Valley of Fire

Our 12-day Spring Break road trip was well-planned out well before we left town–our route, our stops, campground and hotel reservations, the hikes we’d do, and our return date. Of course, there were dozens of things we could have done along the way that fit into the theme of the trip (family bonding in the great outdoors), but most of them never even made the short list. Valley of Fire surely did not; I hadn’t even heard of the place.

Valley of Fire is a small state park in Nevada about 50 miles northeast of Las Vegas along I-15. It was the one major activity that we added to our itinerary at the last minute, major meaning that we devoted almost an entire day to it and thus bumped a different hike from our plans and turned a leisurely sight-seeing drive along Scenic Highway 12 in Utah into a dead tired holy-heck-I-can’t-see-anything-because-it’s-snowing-and-blowing late night drive.

But it was worth it for sure.

Just two days earlier, I was in a hotel room on the Western Slope of the Sierra Nevada doing a little online research in search of a giant sequoia. I popped onto WordPress and found that someone I didn’t know–Daniel at National Parks [and More]–had commented on one of my posts that, if possible, we should try to incorporate Valley of Fire into our plans. A little more research and we decided to do it.

The beauty of the place struck me immediately upon passing through the entrance gate. So much so that I almost didn’t notice the ranger in a truck with flashing lights motioning for me to pull over. I explained to him that I had seen the 35 mph sign, that in fact I had set my cruise control to 35, but that it must not have stuck or it must have popped off when I came down that hill. The first part is true, but thinking back I realize that I must have pushed OFF instead of SET. I was going 48 mph, but only got a warning instead of a $308 ticket. It must have been because I at least attempted to go the speed limit.

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I asked my daughters, “Do you think he’ll mind if I take a few photos while he writes the ticket?” We were already surrounded by beautiful red rock formations.

 

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Flowers near the Visitors Center

After spending more time than expected at the Visitors Center–because of its really well-done historical and nature displays–and the gift shop, we made our way north to the White Domes hiking area. Not having adequate time to research all the hikes, I made one quick inquiry at the Visitors Center and White Domes was the hike that was recommended.

Of course, it was lovely. Most of the hike was through a slot canyon, but then it opened up and our eyes were treated to more of the stunning scenery in this park.

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As with most of the hikes I do with my teenage daughters, we moved at a leisurely pace and took lots of photos.

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Addy getting up close and personal with texture and color.

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As I said, this park wasn’t on our agenda and we didn’t have nearly enough time to explore it. There are several more hikes that I want to do. As with any state or national park, it’s important to get off the main road and into the heart of the place.

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I’ve seen a lot of red rock country and I know there are several shades that qualify as red. But what I saw in the Valley of Fire was some of the most brilliant I’ve ever laid eyes on. And the various textures of the rocks were unique as well. We were there mid-day and it was downright gorgeous; but, oh, I am so going back for an extended stay so I can experience it in the evening when they say the lower light reflects all around and makes the place look like it is on fire.

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I think I’ve got the Valle of Fire reflection.

 

 

 

 

 

Surviving the Night in Death Valley

If I were as overly dramatic as my teenage daughters I’d be saying “Worst night ever!” or “That was a literal shit storm!” or “I’d rather be dead!”

But instead I’ll say that our night of camping in Death Valley was astounding. And I’ll laugh and marvel at it always, just as I found myself doing when I finally stepped out of the tent at the first glimpse of daylight.

Not during the night. At no time during that long, long, painfully long night did I feel astounded. Well, actually I probably did, but that feeling would have been buried far beneath my frustration and exhaustion. And I surely wasn’t laughing. No, no laughing that night. Not til morning could I laugh.

We entered Death Valley National Park from the west, coming from a little California town called Lone Pine, in the early evening hours. That morning, we had been clear on the other side of the Sierra Nevadas in search of a giant sequoia.

As we entered the park, the evening light was incredibly beautiful, as was the landscape. I had no idea there were so many mountain ranges in and around Death Valley. And what really amazed me was the variety of colors, especially the chili powder rock that was so different from anything I’d ever seen in any other red rock country.

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We climbed and descended several times as we drove east and it was dark by the time we reached sea level. And we still had another 50 or so miles to our destination–Furnace Creek Campground, which is near the Visitor’s Center.

It was well past dark when we turned into the campground. I had made reservations online months before not knowing anything about the campground and having long forgotten what I may have read about it at the time. So we didn’t know what to expect. There was no one in the booth, of course, but there was a list of about 20 late arrival names and to which site they had been assigned. Our name was not on the list.

“I’m so tired,” I told the girls, as we drove around the campground. It was hard to tell how big the place was and how many people were there, but there was a lot of activity going on–campfires, people walking around, kids still outside playing–and I didn’t see any empty spots. “Maybe we should just sleep in the car.”

“Wait, mom,” said Amy, “you probably got a confirmation email when you made the reservation. Maybe it has our site number.”

“I doubt it. Plus, I don’t know if I would have saved it.” I didn’t keep too many emails in my inbox, but I did have a lot of email folders and Vacation was one of them. Sure enough, there was the email. Furnace Creek, Site No. 143.

We drove around the place a couple more times and didn’t see any numbers close to 143. So back to the booth we went, hoping to find a map. Ah ha, site 143 was in an area that looked like a tent village. We found the area and found our parking spot (clearly marked with a 143 sign), but we couldn’t determine where our actual camp spot was. Right in front of where we parked were two parties, a group of four older guys enjoying a campfire in a fire ring labeled as 144 and a group of girl scouts in spot number 142. The girl scout leaders had a map and together we figured that our site was just beyond these two sites, behind a clump of trees (Russian olives? hard to tell in the dark).

With headlamps, we tromped around, trying not to bother too many people with our voices or our bright lights as we searched for our spot. There sure seemed to be a lot of people tightly packed into this area. Once we found our spot, we had to turn around and find our vehicle again so we could start to unload. We were thinking necessities only–tent, bags, pillows, water, phones, book for me–because it was so late, it was a trek between car and tent spot, the wind was really starting to blow, and we were so tired that we were just planning on crashing right away anyway.

Despite the wind, we had our tent up in no time. We were a week into our Spring Break road trip by this point and we knew how to work as a team with the tent. Plus, we decided against the rain fly. It was 85 degrees at 9:00 at night and we wanted to feel the breeze blow through our tent.

Feel the breeze, we did. After a long day of hiking and driving and plenty of beautiful country, we finally laid our weary heads down, but within minutes we understood that sleep would be hard to come by. The wind continued to strengthen and with each push of wind came a wall of fine dirt.

The dirt blew through the mesh of the tent and became trapped within it. We could feel, as well as hear, it settle on the sleeping bags, pillows, tent floor, and our skin, particularly with the strongest gusts. I slipped into my sleeping bag for protection, but I couldn’t stay there long; it was just too warm.

I’ve had a few nights in the tent where real sleep was out of the question, due to cold temperatures, rain seeping in, noise in the area, not feeling safe, or antsy dogs. Those nights always seemed to last forever and most of the time was spent “praying” that it could just be morning already.

This was one of those nights but worse. Worse because I couldn’t open my eyes. At first because the blowing dirt hurt them too much. After a few hours because my eyelids were stuck shut, like when my eyes get goopy with conjunctivitis. I couldn’t play around on my phone and couldn’t read. The only comfortable position was laying on my left side, but that was where the wind was coming from and I couldn’t take the beating for long. So I’d flip back to my right side, which was the nonzipper side of the sleeping bag, which meant that it was too hot. Back and forth, back and forth, all night long. In between I would listen to and marvel at the wind and this blowing dirt phenomenon.

Focusing on the wind was interesting. There were times when it would seem to be dying down. It would get eerily quiet for a minute or two. But then I would hear it. Not feel it; hear it. Each gust started far away on my right side. I could hear it enter that area or start over there. Then it circled around in the direction of my feet, still far off. From there, it grew louder and louder as it circled back toward me on my left. As the noise climaxed, the dirt blew, pelting the tent, our bedding, any exposed skin.

This happened dozens, perhaps hundreds, of times.

I imagined a semi-circle of a mountain range, to the right, foot-side, and left of me, whatever those directions were, and the wind racing along them, like a skateboarder on the curve of a bowl.

The sound of the wind as it finally reached me and the dirt it carried reminded me of the instant burst that comes from the burner of a hot air balloon. Just as that flame turns off suddenly, so would the wind. And the newest arrival of dirt would settle with little sprinkling sounds.

I brushed my hand across my pillow and it was coated in dirt. I touched my face, but did not make contact with my skin. Just dirt.

I wasn’t sure if the girls were awake. I didn’t speak to them, not wanting to wake them if by some miracle they had figured out how to sleep through this. At one point, Addy said, “Mom, I’m going to the car.”

I panicked, and responded with, “No, you’re not! I already thought of that but we all need to stay here and hold the tent down. If one of us leaves, the corners are going to start coming up.”

I wasn’t scared, but being mom, I had the need to keep us all together.

Of course, I had to pee. And I had no idea where the nearest bathroom was since we pulled in in the dark and the layout of the place was so disorienting. I really was concerned about exiting the tent, fearing that my half would lift up and fold over onto the girls.

Finally, I went outside and peed just five feet from the tent. Downwind. Mostly so that I could catch the tent if it decided to take off. I had no idea who was around us, how close, whether anyone could see or hear me. But that’s the way it had to be done.

I checked the time on my phone twice (12:23, 2:12), but then no more because of the amount of dirt that had built up on the screen, this with it being hidden in my sleeping bag. Perhaps I drifted off for an hour, maybe two.

I do know that I was awake when the first wisps of pastel light blew into the tent along with the dirt. Hallelujah! It was morning!

I fumbled with the zipper, my eyes nearly pasted shut, and stumbled out, alive, into Death Valley. I hooked my fingers into the collar of my t-shirt, turned it inside out, hoping to find some clean cloth, and wiped it gently across my eyes.

Better. I could see and I surveyed my surroundings.

There was the clump of trees. An orange tent had blown into them, and rested, tangled, about 15 feet off the ground. Between the trunks, I could see another tent completely flat on the ground, as if an elephant had sat on it and left just seconds ago.

There were two tents to the right. I turned in the other direction. Not far away at all, maybe 20 feet, was a man. There was a tent and a camper at his site.

Our eyes met. I wasn’t sure how I looked, but I knew how I felt. I felt filthy. My hair was heavy with dirt. My mouth was dry, teeth and tongue gritty. I imagined myself a movie character, a lost person stumbling back into civilization, unsure of where she is or how long she’s been gone, wondering if everyone is seeing things the way I am.

The  man smiled. I smiled, too. And then I laughed. I literally laughed out loud.

“Well, that was quite a night!” I wasn’t speaking to my neighbor, necessarily, more to the powers that be.

A shower. I couldn’t wait to take a shower. I ambled around until I found the nearest bathroom. Inside, there were toilets, but no showers. But, there was a sink. With running water. Water to rinse away the dirt.

It wasn’t easy scrubbing away the grime that had been forced into the pores of my skin all night long. But it was okay that it took so long because it felt good. And a change of clothes felt pretty darn good, too.

When I returned to the tent and started removing my bedding to shake it out, I found a quarter-inch of dirt in some places. The wind, still blowing, made the shaking out process a bit easier. As the girls emerged from the tent, they didn’t look around in wonder as I had. And they certainly didn’t laugh. Instead, what I heard was, “Worst night ever!” and “What a shit storm that was.”

Soon, we were on our way to see the rest of Death Valley, particularly Badwater Basin, which is 282 feet below sea level and reaches temperatures of 117 degrees in the summer months.

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Death Valley – a beautiful place. But rumor has it that you shouldn’t visit in the summer. And I certainly don’t recommend tent camping on a windy night.

In Search of a Giant Sequoia

The Giant Sequoias were on the list for our 12-day Spring Break road trip, but I’ll tell you, it was the hardest part of the trip to plan. First, Sequoiadendron giganteum occurs naturally only in groves on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. This is a pretty out-of-the way spot for us Coloradoans and a difficult one to return home to from. After seeing sequoias, we would either have to go way far north to get up and around the Sierra Nevadas or all the way back down south again to get to the other side of the Sierras. This is because – I learned as I was planning the trip – there’s no crossing the Sierras during the winter months. And March is still winter when you’re talking mountain country.

But, I thought it’d be worth the extra driving if we could incorporate something interesting or unique while in the sequoia area. Like snowshoeing. Yeah, how about snowshoeing through the sequoias? That would a neat experience, especially after coming from the beach the day before. But, alas, when I called to inquire several months beforehand and make reservations for an activity like this, everyone told me that so far there wasn’t much snow and they couldn’t predict how much snow there would be in March and that therefore we couldn’t make reservations.

And as I researched further, I read in several places that we might not be able to get to any sequoias, due to road closures, if there did happen to be snow.

So, I scrapped the idea of going all the way north to Kings Canyon National Park or even Sequoia National Park and focused, instead, on Sequoia National Forest. Specifically, I Googled “most southern Sequoia groves.”

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I felt armed and ready with my plans –though they concluded with “just ask the locals where to find a sequoia” — and, after leaving the beach, the girls and I drove northeast into central California. I hadn’t been to Bakersfield since I was a child and must say I thought it was lovely with its surrounding orchards and agriculture. From there, we went to Porterville and the much smaller, quaint and pastoral town of Springville (population 1,100), which would be our home base for finding a Sequoia tree.

We arrived in the late afternoon and decided to drive to Balch Park. My research indicated that this was a beautiful park with a lake, walking paths, and several of the giant trees. As we wound our way up into the mountains through several life zones, the late afternoon sunshine illuminated many plants and trees to which we were not accustomed. The forest grew thicker and taller, but the trees we saw were not sequoias. Balch Park is 26 miles from Springville. Around mile 20, we started seeing cabins, but they must have been summer homes because there were no other vehicles and no signs of human activity. Signs indicated that the road was open to local traffic only and that the road would be closed in two miles and then, after we’d gone the two miles, in 500 feet. But we were able to keep going. It was open. And then, suddenly, it wasn’t. I knew we were close to Balch Park. It had to be just beyond the closed and locked gate that blocked the road. But we couldn’t enter. Tulare County had the road closed for the season.

So after an hour or more of switch-backing up into the mountains, we turned back. We all agreed it was an incredibly beautiful drive and that though we didn’t reach our destination, it had still been an enjoyable time.

And then we saw it. A random Giant Sequoia. In the tall, tall forest that we were in, it rose high above the rest of the trees. Its color was magnificent in the late evening sun. And it was beautiful.

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The girls were moved by this tree and Addy said, “Mom, I want to see more of these. Can’t we please drive north tomorrow and go see a bunch of them?”

We stopped in a charming café in the small town of Springville for dinner. There, we asked our waitress where the closest place to see the trees was. She wasn’t sure; she hadn’t lived there long. But, some fellow diners overheard us and explained that all we had to do was go up Camp Nelson Road to the Trail of 100 Giants. “It’s not that far, but it’ll take you nearly two hours to get there because the road’s so windy and it’s such a climb.”

“Will the road be open though?” I explained to her what had happened in our attempt to get to Balch Park.

“Oh yeah, the road’s open.” They seemed sure about it.

Back at the hotel room, I opened my laptop and did some research. Everything I read indicated that the road to the Trail of 100 Giants would not be open, even at the end of March. This is what I had read while researching at home before we left. There were two small communities up this same road though and I reasoned the road would have to be open to at least that point being that these were towns and people most likely lived there year-round. And near one of these communities was the world’s fifth largest tree, the Stagg Tree. It would require a short hike, but I had a feeling we could get to it.

I asked the girls if they wanted to get up early – 5:00 a.m. – and once again switch back into the mountains and attempt to find Stagg Tree. Surprisingly, they did.

The drive was steep and windy and slow. We climbed more than 4,000 feet in an hour and got a real sense of how high and vast the Sierras were. And it really was winter up there. It was cold and there was snow everywhere, even some snow on the road. Amy was feeling carsick but didn’t complain too much. After an hour and a half, we reached the small communities. I didn’t see much sign of activity and I knew I had lucked out that this road was open. I kept half an eye on my hastily written notes–according to my directions, I needed to turn onto a dirt road soon–and wished that I had written more detailed ones. What if we couldn’t find this tree, after a second attempt and all this driving?

Then, my notes made sense and I could see where we were supposed to turn. But it wasn’t a dirt road. It was a snowy road. And I couldn’t see much of it as it went off into the forest. “What do you think, girls? Should we go for it?” Of course, we had to. I put my Sequoia in 4LOW.

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Now, I wasn’t about to do anything crazy. I wasn’t going anywhere where I might get stuck. I mean, we were an hour and a half into the mountains and as far as I knew, there wasn’t a soul around. And there surely wasn’t any cell service. Mostly, I put my vehicle in 4LOW to be on the safe side. And to make it seem more adventurous.

We only went about 100 yards until we came to a closed gate. But there were footprints in the snow beyond the gate and I had a feeling that was where we needed to go. Again, I asked the girls if they wanted to press on. They didn’t have the greatest hiking shoes. And we’d be hiking in snow.

After coming as far as we had, they wanted to find this tree.

It was a lovely day for a hike, about 35 degrees, sunny, and just a few inches of snow on a pretty road. And there were several stately Sequoias along the way.

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The hike was about 3/4 of a mile, but then a sign showed that we should leave the road and go into the forest. The snow was deeper here, it was downhill, and we didn’t know how far we’d have to go on this new section of our journey. It was icy and we giggled as we slid and grabbed at the vegetation that lined the trail to help maintain our footing.

Then, just ahead, I saw a large sign and I knew it must be for Stagg Tree.

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The “giant redwood” aspect of the sign perplexed me a bit. Were Giant Sequoias redwoods? I was pretty sure they were a different species than the Giant Redwoods in northern California and Oregon. When I got home, I looked it up and read that sequoias are one of three species of coniferous trees known as redwoods. The sign said that Stagg Tree was about 3,00 years old. 3,000! The oldest Sequoia is estimated to be about 3,500 years of age. The circumference of its trunk at the ground is 109 feet. We could not walk all the way around it due to the amount of snow on the backside.

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We enjoyed the beauty and wonder of Stagg Tree and the idea of hiking in the snow in the Sierra Nevada with no one else around and then we walked back to our vehicle and began the long, slow drive into the valley. Amy drove; she didn’t want to deal with that carsick feeling again. Addy slept. And I smiled to myself the entire way.

Mission accomplished – together we three Bergen women had conquered our need to find and touch and marvel at a Giant Sequoia tree.

 

Hiking Underground

My teenage daughters aren’t that into hiking – you know, exertion and sweat and covering ground just for the sake of covering ground – so any hike I planned for our Spring Break road trip had to be extra beautiful or unique. And short. I know they’re not planning on walking far when the sturdiest shoes they have along are their Vans. And so it was we found ourselves hiking in an underground lava river tube.

Lave River Cave is northwest of Flagstaff in the Coconino ponderosa forest. A rock pile and short rock wall marks the opening. It is small and drops downward immediately, giving us the feeling right from the start that maybe we didn’t want to do this hike after all.

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067I hung back, initially, to take photos of the girls entering the cave and dropping down into it, and then panicked a bit as I realized I was getting behind and that catching up would be difficult due to the big boulders on the floor. It seemed wrong to call out, “Wait up!” when the girls were just fifteen feet in front of me. I was happy when Addy said, “Come on, Mom, we’ll wait for you.”

Just before the cave floor leveled out, I turned back to get the last glimpse of daylight.

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Now we seemed to be walking parallel with the Earth’s surface above us. We turned our headlamps off to check and, as expected, found ourselves in complete darkness. Most of the cave was wide and up to 30 feet in height, but portions of it got to as low as three feet.

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The cave is 3/4 mile long, so 1.5 miles round-trip.  A short hike, right? Yes, but a long time to be underground. At no point was it relaxing. For starters, we had to keep our headlamps trained on the ground right in front of us, which was rocky and uneven. Looking ahead required stopping, getting my balance, and moving my head rather than just my eyes wherever it is I wanted to look. And looking around wasn’t all that revealing. The cave walls and floor looked almost the same the entire way, giving few hints that progress had been made or that the end was approaching. And then there’s the fact that our minds started racing with all kinds of crazy thoughts.

Like a good mom should, I started worrying while driving down the forest roads to get to the cave. Were we the only ones out here? Would it be better to be alone in the cave or to have some other hikers in the area? If something happened and I needed to drive out of here quickly to get some help, would I be able to find my way back if in a state of panic? I dropped my mental breadcrumbs.

And as soon as we were in the cave: What if someone covers the opening with boulders? What if there’s an earthquake? What if today is the day the cave becomes unstable? It was only a 1.5 mile hike, so I didn’t bring water or snacks. I didn’t bring anything except an extra headlamp and the clicker to my vehicle. Bad hiker. Bad mom.

There were others ahead of us, we assumed, because there were two vehicles in the parking lot. And there was another family arriving as we were starting down the trail. You’d think you’d hear voices echoing throughout the cave. But no; it was eerily quiet. Was anyone hiding down here, just waiting to attack us? I thought about how hard it would be to run out of here, and the worst, having my headlamp knocked off and the batteries coming loose while struggling to get away from someone.

To cope with these irrational (maybe not so irrational?) ideas, we started acting really goofy. It started in a low section of the cave, where we had to bend over to continue moving forward. The girls’ hands touched the floor and then they were suddenly acting like gorillas. While they do plenty of strange things, I have not seen this particular behavior elicited anywhere above the earth’s surface.

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Addy tried to get our minds off the situation by writing raps. She would start and Amy and I were supposed to add to it. I wasn’t very good at it. I was slow to think of rhyming lines and was getting hung up on whether we were doing couplets or quatrains and what was a quatrain, again, anyway.

After what seemed like several miles, we finally reached the end. There was a large family there, or two. It was awkward visiting with them in the dark, nothing like stopping to talk with other hikers while in the daylight and nothing at all like celebrating with whomever you find when you finally reach the summit of a 14er.

We continued our silliness on the way back, but now that we were on our return trip it was more for the fun of it than for the sake of retaining our sanity.

I must say I was plenty relieved when I saw that shaft of sunlight, which was slow to come into view because it was above us (remember I said we had to go down at the beginning of the hike before it leveled off) and not in front of us.

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Am I glad we went? Absolutely. Any short hike that is unique in some way is a hike worth taking.

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What exactly is a lave river cave? According to Wikipedia, between 650,000 and 700,000 years ago, molten lava erupted from a volcanic vent. The top, sides, and bottom of the flow cooled and solidified, while lave continued to flow through, and out of, the middle, forming a cave.  I don’t know how common lava river tubes are, but there is one near Bend, Oregon. Lumbermen discovered the Arizona lava river tube in 1915. I’m a little surprised that the area hasn’t been made into a national monument or park, to be honest. A sign outside the opening explains that there have been problems with litter and graffiti. It’s a pretty cool place and I’d hate to see it destroyed.

 

 

 

Slide Rock State Park

A beach scene in the middle of a mountain canyon? Sounds fun.

Slide Rock is in Arizona, south of Flagstaff and north of Sedona, in Oak Creek Canyon. The month of March is a bit early in the season to be playing in a mountain creek even in sunny, warm Arizona. I researched camping in the area and found just one campground nearby that was open, for tent camping, during March, another sign that it might not be the best time to visit. But this was the time we had to go – the last two weeks of March. I figured we could at least make a stop and do some hiking.

It was a warm, beautiful day as we drove through the northern Arizona desert, then up into the Ponderosa pine forests to Flagstaff and down the switchbacks into Oak Creek Canyon. We saw the area and many people enjoying it before we actually turned into the entrance. A sign there said that the air temperature was 74 and the water temperature 46.

“Are people actually playing in the water?” I asked the ranger.

“A few are. It’s a really nice spring day here. No clouds, no wind. So some brave souls are getting in.”

In the parking lot, I changed into water shorts and a shirt that could serve as a swimsuit top if need be. I wasn’t quite ready to don true swimwear. We walked a half mile before dropping into the rocky canyon area called Slide Rock. We crossed the creek a few times in ankle-deep water, on stepping stones and over short bridges. Then, we set our belongings down and found a place to test the water.

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The rocks beneath the crystal clear water were green and looked slippery with moss. I was worried about losing my balance and falling in, but the wet rock was surprisingly easy to walk on.

The water was indeed chilly, but it wasn’t long before I was meandering over to the top of the sliding area. As I got closer, I watched a few people sit themselves into the water, push off, and slide down the rock. They all drew their breath in quickly and grimaced, but soon switched to laughing, screaming, and smiling.

Some of the kids got out, rushed back to the top, and did it again. But they were kids. I found the one woman who was close to my age who had braved the water slide and got her opinion. She basically said it was awesome and that she could do it all day long.

All I needed to hear.

I gave my camera to my daughter, sat down, sucked my breath in, and pushed off. It wasn’t as slippery and slide-like as I thought it would be. Nor as cold. I had to push myself along in a few spots and this meant that I was sitting in the water longer than I had planned to.

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But, when I hit the deep pool at the bottom and pulled myself to the side, I was smiling like the rest of them and thinking about doing it again.

I hear they have to close the gates in the summer because there are too many people. I could only imagine the line to slide on a hot Arizona day. So I was glad I did it on this early spring day while I was here.

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Later, I noticed people on the cliff high above and set off to find the trail.

As I left the swimming area, some teens were cliff jumping into a large pool. If I was still wet, I would have tried it. Now I wish I would have anyway.

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The views from above, on the trail, were incredible. What a fun spot!

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Road Trip Bucket List

For the first time, Spring Break is two weeks long and it couldn’t have come at a better time. Come August, my oldest, Addy, is off to college and my youngest, Amy, will be leaving for her year abroad in France. To take advantage of this first, and perhaps last, two weeks that the three of us have off together, we have planned Addy’s Epic Senior Year Road Trip -12 days through Utah, Arizona, out to the Pacific, up to the Sequoias, Death Valley, Vegas, and Bryce Canyon in Utah.

I spent six entire days planning this 12-day road trip. I did the majority of the work back in December when I had some time off work – pouring over maps, googling and reading about possible cool places that we absolutely had to see, determining which campgrounds along our route would be open in March and whether it’d be warm enough to sleep in the tent at which elevations.

A couple of nights ago, Addy said to me, “Mom, I’m writing a bucket list for our trip.”

“Well, don’t get too carried away,” I said, thinking of the typical bucket list, a list of places to see and experience, “because the trip is pretty much planned out.”

“Oh, mom,” she replied, waving her hand in front of my face, behind which sits my concrete, sequential, very much inside-the-box type of brain. “I’m not talking about that kind of bucket list.”

The next day, while I was at work and she was at school, trying desperately to stick it out and finish her classes so that she can graduate, she texted me this.

SENIOR TRIP BUCKET LIST
1. fall in love with (at least) something: person, place, sunset, food
2. be completely present
3. try something new/out of the comfort zone every day
4. do nice things with/for my family
5. be patient with my family
6. LAUGH – all the time and make others laugh
7. be a kid
8. conversate with strangers
9. photograph Amy
10. photograph my mom
11. photograph everything
12. write
13. get lost

Addy's Bucket List

As always, I was blown away with her unconventional way of thinking. I’m sure she had written it during class and that she wasn’t paying attention and that she wasn’t concerned with her grades, which she needed to be. But at this moment it didn’t matter. At this moment she was sharing something so beautiful, something that made me choke up and have to hold back the tears threatening to spill from my lower lids.

At the end of my work day, Friday, the last day of teaching before a two-week long respite from schedules and planning and worrying about whether I could get all of my students proficient in all subjects before the end of the school year, I grabbed my phone (with the texted bucket list) and went to look for my BFF colleagues, the ones I would share something like this with, the ones who know my daughter, know what she’s been through and about her ups and down her senior year, the ones who understand what a free spirit she is and would appreciate what she had written.

Together we stood there, in my classroom, on a Friday after school, the Friday before Spring Break, while I read her bucket list aloud. And together we cried.

We cried for everything the each of us has been through, all the trials and tribulations our children and families have had, what we know to be true and important, the bare basics of what we hope for for our children, that they learn to love and appreciate the people and moments in their lives.

I had errands to run after school, things I needed to get before we left on our trip. But I stopped at home first, to find Addy and tell her what a beautiful soul she was, inside and out.

“Mom, why are you saying this?” She looked at me, dumbfounded.

“Your bucket list, Addy. It was incredible. It made me cry. I shared it with my teacher friends and we were all standing around bawling.”

“Bucket list? Oh. Yeah.”

I didn’t sense that she had forgotten about it, necessarily, just that it was ordinary to her, nothing special. Just her typical thinking. And it was.

I reviewed each item, separately, and thought about them.

Yep, yep, yep, each one was something that I do, almost daily. Maybe they weren’t so extraordinary. But they did need to be written down. To be shared. And to be consciously thought about – not only on our trip, but every day, always.

Thank you, Addy.

A Sheep Drive

I love road trips. Short ones, long ones, new destinations or the same ol’, same ol’. For me, part of the beauty is the opportunity to just sit for a while and do nothing. But a lot of the joy comes from the notion that the same person never passes by the same place. We’ve grown and changed and are thinking differently since the last time we came through. Or, we travel by somewhere for another reason than we did before. And places change, too, or are presented differently with varying weather, seasons, and sky. These factors make every location, every mile, new and unique and an experience waiting to happen.

On my trail from home to my hometown, I pass through the picturesque town of Meeker, Colorado, population 2,500, home of the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Championship Trials. On two different occasions now, as I’ve driven through, there has been a sheep drive going on. The ranchers are moving their sheep to winter pasture.

I don’t know what it is, why seeing a bunch of woolies trotting down the highway moves me so. But it does. Both times that it has happened it’s been the highlight of my trip, a real treat.

And so, just in case you’ve never come across anything like this while traveling, I’ll share it with you.

We were just north of Meeker when I came upon a vehicle on the side of the road. On the back of the truck was a large sign:  LIVESTOCK ON ROAD. My immediate thought, though I grew up with a ranch and a farm and livestock, was: When you think about it, livestock is a really weird term. Why don’t we just call it stock? I mean, it’s not like it needs to be distinguished from deadstock.

Just past the truck was a cowboy (cowboy? another strange term as there were neither cows nor boys in the vicinity) on horseback. He was bringing up the rear, watching for any stragglers that managed to get past the dogs.

And then, there they were, the first of about five hundred sheep I’d see over the next two or so miles. I was grateful for the LIVESTOCK ON ROAD warning sign because, in November, oatmeal-colored sheep blend right in with the gray-brown high desert landscape.

Sheep Drive 2As I inched my way along, I realized I was a part of the machine. I was helping to move the sheep on down the road to their winter pasture.

It wasn’t long before I saw the first of many, about 20, Great Pyrenees dogs. They all looked the same–same size, same short white coat, clean, calm, focused, talented–and were just magnificent.

Sheep Drive 3

The dogs were evenly spaced throughout the herd and taking on different tasks. Some trotted along behind a group, just keeping the throng moving. I saw some on the other side of the fence lining the highway, chasing back any hostages who tried to escape. Occasionally there were tufts of green grass, each with a pile of sheep grabbing bites while they could. A dog would be there, executing small charges and pounces, to get them moving again. And, as in the photo above, some dogs hung out on the road, moving sheep along, but also, it seemed, managing traffic simultaneously.

As I neared the end of the herd of sheep, or, actually, it was the beginning as it was those who were leading the way, there were fewer dogs and the sheep thickened, like food along the hot sides of a pan. Their wooly backs, so close together now, made it seem as if they were one, one giant undulating organism of oatmeal.

I passed the last of the sheep, one more cowboy on horseback, and another vehicle that was part of the operation.

Wow! I thought. 500 sheep being moved to winter pasture by 20 dogs and just two cowboys. Pretty impressive!

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