Meeting the Challenge

According to the Maps app on my phone, the trailhead where I planned to start hiking was about a mile and a half ahead. A ‘Road Closed’ sign was not what I wanted to see. I hadn’t been up here before, but it didn’t appear that there was any access to the trails except by this road. A couple of cars were parked on the side of the road in front of me and as I got out of my car a pickup truck pulled in behind me. Thinking maybe the driver was a local resident who could offer some advice, I asked him if he knew what was going on. He was as clueless as I was. We decided the only option was to start walking up the road.

On a 95 degree day in August it’s not a pleasant experience to walk on a newly surfaced blacktop road that is being baked by the afternoon sun. My goal was to hike to the radio towers at the top of Roxy Ann peak. It’s a landmark we’ve become familiar with on our many trips to Medford but there are so many other hiking opportunities that we never bothered with these few local trails. This visit, though, wasn’t about hiking. I’d been busy with other priorities and made a last minute decision to get out for what I thought would be a short climb up the shady slopes of the peak.

Trees were few and far between as I trudged up the road. I grabbed every little bit of shade there was. Since I hadn’t been here before I didn’t know how many twists and turns the road would take before the trails started. When I finally got to the first trailhead I could see that the trails didn’t have as many trees as I expected.

I was grateful for the many switchbacks on the trail, even though with all the winding back and forth, it seemed the trail would never get to the top. Finally, there was the base of the first tower and by walking over to the rock outcropping I could look out over the city and enjoy the rewards of all that sweaty labor.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend this way of hiking Roxy Ann peak. But now I can look up there every visit to Medford and remember another challenge met and conquered.

Southern Utah Wrap-Up

As mentioned in my last post, we planned a stop at Bryce Canyon National Park for the wrap-up of our southern Utah adventure. And what a wrap-up it was. Everyone has seen pictures of the natural wonders that are on display in this eroded landscape, but even the best photography can’t duplicate the experience of actually being there.

We knew we’d find crowds of people like we experienced at Zion, but there’s more room at Bryce so it didn’t feel as suffocating. With about 4 hours to spend there, we picked the most popular hike, a 3-mile circuit that descends into the canyon at Sunset Point, winds through some of the formations and then ascends through a narrow slot canyon back up to the rim at Sunrise Point. After the hike, we completed the remainder of the scenic drive, stopping at several of the viewpoints along the way.

As I said, we have all seen pictures of Bryce so it’s understandable if you don’t want to take the time to page through photos that I took. But I couldn’t resist putting some online, anyway.

Rather than upload the pictures here, they are available in a Google photos album that you can access by clicking on the photo below that was taken at one of the overlooks.

We have wrapped up southern Utah for now, but it is such beautiful country and there were many places we didn’t have time to see, so I’m hoping we will make another trip there soon.

Our Southern Utah Adventure

Our southern Utah adventure started with a couple of days spent in the southeastern part of the state. Probably the most well known place to visit there is Monument Valley but, given our time constraints, we had to save that for another time. I had seen pictures of the twisting, entrenched river meander visible from an overlook at Goosenecks State Park and that was an easily accessible stop to make after our day of driving from Albuquerque.

We also had enough time to drive down the road to Mexican Hat and then take the side road to a good view of the formation that gives the town its name.

Friday was the day set aside for hiking. With all of the options available it wasn’t easy to select one, knowing what we would have to pass up. The weather helped us make a decision. Deserts and mesas would be too hot so we headed to the mountains.

Not far from Blanding, several access roads lead into the Manti-La Sal National Forest, close to the controversial Bears Ears formation. We thought we had picked an isolated area for our hike, but after driving a winding dirt road up the mountains to the trailhead we were surprised to find a large group of people setting up booths and tents. We had stumbled upon the Annual Summer Gathering of the Native peoples who have ancestral ties to the Bears Ears region. It was interesting to talk to them and get an understanding of the issues involved.

The first hike we attempted was on a trail so overgrown that, even after several times backtracking, we never found what we thought would be a trail into Kigalia Canyon. We drove further up the road and had better luck finding a couple of other trails that lead into Hammond Canyon. But by then we didn’t have enough time to go too far into the canyon.

Spring in Kigalia Canyon
Hammond Canyon
View of Bears Ears formation on drive back from hiking

As we left Blanding on Friday, heading to Cedar City in southwestern Utah, we drove the loop road through Natural Bridges National Monument. At the stop for the last of the three Bridges we walked the trail that led under the impressive stone structure.

Sipapu Bridge at Natural Bridges.

By lunchtime we were driving through Capital Reefs National Park. We ate at the picnic area near the Visitors Center and stopped for a couple of scenic viewpoints but then it was time to get back on the road.

Capital Reefs National Park.

The main attraction for our week in Utah awaited us in Cedar City. We had five days to spend enjoying hiking (me and Lee) and biking (Aaron and Ruth) trails. Not to mention just the fun of being together for the week.

We found time to visit Cedar Breaks National Monument, Zion National Park, and several areas in the Dixie National Forest.

One of the overlooks on our hike at Cedar Breaks.
I was amazed at the size and abundance of Bristlecone Pine trees.
A hike at Northgate Peaks in the northern section of Zion.
Hike in Kolob Canyons area, also in northern section of Zion.
Overlook that we hiked to in Pine Valley section of Dixie National Forest.
One of my favorite rock formations–reminds me of ET.
Cascade Falls Trail in Dixie National Forest.
Looking towards Zion from Virgin River Rim Trail.

Today as we head back to New Mexico we will make one more stop at another of the southern Utah wonders we have always wanted to visit–Bryce Canyon National Park.

Tucumcari Tonight!

Driving west through Amarillo on Interstate 40, just as we made it past the city traffic, there was the billboard I’d seen many times over the years at various points along the interstate–Tucumcari Tonight! And today that was actually going to be our stop for the night.

Since Tucumcari is less than 200 miles from Albuquerque, it has never made sense in previous travels to stay overnight there. But with some extra time built in this week on our drive from Michigan to New Mexico, Lee planned a Texas side trip to explore Lake Meredith National Recreation Area. From Elk City, Oklahoma, where we had spent the night, the lake was a 2-hour drive west and then north. It wasn’t too far out of our way, since after visiting the lake, it was less than 40 miles to drop down to Amarillo and get back on the interstate. And then it’s just 100 miles to Tucumcari, leaving plenty of time for a hike at the lake.

We found a nice trail that went through a canyon and along a mesa. There were good views of the lake, which is a large reservoir on the Canadian River. When Lee suggested the visit to Lake Meredith I had imagined that it would be a flat, featureless landscape like the other parts of the Texas Panhandle. I was pleasantly surprised at the interesting geologic features and the lush greenery along the trail.

Tomorrow we will have time to check out either or both Ute Lake State Park and Conchas Lake State Park in New Mexico. Even if put together, those two lakes would be a fraction of the size of Lake Meredith. I don’t think there will be trails to hike but we haven’t been to either one so as long as we are in the area we might as well drive by. Who knows if we’ll ever get another chance to visit Tucumcari. There doesn’t seem to be much here except a whole lot of motels. No wonder there are so many Tucumcari Tonight billboards.

Gateway to the West

A significant landmark on our summer road trips was a glimpse of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis towering over the downtown as we zipped by on the interstate. It is right next to the bridge as you cross the Mississippi River but I would be so nervous about navigating through the city traffic that I wouldn’t be able to do more than give it a quick glance. I’d always wanted to stop and get a closer look but with so many miles left to drive we never wanted to take the extra time.

Now in our retirement years our road trips can take a more leisurely pace and we have time to make unplanned stops. We found ourselves today passing through St. Louis on a sunny Sunday afternoon so we decided to make a stop to visit the Arch. Trying to get a photo that captures the immensity of this 630-foot monument is next to impossible. But we tried. Most of our time there was spent walking the park grounds that surround the Arch taking pictures from every possible angle. It was a beautiful day to be outside, though, so no complaints.

Built as a tribute to our nation’s history of westward expansion, it is referred to as the “Gateway to the West.” In my visits over the years from New Mexico to Michigan I always thought of crossing the Mississippi River at St. Louis as the boundary marker for being in the East versus getting back to the West. It was wonderful to visit family in Michigan and to enjoy the abundance of green grass and trees. But I always looked forward to getting back out West in the wide open spaces under sunny, blue skies. Though our time in the East this summer hasn’t been as long as what the kids and I used to do in the summers, I’m still feeling today that by crossing the Mississippi we have entered the gateway back to the West.

Forty Years Ago

It was the summer of 1979 and I had just finished my first year of teaching high school math for the Alamogordo Public Schools. Ruth was almost 3 and Mike was 1-1/2. We had an old beat up station wagon that we hoped would make the 1700 mile trip from New Mexico to the family farm in Michigan. I hadn’t been back to see my folks since before the kids were born. Spending summer on the farm would be a wonderful experience for everyone.

Now here I am 40 years later driving once again from New Mexico to Michigan. All these hours in the car today have given me lots of time to reminisce and reflect on the paths life has taken. Who would have imagined 40 years ago that the 1-1/2 year old kid going to his grandparents farm then would today be a seasoned long haul truck driver who just happened to have a route crossing ours as we went through Oklahoma?

Mike was taking a load from Dallas to St. James, Missouri, traveling north on Highway 69. We had spent the night just east of Oklahoma City and would be traveling east on Interstate 40, passing by St. James later in the day. By Mike’s calculation we could meet up at Big Cabin, OK, where the highways come together. I think he had to squeeze his schedule a bit and get an extra early start, but, amazingly enough it all came together and Lee and I were there just a few minutes before that good-looking Celadon truck turned the corner into the travel plaza.

Mike with his usual busy schedule didn’t have much time to spare. But this was an interesting spot that he picked for our meet up. The travel plaza features a 50-foot statue of an Indian Chief. After all, the highway is going through the Cherokee Nation. The statue wouldn’t have been here in the days I traveled the route so I appreciated the chance for the close-up view. He’s so big that I’m barely visible in the photo!

Here’s the story of the statue, if you’re interested.

If you’re interested in the rest of the story of taking the old station wagon on that long trip (or some of the other years taking those trips to Michigan) you’ll have to wait until another day when I get motivated to work some more on my “memoir.”

Another Idaho Horseback Adventure

We were a party of five, setting off for another excursion into the beautiful backcountry surrounding Salmon, Idaho. My brother, my sister, and my sister’s friend were on horseback while Lee and I preferred walking. On our visit here last year I had attempted to join the horseback riders but that experience taught me that I am not a horseman. I much prefer to have my feet on the ground.

It was still early in the season for wildflowers but there were enough to keep Lee busy photographing and identifying every blossom tucked away in the brush and weeds. I was happy to hike along enjoying the sunshine and gorgeous scenery, periodically catching up to the three horsemen who were sharing horse stories as they sauntered up the trail.

Lee and I had been warned to check our clothing for ticks since we would be brushing up against the grass and sagebrush where the ticks would be waiting for fresh blood to walk by. Sure enough, when we stopped for lunch, I set my knapsack on a nearby log, untied the jacket I had tied around my waist, and there was a tick on the front of my shirt. The three riders were busy tying up their horses while Lee was a few paces away kneeling down to photograph a flower. As I called out to announce my find I thought I heard a faint rattle behind the log next to me. Lee was closest to me so I turned towards him, saying, “Listen! Do you hear a rattling sound?”. Just then I spotted the coiled up snake next to the log. You can guess the word that came out of my mouth then when I realized I was inches away from a rattlesnake!

Lee jumped up, camera at the ready, while the horsemen came running over, but by the time I was able to point them to the hollow log, Mr. Snake had slithered inside the log. All I saw then were his rattles disappearing behind him as he went into his hiding place. I wasn’t sure if I was exaggerating when I told everyone how big I thought the snake was because I hadn’t gotten a real good look at him. But I was pretty sure he was a big one.

I was happy to cautiously look around and find a snake-free place for my lunch spot while the rest of the group poked around at the hollow log hoping to get a glimpse of the snake. They finally gave up and settled down to eat lunch. We were all far enough away from the snake that eventually he must have decided it was safe to come back out and enjoy his sunbathing that I had so rudely interrupted. We were ready to pack up when one of the horses perked up with ears alert and eyes pointed in the direction of the snake log. The group (except for me) tiptoed over and there was Mr. Snake coiled up in plain sight. Lee was able to get a good picture and my snake sighting was confirmed. This was no baby snake.

Sande and Booger, her recently purchased mustang. She has been riding him every day since she got him, doing a good job of training him.
3 riders heading up the trail.
The meadow where we stopped for lunch, close to the snake sighting.
My brother and sister (unlike me) are both excellent horsemen.
A tricky stream crossing without a horse. I wanted this photo because a butterfly had landed on Lee’s hat and was riding along.
The day before the snake adventure ride we had done a walk/ride in the sagebrush country at a lower elevation. Clint was on a different horse. Sande and her friend were on their mustangs.
Our walk at the lower elevations had an area of terrain that was like something we’d see in New Mexico.
And there were even cacti! Lots of these little guys that we don’t see in New Mexico–Simpson’s Hedgehog.