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New Grand Canyon Music Video (with bare feet, of course)

July 12, 2016

Three years ago a friend forwarded me an email about a singer/songwriter who was looking for poems about birds for a themed concert he was planning.

I sent some lyrics to Mr. Bo Brown of Rogersville, Missouri, and he was kind enough to write and record music to my poem about California thrashers. He even included the song in his bird concert, which was such fun to imagine.

On a whim a year or so ago, I sent Bo another set of lyrics I had written about rivers/water/bare feet (inspired, of course, by time at Grand Canyon where the “big river”–the Colorado–is joined by so many beautiful side creeks).

The man is a song-writing wizard, and within a few days he emailed back a recording of him singing “River Song” . . . which I (finally! It’s been on my list of things to do for a while) paired with images from this past year’s worth of Grand Canyon visits.

I hope it inspires listeners/viewers to take their shoes off and find some summer water.

An Excellent New Resource for Those of Us Who “Wander & Write” (barefoot or not)

July 10, 2016

nature journaling cover

Paula Peeters is one of my favorite bloggers . . . I am always surprised and delighted at the creative glimpses she provides of her corner of the world (the outskirts of Brisbane, Australia).

Her blog name–“Paperbark Writer”–is a combined reference to both Beatles and botany: a nod to the song “Paperback Writer” as well as to the dominant tree genus of her region, the paperbark (Melaluca) . (When we bought our house forty+ years ago, there was a little grove of paperbarks–bottle-brush trees–in the front yard. While they continue to be planted as a low-water landscape tree here in Southern California, imported paperbarks have invaded Florida’s wild-lands and now threaten native plant habitat.)

Back to the point of this blog post: Paula has just published a really fine booklet about nature journaling that she is offering for free as a PDF. “Make a Date with Nature: An Introduction to Nature Journaling” is 32 pages of helpful instruction–and INSPIRATION–enlivened by her wonderful artwork.

Here’s a quote from the introduction on Paula’s philosophy of nature journaling:

“A journal should be a playful, helpful, adventurous, extension of yourself. A sandpit for exploring your responses to the world. Something a bit frowsy, a bit lop-sided, a bit ramshackle at times. But at other times it will resonate with a rare quality. It might be beauty, it might be insight, it might be as simple as a two lines that perfectly capture the bird you glimpsed flying by. But you will catch your breath, and be quietly amazed at what you’ve created. That sentence or story or picture will be yours: your unique response to the world.”

I’m looking forward to trying some of her prompts on future “barefoot wandering and writing” adventures . . . thanks, Paula for your generous sharing of this gift to happy wanderers all over the world!

I’ll close with another excerpt of “Make a Date With Nature” . . .

paperbark writer journal page

[But’s what’s a blog post with no barefoot references? So here’s one last photo from a recent trail run . . . I mean trail crawl. I’ve been having fun incorporating crawling into my trail time . . . and I can’t help wondering if these odd tracks in the dust have other trail users scratching their heads . . . ]

hand and foot print

Off the grid and barefoot with the grandkids in Big Sur

July 2, 2016


Another fun trip in the books . . . how blessed I am to have so many opportunities to travel this year (and how thankful for all the miles driven without incident . . . our So Cal freeways are dangerous places . . . heading home yesterday through holiday weekend traffic was not fun).


Limekiln State Park near Big Sur, CA, gets you out of  range of cell phone and wi-fi while allowing you to camp (almost) on the beach and hike in a second-growth (but still impressive) redwood forest. Some of the grandkids go shoeless with me . . .


and others wear flexible tennies. It’s all good.


Summertime at the beach: barefoot card games . . . and rock art . . .


and a few brilliant columbines back in the forest:


Speaking of forests . . . here I am at an early age, already in awe of forest beauty. I’m thankful my parents made sure my six siblings and I had plenty of opportunities to enjoy God’s creation as we grew up . . . which is one reason I am so tickled to get my grandkids camping!


Thanks, Mom and Dad. (Here they are on one of our mid-1960s backpacking expeditions in the Eastern Sierra/Big Pine Lakes area. Love my mom’s “backpacking gloves.”)


No fish were safe from my brothers and me . . .


(Although here it looks like mine was the “one that got away.”)

Now it’s time to stay home for a while and work on writing projects . . . but first . . . a poem from this afternoon, written while procrastinating on more pressing tasks (and pondering a question posed by a fellow hiker on the Grand Canyon Hikers and Backpackers FB page: “Why no shoes?”).

Is Fear Keeping Your Life Boot-bound?

A high-stepping mule deer–
that’s me–all perked-up ears,
maybe not as fast
but running wild at last,
almost 60,
feeling 12, mixed-up me
barefoot in the mud-dust-
and-rocks, how much can you trust
a gray-braided lady’s tales
of bliss on the trails?
No more shoe-zing;
my soles are oozing
happiness, free and light
and not a blister or black toenail in sight.

Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim: in the heat, in the dark, without shoes?

June 23, 2016
clif spring writing

“Writing on the Edge” participants  writing “origin stories” at Cliff Springs.

After a lovely three days of writing June 16-19 in the forests of the North Rim (my annual “Writing on the Edge” workshop with the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute), I spent a day alone in the North Rim Campground savoring the quiet and entering field notes into my laptop until the battery finally ran out.

Then . . . it was time for another rim-to-rim adventure: 21 miles that took me down the South Kaibab trail, across the Black Bridge over the Colorado River, through historic Phantom Ranch, and up the North Kaibab trail, back to my car in the campground parking lot (which would add another half-mile or so to the journey, but after 21 miles, what’s a few more steps through the ponderosa pine and lupine).

The “twist” this time? Excessive heat below the rim (up to 116 degrees at the bottom–Phantom Ranch–during the day) meant it would not be safe to take this stroll during daylight hours. (“Not safe” meaning “extremely stupid” in this case.)

excessive heat warning sigh

All of the Southwest knew this weather was coming, thanks to our over-zealous media, so I did some research and came up with a plan: I would take a shuttle bus from the North Rim to the South Rim at 7am ($90; arrives at the SR at 11:30 am), and then wait out the heat of the day until the seven-miles-down-with-no-water South Kaibab trail would be mostly in shadow–still hot, but do-able. I would then hike through the night (in the light of the full moon! Woo hoo!) and finish before dawn the next day.

Yes, that was the plan.

My Wilderness First Responder (WFR) training had taught me the importance of eating and drinking during this kind of hot-weather exertion; that, as well as setting a reasonable pace, would be key to my success.

The stakes were high . . . I would be alone on the trail (because, HELLO, no one in their right mind hikes rim-to-rim during a heat alert) with no way to get help if I slipped and fell a few thousand feet and/or mismanaged my hydration and/or GOT ATTACKED BY A GIANT SCORPION (Phantom Ranch is moderately famous for these). Oh yes . . . it would also behoove me to keep my hyperdrive imagination under control throughout the dark journey, no matter how many glowing eyes peered back at me when I whipped my head around to see WHAT WAS THAT NOISE behind me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, about 10 miles ahead, so back to the beginning. (Spoiler alert: I obviously made it, since I’m clicking away on my keyboard to bring you this surprising news. But . . . did I do it with grace and dignity? And how many people’s lives did I save along the way? Guess we’ll have to keep going to find out.)

arizona republic heat warning

Did I mention the media were having a field day with the whole “heat alert” thing? You’d think everyone would have heard about how dangerous it would be to hike Grand Canyon under these extreme conditions.

Apparently, most folks got the “dangerous heat” memo, as you can see by my lack of company at the South Kaibab trailhead. There’s even a lovely bit of cloud cover! Let’s go barefootin’!


south kaibab trailhead

After about twenty minutes on the scorching limestone trail, dashing from one shrub-shade-patch to another, I had a conversation with myself, and “I-want-to-live” Me convinced “But-we-only-hike-barefoot” Me to Put. Some. Sandals. On.

hiker in sandals

A rare shot of me in my hiking sandals; usually they are just lolling around in my backpack enjoying the ride.

banded snake south kaibab trail

But eventually I got far enough down the trail that the sun was no longer baking the ground; look who else I found enjoying the shady soft red dust?

I did some looking online today, and I’m still not exactly sure what species this little darlin’ is . . . maybe a longnose or shovelnose snake? Anyone? Bueller?

The lower I descended, the slantier the light got . . . and the clouds!

sunset shadows south kaibab

tonto sunset

The South Kaibab trail definitely leads from one eye-boggling view to another, but at a cost: steps.

south kaibab steps

Lots and lots and lots of steps to take you down 4,780 feet in just seven miles.

more south kaibab steps

Can you find the switchbacks dropping off the ridge in the right side center shadow? There’s lots of this crazy switchback madness on the South Kaibab. Seven miles, in fact.

Silhouette fun: If you look carefully, you can see my tiny shadow in the center of the photo (below on the left), about 1/4 of the way up the page.

Yes, the sun was was making its way down to the canyon rim. Glorious!

below the rim sunset

But there was trouble in paradise: earlier in the hike I had met four young men from Mississippi, each carrying a small daypack and holding a gallon water jug full of brightly colored liquid. When I asked them where they were going, they cheerfully replied, “We’re going to go down to the Colorado River for a swim.”

There were so many things wrong with that decision that I was (for once?!) speechless. Also, I told myself, “I’m not their mother.”

But I did have one burning question (Pun intended. Puns always intended.)

“Do you have headlamps for the hike out?”

“Oh, we can use our cell phones for that.”

As Jim Carrey would say, “All-righty-then.” But I did not say anything, and they went hop-skip-jumping down the trail. AND switchback cutting (as documented  below by the tiny camera of a cranky barefoot WFR).

dont cut switchbacks

Grand Canyon expert Marjorie “Slim” Woodruff has written a bit about “Canyon Karma”–it’s the title of her essay in On Foot: Grand Canyon Backpacking Stories. Her proposition: “Treat the canyon right, and the canyon will do right by you.” She illustrates her point with examples of how her lifetime of picking up other folks’ trash in the canyon has brought her “beautiful weather. I usually get my favorite camp site. I find fossils no one else knows about, and I see flowers and animals that other people miss.”

But could there be a chilling corollary?  Folks who don’t respect Grand Canyon and its power to not only thrill, but kill, them, could be setting themselves up for a canyon revenge episode that makes the Count of Monte Cristo look like an amateur.

So here were these four college-aged young men from far away to the east, completely unaware of the how to respect this Grand place: research the trail–know its level of difficult and how long most people take to hike it; use the months preceding to train for your hike at home under similar conditions (elevation loss/gain, distance, temperature/weather); practice proper hydration AND nutrition on the trail–in other words, eat a lot salty snacks to balance out all the water intake . . . or risk life-threatening hyponatremia. Bring a headlamp with plenty of battery life in case you get stuck out after dark. Don’t litter sunflower seed shells or peach pits as you hike (really, guys?!), and for goodness sake don’t scramble down steep rocky slopes to save a little time between switchbacks.

So I guess I wasn’t all that surprised to find this four people–nice guys, exuberant fellows who reminded me of my youngest son when he was a crazy college kid–stopped along the side of the (STEEP! HOT! NEVER-ENDING!) trail about a mile or so from the bottom.

Three were standing; one was sitting slumped over.

Looks bad, my inner WFR said.

Not only my 40 years of mothering instincts, but my recent Wilderness First Responder training kicked in.

“How’s everyone doing?” I asked.

And that set in motion a sequence of events that began with me dumping my extra water (oh yeah . . . another Rule of Hiking Grand Canyon . . . bring more water than you think you’ll need. “Water to drink; water to wear; water to share”) on the head, neck, and shirt of an unfortunate we’ll call “Toby.” Toby’s skin was flushed and hot. Toby felt nauseated. Toby could not stand steadily. Toby had not had much to eat for breakfast or lunch today, but he had drank several liters of water and the mysterious bright liquid in his gallon jug. Toby had not urinated for several hours.


Toby was exhibiting classic signs of heat-related illness; Toby’s condition was life-threatening.


I pulled out my extra bottle of water and had Toby take off his hat (news flash: the sun has set and your hat holds heat in) and dumped water on his head, neck, and shirt. I gave him a couple of magic energy chews for good measure (“With electrolytes, B vitamins and complex carbs”) and, very important here, spent some time calmly reassuring him that if we could get him down the trail another mile, he could cool off in Bright Angel Creek and the nice rangers at Phantom Ranch would make sure he was OK.

All this–from diagnosis to calm attitude to treatment–I learned from my Wilderness Medicine Institute WFR training. Thanks, Ryland Gardner, you’re the best instructor ever!

Long story short: Toby’s friends took his daypack and hat, and we walked very slowly, with plenty of stops for more water-dumping, until we finally wobbled our way down the rest of the South Kaibab trail, over the Black Bridge, along Bright Angel Creek to the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station, where an American flag flies proudly (or sometimes just droops in the airless June night) in the light of a single spotlight. The rest of the place is pitch black at 8:30pm, even on the longest day of the year. (Arizona does not “do” Daylight Saving’s Time, but that’s a whole ‘nother topic for another day.)

After leaving Toby and Co. in the capable hands of the rangers (who had been fast asleep at 8:30, having had a rough day that started at 3 am and continued through 116-degree heat; yes, it was still 103 when we got there, but they were so kind and professional . . . I do love these folks), I made my way to the famous Phantom Ranch Canteen–open from 8-10 pm nightly for drinks, snacks, and hikerly camaraderie. There I wet my whistle on delightfully chilled (and free!) water whilst scarfing all the scheduled snacks I had missed for the last 1.5 hour of slow-ambling-with-messed-up-Toby.

Finally, around 9:30pm, I hoisted my slightly weary body and moderately heat-damaged bare feet from the Canteen, filled all my water bottles (having learned during camaraderie time that there was a recent break in the trans-canyon water pipeline and there might not be any drinking water available the next 14 miles), and set off in the dark.

Of course I had a water filter with me for just such an occasion–I do my research, remember?

And of course I had a really expensive and fabulous headlamp (Black Diamond brand, like my fabulous and expensive hiking poles . . . but I shop for most of my clothes at thrift stores, so I like to think it balances out) to light the way. This was my first time using it (oops . . . a bit of a fail there . . . supposed to test gear locally before depending on it during an expedition) and its fulgent beams made the trail ahead seem bright as daylight, if daylight had a decidedly blue-ish tinge and only lit a circle in front of you. Sure. Bright as  daylight.

So there I was, traipsing barefoot in the dark, looking forward to the next seven miles after which I would stop at Cottonwood Campground (new plan alert! no need to be a hero . . . baby needs a nap) and dunk myself (it’s so freaking HOT down here) and try to rest for an hour or so until attacking the final seven miles to the North Rim.

datura at night north kaibab

With lots of time to ponder life’s mysteries during those dark and lonely (and HOT. so very hot. 100 degrees all the way into the wee hours) seven miles, I found myself asking fairly early on, “Why am I barefoot?”

My feet must have got a bit sizzled during that first twenty minutes of hot-trail-insanity at the start of my hike; now I realized I had nothing to prove by remaining shoeless . . . I’d already worn sandals for an hour until the trail wound into the shaded side of the South Kaibab ridge earlier this afternoon, so there was no way this was going to be another “barefoot rim-to-rim.” (I’d done three of these already, anyway, so what was there left to prove?)

I was all alone in the dark nether regions of Grand Canyon; my feet were feeling sun-fried and super-sensitive to every tiny ancient rock chip on the trail, and THERE WERE SCORPIONS, like, everywhere.

scorpion closeup

Or at least seven. Yes, and three in the first hour, scooting from one side of the trail to the other, tails sometimes raised and poised and ready to puncture my tender tootsies.

grand canyon scorpion

Off came the daypack. On went the sandals. Forward I went into the dark, jumping and shrieking every so often when I’d swing my head to look to my right and the Black Diamond Icon high-beam would create a fast-moving shadow of the shrubs clinging to the sheer canyon wall rising at my elbow, creating an illusion of a dark beast moving along with me, just ahead of me, yikes. Shriek. Jump.

Just a shadow.

The other fun game I could play with my headlamp was “let’s see who’s watching me.” To participate in this, one must turn one’s head in any of the several cardinal directions. And then one looks to see what kind of glowing eyes glare back from 20, 50 yards away. (It’s a really fabulous and far-reaching sort of headlamp, as I mentioned, even if it does tend a bit toward the blue end of the light spectrum.)

Fortunately I lost this game more times than I won, but there was that one turn when I looked down about forty feet below and across to where Bright Angel Creek gurgled and burbled (more on this in a second) past a thicket of dark dark dark underbrush, and two enormous and wide-set eyes–attached to no body I could see–stared back.

Well played, chum.

I don’t want to be part of that game any more.

So I quit swinging my light around just for fun, and reserved that motion for investigating all the eerie sounds that accompanied the otherwise-cheerful creek sounds.

The voices! Sometimes it sounded like a cocktail party was going on just out of sight (well, at this point everything was just out of sight). I’d hear almost-words, not-quite-laughter, you know, your typical “she’s been alone on the trail too long” sort of perceptions that probably happen all the time when it’s midnight in the dark dark dark belly-bowels of Grand Canyon.

This was the (low, or high) point when belting out lovely hymns in my not-so-lovely voice worked to remind me of God’s care and guidance (“Jesus, Savior, Pilot Me”); I also hoped that all the lurking creatures within earshot would be so offended by my “pitchiness” (as Simon Cowell would say) that they would begone. Skiddoo. Vamoose. Am-scray.

Finally, a sign.

ribbon falls sign

This little chunk of wood reassured me that I was almost to my next stop where there would be . . . wait for it . . . people. Sleeping people, sure, but at least human presences I could sense and maybe even see instead of all this pressure of just-out-of-eyesight animal and who-knows-what beings.

That last mile to Cottonwood, somewhere around midnight, was definitely a challenge. Here the otherwise gently ascending trail decides to abruptly conquer a moderate hill, the first steep up-slope of the trans-canyon crossing. Then the trail has the nerve to descend, immediately erasing any vertical gains.

Here, once again, Bright Angel Creek swerves close to the trail, but way down, straight down, now I’m not sure if I’m mixing up my exposures (“exposure” being the fancy way to say, “Oh, $h!t . . . there’s a cliff plunging away inches from me clumsies”) between one section of trail or another. But it seemed like the trail shrunk to just wide enough for my sandaled feet before it dropped into the void.

Then it was 1 a.m.-ish, and still very hot, and time to remove a few select articles of clothing in the cricket-singing night and stand in the creek for a while . . . that was an “ahhh” moment rivaled only by the very lovely post-hike shower at the campground laundromat (6 minutes for 6 quarters . . . the best $1.50 ever spent).

After my not-quite-skinny dip–during which I removed my sandals again, and what relief, what assuagement, what succor in time of need–I proceeded barefoot once again up the slope to the set of benches near the ranger house. Barefoot again, and not a thought of NIGHT SCORPIONS until I felt such a poke in the tender arch of my right foot.

Did I scream? Did I wet my already wet self? Or did I take a breath and calmly investigate the cause of the pain via headlamp, relieved to discover it was only a dry, multi-prickled scrub oak leave which was easily dislodged with a finger flick.

After this good-night adrenaline surge non-ritual, I ceremoniously arranged my bright green bandana on a rickety bench as a mattress, plumped my daypack up as a pillow, and laid my trail-weary self down on my back where I was finally able to see stars, and moon, and moonlit clouds, and soon I was waking myself up snoring, because there was only one way I fit on the bench–flat on my back–and that is a ticket to Snore City for this side sleeper.

It was the best, worst, two-hour nap in my life . . . such a rigid and unforgiving slat surface, such soothing stream-and-cicada song, such high and dark and uneven canyon parapets–“visible” only in their blackness, only by the fact that where cliff rose high, no stars shone.

Then I smelled a skunk, and it was 3 a.m., and I probably should get going, but it’s heart-achingly lovely down here, and who knows when I will have a chance to traipse this far down in Grand Canyon again, so maybe I should stay with my love till dawn, and watch the cliffs glow back into color, but I have a nine-hour drive ahead after I get out of here, so let’s fill the pockets back with Knife and Camera and Chapstick and Handkerchief and First Snack of the Day and get my lonely hiker show on the road.

Only two weeks ago I made this early hike out from Cottonwood to the North Rim; that day I began at 4:50 a.m. and thought “How early. You go, girl.”

On the morning of June 22, the tenth birthday of my brilliant twin granddaughters, which I will miss yet again as I am “in-canyon” and not available to attend the splendid San Diego County Fair with them, on this Wednesday morning I am on the trail (not much in the way of camp to strike, you know) by 3:24 a.m.

It’s dark, so this older, wiser me avails herself of sandals and headlamp and strikes a pretty good pace on the last two miles of non-steep trail until the Manzanita Resthouse.

The sky lightens, canyon walls brighten, bounce shades of pink around and over me, till I shine also, and I saved someone’s life yesterday, and it would all be so damned perfect except I’m. Leaving. Grand Canyon. (Will I ever get tired. Of. This. Effect. One hopes so, does one not?)

To cheer me on my way, the canyon practically shoves all manner of flowering and fruiting shrubs in my face:


June on the North Kaibab trail . . . splendiferously floratastic!

But nothin’ sez “NK trail” like a prodigious pile o’ mule poo . . . and then . . . that last switchback where the defunct trail sign-in table stands. Almost to the top . . .

Looking tanned and rested at the end (Me & Mr. Nixon) . . . time for one final hymn chorus: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

north kaibab trailhead

And happy trails to you, Grand Canyon, until we meet again!

PS There was no moon to speak of, for those hoping like I did to cross the canyon bathed in moonbeams . . . the canyon is down there, narrow, while the moon is up, elsewhere, and then the flocks of clouds gathered . . . but I did get a good moon-glimpse from my bench at Cottonwood. It was enough.


Grand Canyon, Native Plants, Barefootery . . . Hooray!

June 8, 2016


The Grand Canyon’s North Rim: one of my favorite places ever since I first visited there for three weeks as National Park Service Artist-in-Residence exactly five years ago.

Last week I was fortunate to be able to spend a week there as a Grand Canyon Association volunteer, doing revegetation work with a wonderful group of like-minded folks.


Our work consisted of . . . standing around with our hands on our hips? No . . . we busted our backs pick-axing basins in the bare eroding areas between the North Rim Lodge cabins; after hauling away many bucket-loads of rocks–marble-sized to fist-sized to foot-sized–we then filled the holes with water, let them drain, added soil amendment, planted the plants, sprinkled in some wildflower seeds, spread a light layer of wood chip mulch, and watered again.

Sometimes we’d go pull weeds just to mix things up a bit . . . below are photos of the noxious invasive grass Poa bulbosa, an unusual grass that reproduces via bulbs. Best tool for going after those bulbs: the vicious “pointed-tip rock hammer” . . . super-satisfying to smash into the root-base.

We worked all day Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday . . . which left Wednesday open for exploring. (Those Grand Canyon Association folks really know how to treat volunteers well; besides a welcome mid-week day off, we also were fed three meals a day and provided a lovely campspot to pitch our tents, including plenty of firewood for after-dinner campfire fun.)

Since I am headed back to the North Rim in just a couple of weeks for my writing workshop, I wanted to re-hike the Cape Final trail to see what was in bloom in preparation for taking workshop participants there.


The way to Cape Final is a lovely forest ramble past/under ponderosa pine, with sun-dappled mini-meadows where the lupine were in full show and scent . . .  a heady mixture of indescribable sweetness that whispered “sit and stay and sigh here a while.”

Was I experiencing shinrin-yoku?

“Shinrin-yoku is a term that means ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing.’ It was developed in Japan during the 1980s and has become a cornerstone of preventive health care and healing in Japanese medicine. Researchers primarily in Japan and South Korea have established a robust body of scientific literature on the health benefits of spending time under the canopy of a living forest.”

And the forest flowers!


Pseudocymopterus montanus & friends


A lupine river . . .

One of the particular delights of hiking along Grand Canyon’s North Rim is the element of surprise . . . one moment you are meandering through ponderosa forest, inhaling the dry piney perfume, and all of a sudden the big trees are behind you and your breath is taken away by. The. View.


(This is Mike Wolcott of the North Rim Vegetation Program searching near Cape Final for Sentry milk-vetch (Astralgus cremnophylax), a rare-and-endangered plant that only grows in shallow soil pockets in the Kaibab limestone, and only within 25 feet of the edge of the Canyon. What fun it must have been to discover and name this plant: “cremnophylax” means “gorge watchman.”)


Another view connoisseur near Cape Final . . .

And a few more  of my favorite near-the-rim wildflowers: fantastic cactus!


Then there were these strange creatures: striking multi-colored tubular flowers arising out of the sandy soil with no visible means of “support” . . . nothing green in the way of leaves and/or stems. These delicate bloomers (Orobanche fasciculata) are members of the Orobanchaceae family: all (partially or fully) parasitic in their own lovely ways.



At Cape Final on the North Rim: cool view, cool plants, cool companions (also re-vegetation volunteers).

And then the week of volunteer work on the rim ended, and it was time to head into the canyon . . .

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.09.22 AM

Of course there were . . . wildflowers!

There was also plenty of colorful dust (depending on rock layer) for footprint photos:


I was even able to stop for a chat & photo with the North Kaibab Trail Barefoot Rock Monster . . . actually quite friendly and willing to hold still (for millenia, if needed) for a pose.


While taking this “foot-selfie” in the middle of the trail, wouldn’t you know that two hikers would appear around the bend and have to step around my awkward carcass . . .


(Almost) Youch . . . the bridge below the Manzanita Rest-house needs a little maintenance hammerin’ . . .


Seven miles down the dusty trail (that’s the south end of a mule train kickin’ up dust) . . .


. . . led me to this stellar spot at Cottonwood Camp. When it’s warm in the Canyon, no tent or sleeping bag is needed–just a groundsheet/poncho underneath and silk bag liner/bivy sack to crawl into when the gentle breeze picked up. Oh yeah . . . and a ridiculously un-padded Thermarest Z-pad. But it was lightweight, and that was the theme of this brief adventure.


In the morning, it was time to face reality: the seven miles and 4100 feet elevation gain back to the North Kaibab trailhead.

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 7.16.51 AM

Did I mention the excessive heat warning? But by leaving at 4pm to hike down, and 5 am to hike back up, I was able to enjoy the canyon with no worries about the dangers of heat illness. (But I did bring my reflective umbrella and extra water, just in case . . . )


Did somebody mention water? This is Roaring Spring, the source of all water for both North and South Rims . . . and the 5 million+ visitors a year. Amazing!

Screen Shot 2016-06-06 at 8.11.56 AM

What went down must hike up . . . and up . . . and up . . .


. . . past the hardy trail crew members doing heavy-duty maintenance. One of them commented as I skin-walked by (skin-walk=favorite new term for barefooting): “That’s pretty dope.” I’m hoping that’s what he said and not, “That’s pretty dopey.”


Then . . . the fun stops here . . . with the obligatory celebration photo at the North Kaibab trailhead sign.

And one last image, pretending to tightrope walk at Cape Royal earlier in the week . . . bringing a little bit of parkour to the Canyon . . .


Happy (canyon?) trails!

Writing & art about walking wanted for new zine

May 24, 2016


Writer/artist/teacher/walker Rebecca Fish Ewan just launched a new zine about one of my favorite subjects: walking! I was pleased and honored to have two of my barefootin’ poems–with images–included in issue one: “These Rocks” and “Grand Canyon Hiking Friends.” (And she included an image of a bare hiking foot on the cover! Bravo!)



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Issue two is scheduled for this summer . . .  there’s still time to submit your walking-related words & images for consideration; here’s some general info below (but please see the web site for more details).


“GRAPH(feeties) is a blended/hybrid word/image zine focused on telling true stories of walking. Send in up to two pages (or one 2-page spread) of your black and white nonfiction hybrid comics/poetry/cartoons/essays/memoir/whathaveyou on walking.”

In other news: tonight’s my “Adventure After  50” (barefoot at Grand Canyon) Sierra Club presentation . . . I posted some blurbs on various Facebook hiking groups, and one of my canyon friends posted this lovely photo this morning in reply:


Thanks, Pam L.! We had a fun week down at the bottom of the canyon last month with a group from the Grand Canyon Association Field Institute . . . this photo brought back lots of good memories (and I love the contrast between “crampons recommended” and our footwear of choice on that ice-free day).

I’m looking forward to sharing barefoot stories and Grand Canyon photos in hopes of inspiring more folks to try something/somewhere new. Life is all about learning, and I continue to appreciate that (including learning that it’s pretty easy to crack a rib climbing a wall during parkour class if you’re 56 and have osteoporosis. . . but that’s a story for another day).

Here’s some recent-local-spring-wandering images which bring to mind Oscar Wilde’s famously mundane quote: “The weather still continues charming.”

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Clouds and sun highlight the red dirt and green native shrubs of the Lomas de Santiago (foothills of the Santa Ana Mountains, my barefoot playground.)

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Silhouettes of black sage “seed pods” shine along with glowing stalks of our California state grass, purple needlegrass.


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The prickly pear bloom this year: flowerific!

gopher snake

Uh oh . . . Mr. Gopher Snake was enjoying the warm trail dirt until I came along and asked him to re-consider his position: in harm’s way from wheeled beasts.

Safe wandering!

Not allowed to go barefoot . . .but I still had fun

May 11, 2016

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jumping down

Thanks to my barefooting friend Gina B., there are pictures from last night’s parkour class at Firestorm Freerunning! Woo hoo!

Unlike a week ago, when we focused on vaulting over giant foam blocks and which took place mostly on the springy gymnastics floor, last night was wall night, with unyielding obstacles of all shapes and sizes (and colors!) to leap up, on, to, from, and down. (I love how parkour is a discipline of prepositions.)

After warm-ups, the coach took me aside and said he recommended shoes for the rest of the class due to the hard wall surfaces. I am a complete beginner, in no position to make waves and/or argue with someone who can do a flip from 10 feet in the air, so I slipped on my minimalist Sockwas (Socks With Attitude).

It was a super-challenging, super-fun hour of practicing precisions jumps, safety ups, wall pops, half-cats, cranes, and other parkour techniques. As aerobically fit as I like to think I am at age 56, I was huffing and puffing toward the end as we ran loop after loop, jumping from wall to platform to obstacle and around again.

Last night: What I learned . . .  about myself:

  1. I am no longer 12 years old and seem to have misplaced  most of my “hops” (fast-twitch muscle fibers that make jumps happen) that allowed me to dream of flying as a middle-school high jump competitor on the Orange County Lutheran elementary school circuit back in the early 1970s.
  2. I need to stop imagining sideways glances–or, worse, stares of horror and pity–from my fellow parkour-ians at the gym. All of the many non-grandmotherly peeps there, including my three classmates, were either engrossed in their own workout or gave me an encouraging smile if I did happen to look up from my leaping-hopping-sweating. But I tried not to look up and just concentrated on my own jumping bizness. Gina B. said it well in her email today that accompanied these photos: “Had a good time at open gym last night. People are sure great there. I got a lot of free pointers…and a scrape on my elbow. Blood, sweat and tears!”
  1. I still really really really like jumping. Liked it as a kid (see previous comment about high jumping on my school track team), like it as a middle-age barefoot-running grandma who can’t wait to do some jump conditioning at home to try to revive a few of the remaining fast-twitch muscles left in my varicose-veiny legs–getting old is not always pretty–so I can stick a few more precision jump landings at the next parkour class.

Just now: What I learned . . .  about why folks don’t think barefoot parkour is a good idea: (from the website

“Why people don’t go training barefoot.

“One of the reasons is that people think training barefoot is inappropriate and irresponsible. There is a belief that the world is an inherently dangerous place that’s out to get them.

“It is pretty much the same thing you face when you’re out training and someone yells at you to ‘get off that rail before you hurt yourself’. People tend to overestimate risk. In this particular case, shoe-wearing persons tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog crap, used syringes and broken glass, and walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking.

“There are risks involved in walking barefoot, and there are places where I  wouldn’t do it.

“But the risks are small, the consequences reversible and they are outweighed by the benefits. Broken glass is not really a problem. Pieces large enough to be a real threat will be visible instantly. Smaller shards will get into your feet, I’m not denying that, but they pop out as easily as they go in and rarely get infected.

“Furthermore, feet toughen up fast. Bare-feet can seem scary at first, just like Parkour training, but sticking with it will give you a much better idea of what actually poses a risk, and what you can take in your stride.”

I love this quote:  “shoe-wearing persons tend to think that the world is composed almost entirely of dog crap, used syringes and broken glass, and walking barefoot is an almost-suicidal undertaking.” It brought to mind Barefoot KenBob’s hilarious YouTube video “The Deadly Broken Glass Dilemma.”

Here’s to a world that is more full of obstacles to play on than littered with “dog crap, used syringes, and broken glass.”

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Literally the biggest challenge of the evening. Let’s just say I’m glad the coach was there to spot on this big ol’ wall. #notquitereadyforAmericanNinjaWarrior


Gina! Thanks again for taking the photos!

Happy (hopping, leaping, jumping, barefoot) trails . . . I can’t wait to put some of these new skills to use outdoors.

(And next time I’m going to ask if I can do the circuit once barefoot, just to compare . . .)


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