Vacation Map and plans

Vacation Map, Aug. 2013

Normally, I am not a procrastinator. However, for this vacation I seem to have waited until nearly the 11th hour to even start getting ready for this year's month long trip into California. But, I have now been diligently forging ahead getting myself and my gear organized and otherwise preparing for my departure on Thursday, August 1. 

Initially, the information about bears in Yosemite in the High Sierra Mountains (where I will be for the first half of my trip), gave me a moment or two (or three or more) of pause. And that concern sort of stifled my ambition about going exploring, but advice from Mark Howard who has hiked in Yellowstone, has helped set my mind at ease about any entanglements with those wild creatures. Each hiker on this venture is also given a can of bear spray and food is to be stored in bear proof lockers which is supposed to deter their curiosity. Last thing I want to find upon returning to my car is to find the doors ripped off and the interior shredded to smithereens (which bears have the innate ability to do).

In one spare bedroom, spread out on the bed are all the things I plan to pack in my backpack. The outfitter in Yosemite that manages the backpacking and horseback trips have sent me lists of things I should include in my pack, so that should, seemingly, make it easier for me. Though I have a lot of stuff, including clothes, hiking shoes, sandals, toiletries, medications, books, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, flashlight, cameras, binoculars, etc, etc waiting to find their place in the pack, I know I'll have to minimize so that I am not overloaded. A couple of experienced hikers have suggested that a couple pair of underwear is sufficient, as are shirts and pants. I'll just have to wash them out as needed in lake waters where we camp over the week. 

Getting to the backpack I have, it was purchased when I lived in Ann Arbor, MI. and I used it twice, sometime back then. When I got the pack off the shelf and opened it I found a camping permit from a overnight backpack trip to the Porcupine Mountains in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. I was very surprised to see the date on the permit - July 1, 1990, yeah, really! 1990, 23 years ago!  I have used a day pack/ruck sack for most of the hiking I have done since, which basically meets the needs of a day hike, but on this weeklong venture into the wilds of nature, the much larger backpack is a necessity. I'll just have to forego packing the cha cha shoes, disco duds and  boom box so that I take only the essentials for this trek, I guess. Can you picture it? Me dancing with the bears? Nah, me ether. 

Here is the Cliff's Notes version of my itinerary: 

Thursday, Aug. 1, I'll drive as far as Pahrump, NV and find a motel there. I'll pass through Las Vegas on the way but have no intention of stopping there. Second day will find me driving right up through Death Valley, CA. on Badwater Road. That sounds ominous, I guess, but not as foreboding as Furnace Creek or Funeral Mountains, also in Death Valley. Third day I arrive at Toulemme Meadows in Yosemite National Park. I'm renting a canvas tent for one night there. That one night should start to acclimate me to the higher elevation. Then Sunday, 8/4, the backpacking trip begins. Each night we will spend at established High Sierra Camps staying in canvas dormitory style tents. All food will be prepared for the hikers. Each night is spent at a lake at the camps. The trip ends on Saturday, 8/10 when we return to Toulemme Meadows. One overnight there, again in a rented tent, then Sunday, 8/11 the horseback trip begins. We spend 4 days on the trail, at three of the same lakes I visited the week before. But this portion of the trip will have a different vantage point from atop the horse (or mule), and without carrying a backpack. Returning to Yosemite camp I will stay two more nights in a rented tent cabin and explore around the most visited sights in the park. The following week will find me driving down through the forests to King's Canyon National Park, where I'll wing it, camping and exploring for several days. Then I'll keep going south to Sequoia National Forest to camp and walk amongst the tall Sequoia trees. I have no set schedule for King's Canyon or Sequoia, but that should take up most of the third week. Depending on how I feel and what other adventures lure me, I should probably be heading home to Phoenix the last week of August. 

Mark brought over a couple of his backpacks and it looks like I will use his internal frame pack with a 2 liter water bladder included in it. (It looks like his pack is larger and has more bells and whistles than the one I have). The water bladder, a collapsible plastic, refillable water container has a long attached tube which will allow me to sip water along the trail without having to take off my pack and dig out water bottles. I'll take along at least one of my water bottles just the same, in case I happen to drink more than 2 liters. Keeping hydrated is paramount in having a good experience hiking or being exposed and exerting oneself in the outdoors, just as it is living here in the desert. 

Monday morning my Hyundai Santa Fe will get serviced at the dealership which should assure everything is in tip top working order. One of the greatest hardships on the car will be the drive right up through Death Valley where the temperatures could reach above 120°. I'm not planning to speed in that heat and will be keeping a watchful eye on my car's gauges. I'm hopeful that both car and driver will survive unscathed and then enjoy the rest of the drive up into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. 

According to Google Maps, this trip, as is, will tally up to 1720+ miles. It is sure to be more as I'll certainly be taking side trips and go exploring in unplanned areas.


Refreshing Mountain Stream!

Oh boy, has it been HOT in Phoenix!


Needing a little get away, Mark Howard and I had been talking about driving up to Payson and the Mogollon Rim, him to do some metal detecting and I to hike. So, on Sunday, July 7, we did set out and drove up into the mountains northeast of Phoenix, about 90 miles away.

After having lunch at my favorite little restaurant in Payson, The Bee Line Cafe, we set out to explore north of town. We had a vague plan (very vague) about following back roads along and up the East Verde River. Once we had exited onto Houston Mesa Road, we drove along and crossed what we think was a branch of the East Verde River. After passing over it, and seeing that some people were down in the river, we abruptly stopped, parked my Santa Fe and took a path that led to an unexpected surprise. There before us rushing through and around large boulders was a pristine stream amid lush vegetation. It did not take us long to start boulder hopping further upstream as around each bend were pools and little waterfalls as the waters flowed and sang its soothing and inviting song. Who could resist the beckoning of the clear, cold waters? We couldn't! 


Stripping down to skivvies, we immersed ourselves into the nearly frigid water. Wow, what a shock - much colder than we might have expected! Yet, ohhhhh so refreshing as it washed away the thoughts of 110° days in Phoenix. We enjoyed the waters, explored a bit more, but then decided to drive further along Houston Mesa Road. 

Further up the road, after crossing THROUGH the stream (concrete roadbed allows safe passage - unless there is high water) and parked at the Park by the stream. Following a path we found ourselves high above the stream at this location, but could see others down below who were enjoying the cool waters in the heat of the day. Having no safe way to descend to the river, we then continued further along the road and then found another park area and went exploring once again. This was even better than before. A few other people were in this area, but being the tail end of the July 4th weekend, we think most of the holiday visitors were already on their ways home.   At this spot the stream had cut deeper into the rock, took a sharp 90°, cascading down 6 feet over huge boulders, then another drop of the same distance, and rushed around and under a house size square rock that had split off of the stream rock face may eons ago. Here we were deeper into a channel and found the pools irresistible. Yep, another strip down and a slow immersion into the chilling water. Slowing making our way over the rocky bottom to another falls, we allowed the rushing waters to flow over us as we gazed up the rock walls, through the tall pines and up into the clear blue sky. Who could NOT relax and let this idyllic spot refresh and restore your mind and body? WE certainly did and lingered afterwards as we draped ourselves on the boulders to soak up the sun and dry out. 

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Once again back on the road, we then found ourselves driving through some little communities and found some homes for sale. Mark and I were both intrigued and started to investigate one home in particular. If a person were looking for a nice, cabin style home, near a stream, in the tall pines, cooler than in Phoenix, and on a half acre (plus being hundreds of feet away from a fire station), then this place would be ideal. It really, really got Mark mesmerized. I, too, could see this as an excellent summer hideaway, but, for me, is not in the cards. 

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In the course of exploring low along or near the river, we ascended, descended and ascended in the pines looking at other homes for sale and just enjoying the scenery, the drive, our company and the adventurous outing. By then we had wandered off the paved Houston Mesa Road and found ourselves on a well packed dirt road, which we continued to follow until we came to Lookout Road and then detoured to an overlook beneath a fire lookout tower. Before us lay the pine cloaked mountainsides and distant, hazy blue mountains. Because the road to the lookout tower was barricaded, we could not go up there to see the view, but I would love to see about that possibility on another visit to the area. 

Eventually we did re-enter paved Hwy. 260, east of Star Valley and Payson. As the afternoon was waning, time had come to leave this adventure and day of exploring for the drive back to Phoenix. Neither Mark nor I fulfilled our first intentions for our day trip, but, in my opinion, the day evolved into one of those unexpected, unplanned, outstanding adventures that we truly savor.

My next adventure (planned) is the trip to Yosemite in August. Backpacking, saddle ride and camping in the High Sierras!

Stayed tuned for THAT chapter.

A Tribute

Saturday morning, July 13, 2013, was a picture perfect day and proved to be a glorious day for a day trip to higher elevations. My friend Kent and I drove up to Yarnell, Arizona on Saturday morning to see the fire damages that were wrought upon the town, where many, if not all, of you are aware of the Yarnell (hill) fire that claimed the lives of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters from Prescott, AZ. on Sunday, June 30, 2013. 

Yarnell is about 90 miles northwest of Phoenix, about 3000 feet in elevation above our 1500 feet here in The Valley of the Sun. It is a quaint, relatively quiet little town along US Rt. 89 which leads to Prescott, AZ. Lying in a lower, yet cooler mountain locale it is a pleasant village where, in addition to the permanent residents, some from the lower desert have second homes where they can find some respite from the summer heat in the Phoenix area.

With the sky clear, vibrant blue and accented with puffy white clouds, we ascended the mountain and then began to see the blackened areas where the fire had raged. Then upon reaching the top and coming around the bend into Yarnell, the damages became more apparent. Of first note, besides the visual devastation that beheld our sight, was the pervasive and lingering odor of burnt wood. That smell never left us during our visit and excursion in Yarnell.

Upon entering the town, next to the Ranch House Restaurant, an impromptu memorial has been erected to honor those 19 brave souls. This is not the spot where those men perished, as that is across the highway where they were caught in the thick of the raging inferno. Upon the memorial is etched "Esse Quam Videri", a Latin phrase translated as "To be, rather than to seem (to be)". Searches on the internet provided me with some clearer meaning for us in the 21st Century. The phrase can be interpreted as "sincerity of purpose", "to be authentic, genuine, not a fake" or, to me this is the best understanding "You can't just act like you are doing something, you have to actually to do it, and mean it." That sums up what we have since learned of this group of dedicated and authentic men who not only talked the talk, but walked the walk. This spot of remembrance was one of reverence, reflection and, yes, genuine emotion. 

As Kent and I managed to get back into some of the neighborhoods, we were struck by the damages, the hit and miss pattern of the fire, the line of delineation where fire retardant and vegetation cut back prevented some spread of the fire, the total destruction of some places, while next door homes still stood, unscathed by the flames. 

After having gotten off the side streets and up into the wilderness and boulders on foot, it struck me that 19 men gave their all to help protect residents from a fire that could easily have taken their lives and homes. Indeed, those brave young men gave the ultimate sacrifice.

Though the side streets were supposed to be closed to all but residents, we did manage to enter one street and then found some devastating sights as people were sifting through the ashes of their homes, were working to salvage what they could and were already cleaning up and clearing the debris fields. I chatted briefly with a couple of people who looked saddened, yet defiant and with a resolve in their eyes to pick up and carry on.

In our short drive, we did locate friend's Bill and Bob's second home, which luckily was intact. Yet, nearby, streets were marked with homes turned to charred remains. 

There is a Catholic shrine up in the boulders, nearest to the fire's edge, The Shrine to St. Joseph of the Mountains, which was not untouched by the blaze. Some of the 12 stations of the cross were extensively damaged, others lightly, some remained unscathed. The sight of the Christ on the Cross station was especially striking and, if one is religious, can have some poignant meaning or significance reflecting sacrifice for others. Specks of the red fire retardant were lightly sprinkled over the white marble statues, adding another dimension of poignancy to the charred hillside and shrine. It was obvious that the fire retardant had been sprayed at the upper edge of the shrine, most likely in attempts to protect it. Yet the shrine's gift shop at street level burned to the ground as did a few nearby homes.  

While on a back street, viewing and photographing, I recognized a friend, Bill who lives in Yarnell, as he drove by. Upon greeting him, I learned his home had escaped the fires, while his friends homes, before which we stood, were ashes and rubble. In our brief chat, Bill informed me that earlier on that fateful Sunday, the fire appeared to be of no alarming threat to the townspeople. At around 4 p.m. that guarded optimism spun on it's heals, just as did the fire when the winds abruptly did an about face and then, with a much higher velocity roared toward the town. There was little time to collect much more than what they wore and that which could hurriedly thrown into vehicles as they fled the spreading and searing hot flames.

Though we only saw a small portion of the damages from this fire, it was more than enough to etch not only visual images, but emotional ones in my brain as well. This was a very moving experience for both Kent and I. 

Despite the perils many have endured, the heartbreak of the loss and destruction, Bill assured me that the townspeople were resilient, were adamant in remaining and that they WOULD recover and rebuild. Though he was speaking individually, it was heartening to hear of their collective resolve. What a great honor to those who died and to ALL those who fought to protect the people who live on Yarnell Hill, Glen IIah and Peeple's Valley, than to now roll up THEIR sleeves, clear the debris and begin anew.

I have made a 8 ½ minute video slideshow of our visit to Yarnell. To access it click on this link: