A Travellerspoint blog

March 2011

Mile-High City—Denver!

COLORADO - PART II

sunny 65 °F

When I pictured heading into Denver, I envisioned driving up monstrous mountains, ice and snow covering the roads, streams of Coors flowing down the valleys, and trouble catching my breath in the mile-high thin air. I guess I was brainwashed by all the Coors ads showing the Rocky Mountains and watching snow fall during a Monday Night Football game in Denver. The mountains were certainly getting larger, but they weren't the titans I had imagined, and I certainly wasn't driving through them. The road leading to Denver was flat, mountains on the left while the plains stretched out as far as I could see to the right.

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Part of the problem may have been my view was slightly blocked. Having stopped to fill the car with gas, I began to clean up the car. Megan still had water in her water bottle, but I saw her carrying a fresh one out to the car. I threw the half filled one in the glove compartment to make room in the cup holder. About twenty minutes after leaving the gas station, Megan opened the glove compartment to find it filled with water. Apparently Megan puts the cap back on the water after taking a drink so she "doesn't lose it", but only tightens the cap down once she has finished drinking it. I told her that defeats the purpose of the cap if the cap is only sealed before you start drinking and after you are finished. I asked her, "why don't you take the extra .3 seconds of time and tighten the cap?" She replied, "It hurts my hand if I have to continually screw and unscrew it." So, as a result, this was my view for the 9 hour drive to Denver.

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Like I have mentioned before, distance is deceptive out west. Looking along the line of mountains, I could see one clearly standing higher than the rest. I asked Megan if it was Pike's Peak. She checked the map, and said we were still 120 miles from Colorado Springs, so I thought that it must be another mountain that was closer. 2 hours later, I found it was Pike's Peak. You can see it behind Megan in the picture below.

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Upon arriving in Colorado Springs, we wound through the town to head to Garden of the Gods. Here a park had been set up around a series of gigantic and unusual rock formations. Apparently it got its name when a brewmaster was looking for a place to setup his brewery came across the area and proclaimed it was fit for a god, therefore "Garden of the Gods" was derived from "beer garden for a god". I think the story is a tall tale, and the more obvious reason is the correct origin of the name, that the rocks are so big that they could have only been placed there by a god.

The warm, sunny day had brought people out in droves to run the pathways between the rocks. A man was scaling up the side of one of the larger rocks, while the other rocks just looked cool.

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All the rocks had little signs in front of them with information and creative names for each rock (names like Sentinel Rock and Cathedral Spires). But there was one rock that Megan felt got left out, "the most interesting rock in the park" according to Megan. What do you think she named this one?

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This is "Gorilla Rock". Supposedly it is the profile of a gorilla turned to the left, with his brow, nose, and mouth on the left side. He is reclining with his belly going down to the left.

The last rock we wanted to see was a short drive away. A Colorado Springs man had bought the land directly beneath the rock and made his living taking touristy pictures next to the "Balanced Rock". He even had mules that people could sit on, and hats to wear. Eventually people started to own their own cameras, and he built a fence around the rock to protect his business interest. He eventually donated the rock to the park so that everyone could enjoy it.

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The sun was starting to set, so we left the park and continued driving to Denver. We were staying with my friend Ryan's brother in Conifer, which is up in the mountains overlooking Denver. We arrived and chit-chatted for a little while, and then hit the hay after a long day of driving.

Megan and I were told that we had to start our morning with a breakfast burrito at TNT Country Kitchen. Megan's was filled with egg, potato, cheese, and bacon while I got one filled with chorizo. They were huge, and very tasty. They came with green chile sauce on top too.

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From TNT Country Kitchen, it was only a 15 minute drive to Red Rocks Amphitheater. A concert arena was built into the natural red rock formations, creating a scenic and unique place for bands to play.

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We parked in the parking lot, and then walked up into the amphitheater. A lot of people were running across the wide rows of the amphitheater. We walked out of the amphitheater and back down to a trail that goes around the various rock formations in the park. The warning sign caught my attention.

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If you encounter a rattlesnake, just walk away. Walk around the poison ivy to avoid it. However, if you encounter a mountain lion, FIGHT BACK! It was funny to think about Megan fighting off a mountain lion (although the warning did send the tiniest bit of worry through my mind, especially since Ryan's brother had just told a story of a mountain lion that had been seen in their neighborhood last night). The rock formations were similar to the ones we saw in the Garden of the Gods, just a little smaller.

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At one point along the trail, you could get a good view of downtown Denver.

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We finished the trail, got back in the car, and left the amphitheater. I had anxiously been awaiting our next stop, the Coors Brewery in Golden, Colorado.

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It was a self guided tour that took you through the brewing rooms, the bottling factory, and the shipment area. It was pretty similar to the Miller tour we had gone on in Milwaukee, minus the tour guide. We did get to stop half way through the tour to sample beer that had finished brewing that day (the sample cup didn't really give you chance to taste a big difference).

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We finally made our way to the tasting room, where we were able to sample 3 beers. Megan and I coordinated so that we could try some of the experimental new beers and some of the local ones we couldn't get back home. I also made sure to get the Banquet Beer, Coors original.

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After two of the beers, Megan said she desperately needed something to snack on. I gave her 3 dollars to go to the vending machine, and she came back with a single bag of pretzels. I realized now how the free beer tour could actually turn a profit. Megan began talking in a British accent and using one of the pretzels as a monocle. Apparently the experimental beers were stronger than the regular beers.

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We stopped by the gift shop on the way out to see if anything caught our eye. We laughed at some of the funny t-shirts, and I took my picture with a Broncos helmet.

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We left Golden and headed back into Denver. Our next stop was Elway's Colorado Steakhouse. The $40 steak was a tad expensive for lunch, but the $8 chili was supposed to be excellent. We each ordered a bowl, and surprisingly enough, it was actually really good. It was also burning hot, even I required a couple glasses of water to put out the fire in my mouth.

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I had also wanted to tour the New Belgium Brewery (they make Fat Tire), but it was an hour away. We instead decided to head downtown to take a look at Coors Field, and then sample a smaller, local brewery.

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After seeing the outside of Coors Field, we made our way to Breckenridge Brewery. The beer was delicious, and it was nice to just sit and relax. It was opening weekend of baseball, so we watched whatever game happened to be on TV. Ryan's brother and sister had invited us to dinner, so we left to make it back in time for dinner in Conifer.

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Now let me tell you something about the car I was driving. It was a tiny Hyundai Accent. This thing barely had enough power to get up to the speed limit of 75 on flat roads, much less going up a mountain. The Rockies proved to be quite a challenge for the little car. The engine screamed as it tried to find enough power to make it up, and sometimes even down the mountains. We left at 5am the next morning to get an early start on the 10 hour drive to Utah. To get to the interstate heading west from Conifer, it was quickest to cut through the mountains. I was the only car on the road, and even standing on the gas petal, I couldn't get up to the speed limit. So ironically enough, just as I turned off the mountain highway to travel the .3 mile side road down to the interstate, a deputy turned on his lights and pulled me over. We had only gone a couple hundred feet, so there was no way for me to even know what the speed limit was, but the cop had clocked me doing 45 in a 25. He gave me a story about how elk were causing a lot of issues in the area, so they had to enforce the slow speed limit. His suspicions were further aroused when he saw two NC licensed drivers riding in a Nevada car at 5:30 in the morning with a destroyed registration document. Thankfully Megan produced some fake tears and got us off with a warning.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 14:32 Archived in USA Tagged mountains beer hiking brewery state_park local_food Comments (0)

Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks

NEW MEXICO - PART II

sunny 55 °F

We left Albuquerque early in the morning to head out towards Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks, which was just recently named a National Monument in 2001. It was about an hour north of Albuquerque, so we were able to get there just as the sun was coming up over the rocks.

Before we reached the park entrance, I noticed a giant blue line across the horizon. It reminded me of driving towards the ocean, but there was certainly no ocean in the middle of New Mexico. It wasn't until we got right up next to it that I could see it was a giant mound of rocks and dirt, the edge of a massive dam. The picture doesn't do it justice, but it was like an optical illusion. Perhaps I was just becoming delirious from being on the road for so long.

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Megan had been super excited to see the Tent Rocks. The Tent Rocks was one of the areas that served as inspiration to Georgia O'Keeffe. We passed through the park entrance, and then drove another 15 minutes down the road to reach the trailhead. Upon stepping out of the car, you were immediately presented with a view of the Tent Rocks.

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The eruption of Jemez Volcano, the volcano crater we saw yesterday from Sandia Peak, created these unique rock formations. The eruption layered the land in 1,000 ft of ash and pumice. Rocks were also ejected from the volcano and were embedded in the ash. Over time, wind and water has eroded the ash and pumice away. However, the hard rock fragments do not erode as quickly, and form a cap on top of the pointy ash towers. Eventually the rock top falls off, and the unique tent rock formation is created.

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There is a trail that winds up through the Tent Rocks to a peak overlooking the site. We began making our way along the trail, looking for obsidian (volcanic glass) on the trail. A couple ponderosa pines (whose bark smells like vanilla) and stick-man cactus (because the cactus looks like a stick man you draw when you're eight) were scattered in the valley leading up to the ridge.

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After a mile, we came to canyon that let us get our first up close view of the layers of ash and pumice. If you rubbed the wall, you could feel the soft stone crumbling. The layers ran horizontally across the canyon wall. It was very cool looking, especially in the early morning sunlight.

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The canyon began to narrow, forcing us to weave between the rocks. You had to step one foot in front of the other, occasionally needing to scale the side of the canyon to make it up the trail. The layers in the rocks were even more pronounced here.

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After making it through the canyon, we were getting close to reaching the overlook for the Tent Rocks. We climbed up some steep steps, and were presented with an awesome view of the surrounding Tent Rocks and the mountains off in the distance.

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We caught our breath, took in the sights, and then made our way back down the path. We took a side trail back to the car to check out some caves carved out of the canyon wall, and then got back on the road. It was another 9 hours to Denver, our destination for that night.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 07:03 Archived in USA Tagged hiking national_park Comments (0)

Snakes in Albuquerque!

STATE 14 - NEW MEXICO

sunny 55 °F

We are headed into the heart of New Mexico, the 5th largest state in the US. Albuquerque here we come!

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Leaving Colorado heading southeast, the plateaus dwindled away while sandy hills took their place. There were almost no trees or vegetation. Looking on either side of the highway getting close to Albuquerque, everything was just brown. Even the houses were brown!

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I couldn't be sure, but it looked like the air conditioners were installed on top or on the side of houses rather than on the ground. I guess it was to keep them from getting clogged with sand and dirt? If someone knows for sure, let me know. Another weird thing New Mexicans do—they paint their highways turquoise and a light-brown/pinkish color!

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We arrived into Albuerque barely beating the rush hour traffic. Our destination was the American International Rattlesnake Museum in Old Town Albuquerque, the largest collection of rattlesnake species in the world.

This place had a lot of snakes. It was less of an official museum than I had anticipated (it was in the back of a souvenir shop), but the actual snake enclosures were nicer than you would typically see in zoos. Each display had information about the particular type of rattlesnake, and the snakes all looked alert and healthy. They didn't just have rattlesnakes. Other vipers like copperheads, turtles, lizards, and spiders were also on display.

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Unfortunately the snakes are fed after hours, so we didn't get to see any feedings. We also didn't get a chance to explore the rest of Old Town as everything was closing down for the night, but it looked like a lot of tourist souvenir shops and restaurants, so maybe we didn't miss that much.

We drove across town to the base of the Sandia Mountains, the towering peaks overlooking Albuquerque. Albuquerque is already at a pretty high elevation, it sits even higher than the Mile-High City of Denver. In fact, almost since we had entered Arizona, we had stayed above 5,000 ft (except obviously when we hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon). The Sandia Peak rose much higher into the sky, the summit over 10,000 ft high. You can ride a tramway up to the top of Sandia Peak, precariously dangling you over thousand foot drops along the way.

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The ride took nearly 15 minutes to get to the top, and we only passed over 2 towers to get there. The Sandia Peak Tramway has the world's third longest single span, and of course this is when you are the furthest away from the ground.

We reached the top and began walking around the platforms. During the winter, Sandia Peak offers skiing down the other side of the mountain. It was pretty quiet at the top now, the temperature too cold for hiking or biking, but too warm to keep snow on the slopes. Remember when we misjudged the distance of the Stratosphere in Vegas and I said you could see far away here in the southwest? Well, the view from the top Sandia Peak allows you to see mountains over 100 miles away. An ancient volcano looms off in the distance, and another ridge of mountains even further beyond that.

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You could see rain falling in the distance, as well as sun shining over the mountains. You could see the square borders Albuquerque. Albuquerque is bounded by an Indian reservation on one side, the air force base on another, and the third side stopped by a protected forest. We walked down to the ski slopes and took in the view the other direction. It was pretty cold at the top, so we started to head back to the tram station. We watched the tram climb up over the valley below, and then boarded to head back down to the car.

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On the way down, we asked our tram driver where to go for supper. He said if you only have one night in town, you have to eat down near University of New Mexico at Frontier Restaurant. He recommended the cheese enchilada with green chiles. Chile is the largest agricultural crop in New Mexico, and therefore New Mexicans like to put it on everything. At Frontier you can get the green chile stew or chopped green chiles on top of your burritos. I opted for the stew, which was more like a sauce. It was pretty darn good, especially when combined with the college atmosphere. We were also given sopaipillas, a flat bread, on which you spread honey.

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After supper, we walked through the middle of UNM. It was the end of March, but you could still plainly see chalk advertisements saying "Come to our show tonight! Feb 6th!". I guess it hadn't rained in a while. We found some statues, and Megan posed in some pictures. I took a picture with my Wolfpack brethren in the southwest, the Lobos.

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Apparently I was wearing the perfect urban camouflage for that picture.

We were only staying in town for one night, and thankfully I can stop having to spell the word "Albuquerque", quite possibly one of the most awkward words to have to type.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 13:50 Archived in USA Tagged animals museum colleges local_food Comments (0)

Mesa Verde National Park

STATE 13 - COLORADO

sunny 50 °F

I'm in the heart of the Wild West, the 4 Corners. Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah all meeting in one place. I'm surrounded by Indians on all sides. What do I do? Thankfully no gun is needed, the Indians warmly welcome me to see how they live. I'm going to the high desert in Colorado to see how the Pueblo Indians built their homes in the sides of cliffs.

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In North Carolina, we have several different tribes of Native Americans, but only 1 (as far as I know) has a reservation, the Cherokee. I have driven through the Cherokee reservation, but all I remember while quickly passing through was the billboard for the casino. Leaving Arizona, it took nearly 3 hours to drive through the Navajo and Hopi Indian Reservations. As soon as one reservation ended, another started. Once we were in Colorado, we entered the Ute Indian Reservation. These Indians are all Puebloan, having left the their dwellings in the cliffs for lands in the flatlands. There were no trees in sight, and the landscape was pretty flat with plateaus at the horizon. Rock formations appeared sporadically, monuments withstanding the erosion to form artistic sculptures along the roadside.

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Arriving at Mesa Verde National Park, ice capped mountains were in one direction towards the middle of Colorado, while the red plateaus were visible in the distance back towards Arizona and Utah. Driving through the 4 Corners gave a great view of varying landscapes.

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From the entrance of Mesa Verde park, it was still another half hour drive just to reach the first of the old Pueblo Indian residences. Mesa Verde is a slanted plateau covering nearly 100 square miles. The first Puebloan people built their homes on the top of this elevated land. It was very windy on top of the plateau, and the late March air had a sharp, cold bite. Donning hats and gloves, we began to explore the earliest living spaces of the inhabitants of Mesa Verde.

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You can see how the living spaces surrounded the circular kiva. The kiva was the center of the community, a spiritual place where people came together. It was sunk deep into the ground and was entered from the roof. The buildings could be multilevels high, but only the base foundations still remain. You could see forever in every direction being on top of the plateau. The Indians also built reservoirs to hold water for irrigation. Fields surrounded the living spaces, where they grew corn and other crops.

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We continued traveling further into the park, stopping at the visitor center to learn about the Indians that lived here. They were excellent pottery makers and basket weavers, both the men and women participating. Lots of relics were found in the area, abandoned by the Indians 700 years ago.

From the visitor center, we walked down to the Spruce Tree House, a group of cliff dwellings that you can walk through. You can see them in the cliff behind Megan in the picture below.

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After living on top of Mesa Verde for 200 years, the Indians started building villages in the cliffs. Some believe this was for protection against outside hostiles, but that is not the most prevalent theory for the initial move. Walking down to the dwellings, one reason became immediately obvious. The cold bite in the air was nonexistent once you went below the cliff-line. The southward facing residences were warmed by the sun, while the cold wind blew by overhead. The cliff dwellings were still close to the fields, but added additional protection from the elements. The wild fires that often scorch the ground did not reach down into the cliffs.

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The dwellings were in great shape. The National Park Service has a policy of restoring, not rebuilding. The ruins as we saw them are almost exactly as they were when first discovered. You were allowed to walk right up next to the rooms, look down into the multiple kivas, and get a great picture for how these Pueblo Indians used to live. They even had a kiva that you could climb down into through the roof! The local Indians still consider the kivas to be holy places, so it was cool to actually have access inside.

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Fires would have normally been lit inside the kiva, and the smell of incense probably in the air. People would be congregating or weaving baskets. Air vents brought fresh air in through the bottom, while additional vents supplied air to the other kivas as well. The insides were plastered over and painted. There are still bowls carved into the stone where the Indians used to process their corn.

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After exploring Spruce Tree House, we walked back up the trail to the car. Sites just like this one are scattered all over Mesa Verde. We got back into the car to explore them from afar. Since the dwellings were all built on the south side of Mesa Verde, the plateaus of Arizona and Utah were visible off in the distance.

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Spruce Tree House is not the biggest site for cliff dwellings. Another section of cliffs had several groupings of dwellings. These seemed more specialized in purpose. One contained a large open area thought to be used for dancing and ceremonies for large gatherings. Another area was called the Fire Temple, and another the Sun Temple. The largest cliff dwelling is called Cliff Palace, holding over 150 rooms and 23 kivas.

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The last photo is of the most recently built cliff dwelling. It is creatively named Square Tower House. It rose over 4 stories, and was actually part of a much larger multistory structure. There is no easy access to this dwelling, presumably for defense. The whole complex can only be entered through a single underground tunnel. Towards the end of the time the Puebloans inhabited Mesa Verde, it seems the Indians started building the dwellings for defensive purposes.

We didn't just get to see old buildings at Mesa Verde, there was plenty of wildlife too. On the drive back from viewing some of the other dwellings, we ran into a group of mule deers. Most scattered when stopped, but a couple stayed to have their picture taken. We also passed by a prairie dog, popping out of its hole.

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It was a 45 minute drive to exit Mesa Verde, but it gave us a chance to take in the beautiful views. We stopped at the mountain overlook for a quick bite to eat, and then turned south to head into New Mexico.

Posted by Mike.Flynn 18:01 Archived in USA Tagged mountains animals hiking historical national_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

Hiking the Grand Canyon

STATE 12 - ARIZONA

sunny 65 °F

The Grand Canyon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, one of the largest US National Parks, and one of the most awe-inspiring places in the country. It also gives Megan a chance to prove that she can make it out of a giant canyon without the help of a mule. We're off to the Grand Canyon State, Arizona!

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The drive out to the Grand Canyon seemed to drag on forever, not because of the distance (it was only about 2 hours), but because of the anticipation and excitement. There was a little bit of nervousness mixed in too. It has been nearly a year since we hiked through the Colca Canyon in Peru. Megan had been training like crazy, whereas I had not made any changes to my normal workout routines. The view on the road was pleasant enough, we were out in the middle of nowhere. Rarely did we pass another car, and even more rarely passed an intersection or building of any kind.

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A portion of the drive took us through the Coconino National Forest. However, this was the most pathetic "forest" I had ever seen. Most of the trees struggled to get over six feet tall, and they were not very thick. I'm sure there is some reason this area is protected by the US Forestry Service instead of the National Park Service, but it seems like "forest" was a pretty generous term to describe the area. Despite the small trees, the landscape was pretty, especially with Arizona's highest peak off in the distance.

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We finally reached the park entrance, and instead of driving directly to the trails, we decided to drive by some lookout points and get a first view of the canyon. Not long after entering the park, we turned a slight bend in the road and there it was. The canyon was HUMONGOUS! I knew the canyon was a mile deep, but I was unprepared for how wide it was across.

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We took in the sight of the canyon for a couple minutes, and then I tried to convince Megan to climb over the wall to stand in front of the canyon for a picture. She was not happy about the whole situation, especially as I tried to encourage her to stand closer to the edge. It was a little freaky being that close to a sheer drop, especially since the wind was whipping around us.

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We drove a little further down the rim to see some other viewpoints, including a quick hike out to Grand View Point. It was after noon now, and we still had to hike down to the canyon floor before night settled in. We drove by the visitor's center to fill up our water bottles and change into our hiking gear. We parked the car at the top of the Bright Angel Trail and boarded a shuttle to take us over to the South Kaibab Trail. We would be hiking out of the canyon on the Bright Angel Trail, even though it is a little longer, it has a place to refill water on the trail. The South Kaibab trail, our intended path down, covers more varied lookout points, so theoretically it would be a nicer view on the descent.

The shuttle arrived at the trail head, and we were finally ready to start our Grand Canyon Hike!

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The top of the South Kaibab Trail (and the rest of the rim of the canyon) was covered by patches of snow and ice. It was chilly, especially when the wind came blowing up the canyon wall. I was surprised at the number of people hiking into the canyon, especially wearing blue jeans and tennis shoes. The trail was slippery, the snow had melted to form ice and semi-frozen mud on the steep trails. The people coming up the trail were breathless, and some looked like they had just gone through pure hell. I realized that would be me with 24 hours. Here's a view looking down during the first portion of the hike.

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Here is a picture showing how steep the wall of the canyon is, it almost drops straight down. You can also see the ice and snow clinging the walls of the canyon.

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It didn't take long to get the first lookout. The trail came to a point that allowed a 270° view of the canyon. We took off our packs and crawled out between two boulders hanging over the canyon. You can't really see it in the picture, but I'm straddling a 2 foot gap in the rocks that goes down a couple hundred feet.

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In the picture above, you can see the next lookout point on the ridge just to the right of me. This was the destination of most of the people in the blue jeans and tennis shoes. It was about an hour into the hike down, and it offered the first real resting spot. A little plateau formed a flat area with a great view into the canyon. Lots of people were here soaking in the warm sun, and some were even lounging around shirtless (although I think this was more so their shirts could dry off instead of due to the warm weather). Megan and decided to scramble over the rocks of the thin ridgeline to get the best view.

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Some birds and squirrels could be seen here, apparently realizing this was the best area to grab the bits of food dropped by the resting hikers. I was anxious to leave the small crowd of people and get back on the trail. Megan was ready to continue only after a picture with a tree that she thought "looked really cool".

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For the next hour or so, we moved steadily down the trail occasionally stopping for a drink or to take in the view. The canyon seemed to change color as the sun kept moving further down the horizon. I told Megan to walk ahead so I could take here picture with a wide shot of the canyon in the background.

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I took the picture, then began making my way down the trail after her. Just about then, I heard a Megan-pitched squeal come echoing up from below, something like "EEEEEEEIIIIIIIIKKKKKK!". I hustled down the trail thinking that she was standing face to face with a mountain lion or something worse. As I turned the corner, I see her crouched down with her camera in her hand. She had found a lizard.

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It wasn't that she was scared of the lizard, she was excited that she could take the picture of one and show it to the six year-old she nannied. Thankfully the lizard scurried away so that we could continue our hike down the trail.

Here are some more views from the middle portion of the hike.

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It was starting to get later into the evening, and we still had a couple more miles until we reached the canyon floor. Just as I was wondering if we would make it to camp before the sun went over the wall of the canyon, I saw three guys come walking up the trail. They were easily 3 hours from the top at a quick pace, weren't carrying any water, and were all sunburned. They barely acknowledged us as they passed, and I think they realized the difficult hike out in front of them, especially as night was falling.

Until this point, we couldn't really see the Colorado River. The sounds of the rushing water had been echoing up off the canyon walls. We finally reach a ridge that presented us with a view of the river and the bottom of the canyon. Some buildings were visible, presumably the ranch at the bottom of the canyon.

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We reached one last resting spot that offered an overlook of the canyon. We stopped to refuel on some crackers and watch the sun sink lower. The air was much warmer down here as compared to the rim of the canyon.

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Instead of hugging the canyon wall, the trail began weaving through boulders and rock formations near the canyon floor. The trail was still steep at times, but we no longer followed a lot of zig-zags. We were definitely getting closer to the end of walk downwards.

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We eventually reached the Colorado River. Up close you could see how fast the water was moving through the canyon. This was not a lazy river winding through the canyon, but a powerful, gushing river that had carved tons and tons of rock to form the canyon over the last 17 million years.

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Crossing the river, we passed by the ruins of a village from the Indians that used to live in the canyon. You can see the square rooms lined up next to one another and the circular, sunken common space that was used for religious purposes.

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After walking one final, flat mile, we reached Phantom Ranch lodge. Phantom Ranch has a common space for serving meals and four separate bunks (2 for males, 2 for females) with 10 beds in each. I was surprised that the ranch actually had flushing toilets and running water for a fresh shower. Megan and I had passed on the meals and chose to hike our own food to the bottom of the canyon, $40 a piece was a little too pricey for the convenience of hot food.

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After a refreshing shower and a picnic dinner, we walked down to the banks of the Little Colorado. Phantom Ranch lies off the Little Colorado river, which runs into the Colorado river near where we crossed the steel bridge. The water was crystal clear, and some people were soaking their feet after the long hike. We walked further down stream towards the ranger house to catch the nightly presentation, which that night it was about the California Condors. It was surprisingly an excellent presentation, and really the only thing to do to pass the time since it was pitch black in the camp. Megan and I wandered back towards the bunk, pausing to lay down on the ground and stare at the stars. One of my life goals is to see the Milky Way (living in Raleigh doesn't provide clear enough nights), but it was the wrong time of year to see the it. However, there were more stars than I had ever seen (even in the middle of the Australian Outback).

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We decided to get to bed early (although we were the last ones each to make it to our bunks). I slept like a baby on the cheap mattress. At 5am the next morning, someone came by to bang on the door to wake up those who had paid for a hot breakfast. I got up, put on my boots, and waited for Megan outside. The sun still wasn't up, but I was eager to get on the trail. Megan came down to the picnic table and began to gingerly eat some crackers. I told her she needed to eat a heartier meal to have enough for the energy out, but she resisted defiantly saying she wasn't hungry. Realizing I was fighting a losing battle, we started off from the camp.

We made it back to the bridge, and the rushing water providing the only sound early in the morning. The sun just started coming up over the ridge of the canyon.

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We had picked to hike up the Bright Angel Trail because it was longer, and therefore theoretically less steep, but I realized that wasn't quite the case. The trail winded along the Colorado River and through a shallow canyon for several miles. Streams cut across the trail at several points, providing tricky maneuvering for Megan.

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A mule deer ran across the trail, directly in front of us, which startled me because I hadn't expected to see something so big on the canyon floor. The ranger had warned that mountain lions are in the area, but still I didn't seriously consider that a large animal could survive in the bottom of the canyon.

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After about an hour into our hike, a loud thumping sound could be heard coming up the trail behind us. A mule train was making its way up the trail at a vigorous pace. We scrambled off the trail just as the mules ran past. They had large bags on either side of them that could easily knock you off the trail. They were already soaked with sweat in the cool morning, obviously the driver was eager to get them out of the canyon before the trails got too busy.

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We took a break, and again I encouraged Megan to eat the rest of her breakfast. She was not happy at my nagging, and then glared at me like a little kid who has been told to eat her vegetables. She then got up, and started away at a pace matching the mule train.

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The gently sloping trail suddenly turned steep, and the real work began. We paused occasionally to take in the view, but we were both more eager to make it out of the canyon.

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The trail zig-zagged up the same cliff face, allowing us to measure how high were going since the view staying pretty much the same for the steepest part of the trail. Here is pretty much the last 3 hours of the trail.

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Once we got to the last mile, the trail got thicker with people doing a quick hike from rim. The air was much cooler, and the trail got muddy and icy. I was glad I had boots on, and felt sorry for those wearing nice tennis shoes through the slippery, goopy mud. At one point, I started to slide down the ice to the edge of a cliff, but thankfully I regained traction. After seeing that, Megan was a lot more cautious climbing up the icy path.

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We finally reached the top, gave each other a quick hug, and then found our way to the car. We had hiked 18 miles through the canyon, 1 mile vertically down, and 1 mile back up. It had taken 6 hours to hike out of the canyon, but we still had 5 hours of driving to do that afternoon. Our next stop is Colorado and the high desert!

Posted by Mike.Flynn 15:25 Archived in USA Tagged hiking national_park world_heritage_site Comments (0)

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