Cross Country: The Final Chapter

Here it is, my final day on the road. Knowing that I would be home tonight, I once again skipped the shared campground shower. Just in case you were wondering, I have brushed my teeth every day, and did again today because that’s one thing I can’t go without. I made some coffee on my borrowed camp stove, just like most mornings. Unfortunately today I was too eager to get going and didn’t take the time to find my grabbing-hot-things-rag. I tried using a paper towel to remove the scolding cup from the stove and could feel the interior of my hand taking on the burn mark of the bent metal handle. It was all I could do to gently place the coffee cup down without shouting expletives at the top of my lungs waking the entire campground. I didn’t have any burn ointment, but I did have some arnica gel, so I applied some and breathed on it. Not a bad substitution. I knew the pain was going to go on for some time, so I threw a band aid on it, and got moving.

I took a look at the trail map for the Carter Cave Park while sipping my still hot coffee and cursing my stupidity. This place offers hiking, climbing, repelling, and cave tours. After some contemplation about whether or not I should bring my climbing shoes, I settled on a short hike past some caves. I figured if the climbing looked amazing, I would get my shoes after the hike, and go back for a climb. It was early and the sun had yet to come up over the ridge, so most of my hike was in the shadows. I had mentally prepared myself for more spider combat, but was pleasantly surprised to only find a few. Most of the caves I passed were blocked with logs and rocks and included signage steering hikers away because of the sick bats. I had no intention of spelunking this morning so that was fine with me.

Back at the car I made the choice to start driving rather than go back for a climb. The hike was only a mile and a half, so I decided I would find something else along the way, and piece the two together to be hike 34 of my 52 Hike Challenge. I drove to the main road where I again had a signal, and was able to see how far the final leg of my journey would be. Only 5 and a half hours today. Nice. I would definitely have time for adventure.

I stopped in West Huntington, WV for more coffee. Don’t judge. Those Starbucks instant coffees only go so far. First, let me say that Huntington is adorable. I had never been through here before and had no idea what it would be like. It definitely has industrial roots, and seems to be going through a rejuvenation. Yelp took me to an old rail depot that has been turned into a shopping center. I followed the signs for coffee, and found myself in a place called Butter It Up. This place is all about grass fed natural dairy products, and will make you any version of their butter mixed coffee drinks. With a physical coming up I chose not to adventure into the buttered coffee craze. I’ll take mine black, thanks. I also got one of their homemade power bars. It had pumpkin seeds and dates and a lot of the other things you might find in trail mix. Looking like all the ingredients had been chewed up, spit out and formed into a bar shape, I like to call this baby bird food. It was healthy and delicious. No joke.

Now I had a choice to make. Would I continue on 64 West, and connect to 81 North (I hate 81) or would I snake up the backside of West Virginia and cut across through Davis and Wardensville, a trip I’ve done before. With only a 6 minute difference this was a tough choice. Starring at the names on the map, I decided to take 64. I had never been across the bottom of WV and it was already proving to be fun. What a beautiful drive! Charleston is beautiful. Online photos can’t even come close to showing what this place really looks and feels like to drive through. That’s another must return destination.

There were a few tolls along this drive, but nothing like what I paid in Pennsylvania or Ohio. As I approached the need to fill my tank, I started seeing signs for Tamarack. What could that be? I decided to investigate. Envisioning the roadside lean-to craft stands of the Navajo people, I was not prepared for this huge modern structure filled with works of West Virginia fine artists and craftspersons. I wasn’t yet hungry, so no food was purchased, though since having been I have heard many good things about the food. I did however purchase a mug made by Lambros Pottery based in Short Creek, WV, and I took lots of photos.

I was getting some looks. Something tells me I either wasn’t smelling pretty or just wasn’t dressed appropriately. Whatever it was, I could tell I needed to get back to my journey and leave the poor noses of West Virginia alone to shop. So back in the car I went to continue my drive. My next stop was the New River Gorge Grandview. Having so idea what I was about to see, I got out of the car, walked to the overlook and was instantly impressed. Wow! After snapping some photos I decided that this would be my second hike. I walked the rim, then climbed down a bit to see what there was to see. If there were no trees, this would resemble a gray rock Grand Canyon. What a beautiful place. With a little over a mile here and a mile and half in Kentucky this morning, I have now completed Hike 34 (or is it 35?) of the 52 hike challenge.

I had decided this morning that I was going to to try to go see Natural Bridge outside of Lexington, so that would be my next stop. I drove and drove while listening to a Radiolab about Utzi, another ancient human, and life. If you go to this link you can download a 3d scan of the Taung child skull and print your own version! Yes, I am still obsessed with 3d printing, and this episode of Radiolab is outstanding.

I eventually arrived in Lexington feeling a little peckish. I stopped at a 7/11 for a snack pack of nuts. The young man behind the counter complimented my dress. Did I forget to mention that I had yet another costume change. In the parking lot of the New River Gorge I put on my pink hiking dress. I figured if I didn’t smell good, at least I could try to look good. It must have been working. I told him it was my hiking dress from TJ Maxx. He asked if I had hiked the Appalachian Trail. I said I lived close and hiked sections of if all the time, but hadn’t done the whole thing. I asked if he had he. He said yes, and he had also done the nearby suicide trail and had been the only person to ever hear the voices going in and coming out AND live to tell about it. OMG, this was the guy I had to worry about my entire trip, and I am just now meeting him on my last day in my home state? I gave a polite chuckle, congratulated him on his successful hike and scooted out of there as quickly as possible. Yikes!

Hoping that somehow the Natural Bridge would be affiliated with a state or national park, I drove the 30 minutes over there. Unfortunately it is privately owned, and it is $20 to enter.  I stepped into their historic building turned souvenir shop to research their discounts. They offer all kinds of discounts, like AAA and student prices, but I just couldn’t fathom supporting a project that was disguising history for profit? I got back in my car, and texted a friend to ask what her favorite Lexington restaurant was. My appetite was ready for a meal. She offered a couple suggestions, but warned that she wasn’t really sure, and gave a big thumbs up to something in Staunton about 40 minutes away. Because two of the places she suggested looked like places I was way underdressed for, I chose The Palms in Lexington. The hostess sat me immediately. I ordered the sea bass, and was pretty excited about my choice. When it arrived, it looked great. I dug in. The fish and avocado were great, but the rice underneath was still cold. I am not one to send back food, mostly because I don’t want to know what will be done to it while it’s out of my line of site. So I ate what I could while texting my friend about my dining experience.

She told me that they were grilling and had made way too much food. Her home was on my route home, and she was doing her best to convince me to stop by for my last hurrah. I warned her that they may have to throw me in the river because I hadn’t bathed in a while. She assured me they would. So Woodstock became my last stop. Even though I wasn’t hungry, I couldn’t help but indulge in the chicken, corn on the cob, string beans and fruit salad. Dang! That was good. The perfect end to my trip.

Full and happy, I got into Ethel the Element one more time to finish the 45 minutes home. It was dark when I pulled into my driveway. Everything looked to be in order. No trees were resting on my roof. The lawn looked to be freshly trimmed, and the porch swept thanks to my friendly house and yard caretakers. 24 days, 17 states, 4 hotels, 10 campsites, and several friend visits later, I was home. I turned the water heater back to normal from vacation mode, peeled the bandaid off the only injury I suffered while gone (the burn from this morning), and took a shower. Tomorrow I will attempt to unpack while simultaneously packing for my next adventure, my brother’s Jamaican destination wedding.




There’s a Hair in There!

No more cat calling, and no loud neighbors. It was a peaceful night, and morning has arrived. I chose not to take advantage of the showers today. With just a couple days to go, I figured I could wait. I drove over to the Mark Twain National Forest trailhead that I passed yesterday for Hike 33 of the 52 Hike Challenge before turning up to the scary campground, and took a look at the map. This map had seen better days, faded and missing markers, I had no idea where I was on it. Alright, I’ll just start walking.


Now back in the land of clouds, humidity, rain, and mosquitoes meant I was also back in the land of canopies that form a green tunnel and morning spider webs. * This is where I will place my disclaimer. If spiders bother you, you might want to skip down about three paragraphs. * It was clear I was the first to walk this path today. There must have been a web every 5 feet, and not the waste high kind, but the webs that bring you face to face with its engineer. I’d rather deal with a spider before a snake any day of the week, but this was ridiculous. Blogger Girl Gone Hiking knows what I’m talking about. She recently did some backpacking in Indiana and had a very similar experience. At first I thought, “I’ll just wave my arm in front of me.” Then I picked up a stick and started waving it in front of me. I kept this up for a while, discarding my stick at the stream crossing so I could use my free hand to carry my shoes. The other hand had my camera of course.


On the other side of the stream, I was again getting all caught up in them. Just as I was about to give up and turn around I thought to try spinning the stick in large circles. This technique was almost 100% effective. Thank goodness! Unfortunately it results in a stick that looks like this.MarkTwain_05

When you wind a bunch of webs around a stick, the spiders have to go somewhere. So, creeped out by the crawling spider factor, I would bang my stick on a tree every so often to knock off any stragglers. It seemed to work. I think spiders were the only living creature I passed during my hike. Either that or I was so wrapped up in them that I didn’t notice anything else. Seriously a large predatory animal could have snuck up on me very easily because I was so distracted. Spinning a stick gets tiresome, so I turned around after just over a mile. On my return trip I could be heard yelling things like, “Didn’t I knock you down already?!?!” and “How are you still here?!?!” Yes, I had had enough of the spiders.

Back in the car I drove over to Steelville (remember the floating capitol of Missouri?) to get a cup of coffee. I found a storefront with a coffee sign out, and went in to grab a cup. The owner was making his breakfast on a skillet on his range stove behind the counter. This place felt more like his home than a coffee shop. I paid the owner for a cup of coffee. He handed me a cup, and pointed me in the direction thermos with the one and only flavor of the day. I filled it up, then walked back through the country breakfast nook style shop to the exit. It was adorable, friendly, and had that small town comfort to it. I still have no idea what it was called.


Back on the road, I headed toward St. Louis. I got close, then pulled over at a Starbucks to get my internetting in for the day. I posted on the Art Teacher Facebook group to see if any of them knew of things I should stop and see in St. Louis that would take less than an hour. The responses included the art museum, the arch, a bbq place, and a park that has some great water features. Unfortunately I spent so much time on the internet I ran out of time to visit St. Louis. Hmmm, I guess I have to come back. And I should also devise a way to not have to spend so much time in Starbucks. Nuts! I drove past St. Louis listening to a Zydeco radio station followed by a Blue Grass radio station. Nice! It looks like a cool little city with lots of color. If anyone can tell me about the street art, especially the bees, I’d love to know more.

Next I found myself (for the second time this trip) in Illinois for a short bit, followed by Indiana. Damnit Indiana! What is it with you, crappy roads, and constant construction zones? Get it together. I must have crossed time zones 5 times, forward an hour and back again, until I hit Kentucky and the eastern time zone stuck. I drove past Louisville and Lexington. I listened to a Blues station and started day dreaming about bbq.

I took the exit toward my campground and pulled over for a minute to check Yelp for a local bbq place. Sure enough there was one along my route, Pops, and it had four and a half stars.

As per usual, I put my bag of food in the seat next to me and headed toward the campground. Tonight I was headed into the Daniel Boone National Forest to Twin Knobs. This place looked great! It was set on a large lake. The sunset was sure to be beautiful. This would be the perfect setting for my last night of solo camping. But wait! The campground was full. Aw come on! The ranger told me of a couple places within 30 minutes to an hour from here, but said I should call ahead. One was a walk in site. Since I can’t walk my element in and don’t have a mosquitto net for my hammock, that wouldn’t work. The other was way out of my way. With no cell signal I made the choice to drive back to the highway and search for something in route. I found a state park, Carter Caves, 45 minutes in the right direction with one spot left. I reserved it over the phone, and, now starving, headed over. I checked in and asked the clerks if I needed to be aware of any bear or critter issues. They told me that the ‘coons have been known to open a tent and climb into bed with the campers, but that was it really. Um, okay, that’s pretty funny. I would probably feel a little different if I were tent camping though.

I pulled into my site, jammed in between quite a few others. See the feature photo above. I didn’t get the people to the left and right of me in the photo. I didn’t want to invade their privacy. There were kids zooming around the parking lot on bikes and scooters. One little guy kept stopping in front of my site to conduct traffic, not realizing I, a stranger, had moved in until his friend pointed out that they probably shouldn’t be there. Okay, that was all kind of adorable. (This is one of those end of the summer things that signals that I’m ready to head back to work.) Then, out of nowhere, a guy comes galloping through on a horse. What? I wonder if that happens all night. I sat on the tailgate and opened up my bbq dinner. I opted for turkey, because cholesterol and stuff. As I was devouring my food I found a hair, and it wasn’t mine. Oh dear. You may wonder how I know it wasn’t mine. Well, you know when you’re pulling a hair out of your mouth, and you just know?  Yeah, it was like that. I thought back to ordering my food. I could see straight into the kitchen. I know it wasn’t malicious. It was a complete accident. But I don’t recall seeing anyone with a hairnet. My parents require their employees wear hairnets AND beardnets. It’s common courtesy for your customers I think. Well, I had had enough to eat, so I threw out the rest and headed to my mobile bed for one last night.



From Red Rocks to the Ozarks

Today will be a better day! I looked outside to see that the rain had stopped. I showered, and quickly posted a blog entry. Then I got headed in the direction of Red Rocks Canyon State Park. I was bound and determined to do some sort of physical activity this morning. I found the park down a tiny winding steep road. At first I thought no one was there. As I drove I found more and more people. This seems to be the place to be on hot summer mornings. There was a swimming pool and all sorts of locals. There were quite a few rv campers, and there were lots and lots of red rock walls. I pulled into a parking lot, got out, strapped on my climbing shoes and gave traversing and some short climbs a go. I promise I never went high enough to be a danger to myself. Remember, I’m not crazy. Just a little courageous or something like that.

That was super fun. I walked away with chalk under my nails, and a burn in my forearms that always leaves me feeling like I accomplished something. The rocks even left their red mark on my shoes. I got back onto I40. Today I would be switching to I44 so I could head into Missouri. I had driven through Missouri, but never stayed the night, and this trip was all about experiencing new places so Missouri and Kentucky would end my camping experiences. Today I only stopped when totally necessary. During one of these long stretches I realized I was losing track of time. I wonder if that’s what it like for truck drivers. Do they drive so often that they just zone out and lose track of time? One of the fears I had before leaving was that I would go crazy sitting still all day long, looking repeatedly from the clock to the gps to the odometer and begging for time to go by faster, but that wasn’t happening. I had also worried that my hips would stiffen up from sitting still all day every day. That had stopped when I reached the drier climates of Utah and points west. Seriously, I’ve got to find out if I have lyme disease! I wondered when the stiff joints would return.

I pulled into Cuba, MO in the early evening. For such a tiny town there sure was a lot of traffic. I pulled over just before the train tracks into the parking lot of a restaurant called The FourWay. I looked it up on Yelp and it had every star. How lucky did I just get? I was a filthy mess, but went in anyway. I was pleasantly greeted, and given a menu to order some take out. I chose the kabob, and other than not getting to devour it right away, I was not disappointed. The chicken was perfectly cooked. The salad was yummy. The cucumber sauce was perfect.The pita and rice provided way more delicious carbs then I had been eating. And the price was decent.


As I said, I didn’t get to devour it right away. I had a nibble, then continued driving to my destination. I was headed to the Berryman Campground in the Mark Twain National Forest. I passed through another cute town along the way that reminded me of Front Royal, VA. There were decorated canoe halves strategically placed throughout the town. It appears that I have entered the floating capital of Missouri. I will explore this further tomorrow. I lost my signal along the main road while passing large signs for resorts where most of the traffic was turning off. I turned into the park, and snaked up a hill into the campground passing only an overfilled dumpster and a mobile home surrounded with vehicles and furniture. The campground had definitely experienced the storms last night. There was tree debris everywhere. There was also not a soul in site. I considered that I had lost my signal a while back, and how I had suffered a dead battery yesterday. If I woke up in the morning to another dead battery I would have to hike out to the main road and hitch a ride into town to get help. I was getting a really strong The Hills Have Eyes feeling from this place, so I decided this was not where I would be staying for the night. Nope, not gonna happen. I got back in the car, drove a bit back toward town, and turned onto the first road I passed with one of those resort signs. I followed the cars into an entrance where I was greeted by a young man who took my license plate number, handed me a slip of paper, instructed me to park and take the paper into the large building in front of me. I asked how much it was for a tent site. He responded with “Hm, fifteen dollars or something?” Okay, not bad. I followed his directions and headed inside where I was met with the largest crowd of people trying to be helped. What was this place? I looked around. There were camping and floating supplies to my right. There were food supplies to my left. There was a deli counter in one corner, beverages in the refrigerated section, and flyers for campsite pizza delivery on the counter. I grabbed a resort map. Bass River Resort. I looked at my phone and had no signal, but suddenly was picking up free wifi. Hello! I sent my folks a text to tell them about my change of plans. When it was my turn in line I explained that I only wanted a tent site for the night. It turns out I could have also purchased one of their floating packages. No time for that. The representative asked if I wanted a family site or a loud site. WHAT!?!?! How is there a difference? I got my family site for $12 and headed over. As I was setting up I was repeatedly cat called from a passing pick up truck. This was beginning to feel a bit like “Hey Tracy! Show us your tits!” Nebraska. I hope it calms down soon. I sat on my picnic table and finally got to eat my dinner while checking out the scene around me. Lots of campsites, rvs, cabins, a pool, a river, campfires, and mosquitos. Yeah, they’re back. I suppose it was bound to happen, but I don’t have to be happy about it. The sun fell and I climbed into my bedroom, pulled all the curtains closed, turned on my battery powered fan to drown out the noise, and fell asleep with the plan to wake early and hike in the Ozarks.


It was an okay, not too bad, but kind of awful day

I was the first to stir in the campground. That was not a surprise to me. Hopefully I didn’t wake everyone up. I made coffee, packed up, and went on my way to find a hike. I drove back to Pecos to see if I could find a trail map. I wound up at the National Forest Headquarters, and surprised them. It was 7:00am and they weren’t open yet, but the back door was ajar so I poked my head in. They showed me where the closest trailhead was, then scolded me for hiking alone. Is that what I get for interrupting their morning? This is becoming a theme, and was driving my desire to drive completely out of my way to do this hike. Ultimately, because I had a rather long drive ahead of me, and didn’t want to be the kind of person that would waste time out of spite, I chose to get in the car and start driving toward my Oklahoma destination. If I passed something along the way, I would stop. So long Pecos! Maybe we will meet again.


Once I was back on 40, I found the Santa Rosa Lake State Park, and decided to check it out. It’s very pretty. I pulled into the campground looking for the nature trail, but it was gated closed. Hmm. I walked around the campground. The drought was bad enough that all of the fire pits were roped off with caution tape. I drove over to the damn and did the scenic walk. I was trying desperately to piece walks along their little trails together to be considered a hike, but in the long run I accomplished maybe a mile. There just wasn’t enough trail. This place is more for boating and water sports. It also seemed like a good place to meet a snake, but I just met a rabbit who is pictured below in the photo in the lower lefthand corner.

I got back in the cool air conditioned car and kept going. Running low on gas, I stopped in Tuccumcari, NM at a Flying J’s/Denny’s combo along I40. I gassed up, pulled the car over to the parking lot, made a salad for lunch and ate it in the car. The car wasn’t all the way on, the key was just turned in the ignition to run the fan while I ate. I think my phone was also charging. I didn’t think anything else was on, but maybe my lights were on. It was the middle of the super bright day so I don’t know why they would have been on, but … what I’m getting at is when I went to start my car it wouldn’t start. Things were coming on though, so I thought the battery was fine. I called AAA, went inside Denny’s to get the address, and asked AAA to send out a tow. I honestly didn’t think it was just the battery, and really was almost in the middle of nowhere. I had no idea where they would tow it to, but figured I needed to do something. I had a plane to catch in several days, and couldn’t stand to lose more than one day to a break down. While inside I grabbed someone who appeared to be the store manager and asked him where the closest garage was. He asked if he could take a look. I said heck yes. He came out to the car, and I tried to start it up for him secretly hoping it would be a fluke and start. No fluke. He said he really thought it was the battery, and that it had drained just enough to not completely start. He brought his gigantic truck over, and attached our batteries. I turned the key in the ignition, and it started!!! Hurray! I let it run for a bit. He cautioned that it might be my alternator, and said if I let it run for a bit, then turned it off and it didn’t start again to come and find him. I let it run while chatting with my friend in San Diego. Remember him? He had told me about a motel I should always be able to find if I needed one and it would always be reasonably priced. I had completely forgotten which one it was. Turns out it was Motel 6, and I made sure to commit that to memory. While chatting about that all of this battery debacle happened. He told me to turn on all of my accessories and rev the gas. If lights dimmed, there was an alternator issue. No lights dimmed, but I was still cautious. I called AAA back to cancel the tow while he called the local NAPA to find out if they test car batteries. (Special thanks to my friend for helping me out that day.) They did, so I drove less then a mile over to Old Route 66 and had my battery tested. It tested fine, hallelujah! I left NAPA and stopped at this super trendy looking coffee shop/Historic Motel for a much deserved cappuccino. What a cool place, great service, good prices, clean, and so friendly. I kind of want to see inside of those motel rooms. I wonder what the rest of Tuccumcari is like. I drove back to the Flying J parking lot, and left a thank you note on the windshield of the guy that saved my day. If you’re ever in the Flying J/Denny’s in Tuccumcari, NM and you see a bald man with blue eyes, dressed business casual with a blue tooth headset, shake his hand for me, give him a high five, or something. That guy deserves a raise.

Crisis averted, I got back on the road with a large chunk of time lost. I must have had the lights on while I sat there. What else could have drained the battery that much? Okay, not going to dwell… My next stop was Amarillo. I popped into a Starbucks to get their wifi. I found a local NAPA and had my battery tested once more, just to be sure the alternator had fully charged it. It had. I was good to go. Then I was told to stop at the most ridiculous place I’ve seen so far, The Big Texan Steak Ranch. What was this place? I particularly like the 1980s faded limos with the steer horns on the front. Nice touch. The inside was like a Chuckie Cheese combined forces with a truck stop. It’s one of those places where if you eat a super huge steak, your meal is free. I used the atm to make sure I had cash for the campsite, then hopped back in the car before this place swallowed me whole.


My destination for the evening was Red Rock Canyon Oklahoma State Park. I was excited to get to this place. It looked like I might actually get in some climbing. It had been forever since I climbed, and I was itching to do it. I had my shoes and chalk bag stored in the back and was ready to go. Not long after I entered Oklahoma one of those emergency broadcasts came onto the radio. This is another reason I like to indulge in local stations. This would be the first rain I had seen since leaving Nebraska on June 26th! I pulled over and looked at the weather for where I would be camping. Sure enough it was under a severe weather alert too, until the weee hours of the morning. Damaging hail and heavy winds were in the forecast. I had a flashback to the storm that blew through Linden, VA just before I left, knocking two trees down in my yard, flooding my kitchen, and destroying all of those windshields and moon-roofs in Middleburg. I didn’t want to take any chances. I had camped in a horrible wind storm before, and it had kept me up most of the night worrying that a tree was going to come down on my tent. I didn’t need to be driving drowsy tomorrow, right? Or worse. I had some thinking to do because there’s always the chance that it might pass by as nothing. While sitting there contemplating I read a text from a friend I had seen in Los Angeles. His friend, someone I met on the 4th of July, passed away yesterday. He had suffered from seizures, and had just finished physical therapy following a car accident. He collapsed in his home, and his roommate tried to revive him. I can’t believe it. He was so young, and it seemed like things were turning around for him. I promised to send some of the photos I took that night that included him as soon as I got to wifi. Contemplatively, I continued driving east.

To give you some perspective of when this day was taking place, and just how off I have gotten with my posts, all of this happened on Bastille Day. Not long after I started driving again I heard about the attack in Nice. I listened to the radio waiting for more updates. I was getting close to the park, and a Motel 6 was in my sites. I guess my choice was made. I would sit in a clean, dry $40 room, sheltered from the storms, watching the news on cable while blogging and eating tacos from a really good place I found on Yelp, Taqueria Fresnillo. It was true Mexican food, the kind with tongue on the menu, in the tiny town of Clinton, OK. If you’re ever in Clinton, stop in for a bite to eat. You won’t be disappointed. I didn’t get a picture of the food or the room, which was updated minus the towels. (They should really replace those towels.) My mind was elsewhere. I no longer wanted to do anything but dig a hole, and sit in it until all of the craziness came to a stop. When will it stop? How will it stop? The answer is bigger then me, but I’ll help any way I can. It rained a big, heavy, lightening and thunder filled rain most of the night. Thankful for good friends, for that guy that got me back on the road in Tuccumcari, for all the experiences I had been afforded this summer, and for my life, I fell asleep wondering what I could do to help.





Standing on a Corner

I woke up this morning in my room at the Quality Inn in Winslow, AZ, and thought about what my day should look like. I spent a little time putting together a blog post, then got to planning. My first stop would be the corner. You know the corner? …the one mentioned and made famous by the Eagles song Take It Easy. Winslow is an adorable tiny town with potential because of its landmark and location on the Historic Route 66. In its present state, it could really use a little tlc. I drove through town, found the corner, took some photos, and watched groups of tourists come and go taking photos with the sign. Cute! I wonder how many people stop just for the photo, and how many stay and patronize local businesses.

I got onto 40 east, and I need to mention here that yesterday I saw one person on a bicycle towing a baby carrier full of his belongings going west bound on 40. About an hour later I saw a different person on a bicycle with bags of his belongings strapped to every possible place on his bike going east bound on 40. I wondered how far they were traveling. I thought about a man I know who walked across the country in the 70s with his wife and newborn and wondered if these guys were also crossing the country or just traversing Arizona. I mention this because today I saw the same guy going east bound. I don’t know how far he’s going but he’s definitely going a distance.

Today I stopped in the Petrified Forest National Park/Painted Desert. It’s a big park with a lot of miles to cover. I made a few overlook stops, which were beautiful, then headed to get back on the road. I had been alone for a few days now, the reality of returning home was setting in, and I just wasn’t feeling it today. I may or may not have had a little related temper tantrum.

I got back onto Rt. 66 for a bit in Gallup where I picked up an all Navajo radio station for a short time. They were speaking in their native language and I couldn’t understand a lick of it, but it was interesting to listen to, and the music was something to experience. I also saw some of the prettiest stretches of buttes I could ever imagine.

I reached Albuquerque, NM where it must be a requirement to drive like a maniac. So I pretended I was on 495 in Tysons and went with the flow. Traffic calmed down when I reached Santa Fe. At first I was wondering where the city was. I had heard about what a cool place it was. Then I started noticing that the buildings were all hidden in the landscaped. I was too late to check out their museums, but I drove around anyway just to get a closer look. I stopped at Trader Joe’s and picked up some supplies for the night.

I had gotten off 40 and onto 25 north around Albuquerque to get to my final destination for the evening. As I came around a turn following Santa Fe I caught a glimpse of heavily treed mountains and cloud spotted blue skies. The mountain range here reminds me of the Rocky’s. I think I hadn’t seen clouds or green mountains since leaving Donnor’s Pass in the Tahoe National Forest on June 28th. I hadn’t realized how much I missed them until I felt myself being overcome with joy to see them here. I reached the campground just outside of Pecos, NM, and got settled.


Tonight I am staying at Field Tract Campground in the Santa Fe National Forest. Let me start by saying that Pecos is a beautiful tiny town situated just outside of the Forest. It seems to have a great deal of Catholicism in its culture. There is religious artwork at every corner and a convent just outside of the entrance to the Forest. It also has a great deal of history as a place where a historic Civil War battle took place.

It seems like the Santa Fe National Forest is a great destination for people who like to fish. The Pecos River runs right through it, and ran right past my campground lulling me to sleep. I cannot recommend this campground enough. The sites are spread out and the location is quiet. It seems like the kind of place adults come to hear sounds of nature. There were no posted warnings about wildlife. Every few sites had a lean to with a chimney. People must like to camp here in the winter. It was $8 for every site. There were lots of tall trees, and there was even running water in the bathroom. It’s always a treat to not have to smell a pit toilet. I ate dinner and wrote for a while. I met a fella a couple sites down from Carolina. He didn’t say which Carolina, but he fancied us neighbors. A man in a trailer another site down played the trumpet as the sun set. I stretched out on my picnic table and watched the stars emerge until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer, so I put myself to bed. I could get used to this place.

Hike 32; The One and Only Grand Canyon

I had heard that the Grand Canyon can be a pain to get into, with really long lines at the gate and crowds all over the rim. So I got started around 7am. Along my drive I half heard a report about a woman falling 400ft in the canyon, but I wasn’t paying close attention so I missed the how and when of the story. I assumed she was somewhere she wasn’t supposed to be. In my mind there would be railings everywhere to keep people from falling, and signs warning folks not to get to close to the edge. When I got to the park there was no line, and having my National Parks pass allowed me to get in quickly. I got a parking spot by the visitor’s center without any problem. I ventured over to the first overlook and snapped some shots. It turns out the squirrels here have no fear. Beware of the squirrels!

I took a look at the trail and bus maps and decided to take the blue bus to the Bright Angels trail, but just as I got to the bus depot the blue bus pulled away. The orange bus was still sitting there so I hopped on. It has to go somewhere good too, right? I got off at the South Kaibab trailhead. It looked pretty good, with an Ooh Ahh Point and all. Before getting on the path an Elk walked by, whoa! Cool. I read all of the warning signs, people coming up have right of way, people stand on the outside to let mules pass, don’t over do it, bring lots of water and snacks, don’t attempt the hike to the Rio Grande in one day, etc… I made note and started my descent while furiously snapping photos along the way. The plan was to go a mile down, turn around and come back up before the sun crested.

I made it past the Ooh Ahh Point, to the one mile marker. I stopped to take a photo, and struck up a conversation with a woman from Pennsylvania who seemed to find it insane that I was hiking alone. Was I really alone? Look at all these other people hiking along side of me. I started my ascent. Not too far into my climb I noticed three young men barreling down the trail toward me. They had clearly not read the sign about giving the hiker climbing upward the right of way. As a matter of fact it seemed many people didn’t read the signs, and it was making me nervous. The young man in the middle tripped on his own feet and started falling in the direction of myself and the friend in front of him. Every possible way I could think of to break his fall and not die went through my head. There were no possible ways!!! He caught himself and started laughing maniacally. I wanted to ring his neck, but settled for a simple, “be careful!” and continued on. I made it out of the canyon faster than I had made it in, passing lots of people along the way. I think the urgency to make it out alive is what drove me. Oh yes, my idea that there were railings everywhere ^^, nope. The only railings were at the big overlooks where the most people flock. The trails into the canyon are very narrow and pitted with a straight drop off one side in most places. Once out of the canyon I chose to walk the rim trail back two and half miles to the car. The rim trail is a safe distance from the drop, so I felt safe to check out all the tree textures and flora I wanted.

I ate lunch at my car then drove around the park to see what I could see. I didn’t see much until I started making my way to Cameron. I stopped at a view point here and there, and spent some time at the grand view.

I drove through the painted desert, past lots of Navajo craft vendors, and not much else. I had considered driving to the North Rim, but if you look closely at the distant horizon on several of my photos you can see that a fire seemed to have started there sometime this morning. And since I promised my dad that I wouldn’t drive into any fires I decided to stay away. I drove back toward Flagstaff instead, noticing the intense street art on the vacant buildings along the way. I stopped at a state park for a short minute to snap some photos. I can’t remember the name of this place. It took a back seat to the time I just spent in the Grand Canyon. It included a 13 mile drive with stops to look at relics and old pueblos along the way. You can see the North Rim fire from within the state park in the panorama below.

When I reached Flagstaff I regained my cell signal. I hadn’t had any signal since just before reaching the park this morning. It turned out my mom had heard about the woman falling, and she had been worried about me all day. I wrote them to let them know I was safely out of the park, and made a mental note to research that death when I stopped for the night.

I started to drive 40 east. I drove and drove until I was tired. I pulled off at Winslow, you know, the place in the song. I got a room at the Quality Inn after waiting in line behind at least a dozen military men and a couple families. Who would have thought Winslow, AZ would be so busy on a Tuesday evening? There was only one cashier on duty and he was frazzled. When it was my turn her apologized for my wait, and gave me a drink voucher for the inconvenience. I got into the hotel and hopped in the shower. Have you ever been able to smell the dirt rinse out of your hair and off of your skin as water ran over you? I did. The powdered dirt of the dry Arizona land had seeped into my shoes, through my socks, into every crevice and pore in a matter of minutes. It collected on top of sunscreen, then more sunscreen had been applied and the cycle continued until this shower washed it all away.

I went to the restaurant downstairs and had a chicken dinner. It was decent for middle-of-nowhere-hotel-restaurant-food. The waitress was very apologetic since she was also slammed due to the influx of people. I was very impressed with the thoughtfulness and genuine concern for my wellbeing from the staff.

As I ate dinner I looked up the story of the woman who fell in the Grand Canyon. Her name was Colleen Burns. She was from Florida. She worked for Yelp. She was 35. She was on the same trail I hiked earlier that day. She was making some room for hikers to pass when she stumbled on her own feet and fell 400 ft. over the ledge at the Ooh Ahh Point. This happened the day before I was there. I was horrified. I don’t think I will be visiting the Grand Canyon again.



Hike 31, and so much more

I think I’m getting accustomed to sleeping in the car. I slept REALLY well last night. Maybe it was the cool dry air, or the fact that the campground quieted down early, or maybe I had simply been exhausted. I don’t know, but I was grateful. I woke up around 7am wanting to continue sleeping, but my desire to get an early hike in was stronger. I made some coffee, brushed the funk off my teeth, and decided to forgo the $4 shower.

I drove from the Cave Springs Campground to the Oak Creek Visitors Center to get a signal so I could get in touch with my parents, and to look at a map. This place is pretty cool. I arrived as the huge daily Navajo craft display was being set up. There is a short walk around a cliff wall that offers all sorts of panoramas.


The Hangover Loop had been recommended to me by the same teacher friend that recommended the Santa Ysabel trail. He’s hiked all over the world, and said there is nothing like the Hangover Loop. I was starting to worry about time. I would have to drive a distance to get there, and it would be backtracking. I wanted to spend the afternoon in Flagstaff, and not in traffic. I decided to get in the car, start driving in that direction, and see if something sparked my interest. Something told me that any hike in Sedona would be a good one.

I pulled off at the Midgely Bridge. At just before 9am, there was still a parking space available. Sedona seems to be a hot destination for tourists. The roads and the parking fill up early. Added bonus, having my annual National Parks Pass displayed on my rear view mirror meant I didn’t have to pay the $5 to park. That pass has been so handy on this trip.


There were several trails to choose from at this parking area. I chose the Huckaby Trail. It sank into the canyon, crossed Oak Creek twice, ran through a shaded area, then climbed up and followed an exposed ridge for a bit. The views at every turn were amazing. I completed 4.2 miles, and even remembered a hat! I’m so proud of me.

I made it back to the car, and started on my way to Flagstaff. Along the way I made a snap decision to pull off and park at Bootlegger Day Use Picnic Area to see if I could take a dip in Oak Creek. And I did take a dip. And it was a very cold dip. I dried off on some large rocks afterward, then got back in the car. Hunger was starting to set in.


Once in Flagstaff I parked the car and Yelped for a lunch spot. I had a lot to choose from, and settled on Beaver Street Brewery. I got the Goddess Salmon Salad and a cucumber cooler. I highly recommend both. Not only was the food good, but so was the service.


I went to the library next to spend some time on their wifi. This place is impressive. It’s high tech and boasts a fireplace. Not to mention it’s quite large. Curiously there was a hazardous waste receptacle in the ladies room for needle disposal, and it was rather full. Either Flagstaff has a really big diabetes problem, or they have a drug epidemic. It seems they are doing what they can to offer a safe place for disposal of needles, which I’m sure cuts back on the amount found discarded on the streets becoming a hazard for everyone. With this and the PSAs for teen condom use and not smoking in order to set a good example for younger siblings, I feel like maybe Arizona is taking some progressive steps in changing its culture. It will be interesting to take a look at their teen smoking, teen pregnancy, and overall drug problem in 5, 10, 15 or more years to see if any of these things made an impact.

Around 4:30 I hit the grocery store to replenish my supply of Cliff Bars, chips, and water. I was hoping to pop into the Grand Canyon just in time for a sunset vista so I had to hurry. Plus I hadn’t figured out where I was going to camp, but I knew it wouldn’t be in the Grand Canyon. Those sites were booked at least a year ago, and a year ago this trip wasn’t even an inkling of an idea in my brain. I passed Kaibab Lake Campground and continued driving for 45 minutes when it became clear I was not about to pass anything else. In my head the logistics of getting a sunset photo and making it back to Kaibab before all the sites were taken was not going to happen, so I decided to forget about the sunset pic. I turned around and secured myself a site in a very pretty and spread out campground. This is a nice one folks! Take a look at that view. I felt another good night’s rest coming on.