Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Grand Canyon - South Kaibab Trail Hike

We got up at the crack of dawn to try to make it to Grand Canyon for the sunrise. It's about an hour drive from Flagstaff, where we stayed. I had no idea what time it was, but we maybe had 4 hours of sleep, and we both were tired, and not quite awake before we had to hit the road again. After throwing our belongings to the car, we realized, we took way too long to get ready, and there is no way to make for the sunrise unless the car grows helicopter blades...

                                          [morning light somewhere around mather point]

For those who know me, and that's nothing to be proud of, I was super determined to get us there on time, and got our little rental Versa to almost fly... literally, the wheels didn't touch the road, I drove so fast... No one else on the road. My eyes were peeled to the windshield, and Tim was checking out the sides of the road for deer. Do you know what happens when you hit a deer going 95 miles per hour???

And that was exactly the question police officer asked me, when he pulled me over for speeding, oh, roughly 3 miles away from the south rim of GC... at Grand Canyon Village.  As he was checking my paperwork, we sat on the side of the road, watching elk grazing in the morning rays of rising sun...

[someone camping in the background]

I got away with the warning, lucky me. He liked my polish last name, and kept talking about how great polish pistols are, and how he had a few in his collection. We might have talked about pierogi's, at some point also... I don't even remember... This was my second out of state speeding citation, and let's face it, there is nothing safe about speeding, so I am definitely more cautious about it. 

We made a quick stop at Mather Point, to compare the views from last night, and shortly after got on a shuttle to Yaki Point to hike part of the South Kaibab Trail. Since none of us ever hiked in Grad Canyon, we didn't know what to expect, we had about 5-6 hours for the hike, and after that long drive back to Phoenix.

[squirrels are always begging for food, not afraid of people. btw we did not feed the wild life]

I was surprised to see so many people at the trail head. And vast majority of them was completely not prepared for any sort of hike wearing flip flops, having no water, or children running around the trail, like it's a playground - one wrong move and you can fall down the canyon wall. I would never let my kids be so careless. Safety first. I don't know what was I expecting, but definitely not this. The first mile down to Ohh-Ahh Point was quite busy and almost annoying. It got better as we descended to the lower elevations. 

[after the initial switchbacks of the south kaibab trail, getting close to the ohh-ahh point]

The day was very windy. Very windy. I still have the dust in my Canon 24-105 L lens... I also wore scarf on my face, to avoid gusts of dust in my nose and mouth... The morning was cold. We came prepared, wearing layers. We both had over 3 liters of water with us and good amount of trail food. We were ready to explore below the rim...

Our hike down South Kaibab Trail lead us to the Skeleton Point, we thought of going further down, but it was getting late, and what goes down must come back up. Since hiking down seemed easier than going up - we didn't know how long it would take us to get back up to the rim. Skeleton Point is about 3 miles down from the rim and about 2,000 feet in elevation change. 

[few switchback right after ooh-ahh point]

We passed Ohh-Ahh point, filled with tons of people, scrambling to get pictures. Over a mile down the trail, we stopped and had lunch at Cedar Ridge. What a perfect spot, with beautiful vistas of green, red and yellow canyon walls. We spent good 45 minutes enjoying amazing views and warm sun. 

[cedar ridge viewed from the trail, hut with the restrooms]

[looking for a lunch spot at cedar ridge] 

[found it... not so bad, right.?  chipmunks and squirrels were keeping us company, not pictured]

After the lunch break we headed down by O'Neal Butte to the Skeleton Point. As we descended the canyon opened up with more breathtaking panoramas. Trail went through this flat patch, it reminded me of a forest meadow, filled with tons of dessert flowers. The end of the meadow marked the Skeleton point. From the west we could see the bed of Colorado River, wining its way through the canyon. That was our last stop before we headed back up.

[the meadow, it was so amazing to see all this vegetation growing in the dessert]

 [another view of the meadow]

One thing I have to say, that trail was packed with ignorant people who had no idea about hiking, safety or trail etiquette. I was stunned how many unattended children run up and down the narrow trail, all it takes is one misstep and you're done.

 [the view from skeleton point, colorado river and the green in the valley is the phantom ranch]

Once back on the rim, at Yaki Point, we waited for the shuttle bus to take us back to the parking lot. We got to our car, and immediately took the dusty clothes off. Changing into clean wardrobe made a big difference. We surely were sore. Picked up a coffee shop dinner before getting back in the car. Four hour drive ahead of all of the sudden sounded like an impossible chore. Phoenix seemed so far away. And it was getting dark. After a hike like this last thing we wanted is to drive.

We loved the experience in Grand Canyon. It was short, but sweet. We got the experience the rim, and the canyon. Not all the way at the river, but it was still great to see how different the Grand Canyon is from the inside. The colors, the rocks, vegetation, fauna and flora. The dusty wind blowing in our faces and the quick change of temperatures. The only thing I would change is to hike all the way to the river, stay down in the canyon for a day, and hike back up the other trail on day three. Maybe even do a rafting trip down Colorado River, but for that I would need to do some more research, as some of the rapids look little frightening.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Grand Canyon - Quick Southwest Vacation

Our extended weekend getaway to the beautiful Arizona, and one of the seven wonders of the world - the majestic Grand Canyon.

Without much thought I booked a quick weekend visit in Arizona. April was still pretty cold in Chicago, so getting away sounded really good. Saturday to Tuesday was just enough time to relax, chill by the pool, do some day hikes in Phoenix area. I research tons of nearby trails, and planned our days, but quickly realized Grand Canyon was not terribly far from Phoenix. Plugged in driving directions and, phew, 230 miles sounded like nothing, 3 hrs 30 min (per google directions) was a breeze, in compassing to what we drive sometimes. I got all excited about the possibility of tweaking our trip to see the Grand Canyon. And it didn't take much, once I have something on my mind, I will make sure it will happen. And so it did...

We arrived to Phoenix after 12 pm on a Saturday, after three hour delay. We should have been there at 9:30 in the morning, that was our day to relax by the pool, and get some sun before we headed to GC next morning. The delay messed up the plan a bit, we still got some sun time, and got out for a dinner and planned the next day...

Sunday morning, Easter Sunday, in fact, we packed our staff, for the next two days - since we wouldn't be coming back to the hotel until Monday night, went to an early breakfast, made a stop at Scottsdale Trader Joe's to pick up some camping/trail food and water, and got on the road.

The drive north was very interesting, as we left the city behind, we drove through dessert hills, covered with tall cactus plants, green dessert bushes and tons of rocks and sand. Typical southwestern landscape, as I thought.

As we got closer to Flagstaff, that begun to change. Old tall pine trees, and an alpine mountains appeared from time to time, peaking from behind the forests. I knew Flagstaff was a skiing destination, but I didn't realize it was a home to a 12,633 feet stratovolcanic peak - Humphrey Peek - part of San Francisco Peaks, volcanic mountain range, with the highest elevation in Arizona. It was pretty cool to drive through different terrains, withing 4 hours, we drove through the rocky desserts, some alpine mountains surrounded by old pine trees, and eventually we entered dessert flats, where you could see for miles, with the canyon on the end of the road...

South Rim of Grand Canyon reaches about 8,500 feet high, so naturally the temperatures will be lower than in Phoenix, or in fact, on the bottom of the canyon. Sometimes even 40 degrees difference can be recorded between the rim and the river.

Around 4 pm on Sunday, we finally made it to Grand Canyon. The plan was to spend the afternoon driving along the South Rim, stop at various overlooks, see the greatness and beauty of GC and catch the sunset.

[My first ever look at the Grand Canyon in hazy afternoon sun]

As we pulled in to the first overlook, I literally jumped out of the car, run to the rim, and for the first time in my life, I laid my eyes on this nature phenomena. There it was - So Still. Colorful. Majestic. Grand... The one and only Grand Canyon in it's glory. I am not sure what I felt, what was going through my mind. It was just so beautiful, and different, and unbelievable... uhm....how is it possible that the Colorado River crated this???

The afternoon was cold and very windy, we quickly changed into warmer clothes, and bounced from one overlook to the next one along the South Rim, to see as much as we could squeeze in. We made it to Lipan Point for the sunset, and it did not disappoint. I've never seen anything like that before - the fiery sky reflecting the colors deep into the Colorado river and the canyon walls, it was just breathtaking. As we jumped from rock to rock, to capture the moment, the sun was slowly falling behind the rim, painting the sky with amazing colors. We stayed until we couldn't see anything. Finally the wind picked up even more and we run back to the car... We sat in the car in complete quiet, trying to comprehend the last few hours spent at GC, and the amazing greatness and beauty of it.

The next day - trekking South Kaibab Trail.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Visiting Arizona & Oregon

2014 was quite boring, we didn't really travel much, so I decided to change that a bit in 2015, and booked two wonderful vacation in the first half of the year: Arizona & Grand Canyon in April, and finally (I have been daydreaming about it for a while now), the Pacific Northwest - Portland/Oregon in May.

[Hiking South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ]

[Trillium Lake, Mt. Hood Wilderness, OR]

I love both destinations for a different reasons. Arizona was sunny, warm, dry dessert, sand, palm trees, quite different landscape I am used to here, in the Midwest. And Oregon, oh my... I do love Oregon for the amazing diversity it offers, from the majestic pacific coast, to beautiful rivers, mountains, volcanoes, hills, gorges and waterfalls. Even the rain forest. I fell in love with Pacific Northwest, just as I expected and it's being considered as one of the places to live in, maybe not so distant future...

Monday, March 23, 2015

Lake Shelbyville 2014 - Blurb Photo Book

Yet another successful family camping trip, to our beloved Lake Shelbyville over July 4th week in 2014. The same campsite, the same boat, much less rain than in 2013. More sunshine, more beer, more fun! This Blub Photo Book shows it all :)

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In Search of Adventure...

Last October we visited Michigan’s Upper Peninsula again, this time in the fall. Pictured Rock National Lakeshore was the main destination, and with the autumn color change, I was very excited for the long weekend away.

We missed the color change for the most part, trees were wearing gold and brown leaves, still pretty magical, but not exactly what I wanted for my photography purposes. Weather was cold, gloomy and rainy. A lot colder than anticipated. With the right amount of clothes we made it through those few wonderful days of nature bliss in UP. 

We stayed in Munising, MI. Little town on the southern shores of Lake Superior, home to the Pictured Rock National Lakeshore. As we walked the beaches and follow the trails, I realized how much I miss the outdoors. How happy it makes me to sit on the wet sand, listen to the waves crashing and just enjoy the stillness. Walk through the leaves and smell the fall air. Enjoy being in that moment. Watching my dog having time of his life, running through the leaves, sniffing the sand, and dipping his little toes in the Lake Superior. I don't get too many moments like this in the city. Pure, magical, still moments where you can stop and just "be".

Back in Poland, I used to spend a lot of my summers biking, hiking and being outside. Since I moved here, my life became polluted with so many other things. It just now, took me 20 years to realize that, I need more to be happy and have more fulfilled life. I don't want just a boring, pre-programmed "work-home cycle" days. Life should more special. We need to make it more special. Why not try to live your dream? What's there to loose?

From now on I would like to experience the nature as close as I possibly can. I want to walk the mountains, sleep under the stars, drink from the streams (ok, with filters, and water purifiers), see all the beauty our good, old Earth has to offer. And start hiking again.

The best part about all this is, that I came to this realization in Upper Peninsula, Michigan. This unassuming, yet amazing part of Midwest, that has so much power to change you forever. 

As we explored the Pictured Rocks, I found myself walking by wooden sign telling me that I was trekking the North Country Trail. I didn't think much of it, until I came back home, and started researching the trails. NCT (North Country Trail) is one of the longest out of all 8 national scenic trails in US, with 4,600 miles, it starts upstate New York, and end in North Dakota. How amazing! My research led me to this NY Times article.

NY Times NCT Article

While ago I used to work with a guy that was preparing for a through hike on Appalachian Trail, and I did read "Wild", which opened my eyes to another great trail, Pacific Crest Trail. But after going to UP last fall, and reading about the parts of North Country Trail that winds along the shores of Lake Superior and the Pictured Rocks, I realized that I could do it, I want to get lost in the woods for few days. Wake up to the chirping birds, go to sleep after watching the sunset. Simplify. Take a break from everyday life. Just be.

Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore is definitely one of the most beautiful places in the Midwest. Hidden gem of the Upper Peninsula. So hopefully, in late summer/early fall of 2015 this might be the first backpacking overnight trail for me. 40 miles in 4-5 days, not too much elevation change. Should be a breeze. Perfect time to start the new adventure of my lifetime. Long distance hiking someday? Absolutely. Start small, dream big!

In April 2015 we are going to Arizona, planning to do some hiking in Grand Canyon. And week in Oregon on the end of May. Pacific Northwest was on my radar for a good few years, and finally I am getting a chance to get out there and explore. Couldn't be more happy with my travel plans so far! The only sad part is, that we have to leave Kodie behind, with his grandma, since it would be too difficult to travel with a Yorkie. 

Photography from Miner's Castle Area, October 2014. UP Collection. 
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