight line in the desert to a meandering path up and down through the mountains. There was no one else on the road but a slow truck which I followed for miles. There is no signage on the roadside that signals an upcoming curve, as it is common in most roads in the mountains elsewhere. After the “leading” truck’s taillights in front of me left the road, I had to rely on the imagery of the GPS to know that I was entering a right or left curve. I knew then that I had no other choice but make it through to the destination, if I only could keep my eyes open!

Being so tired by the time I arrived in Alamogordo, I didn’t realize that I had set my GPS to take me to the White Sands National Monument, located 16 miles southwest of Alamogordo. When I realized the mistake I had made, I drove up to the next U-turn on US-70 W to turn around and head back east to find a hotel in town for the night. All of a sudden the speed limit signs became more and more frequent, dropping the speed limit all the way down to 10 MPH. And the surprise! I had come to a border patrol check point. I got so confused because I knew that Alamogordo was over 80 miles north of the Mexican border, but being tired and having had no service when I was driving through the mountains a couple of hours earlier, I thought I might have been rerouted.

A border patrol officer approached my window inquiring about my citizenship and immigration status and asked for my immigration papers. It never occurred to me that I would need them since I was travelling within the continental United States’ borders. I told him that they were in a briefcase in the trunk of the car. He said that it was okay and he did not have to see them. I asked him just out of curiosity, if I had crossed into Mexico? “No”, he replied. I was happy to know that I was not lost, but his answer further confused me.

As I was checking-in to the hotel, I asked the front desk agent why did they have a border patrol check point there since it is located miles away from the border? He explained to me that there are several of those check points in New Mexico and Arizona that he knew of. He went on to explain that the reason is because of drug-trafficking by the Mexican cartels. He continued on explaining the geography of the area and problem of drugs coming from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico through Las Cruces in New Mexico.

I had never been on a road trip in the Southwest before; although it was a travel destination in more than one occasion in the past. The difference is that I had flown when I visited a few times before. If I flew in again this time, I probably would not have seen all the police activity on the streets of Alamogordo. Was it being a drug trafficking hot spot the reason why there was no one else driving on the roads after sunset? Or, was it just a coincidence? Perhaps no one will answer that question, but I know that whenever traveling near the border in the Southwest in the future, I probably will stick to driving during the day. What I imagined to be a long, boring drive from Dallas, Texas to Alamogordo, New Mexico, turned out to be about an eleven hours adrenaline filled journey. I had enough for one day and it was time to rest for the night.

It’s Better Outside

The Questioning!

 

Posted on

The Questioning!

By now I had been on the road for ten days and a few friends started to notice that I had been to a few places and traveled through six states. That’s when the questions started to come in. They began to ask me about where was I going? Is this a vacation? Are you on the road by yourself? And that’s when I started to analyse their reactions and curiosity. By having to answer their questions, I had to think about it myself. Didn’t I have a plan? Of course I did! My plan was not to be tied to a schedule or a set in stone route, and to keep my mind open to changes that would have to be made due to weather, peoples’ recommendations, destinations being closed, liking or disliking a location, and the list goes on and on. In the past I had been on other road trips which had a starting and an ending day. That was not the case with this one! I had the time and I had no commitment whatsoever. Some of the changes that I listed had already taken place more than once. Remember the tornado that got on my way in the first week? The sites in Arkansas and Texas that I visited after hearing about them from people I met on the road? And here I was on the road heading to New Mexico to visit the White Sand National Monument, a site that according to my tentative route I should have visited at least five days earlier.

The day before, when I left Palo Duro State Park, I took a long detour. Better yet! I drove back southeast to Dallas to visit a dear friend who had gone to school in New York where we had worked together and became friends. We had not seen each in years. When I contacted her I told her that I had to stop by and give her a hug. I arrived in Dallas early in the evening and we went straight to a place nearby in the neighborhood for food and a drink. I would have had more than a beer if I knew that I was not getting back on the road that evening. We just had too much to catch up. Although we had not seen each other for over a decade, it was just like it was yesterday that our lives took us on different directions. I was at last laughing with my pretty. smart and funny Priscilla.

A detour to stop by and see my friend Priscilla in Dallas, TX
A detour to stop by and see my friend Priscilla in Dallas, TX

At this point in the trip I knew that there were friends around the country who I would visit. And this is the fun part about being on a road trip; you don’t have reservations and schedules to make in time. On the other hand, it is difficult to handle availability for camping because there is a great chance that when arriving at a location the campgrounds is full. Although I left home with a list of National Parks, I did not make reservations for camping because I had no idea which day I would be arriving at those locations.

Priscilla invited me to stay overnight and the next morning after doing laundry for the first time on the trip, I left to Alamogordo, New Mexico. According to my GPS, I would arrive there at 9:33 that night. Knowing that to cover the 598 miles ahead of me would require a few stops, I estimated that I would arrive around eleven. However, not long after I left Dallas, I started to run into road construction detours and hold ups. This would be my longest driving time in one day since I left home ten days earlier. If I got tired I would simply pull into a rest area and continue whenever I felt rested; or so I thought!

The perks of a solo road trip include listening to whatever music genre you want and the luxury of free time to think. Yes, plenty of sing-along too! I realized that some of my Facebook friends had been following my postings and it had spiked their curiosity about what I was doing and why I was doing it? First, I had to answer it to myself. The answer was quite simple: I had always wanted to go on a long, unrestricted road trip and the timing couldn’t be better. I had not been working since January and with my husband’s new job relocation requirement, there was no reason for me to even look for a new job where we currently lived. More importantly, after having worked in hospitality management for over a decade having had only three vacations, I needed a break! All my blood had been sucked and I needed to refuel. Add to that the fact that I didn’t think I wanted to go back to work in the same capacity. Right after loosing my job I got a few phone calls and offers which I declined. Even if I were inclined to remain in the same industry, I could not accept a management position knowing that I would have to resign just four or six months later to relocate. The more the days went by, the more I realized that this was my chance to stop, take the time and think about quality of life versus being consumed in a job or career that no longer brought me satisfaction. I love travelling and I can’t be in an industry or job where I can only have three short vacations in a decade. To summarize my state of mind I could simply quote Farrah Gray: “Build your own dreams, or someone else will hire you to build theirs.” It was time to follow my dreams. In the meantime, I was stuck in traffic waiting for the “flagger” to let us get through one more road construction in Texas.

 

 

Posted on

It’s Better Outside

Firmly standing after strong winds. Passed the test!
Firmly standing after strong winds. Passed the test!

Still believing that the storm had been blown away; after all everyone kept around me kept saying that “the weather changes rather quickly here”, I drove to Amarillo to hang out at a coffee shop. Later on that evening I heard some loud noises coming from outside and I asked what was that? The wind! – replied Dan. The first thing that came to mind was the cliff-side meandering road in the canyon. I must admit that I got weary about driving back to my campsite. Then it dawned to me that this was the first test for the tent and to my tent pitching skills; I had no idea if it would be still standing when I arrived at the site. I drove back to the canyon with the reassurance that if the windy conditions on the road turned out to be threatening and I wanted to turn around or if my tent had been blown away, I had a place to spend the night in Amarillo. The good thing about driving by a cliff at night is that you can’t see how far down would you fall. As I was the only driver on the road from beginning to end of the trip that night, which pretty much told me that I should not be on the road, I was able to go as slow as I wanted. I made it safely and to my relief the tent was firmly standing! It had passed the test!

I went to sleep that night at the sound of the whistling wind thinking how cool this was. I woke up a couple of hours later chocking in a dust filled tent. The thin sand dust had filtered through my “breathable” tent and had made breathing quite difficult. Just in case a rattlesnake was hanging out by the tent with her buddies, with my headlights on I sat on the table outside for a while. It was better outside! The storm seemed to have passed. With the tent open to circulate the sand dust out, I kept an eye in the surroundings just to make sure no reptile or other creatures would invite themselves in for the night. I went back to sleep and woke up in the morning to a beautiful, sunny day. I was ready to hike to the highlight of the park: the must-see Lighthouse.

 

Designated a National Natural Landmark, the 310 feet high Lighthouse formation was created by erosion
Designated a National Natural Landmark, the 310 feet high Lighthouse formation was created by erosion

 

Sighting of the Lighthouse from the trail leading to the formation
Sighting of the Lighthouse from the trail leading to the formation
Portion of the Lighthouse Trail on the final climbing up section
Portion of the Lighthouse Trail on the final climbing up section

The Lighthouse Trail is classified as moderate according to the park’s brochures. And it is! Except for some sections mainly at the end when you reach the formation. I noticed that most of the tourists who made it to the base were just snapping pictures from there before turning around to head back to the trailhead. The trail from that point on, if you want to climb up onto the formation is quite difficult. The other thing about this trail is that although it is moderate for most part, depending on the temperature and wind conditions can become difficult. It certainly was the case that day as the strong winds from the storm weren’t completely gone yet.

Others, the majority on that particular day, just read the trail information and warning signs posted at the trailhead from their cars and drove away. At the same time that one of the park’s brochures describing the the trails invites visitors to not “miss the park’s most popular trail to the iconic Lighthouse formation”, it also warns that “most heat-related injuries and deaths to people and pets occur on this trail”.

Under the bright sun at the Lighthouse Trail
Under the bright sun at the Lighthouse Trail

The Lighthouse is the “prima donna” of the Palo Duro Canyon State Park. However, one cannot see her before hiking a considerable portion of the trail. And yes, when it comes to sight, it looks just like a majestic lighthouse in the horizon.

After resting at the base of the formation for a few minutes, where I chatted with a couple from Utah who told me that that was as far as they would go because of their age and physical preparedness, I resumed my hike to the top. Only a young couple sat up on the second and highest plateau. The views from there were magnificent, while the wind was treacherously strong. I remained laying on the mesa for a while watching the fast moving white clouds rolling above me. My feet hurt and I knew I had 2.72 miles to hike back to the trailhead. For now I was just going to enjoy the view, hoping that the wind would not throw me down the canyon.

 

Posted on

The Grandest Canyon in Texas

Breakfast at the English Field House, Amarillo, TX
Breakfast at the English Field House, Amarillo, TX

After arriving in Amarillo, Texas and stopping at the local visitor center in the morning of April 4th., I was on my way to a local restaurant to have breakfast. According to a smiley and welcoming lady at the visitor center who recommended the restaurant and gave me directions, it was a little “tricky and hard to find” the English Field House. I was about to turn around and look for something else when I spotted the blue roof. I was told to keep driving and make a left turn when seeing a “hard-to-miss blue roof”. For some reason, I just know it’s going to be hard to find when I hear that it is “hard-to-miss”. Persistence paid off! It turned out to be a little farther away from the visitor center than she had made me believe, but the food was just perfect for what I was looking for. I wanted a family-style local restaurant, and I got it! The service was on point, the food was simply delicious, and the serving was larger than the State of Texas! The restaurant is very simple and decorated with air force insignia and other mementos.

 

Buena Vista
Buena Vista viewing point

I had come to Amarillo to visit the Palo Duro Canyon; a recommendation made by my new friend in Little Rock, Arkansas. Just a few camping sites were available and I was able to secure a spot for a couple of nights, giving me almost three full days to hike some of the trails in the park. Located in the Texas Panhandle Plains, the second-largest canyon in America has a wide variety of wildlife, history, and trails. In a rough terrain, loose rocks, steep slopes, heat, and occasional sand storms, Palo Duro has hiking, biking and equestrian trails. As I was checking in, I was informed that strong winds and consequently a sand storm was expected later on in the evening with lingering wind blowing sand for the next day.

 

On my first day in the canyon I set up the tent and went on to my first hike. I was marveled by the rugged beauty of the formations around me. In a place where four bioregions intersect, erosion that began with the formation of the canyon less than a million years ago exposes a geologic story of approximately 250 million years. Some of the oldest layers in the canyon are from the Quartermaster Formation, located at the bottom of the canyon, they are bright red claystone and white gypsum. The yellow, gray and lavender mudstone is from the Tecovas Formation. Ascending further up in canyon the sandstone and coarse gravel that are seen belong to the Trujillo Formation. The layer of rocks with sand, silt, clay and limestone are from the Ogallala Formation. The 120 miles long and 800 feet deep canyon displays dramatic views with astounding colors, becoming even more spectacular at sunset contrasting with intense blue skies.

 

View from the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. This trail is moderately difficult with steep climbs and a total round trip distance of 11 miles.
View from the Givens, Spicer & Lowry Running Trail. This trail is moderately difficult with steep climbs and a total round trip distance of 11 miles.

 

Covered in a thin layer of a goldish dust
Covered in a thin layer of a goldish dust

Not knowing what the weather was going to be the next day, I decided to do my longest hike in the park on my first day; the Givens, Spicer and Lowry eleven miles round trip trail. I completed my first day hike in the canyon in just under five hours. The sun was setting by time I finished hiking the GSL Trail and the wind was now a lot stronger than when I began hiking the trail five hours earlier. I was covered in a layer of red sand mixed with sweat and could bite the grains of sand in my mouth. All I could think of at that moment was a hot shower before heading to Amarillo to have coffee with a friend and download my pictures from the day. I was thrilled to have found the canyon and excited in anticipation of my second day at Palo Duro.

Posted on

Romance at Petit Jean

Cedar Creek
Cedar Creek alongside Cedar Falls Trail

Cedar Creek

Driving up the mountain to the visitor center of Petit Jean State Park, I had already decided that I would camp for two or three days if spots were available. I knew that the odds of finding availability were against me on a beautiful Saturday morning in early April. Early that morning I had learned that the romantic legend of Petit Jean, tells the story of a young French girl who disguised herself as a cabin boy so she could travel with her fiance to the new world. Falling fatally ill, Petit Jean asked to be buried in the mountain that now carries her name. It was hard not to fall in love with the place!

Cedar Falls Trail
Cedar Falls Trail

It was my lucky day! There were two camp sites available and one of them was open for two nights. The customer service at the visitor center was excellent. Armed with maps and park brochures I quickly set up my tent and went on to my first hike. With no time to waste I chose to do a short hike; the Cedar Creek Trail which is only 1.25 miles in length. It does follow the scenic winding Cedar Creek above Cedar Falls. The trail is listed as “moderate” and only in a few sections rock steps and bluffs may pose challenges depending on the hiker’s skills and physical conditions.

Cedar Falls Trail
Cedar Falls Trail

After camping for the first night almost a week after I got on the road, the following morning I chose to hike the 4.5 miles long trail (9 miles round trip) Seven Hollows Trail. For my last day I had reserved to hike to short but strenuous Cedar Falls Trail. This trail is quite challenging from beginning to end. It does not matter if it is going up or down. The trail begins behind the Mather Lodge through the breezeway and takes you to the 95-foot Cedar Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in Arkansas. The longest trail in the park is the Winthrop P. Rockefeller Boy Scout Trail which is 12 miles long. This trail connects and follows portions of almost all other trails at Petit Jean State Park.

Cedar Falls Trail
Cedar Falls Trail

I had finally done what the trip was supposed to be about: camping and hiking! After almost a week in which I had spent most of the time driving, camping at the park for a couple of nights was quite relaxing. On my third day after hiking to Cedar Falls, I checked out from Petit Jean and headed to Texas.