A blog for people who don't want to spend all their free time in the real world. After all, we live and work there. Escape the mundane with books, travel, and writing.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch--A Great Slot Canyon

Buckskin Gulch is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in the WORLD...but I had never even heard of it until I started researching hikes near Page, Arizona.

The Gulch is in Utah, just north of the Utah/Arizona border, between Kanab and Page, and there are various routes you can take.  One classic is a two-day backpack trip from White House trailhead down Paria Canyon and up Buckskin Gulch to the Wire Pass trailhead or the Buckskin Gulch trailhead.  Intrepid and experienced and well prepared backpackers can follow the gulch all the way to Lee's Ferry.  I took the easy day hike from Wire Pass trailhead down to Buckskin Gulch and then just explored as much of the gulch as a wanted before returning to the trailhead.

DO NOT ATTEMPT ANY OF THESE HIKES DURING MONSOON SEASON OR IN ANY OTHER PERIOD OF REGIONAL RAIN.  A serious flash flood would mean certain death in many stretches of the gulch.   The BLM's Paria Contact Station will have current trail and weather conditions.

I started at Wire Pass trailhead, a bumpy 8.3 miles south of highway 89 on House Rock Road.  You have to pay a day-permit fee here (currently $6 per person, envelopes provided at the fee station, interagency passes not valid).  There's a pit toilet and some informational signage. 

Cross the road and follow the wash left.  After about a mile, it narrows to a wonderful little slot canyon, where you can almost always touch both sides of the wavy smooth red rock walls. 

At one point rock jams create a 5-8 foot drop.  People had set up a rather sketchy-looking "ladder" out of a big old tree branch and some stacked rocks.  Hikers braver than I went down first and helped me down.  It wasn't a big deal with help.  However, the configurations changes after floods, and if you're alone or scared or have mobility problems, you can backtrack out of the slots.  Once it opens up, look for cairns to your left (headed out of the slots) and follow them up the hill to bypass this drop.  However, the bypass trail is no walk in the park, especially the descent on the other side.

About 1.7 miles from the trailhead, you reach the confluence with Buckskin Gulch.  There's a massive stone cliff and alcove with petroglyphs at the base (though I suspect some of these petroglyphs are rather recent.  Shame, vandals! 

I headed downstream (right) in Buckskin Gulch, but was soon blocked by a pool of water.  The ranger at the Paria Contact Station had warned that some of the pools were currently waist or chest deep (the beginning of April, with good rain a couple of weeks previous).  I hung around, wondering if anyone would try going through.  The four guys who'd helped me at the rock jam arrived and decided to try it.  I put on my river shoes and went with them.  The water was icy but not even to our knees, so we forged ahead.  One pool after another blocked our way. 

The canyon walls soared high, straight above us, yet sometimes I could touch both sides, and it was rarely more than about ten feet wide.  Amazing place. 

The pools started getting deeper, our feet were getting pretty cold, and a group hiking the opposite way told us that it just keeps going this way.  My new friends decided to turn around, but right then a Utah family arrived (mom, dad, young adult daughter, teenage son).  I wasn't quite ready to turn back, so they kindly accepted me as part of their group.  We went on, past an invisible bird squawking at us from on high, through pools that were up to mid thigh, some with mud sticky enough to almost steal our shoes.  The family was looking for a sunny lunch spot, but the canyon walls blocked out the sun.  Finally, our toes so numb we couldn't feel where we were stepping very well, we turned back. 

All told, we crossed about 14 major pools and a few little ones.  I've heard that water can be neck high here sometimes, and you have to swim, but that by summer it's mostly dried out.  This section goes for miles, but we probably only explored about a mile and a half of it.   

If you look hard here, you can see me in one of the iced-chocolate-milk pools. 

Once back at the Wire Pass junction, I headed upstream along Buckskin Gulch.  If the lower narrows are too wet for you, try these.  Though not as narrow or deep or long, they're still awesome, with fewer and shallower pools. 

Going upstream, once you get out of the narrows, keep following the wash.  You'll soon get up close and personal with some magnificent sandstone mountains, buttes, dunes, and fin rock, much of it striped red and white, a bit like a less-showy cousin of the famous Wave (which is just south of here).  It feels like you're on another planet.

The ranger called this area Edmaier's Secret, but it's hard to know exactly where it starts and ends.  I think this is just the edge of it.  If you explore any part, be VERY careful where you step.  You don't want to break any of the delicate sandstone fins and ridges.  Preserve it for all the future hikers.


It was an amazing trip.  I'd go back in a heartbeat. 



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Author Interview with Eleanor Glewwe

Several months ago, I read a great middle grade novel called Wildings.  I loved the sad and twistedly relevant premise, the creative setting, and the powerful but not preachy themes of prejudice and segregation.  And...very refreshingly...the characters fight for social change without violence.  I highly recommend the book.  Recently I read the companion book, Sparkers, which was written before Wildings and which also takes place a few years before.  I decided to reach out to the author because I like her work so much.  She obliged with an author interview!

So, without further ado, I present Eleanor Glewwe and her answers to my questions:

-Did you have the idea of Wildings before you wrote Sparkers?  Or did your characters and land just beg for more of their stories to be told?

No, the idea for Wildings came much later, when Sparkers was on its way to being published and I was starting to write my next book. I originally intended to write a direct sequel to Sparkers, with the same main characters, but my agent and editor encouraged me to write about new main characters, and through brainstorming I came up with the idea for Wildings. I think of Wildings as a companion to Sparkers, set in the same world, a few years later, but with new protagonists. I was glad I got to give Caleb, the little brother from Sparkers, a bigger role in Wildings, and it was also fun to show what the main characters of Sparkers were like when they were older.  

-Were there any big differences between writing Sparkers and Wildings?

Writing the two books was very different. I wrote the book that would become Sparkers when I was fourteen and revisited it a few times over the years. So the path from the initial draft to publication took about nine years (though I was spending time on a lot of other things in those nine years). On the other hand, I was contracted to write Wildings, so I had to produce it much faster. I started writing it toward the end of my first year of grad school and was editing it into my third year of grad school. Also, since I had an agent and an editor through the whole process of writing Wildings, from conception to final draft, I had input from others from the beginning, which I didn't have writing Sparkers

-Who is your favorite character to write?

Hm, maybe Marah, the protagonist of Sparkers, because she's probably the most similar to me. But I also really liked writing Azariah in Sparkers, Caleb in Wildings, and Aradi Imael, the music teacher, in Sparkers, because her character was inspired by a beloved music teacher I had. 

If you could sit down to dinner with any writer, living or dead, who would it be?

Right now, I would pick Madeleine L'Engle. Her books are so warm and humane, and I think she would be an excellent conversationalist about children's stories, speculative fiction, and religion. 

-Tell us a little about your road to publication.

As I mentioned, I originally wrote Sparkers (it had a different title then) when I was in high school. My sophomore year of college, I accidentally found out about an Amazon-sponsored novel contest, which had a YA category and for which the top prize was a publishing contract with Penguin, I believe. I decided to enter the contest with the novel that would become Sparkers. The contest had thousands of entries and many rounds, and I made it much farther than I expected and got positive feedback from contest reviewers. I also met some other young writers on the contest message boards and decided it would be wise to try to get an agent (before that, I'd been considering submitting directly to the few publishers that take unagented manuscripts). The summer after the contest, I did a lot of online research (mostly reading publishing industry blogs), and then I started querying agents. There was one in particular who asked me to do a couple of revise and resubmits, and my senior year of college he offered me representation. We went on to do more revisions, and the year after I graduated from college, we sold Sparkers

-What are you writing now?

I'm sort of working on what I hope will be my next novel, though I'm spending more time on grad school and dissertation writing these days. This project is YA fantasy, set in a different world from that of Sparkers and Wildings. But like those books, it features a lot of music. 

-How can readers find out more about you?

My website is www.eleanorglewwe.com and I blog there pretty regularly. 

-Do you have any books you'd like to recommend?
I'm a huge fan of Rachel Hartman, author of SeraphinaShadow Scale, and the just-released Tess of the Road. I also really like the Frances Hardinge books I've read, Cuckoo Song and The Lie Tree, and I want to read her more recent books. I love The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley. And last fall I really enjoyed reading Philip Pullman's highly anticipated new book set in the world of His Dark Materials, The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage. 

Thanks, Eleanor, for your answers and your time.  I look forward to reading your next book.
To my blog readers, if you're interested in these books, click here:

Read Sparkers
Read Wildings

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Lower Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Fantastic.  Surreal.  Magical.  
I could go on and on...as evidenced by the photos below, just a fraction of the ones I actually took.  But I think I'll let the pictures speak for themselves.  

Antelope Canyon has been on my bucket list for years.  Back when it first appeared on my radar, every German traveler I met was like, "Yeah, I've been to Antelope Canyon" and all my Arizona friends were like, "What's Antelope Canyon?"  Its fame seems to have spread a bit.  And now, I finally made it.  So worth it.

If you go:
-Lower and Upper Antelope Canyons are separate tours of separate parts of the canyon.  Many sources say that if you're only going to one, go to Lower.  I have not been to Upper, so I can't personally compare.  

-You have to go with a tour.  Currently, two companies do tours at Lower Antelope Canyon:  Ken's Tours and Dixie Ellis' Tours.  I went with Ken's Tours and was satisfied.

-Reserve ahead.  You may luck into a spot if you just show up, but it will likely involve long lines, waiting around, and chance.  Reservations can be made online, but you'll only pay when you get there. 

-Tours are on the expensive side  Mine was $50 including tax and the $8 Navaho Park Permit Fee, which must be paid in cash.  You may also want to tip the guide.

-According to the rules, you can't take in purses, other bags, or backpacks (except small camelbaks).  Just take a bottle of water and your camera (tripods not allowed).  In reality, they let some people in with small bags.

-Your tour may be cancelled due to flash flood danger during monsoon season (roughly July-August).  Don't protest.  Flash floods here mean death.  

-Tour and check-in times are in Arizona time, though your cell phone may be confused and give you Utah time.  Set your phone manually to Phoenix, Arizona time.  Or use an actual watch.  

-Read the tour website for other important information.         

-Enjoy this wonderful experience!


After you do this tour, if you're hungering for more slot canyons, bring your kayak or other small watercraft or rent one from Antelope Point Marina (reasonable rates) and paddle up Antelope Canyon as far as you can go.  I have no pictures of this because I didn't want to risk my camera getting tipped into the lake (we have a tippy old canoe and I'm rather attached to my camera), but it's beautiful:  twisty narrowing passage, tall, sheer walls, beautiful reflections.  

At the end, beach your kayak and hike further up.  You may have to brave some truly serious mud at first, but it's worth it.  The canyon narrows into something not as impressive as your Lower Antelope Canyon tour but still very cool.  And you may have it almost to yourself.  Take your time and really soak it in.  Again, do not attempt this in monsoon season or if it's been raining in the surrounding area.  Flash floods can be deadly.  And take your camera.  I certainly will next time.        

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Horseshoe Bend, Arizona

Amazing place...but pretty nerve wracking with all those people blithely dangling their legs over certain death.

This is the mighty Colorado River that carved out the Grand Canyon, and there's nothing shabby about the carving it's done here. Sheer cliffs drop a thousand feet to the water below. 

Here you'll see me NOT standing two inches from the edge or letting young kids in my care run around and jump between rocks:

If you go:

For how spectacular this is, it's sure easy to access.  

The trailhead is near milepost 545 on Highway 89 just south of Page (near the Utah border).  There's a largish parking lot, but you may have to park along the highway.  It's very popular.  Pit toilets are available.  

It's a walk of less than 3/4 mile one way.  For those with mobility challenges, be aware that there is a lot of sand and some elevation change, but it looks like they may be putting in a paved path.  

If you go during the summer, go early, carry water, and be prepared for heat with no shade.   

Use extreme caution around the sheer drop-offs. There are no railings and this is fragile sandstone that may look stronger than it is.  A cool photo is not worth your life.  

Friday, March 30, 2018

Painted Desert National Park

Blue Mesa, like a Moonscape, is yours to explore.  I went in November, then in February, both on cold days, and I had this short loop almost to myself.  It's actually in the "Petrified Forest" part of the Petrified Forest/Painted Desert National Park, but if you're coming from the south, it's the best intro into the strange and colorful alien topography of the area.  

And here's more of the red coloring in the northern part of the park, where every viewpoint defies your ability to capture it within the lens of your camera.  If you want a quiet little hike here, take the trail down from the Painted Desert Inn into this painted wilderness.

National Park website:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Colorful Petrified Wood, Petrified Forest National Park

These are some amazing trees!
Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona:

If you go, give yourself the whole day.  
Between the Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert, there's a ton to see.
Do NOT skip the short hike through Blue Mesa.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Author Appearance and Travelogue

I'm doing a free interactive presentation about my experiences living and traveling abroad.  It's next Thursday, March 15, 2018 , at 6:30 pm at Velma Teague Library in Glendale (59th Ave and Glendale--7010 N 58th Ave, Glendale, AZ  85301)

If you're in the area, you can...
-Learn about how to teach ESL in a foreign country
-Hear funny travel stories
-See interesting pictures
-Answer fun cultural quiz questions
-Possibly win one of my books

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Sonoran Desert Birds

The other day at the fantastic Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden, we had some lovely bird encounters. 

Gambel's quail in a tree:

I usually see them on the ground, so it was a treat to see this lookout in the tree. 

I think Gambel's quail are so beautiful.  And sooo cute when you see a whole chain of them following behind their mama. 

And here again is the beautiful hummingbird I posted the other day.  The ones we usually see around our yard are not so flamboyant and have no purple bib, so this one was especially striking:

And...bird in a sahuaro "apartment!"

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Sunset in the Desert

Sunset at Phoenix Sonoran Preserve, on the north edge of the city:

It's one of my new favorite sunset spots.  You'll often see hot hair balloons in the distance and the views are good, with the sun setting behind lovely mountains and sahuaro silhouettes.   Plus...the scorpion hunting is good after sunset.  Just take a black (UV) light.  As my Czech friends exclaimed, "This is good sport!  It's better than geo-caching!  Better than mushroom hunting!" 

If you go:

Park at the Apache Vista Trailhead in the north section of the park (1600 E. Sonoran Desert Drive).

The trail is a short loop made of the Ocotillo, Apache Wash, and Sidewinder trails with an uphill section that leads to Apache Vista.  The 360-degree views are worth the modest climb.

Loop length:  2.8 miles
Elevation gain:  Appx 500 ft 

Many other longer trails and combinations await from the same trailhead.

Take a black light after dark, especially in spring, fall, and summer, and you'll find plenty of these:

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Hummingbird at the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden

Another beautiful day at the Desert Botanical Garden with amazing hummingbirds.  This is the only one who sat still long enough for a good photo op. 

If you live in Phoenix and have never been to the Botanical Garden, go to your library, get a culture pass (good for two free admissions) and GO!  It's awesome.  If you're visiting for more than a few days, you can get a library card too and get your own culture pass!

Here's the link: https://www.dbg.org/

And the amazing butterfly exhibit starts next week!!!  It usually goes from about the end of February to the beginning of May.   

Saturday, February 3, 2018

The Great Chuckwalla Safari

My friend Nikki and I went on a chuckwalla safari a couple of weeks ago at Camelback Mountain.  I'd only seen one in the wild before, and she hadn't seen any, so we were on the lookout:

The common chuckwalla (Sauromalus ater) is a very large lizard.  Some people call them desert iguanas. They're the second-largest lizard in the US (first is the gila monster, also found in Arizona, but much rarer). Chuckwallas are non-venomous and harmless.  They have flabby skin, especially around their necks, and many adult males sport some orange coloring, leading people to occasionally mistake them for Gila monsters. 

Chuckwallas are not always so active in the cooler months, so we weren't sure we'd have success.  It was a beautiful day, however, with bright sun and short-sleeve temperatures.  On the way to the summit, much of the trail was in shade, and we had no success. 

But just below the summit, on the way down the other side of the mountain, an uphill hiker spotted this little beauty:

Then, a little lower down, Nikki spotted this one on the next ridge.  Awesome!

SoonI want to go on a South Mountain chuckwalla safari.  There's a special variation there--and only there--where the chuckwallas have bright orange tails.

We took great pleasure in pointing our our chuckwallas to other hikers, many of whom had never heard of them.  A great day for a new experience!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Camelback Mountain

Camelback Mountain is THE city mountain to climb in the Phoenix area.  It's the tallest, maybe the toughest, the most iconic.  And the most crowded.  I tend to avoid these bumper-to-bumper "Disneyland trails."  Parking has always sounded like a hassle too, so I never got around to it

Bad move.  Because, despite being a Disneyland trail, it was so worth it.  The trail was...    

Beautiful:  big, dramatic red cliffs of rock above you, great views.

Fun:  clambering over rocks, pulling yourself up with handrails, choosing the best path.

Good exercise:  elevation gain of over 1200 ft in 1.2 miles. 

Perfect for a chuckwalla safari:  we found two of these big lizards, even in January.

If you go:

Do NOT go in the summer, unless you're used to hiking in such temperatures.  Even then, hike early, use extreme caution, pay attention to your body's warning signals, and don't try to be macho.  Every summer people have to be evacuated off the mountain.  Many summers we have at least one fatality.  Though many of these fatalities are from falls, I have to think many wouldn't have fallen if they hadn't been fatigued, light-headed, dizzy, disoriented, etc. from the effects of heat exhaustion or heat stroke.  Heat kills more than cold, especially since people don't respect it enough.    

Take some snacks and plenty of water.  Do not underestimate the amount of water you'll need, especially if it's hot.  For a hike this short (but strenuous), you'll still want at very minimum 1.5 quarts/liters of water.  Take more if you plan to spend a long time on the trail, if it's very hot, or if you're not used to this type of hiking.  Turn back once you've used half your water.  

Put everything in a backpack so you have two free hands.  You'll want them on some sections.

Also consider a shade hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses.  The sun's pretty unforgiving, even in winter.    

As for parking, here's what we did:  We arrived at the Echo Canyon Trailhead at about 10:15 on a Thursday in January with beautiful weather.  There was plenty of parking.  Perhaps it was a fluke, but it worked fine.  Try to avoid weekends if possible.  We hiked up the Echo Canyon Trail, down the Cholla Trail on the other side, and then took Lyft back to the trailhead.  It went really smoothly.

Have fun and be safe!

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Hawk's Nest in a Sahuaro--Phoenix Sonoran Preserve

A giant hawk's nest in an equally giant sahuaro
Seems a bit prickly to me, but...home is where the heart is.

 You can see this nest for yourself not far along the the appropriately named Hawk's Nest Trail in the southern part of Phoenix Sonoran Preserve.  Park at the Desert Vista Trailhead (1900 W Desert Vista Trail).

Apparently, this nest also gets used by owls in the springtime.  I saw not one feather of either bird, but the nest was impressive!  

You can combine this trail with others (I took the Dixie Mountain Loop to the Valle Verde Trail to the Great Horned Owl Trail to the Union Peak Trail and back along the Desert Tortoise Trail for a nice loop that wasn't too long or too short).  By the way, I love your work, trail namers!

If you like geocaching, you'll find some nice caches along here. 

Happy Hiking! 

Friday, January 5, 2018

Tubac Presidio

At the awesome Tubac Presidio in Tubac, Arizona, south of Tucson.

Me pushing the arrastra, a simple milling mechanism:

A replica of an outdoor kitchen, with ocotillo dividers, gourd storage containers, and a stove with comal for making tortillas:

The first printing press in Arizona.  Don't miss the cool video about the process and all the fascinating information about what an Old West editor had to do:

Strange plant in the herb garden:

Old West public transportation:

Don't skip the beautiful artwork in this room, along with the fascinating historical tales that go with the art.

If you're at all interested in history, culture, archaeology, or botany, you'll love the Tubac Presidio. Some places get caught up in the dry facts of the dates and names and who owned what when, but the Presidio does really well getting at the good stories of the people behind the history.

It's a state park, and costs $5 per person, but it's well worth it.  And if you're in the mood for this type of thing, be prepared to spend at least a full couple of hours.  We spent half the day.  Check it out here:  http://www.tubacpp.com/

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Moon Rise in the Desert

I caught this beautiful super moon at the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve yesterday.  A beautiful night and a great way to start off 2018!

And here's what led up to it: