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Friday, April 3, 2015

Signs of Spring

In our family springtime means spring break, and for me nothing says spring break more than a road trip. This year we visited the western Arizona desert and the Grand Canyon.

I was last in western Arizona over 30 years ago, visiting Steve in the Granite Wash Mountains where he was doing field work for his dissertation. During the summer temperatures frequently soar well over the century mark. But in the spring, with lower temperatures and cactus and wildflowers in bloom, it is a lovely place to hike.

The mountains are dotted with remains of old mines and mining encampments, testaments to past hard-scrabble lives. Today a few claim stakes mark hope for further finds, but networks of tracks from all terrain vehicles show the other role these mountains play in today's world: playground for retirees who winter in Arizona. 

Desert pavement and tracks in the Granite Wash Mountains

They are also home to wildlife such as this desert tortoise.

According to NASA these mountains contain the largest population of cacti in the United States. I don't  know how they know that, but it seems plausible.

View of the Harquahala Mountains

We stayed at the funky Westward Motel, a block off the highway in Salome. It has clean rooms, comfortable beds, and a proprietor with an excellent eye and seemingly endless energy for turning other people's castoffs into useful and interesting items.

The Westward Motel

Next stop was the Grand Canyon where we spent our first morning visiting the geology museum (of course) and following the outdoor timeline that illustrates the canyon's history. In the afternoon we hiked west along the rim from one scenic viewpoint to another.

The best part of our trip was hiking down the Bright Angel Trail, across the Colorado River to Phantom Ranch, then back across the river and up the South Kaibab Trail. The route covered over 15 miles of trail with 5000 feet of elevation loss and gain. Signs along the way caution against doing this in one day. We did it anyway,

starting well before dawn to take advantage of cooler morning temperatures, and took plenty of water.

Early start down the Bright Angel Trail

Other advantages of our early start was a quiet trail,

and sunrise views  of the canyon.

The early start also gave us plenty of time to enjoy the views and examine the geology along the way.

Bright Angel Suspension Bridge

We even stopped in the mess hall at Phantom Ranch for a cup of coffee and to write and mail a couple of post cards.

Both suspension bridges across the Colorado River are fun to cross.

South Kaibab Suspension Bridge

The South Kaibab Bridge has the added interest of being accessed on the south side through a small, dark tunnel.

South Kaibab Suspension Bridge south entrance

The South Kaibab Trail is more open than the Bright Angel, and affords stunning panoramic views of the canyon.

We were lucky to get some afternoon clouds to add even more interest.

The final stretch towards the top includes an impressive bit of trail building. Viewed straight on it looks rather scary.

Once on that section you realize the trail is plenty wide and gentle for comfort.

We were back at the rim by mid-afternoon, in time for showers and a glass of wine before sunset.

Another sign of spring is outdoor entertainment. A dear friend invited us to dinner at her home so that we could all first enjoy champagne and hors d'oeuvres in her lovely garden, fragrant with Texas Mountain Laurels, aglow with white wisteria. As a hostess gift I knit up some wash cloths, with free patterns from KnitPicks, to pair with a nice bar of soap. I used organic cotton yarn that I found in my stash, but any kind of cotton will work just fine. Happy spring!


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