I think i've drank more in the last two ...

Trip Start Jul 23, 2002
Trip End Jul 23, 2003

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Flag of United States  , Utah
Friday, August 16, 2002

I think I've drank more in the last two weeks than I've drank in any other two week period of my life. I'm sick of food and just want to drink. Some days I'll have drank 5 litres of glorious liquid only to arrive at a fresh supply and promptly scull another half a litre. Just can't get enough of that water at the moment. Think it might have something to do with it being hot over here. Mental note to self - summer in the desert is very hot - need to remember that one next time I'm planning travels. There have been several days that have been around the 113F mark - or 45C - and that's in the shade which makes it damn hot walking etc in the sun. It's so dry over here as well which means you don't realise how much you are sweating as you never get wet as the water is just sucked straight off of you. I saw a cloud disappear before my eyes with no rain making it to the ground. The moisture was just sucked out of it - now that's hot. So it's a little different over here than the winter that I left in Australia.

Yosemite would have been the last place where it was coolish - we wound the windows up on the car as we were driving out of the park through the high pass, but the windows were soon down again as we got back into the desert. Yosemite is a beautiful valley, but it was a lot more commercialised and crowded than I was expecting. We checked out some of the falls and Mirror Lake, but being in the middle of summer there wasn't a great amount of water flowing but you can imagine the difference you'd see in spring with large volumes of water moving. Driving through the road in the back country region was a very different experience and made me want to just go hiking in the back country for several days - very few people, no trails and just the park itself to explore. There's a lot of area in Yosemite, Kings canyon and Sequioa that can only be reached on foot, and I'd love to be able to have a look at some of it - but that will have to wait for another trip.

Death Valley gave me my first real taste of the desert heat. We arrived there sometime after 10 at night and did not require sleeping bags that night - and we were camped at one of the cooler camp sites! The next day it was hot early, and it didn't get cool that day or night - the low at Furnace Creek (very appropriate name) was 29C so naturally the sleeping bags made good mattresses again that night (after a high of 45C in the shade). We drove around the park for the day and had our eyes opened by all the sights there. It's certainly not a dead valley, but life is very very harsh there.

The things to see were very widely varied from sand dunes, to canyons with solid marble on one wall and a mosaic of other stones in the other, to canyon walls that have a huge variety of colours in them (blacks, whites, pinks, purples, reds, browns and many shades in between), to a volcanic crater that had winds so strong blowing across the top of it that they would push you backwards if you didn't have your feet firmly planted on the ground. Then there's a castle built in the middle of the desert so suddenly you just come across this oasis of green and life in the middle of the nowhere, plus ghost towns from days when the mines were prosperous. Down in the valley itself there's the salt plains with the Devils Golf Course where these intricate (and very sharp) salt formations form as the little water that does come to the area evaporates, and in that area is also Badwater the lowest point in the US at -232 feet below sea level. Death Valley has probably been the most interesting place so far in that you never knew what to expect around the next corner as the scenery was continually changing.

After Death Valley we headed towards Lake Mead for the night (where it was slightly cooler) with some time spent in Las Vegas along the way. Las Vegas is definitely not my favourite place, but it was worth a look to see just how extravagent the place is. I was glad to get out of there though and to head onto the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest via Hoover Dam. At the Painted Desert we got a backcountry permit and after having a bit of a look at a few of the first view points and chasing up some things outside the park we headed down into the desert to camp for the night. Thought we'd be the only people for miles, but after setting up camp for the night we heard a hello from the ridge up above and found that there was someone else camping out there for the night and we just happened be in similar areas. Getting to where we set up tent for the night we walked though something very unexpected for being in the desert - mud. Our shoes had his added weight of a thick layer of mud on them (we found out there had been a brief rain a few hours earlier - not that you could tell from the sky).

The next day we drove around the rest of the park and admired the crystals that had taken over the trees. Some of them looked exactly like trees with all the fibres perfectly preserved while others maintained the overall tree shape but the internal detail had been lost into larger crystals. The colours of both the desert and the trees was impressive and continually changed both as you moved though the park and as the sun moved and clouds shaded areas. We went in search of a onyx bridge in the area around our camp just before nightfall and found it aswell as a dry waterfall. Paddles was not very impressed to come to a waterfall only to find that it was dry - a duck is not at home in the desert he's decided. After another night camping out in the desert (this time we didn't see any evidence of people for many miles) we headed out of the forest and towards Meteor Crater. It actually has a good information and display area which is good for both adults and kids.

Saturday saw us head to the Grand Canyon where we had several days actually down in the canyon itself. We'd been lucky enough to be able to book two nights camping down at the bottom of the canyon only four days earlier (after having to drive to the office because we couldn't reach an actual person on the phone - all automated which is not very helpful!). Quite often the number of available permits are all allocated well in advance, but I think the heat might be making a few less people want to be there just at the moment, especially when you consider the fact that it can be 10-20F hotter at the bottom of the canyon than on the rim. We had a late start heading down on the South Kaibab trail and so a lot of the walking was done in the heat of the day. Not the most difficult path to walk, but it was certainly one of the walks I've done that's taken the longest time. It was a bit slower going as I was being a little more cautious with my ankle and also the heat was taking its toll. The trail itself is 10.3km long with a vertical drop of 1433m from the rim to the Colorado River. After reaching the bottom of the canyon and Bright Angel campground it was time to scull another half a litre of cool water then get wet in the creek that was running through the middle of the camp site - that was certainly a very nice thing to find.

The next day was an extremely tough one. We remained at the campsite and spent most of the day in the creek where it was cool. There are areas where the water in nice and gentle and you can just enjoy the cool (and having your feet nibbled at by the little fish in the creek) or other areas where the water is moving much more rapidly and will push you downstream if you aren't holding onto something - better than a spa. It didn't seem so hot when you were sitting in the water but as soon as you got out, you discovered that, yes it was 45C+ in the shade and even hotter in the sun, so your wet clothes were soon dry. Dinner was had at the Phantom Ranch that night with all the stew, salad and corn bread you could eat which makes a very nice change from the normal camping food. Later that night the dining room turned into the best bar at the bottom of the canyon (nothing to do with it being the only one at the bottom of the canyon!)

The next morning we were packed and on the Bright Angel trail well before 6am, but the sad thing about that is that we were one of the last groups to leave the camp that morning - mainly because we were only heading halfway up the canyon that day. By 8:30am we'd arrived at our new camp at Indian Garden, set up and then tried to stay cool. I spent a lot of that day laying on the table in the shade after getting completely wet from the tap (and was dry again within an hour). We headed to Plateau Point and watched the sunset before heading back to camp for some sleep. After waking up at 4:30am we were on the trail by 5am (it was just light enough to see where you were walking without torches by that time). We walked 7.6km that morning gaining close to a kilometre in elevation and were quite happy when the top was finally in sight. Along the way we saw lots of people just going down a little way for a look (some wearing thongs, carrying no water, etc - not quite prepared for walking in the canyon), and then there was an Englishman who ran about 2 miles down the canyon and then back up - bit more energetic than I was when I saw him. Hiking up the canyon is like hiking up a mountain in that when you reach what you think is the top, you find out that there is another top that you actually have to reach!

When we did reach the top it felt like 2 or 3 in the afternoon but it wasn't even 9am yet. So after getting some food we wandered around the rim a little and found some green grass (yes truly green like lawn) and laid down for a while - well at least until the sprinklers came on and made us move! We checked out some of the viewpoints further along the edge of the canyon and some of those from which we could see the paths we'd taken and just how far we'd travelled - Phantom Ranch looks so small from the rim (showed Paddles where we'd been for the last couple of days - he didn't get to come as he just isn't pulling his own weight when it comes to hiking!). It's hard to really understand the size of the area until you actually see it yourself and it helps to walk some of the region to really understand how sheer those walls are (and it helps not to be scared of heights as there are some good drop offs from the edge of the trail).

Next stop was the Navajo nation where we drove through the Hopi reservation before ending up camping at Canyon de Chelley. This canyon is a little different to the Grand Canyon and an important place to the Navajo Indians. There are a lot of ruins to see and travelling around the area gives you some information about the lifestyle of the Navajo Indians and you can understand why the Canyon is special when you compare the richness of the environment at the bottom, with the desert surrounding it.

Next stop was the Navajo National Monument for another night in the tent (after finding ourselves in a duststorm that night which made seeing very far in front of you very difficult so driving was very slow for a while). The last place we've been to today has been Monument Valley having a look at the rock formations. Some of them just seem to appear out of nothing and you wonder how on earth some of the rocks haven't fallen from their precarious perches up high.

Right now we're at a campsite with showers, a pool and luxuries like that (especially when you consider it's still desert - which is all I seem to have come across in the states so far). Time to refresh, actually find somewhere where we can access the internet (which is proving to be a bit of a headache when you are out of the cities) and figure out the plans for the next couple of weeks.

(and Paddles and Nomed too)
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