Oh! Canada

I’ve been on the road for 11 days now… about 1/3 of the planned trip. And it is so much more amazing than I thought it would be!  The first 9 days with Cat were epic. I saw some of the greatest sights of the American southwest. I hiked some of the most incredible trails. I experienced weather that was unbeatable, and got a greater tan than I’ve ever had (unintentionally, but understandably living outside 24/7!).

 

Today, I ventured north of the border, into Canada. My trip from Salt Lake City to Calgary didn’t take as long as expected, so I took my time, getting the car and camper washed in Great Falls, Montana, and doing laundry before reaching Calgary.  Today was the first day of “bad” weather I’ve experienced in 11 days of travel. It was chilly… never hitting 60 degrees, and rainy when I left the town of Shelby, Montana (for those keeping track, this is not a town worth visiting unless you need a place to stay on the way to Calgary…)

 

I had to swat at my first mosquitos (die, bastards!) and pack up in the pouring, cold, rain, but still got on the road at a decent time.  Even after stopping for coffee at Tim Horton’s, I arrived in Calgary in about four hours, but still ahead of my hotel check in. I headed to the mall for some Lush products, and came back to relax in an actual room with private bathroom, something that seemed quite luxurious after 11 days of shared bathrooms and pay showers!

 

With half a day to kill in Calgary, I did the important stuff… visited a LUSH store to stock up on some essentials, and found a brewery.  More on them later.

 

My parents arrived after midnight, lucky to have made their connection in Chicago, and we are off to Jasper in a bit.

Utah Rocks!

We headed to Utah and boondocked in the parking lot of an out-of-business diner. The desert in these parts is flat and boring… so we were grateful to find a “town” to stop in before heading to Zion.  I got to taste my first Polygamy Porter (it is tasty, and has a hilarious tag line!), and had good Mexican food as well.  All in all, a win in my book!

 

We were up early and headed to Zion, only to be turned away from the campground.  (Apparently, arriving at 9am for 11am check out is not enough time to guarantee a spot!). According to my handy Atlas, there was a National Monument about an hour and a half away that sat at 10,000 feet above sea level, and had a couple of campgrounds, so we headed towards Cedar Breaks. The campground was breathtaking… alpine meadows full of wildflowers, and Juniper trees all around (though many have been killed by some pesky beetles, but are on the way to growing back already.)

 

When we woke up in the morning, it was 46 degrees out.  It was awesome! And the afternoon high was about 72 degrees.  Perfect camping weather!

 

We headed back south for Zion again, and hopped on a bus to head for the last stop on the tram route, and the Riverwalk Trail, aka the gateway to the Narrows.

 

Thanks to my brand new trekking poles, and my 15 year old Chacos, we took the hike of a lifetime.  We probably only did about four miles round trip, but it was so incredible! There’s nothing like hiking IN a river, with sheer rock walls on either side of the “trail.”

 

Zion was HOT… like 104 degrees hot when we left, so other than the Narrows hike, we didn’t spend that much time in the park, and the sun didn’t help my photos, but it was a truly memorable day.

 

 

 

(photos coming later!!!)

Grand Canyon, the final episode

Our last full day at the Grand Canyon was epic. So epic.

We rode our bikes to the village, about a mile and a half, then rode (most) of the West Rim route to Hermit’s Rest.  It was exhausting – the sun was pretty brutal, and some of the hills were as well, but there is nothing that will ever compare in my life to riding my bike along the rim of the Grand Canyon.  All in all, we rode over 12 miles.

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Bike riding on the West Rim Drive at Grand Canyon near Hermit’s Rest

 

The evening sunset is one that I will forever remember. I’d read about a relatively unknown viewpoint on the East rim and had some vague directions to it… it isn’t in the guidebooks, or on any maps, so the hope was very few people would be there.  (I love the Grand Canyon, I always have, but the people… tens of thousands of people, can be very hard to tolerate after awhile. I craved silence to appreciate the scenery!)

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We hiked 1.9 miles uphill to the edge of the canyon, and there it was… the “secret” viewpoint I’d read about.  Wow.  There were a few other people there, IMG_4663but everyone was respectful and enjoying the peace and quiet, most of us with snacks or treats, and in my case, craft beer from North Carolina.

 

The sunset was spectacular, but I think the best part was being virtually ALONE on this outcropping of rocks into one of the most magnificent wonders of the world.  After the sun had dipped below the rocks and the other tourists left, we were greeted by a handful of NPS employees (mostly interns and seasonal park rangers) who were also looking for a place to unwind and enjoy the quiet after dealing with pesky tourists all day.  We met a cowboy from Quebec (he had spurs and a belt buckle and everything) and a couple of others.  We shared a toast over craft beer and enjoyed the peace and quiet. IMG_4647 That night is hands down one I will remember forever!

 

 

Monsoon season at the Canyon

By breakfast today the Grand Canyon’s weather had won twice, with Cat and I being the big losers.

 

Last night we were evacuated from Hopi Point on the West Rim Drive about an hour before sunset due to a crazy (and scary) thunderstorm. We were soaked and freezing by the time we got back to our campsite.  A fire was in order, and brats (or vegetarian brats, in my case) was a good end to the day.  I even helped a young Chinese couple start a fire. And by help I mean I chopped their wood, laid out the kindling and lit it (even using one of my own fire starters) and showed them how to fan the flame slowly.

 

We set the alarm for 4:30am (yikes!!!!) and headed to Mather Point to see the sunrise.

 

Boy, was it a doozy, unless your idea of a good time is watching thick fog roll in and the sun not have a chance to make an appearance.  We went back to bed and woke up to clear blue skies, and puffy clouds, so at least the second wake up was nice.

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We also experienced our first pay showers.  They were actually quite nice, and mine worked without putting quarters in it.  After my first shower in four days, I felt heavenly.

 

Today was filled with memories of my youth.  We spent the better part of an hour wandering through the Grand Canyon cemetery, something I often did as a child.  I don’t want to be buried, but if I did, I would want it to be here, under the Ponderosa pine forest with a rock carved by the Colorado River as my headstone.

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Grand Canyon cemetery

 

Today would have also been my Grammy’s 101st birthday.  For her 70th birthday, 31 years ago, my entire family gathered at the Grand Canyon to celebrate, including a Canyon view suite at the El Tovar hotel.  It was pretty special to spend the day thinking of my Grammy, and remembering how much she loved this place!

 

We wandered along the village rim, and watched a thunderstorm pass through the canyon, and I was even able to catch a few lightning strikes on camera (something I’d always wanted to do!)  We headed towards the bus to head to Hermit’s Rest (mother nature couldn’t fail us two days in a row, right?) and found that the bus line was closed due to weather.  We decided to wait for it to (hopefully) reopen and after 20-30 minutes, were able to ride to Hermit’s Rest where the view was great, and the memories of family trips, especially in Winter with a roaring fire, made me smile.

 

We decided to watch sunset at Pima point.  The thought was it would be less crowded than Hopi (it was), and we’d be on a bus sooner, and therefore more likely to get a seat and not be in the sardine aisle.

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The sunset did not disappoint.  The color of the canyon walls, and the glistening Colorado River below us was truly breathtaking. I even decided to break the law a bit and had my photo taken on the edge of the canyon.  Needless to say, it’s a photo I will treasure forever.  It was a great day (and night).

 

The plan tomorrow is to give the sunrise a second chance, and enjoy another relaxing day at the Canyon!

Grand Canyon, Part 1

I am not sure how many times I have been to the Grand Canyon. A dozen? Two dozen? Growing up in the Phoenix area meant that nearly every year of the 13 I spent in Arizona meant at least one or two trips to the Grand Canyon.  I love this place. It truly feels like an old friend, one who is just as amazing from one visit to the next no matter how long it’s been since you’ve seen her.  I think one of my favorite things is taking friends to visit the Canyon for the first time. There is nothing quite like seeing someone experience the magnificence of a first visit.  Today, I got to watch my friend Cat, who I have known for almost 20 years, see the Canyon for the first time.  There is just something special about this place, and it’s even more special sharing it.

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We set up camp (and in a teardrop camper, that meant backing her into the site, and putting a tablecloth out), and then rode our bikes a couple of miles to the Visitor Center and Mather Point.  The latter was overrun with people, but the view was spectacular, even in the noon-day sun that flattens the gorgeous peaks and valleys of the Canyon, and mutes the amazing colors.

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On the road to Grand Canyon, somewhere near Flagstaff, AZ

After lunch, we headed to Grand Canyon village, this time via the bus, so Cat could rest her foot which is currently sporting a designer boot of the orthopedic variety for an ankle injury.  We had a cocktail at the El Tovar (a first for me… as a child, my parents brought me there but the only thing I got to drink was a Shirley Temple!), and then headed for the Hermit’s Rest buses to head to Hopi Point.

How to drive 1800 miles in 40 hours…

When I first started planning this adventure, the drive west was my biggest apprehension.  27 hours of driving and 1800 miles was a lot…. And I wasn’t sure how long it would take.

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And then I invited my friend Cat to join me, and the apprehension lessened, because I had someone to share the driving load with.  We thought it would take us two and a half days to get to the Grand Canyon, well, it’s 10pm on Monday night (1am EST), and we left Asheville yesterday at 9:15 am.  So in 40 hours, we drove 1800 miles, through seven states.  It didn’t feel like we pushed that hard. We stopped frequently, had a couple of sit down meals, and even took a break to get an oil change in New Mexico.  We could have stopped at more tourist trap type spots, but the Cadillac Ranch was enough for me (and the New Mexico version of South of the Border we stopped at for a Route 66 sticker for Louise!).

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Highlights and lowlights of the journey:

 

  • Stopping for dinner in Conway, Arkansas (I do not recommend this if you are passing through on a Sunday night… everything was out of business or closed!). Discovering that it was the Toad Suck Capital made it worth the trouble. And no, I don’t know what a Toad Suck is, but it made me laugh!
  • The Cadillac Ranch was super cheesy, and much smaller in person, but a great place to stretch our legs and get high on the paint fumes.
  • There are NO POKEMONS in Oklahoma OR Texas. And I searched for them at every gas station and rest area there was!
  • Speaking of Oklahoma, the only ethnic food we found at any truck stop was Indian food.
  • Also, Oklahoma was the only state without dozens (millions?) of billboards for “Adult Superstores”
  • We slept next to a really cool homebuilt teardrop camper at a rest area in Oklahoma last night!
  • The sun was setting as we crossed into Arizona, so I have to wait until morning to smile at the state I grew up in. The weather is perfect, and our campsite, a Wal Mart parking lot in Flagstaff, will be perfect for tonight and allow us to get to the Grand Canyon by lunchtime. My pro-Union self won’t set foot in the store or buy any of their wares, but I appreciate a safe place to sleep!

 

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Souvenir beer from New Mexico (Happy Camper had a great name, but not-so-great taste, but I like low-IBU beers and this is not)

 

Packing

The only thing I hate more than packing is unpacking, and the idea of setting out in my teardrop camper for five weeks is stressful. I want to pack enough, but not too much, and I’m visiting the desert and the Canadian rockies… so I have to be prepared for a variety of weather!

 

I’ve ultimately decided to pack enough shirts and underwear for 10 days. A couple of hoodies and pants for the mountains, and enough shorts to rotate through the hot days. That means I’ll have to do laundry twice, which should be totally doable on a trip of this length. I can also wash sheets and towels and keep things fresh that way.

 

I’ve invested a lot of time and money into this trip already, trying to prepare for the unknowns.  I bought a couple of pack towels from REI that are quick dry (after a recent camping trip with thick cotton towels this was a huge necessity!) I’ve also decided to take my bike in the hopes I will ride it as much as possible (I have my sights set on an 8 mile ride (each way) at the Grand Canyon to Hermit’s Rest.  I’m not sure how much I’ll use it in the Rockies, but it will be nice to have.

 

Tomorrow I’m going to take everything out of my galley and storage box on my camper and re-evaluate what I really need to take.  Now that I have a Foxwing, I don’t need to take an EZ Up, but I am taking a screen room and rain fly for those pesky mosquitos I may find in Alberta and Montana. I’m leaving the dutch oven at home because I’m still intimidated by cooking in it, and it’s heavy and bulky to carry around for five weeks.

 

This trip is the reason I bought a teardrop. I had always dreamed of a cross country roadtrip, and two years ago is when I ordered my TC Teardrop, and finally, after lots of planning and saving the dream is coming to fruition!  6000 miles in 32 days. It’s going to be amazing!