August 30, 2011

Grand Canyon Second Attempt

On this attempt of the Grand Canyon we visited Mamas in Williams, Arizona.  By pure luck we happened to intersect mamas on a separately planned road trip.  Mamas and Bill with their two road trip companions Mary and John were staying 30 miles west from where we were in Flagstaff.  On 2nd stab at the canyon we made a detour to see Mamas in Williams.  

After catching up on each others trip at the hotel, we agreed to meet at the Grand Canyon the following day.  Now it was time to set up camp for the night.

I woke up early, around 5 am, to start my attempt at running from the south rim to the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  Because it was summer and we were at altitude I tried to get on the trail as early as possible so that I would not bake in the desert sun.  Before I even made it to the Bright Angel Trailhead I saw my first elk of the trip.

The Bright Angel Trailhead was quiet at 5:30 am as I plunged towards the Colorado River.
Restroom / water stops were strategically located every mile for the first couple of miles.  Huddled inside each rest stop were tired, thirsty and scared tourists who were pondering their ability to keep going.  Each one of them held a secret desire to see the Colorado River but one by one they would turn back.
Most hikers would not make it because the trail descends almost 5000 feet to the Colorado River before climbing another 5000 ft to the north rim.  The switchbacks were fast and fun as they cut down the canyon.  

I descended very quickly and before I knew it I was dipping my head into the cold and violent Colorado River.  

From there the trail skirts the Colorado for another 3/4 of a mile until you can cross.

Eventually the trail turns into sand which was a nice change but not very fun to run through.  

Almost out of nowhere, a huge, steel suspension bridge appears.  As I was approaching the bridge I watched it sway in the wind, seems safe...

I documented my first traverse of the bridge.  

The landscape completely changed when I crossed the bridge.  I thought for sure I was hallucinating from the heat.  How did I go from desert canyon to lush, green forest?

The sudden decrease in temperature and increase in greenery was a nice relief.  Its too bad I was about to head back into the dry, arid desert.  

With all the picture taking and water bottle refills it was starting to get later into the day.  Meaning that the sun was coming out and Lisa was starting to worry about my whereabouts.  Unfortunately I didn't quite make it to the south rim, just a mile shy.   I was starting to dread what was coming up next - the ascent..

After crossing the Colorado again I came upon the infamous mule train.  The mule ride didn't appeal to me but for most people, this is the only possible way down the steep canyon.  Everyone had on cowboy hats and put on a smile for the camera.

Well, it was now clear that 5am was not early enough.  The clouds moved South leaving me to bake in the sun.  Not to mention the 5000 feet of uphill.

Being inside the canyon provided stunning views.  I took a lot of pictures on the way up, probably because I was dying.  

Looking down on the Bright Angel trail where I was running just half an hour ago.

On the way back up I passed some of the people I met earlier in the morning on the trail.  They thought for sure I was dead and were ecstatic to see me shuffling back up.  So ecstatic that they offered me sports gels, pretzels, granola bars, you name it.  Finally, after six hours I was back at camp with Lisa.  BUT, right as I was turning into the tent site I met my friend mr elk.  He was a little too close for comfort but not interested enough to stop eating that evergreen tree.

After a quick shower we met mamas by the train station, avoided the swarming crowds and had a wonderful lunch on the rim.

Sadly, we said goodbye to mamas and headed to the car for a long trip up to Hurricane, Utah.  On the way out we got to meet some of the mules that take visitors down the canyon.  

Kachina Wilderness

Ok, we are back in Flagstaff again. Before leaving for the Grand Canyon, again, we decide to go for a little hike in the Kachina peaks. To fuel up for the hike we grab some Poliberto's mexican burritos and enchiladas to go.   Tibor drives us up the Forest Service road to the Kachina Trail. As we inhale our Poliberto's, rain drops begin to trickle from the clouds above.

With our stomachs full we head off down the Kachina trail in search of an elk.

Beautiful singletrack at 9,000 feet!  I wish I could have run up here.

Big evergreen trees towering over grassy meadows with wildflowers.

Tall, straight aspen trees surrounded the trail with their smooth white bark.

After hiking about mile we "officially" enter the Kachina Wilderness designation within the Coconino National forest.  Tibor and I debate on whether a certain rock is IN or OUT of the wilderness designation.

Lisa gets a nice sky view of the Aspen canopy.

Unfortunately it is time for us to leave, again.  Quietly, we head back to the car. This time we leave the Veghs, Flagstaff and the Kachina peaks for good.  Next up, round two of the Grand Canyon.  Perhaps less tourists?!

Grand Canyon First Attempt

Our plan was to stay with Tibor and Kris for Thursday, Friday and Saturday and then head North to the Grand Canyon. For some reason I thought our camping reservation was for Saturday night. So Lisa and I packed up, said our goodbyes and headed out Saturday afternoon to our camp site.

We took some photographs as the sun was setting over the Grand Canyon.  The place was packed and no one, I mean no one spoke any English.  I have been to most of the National Parks in the United States and this was by far the biggest tourist trap of them all. Foreigners tend to be loud, camera obsessive and have this peculiar right of way/arrogance to them.  I can't explain it but they have this look of panic/nervousness in their eyes and just plow through like they own the place. Its always an experience and you never know what they are going to do or say next.

Lisa and I waited patiently to take a picture by an overlook for at least a half an hour. I was sure that after the family had taken pictures and looked out for what seemed like an eternity, they would step aside and let other people enjoy the view. NOPE!

Even with the Disney World atmosphere we were able to find some high ground and take some pictures of the canyon.  The canyon is so large it is overwhelming and it just seems unreal. Too massive to comprehend.

Once we arrived at the Grand Canyon I knew something wasn't right.  I anxiously checked my phone for the campsite reservations.  Yep, we were a day early.  Not sure what was going on inside my head but here we were at the Grand Canyon with no where to stay.  Quickly I called Tibor and asked him if he wouldn't mind us staying an extra night...  Luckily, Tibor and Kris were not tired of us yet and welcomed us back with Little Caesars pizza and of course another episode of 24.

August 25, 2011

Flagstaff & Sedona

Three years ago my long time friends and teammates Kris Roth and Tibor Vegh moved out to Flagstaff Arizona to continue their long distance running goals.  Flagstaff is the home of Northern Arizona University where I almost went to college.  Tibor and Kris had been asking me to visit and though I have taken trips to Alaska, California, Washington, Texas, Florida, Maine, etc.. I had never been able to make out to Arizona.  Finally, after Lisa and I graduated in May, we had the means and time necessary to visit.  On Thursday July 14th, we pulled of Interstate 40 and met our friends from Flagstaff.

The small city of 60,000 inhabitants is perched 5000 ft above sea level with the towering San Francisco peaks rising to well over 12,000 feet as a backdrop.  When we arrived, Tibor was returning from camping trip at 12,500 ft on Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona and the most prominent peak in the San Francisco range.  Now that we were in Flagstaff it was time to run.  For the first run Tibor send me to the top of Mount Elden at 9,000 feet.   It is always interesting to run alone in a foreign place.  I kept a watchful eye for bear, elk, mountain lion or anything else that might try to interrupt my steady ascent of Elden.  After reaching the top I was rewarded with more than an altitude headache and shortness of breath.  The top of Mount Elden provided me with a spectacular view of the city and the neighboring San Francisco Peaks. 

Our days were jam packed with long runs, couscous, episodes of 24 and ROM infomercials.  Everything a vacation should be.  To fully recover from this excitement we took a short trip South to Sedona, Arizona.

Sedona was beautiful.  How do they keep the desert so green?  The views were breathtaking.  Both the landscape of the Oak Creek Canyon and menu prices ($20 for personal pizza!) took my breath away.  It was so nice to be with friends again.  For the first time since we left Ohio, Lisa and I had our picture taken together.

Each rock formation in the Oak Creek Canyon (below) has its own name.  My personal favorite was submarine rock. 
Our reason for coming to Sedona was to cool off in the waters of Oak Creek.  And that we did.  We brought googles, beer, cherries and a fish net. The bare necessities.    

This part of Oak Creek funnels into narrow chutes that you can ride!  We bared the bone chilling water for the amusement of being violently thrown down steam.  Tibor seemed overjoyed to watch me hit the rocks below and a low lying tree branch each time I shot the chutes.  Eventually I wised up, took one of the old stretching mats from our days with the Wolfpack, and enjoyed my own private rafting trip.  The other creek visitors shot me looks of approval with my new innovation.   I responded with my best albeit artificial confident look until I hit that damn tree branch again.

As soon as we would reach the end pool of the chutes we immediately ran to the hot rocks to bring the body temperature back up.  Tibor quietly ate cherries and studied the trout swimming below us.  I was beginning to understand why we brought that fish net.

After several long efforts to touch a trout with our hands we resorted to the net.  Tibor sat patiently, waiting for the trout to come close to his two foot long net.  Despite our best efforts of hand and net, we came up empty. 

Well not completely empty.  While Tibor and I were on the hunt, Kris had effortlessly caught several tadpoles.  For the next twenty minutes we debated how many legs a tadpole needed in order to qualify as a frog.  Our debate was inconclusive so we released the tadpole or frog back to the creek.

With the sun heading westward, the availability of warm rock rapidly diminished.  Just as we were leaving we saw two cute pooches playing games in the creek.  We definitely missed our little Chloe Chloe who was across the country, probably asleep next to Dave on the couch. 

Time to head back to Flagstaff for some more 24 and ROM.

Picking Up the Pieces - BEARIZONA

Just to reposition ourselves here, let me set the scene. Lisa and I left Strongsville, drove all day and all night (thanks to 110 temps in Missouri) to Colorado Springs.

San Juan Mountains - "Big, Cool"

After climbing Pikes Peak we headed west to Black Canyon of the Gunnison and Mesa Verde National Parks.

Campfire at Mesa Verde - Where are the damn marsh mellows?

With a full stomach from the all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast (thanks Mesa Verde NP) we headed South to New Mexico.

Lisa and I are still on the desert road traveling towards Interstate 40 where we will turn West towards Arizona.  However, to get there we must travel through the second largest Indian reservation in the country.  The Navajo Nation.  At first we were interested in the barren landscape that the government happily gave away to the Indians.  The roadwork was terrible, lasted for hours and apparently no one actually goes 35mph like the sign wanted.  This was particularly dangerous when large trucks and speeding Indian drivers came a little too close to Lisa's little sedan.  After an hour of frustration we stopped at a Subway for lunch and were met with judgmental eyes from the local Navajos.  We took our food to go and bid a hasty retreat to the car and were rewarded with 2 more hours of road work.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, we found Interstate 40 and took the West exit.  What we did not know was that the Navajo Nation continued all the way to Flagstaff, Arizona!  We just couldn't escape.

At least we were in Arizona now!

The fun didn't stop with the Navajo Nation either.  On our way to Flagstaff we made a short detour to visit the Petrified Forest National Park. 

We pulled into the visitor center to get a map and some goodies.  I was crouched on the floor looking at stickers when someone sat next to me, literally cheek to cheek.  Obviously it was Lisa, right? WRONG.  Some random lady pulled up next to me and was breathing in my ear as I freaked out and sprinted away in an akward, get me the hell out of hear, kind of shuffle to the opposite side of the store.  Meanwhile Lisa was half laughing half freaked out about the whole ordeal.  Needless to say we ran out of there and took to the outdoors.

The colors and massive soil erosion reminded me of when Dave and I were at Badlands National Park.  Except these huge mounds had brillant red, pink and white color patterns.  

These mounds, called the "Tepees", look exactly like those found in Badlands National Park.  Besides the soil erosion, Petrified Forest has two distinct features that are unique to this park.  Petroglyphs and petrified wood.  

These cave drawings or "petroglyphs" are historical artifacts from Puebloans dating back 10,000 years.  Lisa was not impressed.  She said anyone could draw those figures on the rocks.  So Lisa is not a history buff, I still like her.  I thought these drawings were very interesting and I'm pretty sure I have doodled similar scenes in my notebooks from middle school.

The park is called "petrified forest" so we assume that we are going to see a forest, right?  Wrong.  There was a forest here about 223 million years ago, we obviously waited too long to visit.  Either way the remnants of the forest are pretty amazing.  

Over time people have been stealing these logs from the park and surrounding areas.  Why anyone would want to have, hold and cherish a piece of petrified wood is beyond me.  Signs reminding visitors to keep off were posted everywhere in order to preserve these 223 million year old specimens.  Video cameras were also installed to keep people from stealing or touching them.  With all of the signs, video cameras, fences and warnings you would think that these pieces of wood were heavily protected.  None of that stopped some twelve year old boy from jumping on top of several logs and repeatedly kicking them.  At least he had fun and the parents didn't seem to mind that he was quiet.

Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.