no matter where you go, there you are

Saturday, March 31, 2012

travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind - seneca

Well, I've made it. 18 months later and I'm finally on the last entry to my cross country summer road trip of 2010. Though most of the posts for this journey has been out of chronological order, I've purposely saved the last post for the adventures of our last few days on the road. As we ventured back into the northeast there wasn't as much on our To Do list since this was more local to home and we'd been to the different regions before. Just as the first day and a half of travel was straight driving to get out of the northeast, the last 4 days was visiting family and friends with a couple sight seeing stops in between.

From the Great Smoky Mountains, our first stop was in Williamsburg, VA. My dad's brother and his wife live there and my cousin had come up for the evening from North Carolina to have dinner with us. It was quite nice and relaxing after spending the last few days in theme parks and campgrounds. The next morning we wanted to see historic Williamsburg since Molly had never been there before and so my aunt and uncle offered to take us to breakfast and show us around. It was funny getting their version of the tour versus one provided by the park; it was truthful and honest to say the least. And it was free so that is always a plus :)

We left around noon for Washington DC via Chincoteague Island off the coast of Maryland. I thought I had done my research fairly well but I didn't realize how much of a detour visiting would be and how little there was to do if you weren't going to the beach. We wanted to see the wild ponies as we both had memories of the books about the ponies. But as they are wild it's not guaranteed you'll see them. As we drove towards the visitors center we could see a couple in a distant field. The visitor center had that salty ocean smell to it which definitely reminded us of home.

We wanted to explore more so we opted for a short loop hike that offered a lookout to one of the common pony viewpoints. Bad decision. End of August means humidity and mosquitoes. And these were more the size of gnats so they were super super annoying. The only way to avoid being eaten alive was to run. But neither Molly of I are runners, or even in shape so it was like stop and go running with lots of panting. Wearing flip flops made it no less easier. The viewpoint was nice, but due to the attack of the biting bugs we certainly couldn't enjoy it. I don't think there are words to describe how swarmed we were and how all of them were biting. From the lookout we could see the same 2 ponies from earlier and they were just as far away; small brown and white specks in the distance. Getting a picture was no easy feat as I was forced to bounce from foot to foot to keep moving to avoid getting more bites than I already had. It was kind of like channeling Dory from Finding Nemo, "Just keep moving, just keep moving."

After running back to the car and praising our sanctuary from the bugs, we set off for Arlington, VA where Molly's sister Erin had recently moved to begin teaching at a local elementary school. Because Chincoteague ended up being a longer detour than I expected we ended up arriving a few hours later than planned. But we were still able to have a pretty good evening catching up and visiting.

We parted the next morning as Erin had to work and we had a day planned of sightseeing our nation's capital. We drove over to the National Mall and was on the lookout for parking. We pulled into the first garage that said public not realizing it was also a government building, US Agriculture or something. Anyway, the car had to be checked for weapons and/or explosives and the kind security guard discovered our camping hatchet in the trunk. We apologized and asked to be pointed in the direction of a different garage. One was just around the corner luckily. The garage fee here, plus all the tolls we paid the day before driving was the first foray back into the cost of living in the northeast. We'd been so "spoiled" for the last four weeks being in cheaper areas of the US.

As we walked towards the mall we passed by a building that's important but I can't remember the name, the front of the White House, and what I swore was the FBI building because it looked like the one on "Bones."

We officially "started" our tour of the National Mall at the Vietnam Memorial and after passing through there, the Lincoln Memorial. I had been there years ago with my family but Molly had never seen it. To be honest though, at that point I was more thankful for its public bathroom than anything else.

It was a gorgeous, albeit hot, day and we enjoyed our stroll along the reflecting pool towards the World War II memorial. I hadn't been there before so that one was really neat.

We walked by the Washington Monument, saw a small group of Amish and then took a right to get to the Holocaust Museum. The Holocaust Museum is a free museum and I had tried to go there on a college trip but they only admit a certain number of people per hour per day so they don't have overcrowding. We were able to get in this time and took the elevator to the top and began our historical education. A lot of the information and artifacts I'd either seen before or knew of but no matter what, being surrounded by all of it including video footage of the camp liberation and the American soldiers clean-up is just horrific and depressing. And unfortunately for me I tend to get really into dramatic, horrific events and feel like I need to read and learn everything possible. So I go home and invest myself for about a week until I get too depressed and have to stop. We were able to really go through all the exhibits and spent a good amount of time there, both glad we decided to come.

Late that afternoon we drove up I-95, paid all the ridiculous tolls and arrived at my college roommate's apartment where we had a very nice dinner and caught up on life before heading to bed and dropping her off at work the next morning. We then hit the road for our last driving journey together and arrived back at my house in Cohasset around 2pm. It was nice to be home of course but definitely strange in a way, especially since I in no way wanted to unpack, clean camping stuff and do laundry.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


Visiting the Grand Canyon in the middle of August is one word: hot. I guess its more than one word as it's also grand, breathtaking, a wonder of the world and so much more. But in August, the defining feature it that it's hot. Not only do you feel it, but the warnings all around the park in regards to the heat and taking care of yourself never let you forget it. And lucky for us, we were to arrive at Grand Canyon National Park smack dab in the middle of August.

Two of the main South Rim hiking trails that dip into the canyon are the Bright Angel Trail and the South Kaibab Trail. There's also the rim trail which is a few miles long and has numerous viewpoints of the canyon. As I'm all about doing as much as possible, we did just that, portions of all three trails.

Our first day we opted for the more modest South Kaibab Trail which was listed as less difficult trail for the best views. And it would be a good warm up for the harder hike the next day. Our turn around point was to be Cedar Ridge.

As the guide had said, it ended up offering better views than the Bright Angel Trail. The hike was really nice and not too hot. Shade was always preferable to sun but we started early enough in the morning that the midday sun was never a huge problem. I really liked Cedar Ridge and sitting on either side of it offered a spectacular view. You really feel like you're a part of the canyon and not just an observer from the edge.

After lunch we headed out to walk along the Rim Trail. I think we hiked 2-3 miles before deciding we were tired enough to hop on the bus back to our car. The Rim Trail is certainly an excellent option for those who aren't able to handle the strenuous hiking of the canyon trails. You get to see multiple areas of the canyon, you can see the Colorado River at a couple points and the camera opportunities are infinite.

On day 2 we headed for the Bright Angel Trailhead. This is the main trail down to Phantom Ranch, the National Park's lodge in the center of the canyon. It is not advised to hike down to the river and back in one day, and we weren't equipped to backpack down there, spend the night and return so we opted to hike to the Indian Garden stopping point and then return.

The hike down wasn't so bad. It's steep and a little harsh on the knees but not super stressful. The worst part was having to step to the side to let the donkey groups down, and then having to walk over the donkey poop in the middle of the trail. It's hard to hike when you smell donkey poop for at least one or two switchbacks.

Indian Garden was quite nice but for an ending point it offered no views of the canyon itself, because it's IN the canyon. The walls rise up around you and it's tempting to keep going down rather than turn around. We rested in a grove of trees amongst multiple groups of donkeys and people resting up before continuing on their journey either into or out of the canyon.

In terms of the heat, it lived up to the hype that's for sure. We left early as advised by the park so you avoid hiking in the high suns of the afternoon, but apparently we didn't go early enough because it was scorching by the time we were ascending back up. It took us 3x as long to get out as it did to get down which is torturous enough before you add the beating sun to the equation. But we took it in stride, one step at a time, one switchback at a time. There was little shade to hike in so we took our rests in whatever shade could be found. 

The Three Mile Resthouse was a godsend since we could sit on benches in the shade, recuperate and refill our water bottles. The only thing bad about it was that it reminded us we still had 3 miles to go before reaching the rim again. Given the heat, and the difficulty of the trail, this hike was all about our endurance and accomplishment of making it out alive.

In total, I think it took us 6 hours to get to Indian Garden and climb back out. We got back to camp around 2pm, ate food and sat down. We read books, soaking in the gorgeous weather and the elk wandering through the campground and didn't move again until sunset. I was sore to say the least!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

if delicate arch has any significance it lies, I will venture, in the power of the odd and unexpected to startle the senses and surprise the mind out of their ruts of habit - edward abbey

After completing our Grand Canyon Excursion we drove up into central west Utah to one of my favorite places of all on the trip, Arches National Park. We only spent a night and a full day there but man, I wish we'd had more time, perhaps another day or two. We did get to explore quite a bit but there was so much more I wanted to see. I really hope to go back and explore Arches more as well as the other parks in Utah that look so wonderful.

We stayed at the Devil's Garden Campground, which definitely tops my campground list. It only has 27 sites, and ours was towards the entrance so it was isolated from everyone else. And in the campground every site is super unique as it's built amongst the rocks and formations. No destruction of nature there. We got to the park around 4pm, and after seeing some of the great rocks, we arrived at the campsite just as the sun was riding close to the horizon. Experts now at putting our tent together in a flash we popped it right up, and then immediately began climbing the nearby rocks. The large sandstone rock next to our site afforded us a spectacular view of the park's surrounding lands and the arch formations in the distance. We watched the sun set and enjoyed a nice relaxing evening.

One thing I read multiple times in researching for this trip was that it isn't recommended you hike in the middle of the day when the sun is blazing because in arid climates such as the desert-like conditions of Arches National Park, in the middle of August it gets HOT! So we were up and at 'em bright and early to begin hiking. Our first destination was an area across the way from the campground which had multiple trails and at least a dozen different arches.

This hike was particularly fun because it was a little more free form and involved climbing up a huge rock formation as part of the trail. When we got to the top though, we couldn't find the cairn trail marker so we followed what we thought were tracks. It was really pretty and there was such a variety in the landscape. But we soon became confused about why there were no other people around when we'd seen plenty a little ways back. But since there were scattered footprints, we thought we must be going in the right direction.

We were wrong.

As we got deeper into the rocks and came to an obvious dead end we decided it was time to turn back. That was an adventure for sure; making sure we went back in the same direction and climbing rocks not really meant to be tracked upon. Shhhh, don't tell the Rangers. However, in taking the path less traveled, we got to see some great sights, such as the fourth picture below. A really spectacular place to be.

After returning to the point where we had split from the trail we finally found the cairn we'd missed, and there were all the other vacationers hiking along in that direction. Wish they had been there when we went by the first time... Cairns are extremely sensible for trail markers, as they incorporate natural elements instead of paint or plastic ties. But in a place made up of and surrounded entirely by rocks and sand, I will say they are not the easiest thing to recognize. Or, I'm just a failure.

Because we ended up exploring off trail for so long, and we were getting tired, we opted to head back and not continue the original hike to see more of the arches. I'm kind of bummed we missed out them, but we still had a blast doing our own thing. Back at camp, we  ate lunch and settled in for a bit of afternoon reading. Once the afternoon heat died down we planned to head over to the infamous Delicate Arch. Boy, were we in for a treat.

A few things to note: 1) When we visited the park center the previous afternoon I vividly recall looking at the weather report. Hot and sunny with the most minimal chance of rain. 2) The ground at our site was fairly hard and even with a hammer we could not get the tent's stakes more than a few inches into the ground. But we figured it would be fine; the weather was so nice that it didn't need to be secured.

So after lunch, we were reading and relaxing, only to feel the wind start to pick up. We looked up and saw a large, dark cloud looming in the distance. Rain was coming. As the dark gray clouds moved closer and closer, we decided to put everything, including ourselves, in the car and wait it out. Better to let it pass before going off to hike in it. It didn't take too long for it to start; the wind picked up a little more and the rain pounded down. This was no passing afternoon shower; this was a full blown rain storm.

After a little while, as the center of the storm hovered over, the tent started to shake and sway quite a bit. We kept a close watch on our poor little temporary home and I still can't believe what we saw. In the midst of the wind blowing all directions, the tent kept being smooshed together like an accordion, though it seemed to weather fairly well. Sitting in the car, we kept pondering how wet our pajamas and pillows would be once it was all over. At some points it was hard to believe there was anything inside the tent at all. As the winds intensified, one giant gust blew past and the tent went flying over on its side. Molly and I bolted from the car, pulled it back up and secured it as best we could with rocks. Weight was the only thing that was going to help us now.

As we ran back to the car a few fleeting thoughts passed through my head: 1) If we hadn't decided to take a long lunch break, we could have come home to an empty site. 2) Based upon the exterior appearance I had no hope that our belongings inside were dry. 3) Thank goodness we'd put the fly on in the middle of the previous night.

The storm didn't last much longer and no other major dilemmas arose after it almost took our tent away. Miraculously, everything except a single sweatshirt was dry. When the tent had been accordion-ing, it had pushed all our stuff to the middle and kept it away from the soaked sides. Looking back, it may have saved us the trouble if we'd packed the whole tent up with the rest of our stuff when we saw the impending storm. But then again, if we hadn't we wouldn't have had such a great time watching it all unfold.

After securing the tent as best we could, we felt confident enough to go on to Delicate Arch. And after all the hassle with the tent, the storm turned out to be a good thing. The hike to Delicate Arch is not shaded and you mainly walk across a massive, open, stone face. I remember reading at some point that it is a hike best done at sunset and it is typically a very high temperature hike. The rain, however, ended up cooling the air tremendously. It dropped from around 95 to 75-80 and the crisp, cool air smelled like rain. It was a spectacular atmosphere for a sunset hike; completely and utterly wonderful.

My words will never do Delicate Arch any justice so I won't even try. But it is truely one of nature's phenomenons and a very peaceful, serene place (even with all the visitors).

And just as we did some exploring earlier in the day, there was opportunity for a bit of climbing here as well.

As we packed up the next morning, I wished we were staying longer so we could explore the Fiery Furnace and the numerous other formations we couldn't fit in to our busy schedule. Had I known Arches would become one of our favorite places I most certainly would have.