The Upside

The upside of having a stroke of bad luck is the elation you feel when things are back to normal again. It took a 2 day car rental so that we could go back and forth to Las Vegas twice from the smaller town of Pahrump before Jon got the power steering lines replaced and fitted properly on the truck. Being so used to riding high in the truck, driving the rental car felt a bit like riding in a bathtub. But we are happy to report that we’re up & running again. There’s always more to do but we decided that a break was in order. We were quite exhausted from the stress of it.

The backside of Hoover Dam. You can see how much lower the water is in Lake Mead compared to a few years ago.

So we returned the car, gave the truck a good wash, stocked up and then headed to Lake Mead Recreation Area & the Hoover Dam in time for New Years because it was close and on the way. There’s a 33 mile paved bike path there that we wanted to do that isn’t short on hills but has some good views of the lake from the top of them. We were anxious to try out Mark & Anne’s mountain bikes that they left with us too. It was great to get out and get some exericse and we enjoyed ourselves. We did agree that it wasn’t drop dead scenery; our favorite spot was the national park campground where we were camped because it was an oasis. We rang in the new year there with a nice homemade dinner and toured the Hoover Dam the next day.

I learned that the Hoover Dam was built during the Great Depression, a government funded stimulus project that served to help the west expand and put cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas on the map. This socialist project now provides power to 15 states, irrigation for something like 60% of the crops grown in these parts and now, it is self supporting in that everyone that consumes the power generated pays for it and no taxpayer dollars are used. The dam is an engineering feat, especially for the time. We walked the historic railroad trail that was built to haul all the supplies 24/7 during the construction.

The trickle of warm water down from the Arizona Hot Springs just before you get to the Colorado. We had to wade through the hot pools above it.

We also did a pretty cool loop hike to a few sites like Arizona Hot Springs where the trail goes right through the hot pools so you take your shoes off and wade from one very hot pool to the next cooler one and on down until you get to the Colorado with its emerald green water. The trail then goes up to an arch and an old mine site. That was a fun day. I love all the picnics we get to have in beautiful places.

Colorado River just down from where it has exited the Hoover Dam

We dropped down to Phoenix for a day to do some health maintenance (we always have to get this done on the fly since we don’t live anywhere) and then headed right back north again to the Grand Canyon making a brief stop at a national monument called Montezuma Castle. It’s a five story 20 room cliff dwelling built around 1100-1300 by the Southern Sinagua, a hunter gatherer people. Nearby is a small lake called Montezuma Well, a spring fed limestone sink full of ducks and birds in an otherwise very arid area. It maintains a year round temp of 74 and everything is lush around it but the water is full of arsenic and carbon dioxide so the apex predator is a leach! The weather has been so beautiful lately and we loved all the cottonwood trees and the general setting of these places.

Montezuma Castle National Monument

The Grand Canyon had gotten us reminiscing some and we’ve been so looking forward to getting here. Last Spring, we had to drive right by because with Covid brand new, all the parks were closed. The last time we came to the Grand Canyon was around 25 years ago, before we sailed any significant distances, before so many things, it was nearly half our lives ago! It’s such a jawdropping place and we’re so glad its open now so we can see it again. At the start of all the closures this Spring I couldn’t really appreciate what it was going to take for the CDC to figure out and disseminate the guidelines for how to handle it. And then for the parks and businesses in turn to figure out how they were going to implement it all especially in the case of handling crowds of people. But you can see it here, where there are all kinds of restrictions and spacing requirements but things are open and you can still have a lot of fun. Plus there are few people here, it being the quietest time of year for tourists. It’s cold but not as cold as it was at Bryce. And now that Jon has the engine preheat all set up, we run that for 20 minutes before leaving in the morning and the engine starts as if it was a summer day- amazing.

We got a campspot in the campground and spent the first day walking all around on the rim to several of the viewpoints. All the neatly stacked low stone walls that line the rim were built by the CCC during the Depression. We saw lots of elk, deer and of course mules, the workhorses for the Grand Canyon. On the last visit we were taking pictures on film and had even bought a panoramic disposable camera to really get some great photos of the view- I wonder where those pictures are now?! It was hard to be looking out over the rim and seeing the playground below wondering if we were going to be able to get down into it for anything significant. At one point, a car pulled up and someone leaned out of the window and asked “do you know where is the best view?” I don’t know…… here, there & everywhere? I mean, I read on the park pamphlet that even though there are deeper or wider canyons in the world, none is as deep and wide and long on earth as the Grand Canyon but the Valles Marineris on Mars is nine times longer, 7 times deeper and 37 times wider than the Grand Canyon! We were saying to each other how incredible it is that we have these places set aside for all to enjoy.

Then we started to get whiffs of the latest reality show drama that is the status quo these days. I never could figure out what the real issues were and still can’t now. Other than the fact that 4 years ago, we got an orange monster running the show who made the endorsement that treating your fellow humans like crap, being a bigot and disrespecting everything and everyone is the way to get ahead, traditional political differences aside. Spite for the sake of spite. Juvenile ridicule. Lies. Covid everywhere. Shattered respect as a world nation. So depressing.

Back to our reality…. We’ve found that with the parks, you are often rewarded for being there in person if you have a little bit of time and if you can figure out the system because each park is different. You can try via email to get a last minute backpacking permit but it isn’t guaranteed and we were anxious to hike to the bottom of the canyon. Meanwhile, there’s a number for the last minute reservation desk for Phantom Ranch which is the lodge at the bottom of the canyon and I called 3 minutes before closing time. I became the first person on the wait list for the next morning. So at 7am, we went over to the desk as instructed and got a cabin for Phantom Ranch for that night. Yippee! We were going to the bottom!

Everything in & out of Phantom Ranch is carried on the backs of mules.

We quick packed a bag, got the truck settled in a sunny parking space so that the batteries would charge nicely and started hiking down the S. Kaibab trail. This trail follows a ridgeline so lots of great views. And warmer with each step. Throughout the park, signs along the way say “Remember, down is optional, up is mandatory!” and others have a picture of someone puking in case a visual is more effective. It would be hard in summer I think with the heat but the weather is great now. We witnessed someone getting helicoptered out when we were about midway. We were pretty sure we’d passed him earlier. Hope it turned out OK. Because backpacking is our thing, these trails are easier than a lot we do because they’re so well groomed and we really have no problem with hills.

It felt like Fall at the bottom, the leaves still golden and the air smelled like old leaves. Standing on the bridge that spans the Colorado, it was hard to imagine all that water rushing under our feet would be used up before it reached the sea. I took my boots off and stood in it for a couple of minutes- freezing! Before all the dams, the river is brown and filled with sediment. But when it drains out of the bottom of the dam at Lake Powell above the Grand Canyon, it has turned green, clear and much colder. The fish that lived here in the Grand Canyon prior to the dams couldn’t take those changes so there aren’t many fish around here. The mules were in their corral among the old cottonwoods, their hair worn off from the pack straps but they seemed so peaceful drinking at the trough. The deer come in to the paddock and eat their droppings. Score!

Our little cabin at Phantom Ranch

So because of Covid, only the cute little cabins are being rented. No hiker group buildings. We had our own little 4 person cottage. But if I’d planned for a romantic room (which I know better with previous national park accommodations) I would have been disappointed when we opened the door to 4 bunk beds and a raw cement floor! Its all about location here. It reminded us of our lofts in the dorms at college. So we took that thought and ran with it, spending the evening reminiscing about all the crazy stuff that happened back in those days and of our beginning. And Jon even got us a couple of Grand Canyon beers for happy hour, the most expensive cans of beer we’ve ever had but we aren’t in college anymore so its OK! Rather than get into our sleeping bags shortly after it got dark if we’d been in the backpacker campground, we didn’t climb up into bed until we were tired.

We had a great day hiking back out and no sooner had we popped back up onto the rim, I ran into an old colleague from my research nursing days. It’s always fun to see someone you know totally out of context. Then we came back to the truck and some very kind souls had left 3 bottles of alcohol on our fender! We still don’t know who they were but what a wonderful thing to do! We are going to pay this forward. Pulling back into the campground, we found 75 cents on the ground so we actually made money that day.

Someone left us gifts on the fender of the truck
Horseshoe Mesa

Over the next few days, we did several more hikes halfway down to the bottom and back checking out different trails getting an idea of where we might want to backpack to at our next visit. One was Horseshoe mesa, which we loved.

Some of the trails in the Grand Canyon reminded us of the kaldemeri paths in Greece

We wanted a nicer phone camera and thought we could do better at getting internet service while moving around like we do by switching to Google Fi and getting a Pixel phone. It’s been nearly a month and we think Google Fi is a lie! We renamed it Google FU. The U is for Useless. The F is what you say when you are trying to use it! We seem to always be on a quest for phone & internet service and it was no different when we were sailing.

So that’s what’s going on with us. We sure appreciated all the comments on Facebook and on the blog from when we were in a bad patch and we’re glad to be back in motion again. We’ve made plans to meet up with Jan & Rich in Tucson so are headed down to warmer weather and hope to get back to a few projects in between visiting.

We hope that new leadership will help begin to restore what’s been lost for our country, some human decency. The upside is that there are more people who believe in kindness and the greater good, the majority. People who selflessly do things like work to set aside incredible places for everyone to enjoy or who anonymously put bottles of wine on the fender of an overland truck, just for the sake of it.

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