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Return to the canyon . . . .

4 Sep

Back on the bus, waking up at the Grand Canyon for sunrise.. After pitching our tents, Mitch, Angela, Marie and I set out for our evening 7 mile hike down into the canyon.  Or, as Mitch put it, ” a very big hole in the ground”.  As night fell around us, we felt the mountain wrapping itself around us and enfolding us in its warmth.  The heat rising from the rocks made it a hot and sometimes difficult trek in the dark, and as if we were decending into hell itself.  Eventually we crossed the Black Bridge, refreshed ourselves in Black Angel Creek and on to Bright Angel camping – a rudimentary camp site where we ate our meal, stretched out on the ground (apart from Marie, who slept on the table!)….. And fell soundly asleep.  Angela, unfortunately, being disturbed both by bugs (scorpions, even, maybe) and my snoring (the discomfort leading me to sleep on my back)

Marie, Mitch, Vanessa and Tim… before the adventure!

A reminder to think twice before setting off into the canyon

I worry about these two..

Bright Angel camp site…. consumption of large amounts of tinned tuna before total collapse…. conversation minimal…

I’ve rafted down the canyon before, which was an incredibly peaceful, relaxing, transforming experience…. this was punishing, exhausting – and still transforming.

Waking at 6 (it would have been 5, but Angela didn’t notice the alarm) – and began the long, slow 11 mile trek out of the canyon.  Angela’s leg was suffering from the previous night’s walk, and so Mitch and I mostly Mitch, I just carried the pink sleeping mat, doing nothing for my machismo) carried her stuff out of the canyon for her.

You might say that we battled the Canyon and won… but, always, the Canyon wins.  I’ve seen it from the bottom, rafting through in tranquillity and peace.  I’ve seen it from the trail, hiking through the heat.  Each time it has left me moved, awed, and transformed.  And those who rock up at the rim of the Canyon and simply look down at its beauty and majesty – well, they have seen, but can never truly know.

A night camping out by the canyon was marred only by rainfall halfway through the night – although if they hadn’t woken me I would never have noticed…. So I rose early to walk through the woods and think…. Before, finally, clearing the camp site and making our way out of the Canyon.

A brief stop for milkshakes and burgers on Route 66 – where the new road has bypassed the old, leaving the population reliant on nostalgia rather than travellers.

And,finally, rocking up in Vegas for a final dinner with some amazing people, friends like Mitch, Katherine and Jay, like Vanessa, and many others that made this trip special.  Incredible sights, wonderful views, amazing spiritual experiences and insights, fabulous friends… and just a dash of romance.


Horses, mesas, magic, moonlight and more…..

31 Aug

On to Arches park, where erosion has carved beautiful arches into the rock.  Marie wanted to see as many arches as possible, so we raced round the primitive trail to see as many as possible…. Although ‘trail’ here is  bit of an exaggeration, more sort of ‘let’s build a few cairns to show people how they might get from a to b if they are really good at climbing’. Unfortunately, I dropped my camera and didn’t get many pictures of this very beautiful site – here’s one shot I got before I dropped the camera.

However, after an overnight stop by the Colorado river and a chance to play frisbee (and fix the camera), some of us got up early (Victor, what were you thinking?!) to hike up to the arches in the hills above the camp site… which we actually thought were more beautiful than the ones in the park.  And of course SOMEONE had to climb it….

I caught up quickly with the world at an Internet Café in Moab, where although the beer has wonderful names, it’s all a bit weak.  I went for the Scorpion (it is my birth sign) while Vanessa went for the Polygamy Porter (tagline ‘Why have just one’)

I hiked up the creek in Moab, very conscious of the presence of angels with me, before joining the others under the waterfall – diving under the water to find a hidden cavern behind the falls.

Overnight camping again, overlooking the gooseneck canyon of the San Juan river… just looking at that incredible sight led me to a real reconnection to my mission and purpose, and a new understanding of who I truly am.  And for more on that, see

.We were treated to a fireworks display as lightning lit up the sky with the full moon hanging over the camp site – Angela and I pulled up a rock and drank in the sight: we could have watched for hours.  It just reinforced the fact that I was in a special place, both physically and spiritually.

A few beers later I managed to send up the entire motivational speaking industry with an impromptu motivational speech on the subject of dating.

And then to sleeping under the stars – watching the patterns appear in the sky and marvelling at the beauty again.

Then on to Monument Valley – the wind and water have carved out mesas which remain to show the original rock level.  Because of the shape, many of these have earned names such as the right mitten and left mitten, Camel Butte, and more.  After a sight seeing stop to see the whole canyon we boarded a jeep to join our horseride – an experience which left me initially fearful as my last horseriding experience had not gone well (when my steed galloped off with me still attached).  This time – it was incredible.  It felt surreal, through the landscape surrounded by mesas (including the backdrop for the Will Smith movie Wild Wild West).  I had tears in my eyes as I felt the connection with the land, with my horse, Conan, and as God gently whispered a promise into my heart.  And more on that again at (Side joke – a couple of the horses were so new they had no name… so we really did go into the desert on a horse with no name….

The evening fund us taking a dip at Lake Powell, where I decided to heal a childhood fear by swimming across the lake – my intuition suggesting I return just before three speedboats cut through the water.  Powell is a man made lake behind the Lake Powell Dam.

The evening was spent in the fairly dull town of Paige – but livened up with some very good (and apart from Mitch and Jay) very beautiful company over dinner, followed by attending an outdoor gig – where the arrival of our party certainly livened up the atmosphere (the townspeople of Paige were treated to a display of all female dancing that they won’t forget in a hurry…)

Roughly the route (Pacific Trek – Canyons & Coast Week 1). . .

30 Aug

A – San francisco

B – Redwoods National Park

C – Crater Lake

D – Ashland

E -Lassen Park

F – Mt Shasta

G – Lava beds

Here we go again – Canyons of the West

30 Aug

So, off we set again, back on the bus for the Canyons of the West tour.  And I would be proved to be right…. another amazing week.

The previous bus had 24 people on it – this time, the die hards from the previous week (Katherine, Mitch, Jay, Laurie, Jim and myself) were joined by 30 others…. a long overnight bus ride buried in the bowels of the bus in the ‘honeymoon suite’ listening to every movement of the bus – and the other occupant, who I’d only just met, for heaven’s sake!

We ended up in Zion National Park: a huge canyon but containing the daunting Angel’s Landing, a scary climb with chain handholds and terrifying drops.  Best fixed by not looking down.  Beautiful, beautiful views, Quite an achievement for someone with slight feelings of vertigo, which I then doubled by running down the mountain, for an unknown reason….

Overnight camping  led to a visit to Bryce Canyon, where the wind sculpted hoodoos appear in ever corner of the landscape.  A difficult hike in the heat into the canyon following the Fairyland trail and back up, trying to keep up with Marie, the Energizer bunny, and Vanessa, who just kept on going… every turn revealing more beauty and incredibly beautiful views.

There are some incredible people on this trip – the Three Musketeers (myself, Mitch and Jay, with Katherine fulfilling D’Artagnan’s role: the party duo of Cat and Alana, our two most atypical librarians, Bridget and Angela, plus Marie, the ‘beautiful lying French Australian ballerina’ (Angela’s words after she found out ‘drop bears’, indigenous Australian mammals that lie in wait in trees to drop on their prey, weren’t actually real), Lukas, cycling from Maine to Montana, the Brit posse of Luke, Katie and Jess, fresh from helping at a US summer camp… Jeff,  Oona… the list seems endless (and feels endless, when trying to cram them all on a bus)

Angela and VanessaMitch and Marie

So, onto the bus, for a most unexpected evening… the bus was far too crowded tonight, it seemed…which, sometimes, can turn out to be a very good thing.

And I was put in mind of this. . .

“May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view…where something strange and more beautiful and full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.” –Edward Abbey

Back on the bus….

20 Aug

So, after Ashland – back on the bus for another night drive, rocking up in Lassen Volcanic Park.

Now THIS was the highlight walk of the trip.  Having left the drivers to resolve the water issue (we didn’t have any) we set off on a two hour hike through the Lassen area.  This whole area used to be a huge volcano, Mount Tahama, which exploded thousands of years ago, destroying the mountain completely and leaving smaller peaks behind.  In 1915 the mountain exploded again, and what we see now is the mountain recovering from the destruction.  The walk took four hours rather than two (the drivers weren’t happy), but the mountain itself is incredibly beautiful – I spotted a hummingbird flying between flowers, and the flowers and trees now soften the mountain.  The chipmunks loved the bits of apple I fed them, although they did pretend to ignore the pieces initially… Unlike Hawai’I which is mostly lava, this is granite blocks that have been hurled into the air from the explosion.

And then we encountered the board walks of Bumpass Hell (named, disappointingly, after Kendall Bumpass who lost a leg after falling into a boiling pool.  Subsequent tourists have been equally unlucky when straying from the boardwalk.  This basin has boiling pools of sulphuric water, mud pots and steaming fumaroles… an amazing and beautiful (if somewhat smelly) sight.  Amazingly, flora clings to the edges of the pools, while bacteria actually survive the chemical hell.

Now, we didn’t realise that the altitude was going to have quite such an effect on the temperature… I nearly froze out there, one of the girls surrendered to the cold and slept on the bus (and she still didn’t look warm in the morning) while Mitch, our resident Australian, nearly developed hypothermia.  Coffee and pancakes restored our core temperature, and a hot shower (the first in 4 days) restored our spirits.  All the leftovers from the night before ended up in a Mexican scramble… deeply unappealing to look at and remarkably tasty to eat.

Inside the magic bus – sleeping quarters after ‘The Miracle’ of conversion

On, then, to Lava Beds national park and exploring the lava tubes there.  Unfortunately, I forgot to remove my sunglasses and walked straight into the low ceiling – the resulting chunk out of my head didn’t produce much sympathy….

We stopped off also at Petroglyph point where the Native Americans used to canoe out over the (now drained) lake to carve images (over 5000) in the rock.  Here, the rock is softer than lava, and so the images have been eroded – and other, more recent, additions have spoiled the mysterious carvings.

Back on the bus for a magical mystery tour that led us into the woods for one final meal together before a night drive that deposited us back at the Green Tortoise hostel at 7am.

Time, then to recharge my batteries (the laptop, the camera, the phone) and take a shower before getting back on board.  This time, we’ve got another 12 people on board… and judging by the new travellers I have met so far, it’s going to be an interesting week.

(Oh, and for the shoppers amongst you – here’s a shot of the Westfield Arcade Nordstrum.. )

All aboard the magic bus . . . .

18 Aug

Well, lots has happened since the last time I updated this blog. It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s just that I have been on a bus since Friday night….

The Green Tortoise run tours of America, Mexico and elsewhere based on a bus which converts into sleeping accommodation. The luggage racks are widened to create bunks, the seats convert into a flat area.. And there are even two little separate spaces for couples.

So I’ve been rocketing around California and Oregon for a few days… let’s catch you up to what’s been happening

Day 0 – at 8pm I turned up as requested at a corner of a bus terminal and got on the crazy bus… quick orientation and then ‘The Miracle’ – converting the bus to a mobile hotel. Trust me, we got to be friends REAL quick. It’s cosy.

Day 1 – we woke up in the middle of the Redwoods National Park. Breakfast bagels and coffee on the bus, and then a hike through the incredible Redwoods park with some of the hugest trees I have seen. The play of light through the trees,, the incredible tree trunks, occasionally finding trees that had simply exploded when struck by lightning… and apart from us walking through, what seemed like a complete absence of wildlife and birdsong… very spooky and surreal. We hiked around 10 miles to the sea and back – I decided I wanted to take the extra one mile extension – which led to me running to meet the bus. And someone, somewhere, had mentioned bears in the woods….

We’ve got some wonderful companions – a dutchman and Tommy, his teddy bear (romantic present from his girfriend) – a shamanistic tattoo artist who does yoga every morning – an escaped Australian also on a world tour (and with some wild tales to tell) – a very quiet heavy metal fan – lots of folk from the bay area in California – an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman, which is a joke just waiting to happen.. And, incredibly, a girl from Coventry.

We camped out overnight at Trinity River (Skunk Point) – lying up looking into an incredibly clear sky at the stars was a beautiful and wonderful sight – listening to the ripple of the water running downstream… and just the vague worry that the bins had bearproof handles on them….

Day 2 – a bunch of folk went white water rafting at Trinity River… and I confronted my thrill issues by jumping into the river and swinging from a rope (before plunging into the river, of course).

Now, the drivers on the bus use a ‘buddy system’ to check who is on the bus and make sure no-one gets left behind. Today, this failed… Jim got left behind – and we didn’t find out for nearly an hour, by which time we’d travelled quite a way. Jim seemed happy- the rafting company had broken out the beers and he was suitably mellow by the time we got back.

We all contribute to creating food on the bus – but it’s amazing what can be done with simple camping equipment and a bit of imagination!

We travelled overnight on the bus – I managed to find a new spot that was a bit more comfortable… and woke up the next morning at Crater Lake. Perhaps it was a bit rude to make breakfast in front of the local restaurant – but we did ASK if it was OK.

Crater Lake is a volcanic caldera – the volcano exploded 7000 years ago, and the caldera then collapsed into the space left by the magma chamber. Over the years, the snowfall and rain has filled the caldera with water, producing an incredibly beautiful lake that burns a brilliant blue. The island in the middle is Wizard Island, another, smaller volcano. There’s no other water that feeds the lake – and, incredibly for August in 80 degree heat – there is still snow around the lake. And the water is INCREDIBLY cold. Although no challenge is too great on this trip, so I did have to swim in it!

There’s only one safe way down the crater walls – a climb equivalent to a 75 storey sky scraper. And, every now and then – chipmunks.

Then a bus to Umpqua Hot Springs. Volcanic activity floods this with incredibly warm water (the initial pool is too hot for comfort). The locals have created a little chain of pools that are now covered in a silica coating from the water. Late night bathing in the pools is swimwear optional… enough said about that, I think.

Overnight by the side of the river, after a campfire and cooking Smores (for those of you who don’t know – toasted marshmallow & chocolate between two graham crackers) (not sure, but the beer was good) and a lazy wake up… time for some thoughts by the river, a bit of peace and quiet reflection.

Day 4 – on the bus. With a quick stop for a dip in Rogue River and a game of football. Now, football is an interesting concept. Our resident Englishman (yours truly), Dutchman and Swiss are fine. The Ozzie eschewed his No Rules approach to football, and even the SF resident knew soccer. The guy from Milwaukee, however, tended to treat it as American Football with a round ball – so having been body slammed a dozen times… the pine cones and barefoot play made it interesting, too…

And so to Ashland. A lovely town, with a huge Shakespeare festival. The crew are off watching Henry IV but since I haven’t seen the other episodes, I’m in Starbuck, charging batteries on my camera and my phone, and updating this blog.

And then overnight on the bus to Lava Beds…

Catch you in a few days.

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