Sunday, May 12, 2024

Arizona: Land of Differences

On April 21, at the forested South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the forecast predicted overnight lows near freezing.  We were camping, and I was worried it would be an unpleasant night.  It didn't feel anywhere near that cold, but yes, it was chilly.

Elk at Mather campground

I got up at 3:45 AM so I could catch sunrise on the South Kaibab trail on my way down into the canyon.  By 6:00 AM, at Cedar Ridge, I'd taken off my jacket.  

South Kaibab Trail at Sunrise, above Cedar Ridge

April 22, midday:  At Bright Angel Campground, at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, about 4500 vertical feet down from where I'd camped the night before, it was rather warm--95 degrees Fahrenheit.  Most of us sat around in the shade, periodically wetting our feet or our clothes in the creek.  Others spent the heat at the beach, dipping themselves quickly in the super-cold waters of the Colorado River.  That night my tent was too hot, so I took off the rainfly and lay in shorts and bare feet on my air mattress, nothing covering me.  

Thank goodness for Bright Angel Creek, steps from my tent

April 23:  I did the Devil's Corkscrew (a rather steep and exposed section of switchbacks on the Bright Angel Trail) between 10:30 and 11:00 AM, and I rather wished I'd been there a little earlier, as it was plenty warm.  That night, watching the moon rise from the Tonto Plateau near Havasupai Gardens with new friends, a breeze came up and I eventually pulled on my jacket.

Part of the Devil's Corkscrew

April 24:  I had two choices for a pleasant hike the rest of the way out of the canyon:  early morning or late afternoon when the cliffs shade the trail.  Because the heat, while not extreme, not even "hot" by Canyon standards, was still an issue.  Then, on the way out, I met a ranger who said it might SNOW the next day on the South Rim.  Say what?

The fading light as we approached the rim, still comfortable in short sleeves

April 25:  We decided to storm chase on the way home, so we went to Snowbowl near Flagstaff, and...


Yeah.  That happened.

So, I went from supposedly freezing temps at night to an unpleasantly warm 95 degrees in the bottom of the Grand Canyon during the day to SNOWING.  All within the space of four days.  The first temperature swing was in two locations probably less than 5 miles apart as the crow flies (though part of that flight would be a 4500-foot drop), and the second swing was only 75 miles away (though another 2500 feet of elevation difference).

Arizona IS a land of extremes.

P.S.  Timeanddate.com claims that it indeed got to 32 degrees in the early morning hours of April 22 at Grand Canyon Village (though I don't believe it) and NOAA's observations at Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Campground say the high was 96 that same day (which I do believe).  So...a possible 64 degrees of difference.  :)  

But before I accidentally add to the myth that the desert is "boiling hot" in the day and "freezing cold" at night, at Phantom Ranch (Bright Angel Campground), where it was hot but not scorching during the day, it was a only a pleasantly cool 59 at night.  And at Grand Canyon Village, where it was coldish at night, it was very pleasant during the day.   

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Day 3: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Day three (April  24, 2024) was my last in the Canyon, but I didn't want it to be.  I was having so much fun that I decided to spend the day and hike out in the late afternoon.

So I got up earlyish and went to talk to my across-the-way neighbors, a big group that had dragged in the night before, exhausted but happy, with a man in a one-wheeled rickshaw.  The guys I first talked to were from Luke 5 Adventures, and the man of the hour was an older man, an adventurer and philanthropist with cerebral palsy, whose wish was to go down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.  All these people were working together to make it possible. They'd come down the South Kaibab to the Tip-off and across the Tonto yesterday.  Today they planned to go down to the river and back up.  The next day they'd climb back up to the rim.  They had a wilderness caterer with them, cooking up bacon with biscuits and gravy.  They had a photographer, documenting the journey.  What an amazing group of people and an amazing adventure.  Two years ago, when I made my first hike down to the river, I met a man in an wheelchair and another group of people supporting him in his dream.  Both experiences affirmed my faith in the human race.     

After wishing them good luck, I headed off on a little morning hike on the Tonto trail West.  At first, the path was marred by piles of giant pipes and various construction equipment for the new pipeline project.  Though it wasn't pretty, it was interesting.  Plateau Point is closed, so I headed off toward Horn Creek campground. 


It was a different view than the other trails I've been on here, striking out across that scrubby green plateau that drops riverward into side canyons and rises rimward into sheer red cliffs.  The walking was easy, so I kept going.    


I got all the way to Horn Creek Campground, empty at the moment, but pleasantly shaded:


Maybe I'll camp here someday.  Then I headed back, enjoying dramatic views down Horn Creek Canyon.  The walk was 5 miles roundtrip, and I saw not one single person!  A bit different from the South Kaibab and the Bright Angel.

Then I hung around in camp, reading a book I'd found in the library, playing cards with the family I'd met down at Bright Angel Campground, eating lunch, soaking my feet for the trip up, talking with people at the water spigot.  A very pleasant, relaxing interlude.

Here's me in my tent:



I started up the trail at about 3:10.  I thought that would be timing it right to get shade about the time I started the ascent to 3-Mile Resthouse, but I'd timed it wrong, and it was still sunny.  I should have left a little later (or walked a little slower).  But it wasn't too hot, and I'd wet myself down at Havasupai Gardens, so it was okay.

At 3-Mile Resthouse I made myself take a long rest to stave off the nausea I felt the last two years on the final ascent.  I hoped today would be different, since I wasn't doing the whole 16-mile trek in one day, but I didn't want to take any chances, so I sat and ate salty snacks and drank electrolytes and talked with other hikers and an enthusiastic and talkative ranger.  Two of the hikers were a couple from the Netherlands, who I'd met briefly a stone's throw down the trail.  And there began a trail friendship that lasted the entire rest of the hike.  We walked together, chatted, rested again at 1 1/2-Mile Resthouse, shared snacks, and exchanged info.  They were very cool people, on a much more ambitious backpacking trip than I was.  They'd gone all the way to the North Rim and back in three days, camping at Cottonwood Campground.  Their companionship made the last three miles (always the hardest for me on that trail) fly by.

The sun was setting, turning the canyon beautiful colors.  But before it got dark, we made it to the top:


It was an AWESOME Trip.  I'm already planning to do it again.

I loved my first two trips, going to the river and back in one day.  But I loved this even more.  Much more time to explore.  Time to take side hikes.  Time to make friends.  The beauty of being there at night.  I highly recommend it.


Handy tip for if this sounds fun to you:  There's a lottery for campground spots, but I didn't win.  I was sad.  But I didn't give up.  As the "I'm sorry" e-mail instructed me, I stalked the website every day (sometimes twice a day) starting about the middle of February.  One night, at like 1:00 AM, I found ONE slot open for ONE night at Bright Angel Campground.  I booked it immediately, even though I would have liked two nights.  About three weeks later, I found another slot open the next night at Havasupai Gardens.  I added it to my itinerary (easy to do).  And voila!  A great itinerary.   I've since been looking, out of curiosity, and it appears that if you're flexible with dates, it's not impossible to find something this way.    

May you one day have as great an experience as I did.

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Day 2: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

April 23, 2024:

So...after taking down my rain fly because it was too hot to sleep, I spent a decently comfortable night with the white noise of the creek, the crazy-bright light of the moon, and nothing covering me until halfway through the night when I pulled my sleeping bag half over me.  

I got up early (for me), but not at the crack of dawn, and took a nice walk along the River Trail on the south side of the river between the two bridges.  It's blasted out of solid rock on a lot of its course, with some rather sheer drop-offs, and I'd never walked it.  I'm glad I did.  Very nice trail.  I read that they were going to name it after the first person who died working to build it.  Well...it's called the River Trail.  :)  A story with a happy ending. 


And here's a view of muddy Bright Angel Creek joining the comparatively bluer waters of the Colorado River.  Bright Angel Creek was what we used for our drinking water.  Relatively pure, but full of sediment.  I filtered through my scarf and then used purification tablets because I don't have a filter.  But that's next on my buying list.  :)


Then I set off for Havasupai Gardens so I could get above the Devil's Corkscrew (a series of switchbacks totally exposed to the sun) before it got really hot.  Here's a view of some of the equipment they have sitting on the beach for their work on the new waterline project.  For a bit of size perspective, take a look at the person walking past those spools.  I wondered how on Earth they got that there, along with the backhoe up a bit on the hill.  Later I talked to a ranger and found the answer:  military-grade helicopters.  


And here are some pretty flowers on the Devil's Corkscrew (prickly pear blossoms and brittlebush):  



This is the graphic warning about the folly of trying to go to the river and back in one day (unless you've really trained, you're carrying enough food and water, and you're going before summer really sets in or after it's cooled off in the fall).  If you want to see my posts from when I did it in one day, check these out:  Rim to River to Rim 2022 and Rim to River to Rim 2023 :)) 



After I arrived at Havasupai Gardens and claimed my camping spot, I "cooked" lunch.  This is my delicious-to-me recipe of dehydrated refried beans, instant rice, dehydrated bell peppers, and taco seasoning.  I planned to cold-soak it, but this nice metal squirrel-foiling device on the bag-hanging bars was nice and toasty, so my lunch came out warm.  


Not a bad view from my campsite:


Pictures from my little old camera don't do this justice, but this was the beginnings of sunset from the big rock on the Tonto Plateau where I sat with two cool guys and watched the sunset.  


Then we watched the moon light up distant cliffs, then the moonshadow moving across the plateau, and finally the full moon rising in all its glory and turning the canyon into an eerie almost-daylight.  It was a little surreal, and so much fun sharing it with new friends.  I don't have pictures of the moon, because my camera was inadequate to capture such beauty, but hopefully my moon-watching friend will send me one.  We sat there talking, enjoying the gorgeous evening, and didn't drag into camp until about 10:15, which is really, really late in the backpacking world.  I got ready for bed as quietly as possible, enjoying the peace, the quiet, the cliffs lit up by nature's floodlight, and the breeze in the cottonwoods.

I LOVE BACKPACKING HERE!  

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Day 1: Backpacking in the Grand Canyon

Though I hike and camp a lot, I haven't backpacked since I was a kid, when my dad and/or brothers hauled the heaviest loads and planned and organized everything.  So I put a lot of thought and planning and anticipation into this trip.

I was a little worried that my high expectations would lead to disappointment.  But the experience far exceeded my expectations.  It was fantastic.  And I am absolutely doing it again.

Here's a little of Day 1 (on April 22, 2024).  Sorry for the picture quality of some of these.  I didn't take my good camera with me because it's big and heavy, and for my first time backpacking, I was trying to cut down weight where I could.

Sunrise on the South Kaibab from Ooh-Aah Point.  The sight was lovely, but it was a sad time too because I met a group of ten long-time friends who had coordinated their schedules, planned for fourteen months, and flown from Virginia...only to find that their reservations at Phantom Ranch had been cancelled due to a waterline break.  So sad.  They were making the most of it, doing day hikes, but I felt so bad for them...and I selfishly felt lucky that I was backpacking instead of staying in the lodge, because the campground was still open despite the problems with water (and I'd bought extra water-purification tablets two days before, when I heard that the water would be off, so I knew I'd be okay).   

Cedar Ridge:


Me approaching the river:


Setting up camp at beautiful Bright Angel Campground, right along the creek:


After dropping my heavy stuff in camp, I took a little pleasure hike up a couple of miles of the "Box," on the North Kaibab trail.  Very pretty, with high walls on both sides and the creek rushing down the middle.  I'd never been here before, because on my previous hikes from the rim to the river and back in one day, there was no time or energy for side trips.  


One the way back, I witnessed a little show-down between a rock squirrel and a rattlesnake.  More on that here:  https://www.melindabrasher.com/2024/04/grand-canyon-rattlesnake.html.  


By this time, it was getting pretty hot (95 degrees), so I spent the middle of the day chatting with neighbors and cooling off in Bright Angel Creek, maybe fifteen feet from my tent:


In the evening, I went to the boat beach, waded in the cold, cold Colorado, and made a little sand castle.


On the way back, I met this not-so-little guy:  

 
Everyone was so friendly in the campground.  It felt a lot like staying in a good hostel, where you meet new friends and do things together.  So much fun.  

My across-the-footpath neighbors were a mother and adult daughter who had never camped before last year, when they backpacked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon. Talk about bravely jumping right in!  They liked it so much they came back this year.  They told me the moon was amazing from my campsite, so I invited them to come over later for a moon-watching party.  They accepted, and we talked about books and compared notes on being newbie backpackers.  

Then there were the two men I'd met on the way down, who planned to dry-camp elsewhere, but were waiting in the shade of my down-stream neighbor's campsite until temperatures got bearable enough for the rest of the hike.  The three of them were apparently having such a good time chatting and getting to know each other that the two gave up on their plans and accepted my neighbor's invitation to share his campsite (approved by the ranger, of course).  I spent some time at their site, chatting with one of the men (who has climbed Kilimanjaro and Aconcagua and a lesser-known peak in the Himalayas) about his favorite trips ever:  a safari in Africa and a hiking trip to Banff.  Both of which are high on my list. 

I met a mother and father with an eleven-year-old daughter who was pumped to be here, and who was avidly doing the Junior Ranger program.

At moonrise I stood in the middle of the footpath and marveled over the spectacle with a man who had planned his whole trip around the full moon.  

But the most surprising encounter I had was when a young woman walked by who looked an awful lot like the AZ Trail thru hiker I'd met weeks earlier on the AZ trail near Colossal Cave.  We'd hiked together for about four miles, and I loved her "there's not just one right way to backpack" attitude, her cheerful willingness to answer my many questions, her casual bravery about thru-hiking alone, and her enthusiasm for some of the same things I'm enthusiastic about.  I'd joked then that maybe we'd meet at Grand Canyon, but she planned to be all the way to Utah long before now.  So it couldn't possibly be her, right?  I wandered down the campground, looking for her, and right near the end, out popped another thru-hiker I'd met the same day, back at Colossal Cave.  "I know you!" I said.  "From Colossal Cave. I asked you all sorts of questions."  "And your dad gave me oranges!" he said.  "Yes!"  Then I looked over and saw the young woman sitting at a table.  I addressed her by her trail name and recognition lit in her eyes too.  I couldn't believe it.  Both of these amazing thru hikers had planned by be through the Grand Canyon a couple of weeks ago.  Yet here they were.  For one night.  And here I was.  For one night.   And it was the SAME NIGHT.  The world is a small place.  Apparently they'd been delayed by major snow near Payson, which was the only reason we had this happy reunion.  We sat and talked for quite a while, and I met two of their other thru hiker friends.  They all inspire me to no end.

Something else amazing:  the almost-full moon.  It was so bright it felt like a floodlight.  My downstream neighbors, whose campsite was still in the moonshadow, asked if I had a flashlight shining on my tent.  I told them it was just the moon, and they almost didn't believe me.  Until it reached their own tents.  

When I went to bed, it was still so hot that I took off my rain fly (which, in hindsight, I never even should have brought in the first place), took off my socks, pushed my sleeping bag aside, and lay down on my air mattress in my shorts and bare feet.  I did pull my sleeping back partially over me like a blanket in the middle of the night, but I definitely didn't get inside.  

It was a wonderful, wonderful day.    

Friday, April 26, 2024

Grand Canyon Rattlesnake vs. Rock Squirrel

Here's a rock squirrel facing down a rattlesnake in Grand Canyon. The squirrel kept swishing his tail at that rattlesnake.

There's some evidence that they purposely heat up the base of their tails this way, to either make the heat-sensing rattlesnakes think they're bigger and more intimidating than they are or to make the rattlesnakes strike at the wrong part of the body.

This squirrel kept swishing his tail, totally ignoring me, and moving to different locations around the snake, as if he was herding it off the trail. When he finally succeeded, he went a few feet off and flopped down flat on the ground, legs splayed, as if he were exhausted.

I wondered if he had a nest he was defending. But this day, it was me he defended. The rattlesnake totally blended in with the dappled dirt (see picture 3--the scene when I first arrived). If I hadn't seen the squirrel first, I might have stepped right on or in front of the rattlesnake.

And we all know how that can end.

Amazing encounter.




This was right outside of Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. I later met another backpacker who'd almost been bitten by one at his campsite at Cottonwood Campground on the North Kaibab. I believe both were the Grand Canyon Rattlesnake (Crotalus oreganus abyssus), sometimes called the Grand Canyon pink rattlesnake, found only here.

Just another fantastic part of my backpacking trip this week. More posts to come.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Last Human, by Lee Bacon

This is the second book I've read this year with the same title!  The first was The Last Human, by Zach Jordan, which started out really, really strong:  amazing sci-fi world-building and creativity, very interesting characters.  One of the characters was so culturally, mentally, anatomically, and ethically different from humans, yet the author made her very relatable, which is no small feat.  Then the book turned metaphysical and fantastical and kind of lost me (thought others love it, so give it a chance if you feel inclined).    


The Last Human
 by Lee Bacon is a completely different book (and much easier for our tiny little human minds to understand):  a charming middle-grade sci-fi novel that I enjoyed all the way through. 

It was a cute book, by turns funny, touching, and exciting.

I loved the little bits of culture clash, of the robots and humans learning about each other, trying to understand each other, and learning about friendship.

I did find a few things unrealistic, like the sheer number of solar panel the main character and his two coworkers had installed (about 1.3 million, added to an already-large sea of solar panels) while still being able to conveniently walk to work. I also questioned whether any [logical] robot would design another robot to only use emojis. Sometimes his coworkers knew exactly what he meant, inexplicably extrapolating a great deal of info from a couple of little emojis.  Other times they didn't know what he meant at all.  It seemed very imprecise in a very unrobot-like way.  [SPOILER ALERT]  It also felt too easy how the three robots immediately believed and trusted Emma and dropped everything to help her, considering how they've been programmed and brainwashed.  [BIGGER SPOILER ALERT]  The ease of the solution at the end also felt too easy.

That said, there was a lot to like about the book.  The adventure was good.  The writing was engaging.  I loved the characters.

A really fun read.

I look forward to more by Lee Bacon.  

Friday, April 5, 2024

How Can I Help You?, by Laura Sims


I really enjoyed this. 

You can tell the author works in a library, and I loved the details about the job. 

I also thought the characters were very interesting.  Maybe a tad one-note, but that note was very interesting, so it didn't really matter to me.  Seeing a glimpse into the thoughts and needs and motivations of a character like Margo was fascinating.   

The prose was good.

The pacing worked for me, but some people looking for a twisty, edge-of-seat thriller might not like it as much as I did.

I did wonder about the practicalities of a couple of things.  Like how did Margo get a new ID and employment references and such?  Not super important; I was just curious. 

The ending felt rushed, but the very last lines…suitably creepy.

Overall, a great slow-burn psychological thriller with an awesome setting (for library lovers) and an interesting premise and POV.  I will definitely read more by Laura Sims. 

More accurate rating:  4.5