Before we update you on our latest misadventures, we must do a little housecleaning. We forgot to mention in our last blog that in between Carlsbad Caverns and Van Horn, Texas we stopped at White Sands National Monument (see photos). It is where the first atomic bomb was tested and as a result some of the white sand (ground gypsum) was melted into a green glassy material and became known as Trinitite. Most of it was carted away by the government. We would have liked to have camped and seen the sunrise over the dunes, but we pressed on to Tucson instead. I have also included a photo we took on the way to Tucson that I know my dad will like, the Union Pacific crossing Arizona with mountains in the background.
Before leaving Tucson for Phoenix, we visited Saguaro National Park (see dorky photo). I think we have finally had our fill of cacti and have concluded we prefer conifers
. I couldn't help but think of Spike, Snoopy's desert dwelling cousin as we drove through the cacti forest. In the photo, the cactus I am standing in front of is probably close to 100 years old. They don't start to grow their first "arms" until they are at least 50 years old. We also saw some pronghorn antelope.
We love Flagstaff! After spending a lackluster evening in a hotel in downtown Phoenix which much to our dismay was the nexus for the nocturnal construction crew working from 11pm-5am, we pressed on to Flagstaff before heading to the Grand Canyon. We decided to go up to Flagstaff in order to visit our favorite coffee shop (Macy's), find a place to do some laundry and find me some hiking boots. Not only were the coffee and pastries as tasty as we remembered but luckily there was a laundromat next door and an outdoor outfitter around the corner! Like I said, we love Flagstaff. I had been monitoring the weather all day as the Today show called for four feet of snow in the area. The forecast remained gloomy and the road from Flagstaff to the South Rim of the Canyon is extremely mountainous with elevations of over 9000 feet. I, of course, did what I had to do. I asked Zoe to drive. As soon as we left Flagstaff the snow started to fall, but Zoe handled the pressure extraordinarily well (see photo of Route 180)
. It was a spectacular drive, and one we will never forget. We arrived at the Grand Canyon as the last of the snow was falling. It was surprisingly the first snowfall of the season, and the locals were thrilled. Unfortunately, the Canyon was completely fogged in. We checked in to the Kachina Lodge which we were delighted to find was a newly renovated cozy room with a view of the canyon and cable tv! We were going to be able to watch the sun set and not miss a new episode of Lost! I have also discovered on this trip that Zoe is part squirrel. As soon as we enter any new hotel accommodation, she immediately snatches all the new toiletries and stashes them in our luggage. It is quite a fun game to play I assure you. But I digress. Just in time for the sun to set the fog lifted, and the Canyon in all its majesty made itself available to us for the first time (see photos). It was spectacular. Afterwards, we opened a bottle of wine, had a nice dinner in the historic El Tovar Lodge (built in 1905 after the Santa Fe Railroad completed tracks to the South Rim) and planned our hiking route to the Colorado River and Phantom Ranch. The Ranch is the only lodging available in the base of the Canyon and is usually sold out a year to two years in advance. Providence has been with us this trip as we somehow fanagled a reservation in one of their cottages.
We awoke early and packed up for our hike down into the canyon
. The fog and clouds from the previous day had disappeared, and we were going to have a beautiful hiking day. We were packed and ready for the shuttle bus to take us to trailhead for the Kaibab Trail at 8:30am. We rode to the trailhead with a group of 30 hikers from Colorado. They were all 50+ and planned hiking trips together all around the country. The Kaibab Trail is one of two popular routes down to the base of the Canyon and is about 8 miles, almost all downhill (see photos). The trail was quite steep and not very knee friendly. Three and ¾ hours later we reached Phantom Ranch which is an old campsite that the Park Service now runs. There are a handful of stone cottages, and a main house where communal meals are served. Bright Angel Creek runs alongside the complex and the green Colorado River is only a few steps away. We spent a leisurely afternoon playing scrabble and walking the grounds where we saw some wild turkeys (see photo). Strangely, our hikes were largely devoid of wildlife so we were happy to see some animals. We did however have two ravens join us for part of the hike (see photo). If anyone knows what they might symbolize, please let us know. Since our next stop is Vegas I'm thinking we should let it all ride on black number two at the roulette table! At 5pm we joined half the camp for dinner and received lots of tips for our future park stops. The lentil loaf was surprisingly delicious! After dinner as we passed time in our cottage, Zoe came to realize that we were not alone. In fact, we were sharing our cottage with a country mouse!
! We retired to our cottage at 9pm after a rousing game of dominos and two hot cocoas and per the instructions of the Ranch staff set a trap for the cute country mouse. We were reluctant to set the trap but were told they carried viruses and because of the so far mild winter, there were many more than usual. After very carefully placing two raisins on the trap, we placed it in a white paper bag and put it on our table below the fireplace. Fingers were nearly lost in figuring out how to set the trap. When people say it's self-explanatory, it's hard to go back and ask them how it works. At 4:20am we were awoken by the trap being sprung....RIP Stuart Little. We barely knew you.
At 5:30am, we saw mouse number two!
At 7:30am, after a hearty breakfast of scrambled eggs and flapjacks, we departed on the Bright Angel trail for the South Rim. It is a ten mile trail that follows the Colorado River and then ascends via the Devil's Corkscrew which was as fiendish as the name implies. As you can see in the photo of Zoe, we were both ready to be at the top. It was a wonderful trail, but the last three miles almost killed us. We knew we were close to the top when we began hearing Japanese tourists, and we were happy to make it up in under five hours as we had a long drive to Zion National Park ahead of us
. We celebrated (dried out) in front of the fire in the Lodge with two more hot cocoas. All in all, it was a beautiful but exhausting experience. One interesting note was that the temperatures at the summit were as low as the teens and highs at Phantom Ranch were in the 50's. The 5 hour drive to Zion through Page traverses some of the most scenic areas of Arizona and made the drive as pleasurable as we could have hoped. Upon entering Zion Park, Zoe started gesticulating wildly and I soon saw why. Four bald eagles were just off the road surrounded by beautiful red rocks. It was an all American moment, and I half expected the Star Spangled Banner to begin playing on the radio. We checked in to the Desert Pearl Inn (which we highly suggest...thanks Tim and Jen!), and our room overlooks a pretty creek at the base of the Park. God willing, we will be able to move our legs tomorrow and hike parts of Zion. Please keep the tips coming as they have all been very much appreciated and used!
Upcoming stops: Las Vegas, Death Valley, San Diego