Hopkins Mountain

06/21/2018

It’s been almost 1 year since I’ve been in the high peaks….The last real trip I had was Iroquois, Algonquin, and Wright, my absolute favorite trip to date, and my absence from the high peaks has been slowly eating away at my soul. A week after that trip, I suffered a mysterious injury to one of my knees, and haven’t been able to hike since. Lately I’ve been able to tackle small, easy mountains, so I made a deal with myself: If I could manage to climb Hopkins mountain without issue, then I would get myself back in the 46ers in 2 weeks. With that thought in mind, I set off determined to climb this peak.

I arrived at the trailhead for Rooster Comb mountain on Rt. 73 at about 9am, crossed the road and headed away from Keene Valley toward Ranney Way. Ranney Way is a private road, hence parking at the nearby Rooster Comb lot.

This is a nice little gravel road. I continued down this way for about 0.25 miles (continue straight when the road forks to the right) before coming to the trailhead. There’s no register for this trail, just this old sign.

This wood was absolutely GORGEOUS. The trees towered tall and broad with no undergrowth beneath, with verdant rays of light filtering through a leafy canopy. Forests like these always make me feel safe and protected, and it’s so tempting to set up a hammock and lounge. Today however I was on a mission, so that would have to wait.

Much of the trail follows along the Hopkins Brook, providing a nice ambient sound of trickling water and numerous photo opportunities. Unfortunately it seems that many of the smaller off-shooting streams have dried up from lack of rain. At least it wasn’t muddy!

The path is soft and packed, climbing moderately and consistently through the pines with some steeper inclines interspersed. After about 1.8 miles I reached the intersection with the Mossey Cascade Trail and turned left to continue up to Hopkins Mountain.

The going was a bit easier at this point, with some flat sections interspersed with the climbing. I continued to employ my technique of frequent stretching breaks to take care of my bad knee and hoped desperately that it would prove effective to abate the pain during descent. During one of these such breaks, I heard a very peculiar sound coming from the undergrowth to the right of the trail…It sounded like the most pitiful animal I’ve ever heard, accompanied by the rustling of leave as the critter scooted around through the brush. Recognizing the sound as something I heard while climbing Coney Mountain in the middle of the night (and thought it was a snake eating an animal???), I was extra curious to determine the source….It was a ruffed grouse hen! I had never seen one on a trail before, and it turns out the sounds she was making were alarm, distress, and distraction calls! The calls were probably because I scared the guacamole out of her, BUT HEY IT WAS COOL! I was too focused on observing the bird to even consider recording audio or visual, so here’s a link to a video from someone who didn’t totally drop the ball (like I did :P) showing exactly what it sounded like.

These trails continued together for about 0.7 miles before coming to the next junction. At this point the forest became much more lush, full of mossy rocks and ferns, and of course many many many spider webs, which my face  considerately caught for all those that would follow in my steps later in the day. Yep, that’s me, totally magnanimous…

I always get really excited when I see that “0.2 miles to summit” sign…I know the climb is going to be steep, but knowing I’m so close puts a serious pep in my step and I fly right up the trail. This trail did not disappoint! Though not very long, this trail has over 2000′ of elevation gain in a little over 2 miles. It’s not as easy as it seems just looking at a map, which is why I chose it as my “test” to see if I’m capable of climbing high peaks again.

I was soon scrambling out on open rock faces at about 11am and I ran ahead to see this first view.

I won’t lie to you. I knew I had been really missing the high peaks, but I don’t think I realized just how much until I reached this point. My soul, my very essence, seemed to exhale a sigh of relief to finally be HOME. I’ve never felt to belong anywhere as strongly as I feel that in the high peaks of my beloved Adirondacks. There is an almost magnetic attraction to them…After all, home is where the heart is, right? Never in my life have I shed tears of happiness, but as I stood there gazing upon the vistas of the welcoming wilderness, I cried. And I couldn’t stop! Seriously, I’m so glad I had the peak to myself for a while because I had tears streaming down my face for a solid 30 minutes. The past year has been full of trials and tribulations, and the knowledge that I was physically unable to climb the 46ers had weighed on me with a blanket of depression, seemingly deepening with every passing day. Finding myself at the summit of beautiful Hopkins Mountain, sans knee pain, the realization that I would FINALLY be able to climb again seemed to whack me over the head. I’ve rarely been so happy in all my life….but I digress.

From left to right: Dix , Dial, Nippletop, Colvin, Sawteeth, Gothics, Armstrong, Wolfjaws

I climbed my way up to the summit and sat my emotional butt down to eat some lunch and bathe in the splendor of the mountains.

I stayed at the summit for about an hour and a half. A few people stopped by, but they didn’t linger, and I was thankful. I sat to stretch my legs and enjoy my victory snacks before standing up to head back down.

It took a solid 10 minutes for me to be able to drag myself away from the summit, but at 12:30pm I turned away for the last time and made my way back down the steep trail.

I was a bit nervous about impending knee pain, but after 30 minutes of very careful, measured steps and an agonizingly slow pace, I relaxed a bit, realizing that knee pain would not plague me on this perfect day.

A mere 1:15 after leaving the summit and I had arrived back at the Ranney Way road.

Another short 0.25 miles and I was back at my car, taking my leaving photo. This trail, though relatively short, is an absolute joy. Beautiful forest, just-difficult-enough grade, and stunning summit views. Having successfully completed this trek, I can now confidently say to expect a new trip report from the high peaks in the next 2 weeks!

Happy hiking!

Hopkins Mountain: 3156′ Elevation Gain: ~2100′
Round Trip Distance: ~6 miles (from Rooster Comb lot)
Total Duration: 4 hours 45 minutes (including 1.5 hours at summit)

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used without express permission.

Coney Mountain – Astrophotography Mission!

06/11/18

As I walked out of band rehearsal at 9pm, I looked up and saw a burgeoning star-kissed sky, and realized that with new moon being only days away, tonight’s sky would be stunning. So I packed my camera gear and took off for Coney Mtn. I arrived at the trailhead at 11pm, shut off the car, and was immediately hit with the overwhelming pressure of darkness and quietude of the surrounding forest. It was a bit eerie, until I stepped out of the car and looked up. Through gaps in the trees I saw a veritable sea of myriad stars shining down on me. To be honest, I was a bit nervous to be climbing alone in the middle of the night, but having climbed this mountain once before I had a bit more confidence than if I were to climb something new in the dark. So I strapped my utility knife to my leg, donned my headlamp, and set off up the trail.

I cannot express how incredibly quiet it was. In the dark and quiet, even the tiniest sounds seem to be from massive creatures lurking in the shadows. However, after just a few minutes, I was feeling comfortable and right at home in the woods. Since I tend to be a quiet walker, I decided to whistle some tunes to give warning to any animals in the vicinity so I didn’t startle them. For whatever reason, the only melodies in my mind were Civil War ditties, like this, this, and this…..Yeah, I’m not sure what’s wrong with me either, but at least the animals got some historical music to listen to! Anyway, after a mere 20 minutes I had climbed the 1.1 mile trail (I must have really hustled….There were some spooky sounds out there!) and found myself on the summit, blown away by the splendor of the milky way arcing over the distant mountains.

I dropped my pack and skedaddled further up the summit to get the full view of the luminous, shimmering night sky, and was greatly rewarded.

I had downloaded a cool app called Star Walk 2 which uses your location and phone orientation to show you what stars and constellations you’re looking at…I think I need to work on the calibration though because no matter where I pointed my phone, I was apparently looking at Jupiter.

After taking some shots (Canon Rebel T5 with a Rokinon f/2.8 14mm wide angle lens), I lay back to marvel at the sheer number of stars. Unfortunately, some cirrus clouds had swept in to obscure the view, so after about 45 minutes I decided to take my leave.

I was feeling pretty sure of myself on the hike down, until about 5 minutes in when I heard a huge CRASH across the trail in front of me and to the forest on my right. After the pounding in my ears from my adrenaline-pumped heart subsided, I realized it was a deer I must have frightened bounding off into the woods….So I resumed my whistling so as not to startle any other animals. So noble I am, thinking of the animals, because of course I wasn’t at all spooked by the incident! (heavy dose of sarcasm there, folks) After that it was easy going, and before I knew it my headlamp was illuminating the taillights of my car in the parking lot. As I walked out and gazed skyward, I saw that the clouds had dissipated during my trek down.

I cannot wait to get out and do this again! What an incredible experience. Happy trails!

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used without express permission.

Coney Mountain

5/29/18

After finishing Goodman Mountain, I hopped in my car and continued another mile down the road to the Coney Mountain trailhead. I decided to give my legs a break and stretch a bit, with the added benefit of letting the sun sink a bit in the sky. At 3:30pm I strapped my pack back to my shoulders and headed off.

I really enjoyed this trail, it felt the most like an Adirondack trail. It wasn’t perfectly groomed and wasn’t as easy as the other two peaks of the day. That said, it was still a very simple hike, I just felt more at home in these woods.

Just a few minutes after leaving the trailhead, I came across a sweet little stream slightly off trail and crouched down (in mud, apparently) to capture it. Immediately afterward, I encountered literally the only muddy spot along the trail and managed to completely submerge my right foot in it while trying to be a good mountaineer and go through the mud instead of around it….don’t trust rocks, folks. I’m such an athlete!

I couldn’t believe, yet again, how many toads were on the trail! All different sizes too. Some were the size of my pinky fingernail, while others were easily the size of my fist, like this guy:

Exactly 30 minutes after leaving the trailhead, the path opened up and I knew I was mere moments from the summit.

Sure enough, just a minute later and I was on the summit! I snapped a few pics then sought shelter under a convenient tree to sit down in the shade and enjoy a snack with the incredible views.

This little mountain is such a gem! I can’t believe I’d never heard of it before. From the trail itself to the bald summit and the views, it really has the feel of a mountain nestled in the high peaks region.

Goodman Mountain to the right

I stayed up here for an hour enjoying the breeze and a break from the flies. I could have stayed all night, to be honest, but had to get back to Juno who would inevitably be unhappy with me for having an adventure without her. So a little after 5pm I took a few last shots and started making my way down.

On each mountain, I had encountered a few snakes, but they moved so fast I was never able to capture them on camera. Finally, on my way down from the summit, I was able to get a shot of this guy, and a woodpecker hammering away at a tree!

I made it back to the trailhead about 25 minutes after leaving the peak, ran through the cloud of flies guarding the entrance, and took my leaving photos.

As I got in my car, I noticed something….the fresh blue polish on my fingernails had been mauled by the DEET wipes! That’s….kind of concerning, considering I put that all over the rest of my skin, but I guess if you need nail polish remover in a pinch, DEET wipes will do the trick…? Yikes…

This was such a fun day! Even though they were three small, easy climbs, I felt a sense of accomplishment having completed them in one day. This is the first time in 10 MONTHS that my knees and legs felt strong enough to tackle some mountains, and they didn’t let me down. I can’t wait to see what the next few months hold 🙂

Happy hiking!

Coney Mountain: 2280′ Elevation Gain: 548′

Round Trip Distance: 2.2 miles

Total Duration:  2 hours (including 1 hour at summit)

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission.

 

Goodman Mountain

5/29/18

The next stop on my journey was Goodman Mountain. I took my time getting to this trailhead after finishing Mount Arab, deciding to stop for a quick bite to eat in Tupper Lake on the way. I arrived at the trailhead off of Rt. 30 between Tupper Lake and Long Lake at 12:30pm, took my starting photos, and headed off.

When I stopped at the register to sign in, I read about the namesake of this mountain, Andrew Goodman. In 1964, when Goodman was 20 years old, he decided instead of vacationing in the Adirondacks for the summer with his family, he would join the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi, with a group who’s aim was to expand African-American voter registration in the south. However, not long after he arrived, he and two of his fellow contemporaries were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. Historians consider their deaths to be the turning point in the movement leading to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. This is an excellent reminder not only of how far we’ve come, but of how far we still have yet to go as a nation. And with that in mind, I set off.

The trail started off by crossing a nice wooden bridge over a small creek. For about a mile after that, the trail was PAVED! This trail follows what is left of old highway 10, a route that used to connect Tupper Lake to Long Lake, and is wheelchair accessible for several hundred feet before becoming too steep and eroded to be accommodating any further.

After following the road for about a mile, and considering how great it would be to bring a sled up this hill in the winter, I reached the junction where the trail branches off to climb the mountain.

This time, I did pass one family coming down, but those were the last people to accompany me on this peak. This climb was incredibly easy, easier even than Arab, and in no time at all I was nearing the summit at about 1:10pm, 30 minutes after starting at the trailhead.

It was getting pretty hot out and the sky lacked clouds to shield me from the oppressive sun, so I basically just scampered up to the summit, took a couple of pictures, then scurried back down to the shade.

With the heat and the bugs, I did not stay long; just long enough to enjoy the greatest summer hiking snack of all time: Dole sugar-free fruit in gel! No, I’m not getting paid to say that (though maybe I should be??), I just feel very strongly that everyone should carry one of these on hot summer hikes. So refreshing!

With that, I took my leave, bringing with me the swarm of flies that couldn’t seem to leave me alone. Heads up: these guys don’t care at all how much deet you have on. In fact, I think they may like it.

Before I knew it, I was back at the stream crossing, making my way out of the woods and taking my leaving photo at 2:30pm.

Goodman Mountain: 2178′  Elevation Gain: 581′

Round Trip Distance: 3.2 miles

Total Duration: 2 hours

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission.

 

Mount Arab

5/29/18

I’ve slowly been attempting more and more difficult peaks to get back into hiking shape, so when I’d decided to attempt the Tupper Lake Triad a few days before, I though, OK, I’ll get to sleep good and early so I can get out there early morning and have a great time! So I’m in my bed, trying to fall asleep around 11:30pm the night before, and I feel something *ping* onto my head. Naturally I jumped up in a panic flailing my arms around and shaking out my hair, and through my blurry semi-blind eyes I see an inch-long SHAPE scuttling across my bed from my pillows. With horror-filled realization I immediately knew EXACTLY what it was despite not being able to see. That’s right. A centipede managed to FALL ONTO MY HEAD while I was trying to fall asleep. Literally ANY other creature wouldn’t have bothered me too much, but centipedes are my #1 most hated insect in existence. So OF COURSE that’s what fell on my head. Juno was absolutely no help, so I did what any rational human would do and launched a hard-cover book at it and hoped for the best. I screamed and jumped out of bed to put my glasses on, because at this point the battle was raging and I needed all of my wits about me. Slowly, silently I moved back toward my bed in enemy territory, searching for the intruder….and I couldn’t find it. I COULDN’T FIND IT, PEOPLE! I calmly removed the covers from my bed (read: I tore every damn linen off of my bed while shouting profanities), waiting for hell’s own creation to come darting out with it’s too-many-damn legs….and nothing. I stood there for a while, unsure of what to do, and unable to stop scratching my head feeling like there were things on it. After tossing my covers again, I finally gathered all of my sheets around myself in a make-shift cocoon and hours later managed to fall asleep in this burrito-style fort, with dreams of creepy-crawlies running through my mind.

So. I did not get an early start. Despite the traumatic events of the previous night (I seriously might need therapy after that), I still wanted to climb these three mountains today, perhaps even more so than before just to get away from my apartment. So I packed up my things and headed out around 8:45 to reach the trailhead and start the trail right at 10am.

I signed in at the register, happily noticing that I had the mountain to myself for now, and headed off.

This trail is a short 1 mile jaunt to the summit, and it starts climbing almost immediately, though the climbing is only moderate at it’s worst. The ground was dry and the path was very easy to follow, making this a great family hike.

I was thrilled to be back in the woods for a day on my own. There’s something about solo hiking that brings me so much fulfillment. Hiking with friends and dogs is great, but I really need time alone in the woods to de-stress and become myself again. I was even happier to see how GREEN everything has become!!

Wildlife was abundant today, especially toads and tree frogs. These things were everywhere! And so cute and plump! But they are not the greatest escape artists…I couldn’t keep track of how many times I’d nearly step on one before it sluggishly rolled out of the way.

After about 20 minutes of steady, easy climbing, I had a feeling I was starting to get close when the terrain became rockier.

Sure enough, just a moment later and I was up on a ledge with this adorable little bench overlooking the scenery. Time at summit: 10:25am (25 minutes from trailhead).

The flies were BRUTAL today so instead of resting at the bench, I carried on to the restored 1918 fire tower, passing the observer’s cabin (in which there is a little museum, but it was closed when I was there) on the way.

Ok. So notice how that image above of the firetower is super blurry? It took me a moment to realize this, but I thought, “it’s not like me to take such a lousy firetower shot, what happened here?”…Take a look at the pic below. This is how bad the black flies were; they literally interrupted my shots!

So with that lovely in-focus shot of a fly in hand, I zoomed up the tower to escape the clouds of angry flies. I opened all 4 windows and closed my eyes to feel the bug-free breeze through my hair.

The views were stunning. I love when there are some clouds in the sky to add texture and shade!

There were these cool plaques in the tower to show you what mountains you’re looking at in the distance. This is excellent for someone like me who is terrible at identifying the peaks! See if you can figure out which peaks are in the shots below.

I sat down for a bit to enjoy much lunch, when I realized I FORGOT MY VICTORY CHOCOLATE! The horror! SO instead I enjoyed a nutricious victory babybel cheese 🙂 Good enough.

While I sat, I looked at the graffiti marring the tower. Most of it was obscene or stupid in some way, however one bit of writing really resonated with me. “Some people are so poor, all they have is money.” I love this, and it’s exactly how I feel. I may not have a lot of money, but I feel so lucky to have everything that I do, and to be able to enjoy the splendor of the mountains in my free time. I know who I am, and I’m at peace with that. What else could I ask for?

I started to make my descent at about 11am, but not before taking one last pic for the road.

The way down was uneventful and seemed to fly by (well I guess it did; it only took 25 minutes after all).

I’d been fortunate to have the mountain to myself the whole time, and only met one couple just starting out when I was leaving. Time out: 11:30am. On to the next peak!

Mount Arab: 2545′  Elevation gain: 764′

Round trip distance: 2 miles

Total duration: 1.5 hours (including 30 minutes at summit)

All images are property of adktrailtalesandtails and may not be used unless with express permission.

St. Regis Mountain

05/13/2018

A few friends and I had decided today would be a perfect day for a hike, so at 8am we packed all three of ourselves plus two doggos into my Subaru and headed down to St. Regis Mountain. Though I’ve climbed this one twice before, neither of them had done it and myself and one other are still recovering from knee issues, so I thought it would be a perfect climb for today. We arrived at the trailhead at about 9:15am, took our starting photos, and headed off.

The trail initially follows a wide path/road before reaching the register. We signed in, noticing the few groups ahead of us already, and continued on our way.

On the drive down, we had remarked on how much foliage was already blooming on the trees, but here in the mountains most trees were still bare. Se we enjoyed the warm sun on our shoulders and the semi-occluded views through the trees. There were plenty of water sources early on the trail including a flooded section of a valley and the pups enjoyed splashing around in them whenever possible.

For about an hour, the trail meandered slowly up and down while reaching up toward a bit of a ridge. It’s a very nice warm up before starting the actual climbing up the mountain, and my knees were grateful. After about an hour of walking and chatting, we reached the bridged stream crossing that I recall being the last point before the trail begins to climb. We took a break here, letting the dogs soak themselves (well, Juno did of course, but Vas-y wasn’t so sure of swimming) and having a snack.

That is, until the pups began a rousing game of fetch/tug/chase. One of them would find a stick, the other would grab on, and they’d run around together holding it until one of them got it, then the chase would begin.

We lingered here for ~10 minutes letting several other groups pass us, then slung our packs back on. Up until this point the trail had been quite dry but we starting getting creative to avoid stepping in mud and having our boots slurped off (something one of my unfortunate companions still experienced today!). Of course Juno ran right through the nastiest puddles and LIED DOWN IN THEM. Oh well. At least she’s already black! I distracted myself by looking at the beautiful spring wildflowers in bloom.

On this mountain, a tell-tale sign that you’re starting the real climb is the presence of larger and larger rocks and boulders. Some are even arranged in a sort of staircase to make life a bit easier!

After about an hour of climbing since we left the bridge, the foliage started thinning out into juvenile Birch trees, and it was then that I knew we were close.

While climbing, we began hearing a LOT of chattering voices up to our lefts, so we knew we were getting close to the summit, but they were so loud we opted to visit the offshoot in the trail first to hang out at a peaceful overlook for a few minutes.

I have to admit, I’m a little jealous of how photogenic Vas-y is! Juno is so freaking hard to photograph; not only is she rarely sitting still, but even when she is she just shows up as a dark shadow in the picture. I mean look at how regal this guy is!

Although she does take a nice picture when she feels like it 🙂

After a few minutes of this we decided to join the raucous crowd at the summit and have some lunch. Just a hop and a skip and we were on the summit of St. Regis at 11:45am!

The pups made a new friend with a golden retriever and tried to steal food from anyone they could. Juno was surprisingly on her best behavior today though! She obeyed every command I gave her! Go us!

This mountain is seriously awesome. Just a little work for a huge reward, you really can’t beat it. For us, it’s only an hour from home, the climb is really quite easy, and the views…

After enjoying my victory chocolate and a bit of lunch, all 5 of us decided to climb up the fire tower to see the 360 degree views.

Holy Cannoli was it WINDY up there! It was turning out to be a nice warm day (73 F at the summit!) but even with that sun the wind was making me chilly, so I snapped one last pic and Juno and I headed back down.

I have to say, I’m so proud of my little pup. Once at the bottom, she noticed that Vas-y was too scared to come down and refused to move (something she was familiar with once herself). So she ran all the way back to the top and led him down! She ran over to me so pleased after to have helped her friend.

We all sat back down to have a rest; or so I thought, before the dogs were up again playing their stick game and spilling literally all of their water.

 

At about 1pm we finally decided to make our way down. We had a few close calls with the slippery mud, but fortunately no major incidents. As we neared the bridge however, and Juno was of course off chasing some chipmunk a few dozen yards away, we all caught wind of the same unmistakable skunk scent. My eyes went wide and I yelled for Juno to come back, thinking she’d actually been chasing a skunk and omg how would we ride for an hour in the car with her?! Fortunately, she came right back sans scent and we quickly retreated before pressing our luck any further.

At this point we were all hot, sweaty, and thirsty, and were ready to get back to the beginning of the trail so the pups (especially my black sheep) could cool off in the flooded valley again.

We reached the “pond” about an hour and a half after leaving the summit and lingered for several minutes enjoying watching the dogs play in the water.

We left when black flies started to become irksome and 20 minutes later (3pm) we were packed back in the car, smelly, and taking our leaving photo.

~A muddy dog is a happy dog~

Happy hiking!

St. Regis Mountain: 2874′ Elevation Gain: 1260′
Round Trip Distance: 6.6 miles
Total Duration: 6 hours (including 1.25 hr at summit)

Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

The next morning, we woke up excited for another day of hiking. My mom and grandma were doing Part 2 of their trolley tour, so we dropped them off in town and headed back up to that Route 89A with the intent of hiking the West Fork trail. This trail is supposed to be the iconic Sedona trail through a slot canyon following a river. I thought it would be good especially since there’s no climbing involved and my knee wouldn’t hurt. Turns out, the rest of Arizona thought it would be a nice trail too, as there were HUNDREDS of cars parked along the road. We definitely didn’t want any part of that, so we wandered around for about an hour just looking for a trailhead. Trailheads around here are incredibly poorly marked, but finally we found one called the North Wilson Mountain trail and headed up it. Right away the views were stunning, and we even had some tree cover and shade for this hike.

We were heading towards those dark cliffs in the distance, and I couldn’t wait to see it up close. We encountered one small group of people during our time on this trail, and that was it.

We continued on for about an hour, and entered into the cover of trees, which had stunning fall foliage.

We sat and enjoyed our lunch at the base of the huge cliffs. It was sort of a sad moment as we realized this would not only be our last hike for this trip, but our last hike together for quite a while.

After that short break we decided to head back down the mountain. It took about an hour, and surprisingly, I had no knee issues! I finally mastered the art of hobbling down mountain trails!

We got back to the car, went back to town, picked up my mom and grandma, and started the trek to Phoenix. This portion of the trek was uneventful. We didn’t stop for any photo ops, instead just carried straight through to Phoenix. During this time we saw REAL desert, with towering saguaro cacti and tumbleweeds. We arrived around dusk and got settled into our hotel, the Sheraton Grand Phoenix. My grandmother and I were on the top floor, and when we opened the curtains of our room, we saw this:

We looked at each other and just laughed, it was the best hotel room view we’d had all week (or probably ever). That night, I went to investigate the pool, which was totally empty, and went for a perfect nighttime swim.

The next day there was no time for exploring as I was presenting my poster at the BMES conference. My mom and grandma hung out by the pool all day while my father explored the city; meanwhile I was walking around in 100 degree weather in my fancy clothes.

That night, we enjoyed one last sunset in the endless sky, and went to bed early to catch our flight early the next morning.

After a long couple of days of travelling, I made it back to New York and reunited with Juno. This trip was absolutely incredible, and I’m so grateful that my family was able to go with me. Can’t wait to go back for more!

Day 5 – Sedona

The next morning, we got up, ready and excited to explore the area. We were all a bit bummed because that 89A road is supposed to be one of the most beautiful in the country, but of course we travelled it in the freaking dark. A typical thing for our family to do. So my Mom and Grandmother embarked on a trolley tour of the area while my dad and I filled our packs and headed out to hike….somewhere. We didn’t know where to go, so we went to the gas station across the street and got a map. As we were looking at it, we had to laugh because we saw the road we came down on….It looked almost cartoonishly twisty and curvy, like a bowl of spaghetti spilled on the floor.

Anyway, we took the advice of a kind gentleman we met there and headed off to the Airport Loop trailhead. It was a lot longer than we expected just to walk to the trailhead, but we finally got there and set off on our way.

I have never seen so many cacti in my entire life. I recognized that they were prickly pear cacti, and that many of them had ripe, plump, reddish-purple fruit on them, so naturally we had to investigate further. We each plucked a fruit from a cactus, I immediately dropped mine because they apparently have super tiny sharp hairs in clusters on the fruit themselves that stick right into your hands! My dad managed to get his fruit open though, and we each had a bite…Those things are FULL of super hard seeds! It tasted delicious, but we each only had a nibble. Unfortunately for my dad, he got one of those tiny sharp hairs in his mouth and had to deal with that for the rest of the day! At about 2pm, we came across a junction where we could either continue on our way or we could take a short detour by climbing up a…small mountain? Rock? Mesa-thing? I’m not sure what it was, but it was well worth the climb.

That woman was doing some yoga-meditation thing, swaying side to side, but it made for a nice picture!

I was really feeling like I had entered into some prehistoric landscape, and half expected to see Littlefoot and Spike walking the trails with us.

So we were quickly learning just how unforgiving this landscape really is. The air was so dry it just sucked the moisture right out of our skin and mouths, and we went through our water way faster than we thought we would. We left that perch with half the water that we started our hike with, and more than halfway to go to return to town. This fear of running out of water was completely new to me. In the Adirondacks, if you run out of water, you just refill at one of the 8 million streams, lakes, and rivers that you’re bound to come across. Out here, we’d have to resort to sucking the moisture out of more prickly pear fruits, and neither of us really wanted to do that. Luckily, the trail we had embarked on wasn’t super long, only about 4 miles round trip, so we were’t too worried.

 

The trail we followed is visible, cutting right across the rock.

 

We left the summit and followed the trail around the edge of the small mountain, on top of which was the Sedona Airport. This route was extremely exposed, with little to no areas of shade, but it offered incredible views the entire time.

After climbing and climbing, we reached what we thought was the top and sat beneath a rare tree to enjoy some lunch and guzzle more water. Shortly afterward, we heard helicopters overhead and saw that we were right beneath the airport!

We started descending after this point, and quickly made it back to town. My knee was irking me, but luckily the pole I had borrowed from my father made it much more bearable. We went back to our hotel, walked into the lobby, and asked if they had any drinking fountains where we could refill our water bottles. We’d both long since ran out, and were quite parched. We must have looked pathetic and about ready to drop, because a manager took one look at us and led us back into the employee break room to fill up from their water cooler. That was the most delicious, COOOLD water I’ve ever had! We were there for probably 10 minutes filling up our bottles, drinking, and filling up again. Finally hydrated, we took a much-needed dip in the pool.

Day 6 – Sedona and Phoenix

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon

The next day, we packed our things and set out for the Grand Canyon. The initial plan had been for my dad and I to hike to the bottom from the North Rim, stay the night, then hike back up via the Bright Angel trail to the South Rim. We ended up deciding not to do it since we just didn’t have enough time in our mini vacation to do it; good thing too, because my knee was not in great shape for descending.

On our way there, we took this scenic route (89A), and stopped numerous times to take in our surroundings: the Vermillion Cliffs.

 

The moon, always visible

 

We stopped again shortly later at some cliff dweller ruins where two Navajo women were selling gorgeous handmade jewelry and pottery. My mom and grandmother perused the items on display while I took the opportunity to snap some photos (of course).

Throughout the whole trip, the conversation theme tended to be “How on Earth does anything/anyone live here? Where do they get their water??” Alas, it’s a mystery we never solved, as every single creek and riverbed we passed along the way was bone dry. The world may never know (except for those that live there >.<).

After a few hours of driving (and stopping, and driving, and stopping), we finally made it to the Grand Canyon! We parked the car and went into the visitor center for our first glimpse.

 

The Colorado River

 

I was, believe it or not, a little bit underwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. I think I had such high expectations of it, but when I was actually standing there, amidst droves of noisy tourists snapping selfies left and right, it just didn’t feel real. It felt like we were looking at a backdrop of a movie set. I think the real problem is that we didn’t hike down into the canyon. That makes all the difference. Just standing on the rim, walking along the ledge, you see pretty much the same view the whole time and you really can’t grasp the enormity of it. Regardless, after almost immediately losing my mother and grandmother, my dad and I set off along the rim trail.

Along the way, the crowds thankfully thinned out a bit, and we were able to enjoy the walk a little more.

We walked for more than an hour, thinking we were getting close to the Bright Angel trailhead which leads down into the canyon until we saw this view from a rocky outcropping:

To clarify, I’ve overlaid the path in red:

That’s the trail. It was about this time that I started to realize just how massive the canyon is. I couldn’t even see people on the trail from up there.

Despite how disappointed I was in not having the time or the knee function to be able to climb all the way down and back up, I was also a bit relieved because I hadn’t realized how incredibly wide the canyon is. I couldn’t even be sure where the other side was (and the layer of smog on the horizon didn’t help). After one last snack at an overlook, we turned and headed back to the visitor center.

The whole day walking along the trail, the most wildlife we spotted were a couple of brazen squirrels trying to steal things from peoples bags. Then, back at the visitor center, there is a family of Elk just hanging out in the middle of the square!

We left a bit before sunset and started on our way to Sedona. As it was getting dark, we turned onto scenic route 89A (same name as the one we were on earlier, but not the same road?). During this ride was probably the most car sick I have ever been in my entire life (which is really saying something). I was in the back of the car, and I swear we were just driving down a spaghetti road. We would all yell “WOOOOAH” going around tight turns that never seemed to end, and of course we really couldn’t see anything at all since it was dark out. We FINALLY made it to the bottom and to our hotel for the night.

Day 5 – Sedona

Day 3 – Kanab and Bryce Canyon

The next morning, we got up early to prepare for our day in Bryce Canyon. On our way out, we spotted a little museum that contained the sets from many old western films that were shot in the area. We just had to check it out.

All of the building had been relocated to the site of the museum and reconstructed beautifully.

We left the museum and arrived at Bryce Canyon after about an hour and a half of driving. My dad and I were so excited to hike here, and were eager to climb all the way to the bottom and hike some trails from the inside of the canyon. Luckily for me, he had brought two trekking poles, so we each took one and I was able to put my weight on it instead of on my bad knee. Bryce Canyon also uses a shuttle system, so we hopped on and took it to the farthest point, Bryce Point, and headed down amongst the hoodoos.

This place was full of these strange twisted trees

It’s unbelievable how all of these formations were created. Millions of years ago, all of that land used to be ocean. Then the sea receded and the land crunched together to create jagged moutains and mesas. When ice and snow accumulate around the rocks in the winter and thaw in the summer, the ice melt takes away bits and pieces of the rock, creating those spires called Hoodoos. As we saw many of these hoodoos, my dad would remark what they looked like to him, and I had to laugh because I was bothered that I completely saw the same crazy things. Great minds think alike, I guess.

We thought that hoodoo in the middle looked like Snoopy

The trail we took to the bottom was called the “Peek-a-boo” trail, and we quickly surmised that it was so named because every time we turned a corner, we saw an entirely new and incredible view.

We kept noticing as we were walking that there were huge boulders precariously perched over our heads. Even worse was the rubble around the trail where rocks had tumbled before! We kept joking that the road runner would come topple those boulders onto us.

Wile E Coyote

We decided to stop at one particular overlook (though really the entire trail was an overlook) and have a bit of lunch. It was FREEZING in the morning when we started our hike, but thankfully the wind had begun to die down and the sun was warm.

We finally made it to the bottom where we encountered a tour group on horseback and followed the trail as it meandered through the forest.

The loop we were on eventually joined up with the Navaho Loop trail. We took the middle path (of three) to make our ascent and view the Two Bridges formation along the way.

The Two Bridges

We ascended via switchbacks all the way back up to the ridge, where we took one last look from the edge.

We followed along the ridge, passing sunset and sunrise points along the way, finally back to the Welcome Center where my Mom and Grandma would be waiting.

We happily left Bryce Canyon after fulfilling our desire to get in a nice long hike, and headed back to Kanab. Later that night, we headed up the road toward the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to view the stars, and boy we were not disappointed.

Day 4 – The Grand Canyon National Park