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Grand Canyon; Pies for Dinner? Kaibab National Forest; A Minor Misadventure; Needles; Pricey Gas; An Empty Hotel; Thanks to Readers; Leapin’ Lizards!

Grand Canyon is an incredible place. Here is Suzanne pointing down at the trail we had hiked years before, wherein lies a tale… I recall fondly the first time we visited here together, 16 years ago. My Lovely Bride (then a newlywed; we had only been married a couple of years) suggested we hike down into the canyon. My recollection (not necessarily shared with You Know Who) is that she also suggested I load up my pack with rocks so that it would be realistic training for when I went hiking in the desert or the mountains. (She suggests an alternative explanation for such foolishness, but as I tell her regularly, “It’s my blog.”) In any case, we had hiked down the iconic Bright Angel Trail from the South Rim to Indian Garden, a steep 5 miles with a 3,000 ft elevation loss. Then we turned around and hiked back up to the South Rim… when we finished, we were both totally exhausted, more so than after any of my 26.2 mile long marathon races, and I questioned the necessity (and sanity) of carrying a pack weighing 35 lbs, filled with rocks. Suzanne merely laughs when I bring up this topic over wine…

It was Bob and Jan’s first visit to the Canyon, and they were visibly impressed. While MLB and I rode our mountain bikes along the Hermit Road multi-use path, they took the shuttle bus in order to maximize their time and take in the best views. It was funny, though, in that we saw them in five different places along the trail, since there are only about eight viewpoints along the route. Photography hardly does justice to the Grand Canyon. You have to stand on the rim and look down at the Colorado River, more than a mile lower in actual elevation, but 7 or 8 miles as the bird flies, to appreciate the enormous power of moving water in cutting out 40 layers of sedimentary rock dated from 200 million years to 2 billion years old. To give some perspective, there are several people standing at the lookout point at the upper left corner of the photo… they are looking into The Abyss, one of the most impressive sheer cliffs and drops into the depths of the canyon below. 

In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt visited Grand Canyon and said: “The Grand Canyon fills me with awe. It is beyond comparison—beyond description; absolutely unparalleled throughout the wide world. Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is. Do nothing to mar its grandeur, sublimity and loveliness. You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is to keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.” 

I almost felt like a child when we posed for this photo; I could hear my mother saying, “Ty, don’t be a fool and a show-off; you know better.” About two feet to my right is a drop of a thousand feet or so, but I made sure the wind wasn’t blowing too hard from the south, and I know Suzanne would miss my breakfasts and unique sense of humor, and would grab me if I started to fall. Well, I hope so, anyway… 

The national park isn’t all sheer cliffs and rocks, though. We found these blooming cactus (cacti?) showing off their unique plumage. April is still relatively wet here; don’t look for these guys in July or August, though, because you’ll be disappointed.  

“Miss Ensuzyasm” shows her true colors here. Our mountain bike ride was exhilarating, with lots of ups and downs, and kept us on a natural high for almost two hours. Then we met Jan and Bob and adjourned to town for a farewell dinner…

… where Bob was almost frothing at the mouth over these pies. Jan had to get stern and tell Bob that he had to eat his main course before indulging. Jan was good, but Bob and Suzanne split a piece of coconut creme pie, while I was also good, and only ate 2/3 of a slice of chocolate cake. Hey, what’s a guy to do? (By the way, the pies here had been recommended by Linda Heavin back in Tucson – thanks, Linda, they were great!)

On our second day at the canyon, while Bob and Jan went back to Grand Canyon, Suzanne remained at the coach and gave two readings and I went for another solo hike, this one to Kaibab National Forest and Bill Williams Mountain, a moderately difficult hike of 8 miles with a 2,200 ft. elevation gain.

It helped having been up at 6,000 feet for the past week, and having perfect weather (63F and breezy), because it was a pleasant 2 1/2 hour hike through pine, oak, fir and aspen forest to the summit at 9,200 ft. These aspens at about 8,000 feet were just sprouting green at their peaks; up at 9,000 feet, their cousins were still bare. And yes, I did carry a backpack; you know, for training, in case I ever went hiking in the mountains.

In all that time, I did not see a single soul, only a few flowers,  squirrels, lizards and birds, and some very big elk tracks. What a fantastic time to meditate and enjoy solitude (never the same as loneliness, I assure you). There were even some snowy patches up top, but they won’t last more than a week or so with the warm weather the area is enjoying. 

The trail was in good shape and well-marked (thanks, Brad, to your Kaibab Forest Service compatriots), which was reassuring since there were a couple of side trails that I could have wandered off onto. The only misadventure ( and lesson re-learned) came when I was eating a protein bar while hiking down the 10% grade, and not paying close attention to the trail; my foot caught a root and I went down flat on my face, fortunately on dirt, roots and gravel, and not a hard boulder. Nothing broken, and only a couple of bruises – all part of the fun and zest of hiking. (The orbs in this photo were not representative of my impaired vision…)

Our friends Jan and Bob were heading back towards Florida, so we departed Grand Canyon on Friday, headed west on I-40, and arrived in Needles, California, for two nights of admin work and to get a car tire repaired. It had picked up a nail and had a slow leak; a $10 fix here, while a similar repair a few months ago had cost us $26 back home in The Villages. Needles was a fairly bustling town back in the 60s and 70s, being located on Route 66 at the edge of the Mojave Desert. The completion of Interstate 40 back in the 80s resulted in a dwindling of commerce here, and Needles’ current claim to fame is that of the highest daily temperatures in the US (and occasionally the entire world), up to 122F in July and August. (A local restaurant has a sign that reads “Needles, 300 miles from Nowhere and 3 feet from Hell.” Fortunately, it was a mild 75F today, with a few light rain showers. We took Rudy and Gretchen to t-o-w-n for a w-a-l-k, and here we are on Old Route 66, the main drag, at 7:30 PM, with nary a car in sight in either direction. On the positive side, you can get a fixer-upper house here for a song… 

Of course, the real downside to living in Needles is that you’re living in The People’s Republic of California, where a lack of foresight in water management has resulted in a serious lack of water for farming, much less swimming pools, lawns and car washes. Oh, and did I mention the taxes here? Back in Flyover Country, as folks from the coasts derisively call the Midwest and South, gas runs about $2.15/gallon; here in Needles, it’s $4.09 for regular. Ya gotta love Socialism…

I love to see where my tax money is going. One example is here in Needles, where $5 million in federal grants (that means our taxes, I think) helped renovate the classic El Garces Hotel, built in 1908 as a Harvey House Hotel. It closed in 1949 for lack of business, and was renovated in 2009-2014 with public funding, but remains vacant for lack of business. (Is there a pattern here?) 

Finally, to end on a happy note, I would like to thank Loyal Readers Dale Hilliard, Colette Sasina, Connie England and Lynn Spence for their correct identification of the eastern collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris) in a previous blog post. Dale even noted that the reptile in question has the ability to run on its hind legs, looking like small therapod dinosaurs. They can run up to 16 mph, pretty quick for a little critter, and prefer insects, small mammals and other lizards over kale, quinoa and other marginally edible vegetables. They must be very smart.

1 Comment

  • Colette
    Posted September 4, 2018 at 1:05 am

    Castilleja kaibabensis, wooly paintbrush


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