Montana – Finally!

After I left Yellowstone National Park,  I began the 85 mile drive to Bozeman, MT. It was the end of a long day of driving and I was exhausted. Also, the sky was dark, cloudy and ominous looking. I entered Montana – the state I’d been dreaming about since I first started contemplating this journey. This state has fascinated me ever since I watched  A River Runs Through It. All I have been able to think about is how much I want to see the immensity of the sky in this state.

Montana - Finally!

Montana – Finally!

I passed through the town of Gardiner and then headed north into the Gallitin National Forest. The huge Absurakoka and Gallitin Mountain ranges immediately appeared before me – gigantic, overwhelming, and just a bit ominous. Perhaps it was because of the dark cloudy sky, but I felt intimidated, small, and scared as I drove through them. I continued on, and then noticed the beautiful Yellowstone River right next to me. It’s beauty as it wound around back and forth, sparkling and fresh, comforted me as I drove along the lonely expanse of 89.

At the town of Livingston, I turned onto Interstate 90, almost breathing a sigh of relief after the extreme solitude of the previous hour’s drive. In 30 minutes I drove over a little hill and the town of Bozeman appeared before me, surrounded by the most beautiful mountains. I took my exit and shortly pulled into my stay for the night, The Rainbow Motel. As soon as I saw it, my heart dropped. From the outside, it appeared shabby and dated, something I would stay at when I was traveling with my family as a kid.

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The Rainbow Motel!

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It looked a bit scary from the outside

Oh, well, I thought, it’s only for one night. I entered the lobby to check in, and a sturdy, no-nonsense but friendly Montana bred woman checked me in. And I got an actual plastic old fashioned key. With building dread, I found my room, turned the key, and walked in – to one of the cleanest, most well maintained rooms that I’ve been in my entire trip. The bedding was brand new and beautiful. The towels were snow white and soft! The bathroom was spotless! I was relieved and delighted. Exhausted from the long day in two national parks, and too tired to go out for food, I poured myself a bourbon on the rocks, grabbed a little sweet cigar, and walked outside to enjoy the sun setting – marveling that it did so at 9:45pm!!! It was so beautiful and peaceful. I enjoyed the night breeze and the colors of the sky.

Sunset in Bozeman

Sunset in Bozeman

The next day I rose early. Since I’d not eaten dinner the night before, I went out in search of a good breakfast. Thanks to the wonders of Yelp, I saw a highly recommended little diner, The Western Cafe, right in downtown Bozeman. I walked in and was immediately taken with it. It was small, decorated like a page out of Field and Stream, had a long counter on the right and some small booths on the left. Country music was playing in the background. It was cozy and inviting. I took a seat at the counter and a handsome bald bearded guy with an earring and tattoos brought me a mug of coffee and a menu. I didn’t need it, as reviews on Yelp highly recommended the homemade biscuits and gravy. I ordered that with two eggs over easy and it came out in no seconds flat (I could see the cook preparing it!). It was one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had.

Biscuits and Gravy!

Biscuits and Gravy!

 While I was eating, a middle aged man with curly gray hair came in and sat next to me at the counter. He was obviously a regular, as the workers there greeted him by name (Rick) and brought him coffee and juice right off the bat. He lamented to me the construction downtown and how hard it’d been to get around. I said, well, I”m just passing through so I hadn’t noticed! He asked where I was from, I told him, Kentucky, and he said he’d lived in Montana his whole life. He asked what brought me to Bozeman, so I told him that I’d quit my job, sold my house, and was on an adventure around the country for a few months. He was fascinated by my trip and called over the owner of the cafe, whom he introduced to me as Susan. He said “This young lady quit her job, sold her house and is driving around on an adventure!” She looked at me in amazement an exclaimed “Honey,that takes alot of guts!” I sat there long after I’d finshed eating, drinking coffee and talking to these friendly folks. I had the best vibe in there – I wanted to stay there all day. Finally I paid my bill, and when I got up from the counter and said my goobyes, Susan came over with a bag of food for me and said, “Here you go hon, for the road.” I got a lump in my throat and I felt on the verge of tears, so touched by this kind and generous gesture by a perfect stranger. And I am more firmly than ever convinced that you get back what you put out.

I made a couple more stops before leaving Bozeman, and snapped a few pictures of the mountains surrounding this lovely little town as I left.

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IMG_4298  IMG_4299I headed west on Interstate 90 towards Missoula. With a clear blue sky and the sun shining brightly, I finally saw what I’d only imagined in my mind – the immensity of the sky in Montana. It is so immense that I just cannot capture it in the limited frame of a camera. You have to see it to really experience it. After an hour and a half of very flat terrain, the mountains appeared before me again and I kept noticing more winding creeks alongside me. These are fascinating to me, they are so prisitine and isolated and beautiful, and I was determined to find a way to get right next to one. About 20 miles outside of Missoula, I noticed a little exit for a state park. I turned off the interstate and made my way to a tiny little campground/park called Rock Creek Recreation area. I drove down a lonely little road, and there I saw it! The most beautiful little private little creek. I sat there for about a half hour enjoying the solitude.

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I finally made it into Missoula and checked into my motel. I planned to be there two days. I needed to have my brakes looked at – they had made me a bit uncomfortable on Teton Pass, and I wanted to make sure they were checked out before I continued on my journey. I called a local Midas and made an appointment for the following morning. I made my way to downtown Missoula and found a little local spot and had a couple of delicious sliders and some sweet potato fries as I enjoyed a White Sox/Tigers game on TV.

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Iron Horse Bar and Grill

 The next morning I loaded up my backpack with my computer and snacks, just in case my car required a long repair. I drove downtown and dropped it off, found a little local coffee spot and enjoyed a brew before finding some breakfast. I stopped in yet another local spot, The Hob Nob, very tiny, but enjoyed an amazing corned beef hash breakfast.

Corned Beef Hash!!!

Corned Beef Hash!!!

When I walked out the door I heard music – a guitar. I popped my head back in the restaurant and asked where it was coming from. The gal replied that Missoula holds a lunchtime concert series every day down at the river park, with food trucks and activities for kids including a carousel. So I made my way across the bridge that spans the Clark Fork River. Oh, another river for me to enjoy! I made my way down to the rocky banks, took my shoes off, and stepped into the cold clear beautiful water. Another one of my dreams fufilled – to have my feet in a Montana River.

After that, I walked into the River Park and enjoyed a little music and walked through the long long tents with lots and lots of food vendors. I found a little ice cream stand and asked the gal what she would recommend and she said, “Well, you’re in Montana, you have to try the Huckleberry!” I opted for that, and she offered another scoop of a different flavor, and I chose Mexican Chocolate. It was delicious!

 

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Great music

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Lunchtime Concert Crowd

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Now that is a food court!

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tons of great food choices

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Carousel!

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Huckleberry and Mexican Chocolate!

 My phone rang – my car was ready for me, and it was only 12:30! I walked the short distance to the shop and picked up my car, which had nice new front rotors. I headed back to the motel and wrote the rest of the afternoon. That night, I sat outside on a picnic bench and witnessed one of the most stunning sunsets I’ve ever seen. Again, I wish my pictures could do it justice.

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A lovely ending to a few days in the most beautiful state I’ve seen yet.

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Grand Teton and Yellowstone!!!

After a nice restful couple of days in Salt Lake City, I left on Sunday morning and headed north. My destination was Idaho Falls, since that would be a good stopping point and a perfect place to stay before heading to Grand Teton National Forest.

I took the conventional route on I-15 north from Salt Lake City. I must say that southern Utah was much more beautiful. The drive was a bit dull but once I crossed into Idaho and found it to be quite beautiful! The landscape was more vast and open, and I started feeling almost smaller as I drove along.

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I arrived in Idaho Falls fairly early in the day, too early to check in to my motel. I saw that I was very close to the river, and then to my delight saw that I was right near the Falls! I parked my car and spent the next hour and a half enjoying the Falls and a pleasant little art fair that was set up in the park right across from the falls.

Idaho Falls

Idaho Falls

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After a fairly uneventful day in Idaho Falls (dealing with computer issues, thank goodness for Best Buy and Geek Squad), I left Idaho Falls very early the next morning and headed towards Grand Teton National Park. This is when I really started to experience some beautiful country. I headed out on Interstate 26 east , the Swan Valley Highway, and not far after I started I stopped at a little scenic view for a spectacular shot of the gorgeous Snake River.

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I came over a ridge and then drove down into Swan Valley…it was spectacular to see, down below with the Snake River winding through the town. I made a left and headed north on 31, Pine Creek Road, through some farmish land but still mountains all along, and then entered the Targhee National Forest, surrounded by beautiful pines and following along Pine Creek . The road was windy up and up and up! Finally I hit the town of Victor and turned onto 33 which turned into 22 after crossing into Wyoming. I went through Teton Pass with an incredibly steep grade 10% grade. It was a bit frightening and my brakes were scaring me a bit. But then I saw the Tetons on my left, covered with snow! Finally I  turned into Teton Village onto 390 and then into the park. about 9:45am.

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I found the Visitors Center and talked to a nice young ranger. He suggested that I stop at both Taggart Lake (there are moose around!) and then stop at Jenny Lake. I took my map and headed north. At the Taggart Lake point, sure enough, I saw a throng of people to the right, and back in some trees, there was a moose! I snapped a few shots, wish my lens was better, and then continued on. I got to Jenny Lake around noon. I got out of my car, threw my backpack on, and walked about halfway across this beautiful lake. Then I got back in my car, and continued through the rest of the park, passing by Jackson Lake and Jackson Dam. I’ll just post all these nice pictures for you.

MOOSE!

MOOSE!

Jenny Lake

Jenny Lake

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Jenny Lake

 

 

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Jenny Lake

Beautiful

Beautiful

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Jackson Lake

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Jackson Dam

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Jackson Lake

After about a half hour driving north, I entered Yellowstone at the South Entrance at around 2:30 or so. First thing I hit was Lewis Falls and snapped some lovely pictures.

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Lewis Falls

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Lewis Falls

I knew I was short on time, and I knew for certain I wanted to see Old Faithful! So I headed on the western part of the loop after touching base at the visitors center at Grant Village. As I drove towards Old Faithful the skies darkened and it looked ominously like rain. I arrived at Old Faithful around 3:15 and found my way to it. A crowd was already surrounding the geyser and I asked when it was next scheduled to go, and folks told me about 20 minutes. So, we sat there and sure enough, right on schedule, there it went!!!

I got into my car around 4pm and continued north, passing through Madison and Norris, seeing some interesting hot springs and pools of hot smelly sulferous gassy water. At Norris I turned north after about a 20 minute delay for some construction, finally arrived at Mammoth Hot Springs, where there were herds of moose right there in the little city square!

Eeew, smelly hot springs gas

Eeew, smelly hot springs gas

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I finally left the park and began my drive north to Montana! I was exhausted and learned my lesson – Teton and Yellowstone in one day is too much!

A Coincidental Visit in Salt Lake City

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After my adventures in Sedona, Flagstaff, Zion and Bryce, I was exhausted!! I needed some time to rest, recharge my batteries, and catch up on my blogging.  So, I booked myself a room in Salt Lake City for a couple of days and just happened to post on Facebook that I was headed that way. Right after I posted that, I got a response from my former horn student Cameron, who said he and his mom and sister would be in Salt Lake City the next day, would I still be there? I said yes, let’s get together!

I first met Cameron when he was a freshman at Jeffersonville High School. My dear friend Scott Cooksey, the band director there, called me and asked if I’d be willing to take him as a student. “Of course!” I replied. Scott continued, telling me that Cameron had Aspergers, a mild form of autism. “Makes no difference to me!” I said. I was happy to teach any and all of Scott’ horn players.

Later that evening I asked my partner to inform me a bit more about Aspergers, since I’d not had any experience with that in the past. She described some social interaction and communication characteristics for me to be aware of.  After that, I spoke to Cameron’s mother Jen, and we set up a lesson for one Saturday morning.

That morning, in walks this tall, thin, gangly young man with his horn. After the lesson, I  distinctly remember thinking this young man appears  no different than any other 14 year old boy I”ve met!  From that day on, I developed the most wonderful friendship with Cameron. He possessed an incredible enthusiasm, joy, and passion for the horn. He was a diligent practicer and made great strides from that first lesson through his Senior year.  And even more importantly, he was a kind, compassionate, and friendly young man who found a home as part of the Jeffersonville High School Band and was well-loved by all of them. I can say that he has been one of my favorite students ever, and I am so proud of him and all he has accomplished.

Cameron spent a couple of years on his mission trip in North Carolina and has now started  as a music major at Brigham Young University Idaho. He had just completed his first semester there and his mom and sister were picking him up and bringing him back home until he starts up there again in January, and Salt Lake City was on their way home.

I contacted Jen and advised her where I was staying and asked where we should meet up. “Temple Square!” she said. “It will be easy to find.” So, I drove up I-15 and sure enough, I couldn’t miss it! I walked in the South Entrance to the square, and was just checking in on FB, and about to text Jen, when here comes Cameron walking towards me! Still the same old Cameron after all these years, but turning into a man. (They grow up so fast!). We hugged and then walked over to his mom Jen and sister Jamie, who had JUST had her wisdom teeth taken out. She wasn’t feeling so great, so Jen sent me and Cameron off while she attended to Jamie. What a great opportunity for me to spend time with Cam, and he gave me a fantastic informative tour of the Square. First, we went into the Tabernacle, the original home of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Oh, I was thrilled to see it! What I wouldn’t give to hear them sing in there! And to hear that organ, that has over 11,000 pipes! Just then,  two girls up front were giving the acoustical demonstration. First, one of them tore a sheet of paper in thirds, and I could hear that all the way in the back. Next, I saw her drop three things into a bowl, and by the sound of it I was assuming they were little rocks. But Cameron and a Sister who was speaking to us told me no, those were pins dropping! So it is true, the acoustics in the Tabernacle are such that you really can hear a pin drop. Amazing!

Tabernacle

Tabernacle

Next, Cameron brought me to the Assembly Hall, a lovely, more intimate building with beatiful stained glass windows and a smaller although still impressive organ!

Assembly Hall

Assembly Hall

Finally, we walked across the street to the Conference Center. We were greeted by a young man who invited us to take a tour of the building. So, a small group of us spent about 45 minutes walking through the center. Not only is the conference center a huge, 20,000 seat hall where the Mormon Tabernacle Choir presently performs, but it also houses some incredibly beautiful works of art – painting, sculptures, glassworks, and the most beautiful gardens on the roof of the building.

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After finishing the tour, we met up with Jen and Jamie at the History Museum, and Jen snapped a picture of us in front of a display of old instruments. How appropriate! We all hugged as we said our goodbyes.

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I told Cameron today how really glad I was to have the chance to meet up with them. It’s been a tad lonely the last week and a half, and was so comforting to see some friends from back home.

Hoodoos!!!

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 I contemplated skipping Bryce Canyon and going back to Zion to face Angel’s Landing again. But, I finally decided to just let it go. So, I packed up all my stuff, said goodbye to Kanab, and started the hour and a half trip to Bryce Canyon. Again Route 89 was my friend and I followed it to Route 12 East. The landscape was fairly non-descript, but all of a sudden I entered the Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon and it was amazing!!! Just a few short miles of some incredible red sandstone formations, including little tunnels built into the rock! What a pleasure! And then, in a blink of an eye, I drove out of it!

Entering Red Canyon

Entering Red Canyon

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  Then I turned south on Route 63 and followed that into Bryce Canyon. I opted to take my car into the park rather than park outside and take the shuttle since  it was so early in the morning.

Bryce Canyon!

Bryce Canyon!

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Sleepy selfie

I arrived right in the park a little after 8 and found the visitors station. The ranger suggested I take the most popular hike, the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop. I asked if there was something a bit longer and he suggested that I take the Peekaboo Loop and make the hike longer. So, all set with my map, I drove to Sunrise Point right next to Bryce Lodge to start my day.

I had a little trouble initially finding the trail head, so I asked a couple who were walking along. She pointed me behind the lodge and said once I saw the rim, everything would make sense. So I walked down a path and then it opened up! OMIGOSH, my first view of Bryce Canyon was spectacular! A canyon of the most spectacular looking rock! HOODOOS! I will describe them as like the sandcastles kids make by taking wet wet sand and dripping it through their hands. It is hard to describe so I’ll just post several pictures so you can see for yourself.

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I started down the trail, and if I thought there were alot of people at Zion, there were twice as many at Bryce this day! Throngs of people walking down the trail down into the canyon. Interesting that on one side was the amphitheater and hoodos and on the other side a very forested area.

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Down and down I walked, sometimes on a trail very close to a steep dropoff. At the bottom of the Queens Garden trail I then turned left onto the Navajo Loop. This passed through a more woodsy area down at the bottom. Finally I got down to the Peekaboo Pass, but it appeared that a sign was indicating that the section was closed. No one went past the sign. I was so disappointed! I wanted to take that loop and I thought why would the ranger have suggested it if it was closed? Disappointed, I continued back up the Navajo Loop.  Right at the end of the Navajo Loop there is a most spectacular crevice or slot like formation at the bottom. Again, hard for me to describe but that’s why I took so many pictures.

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 I finally came out at Sunset Point and saw a ranger there. I asked about the Peekaboo Loop and she said it was indeed open; but it was the connector to Bryce Point was closed due to a landslide. Oh, I was so bummed! It was only 10:30 and I couldn’t just go back…that would take too long. I walked back up to the lodge and a shuttle was there. I thought, well, I can take the Shuttle and see the two Points that I would have seen had I taked the extra trail. So I got on the bus and headed to Bryce Point. The bus driver said that it was possible to walk along the rim from Bryce Point all the way back to Sunrise, so I thought, there we go, that’s what i’ll do! And I’m so glad! I started at Bryce Point, then walked down to Inspiration Point (that was the scariest one, I thought), all the way down to Sunset and then arrived at Sunrise Point at about 12:30. So all together I had about a four hour hike, and hiked down to the bottom for the beginning and then along the rim for the second half. See, everything happens for a reason and I think that I had an even better experience doing it that way!

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Hope you all enjoyed the pretty pictures. It’s even better in person! I think I’ll head up to Salt Lake City and relax for a couple of days before heading North to Grand Teton and Yellowstone!

Zion, Angel’s Landing, and Facing My Fear

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This blog post is extremely difficult for me to write.

I’d never heard of Zion National Park, nor was it on my Amazing Adventure Map. But while I was in Sedona, Steve and Chris both said, well, you MUST  go to Zion if you’re going to Bryce Canyon, they’re right next to each other. So, I circled it on the map! I’d picked Kanab, UT as my home base for the next couple of days, as it was a short drive from Zion and Bryce, and on Thursday morning, headed out on the short 45 minute drive to Zion National Park, northwest of Kanab. I drove again on 89A before turning left and heading west on route 9 into Zion. I was excited as I passed the sign for the park entrance, full of anticipation for another day of hiking.

Heading into the Park!

Heading into the Park!

I passed through the admission ranger gate and the entire world changed. The most BREATHTAKING rock formations appeared before me, HUGE and red and sandstone and all enveloping, nothing that I’d seen at the Grand Canyon. I was truly aghast in amazement, and barely crawled along at 10-15 mph, frequently stopping to take pictures of the unbelievable rock formations all around me. There was one called Checkerboard Mesa that was just stunning. And I wasn’t even in the park yet!  Eventually I drove through one very short tunnel, and then came up to a tunnel that was a full mile long. I almost got a bit claustrophobic!

First look at Zion!

First look at Zion!

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Checkerboard Mesa!

Checkerboard Mesa!

Zion Tunnel!

Zion Tunnel!

Closer and closer I got to the park, and drove down these switchbacks overlooking the canyon, getting close to the edge, with more and more unique and amazing rocks appearing in front of me. Finally I made it to the Visitors Center, backed my car in, and made my way to the Ranger inside the center. I admitted that I really wasn’t familiar with any of the hikes, but that I was in great shape, had all day, and was looking for a challenge. The ranger suggested that I take the Angel’s Landing Trail via the West Rim Trail. She asked if I had a fear of heights, and I said why yes, I do a bit. She said, well, you can hike all the way up the West Rim Trail, through the switchbacks at Walters Wiggles, and up to Scout’s Lookout which overlooks the Canyon. She said that the last half mile of the trail is up to Angel’s Landing, and she said it’s very narrow with often nothing on either side, and if your fear of heights is too much, you don’t have to make the climb.  That sounded great to me.

Zion has a FANTASTIC shuttle bus system. It takes you all along the length of the park to each of the trailheads. So, I jumped on a shuttle and headed towards the Grotto Stop. I got off the bus and full of excitement, walked over to the trailhead.

My trail for the day

My trail for the day

At this point, I have to admit that I was surprised at, after my extremely solitary day at the Grand Canyon, how many people were taking the trail. No matter, I started walking, greeting every person with a hearty “Good morning!”as they walked towards me. Also surprising was that this trail was paved, like a sidewalk. Hmmmm, I thought to myself. After hiking up the rugged Elden Lookout Trail in Flagstaff and Uncle Jim Trail in the Grand Canyon, this seemed a bit odd. As I continued on though, I began to be grateful for the footing it provided!

The "Trail"

The “Trail”

The hike started off pretty easily, and offered a fantastic view of the Virgin River running through the canyon. I spotted several deer along the banks of the river and just relished the view as I walked along.

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Eventually, the path started getting steeper and steeper, and the switchbacks became more challenging to climb. I  also noticed how narrow the trails were and how close I was to the edge of the canyon as I got higher and higher. The final switchbacks to Scout’s Lookout were incredibly steep, and all I could think was that this hike could rival many a crossfit workout. I passed a woman on her way down who smiled and said “Not much further!” That was all the encouragement I needed to make that final push to the top, and I finally stepped out into the open and onto Scout’s Lookout.

Scout's Lookout

Scout’s Lookout

Scout’s Lookout is a fairly flat long rock at the top of the canyon. There are no guardrails or other protective devices surrounding the lookout. I sat down a bit from the edge, took off my backpack, and tentatively snapped some pictures as I had a snack.

Me at Scout's Landing

Me at Scout’s Lookout

Off to my right was the infamous Angel’s Landing. I looked over and was surprised to see LOTS of hikers scaling up and down the rock. It looks quite daunting, and has a rope chain up the side. I sat there, looking at it. Looking at little 8 year old kids going up and down. Looking at folks 60+ going up and down. Big, small, tall, short, young, old…getting in line to go up and coming down with triumphant smiles on their faces. I thought to myself, the longer I sit and stare at it, the more scared I will get. And finally, after seeing a man in his late 60’s coming down, I thought, alright, if he can do it, I can do this. So I walked over to the base and stared….and stared and stared. And I just could NOT get myself to do it. The warning signs (6 people have died since 2004!), the chains, my experience with the edges of the Grand Canyon and my earlier hike up and looking out on Scout’s Lookout, my all encompassing fear of heights…all of these just got to me and I walked back to the safety of the Lookout. I chided myself over and over….Alise, you’re in fantastic shape, you crossfit,  imagine Erin Stimac’s voice encouraging you and motivating you, this trip is all about facing all your fears and conquering them, c’mon, just fucking DO IT!

I couldn’t.

Defeated and deflated, I turned around and walked the long long way back down to the bottom of the trail, tears streaming down my face, as I tried to hide my sobs from the hikers heading up the trail. I felt like a failure. I felt that the fact that I could not bring myself to hike that final half mile up to the top of Angel’s Landing that somehow that made me inadequate. Twice as I was heading down I stopped and thought about going back up to try it…but didn’t.

I got back to my room in Kanab and just cried my heart out. I am trying to understand why this has affected me so much. Why am I so hard on myself and why do I feel that I somehow failed? If anyone else had told me this exact experience, I would have wrapped my arms around them and been kind and compassionate and counseled them to be easy on themselves, and to look at what they had achieved – a very successful and challenging and enjoyable hike in one of the most beautiful parks in the world. Why do I feel that I don’t deserve the same compassion from myself? I think that deep down, for whatever reason, I feel inadequate, and just not good enough. And instead of looking at the wonderful things I have been doing the past month and a half (or even my whole damn life for that matter), I look at this one small thing today that I was unable to bring myself to do, and use it as confirmation of my unworthiness. “See Alise, you couldn’t climb Angels’ Landing, you couldn’t conquer that fear of heights, so that proves that you aren’t good enough”. Which I know in my head is entirely untrue, but the fact that I’m sobbing uncontrollably as I write this and reflect upon the experience at the top of Scout’s Lookout proves to me that I have a long way to go. It’s not my fear of heights itself – I talked to my brother after my experience in Zion and he assured me that a fear of heights is basic self preservation! But it’s about what that fear prevented me from doing, and the fact that I’m having a hard time being gentle with myself about that. And mostly, it’s the fear at the core of all of it – the core belief that I’m just not good enough.

 So, although I am going to some fabulous and beautiful places and doing some wonderful things and having amazing adventures, this little experience at Zion National Park reminds me that I still have some work to do on myself along the way. Much to ponder as I drive in the vast solitary stretches of the West.

I-am-enough

Grand Canyon!!!

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The morning of my Grand Canyon adventure started at 4am. I left Flagstaff and was on the road by 4:30 just as the sun began to lighten the sky in beautiful hues of blue and pink. I began the four hour drive to the North Rim on my friend, Route 89 North. Off to my left I could see the faint outline of Humphrey’s Peak in the distance; I’d heard great things about hiking it, and I hope to some day soon. My drive continued, solitary and quite desolate. It was almost eerie how alone I was on the road.  After awhile I continued onto 89A and then started to see some change in the landscape. As I drove towards Marble Canyon, I had to pull off and snap a few spectacular shots.

Beautiful Landscape

Beautiful Landscape

Right around Navajo Bridge, I crossed the Colorado River. I looked down as I crossed and gasped in amazement, it was so vast! I was finally getting close! The landscape changed again and the temperature dropped further as I got closer and closer into the Kaibab National Forest.

Kaibab Forest

Kaibab Forest

At the very small town of Jacobs Lake, I turned south onto 67, the Grand Canyon Highway, and drove the last 25 miles to the park. As I finally entered a clearing, I saw a coyote flash across the road in front of me, a gaggle of wild turkeys, and then herds and herds of bison!

Bison!!!

Bison!!!

Finally, I saw the entrance sign for the park, jumped out and snapped a picture of my excitement.

I'm THERE!!!

I’m THERE!!!

I came to the Ranger Entrance and was greeted by a delightful young ranger lady who asked how I was. “Overwhelmed” I replied, and she smiled as she suggested that I purchase an annual pass to all the National Parks, gave me my maps, and sent me on the final 12 mile drive to the Visitors’ Center. As I pulled into the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of the Canyon on my left and screamed aloud. It was spectacular!  I parked the car and walked up to a ranger in the Visitors Center.  I’d identified a trail to hike that day, the Uncle Jim Trail, and she smiled and said it was a great choice. The trail winds through the forest to a point overlooking  the canyon. She directed me back down the road about a mile to the Kaibab Trailhead parking lot where I would find the start of my hike. Before doing that, I entered the Lodge itself, walked to the back and out the back door, and beheld the magnificence of the Grand Canyon for the first time. Folks, I just cannot put into words that first look at the majesty of this natural wonder.

The First Look

The First Breathtaking Look

Excited for my hike, I loaded my backpack with water, lots of snacks, and other essentials. I drove to the Kaibab Trail lot, parked my car, put on my hiking shoes, and by 9:30 entered the Ken Patrick Trail that would eventually turn off to the Uncle Jim Trail Loop. Three times I stepped aside for groups taking mule rides on the trail, but for the most part it was a nice solitary hike. I think I probably saw only 5 or 6 other hikers at the most in the entire three hours. The trail was fairly flat and easily negotiated, (I had to watch out for piles and piles of mule poop) and after about 2 hours I reached the far point of the loop, followed a very narrow path, and came to the small isolated point overlooking the Canyon. It was dizzingly spectacular. Pictures don’t really portray the vast scope of the canyon. I sat there as close to the edge as I was comfortable and ate an apple as I enjoyed the silence all around me, save for the wind and the bees buzzing around me.

Uncle Jim Trail

Uncle Jim Trail

Getting close!

Getting close!

Point overlooking Grand Canyon

Point overlooking Grand Canyon

After that short rest, I got up, dusted myself off and continued the loop back to the trailhead. This trail was so lightly traveled that once I got off the Uncle Jim loop and back to the Ken Patrick Trail, I could see my footprints from the beginning of my hike. When I finally cleared the trail back to the parking lot, I headed back up to the lodge and took the short half mile Bright Angel Point Trail around the lodge. This little trail challenged my fear of heights.  I got as close to Bright Angel Point as I could before finally turning back. Patti Hall would understand completely…at times I wanted to crawl on my hands and knees it was so scary!

Bright Angel Point Trail

Bright Angel Point Trail

Bright Angel Point Trail

Bright Angel Point Trail

My first National Park out west… BOOM! Next up, Zion National Park!

Flagstaff – My Kind of Town!

I left Sedona very reluctantly…I was so much at ease there and could have easily stayed much longer there, taking in the beautiful Red Rocks and hiking my life away. But Flagstaff beckoned, and I’d heard really wonderful things it. I’d been urged to take the back way up to Flagstaff, north on 89A, and I did just that. The drive was magnificent. Very narrow winding roads through lush forests of pine. At the top was a little turnoff for a scenic view. Tonya had suggested that I stop there, so I pulled off and beheld the most splendid view – as close as I could get to it without getting dizzy from my fear of heights! This scenic turnoff was even more pleasant as it was lined with several Native American booths with  crafts, jewelry and gifts. I bought a lovely little money clip etched with my spirit totem, the wolf.

Heading to Flagstaff

Heading to Flagstaff

I arrived in Flagstaff a little bit after 1pm, and right away knew that I would be staying more than just the night. I found the historic Route 66 and took it into the little downtown area, parked my car, and started walking down San Francisco Avenue. Quaint is the word that accurately describes this little area. After checking out several outdoor gear shops, I found one with a much needed hiking hat, on sale. After having a delightful and hearty Blackbird Porter at the Flagstaff Brewing Company, I passed a great little music store. Finally,the opportunity I’d been waiting for! I went inside and found what I’d been searching for since I visited Gretchen and Tim in Bethesda. Now I just have to learn how to play the damned thing!

Harmonica!

I drove back along Route 66, checked into my hotel, added an extra night, and relaxed for a bit. There was no need to search high and low for a good place to eat. Tonya and Chris’ friend Steve had already pointed me to Diablo Burgers, right in the heart of the little downtown area. Diablo Burger is very small…seating inside is just a few high top tables and the bar with a TINY kitchen behind the bar. The place is so small there’s no bathroom within their restaurant – you have to walk back around somewhere. There are several picnic tables outside for outdoor dining. I took a seat at the bar and enjoyed one of their seasonal light ales. Not sure what it was, but it was lovely on this hot evening. I can’t remember what the name of the burger that I ordered, but it had pesto, a fried egg, and I asked them to throw on some crispy bacon (‘cause bacon makes everything better). The burger arrived perched on a bed of fantastic hot fries. All Diablo burgers are served on English muffins – great by me, I love them that way. It was one of the best burgers I have ever had. Cooked perfectly medium rare. I finished the burger,  but could NOT even make a dent in the pile of fries.

Diablo Burger

Diablo Burger

 Dusk arrives early in Flagstaff, so I headed back to the hotel. I made one stop…at a FANTASTIC little shop called McGaugh’s Smoke and Bottle. This is an incredible little store with an amazing variety of beer and a fantastic selection of cigars. I chose about 6 little tiny cigars and drove back to my hotel, where I enjoyed a little cherry cigar in the lovely cool dark before hitting the sack.

Tatiana!

Tatiana!

Folks, I am not kidding, the sun is UP over the horizon by 5:30am this time of year in Flagstaff. I was up and dressed and headed over to Crossfit Flagstaff, a mere 2 miles from where I was staying. I walked in for the 6am class and was greeted not by the resident crossfit dog, but the resident crossfit CAT, Clark. Wow! Clark pointed me in the direction of the coaches of the morning’s class, Stephen and Rachel. I signed myself up (most crossfits I’m visiting have fancy schmancy electronic Wodify or similar computer programs), bought myself a Crossfit Flagstaff shirt, and began my warmup. This was one of the biggest and nicest crossfit boxes I’ve visited on my trip…similar in size and scope to Crossfit Maximus. We all did a prescribed warmup on our own, then Rachel led us through a short barbell complex group warmup. There was no strength element to the class (boo) and we went directly into the WOD of the day, which was named the River Styx. 1000 meter row followed by 21-15-9 KB swings and burpees. After well over a week with no crossfit, it felt pretty good to have my butt kicked!

Crossfit Flagstaff

Crossfit Flagstaff

 After class I went right across the street to a littlle coffee shop, enjoyed a cup of strong yummy brew, and in walks one of that morning’s 6am crew. Turns out this guy is from Macomb, IL (right down the road from where I went to undergrad) and he extolled the virtues of Flagstaff for me (as if I hadn’t already realized them!). After that, I grabbed a quick shower at the hotel, and then headed back downtown for breakfast at MartAnne’s – also recommended by Tonay and Chris’ friend Steve! At his suggestion, I ordered the Chilaquiles, Fratelli style (covered in pork salsa verde) and folks, they were out of this world. I made a valiant effort but will not disclose the after picture. I tried….really I did.

Chilaquiles Fratelli Style

Chilaquiles Fratelli Style

 What to do now with the whole day in front of me? Tonya had suggested the chair lift at the Arizona Snow Bowl, but unfortunately it only runs Friday through Sunday. However, there was a decent little climb very close to me …. The Elden Lookout Trail is about 2.5 miles one way and about a 2000 foot elevation to the top. It was cloudy and perfect for the climb. I drove a few miles to the trailhead and started up. The climb was very difficult – steep, very rocky, and quite strenuous. For just a short moment I thought I was in over my head, but just kept telling myself to put one foot in front of the other. Finally I made it to the top, and enjoyed a stunning view of Flagstaff. I have to say that crossfit really is a great preparation for climbing these higher elevations.

Elden Trail Point

Elden Trail Point

 After a tough crossfit workout and an even tougher climb up Mt. Elden, I was BEAT. I headed back to the hotel, took a well deserved shower, and drove back to Flagstaff Brewing Company. This time, I chose a wonderful Coconut Porter and at the bartender’s recommendation, ordered a half order of poutine. I had enjoyed an authentic poutine when I traveled to Montreal in 2004 for the GALA festival with VOICES. This was not quite up to the classic poutine, as there were no cheese curds, but after all that activity, it tasted pretty damned good. For those of you who don’t know what poutine is….it’s a bed of french fries smothered in brown gravy and topped with cheese curds. It’s OUT OF THIS WORLD.

A-yummy-if-not-classic-poutine

A-yummy-if-not-classic-poutine

 My final destination for the day was the Lowell Observatory, about 2 miles further down the road. I arrived just in time to hear a fantastic lecture on the discovery of Pluto (the planet that’s not a planet anymore), followed by a talk inside the rotunda on the how to’s of identifying planets, stars, constellations, etc. Unfortunately it was a bit too cloudy for stargazing, so I headed back to my hotel room and looked forward to the next day – THE GRAND CANYON!