Grand Canyon (Continuation from ‘Holiday Traveling’)

It seems like forever ago that I was waking up in New Mexico before the sun came up to drive to the Grand Canyon. It has been close to two weeks ago and I feel like I have so many new memories that some of them are starting to fade. I’ll try my best, though. Towards the end of our relaxing week spent at the Pirkle residence after our adventures in CO and UT, Jon and I went on a gorgeous day hike to Pyramid Rock. We drove west on Route 66 for about 15 minutes and after a small casino was the left turn for the trailhead. Immediately I asked Jon what he thought about us going to the casino that night. We both have a “When in Rome…” mentality, so of course he was down so I’m sure you can guess where we all went that night. Anyways, we took our left turn and drove around a rodeo arena that was big enough to be a football stadium with two or three smaller rodeo arenas beside it. I have never seen anything like it. There were Native American paintings on the outside of the stadium, bull stables all over the place, and tall red rocks/ mountains that surrounded it that, during a real rodeo, probably acted as an amplifier for the roaring crowds coming out of the arenas. I could imagine this place being very much alive. I envisioned nervous bull-riders situating themselves on a bull behind the gates and anticipating the wild bucking of these beasts. I could see recent hoof imprints in the dirt and I imagined riders looking like ragdolls attached to the back of these animals and slinging in the air and then racing to get up to run and jump over the railing to dodge the raging bull (that’s at least how I picture it from the movies). We drove through taking in our surroundings and made it to the trailhead. I was excited to be doing another hike and  it was only about 2 miles to the top so I knew we could do this hike and still be able to grab lunch by noon. After a short but steep hike up, we took in the 360 degree view we had of the reservation, Route 66 and the train tracks that we could see an entire train move along on, and surrounding points that we debated hiking afterwards. After getting lost (as we seemed to do on all the trails we’d hiked so far), we decided against another hike and headed back home. *Before I tell you what happened next, I should tell you about the day before: Jon and I had both been feeling a little restless without any exercise the last few days so we decided to go on a run. We decided to go toward Rachel’s work and back since it was only a couple of miles away and there weren’t many turns so we couldn’t get lost. So we put warm clothes on and headed that way at a decent, normal pace. We ran for about 6 minutes and had to stop because he felt a little nauseous and I just felt completely out of shape. We were dead and needless to say, we didn’t make it. AND, we did end up getting a little lost.* So after the hike, we decided to give our run another shot. We essentially took the same route (without getting lost) and after a little over four minutes we were bent over double trying to catch our breath. We both felt like an elephant was stepping on our chest and we were desperately gasping for breath. I could not inhale all the way and I felt like I had just sprinted the last 400 meters after a marathon. We had not considered the elevation being a problem while out there, but this run made it very clear that our bodies were not acclimated to it. This was a little more assuring that I wasn’t that out of shape. We ended up walking for a while and eventually caught our breath and slowly finished out the rest of the run.

Pyramid Rock

Pyramid Rock

Jon hanging out on a cool rock

Jon hanging out on a cool rock

At the top of Pyramid Rock

At the top of Pyramid Rock

We got back from the casino pretty late that night and were up before 6am to head to the Grand Canyon. After the four hour drive we arrived and walked to the North Rim. I kid you not, my eyes could not register what I was seeing. I was looking at the most incredible view I had seen up to this point of my life! I thought we had just walked up to a large mural because it just didn’t seem real to me. For a long time I just stared and tried to create a reference point to give my eyes a chance to make sense of the enormity of this canyon.

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My depth perception was completely messed up and I could tell how far away one ridge was from the next. When I was younger I loved to watch The Brady Bunch, and in one episode they traveled to the Grand Canyon. I remember thinking, “…and now what? How long are they supposed to look at it before they go back home?” I always imagined looking down into a V-shaped canyon, seeing a river at the bottom, and that was all there was to it. I could not have been more wrong and blown away! No picture can capture the beauty of this great American landmark. It goes on and on as far as you can see in any direction. After some pictures and whatnot, we couldn’t wait to go back to the car and get our packs to hike down to the bottom of it and set up camp. On our hike down we saw a Bighorn sheep right above us and lots of deer. IMG_2763We got down to the campsites and it was swarming with deer. They were everywhere and they didn’t seem to mind us at all. So while they continued grazing, we set up the tents and ate snacks. Looking up at the hike we just completed felt amazing. It was one thing to look at it from the top, but going down to the bottom and looking back up was really cool. It was five miles one-way to the campsite with a 5,000 foot drop. We set up camp and then hiked another 1.5 to see the Colorado River–the creator of this enormous gorge.  It was dark when we arrived back at the campsite and, had we not known about all the deer being around, this would have been the scariest sight of my life: everywhere we shined our headlamps, there were eyes staring back at us. It was something you see only in a movie. Eyes appeared and others disappeared as deer turned their eyes toward us and acknowledged us and then went back to doing whatever it is deer do in the dark. Even though I knew they were deer, my imagination wouldn’t let me walk too far away from the tent when I had to use the bathroom in the middle of the night. That morning, none of us were excited  about having to hike back out of the canyon. With every leg muscle aching, we finally reached the top and took one last look at our accomplishment and the beautiful canyon the sun was now beginning to pour into.


Grand Canyon from the South Rim

Grand Canyon from the South Rim

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Starting the journey to the bottom

Starting the journey to the bottom

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Sunset from the bottom

Sunset from the bottom

Looking down at the Colorado River

Looking down at the Colorado River

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The amazing thing about the Grand Canyon to me is that you can’t capture its monstrosity from any one angle. From the rim of the canyon you can see the patch of trees that cover the campsite, but not down to the river. From the point we hiked out to after the campsite, we could see the river, but couldn’t see anything further than the valley we were in. Even a helicopter view from above would not allow you to see the depth. Bottom line, it was INCREDIBLE, and it is a must see! I don’t have the stamina to write about Washington right now but it will come soon! Hopefully I will have an internship with the Knox County Health Department by the time I post the next blog.

Thanks for reading. All comments and questions are welcome! I’d like to know people are actually reading these blogs. Thanks,

-Jody

Holiday traveling

Merry Christmas! I hope everyone had as great a holiday as I did! I went down to Alabama and spent Christmas with my family and we had a great time. Every relative that I’ve ever known was there. All of those aunts, uncles and cousins that you never really understood how you were related to were there and I have never felt happier around so much family. We had a great time eating, playing games, reminiscing about the past and talking about all of our futures. This holiday season was well spent with the people I love most and that is the most important thing, especially this time of the year. This time next year I will be enjoying my first Christmas in Lesotho! I got to see a few friends in Chattanooga and spend some time with them and hear about their life plans. It seems surreal that we are all graduating college and beginning to start our own lives away from home. I also went to Nashville to spend a few days with Hannah and her family and that was really nice and relaxing. The board game addiction in her family makes for an easy way to have continuous fun with jovial relatives and family friends. I can honestly say that this was the best holiday I have ever had!

To top off this amazing holiday, I also started my traveling adventures that I’ve looked forward to for so long before leaving for my Peace Corps service. Hannah drove my friend Jon and I to the Nashville airport at the unrighteous hour of 5 am on New Year’s Eve to catch our flight to Albuquerque, NM. Looking down out of the airplane made me realize how fortunate we were to not have to drive. At times there were circular fields and farms as far as you could see in any direction. I don’t think I can stand another drive through some of these western states (Sorry Kansas and Nebraska, but you are the worst). Two plane rides and a few hours later we landed at the Albuquerque airport and waited for Pirkle to pick us up. Jon caught me smiling ear to ear at the ground at one point because I was so happy to see Pirkle again for the first time since he and Rachel got married back in July. We made a quick stop at a local brewery (this could be the theme of our trip) and started our adventure driving to Durango, CO. We found the hotel and then headed to a brewery to eat and have a few celebratory brews to bring in the new year. We walked around the town for a while, had a few more beers and decided to head back to the hotel. We were all pretty disappointed that it was only 9 pm when we got back to the room and started to get comfortable. Jon and I had been up for 20 hours at this point and now full of beer and peanut butter pie we crashed hard. We were dead asleep before 11pm local time. The next day we woke up before 7am, got breakfast and headed to Mesa Verde National Park in Cortez, CO. We did a 10 mile hike in snow-covered trails. (The lady at the park that I talked to the day before coming is a liar. I called to ask about snowshoes and she told me there was no snow so they weren’t needed.) Apparently this lady didn’t see all the snow that was on these mesas. We spent most of the hike in calf-deep snow and we pretty much pioneered our own trail. It was beautiful and a lot of fun but very tiring. After 5 hours of hiking we reached the end and drove to a local brewery to eat. The beer was terrible but the food was good. We eventually found the RV park that we would camp at. The receptionist told us we could camp on a strip of grass so that’s where we set up the tent and sleeping bags. It supposed to get down to 12 degrees that night and it was already pretty cold at 6 pm and we couldn’t have a fire without a firepit. So I went around to the RVs asking if they could spare a firepit. Everyone I talked to just stared at me wondering if we were really about to sleep outside. I wondered if they thought we were completely insane or some hardcore dudes. I’d like to think the latter. Luckily, a guy offered his pit to us as he was just burning their wood to get rid of it before they left in the morning. This guy also gave us the rest of his beer and told us we would need it more than he would that night. So we carried the beer and a pit with a fire already going in it over to our patch of grass. If the other RV campers didn’t think we were insane already they definitely did after seeing us literally carry a fire over to our tent. We talked over the fire for a while, changed into warm clothes, then crawled into the tent before 8 pm. The three of us packed into this two-person tent kept us warm majority of the night until I had to get out to relieve my bladder. After I got back in I don’t think I had feeling in my fingers and toes until we woke up and had breakfast at Denny’s the next morning. Another day at Mesa Verde was worthwhile. Along our hike we saw beautiful canyons between the mesas and amazing ruins of cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloan people.

Spruce Tree House: cliff dwelling built 1200-1300 AD

Spruce Tree House: cliff dwelling built 1200-1300 AD

Cliff Palace: The most well-preserved ruin.

Cliff Palace: The most well-preserved ruin.

From here we decided to drive to Canyonlands National Park near Moab, UT. We got there after dark and eventually found the way to a campsite and set up the tent. We sat around the fire for a while and got into some deep conversations. Campfires are a gift to people not only for warmth but to also bring people closer together. I don’t know what it is about being outside around a fire but people start sharing things and breaking down walls they have built up over time. Looking up at the stars and seeing the Milky Way in the middle of a national park and being with two awesome guys is truly something special. We eventually got tired and went to sleep. We learned what to do differently during a 15 degree night (like peeing before you get wrapped up in the sleeping bag and tent) and didn’t feel the least bit cold this night. Don’t be mistaken that it was comfortable, though! It felt like I was wrapped in plastic wrap with my back glued to the ground. I don’t think I moved an inch the entire night. We woke up and started out on the 15 mile hike we had planned for the day. This was the best hike I’ve ever done!

A view of the snow-capped mountains through an arch

A view of the snow-capped mountains through an arch

Jon sliding down the frozen stream

Jon sliding down the frozen stream

Druid Arch at the end of our 15 mile hike

Druid Arch at the end of our 15 mile hike

We were all exhausted and decided against the 10 mile hike the next day and decided to head to Gallup, NM where Pirkle and Rachel live. Of course we stopped at a local brewery and had dinner and beer. Six hours later we arrived to our home for the next week. I think my body has finally forgiven me from the long hikes and cold, uncomfortable nights. Now we will be hanging out in Gallup while Rachel and Pirkle are working and later this week we will head to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon. Last stop before heading back home for a few days to start my next trip to Seattle, WA.

Thanks for stopping by,
-Jody