Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Memorial Day at Roosevelt Lake

Another Memorial Day, another fun lake camping trip at Roosevelt! As soon as Russ's brother bought a motorhome, he called us to make sure he could come with us to Roosevelt Lake for Memorial day again. That was November, so of course we didn't have any other plans yet! It wasn't until December that I started thinking about my Grand Canyon adventure, and it just seemed the lake trip was in the way. We had already promised Uncle Ian we would go, so I planned the quickest Grand Canyon hike with a really quick turn around. It all sounded perfect until we got done hiking the canyon and our bodies were sore and blistered. Somehow I managed to pry myself out of bed and force myself to get the groceries and pack everything up. It was a miracle, but we did it!! We left Saturday morning, ate lunch at the campground, and then spent the afternoon kayaking and taking crazy rides on the "couch." Russ was still too wiped out for any wakeboarding.

Sunday, we all showered and went to church at the Tonto Basin branch. We doubled their branch size that day! They had a military family in the ward share war experiences, and it was a really poignant service, perfect for Memorial Day. Here we were out having fun while some families have loved ones overseas putting life and limb in danger to preserve our way of life. I'm so thankful for that! Afterward, we went to a nearby trail to look for a creek.

You can't always count on a creek being there in the hot Arizona sun! All we got for our effort was a dry, shady ravine.

I had learned at church that day that you can eat the pads of the prickly pear cactus, so I harvested some at great expense to my poor hands. Who knew they had zillions of tiny, annoying spines next to the big spines? Ouch! I was determined, though, so I spent at least an hour cutting all the spines off my two prickly pear pads (and another hour plucking the spines out of my skin). Too bad they were so disgusting that I didn't even swallow the first bite!

The next day, the boys went out for an early morning wakeboarding trip, which would have been fine with me except that they made so much noise before leaving that all the kids woke up. I made them lay back down, but then our friend's son spent like 10 minutes with the blow torch trying to start a fire. I was so happy when his mom told him to knock it off!! After breakfast, we set up on the beach again for another fun and relaxing afternoon.

The kids had lots of fun with their cousins.

And Uncle Ian is always fun.

This is how you feel after a whole weekend outdoors.

My sister lent us her kayaks, which gave the people hanging out on the shore something to do while the boat was gone. I like the peaceful sound of the paddles dipping and the water lapping against a motorless hull.

We found this flag in a compartment in our boat, so we decided to fly it for Memorial Day. I feel deepest gratitude for all those who have served in the armed forces to defend our liberty over the years, and I hope they don't mind if we celebrate our freedoms by doing what we love... because we are free to pursue happiness, and because we feel safe under these American skies. Our safety and liberty has been purchased for us, and I can promise you that is not lost on me.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

The FulFillment of a Dream

Ever since I first laid eyes on the Grand Canyon in about 1995, I have dreamed of hiking to the bottom. The years came and went, and I always had a reason why I couldn't do it. Mostly it was because of having young kids, but my schooling and career got in the way, too, not to mention not having anyone who shared my dream. Then I turned 40, and suddenly I realized that no one else was going to make my dreams happen. I just had to do it. So this was the year that my recurring new year's resolution was going to be accomplished, and I submitted my application for a camping permit on January 1st. When I was awarded my date of choice, I knew it was going to happen, but I didn't know with whom. I had four spots available on my permit. Little did I know my husband would soon express a desire to go with me on my adventure. My stepson was in, too, after having a great experience on Humphrey's Peak. Then as we discussed the trip with friends, we found our fourth teammate. All I had to do was set the trip in motion, and it all came together.

The original plan was to make a round trip hike from the south rim. Of course I would have been happy with that, but after reading more about the hike, I soon realized the ultimate is to hike rim to rim. Why not see the whole thing? It was just five miles longer and a lot more interesting. Why not do what every hiker really dreams of? My parents agreed to drive us up and drop us off at the north rim, then drive around to the south rim to pick us up. It was perfect. They are awesome, especially because they watched the kids.

The timing on this trip was a little crazy. We left home right after school on the last day of school. We were literally driving away while our neighbors were still walking back from the bus stop. That meant a late arrival at the north rim and probably little sleep. No, definitely. We were lucky to have been able to get a reservation for one of the cabins at the north rim lodge after someone canceled, but I didn't realize just how lucky we were until I found out how bone chillingly cold it was up there. It was freezing! Camping would have been miserable. I still had flip flops on, which was terrible because my feet got so cold, and it took me a couple of hours in bed just to warm up. Even when I finally warmed up, I barely slept at all, and I worried a little that I would not have enough energy for my hike. Well, all that worry was in vain because the thrill of the adventure kept me energized all day long. I was living a dream, man! Here we are going to get breakfast at the lodge cafe around 7AM. Yes, I'm very cold in this picture.

Here we are super pumped and a little naive about the upcoming adventure. Go team!

This picture was taken at Coconino Point. Ready to conquer.

The north rim was stunningly beautiful. You don't picture this when you think of the desert landscape that is the Grand Canyon. In fact, you really can't picture what it will be like at all because it is full of surprises that you just can't see from the rim.

There were a lot of people starting on the trail with us, though most trans-canyon hikers had left hours earlier. Not too far down the trail, we came upon the Supai Tunnel. I had no idea we'd see a tunnel, and a tunnel is always a little bit magical.

Team selfie!! We're still feeling super!

Okay, a tunnel and now a bridge?!?! This was better than I could have dreamed!

The trail carved into the side of the canyon in true magnificent form.

We found ourselves surrounded by infinite beauty, including several waterfalls. It was like a dream. Soon after this point, we took the side trail over to Roaring Springs where we sat and enjoyed the shade and took a bunch of pictures. Sadly, they all died with my iPhone. I'm lucky to have been able to recover the pictures I have from Facebook as well as get a few from our friend. I guess I will have to go back to capture the whole experience. I wouldn't mind that at all!

Most day hikers who haven't turned back already turn back at Roaring Springs, so from there we saw a lot fewer people going our way. Once you finish the main descent, you walk along the canyon floor for several miles. It was in this stretch that we made a side trip to Ribbon Falls. I know I'm spoiling it for people who want to do this hike someday, but I am glad I didn't know what kind of treat I was in for when we chose to visit this place. It was an improbable oasis in that environment, and truly astonishing to come upon for the first time. Since the picture doesn't really do it justice, I promise it will still amaze you.

As we got closer to our destination, we entered a place called "The Box," a narrow waterway in the deepest reaches of the canyon, flanked by the hardest and most ancient of all the rock layers. By this time, we were enjoying the afternoon shadows and complete solitude.

This path meandered back and forth through all the twists and turns of the canyon, crossing the adjacent stream several times by bridge. I took a picture of each of the dozen or so bridges along this trail, but most of those pictures drowned with my phone.

There is no bridge that I don't love to cross. Unless it's rickety. Bridges are awesome.

Unfortunately, we really had no idea how long we would be walking through The Box. The conversation had died down as exhaustion and a little trepidation set in. Our feet hurt and blisters began to form, our muscles were tired, and Russ was especially having a hard time continuing on. I was worried he would give up, but his sarcastic attitude kept him going a step at a time, and that's all I could really hope for at that moment. Eventually, though, we could see the sun bathing the rocks in front of us with light, and we knew we were close to escaping The Box. You don't know what a relief it was to see this sign.

Our friend took this beautiful shot of the path over to our campground. We were finally there! We set up camp, ate some food, and then just laid in our tent with the rain fly off to look up at the dusky sky and the canyon walls soaring above us. It was a little surreal to be there at the place I had dreamed of for so many years. After nightfall, we forced our aching feet back into our shoes and headed to the cafe to mail postcards and drink iced lemonade. We would have paid a fortune for that drink, as it was a welcome refreshment after a long day of drinking warm water from our packs.

In contrast to the frigid conditions we had experienced the night before, the weather this night was so perfect that we really had no need for sleeping bags, and we were able to leave our rain fly off all night. The sky was covered with millions of stars, and I was indeed able to feel the insignificance I had so longed for. Generations from now, descendants that I will never meet in this life might sleep in this same place. It's crazy to think about. We had planned to hike out the next day as a team, but after I saw the hundreds of blisters that had developed all over Russ's legs, including some huge ones larger than a quarter, I knew we could not rush him. So, our friend left us before dawn so that he could be sure to make the shuttle back to the north rim.

Being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, it was inevitable that one of the first things we would come to on our journey out was the mighty river that created this great canyon: the Colorado. And what luck, we got to cross the longest bridge of the entire trek! Yeah, it swayed!

As we started up the other side, we found this cave. From where I stood, it was a stinky cave.

Before long, we could look back and start to see how far we had come, and we stopped for a moment to take it all in.

There were more feasts for the eyes, including more water falls. I took a picture of Russ standing next to the ledge at this very spot, but that picture is lost, so luckily our friend took a picture of the same spot. Just imagine Russ standing at the edge, but not too close.

The biggest surprise about day two was that it really wasn't too painful to hike uphill even though we were sore from the day before. We were using different muscles, and we were reminded of that fact when we had to do short downhill segments that were very painful. The ranger at the bottom was right when she told us that the hard part was over. Plus, we had victory to look forward to at the end of the trail. We all crested the rim together, and I couldn't help but let out a whoop. We did it!

The epilogue to this story is that as soon as our bodies cooled off, we were unbelievably sore and exhausted. We drove home that night, and after struggling up the stairs, we showered and then climbed in bed. Neither of us was about to leave the bed, so we called our kids whenever we needed something. The next morning, we still had trouble going downstairs, and we were sore for about four days. It was so physically exhausting, but so emotionally satisfying. Yeah, I'd do it again.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wrapping Up Another School Year

And just like that, it's over. My three kids went to the same school for one year and one year only. Boy, that time went by fast. The last week of school was filled with lots of events. First we went to the third grade end of year program.

What I love about this picture is how all the other kids in her class are carefully watching the music teacher while she's putting on a show specifically for me, singing straight into my camera lens.

The next program was sixth grade promotion. The school really did an awful job at this, and the orchestra performed on the floor where no one could see them or get pictures of them. So, all I could get was a picture by the giant Haley tiger painting. She was not at all happy about this.

Because of an early morning orthodontist appointment, it was just the two youngest waiting to go to the bus for the last time.

Then we went to the kindergarten program that day.

After the performance, we had a celebration in the classroom.

This kid deserved the writing award, but he also should get a reading award. He pretty much taught himself to read before he started kindergarten. I had never seen anything like it with any of my kids, and his teacher said she hadn't seen anything like it in all her years of teaching. Now he says he doesn't like to read. Well, that's a shame.

Kindergarten besties.

At the very end of the day, the school did a clap out for sixth grade. All the students would stand in the hall with their hands outstretched while the sixth graders paraded through the halls giving them all a clap. Yeah, I'm THAT parent who is there with a camera on the last day of school, and I'm proud of it!

Doesn't she look excited? Apparently approaching your teenage years makes you start looking at everything with a little more disdain.

Goodbye to Ms. Reynolds.

Goodbye to Ms. Dalton.

Even though the school will split into two different junior highs, the friendships made here will not be forgotten. Plus, they'll all be back together in high school.

She will miss these two friends the most, and they both decided to go to the honors junior high. Even though she qualifies for honors like her friends, she decided to go to the normal junior high and participate in the gifted program instead.

So, that's it. Another school year over, another about to begin.