Wednesday, July 18 — Grand Canyon

 

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(This was also the day we first heard from Judith about Hermann being in ICU)

We woke up super early, and so decided to go watch the sunrise at 5:30 am. It took us a while to find a good spot, but we did finally settle on a spot at the top of the Bright Angel Trail. It was beautiful to see the canyon slowly light up as the sun rose higher, with the bottom still in dusky gray and the red and sandy cliffs illuminated in layers by the warm light under a clear blue sky.

Then we took the bus along the rim trail out to Monument Creek Vista, and then walked back along the trail to the other points–the Abyss, Mojave Point, Hopi Point, Powell Point with the Orphan mine, a cleaned-up uranium mine and then past Maricopi point back to the Grand Canyon village. We then had lunch at the food court and rested up for a little before we headed out again, and hiked in the other direction along the rim until we came to the geology “museum” stop. We’d already seen that, but we caught the bus there to go out to the Eastern end of the rim trail, to the South Kaybab trailhead. We went down to a spot about 1.5 miles down to the so-called “Ooh-Aah Point” and back up, and that was truly a fantastic hike. I’m very proud of our hiking today; it probably added up to about 10 miles total, and we saw some amazing sights; I also coped with my fears of being right on the edge pretty well. The rim trail sometimes goes very close to sheer drop-offs, as did the South Kaybab trail, and although I had to slow down sometime or take a deep breath, I made it work. Mark took some beautiful photos all along, and we really had a great hiking day. We wrapped it up with a light dinner at the Arizona Room, which is part of our hotel, and actually pretty nice and not as overpriced as some places (given that it has the view of the Canyon to boast of), and went to bed rather early.

Thursday, July 19–Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon, Utah

 

 

This was our day to say good bye to the Grand Canyon and our lovely cabin 40 feet from the rim–but we extended our time in the park a little by leaving via the Desert View Road that leads eastwards out of the Canyon, and stopped multiple times along the way, including a stop at an excavation site of an Indian village from ca. 1200 A.D., and at the Desert View Visitor Center and the watchtower that was built there in the 1930s. That was a lot of fun, although rather crowded. We stopped a few more times on our way east and then north to take in more views, especially of the Little Colorado River and then also when we crossed the Colorado. We had bought some picnic lunches to take along and had lunch at one of those stops.

By about mid-afternoon, we got to Bryce Canyon. We checked into our hotel right outside the National Park area, and had a pizza for dinner after settling in. But since it was only about 7:30 pm, and we had been driving all day, we did venture into the park, which was not at all crowded, and took the shortest trail down from Sunset Point, the Navajo trail, which only took about an hour and was really beautiful. I loved the formations and the colors, and the walk itself was just really comfortable and not at all scary–but the fact remains that after the Grand Canyon, Bryce just seems like a miniature national park, and absolutely nothing about the trails, even the steep ones, scared me or felt truly way down or high up. We walked to Sunrise Point, the next point over, in the dusk, and then left to go back to our hotel and get a good night’s rest.

 

Friday, July 20–Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park

 

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We got up pretty early and both super motivated for our Bryce Canyon hike. We drove into the park, again to Sunrise Point, and walked down a recommended combination of trails that led us, in about 4.7 miles, up and down the canyons until we got to Bryce Point. We then took the bus back from Bryce to Inspiration Point, and walked back to Sunset and to our car. Then, we drove out to the end of the road through the national park (to Rainbow Point) and looked at various stops on the way back, including one with a huge and fragile-looking arch. The geology of this park and the crazy “hoodoo” formations due to the very soft sandstone that is constantly eroding throughout Bryce is really interesting, and I loved the “amphitheater” formations and the fact that we could actually be on the bottom of some of the canyons, and that we could see the erosion in action. And the temperature was about perfect for hiking, even with a little bit of rain at the beginning of the day. But again, the scale is just rather small after the Grand Canyon, and I think Mark was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t bigger (“I like to drive small cars and look at big stuff!” was how he summed it up). So it was very nice that Zion, which we also didn’t know much about, turned out to be much, much bigger in scale than Bryce.

We left Bryce around noon, and had lunch at a Subway’s (after a great surprise: my phone showed up in the car after three days of looking all over for it!), and then headed toward Zion, which is only about 80 miles from Bryce. We entered on the Eastern side, via Road 9, and that was really impressive. We stopped several times, including at Checkerboard Mesa and at a turnout where we could take a short hike to an Overland View Point that showed us a huge part of the park below. The trail was really cool and again, I wasn’t scared, although Zion has really massive dimensions and was very impressive that way. We drove through a long tunnel, and on the other side, we could see the point above that we had hiked to–above this enormous half-arch in a huge sandstone cliff. Very cool!

By now, it was after 4 pm and hot (about 85, but it felt like the 90s) and we decided to drive on through the park to Springdale, the very touristy village outside Zion where our hotel, a very new Best Western, was located. We checked in, and took the shuttle to a very nice Thai restaurant where we had something other than a sandwich or pizza for the first time in a long time. The food was lovely, we took the shuttle back and had some ice cream before we walked the rest of the way back to the hotel. We spent about 20 minutes in the hotel pool, again alongside many, many French and German travelers, who seem to be the biggest group of tourists, and many of whom travel in rental RVs that we’ve been seeing all over. Then we went to take our evening shower and deal with photos and journaling for the evening.

Saturday, July 21 — Zion National Park

 

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This was a very busy day! We got up a little before 7 and had a lovely restaurant breakfast that the Best Western Zion Park Inn included in the overnight hotel cost. Then we parked right outside the entrance to Zion and walked across to the shuttle buses, which run all day long through the park, because it is now partly closed to cars, and therefore not nearly as overrun with cars as it is with people. The ride had a taped guided tour with it, which was fun to listen to as we rode up to our first stop, the Grotto. We had picked this one because we decided to go partway up a very scary trail which starts with just steep switchbacks and fabulous views up to Scout’s Lookout, but then continues as the “Angels Landing Trail” along a very steep ridge with drop-off cliffs on both sides and CHAINS to hold on to. I had initially said I didn’t want to go up any of it, but we did go up that trail for about 50 feet. Then I decided I needed to go back–not because I couldn’t have gone further forward, but because I knew I would get very scared on the way back DOWN the cliffs along the chains. I did have a moment where I didn’t know how to get further down, and almost panicked, but Mark below me and the person above me guided me a little and I was okay. But going the other way, across from Angels Landing on a broad trail up the next peak was a much better idea.

The hike back down was very pleasant, and neither of us was really tired after 2.5 hours, which shows in what great shape we are now! We went the mile-long walk from Grotto to Zion Lodge and had an early lunch there; then we hiked up to the Lower Emerald Pool, a very cool little pond that is fed from a small waterfall above. Unfortunately, we couldn’t see the Upper Emerald Pool because the trail link was closed and we would have had to hike another way in, but it was beautiful, anyway.

We then took the bus to the very end of the driveable road, called the Temple of Sinawava, and hiked along the Virgin River toward the Narrows, where the trail crosses the river and where only those (many, many) hikers prepared with waterproof shoes etc could keep going . But the hike to that spot was a very nice trail, and it had multiple access points to the river, with kids and grownups splashing around. Earlier in the day it had been pleasantly cool and overcast, but by this time, about 1 pm, it had gotten pretty hot, so I did decide to test the water and go swim in shorts and tank top, which was wonderful. Mark was a total sweetheart and sacrificed himself, staying dry and keeping our various electronic equipment, specifically the cameras, safe, while I went in. But swimming (the water wasn’t even particularly cold) was one of the highlights of the day! Once I had dried out a little bit, we took the bus to the Weeping Rock stop / trail, which was another really short trail to another site where the water running down steep cliffs creates these great hanging gardens with lots of fabulous vegetation. That was our last stop (again, just a little half-hour hike), and then we took the bus back out of the park, got back to the car, and then drove out of the park — only to drive back IN to it about 30 miles down the road, where a 5-mile road into the Kolob Canyons area leads back into the park for a little bit. We drove the 5 miles along more stunning cliffs, took another little 1-mile roundtrip hike to an overlook, and then made our way out of the park after watching some pretty impressive thunderstorms close in on the mountains in the park. We drove the remaining 20 or so miles to Cedar City, found a perfectly fine Motel 6 with Wi-Fi and breakfast, had a lovely dinner in the more expensive motel next door, in a restaurant called “The Bard” (I couldn’t figure out why at first, until the many brochures flying around made me realize that Cedar City features Utah’s Shakespeare festival. But that night’s shows were not that interesting, and we were too tired anyway–but at least we ate in a place with pseudo-Renaissance ambiance before we called it a night.

Sunday, July 22 From Cedar City to Mono Lake / Lee Vening, CA

 

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(NB – This is the anniversary of our very first date, last year in Hastings! On Friday, July 22, 2011, Mark drove from Lincoln to Hastings in 95 degree weather to go for a very warm walk and a (much cooler!) visit to the Hastings Museum with me, although he only knew me from a brief e-mail exchange and one phone call. 🙂 ) Hard to fathom that it’s already been a year–or, maybe, hard to fathom that we haven’t known each other for decades already!

We left early this morning after a brief hotel breakfast to drive the long stretch across the Nevada desert (starting with a little bit of Utah) and into California, stopping just before getting into Yosemite. The drive was mostly rather boring–straight roads for the most part, with very little traffic, and a lot of sage-brush-covered desert. We drove along a highway that crosses through the famed “Area 51” where people claim to see UFOs and been abducted by aliens, so much so that Nevada thought it could make it a tourist attraction by calling it “Extraterrestrial highway.” But only about 200 vehicles a day use it to get to Highway 6, which leads into California, and I am not sure we encountered more than 5 of those. It took forever to get from Cedar City too the next gas station and fast-food stop, but we finally found one a little after noon, and took our one and only break then. We continued to California via Benton Springs (a completely dead town by the looks of it) and found a very nice hotel in Lee Vening, 12 miles outside the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite. It was only 3 pm when we arrived, so we walked around a little bit, rested up and had a very pleasant BBQ dinner early in the evening, so we could still go down to Mono Lake, this town’s only attraction apart from its vicinity to Yosemite. The lake is a terminal lake (a new term for me: it does not have any outlets, so the only way it loses water is through evaporation, and like many such lakes, it has a very high salt content). Because of the mineral content combined with the geology of the area, and the fact that the lake receded to half its size from the 1950s to the 1980s, when Los Angeles siphoned off much of the streams that ran into the lake, Lake Mono has these cool-looking formations called Tufa that look a little bit like a mix between coral and stalagmites. They pile up in odd castle-like structures all along the banks of the lake. There were also a lot of birds, especially really small waterfowl that flew in huge groups over the water, so the flocks looked like enormous flying carpets. The lake is surrounded by different types of mountains, from almost white-looking sandstone piles to volcanic rock and the snow-dotted mountains in the Park, and the scenery was really dramatic when we took our walk–between the different types of rocks, dramatic cloud pile-ups, the occasional lightning bolt, smoke from a small lightning-caused fire in the mountains, AND a rainbow, we couldn’t have looked for better photo ops! We stayed for about an hour, and then went back to our hotel room to rest up for what we hope will be a wonderful driving + hiking day in Yosemite.

Monday, July 23. Yosemite National Park

 

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This was a very long day of exploring, with lots of driving. We took off early–before 8 am–from Lee Vining and entered Yosemite from the East, through Tioga Pass and the 40 miles of east-west road that cuts through some of the park; we only stopped a couple of times to look and take pictures–at the Olmsted overlook, from where one can see the Northern side of the Half Dome, with the tiny, tiny line of hikers that go up there every day, and at the one of the smaller Giant Sequoia groves toward the end, where we took a little 1-mile loop hike. Then we turned toward Yosemite Valley village, and actually found a parking spot in the big visitor parking lot–a feat that took a little patience and made us appreciate the ease with which we were able to maneuver the other, less overrun parks (even Grand Canyon with its 4.5 million visitors each year). We found ourselves some sandwiches in the Valley Village, which were only somewhat overpriced, and then walked to the lower Yosemite Fall and climbed over the huge granite boulders as close as we could to the Fall and the lake beneath it. Obviously, people know that in the summer, with little water coming down the Fall, you can swim up there, and there were dozens of people in and around the water. I just stuck my feet in, resisting the temptation to get all the way wet again. After we’d looped back to the parking lot, we decided to drive out of the village loop and to Glacier Point; we stopped multiple times along the way as well, and got some great photos of the village and the mountains above it, looking down from the higher road. A lot of places looked fun to hike to, especially Nevada and Vernal Falls, but I have to say others looked just plain crazy–especially the Half Dome as seen from the south, where you can’t fathom how people get up and down the structure. Mark used his tele to take some pictures of the people walking all the way on top and out to the edge at the end of their hike. He also shot some photos of the two mountain climbers that we watched on the cliff face of El Capitan, trying to pull their gear up on this huge ledge half-way up the mountain. It was fascinating, but completely bizarre as well. We drove the 20 or so miles back after having spent a little time at Glacier Point, and then decided to head out of the park, taking the South exit out of the park (stopping a very few more times on the way, including a ten-minute stop at the bigger Sequoia grove, Mariposa Grove). All in all, Yosemite, for all its beauty, was simply too crowded virtually everywhere we went, so we decided to head just past Fresno and then find our way to King’s Canyon / Sequoia National Park the next day. But that was quite a long drive, and we didn’t have a room and Chinese take-out to eat in it until about 9 pm, so we were very tired by the end of the day and fell asleep pretty quickly.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012 — King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks

 

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We got up pretty early, actually had breakfast with real coffee at a Starbucks, and left town about 8:30. It took about 1 1/2 hours to get to the entrance to the King’s Canyon and Sequoia National Parks, which are partly connected and partly “glued” together by strips of National Park. We decided to head directly South into Sequoia National Park on what’s known as the Generals Highway, since it connects two gigantic Sequoia trees, General Grant (which we didn’t see) and General Sherman (which we did see). We stopped many times on the way through the park and had a really good time, partly because although busy, the park wasn’t crazy-busy. Our first stop (by now it was after 11) was the Lodgepole visitor center, where we had to get tickets for our later cave tour (see below) and also picked up some sandwiches/wraps for lunch. We took those to the picnic area by the big sequoia grove of which “General Sherman” is a part, and had an early lunch before we went on a short 3-mile hike through the grove. “General Sherman” is pretty impressive, at + 100 feet circumference (the largest tree in the world by that measure, although others are taller, older, etc.), but it was the sheer number of trees in the grove that was really mindboggling. Many have huge burn scars, which they can survive, but others were black stumps of enormous height, and some had come crashing down, too. There were two spots on the trail where the park people had cut “tunnels” in fallen trees for the trail to go through; at others, you could just see the trees close by or at a distance and marvel at how enormous they were. Especially in groups, they were very impressive (although it was rather silly that one was called Senate and another House, and the whole thing was the “Congress Trail”).

After this hike, we went on to check out Moro Rock, a small version of the many granite domes we’d seen in Yosemite–but one with steps carved in it and either a rock “wall” or a railing on both sides of the entire trail. So I had no trouble getting up to the very top and looking down, and I was very grateful to the National Park Service for building a safe trail like that, even as it messes with the natural environment. Because I could never gone up Half Dome with those cables, but this was fabulous.

After this stop, we went on to the Crystal Cave–the only visitable one of the 300 caves in this park, in which the mountains and hills mostly granite / marble, and therefore lends themselves to cave creation, I guess. We hiked down a beautiful trail along a cascading creek to the cave, and had a fascinating tour through it. Mark was skeptical that any of his photos would turn out, but the marvels of stalagmites, stalagtites, fascinating calcite formations, and the very sensibly named curtains and draperies, came out pretty well in some of the photos he took. I especially liked a set of stalagtites that looked like huge organ pipes, and a spot where the calcite had formed a sort of rock waterfall. It was a fascinating environment, and the guide even turned the lights off on us at one point, to give us that incredible sensation of total darkness. We hiked back up and made our way out of the park, through some pretty hefty construction projects that were supposed to delay us by 20 minutes, but didn’t even cost us 10. We did look at a lovely mountain river swimming spot, but it was getting late, so we headed out of the Southern entrance of the park instead and went wet for about an hour, to find a hotel and some Mexican food for dinner in the somewhat dead town of Hanford.

It was another long day, but a very nice park, and seeing the cave and the massive trees in the Grove were both really special.

 

Wednesday, July 25 — Hanford, CA to Santa Cruz

 

I woke up very early but let Mark sleep until 7. We left pretty quickly after that, had breakfast at a McDonald’s in Hanford, and drove the 200 miles to Santa Cruz pretty much in one big chunk, except to get gas and a restroom stop. Most of the drive wasn’t very scenic, but we marveled at the endless fields of strawberries, fruit trees, and other produce, including the many enormous dump trucks full of Roma tomatoes that we had a to pass on the interstate. The massive and water-expensive agriculture seemed all the more stunning once we figured out from Wikipedia that despite its ubiquitous presence in the Central Valley (and elsewhere), agriculture makes up less than 2 % of California’s vast economy. The prettiest part of the drive came before Watsonville, when we were going by the San Luis reservoir, but all in all, no spectacular sights today until we got to Santa Cruz. Then we got to see the ocean, after 3,000 miles of driving around in landlocked areas!

First, we had lunch, though (at O’Mei’s, a Chinese restaurant I already knew). Then, we headed to Natural Bridges State Beach at the end of Santa Cruz’ West Cliff drive, and watched the tide come in and kids playing in huge crashing waves. We stayed for over an hour, just watching the wave action, and then took off along West Cliff until we got to the turn for Alta Ave.

We said hi to Rick and then went for a little stroll along the coastline. We watched the surfers at Lighthouse / Maverick Point, and also saw a couple of playful otters in the kelp, as well as the brown pelicans and the cormorans. Just seeing and hearing the waves crashing into the rocks along the coastline was so much fun. It’s nice to be on the seaside! We stayed out for a couple more hours and went back to Rick and Carolyn’s at about 5 pm. We hung out and talked for a bit with Rick and Carolyn, and had a lovely makeshift dinner of omelette and bacon around 7:30, then talked some more until I decided around 10 pm that it was time for me to go to bed!

 

Thursday, July 26 — Santa Cruz

 

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We got up early and went up to the UCSC campus to help JoAnna and Marissa get ready for the beginning of the Dickens Universe on Friday. We were pretty busy in the morning, then had lunch at the new cafeteria in the university library with JoAnna, and then didn’t really have that much to do in the afternoon. We went back to Rick and Carolyn’s around 5:30, and then went back to Lighthouse Beach to watch the surfers and the otters (this time, Mark caught them on camera with his tele a couple of times–really cool). Then we headed back and had a lovely dinner with Rick and Carolyn — Rick made his fabulous BBQ chicken — and went to bed around 10 pm to be ready for an early morning.

 

Friday, July 27: Antje — Santa Cruz/Dickens Universe; Mark: Palm Desert

 

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We got up shortly before 7, had breakfast with Carolyn, and got our things packed, so that Mark could take off to see his son, Josh, in Palm Desert, about 8 driving hours from Santa Cruz. He left about 7:30 and got to Palm Desert about 4:15. He got to meet Josh’s new cat (which he owns alongside Yeti) and got to see the house that Josh is in the process of buying–up in the mountains near Palm Desert, with temps in the 80s rather than the 108 degrees that welcomed Mark in Palm Desert. They went out to dinner in Idyllwilde, where the new house is, and had an early night.

Meanwhile, I worked pretty much all day on various logistics and prep work, except when I had lunch (I made a salad for all and had it with a sandwich thin with chicken and pepper jack) & dinner (nice, catered Mediterranean food) and when I attended a panel and then later the first keynote lecture of the pre-conference that goes with the Dickens Universe. That way, apart from setting up chairs and tables for 200 people in a lecture hall and handing out folders to participants, I heard a couple of interesting papers, and the keynote was also quite good. I saw a lot of people I knew, but have not made any plans to have lunches or dinners with any of my old friends from Rice or from previous Universes. We were done for the day about 10 pm, and then drove to JoAnna’s house in Watsonville–thankfully without any delays despite the construction that is happening on that stretch of road. I was in bed before 11 and really ready for it.