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Hey Siri–is it possible to hike down into the Grand Canyon barefoot in winter?

January 27, 2019
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Barefoot in winter down in Grand Canyon: not only feasible, but fabulous. So much for the suspense factor. You’re welcome.

I just googled (sorry Siri . . . I don’t have a smart phone) the question in the title of this post. Doin’ my research, ya know.

It’s just as well I didn’t think to ask this BEFORE I attempted to trek down Bright Angel Trail to Phantom Ranch two days ago; there’s just not a heck-of-a-lot of info about hiking Grand Canyon barefoot any time of year, let alone shoe-less-ly in winter, when temps at the rim are in the teens (F) at night, and barely get to 40 at noon.  And I’m the kind of heat-seeking softie who doesn’t like to go trail running here in So Cal if it’s below 60 F. Brrr.

 

However, by using my past experience hiking in the Canyon as well as some plain old common sense, I figured I should be able to successfully navigate Bright Angel Trail in time for the 6:30 pm seating at the Phantom Ranch Canteen’s stew dinner. Mmmm. Stew. And chocolate cake for dessert . . . a legendary Phantom Ranch dessert that tastes ridiculously delicious (unlike Lucky Charms, which are magically delicious).

That I even had a spot to stay, and a place at the table, was nothing short of miraculous–I’d been taking a class all week at the South Rim to become an NAI CIG Certified Interpretive Guide  to open up outdoor education teaching opportunities later this year.

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As the week wore on, days of sitting in a classroom (OK, we played a lot of games as well) compelled me to plot a reward for the end of my week: after my final presentation Friday morning, I’d stroll down to Phantom Ranch for the night before strolling back up to my car for the eight hour sit-fest/drive back to So Cal.

Here’s where the miracle comes into play: with the new reservation system in place, people have to cancel their Phantom Ranch lodging so far in advance (45 days, I think), that there are few opportunities any more to pick up a last-minute cancellation.

Since I was here for the class anyway, though, I prayed and gave it a try. (The process involves calling the day before at exactly 6 am to get on the wait list, then showing up at exactly 7 am the next day at Bright Angel Lodge to be there if any rooms are unclaimed for the coming night.) Voila! One bunk was available in the one of the women’s dorms.

(Too bad they didn’t warn me that one of my dorm-mates would be a world class snorer.)

Dorm reservations made (dinner too. What the heck)  I set off late Friday morning and hustled my way down the first couple of miles of frozen snow and slick ice. (I guess there’s a difference? The trail just seemed really slippery.)

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With ten-year-old YakTrax strangling my feet through my flexible Sockwas–which offered very little in the way of insulation from the frozen trail–I was super motivated to pretty much jog the first miles, using my poles for balance and rarely even slipping, much less sliding to my death off the icy trail. Thank you, YakTrax.

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But my toes were getting strangled and going numb and I kept thinking, “One more switchback and the ice will be done.”

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The thing about the South Rim of the Grand Canyon is, it faces north so it gets no sun this time of year; thus the snow has no incentive to melt and turn the trail to mushy red mud except that one spot not too far below the first tunnel that does get sun and wow what a mucky muddy mess that was . . .

Past the ice-rink switchbacks finally, I gave the shady, snowless trail a tentative pat with my hand. Nice trail. But still too cold for my unacclimated soles.

 

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Eventually, though, about a quarter mile before Indian Garden, the trail wound its way into the sun and then unspooled as a cactus-lined promenade straight toward the cluster of cottonwoods that shine so vivid green in the summer but in winter stand ghostly gray against the red cliffs.

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Time to stow my shoes. Let the barefoot fun commence (after picking up a bit of micro trash).

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Below Indian Garden the trail crosses the cheerfully singing Garden Creek and then Pipe Creek . . . springfed, not snow melt, soothing in sound and sensation. And guess who doesn’t have to worry about wet shoes?

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Summer or winter, the mules are as dependable a sight on the trail as . . . mule poop.

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The following photo is to remind us all how ridiculous YouTube is for “censoring” (age-restricting) one of my videos for what I can only guess is their censor’s personal horse poop phobia.

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So much fun to be had on the undulating, fascinating, geologicating nine miles of Bright Angel Trail:

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Shale, yeah!

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People with shoes complain along this section of trail  because sand might be making its itchy-scratchy way into their footwear.

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Balancing shenanigans above the mighty Colorado River; the Silver Bridge in foreground, the Black Bridge (S. Kaibab Trail) spans the river upstream a ways  . . . 

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The Silver Bridge: not engineered for barefoot comfort . . . 

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The view from the middle of the Silver Bridge.

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Progress: The new critter-proof food boxes in Bright Angel campground instead of the former plain old ammo boxes.

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Ranger station at Phantom Ranch during “The Big Gov Shutdown of 2019”

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The Phantom Ranch Canteen before the hungry hordes arrive for dinner . . . 

. . . and where THE CHOCOLATE CAKE had been replaced with spice cake. This is NOT OK!

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Chilly morning temps as I made my way past the campground and back to the Bright Angel Trail.

 

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These little packets made all the difference in my gloves and socks.

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Not an official super moon, but still pretty super . . . 

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Sitting on the icy trail contemplating shoe choices for the last couple of slidy miles.

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This is the composting toilet 1.5 miles from the trailhead at the South Rim, meaning . . . only 1.5 miles to go till the hike is over . . . a bittersweet feeling. 

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Everyone’s friend Victor Vomit serves as an example for all of us. (Yikes)

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Once at the top, the only thing left to do is ask a nearby tourist to take a photo. Yay wandering tourists . . . 

And here I am: back at home, back at my computer, having a bit of trouble walking down the stairs today which I blame on 18 miles of trail with about two miles of vertical in two days, followed by an eight-hour drive.

To re-cap: yes, it’s not only possible but pleasurable to hike below the rim at Grand Canyon in the winter with the following adaptive caveats: footwear and traction devices (Sockwas and YakTrax for me) for the higher elevation icy trails, and some kind of bottom-of-foot insulation (my Merrell Pipidae Wrap sandals worked fine) for the lower elevation early morning trails.

Anywhere the sun is shining on the trail is fantastic, the opposite of summer when a sunny trail surface can fry eggs AND your feet for brunch.

Happy Barefoot Winter Trails! This month marks the 9th anniversary of losing my shoes on the trail . . . feeling much gratitude!

 

 

 

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A Poem For Those Who Long For Far-Off Shiny Things

January 3, 2019

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Winter Afternoon Hike

I look west. Sigh.
Me on a ridge,
island-distracted
by a strange sun
angle that bounces
a shine–
eye-blinding–
between me and
Catalina’s soft
white shoulder.

I sigh and look
back on ridges
burned to bare.
At my feet
black stumps
sprout artemisia,
a silver eclipse
of bittersweet
to inhale
here and now.

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And . . . the story behind the poem:

Every other month, our Orange County chapter of the California Native Plant Society publishes a newsletter (or, more accurately, our amazing newsletter editor/CNPS Fellow honoree Sarah Jayne writes up and designs a newsletter).

Sarah often sends an email around deadline time, asking me for a poem, which I appreciate immensely–our OC chapter members are an ideal audience for my local-place-and-plant-focused work (dating all the way back in the online archives to the Nov/Dec 2010 issue.)

Sometimes I wander through files of previously written poems, aiming for something that resonates seasonally, as the decade-old, Santa-Ana-wind-inspired lines in our most recent newsletter (Nov/Dec 2018).

These past weeks, though, I’ve been confronted with the enticing winter afternoon gleam from the top of Barham Ridge looking out over the Pacific twenty-six sea miles to Santa Catalina Island.

This has given me lots to think about on my run back down the switchbacks to the trailhead (at either Irvine Park or Santiago Oaks Regional Park).

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Hmmm . . . what has it meant to my life/development/unseemly crankiness to live at the edge of a continent where “Go West” was an excuse for many good, bad, and ugly things?  West leads nowhere when you live . . . west.

But the shiny gleam of far-away (aka: other! anywhere but the excruciation of where I am now!) places has always been a major mental impediment to my sense of contentment, having lived the last 43 years in a spot only a couple miles away from the place I grew up all those other years.

In other words, I haven’t gone too far in life.

Shadowy Catalina Island, then, just past the dazzle of ocean, becomes a metaphor (and yowzers! metaphors have finally made the news this past week . . . a victory for English majors at least) for all that I always wanted to explore, but the vicissitudes of life . . . blah blah blah and etcetera.

I got a poem out of it this week, anyway.

And the hills (to the EAST) are sprouting to astonishing life again after recent rains . . . so much to fill one’s heart with so close to home . . .

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The Lomas de Santiago (foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains) with Old Saddleback in the distance.

Happy 2019 Trails!  “Think outside the shoe.”

December (Barefoot) News & Blues

December 16, 2018

My last blog post (such an exercise in jocularity!) detailed my dealings with YouTube over their odd decision to “age-restrict” what I had always thought was an innocuous video-minute of barefoot running bliss.

Ha ha ha, they gave me a link to protest their decision, I did so, they un-age-restricted the video, and all was again Robert-Browning-like: (“God’s in his heaven; all’s right with the world.”) Ha. Ha. Ha.

Then they DID IT AGAIN on another video–this one from FIVE YEARS (and 31,000 + views) ago that they are JUST NOW discovering to be . . . somehow . . . INAPPROPRIATE?! (Please forgive the all caps . . . in almost nine years of blogging, I’ve never felt the need to SILENTLY SHOUT like this.)

I went through the (extremely brief) process of appealing their decision again (they allow about 200 characters–not words–for this purpose), and had all my jocularity knocked out of me when they immediately replied with this:

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So Merry Christmas to you, YouTube, you bizarre bucket of forbiddance.

That’s the blues. The news: (to quote dear Cecily in The Importance of Being Earnest): “The weather still continues charming.”

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Major blessings of recent rain have caused mud, puddles and new growth in my beloved, fire-scoured Santa Ana Mountain foothills.

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AND . . . I was able to successfully descend the Faceplant Trail for the first time post-fall without any anxiety, for which I am grateful . . .

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. . .  as well as feeling much gratitude for lots of recent soul-stirring sunsets during day-ending ridge runs. (That’s the Pacific Ocean’s faint glimmer in the distance.)

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When not running (which is most of the time, no matter what this blog tries to pretend), I’ve been having some good crafting times with the grandkids.

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But those kids are growing up and way out-crafting me:

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Here’s another design I didn’t create, but am extremely proud of:

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I volunteered to steer this year’s T-shirt project for my local chapter of the California Native Plant Society, and Orange County artist-naturalist Sofia Speakman did a terrific job with our 2019 theme: the importance of creating local habitat (“re-wilding” our cities and suburbs). Order your T-shirt or tote bag today (not in time for Christmas, but it’s a gift that keeps on giving) from TeeSpring right here.

Speaking of Christmas!

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My DNA at work: Los Osos Community Players

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I was and always will be the baby of the family. Take that, you Social Security siblings!

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My mom is cleaning out her photo albums, exhuming evidence of yet another 1980s crime against hairmanity.

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Mickey and Minnie pay a visit, courtesy of my youngest grandkids.

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My church home for almost six decades . . . we Lutherans love us some Christmas music . . .

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Finally (at least until 2019) a quick trip to Flagstaff earlier this month for the annual GCCFI instructors meeting got me super excited for 2019’s upcoming adventures with the Grand Canyon Conservancy (new name, same great nonprofit) Field Institute.

Happy Christmas & New Year Trails!

The Barefoot Video That YouTube Has A Problem With (Yikes!)

November 24, 2018

After a lovely Thanksgiving holiday, this email . . .

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. . . to which I could only respond with a muffled (I was eating left-over turkey): “Huh?!”

The video in question is a 76-second piece I spliced together and posted two years ago this month, and which has gotten just under 22,000 views by people who must not be the innocent barefoot-running aficionados I thought they were; someone actually reported this video as something that contained material not suitable for children. (And, like all my online content to date, neither this video or my other–equally barefoot and horse-manure-y–videos or this blog has been monetized, so it’s not like there’s anything financial at stake. Just my sense of grandma righteousness . . . )

Here’s YouTube’s list of no-no’s, as spelled out in their festive Thanksgiving email, above:

  1. Sexually provocative content
  2. Violent, graphic, or humiliating fetishes

Team YouTube goes on to inform me that videos containing any of this “will either be removed or age-restricted, depending on the severity of the act.” And thus they age-restricted my video–76 seconds of me, an upstanding senior citizen (OK, I do have osteoporosis, so I may hunch a little) having fun running through puddles, mud, and the occasional pile o’ horse poo. 

YIKES! What am I missing here, shipwrecked as I am at age 59 on my Isle of Irony? That my transgressions are bad enough to get age-restricted, but not enough for outright removal? That I’m still not one of the cool kids?

What have I done, O Guardians of All That Is You-Tube-able? What dark shizzle is hiding in plain sight (like the evil audio slurry that oozed out upon reversing Stairway to Heaven) in my ostensibly innocuous grandma frolic after a rare Southern California rainstorm two years ago?

Also: Have I ever had the opportunity to use the word “ostensibly” in this blog before? Am I using it correctly now?

‘Cause if anything was ever ostensible, it was my oblivion to the fact that I was purporting, promoting, proposing, or otherwise publicating anything other than the joy of running barefoot on trails for the last eight years now but who’s counting actually I am counting hard because my nine-year barefoot anniversary is just around the corner in January which means a big celebration will be in order probably something along the lines of a nice barefoot trail run . . . 

So get your mind out of the gutter (but which gutter? the violent one, or the graphic one, or the humiliating fetish one?) YouTubers. (WAIT a minute . . . tubers are potatoes, which grow, not in a gutter, but still, underground, and then all this begins TO MAKE SENSE as a vast vegetative conspiracy aimed at [TBD].

Enjoy the video. If you’re over 18. (If you’re not, my grandkids can tell you all about it.)

Happy (hmmm . . . non-humiliating-fetishy?) Trails!

And, this Thanksgiving, I continue to be thankful for all the awesome barefoot (and even shod), like-minded wandering nature lovers out there–that means you, if you made it this far!

Back On The Barefoot Trail After A Fall

November 15, 2018

“There are two kinds of trail runners – those that fall, and those that are going to fall” . . . I couldn’t have said it better than ChelloMello on this trail running Reddit discussion

As a shod trail runner (1996-2010), in all those 14 years I can remember two significant tumbles, and only one that left me with a lovely parting gift: a round scar still gracing my left shoulder where I slid a bit in the loose dirt and scattered gravel approaching a Santiago Oaks/Santiago Creek crossing. Since my barefoot running career began in January 2010, I don’t recollect hitting the ground as hard as I did a week ago yesterday: a true-black-n-blue face plant:

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A couple hours after (LITERALLY, people!) hitting the trail

But thanks be to God for some kind of amazing healing time . . . in only five days my scabs had peeled off, and by today, pretty much nothin’ left but my usual wrinkles:

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Of course I googled “normal healing time for bruises” just now, and found out that it’s usually about two weeks before the under-skin bleeding is all absorbed, so I’m super thankful to be way ahead of that curve.

Maybe it’s the vitamin K supplements (for my osteoporosis)? Speaking of which: I went down HARD . . . running downhill, kinda fast (for an old lady, anyway), enjoying my wandering thoughts, kind of zoned out (let’s not do that again) . . . but when my body passed my outstretched arm (it wasn’t that steep, but just enough to propel me past my braking hand), and my face slammed the dirt, I both felt and heard “snap-crackle-pop” in my neck. (And there were no bowls of Rice Crispies in sight.)

All I could think was, “yikes, there goes my cervical vertebrae.” So when I got home, after spending some quality time scrubbing embedded dirt out of the scraped places on my face, I called my doctor and got a referral for a neck x-ray, which came back negative, except for a suspicious void in the area where common sense resides in most (non-barefoot-trail-running) people. Score: Old lady — 1, Osteoporosis — 0.

And speaking of the way home . . . it took an hour just to walk (slowly, not turning my head much) down and up and down the hills between me and my car. When a hiker or mountain biker approached–and there weren’t all that many on a Wednesday morning–I sort of pulled my hat down and turned my head away. Yep, I was embarrassed. People already think I’m kookoobananas for barefoot running, and I didn’t want to have to answer any prying questions about why my face was swelling into such a lovely shade of purple, nor did I want to give haters a reason to disparage my . . . shall we say . . . lack of conventional trail runnin’ footwear.

“So why write a blog post about it?” one might reasonably ask.

I’m over being embarrassed . . . falls happen when you trail run, which makes me even more grateful I haven’t had (even more) mishaps. And maybe–just maybe–being barefoot all these years, and the extra attention that it requires to not step on the gazillions of local rocks, maybe this barefootery has actually saved me from many more tumbles. Maybe. 

And so I’m thankful my week of slight headaches (probably a minor concussion?) is over, and this morning’s easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy run felt fine. More than fine. Barefoot-tastic!

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Except for this horrific Morton’s toe stub . . . see how my right foot (on the left in the photo below, of course) has one toe catching on the ground? This is called “ouch” and it happens way more often than full-blown face-planting black-eye-inducing falls. (I managed to catch it for this photo by slowly advancing the video I was shooting for the above “carefree runner” photo and taking a screen grab.)

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While this long-second-toe business was esteemed by the Greeks and preserved in their statuary (and yes, the Statue of Liberty exhibits Morton’s toe writ large), I am not a fan.

Every time I catch a dangling phalange on a rock–or just the ground–it feels like I just BROKE IT IN HALF, but after a few minutes of VERY FOCUSED BREATHING and TRYING NOT TO LIMP (see above comments about working through embarrassment), I usually realize that it’s time to stop the wool-gathering and get my focus back where it belongs: on the lovely dirt and rocks that cover the fabulous trails just outside my hometown of Orange, CA, where you can still run into cool critters like this on any given Wednesday (fall, in more than one sense of the word) morning:

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Happy Stumbling Barefoot Trails!

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A thrift store find from yesterday . . . just what I needed to fortify my resolve to get back out there and run today . . .

Imminent Barefoot Presentations

November 11, 2018

While I’ve been trail-traveling with nothing on my feet for almost nine years, I still wear flimsy sandals to enter public places (especially ones with “the sign” in the window, so I don’t have to go through the public humiliation thing again).

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This week I have not one but TWO presentations (woo hoo!), and while I will most likely wear my sandals from the car to the venue, I can’t imagine committing a public act of literature or stand-up while my feet are trapped & unhappy (and, of course, I have both poetry and jokes about my barefootery/shenanagins). 

Happy Barefoot Presentation Trails!

Fire and Rain CUI flyer

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Wandering and writing (barefoot or shod) at the North Rim of Grand Canyon in 2019

November 6, 2018
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Writing along the North Kaibab Trail

Nov. 6, 2018: a big day for the country, a big-little day for me as registration opens for the 2019 season of Grand Canyon Conservancy Field Institute adventures, including my 5th annual writing workshop at the North Rim (shoe-people welcome too!).

I’ve been heading to the North Rim as often as possible since my three weeks there in June 2011 as National Park Service Artist-in-Residence; it’s such a privilege to share the beautiful forested trails, springs, views . . . and just plain solitude still available in our crazy, busy world–with the added bonus of sharing writing ideas and inspiration, all while camping together in the ponderosa pines, waiting for glimpses of this elusive creature:

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The Kaibab squirrel can only be found on the Kaibab Plateau.

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Writing at Cliff Spring is always an inspiring experience.

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The Uncle Jim Trail is another place where solitude–and inspiration–are easy to come by.

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What’s become a tradition: the final afternoon’s “reading to the Canyon” . . . 

Is it time for a road trip in 2019? Let’s wander and write!

Check out the web site for more info: https://www.grandcanyon.org/photography-art-yoga/north-rim-writing-on-the-edge/

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Happy (inspiring!) trails . . . all the way to the polls today!