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:  

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