GCA 2016 5/29 to 6/4

GCA is Grand Canyon Association and it is the reason I traveled to the GCNP North Rim this year.  Just as one might support the High museum or Atlanta Symphony, I was a supporter of the Grand Canyon National Park.  I was so impressed with my visit in 2015 to the south rim, that as I purchased a souvenir,  I joined the GCA (after quality conversation with a retired nurse behind the counter).  I received a quarterly newsletter and then about a month ago, I received this email from the GCA volunteer coordinator that GCA was putting together a team of volunteers to work with the NPS on the north rim.   I jumped at the chance to see the north rim.  So for a small fee, I signed up and then wondered for weeks how I would get there.  From Sunday, May 29 at 4 pm to Saturday June 4 10am, I would be a volunteer again supporting a cause I believed in.  I was worried about my age at first, but was encouraged to check out the videos on line from previous groups. (Ok, I might fit in).  I wondered if I would fit into the group (another fear of mine) but knew that based on the Global X trip, God would be with me.  I wondered if I should drive or fly and did not decide until the last minute, having checked flights to Las Vegas, LAX, Phoenix and Flagstaff, even Amarillo,  then car rental.  It was going to be logistical nightmare.   I realized that I needed a lot of clothes and gear that I don’t think I could have done with out.  I packed the SUV with some food, gorp, refillable water bottles (no cases of disposable, would need too much) and clothes, tent, sleeping bag, pillow, CDs, maps, books.  As it turned out I forgot to bring a lawn chair, should have brought an air mattress and more jeans/work clothes.  I was never able to do laundry, (thank goodness I brought enough underwear).  I should have brought Trek and actually went through separation anxiety (next time, he goes with me).

I met the group and staff/leaders on Sunday at 4pm, where we were provided our instructions and agenda for the week.  Also learned about the history of the park, and volunteering for the NPS.   I had received an agenda via email also before I left, so had some idea for the week.  There were free showers for park staff near the admin building or $1.50 / 3 minutes at the campground; free laundry (it’s a hassle doing laundry, too much to see and do).  We were shown where to park and then it was time to put up our individual tents.  Thank goodness, Sarah, my daughter in law had shown me how to put up my tent.  The others were professional campers!  Really!  4 man tents, organized containers of stuff, coolers, lawn chairs, lanterns, head lamps, etc.  I felt like such a novice.  It took me about 15 minutes to set up and organize my stuff.  It took the others about 30 minutes cause they had lots of stuff (including the air pump that is electric to pump up the air mattress, some 3/4 size (not a twin)!  I learned a lot about camping out of my truck!    Too bad the showers and laundry were not in our area; plus we needed to use port-a-potties.

Supper was at 6pm each evening, it was nice to sit down to a hot meal.  Every thing was cooked outside out of a trailer by 2 other volunteers for the week, Debbie and Leanne.  Thanks, ladies, it was so good!  We just walked about a hundred feet to the dinner table, eating under the stars/ or sun.  Plenty to eat!

Sunday May 29, 2016

I left my friend’s house at 0600, having awakened at 0500 with the sunrise (no daylight savings time here) ready to drive to the north Rim of Grand Canyon national Park (GCNP).  I was unfamiliar with the route, plus it was Memorial Day weekend so I was anxious to get started.  Traffic had been congested all day Saturday through the small town/narrow streets of Sedona. (Saturday we spent hiking into the local spots to see old Indian caves, swimming in a deep rocky pool of the local creek, and enjoying scenic overlooks.  Sedona is all about the red rocks, hundreds of hiking trails, lots of scenic points.   We avoided the crowds for the most part. Sue made a great supper when we got back, enjoying it on the back patio with her friend in the mild weather as the sun set. We checked out a few stores but neither one of us was interested in purchases. I slept in a nice comfortable bed.)  So taking Hwy 179 north, through several round-a-bouts, I got on 89A to Flagstaff.  It felt good to be on my own again.  I have grown accustomed to my independence and have learned to rely on myself.  The hwy from Sedona to Flagstaff is curvy and hilly, all the trees and bushes are filled out with leaves and/or flowers.  It is a beautiful drive, with little traffic this early.  I stop at a trailhead to rest and change into shorts and a t-shirt.  It is sunny, blue sky, a slight breeze and about 76 degrees.  The route per Google was 240 miles and 4 1/2 hours but I wanted to leave plenty of time for problems.   Note: I followed the signs for GCNP, getting onto hwy 180 westbound in Flagstaff but became concerned that this route was heading to the south rim.  Just out of town, I found a coffee shop, “Late for the Train”, asked directions (got coffee) and backtracked only a few miles.  (Driving to the south rim would have been a 200 mile error).  I found a Safeway on the east side of Flagstaff, picked up some fruit, a gallon of drinking water (that would come in handy) and a yogurt for breakfast.  I continued onto 89 north, following the signs and reading the map for GCNP, north rim.  It is hard to describe the drive and the landscape, barren, expansive, scrub brush.  The roads were 2 lane but well maintained, traffic was light going north.  As I neared the park, there were more and more cliffs and red rock.  At one point the road crossed the Colorado River via the historic Navajo Bridge between Bitter Springs and Jacob Lake, AZ.  I stopped for a bathroom break and for the scenic view.  It was hot now, 86+ degrees and the gallon of water was coming in handy.  I filled containers that I could carry with me in my backpack.  I had topped off the gas tank in Flagstaff, wondering if there would be a problem with getting gas.  I stopped again for another break at Jacob Lake (plenty of places to get gas) and the junction of route 67, known as the Gateway to the North Rim.  Elevation 7900+.    This place even had lodging and a store and I later learned that it is known for its cookies. (I could have told you that after I bought a ginger snap cookie.)  I can imagine this would be a challenging drive in the winter but now it was just scenic.  Some of the area looked like it had been clear cut, leaving scrappy trees and poor underbrush.  Plenty of scenic views, although I didn’t stop at some.  I waited in a line of cars on the highway for 45 minutes just to get to the front gate.  The $30 entrance fee was waived since I was a volunteer.  I arrived by 2pm but was totally confused about the time.  My watch said 2pm, but my phone said 3pm.  My group meeting was at 4pm.  So I took a cat nap and waited to see if anyone showed up based on my I-phone.  Since no one did, I knew I had another hour, so I drove around.  Plenty of conifers and aspen, beautiful forests, plenty of shade.  I felt anxious to start but tired from the long day.

From Sedona to GCNP, north rim: Route 89A through Flagstaff to 89 north to 89A to Jacob Lake and AZ-67 to the administration building for the NPS of the Grand Canyon National Park.

Friday, May 27 cont

I posted a blog on Friday while I was sitting at the coffee shop in Sedona, waiting to arrive at my friend’s house.  Some people are not awake early!  I found Sue’s place by 11:30 am with no problem, following my GPS.  I am experiencing Sedona in a  real neighborhood!   People are friendly, lots of walkers.  The homes are Adobe style, no grass to mow, looks like brown rocks in the front yard with manicured trees & bushes and flowers and cactus.  Many of the cactus are blooming so the flowers are beautiful!  Sue fixed lunch; fried tofu with fresh tumerick root, rice and black beans.  Very good; we filled up our water bottles and set off for a hike (from her house) to the chapel of the holy cross.  Walking at 1pm was a little unsettling for me; I try to avoid the direct sun/heat in midday.  But it wasn’t too far; unfortunately the chapel was closing due to construction so unable to spend time sitting in the chapel.  Even though it is Memorial weekend, Sedona is not that crowded.  AFter about an hour, we walked back to the house and set out by car to sightsee around Sedona.  The city is surrounded by hiking trails to numerous mountains with names like cathedral rock, rabbit ears, courthouse, etc.  Of course, I always ask if we can hike to the top; what good is it to hike around the mountain?  How frustrating is that?!  But it would take hours one way, I was told, so we just hiked a short distance near courthouse rock.  It was nice to sit on a red rock overlooking where we had hike from.  The whole ecosystem in the canyons is amazing, green and vibrant.   The weather was partly cloudy, 80 degrees, no rain although sometimes the sky was quite threatening.  We saw few people, but heard and could see from a distance plenty of traffic.  By 5pm we headed to  Tlaquepaque, originally built as an artist’s residence and market but now just a high end Adobe style market place.  At around 6:30pm, we sat down outside to eat at Rincon Del Tlaquepaque.  I tell you the name because it was worth the trip.  The guacamole was fresh and very good!  We split a combo plate which was plenty of food!  We headed back to Sue’s Place by 7:45pm and spent the evening talking.  I slept on a day bed in the living room, comfortable, clean, fairly quiet.  I miss everyone!  Stay safe and be happy!

Friday May 27, 2016

I made it to Sedona AZ and I would tell you what time it is, but I am confused.  My I-pad says 1:58 pm and my phone says 10: 58am.  My watch says whatever I change it to.  I was in Flagstafff when I thought it was 9am, when it was really 8am.  I left Starbucks walked down the street and I swear there was a time change.

The drive from Flagstaff to Sedona was uneventful and, of course beautiful!  I traveled 89A through the canyon, many switchbacks, trail hiking available.  Now I’m sitting in a coffee shop on a back street near the main highway of Sedona.  Had some reading to catch up on, so the view out the door and Windows is the canyon / mountains and the red rock, the weather is sunny and 70, blue sky!  Beautiful!  (Why does the word Windows captilize? What’s up with that?)  So I had a egg, cheese sandwich with coffee at Starbucks this morning.  For lunch I ate some of my gorp which is often my lunch!   I made it myself before leaving home, because when I read some of the notes for the Grand Canyon work, it said bring snacks, bars, and salty products.  So not wanting to eat potato chips, my mix is sunflower seeds, cashews, walnuts, dried fruit and peanut M&Ms.  I can’t help it if I eat the M&Ms first after the nuts.  It is in individual snack bags so I could ration it (one a day).  Worked well for awhile.   All for now, love you all!

Thursday May 26, 2016

Note: Before I forget, while I was staying at the beautiful park, expansive lake/river system near Russellville AR, I looked across the lake / boat wharf and saw…Is that a …nuclear power plant?  Well it was unmistakable, yes. So I’m not sure if I would stay longer than a day or eat the fish!  And as I was leaving in the morning, I started to see some signs that looked like evacuation route signs that one would see in Florida.  What?  There are no hurricanes here…as I drove closer, I could read the sign “nuclear one evacuation route”.  And that is how I got back on the freeway so fast!  I followed the signs!

Another note:    I am writing from Flagstaff AZ, having arrived at 0700.  Read more about it below.

Ok, so yesterday, another day of driving.  Speed limit continues to be 75 mph, so I set my cruise control for 69mph.   It is a vast area of grazing cattle to bluffs and no sign of life.   From the McDonald’s in Tucumcari, NM.  That was the city that I couldn’t spell…and I stopped there only because there are not a lot of cities in NM until you get to Albuquerque (A).  This is a really big city and I didn’t want to stop here.  Last year I stayed with a friend of a friend here, which was nice.  And I purchased a sleeping bag at the Target but it is busy and feels like Atlanta energy (you know, frenetic) so just drove right through.  I stopped for gas / bathroom breaks only before I got to any big city.  And there are a lot of bugs on the windshield so I needed to clean the windows at every stop.  I did not have a place to stay and did not think I could make it to Sedona where I do have a place to stay.  So west of A, I started looking for a place to camp.  I saw a visitor information sign for the BLM and NPS so I stopped at beautiful visitor center for the El Malpais National Monument (our tax dollars at work).  I inquired about camping, it was about 3:30pm, not too early to find a camping spot on a holiday weekend.  There were 2 choices,  both free and primitive and you needed to bring your own water. (I had filled up all my containers in TX.)  I chose the closest, which I needed to drive I-40 east for 4 miles then south for 10 miles.  I found it easily, beautiful sandstone bluffs, scrub trees, gravel road, isolated.  There were probably 20 campsites, all came with a picnic table with overhead cover and a fire pit; plenty of room between sites.  Maybe 1 site was occupied (that should have been a clue for me) so I chose a site.  Backed the SUV in, looked around, felt the energy, seems safe.  It was very hilly, with bluffs and scenic vistas in the distance.  It is really windy too, and of course they can close I-40 due to wind, so I just persevered.  It was partly cloudy, blue sky.  I did some reading, organized the SUV, made my supper (oatmeal with raisins, br sugar and sunflower seeds; and hot chocolate). The wind was chilly but the sun when not under the clouds was hot.  A Minnesota summer day!  It was about 6:30pm and I rested /napped in the truck with all my work done.  With the back of the SUV open, it was really a pleasant evening.  A few campers were coming in, not many though, and it was a holiday weekend!  I had seen one “local” (I assume) come through fast, noisy and leave.  And then about 7:00-7:15pm, this wave of unease swept over me; like an instinct (Megan knows what I mean).  It was still very light, sunset wouldn’t happen for 1+ hours.  I was kind of aware that there were so few campers.  (In the Palo Duro SP, every campground had people and I felt impatient at times but not concerned about safety).  I wrestled with my faith vs fear. But God, why do bad things happen to good people?

And so I picked up my trash and within 5 minutes, had left the area.  I was back on the 2 lane highway (65mph) and on I-40 west within 30 minutes.  I really don’t like driving at night, but as soon as I was driving I felt safe. I had a full tank of gas, set the cruise control for 69mph, turned the radio on and thanked God for all that he has provided.  I latched onto a semi doing the same speed and drove until I needed to rest. I got gas in Holbrook AZ and wanted to sleep here but the area didn’t feel right.  So I drove a short distance to ?IDK and pulled into a Flying J / Denny’s 24 hour restaurant, parked next to some other car sleepers, took my contacts out, crawled in the back and went to sleep around midnight.  I woke up, surrounded by even more car sleepers, I assume; my watch says 6:15am (o’dark:30) but when I looked at my phone it was 5:15 am.  I slept well and it was really cold!!  On the road again quickly,  wearing my glasses, so I pull into a rest stop, thinking I will wash up here and change.  I misread the directional sign for car parking and end up in the truck area.  Can’t walk in from here it is too far in the dark (another God-save), so I put in my contacts, brush my teeth in the SUV and move on.  So here I am in Flagstaff, found a Starbucks on old Route 66 (Hey, Nancye!), washed up and changed in their clean bathroom.  I’m surrounded by people and feel safe.  My receipt for coffee states 7:07am so writing now and going to drive on to Sedona.  I will stay with a friend until Sunday morning, then off to the Grand Canyon.  Love to you all, stay safe and be happy!  I am!

Day 2, Wednesday may 25, 2016

Day 2 started out driving and ended driving, the goal for the day was distance.  I was near I-40 west and other than some personal calls; spent the day, listening to music either through the radio, Christian Rock or my tapes.  I often found public radio and would listen to commentary and stories.  I can’t even remember when I crossed into OK from AR.  I  sent the first day blog in Sallisaw OK, so it must have been early morning, then drove until OKC.  I had been on the road for several hours, so thought I would return to the same LA Fitness I visited last year, around April 2015.  I took the bypass 430 west to 35 south, then checked the address for the correct exit.  I found it with no problem, except it was no longer LA Fitness, now the sign read 24-hour Fitness. I found out from management that all the centers in OK had been purchased (I knew of another one north of the city).  And for a $20 guest fee, I could use the facility.  “No thank you!”  So I just kept driving west, stopping for gas / bathroom only.  Western OK has the wind mills, rows and rows of those huge white, 3-wing birds; lots of grazing cattle on the open prairie.  Now that is grass fed beef!  Note:  yesterday as I was leaving the park area in AR, I saw 2 semi trucks with cage after cage of chickens, packed like sardines; going to slaughter, I expect.  One of the reasons I don’t buy chicken and eat it rarely!

I crossed into Texas in the afternoon, the drive uneventful.  I had a reservation to camp at Palo Dura Canyon State Park.  I had reserved the site about a week ago when I realized it was getting close to Memorial weekend and I was worried that there would be no places to stay.  (Last year,  I stayed in Amarillo at a motel trip. )  In Amarillo, I stopped to top off the gas tank, then took I-27 south to TX hwy 217.  Oh did I tell you that as soon as you hit the TX border, the speed limit increases to 75 mph?  Even on secondary 2-lane highways?   I set the cruise at 69mph, so I am alone on the highway.   I arrived at Palo Dura Canyon State Park around 5pm, check in at the gate, pay $5.00 (per person), get directions for my camping site and head into the park.  This is a canyon similar to the Grand Canyon, well worth the one hour detour off the interstate.  The road leading into the canyon puts you, eventually , on the canyon floor; and if you have never imagined an ecosystem in the desert, this is an example!!  What a wonderful place, of course, it was summer, so everything was green and vibrant!  It was primitive camping so I backed into the spot, the site provided a picnic table/cover; and a fire pit and a place to put up your tent.  About 50 yards was the port a potties and another short distance was the water spigot.  By the time I was settled in, it was around 6:30pm.  I had stopped at the bird viewing area.  Park staff at set up bird feeding containers, so you had a chance to view some of the native wildlife.  I saw plenty of rodents picking up the extra bird food; in Atlanta, we would have called them rats (really, I saw no other distinguished features that would have indicated they were moles, etc).

The weather in the morning had been cloudy, raining at times so hard I could not see but a short distance in front of me, speed decreased to 60 mph.  So for several hours, it was miserable driving.  Then I drove out of it and the weather for the remaining day was sunny and 80, very windy on the plains.  So when I arrived on the canyon floor it was hot, windy, a little dusty, but sunny, blue sky.  Plenty of small trees, to offer shade and privacy and food for wildlife. Very peaceful and beautiful canyon walls!  I read some in my books, used my mini stove (thanks Sarah & Adam!) made oatmeal and hot chocolate (just stop the hunger) and waited for the sun to set.  Oh, did I say the bugs were bad?  Deer flys, gnats, mosquitos and other buzzing flying things I was unfamiliar with.  I prayed that God would protect me from the bug world while I slept and he did!!  I didn’t pray to protect me from critters (God has such a sense of humor!). As I was resting in my truck (no tent tonight), reading, I thought of all those bugs and my small cooler with fermenting cheese in it right next to my head.  So I opened the back drivers side door and lazily dropped the small plastic, zip cooler on the ground.  (I thought I would get it before I fell asleep but no, I got lazy and forgot it!)  In the morning around 0600 (daylight), I awakened to the birds chirping and singing, it was beautiful and peaceful.  People were quiet!  I never felt unsafe or alone.  I stepped out of the truck and no cooler!  About 6 feet away, I started to see wrappers (from the cheese) and then the cooler, I found it under a tree, opened (the zipper) with quite a few teeth marks and scratches.  I didn’t hear a thing in the night!!  I still haven’t found the cream cheese container, I guess the critter took it home.  Actually I slept well, it had gotten cold during the night and had to zip into the sleeping bag to stay warm.  I even had all four windows cracked an inch for ventilation.  I sheepishly picked up all the remnants (novice camper!!) and threw the wrappers and cooler away.  I think that cooler was 20 years old and I was just using it ’cause I’m too cheap to buy a new one.

Note:  This morning (May 26) I decided in the morning that I would just continue to drive, so the drive out of the park / canyon was just as amazing as the drive in.  I definitely would come back!  Oh I forgot that it is easy to get ready in the morning when you sleep in your clothes, just brush your teeth (spit on the ground), and make coffee.  I boiled the water and made my instant coffee (ready, set , go)!  Washed up with the prepackaged wipes (good idea Adam!).  I crossed into NM at 915 am, stopped at the visitor center and now another McDonalds (coffee and WiFi) in Tecumara (sp) city, east of Albuquerque NM.  More later.  I will have to eat my bagels w/o cream cheese.  Be happy and safe!  I am!

2016 May Trip to AZ

The night before day 1, Monday night preparing to leave in the morning.  I feel that the trip will be as therapeutic as last year but I will miss my time with Saige (granddaughter).   What a blessing she is and beautiful too!  My kids are settled and have a partner to take care of and care for them.  I think they are happy which allows me to think and pray about other matters.

I had been packing, sorting and organizing for weeks, so the night before was spent relaxing with a friend who was going to stay at my place.   I have 2 cats who are needy and many plants that are water dependent.  The SUV was packed with only the required gear.  I needed room to sleep.  My plan for the first day is to leave early, beat the traffic and arrive near Hot Springs Arkansas early afternoon.  This trip is different in that I won’t be as leisure as last year.  I expect to take I-285 west to I-20 west to Birmingham.  There I will decide if I should go northwest to Memphis and pick up I-40 west.  It seems to be the fastest route but I won’t be able to see much.  The campground that I am interested in staying at does not take reservations.  I don’t have a plan B.

Like studying for a test until you finally can’t study anymore and want to know what you can do, I want to get on the road.  I expect my planning will be thorough.  I need to sleep now.

Maureen