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Barefoot hiking, and just . . . hiking

June 23, 2017

It’s been hot, folks.

I just drove back from Grand Canyon country a few days ago; when the afternoon traffic slowed down on I-15 through Las Vegas (please note the speedometer: only 10 mph), I snuck a shot of my trusty little VW’s air temperature gauge: 120 F.

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What’s a barefoot hiker to do?

Not this!

(The above link is to an article my daughter sent me about a lady who–somehow?!–“lost” her shoes while hiking in Death Valley recently and ended up in the hospital with third degree burns on the soles of her feet.)

During my three (count ’em: 3) recent hiking adventures in/near Grand Canyon, I capitulated to common sense and did a most repugnant-but-necessary thing: I wore $#!+ on the bottom of my feet so I wouldn’t end up on the Darwin Awards web page.

While this offends most every fiber of my barefoot being, I like to imagine that some wisdom is accompanying my transition to this new era during which Taco Bell counter workers in Page, AZ (WITHOUT EVEN ASKING FOR MY I.D.!) tell me, “With the Senior Discount, your order comes to $7.32.)

(And anyway, to add insult to injury, after I read the article about the Death Valley barefoot hiking genius, I decided to google the phrase “barefoot hiking” . . . I appear nowhere in the first several pages of results, leading me to believe that I have no street cred to damage, anyway.)

While the South Kaibab and Bright Angel trails at Grand Canyon are so well-groomed and well-traveled that they are most delightful to hike barefoot, when it’s chilly in the morning, a nice thin pair of wool socks, coupled with my faithful Merrells, makes for a warm, fashion-forward experience:

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Here I am at the South Kaibab trailhead last month as our GCAFI group began its three-day mule-assisted geology-wonderfilled trip (offered by the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute; I served as assistant to the “rock star” geologist Brian Gootee on this trek). Fortunately, after about an hour it warmed up enough to remove the ridiculous wool long johns as well as the sandals.

Next May 2017 adventure: a couple of hikes near Lee’s Ferry followed by five days of meandering down the Paria River . . . another GCAFI adventure; this time I was assisting that extremely knowledgeable mountain-goat-in-flip-flops, Christa Sadler. Our first little Lee’s Ferry day hike: a precipitous jaunt up the historic Spencer Trail, during which we ascended 1500 feet in two miles over sinuous, slippery, hand-rail-lacking rocks ‘n stuff.

But the view from the top! (Navaho Mountain and the rock formations of southern Lake Powell)

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For a little more grip, less slip, I went with my Sockwas (plus the requisite wooly socks). 

The next day, the real fun began: five days of sloshing down the Paria River until, 38 miles later, we would end up back at Lee’s Ferry.

What to wear, what to wear . . .

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I started out the first day in an old pair of my husband’s New Balance zero-drop Minimus running shoes (with the insole removed for less padding). They were OK for sloshing through the ankle-high water, but when I put them on the next day: ouch. The back of my heels barked, “We want our sandals back!”

Never one to ignore my dogs . . .

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. . . I spent the next four days in my lovely, featherweight, barely there Merrells (which of course, like all good things of the past, are obsolete and impossible to obtain any more).

When bits of grit from the pebbly stream bed got sucked up between my foot and the inner sole, I could usually solve the problem at walking speed by just swishing my foot against the current. Once or twice a day that did not dislodge the offending tiny chunk of Navajo sandstone, so I would have to pause and un-velcro and swish until all was smooth underfoot (under-sock?) again.

Last week I returned to Grand Canyon’s North Rim for my third-annual “Writing on the Edge” creative writing workshop (another wonderful GCAFI program, if I do say so myself). It was now HEAT ALERT time on the Colorado Plateau; trail surfaces, even at 8600+ feet in elevation, were enough to toast my tootsies during all our Kaibab Plateau forest wandering, so once again I strapped on my (deteriorating, but not degenerate) Merrells–with one difference: no socks this time. Other than some messy-looking dust-stripes at the end of the day, this worked good enough while I was busy being responsible and leading the day’s hiking fun.

Side note tangentially related to this barefoot-or-not blog post: I got to the North Rim a day early, without a camping reservation for my first night.

What to do?

Head for the NPS Backcountry Office and see what was available on a hike-in basis, of course. My first choice, Cape Final, was booked; not surprising since there is a total of one overnight site available at the end of that lovely two-mile trek through Kaibab Plateau forest. There was always Widforss Point, another stunner of a hike that undulates through the Ponderosa, aspen, fir, and spruce trees. But that was five miles one way, and I’d just driven 500, and thus was not eager to finish my hike in the dark.

“What about the Uncle Jim trail?” Ranger Steve asked.

“What? I can stay out at Uncle Jim Point?! Sign me up!” The Uncle Jim loop is five miles total, and I knew I could get out to the point just in time for sunset over Grand Canyon.

So I paid the minimal fee ($18 or so) for a permit, drove to the North Kaibab trailhead (which is also adjacent to the Uncle Jim/Ken Patrick trails’ start), stuffed the bare necessities for an overnight in my pack, and took off . . .

BAREFOOT all the way, baby. Ahhh . . .

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No shoes, but I did bring a screen tent. Just because.

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The morning view from Uncle Jim Point; note the plume of smoke from a fire burning in the Flagstaff area. 

Wildflowers light up the forest and canyon rim: on the left is heat-seeking cliffrose, on the right is a shade-loving species of Maianthemum. 

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Not impressed by my friendly toe-overtures (toe-vertures?) is a well-camouflaged greater (mountain) short-horned lizard.

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The lovely trails were full of deer prints (above) as well as a few actual deer (below).

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When the workshop participants showed up, it was fun to lead them back through the the Uncle Jim trail for some delightful forest writing time.

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Here’s our best “three wise monkeys” imitation:

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One of the most surprising sights from Uncle Jim Point: this unsettling perspective (below) of the upper North Kaibab Trail. I love this trail, and I’ve hiked this two-mile segment above the Supai Tunnel many times, but when I looked at it from a distance, it felt . . . alien. It looked way too steep and switchback-y and difficult, while my body remembers it as challenging-but-fun: tree-lined, puffed with soft, colorful barefoot-friendly dust (pulverized by mule hooves during the daily tourist rides), stinky with mule-poop, inhabited by clouds of mule-poo-loving flies, the gateway drug for rim-to-rim addicts . . . it’s a whole different trail when you’re on it.

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After the writing workshop, I headed for Lake Powell, where the damned Colorado River festers behind the concrete scab known as Glen Canyon Dam. (Hmm . . . it appears I have been irrevocably influenced by whiling away the miles listening to David Gessner’s book-on-tape: All the Wild That Remains: Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West. )

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I spent a couple of days helping folks peel juniper logs for a traditional Navajo hogan, admiring the sunsets and sunrises from our work area just outside Page, AZ.

Then it was time to head home, wake up early, greet the sunrise from my local trails, enjoy some barefoot miles, and continue doing what I can to keep “my” trails balloon-free. (?! WTF: “the tassel was worth the hassle”?! I guess the folks who believe this have no problem buying 12 helium balloons and letting them fly off into the local wildlands . . . sheesh . . . )IMG_3005.JPG

OK. Deep breath. Smell the datura. Ahhh . . . .

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Happy (loco) Trails . . . stay cool out there . . .

 

Retired from what, for what? (Insert barefoot plans here)

June 6, 2017
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Little me in a big place (Paria River, May 2017, photo by S. A.)

Oh the irony: As of May 31 I have officially retired from my 20 years of teaching writing “to focus on my writing” and here I sit, metaphorically tongue-tied (there’s too much chocolate hiding in a certain unmarked kitchen cupboard for me to be literally tongue-tied, although I suppose if my tongue were actually tied up in a good half-hitch or two I could still figure out how to melt my Trader Joe’s 72% Dark Chocolate and dribble it into the corner of my mouth via some straw-like contraption).

Reduced to chocolate rambling, already. It’s gonna be a looong retirement.

But anyhoo . . . the pressure of finishing my last university semester, clearing my office of 20 years’ worth of books on writing, books of writing, books I’ve written (that was the lightest box), rocks I’ve collected, snake-and-lizard skins shed nearby on campus, student-thank-you knick-knacks (as well as truly fabulous art objects as created by the stellar student Sofia) . . . window-replacing posters of native plants and wild places (Imnaha country; the view from Shoshone Point). My much-appreciated air purifier to filter some of the fluorescent dustiness. Twelve file drawers full of: necessary/vital/world-might-end-without-them records of meetings, committees, classes. (Said the paper-hoarder.)

It’s all gone.

No it’s not.

Some of it did find its way to Goodwill (books) or the paper-shredder (about eight file drawers).

But the rest is resting uncomfortably on my living room floor until such a time as I feel I can spare from:

1. Hanging out with my hubby and/or grandkids
2. Answering two weeks of neglected emails
3. Processing those two email-less weeks of May spent in Grand Canyon country (photos to follow)
4. Running wild again on my good ol’ familiar dusty/dangerous-to-toads/wildflower-bedecked trails of Irvine Park/Barham Ridge/Santiago Oaks (definitely more photos to follow)

All the weighty, insightful musings of April and May (those annual Easter thoughts of suffering/death/renewal; all the everything’s-a-metaphor ideas from my recent double backpacking trips with geologists; such mind-blowing common sense awakenings from my latest self-help book dabbling (that would be Mindset  ) . . . all that stuff has been stuffed into my daily handwritten journals which immediately become indecipherable due to, shall we say, writing-implement-manipulating deficiencies (the worst grades I received in elementary school? for Penmanship).

But there’s hope: I have Big Plans to find the perfect voice transcription software/app and miraculously transfer all this past year of scribbling into computer-generated text that I will then enjoy playing with/editing until it all falls into place as my Memoir of a Lifetime: How My Last Year of Teaching Somehow Illuminated My Entire Life And It All Became Really Clear And Then I Published It And Made Enough Money To Replace The Really Good Income My Job As Professor Of English Was Bringing In, Albeit With Much Accompanying Stress.

In the meantime, these pictures remind me of many good recent (and old) things; may they inspire others to get outside and live:

 

The above images are (just a few) from an amazing six-day, 38-mile backpacking adventure through Paria Canyon with Grand Canyon Association Field Institute’s (GCAFI)  extraordinary Christa Sadler leading the way for eight of us fortunate folks.

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Here at Phantom Ranch/Boat Beach–in the depths of Grand Canyon–Brian Gootee explains geology with wonderful enthusiasm and clarity.

Before that, I spent four days in Grand Canyon, hiking and learning with GCAFI geologist extraordinaire Brian Gootee (see photo, above) and an eager group of beginning backpackers, one of whom had the technology and artistic ability to capture this image of double-condor-grace as we hiked along the South Kaibab Trail:

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What was also awesome about this adventure: the aid of some athletic mules to carry our gear down to Phantom Ranch (and from the mule corrals it’s just a few hundred yards to the group site at Bright Angel Campground, where we spent some delicious time under the influence of green-violet swallows and stars and even a rainstorm and rainbow).

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Then it was time to drive home, to dive back into life in Orange County: crowded freeways, beautiful-but-dangerous trails:

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A smashed arroyo toad with incriminating mountain bike tracks nearby . . .

But it’s rare-mariposa-lily season on Barham Ridge: the Intermediate Mariposa Lily is listed as “endangered, rare, or threatened in California” — and it’s such a wonderment to come across these lovelies every year at the end of May/early June as they cling to life along Barham Ridge/Irvine Park trails that are continually being widened by So-Cal-intense mountain bike use.

On a happier note: I am determined to keep in mind that all these late-bloomers (it’s June, long past the famed “So Cal Superbloom of 2017”) are part of the metaphors-everywhere world that we are privileged to inhabit:

 

 

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Datura wrightii at the bottom of Grand Canyon

So plants and experiences and memories link it all; here’s the place from which the first photo in this blog post was taken; it’s impossible to show the scale of this high shelf in a spring-adorned alcove along the Paria, but if you go back and look at my size from my compadres’ vantage point . . . it becomes apparent that we are tiny critters, indeed, and any plans for retirement grandeur need to keep this perspective in mind.

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Happy Grand Canyon, Paria, and/or Local Trails! (Preferably barefoot)

Blue April

April 1, 2017

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One of my favorite wildflowers is having a good bloom time right now: blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum). Neither blue-eyed nor a grass, this cheerful member of the iris family blooms from now until May, then dies back to its rhizome until the fall rains revive it. (First People uses? Of course: brief internet research shows it to be a traditional digestive system helper.)

It’s really difficult to capture its intense hue with a crummy little pocket camera that’s been dropped a few too many times, but . . . I still try:

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I made a rare trip to the beach this morning (traffic & crowd phobias, real and imagined, usually keep me away). Purpose: to conduct a nature writing workshop as part of the “Art in the Park” celebration at Crystal Cove State Park.

Stellar weather; lovely people; good times writing . . . 

April Again

Air that’s been un-cursed
during its journey across
the Pacific Motion
arrives deckside, messes
with my hair:
familiar old friend.
Yellow/purple/orange
plant-paint spills
onto the slope below.
Farther down: dark
cut-out figures stand against
torn paper wave foam.
Sailboats: toys in my bathtub.
Beach umbrellas: cherry, lemon, grape
lollipops. Why do I not
play here every day?

It’s April 1! No fooling! Happy National Poetry Month, which often arrives with a (short-lived, but extremely sincere) commitment to write a poem a day. (The one above was a fun start,  inspired by today’s “noticing” exercises: Deer Ears, Cricket Skin, Wood Rat Nose, Hawk Eyes).

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More on the blue water theme, only this time an ephemeral inland “puddle” — Santiago Creek backing up behind the Villa Park Dam since the winter rains. That’s an American Coot (above) reflecting on what it means to be mistaken for a duck by those-who-don’t-know.

This next photo has only the faintest hint of blue sky reflection, but who doesn’t love pollywogs? (And who doesn’t wonder,Where did they get that name?”)

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Nothin’ But Blue Skies, From Now On (according to Mr. Willie Nelson . . . actually . . . according to Mr. Irving Berlin. (This is why the internet is dangerous: do I really need to spend time looking this stuff up?!) He wrote it  “in 1926 as a last-minute addition to the Rodgers and Hart musical Betsy. Although the show ran for 39 performances only, “Blue Skies” was an instant success, with audiences on opening night demanding 24 encores of the piece from star Belle Baker.[1] During the final repetition, Ms. Baker forgot her lyrics, prompting Berlin to sing them from his seat in the front row.[2]” )

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This is the sneezy situation on many Orange County trails right now: they are tunnels of non-native, invasive black mustard (Brassica nigra) that folks-who–know have determined is quite the allergen. Irony alert: the oil pressed from black mustard seeds is a homeopathic remedy for . . . wait for it . . . hay fever.  The seeds of the plant are cultivated extensively in places such as India, where it is harvested and used in Indian cuisinefor example in curry, where it is known as rai.”

Bees also appreciate the electric yellow flowers, so running through a mustard tunnel is a multi-sensory experience of: racing heart rate due to anger at the ecosystem damage, choking on pungeant pollen, and grooving on bee-hum. (And since the flowers can be anywhere from ground level to eyeball-high, the potential for bee-collisions is . . . everywhere.)

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I began this post without any sense of direction other than “it’s April 1” and “gee I love the color blue” and “I’ve got pictures from yesterday’s run and today’s workshop.”

Like these blue-(and green)-shirted equestrians, I wandered along and let the blue ideas/images lead me. Fun. Stuff. (And quite in sync with the theme of this blog: wandering and writing. Shoelessly, of course.)

One last memento: a lovely BLUE Crystal Cove mug to remember a lovely blue day.

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Happy Blue Trails!

First Day of Spring: A Superbloom of Ideas (Some Barefoot)

March 20, 2017
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Catalina mariposa lily (Calochortus catalinae)

On my mind: today’s vernal equinox, when daylight and dark are the same length of time. One idea bounced into another, bringing up the phrase “All things being equal” (caeteris paribus. . . which words were then was shown the door by my mildy concussed noggin (more on that later), as it’s a philosophical-rabbit-hole sort of phrase, and I’ve got neither the time nor mental acuity to enjoy that labyrinth this afternoon.

On my mind: it is the first day of spring, not fall, but falling and bruising are what’s been happening around here: 

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I enjoyed a presentation last week on literary “defamiliarization” — when authors illuminate those times when even familiar places/people/things become unfamiliar . . . how we can be strangers in places/roles/relationships we “should” know very well . . . all of this harking back to last Tuesday when my own home became unfamiliar to me at approximately 5:32 a.m., and in the dark my head whacked itself again a bathroom wall/corner really really really hard. 

“Haste makes waste” is another cliche, applicable to my normal scurrying around in the morning packing snacks, lunch, water, laptop . . . trying to beat the freeway congestion by leaving the house by 5:45 am . . . hasting, and then:  wasting my forehead, with the resulting bump quickly filling with a boatload of blood, which gravity encouraged to decorate my eye orbit all week long, prompting all kinds of lame attempts at humor by friends, family, co-workers  (but even worse, stares-without-comment) as I went about my Busy. Day.

Busy. Too busy. “Sorry, I’m too busy.” It’s a contemporary affliction I am ashamed to admit I have given in to all too often. 

 Since my body and heart and soul realize that, they (all one of me) wanted to make sure Head got that memo. As I lay on the floor, palm pressed to my right eyebrow, waiting for the gush of blood which (whew) never came, I had what would have been a “come-to-Jesus” moment, if it weren’t for the fact that He already came to me a long time ago:

How can I slow down and Be (not stuck in the mud, but pausing there on purpose to luxuriate in its gooey reality).

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So I’ve not been running, that being an activity not encouraged for mild concussants (I made that word up, and like it. It reminds me of how my mild concussion makes me want to cuss.)

Wandering through the local superbloom is what I’ve been doing, taking pictures, taking notes, inhaling the purple intoxicated air that hangs over the trail near lupines and thick-leafed yerba santa.

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Ankle-deep Santiago Creek (how rare to have a creek flowing in Orange County! How delightful!) provides lots of space for reflection as well.

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And this perfectly timed blog post on Feldenkrais and  balance and resilience by Sarah Kowalski made my day today. Here’s a bit:

Being able to rebound and rebalance oneself is an integral part of mental, emotional and physical well-being and is at the core of resilience. From an embodied perspective, balance is a physical experience of being able to stand up and move around without falling over. What most people don’t think about, however, is that balance is not being rigidly fixated to a certain position, but rather entails falling off center and recovering as quickly as possible. For example, even in a simple activity like walking, we throw ourselves off balance and fall down for a moment until we catch ourselves with the leg swinging forward. 

The Feldenkrais Method of Awareness Through Movement Lessons highlight the experience of falling off center and recovering. They bring awareness to the experience of balance as the absence of rigidity by constructing movement sequences in which students are called to catch oneself, steady and move on. Because of the type of awareness cultivated, students can also realize where they have mental and emotional rigidities that cause them to fixate in one place and fall down. When students can develop more optimal physical balance with detailed awareness of its sensations and components, it translates into more cognitive and emotional balance.

Moving along: It IS THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING! How I love the late light, the promise of long summer days . . . my favorite time of year when I was a child. And still is.

When I was a child?  My mom, being newly 90, is in the mood to get rid of stuff, so this weekend I got a pile of old photos that included by birth announcement:

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I don’t know how the years snuck past, but now I’m a grandma of seven (as of last week):

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Note the ironic sign: “please call; don’t fall.” If only it were that easy  . . . 

The older grandkids like to go crazy with photo-editing apps on my ipad; I like them, too, for the fun way they take the years (i.e. wrinkles) artfully away without having to resort to the plastic surgeon’s more-permanent-but-kinda-scary methods.  

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How my grandkids see me, courtesy of the YouDoodle app.

OK. I guess that is kind of scary in its own way.

But it’s spring! In my heart, yard, and local wild hills!IMG_1481

Happy Muddy, Flowery, Springing Trails!

Superbloom, Orange County Style

March 6, 2017

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Santiago Creek runs from high in the Santa Ana Mountains down through my hometown of Orange, into the Santa Ana River, and then another ten miles to the Pacific Ocean. While I’m posing on a branch here for the sake of a foot-selfie, when I cross the creek it’s right through the delicious cool flow . . . a privilege only enjoyed by the shoeless!

This winter, the creek’s been flowing for weeks, and when the creek’s flowing, that means there’s been enough rain for WILDFLOWERS.

Just like the ridiculous bird that kept croaking “I’m cuckoo for CocoPuffs” back in the 1980s, I’m “cuckoo for wildflowers”!

So here’s just a few from the last week’s wanderings:

Above: Catalina mariposa lily.

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Above: Paintbrush (a root parasite that gets some nutrition from its neighbors)

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Our most super-blooming flower so far this spring: wild hyacinth.

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Parry’s phacelia and California poppies: color wheelin’.

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Johnny jump-ups hide in the grasses.

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Stinging lupine, to be admired from a safe distance.

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Love those lupines!

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Wild morning glory with a patch of rattlesnake plant at its base.

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Bye-bye barbed wire . . . the wild cucumber vine is devouring it.

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Tangy lemonade berries are everywhere!

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The hills are a-humming!

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This friendly critter climbed right up when I paused to admire his hairdo.

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And . . . a final ten-toe skinny-dip in Santiago Creek on the way back to the car. The dry season is so long here, with no rain from April to November . . .  and even our rainy seasons have been skimpy the last several years . . . so this spring feels like us Orange Countians have won the wildflower lottery! (And it’s not even officially spring yet!)

Back to Borrego, Barefoot

February 27, 2017
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“Are we there yet?”

One of my favorite still-happenin’ family traditions started in the early 1960s: a late-winter camping weekend at Anza Borrego Desert State Park, during which a 3-mile hike up Palm Canyon was mandatory.

This past weekend my motley crew of siblings and our kids and grandkids enjoyed classic desert weather (brilliant sunshine-then wind-then-rain) and extraordinary green-ness and wildflower-wow as we waxed nostalgic whilst also creating new desert memories with the next generation.

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The 21st century twist? I now spend the entire weekend shoe-less–something my reputation-aware parents would never have allowed.

As the years and miles have passed, others in my extended family have dabbled in barefootery with me, with our Palm Canyon hike providing an excellent reason to remove the shoes: multiple water crossings.

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The first of many creek crossings on the way to the palm grove.

My obvious delight in wading through the shallow cobbles seems to have been an inspiration: all but one of the hikers in the photo above had their shoes off by the time we had crossed a few more times.

 

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(The trick is getting someone else to CARRY those shoes!)

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Along with barefoot-appreciation, I hope to instill in my grandkids an awareness of (and love for) the amazing life of the desert . . . what lovelier place to start than by noticing wildflowers, like the teeny-tiny Bigelow’s Monkey Flower these three young fingers are pointing out.

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Did somebody say “wildflowers?” Late February is pretty early in the bloom season, but there was already much to admire:

 

The tiniest poppy ever (Eschscholzia minutiflora) and wild canterbury bells (Phacelia minor) gladden the trail. Or at least our hearts.

Desert dandelion (Malacothrix glabrata) with popcorn flowers and/or clouds: either way a cheerful combo.

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Brown-eyed primrose (Chylismia claviformis) is part of a big family (yep. way bigger than mine): about 650 species of herbs, shrubs, and trees that occur on every continent. Here’s an inspiring quote for aspiring herablists: “All of the Gauras, Epilobiums, Oenotheras and other closely allied Onagraceae family members are both cooling and moistening. They tend to be astringent, mucilaginous and relaxing, with a taste that is usually bland and sweet, although some Oenothera spp. have a peppery bite to them. They also tend to be high in oils, especially in the flowers and copious seedpods. All of this makes them an excellent overall nourishing Summer tonic where signs of heat, dryness and tension are present.”

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Cheerful pink sand verbena (Abronia villosa), whose traditional uses include both external as a poultice as well as a concoction taken as a diuretic.

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Wild heliotrope (Phacelia distans): the pre-bloom greens can be steamed and eaten, as we learn by researching the ingenuity of earlier People.

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Brilliant scarlet chuparosa: named after the hummingbirds which it attracts. But bees also find it delectable and make the entire shrub hum.

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The above plant has captivated me so much on visits to Anza Borrego that I have attempted to grow it in captivity in my back yard. Desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi) does not exactly thrive in inland Orange County, but if I can keep all water away from it in the summer, it blooms (as I write this!) just steps from my back door, with a scent that is reminiscent of lavender but infinitely more wild and delicious. The photo above was taken at sunrise, when all are transformed–desert, sky, even me–into an ephemeral glow show:

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Then the weather changes; in the desert, wind will shake you awake with tent flapping, and Easy-Ups going easily down.

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Rain high in the mountains, but none on us–just a rainbow-reminder:

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So many photos! So much desert wildlife! (I call this one “braid-mania.”)

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This critter has the Best. Name. Ever. Giant Desert Hairy Scorpion. Its sting is supposed to be way less toxic/painful than other scorpions, which I wish I would have known when I was attempting this addition to my “bare feet with critter” image collection . . . the blurry image is the result of being in a bit of a hurry to get my foot back out of striking range. Yikes . . . 

On a more feathered note: here’s a black-throated sparrow that was singing the morning away perched high in a desert lavender:

This blog post is starting to feel like one of those (1960s) neighborhood slide shows where the carousels of over-exposed images taken by someone else’s Nikon never seem to end and you are desperate for some excuse to leave the room.

So let’s leave where we began: happily hiking the Palm Canyon Trail barefoot with my fabulous family.  The desert is a rough, beautiful, fragile, life-giving, deadly place. Go for the wide-open sky (the stars! some day I’ll figure out how to get them inside my camera), stay for the endless surprises.

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And take a kid or two with you . . .

Happy Wildflowery Trails!

A brief wander to Grand Canyon in mid-February

February 20, 2017

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“The Grand Canyon provokes two major reactions: the urge to protect it, and the temptation to make a whopping pile of money from it.” 

This quote (from a recent, lengthy and fascinating article titled “Grand Canyon: Two Backpacks, 650 Miles, and the Story of a Lifetime”) seems to fall into the “sad but true” category.

Last weekend I spent two full (8am-5pm) days sitting and listening to speaker after speaker expound on a variety of topics that could all, somehow, be traced to these two ideas.

The seminar: 2017 Grand Canyon Hiking Guide Training.

The place: “Shrine of the Ages” (former multi-faith chapel, now all-purpose activity center) on the South Rim.

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A gentle snowfall provided much distraction for this girl from no-snow So Cal.

The attendees: well over 100 mostly young(er) folks who make their livings (but probably NOT whopping piles of money) interpreting human and rock and plant and animal tales of Grand Canyon (Ongtupqa or “salt canyon” in the Hopi tongue).

My connection: I am an instructor for the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute (GCAFI); as such, I lead a three-day creative writing workshop at the North Rim (this June 16-18 will be my third annual). 
I also serve as “WooFeR” (Wilderness First Responder) assistant for GCAFI adventures–in May I will assist with two: Take a Load Off: Mule-Assisted Camping as well as Paria Canyon Geology Backpack.

The presenters: a variety of geologists, historians, non-profit representatives, authors, National Park Service and GCA staff, and members of two tribes who call the canyon home (Hopi and Navajo).

The topics: Holy Cow. Way too many to list, but highlights included: lightning fire statistics (2382 since 1931), risk management (“How Not to Kill Your Clients in the Field”), Search and Rescue statistics (deaths in the canyon average 15/year), updates on uranium mining and the Escalade (a proposed rim resort + tram down to the confluence of the Colorado and Little Colorado Rivers), sedimentary rock (super interesting! I “heart” geology) and volcanoes (ditto!) at Grand Canyon, an entire Powerpoint of insane river-raft-flipping photos, how to answer “stupid questions’ (#1 on list: “Is it real?”), Bright Angel Trail history, and voices from People who have ancient and enduring connections to this place.

My reactions:

Information overload. (But in a good way, like the sensory overload of standing on the rim looking out and over and down.)

Ironic back pain from being trapped inside for a two-day seminar about leading hikes in this magnificent place.

Happiness at being around so many like-minded Canyon-loving folk (including the nice young men who let this old grandma strum her ukulele along with their expert guitar stylings at the evening campfire).

Optimism at getting a chance to shake hands with the new Grand Canyon National Park Superintendent, who listened politely and asked a few good questions as I urged her to bring back the Artist-in-Residence program (being AIR at the North Rim back in June of 2011 is what started my relationship with Grand Canyon).

Serendipitiociousness at re-meeting the Phantom Ranch ranger to whom I turned over care of the male college student suffering heat illness on a breath-takingly stupid “run to the river and back” during a heat alert last June. She told me that she made sure he cooled off in the ranger quarters shower, then gave him intravenous fluids, and even allowed him and his Midwestern (i.e. clueless) friends to spend the night at the bottom (supplying them with sleeping gear from the giant box o’ left-behind stuff at the ranger station. It was nice to know he recovered; more than once I’d wondered what happened after I dropped him off and continued on my way across the canyon for my first night crossing . . . partly barefoot . . . but those midnight scorpions!)

The drive: 486 miles to get there: I-15 to I-40 to Route 64.  While I was gone (and I wasn’t gone long), So Cal had another fabulous flush of rain, and I-15 lost a couple of southbound lanes in the Cajon Pass area. So . . . I added 48 creosote-scented post-rain desert miles between Needles and Blythe to my drive home so as to miss the multi-hour delay in Cajon Pass. Mmm . . . the Colorado Desert after a rain.

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Highway 95 between Needles and Blythe, CA: puddle-wonderful!

But my aching (caution: geology pun ahead) seden-mentary body! That’s two more days–almost 1000 miles–of: sitting. “Grrrr,” said my lower back and major body joints each time I exited the car. “Yikes,” said my tense shoulders and grippy fingers each time an 18-wheeler whizzed toward/around/past/behind me.

New word: Incringing (can’t remember which speaker created this): they seemed to mean a combination of infringing and encroaching. I like it.

Old word, newly learned: Hozho (Hopi for “living in balance”)

Best question from audience: “What do you wish us guides would tell our guests on trips?”
Answer from Lyle Balenquah, Navajo Nation: “To educate them about ‘real Indians’ vs. Hollywood and media stereotypes. To emphasize our common humanity: ‘We should all be able to walk in each other’s shoes.’ “

Best advice: PRACTICE HEADLAMP ETIQUETTE! (That’s right; I’m shouting in agreement with Ranger Della, who bewailed the ruination of nighttime in Phantom Ranch/Bright Angel Camp when people wear headlamps and slash the lovely dark with mega-lumens while traversing the trail that goes RIGHT THROUGH the backpacker’s campground. Her advice? “Hold the light in your hand. Point it down.” For those spending the night, Ranger Della asks, “Why do you want to sit around your camp at night and blind the people you’re talking to?”)

Favorite Powerpoint slide:

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Jason Nez, Hopi, was part of the presentation “A Time of Profound Change: Hopi and Navajo perspectives on the advent of federal land management policies; the creation of public lands; and the meaning to native people of the past and present.”

Most distressing: when one presenter spoke about “wilderness” at Grand Canyon without acknowledgement of the fact that Jason Nez had so graphically displayed on the above slide: our continent was not an uninhabited wasteland before the Europeans arrived; it was populated with People who have made (and continue to make) their homes here–People with no language for the concept of “wilderness” (for this is surely an imported-to-America idea).

Second most distressing: The tendency of so many (mainly NPS folk?) to refer to Grand Canyon as a “resource.” I was going to try to make a jokey comparison here: “Notre Dame Cathedral as ‘asset’ on France’s balance sheet” . . . but . . . sheesh . . . )

So we all sat and learned (and sometimes suffered) for two days, not to make “whopping piles of money” from this place . . .but maybe just a bit of a living while we nudge Grand Canyon visitors toward knowledge, appreciation, connection . . . protection?

And a few more images from the weekend:

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This trailhead! So many good memories of starting/completing hikes here. I was there between storms, so the trail was not icy at all, but a storm was on the way yesterday . . .

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It was an action-packed couple of days, without much time for hiking (insert giant sad face here). But I did wander a little ways down the Bright Angel Trail, where an edging of snow remained from a recent storm.

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Cloud and rock layers! What a lunch break on Saturday!

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Lunch break selfie–me and all the other tourists.

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How small we are here . . . an important reminder, always.

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Temps in the 30s at night, 40s by day: I capitulated. Sandals it is.

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Then the adventure homeward after all the West got a good drenching.

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Even the truck stops were transformed into places of great beauty.

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The Whitewater exit off I-10: where the 10,800-foot scarp of Mt. San Jacinto dwarfs the monstrous 150-foot tall wind turbines with blades half the length of a football field.

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Roadside puddles called me to stop more than once.

Happy puddlicious trails! It’s raining again!