7/1 Saturday morning Angie missed her flight. Fortunately, she was able to call us and let us know, so Elizabeth and I took an extra hike that morning. Before we ventured out, we browsed around the 'book shop', and I got pulled into buying the funniest t-shirt. At least I think so. I decided I loved Utah enough to want to wear it.
The only recollection I have -at this point- of that morning is that I tried to drive to a place to hike, and we ended up going down the wrong road, but, as a result, we got to experience a mile-long-tunnel, which is pretty cool.
We headed off to Vegas where we met c-razy traffic (first time in traffic since Dallas, basically) and managed to find Ang. Then, in a long line of cars, we crossed over the Hoover Dam, and by late afternoon were cruising toward the canyon.
We stopped for gas and a man told me I had a screw in my tire. I was deflated.
But on closer inspection I told him I thought it was a rock (hardly surprising when one has been camping). It was. He then tried to convince me that my tires really were in bad wear, and had me worried for a while. It wasn't true, and I didn't have any tire trouble until California, but that's another story.
Elizabeth took over driving, since I was pushing probably 6-8 hours at this time. This would be one of the longest driving days of the trip. One point of interest on the drive: we stopped at a drive through to buy hungry-Angie some dinner, and Elizabeth (under my bad instruction of telling her to give the car more gas to get it going) peeled out from the order-window and I'm sure gave the Wendy's something to laugh about. We were all laughing pretty hard. That is one of the many places my tires have been left throughout America.
It was dusk by the time we got in the park, and after making some dinner and setting up our tents, we drove to the rim to 'peak over'. We gasped. It was breath-taking. Even in the hazy-night air I could see that it was immense, grander than I had ever imagined.
The next morning Angie, Elizabeth and I hiked the rim "the hermit trail." Amazing view points. It does make you feel dizzy seeing the canyon out of the corner of your eye as you watch your footing on the trail. We got a lot of pictures of the constantly-changing viewpoints.
We stopped at one slab of rocks to have a worship service - it was Sunday morning - we sang songs, prayed and read from Piper and Lewis while looking out over the beautiful scenery.
That afternoon rather momentus. Elizabeth and I took our first shower in, I think now, six days. The longest stretch of the trip. Utah is, of course, a desert, and there are no facilities to take a shower in most parks. We did daily wash our faces and actually I always washed by hands and feet. I took to heart, "A man only needs to wash his feet: the rest of him is clean." Isn't that how it goes? But really, in the dry weather of the West, showering less often doesn't affect you much. And ok, we were camping. But that shower on Sunday afternoon was splendid. (I'm running out of good adjectives to describe this trip. It was all too awesome.) It was a five-minute, two-dollar shower that was worth every penny and enjoyed every second. We did laundry too. I was pretty pooped that afternoon. Hiking the rim, though flat, takes a lot out of one since it is at such a high elevation. I learned that the altitude of the rim is about 7000 ft, which is about 1.5 miles. (The river is still about 2-3000ft above sea level.)
One of the many things I've learned on the trip is elevation: I have some grasp of these numbers to talk about some-thousand feet.
In the evening we hiked down to "Oo, Ah" point on an eastern trail. We hiked as the sun was setting, but it was rather cloudy. We got an awesome picture of the three of us on a rock with the canyon surrounding us.
7/3 On Monday we hiked into the canyon again. We got down three miles before it was too late in the day to go any farther. Basically it's just difficult to hike far because you're not supposed to hike between 10 and 4, and so you gotta wake up early.
(And we didn't. Typically morning routine was to wake up when we woke up, which was very early at first, and progressively later. Then we had to walk to the bathroom and back, make breakfast -coffee, pancakes or eggs, sausage, maybe just cereal, toast- all this on a stove which had to be put together, pumped, lit, etc.
And then we had to clean up, which requires further trips to the bathroom, and certain juggling of dishes between people so that each dish gets washed, rinsed and dried without getting dirty on the ground since there was never a counter or even a ledge. And then we had personal devotions. And on most days we had to pack up the tents and sleeping bags and 'kitchen boxes' and load the car since we usually stayed in each place for just a night. I think record leave time was Tuesday morning when we left the Grand Canyon to get Elizabeth on a flight and it took an hour. We rushed.
(typical morning shot)
Hiking the canyon is spectacular. You can see the color of the sand (and your feet) change as you descend. I wore chacos because my hiking books were wet when I left them out the night before: the first night of rained; but we stayed dry in our tents. The trail was still dusty and dry in the morning.
The hike was amazing. I think I already said it, but it was. It's such a cool experience. I want to go back and raft the Colorado and then hike out. We did pretty well - 1.5 miles per hour, both ways! It wasn't too hot and it even sprinkled on us on the way up.
7/7 Friday night, sitting in San Francisco
That first sight of the ocean was thrilling. I wonder if I could almost image how Lewis and Clark felt - traveling all that way across the continent and then - bam- there is the huge body of water. This trip so far has been spectacular. I can hardly believe how much I've seen and how great it's been. I must back up a good deal and share a lot.
[Which I never did, until now]
7/4We dropped Elizabeth off in Flagstaff to catch her flight home, and Angie and I drove a long way to reach Sequoia National Park. Crossing the border in to California we hit culture shock. Perhaps it was coming off a 2 week stint in national parks, but when we stopped at a Dairy Queen, we were stunned by the culture. Completely surprised to find rural California hick-ness. Angie and I laughed because there was a person there we mistook for Brent. Brent said later, "Yeah, it's weird being here where I blend in again."
I loved Sequoia NP. Those trees are amazing. You have to see the perspective of me and a tree to imagine how big these trees are.
These are the largest trees in the world. Actually not the tallest or biggest around, but overall their mass is the largest. This biggest tree lost a limb maybe a year ago, but it's still the largest. The limb it lost was the size of a normal large tree.
Angie and I took a hike to a waterfall and met up with a nature hike led by a ranger. I'm so glad we joined them, we learned so much. We leared all about the trees in that place, and which ones grow at which altitude. I asked the ranger about working there in the summer, and he said they love to hire teachers. He even eagerly told me where to inquire for information at the entrance, but Angie and I had to leave by a different route.
One thing that I had not anticipated was the immense size of these national parks. It seems obvious now, but I guess on a map I saw the size of these parks in comparison to the size of their states, and I forgot how HUGE western states are. So, getting to a park is one thing, but getting to the middle of the park, or from one place to another in a park, is Quite a different thing. We discovered this even more in Yosemite.
But before we got to Yosemite, Angie and I met up with a friendly fire-ranger and a "prescribed fire". We were the first in line to wait to pass, and the ranger-dude must have been bored sitting there with a "stop" sign, so he was awfully chatty. We had to wait a good 20 or 30 minutes for an escort truck to take us through the road at 8 miles an hour. The smoke was everywhere, and we even saw some flames. I learned a lot of about forest fires and prescribed fires in Yellowstone, because Yellowstone was burned a lot in the 1980s and they have all these exhibits and talks about forest fires there. More on that later.
We drove through Fresno, CA to get to Yosemite and I completely regret that decision. First of all I realized later that there was a shorter road that would have cut off that city, which would have saved us from congestion and most importantly a flat tire! After filling up I drove back toward the highway and as I was making a left-hand turn I noticed something seeming to glitter on the road, but it wasn't until I was already over the nails that I realized what they were. Two nails embedded themselves in my front left tire. It's actually amazing there weren't more tires damaged.
We continued toward Yosemite still unaware of this, and I was winding up (generally there was a lot of steep windy roads in California) toward Rebekah's camp, I noticed the particular rhythm coming from my tire on the road. We had a short, enjoyable visit with Rebekah. She fed us dinner, which was greatly needed, for when we headed back out later that evening for Yosemite, we thought we were 20 miles away, but we were actually only 20 miles from the entrance. It took several more hours for us to find our campsite.
Yosemite is amazing. It's a pity we had to drive through it initially in the dark, but we did manage to get a glimpse of how amazing it was. We were driving along and suddenly realized that there was a huge wall next to us. When the trees parted, the moon lit up the monolith rock, and our breath was taken away. I had no idea what Yosemite was. I hadn't done research that far.
7/6 The next morning driving through the valley, the strange shadow-images of the night before all made sense. It's a beautiful place. Our first hike was to the Lower Yosemite Falls, which is a short jaunt. We spent some time climbing around the rocks there, enjoying the sun and the spray of the falls. It felt daring to be jumping from rock to rock, and indeed, the sign said, 'Climb at your own risk.'
We decided to do another hike up to a high point to get a view of the valley and the Half Dome. This required driving a Long distance around and up. On the way, we stopped when we saw cars pulled over on the side of the road, which we soon learned meant wildlife was sighted. Angie and I got to see a momma bear and two cubs! That was probably the most spectacular wildlife sighting of the whole trip. They were too far away to get a good picture, (so don't fear for my life, besides I'm writing this now, so I must be alive) but I enjoyed so much seeing the momma pull off leaves or bark for her cubs, and the cubs frolicking around. Bears amble a funny way.
The next day we hiked the Mist Trail, and it was incredibly steep but fun hike. The path is steep, and the best park is when you wind around this waterfall, and get soaked by the mist coming off it.
And then, on to San Fransicso.
7/8 San Francisco was a fabulous experience. In stark contrast to the previous three weeks, I was housed in a beautiful, starkly clean apartment in downtown. We walked around, caught a cable car, saw the piers, ate at In and Out Burger. And the best part was renting bikes and riding across the Golden Gate Bridge. We went all the way across to Marin County and had an ice cream cone in Sausalito. Riding on the bridge was exhilarating and cold too. It was extraordinarily windy, and was scary whenever we passed the great big pillars, because we had to ride around them, and turning into the wind for a moment you could almost lose your momentum, or get slid into the wall or a passing biker.
That night, after Jeremy cleaned out a huge rock in his knee from a fall, we had a fancy dinner cooked by our host. It was a dinner party, with multiple courses, with pairings for each course. Our host insisted it was an informal dinner, as we were not dressed up and he would not be upset if we used the same wine glasses for each course. But I certainly was unprepared for the array of food. The coolest part was meeting two workers at Google. I'm sure I made myself a dribbling idiot over my enthusiasm for their company. All in all it was an excellent San Francisco experience.
7/9 There I left Angie (well, at the airport, of course) and I will pick up later with stories of the West Coast with Jeremy and Brent.