Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Tag: nature

Grand Canyon Hiking Expedition

I just got back from four days at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. I was there with four of my favorite people, hiking and camping and challenging myself. It’s amazing what you can accomplish with a little bit of moral support, confidence, and training.

My parents had done this hike – down to the canyon floor – seven times already, so they were pros. The others of us were new to this particular hike but are all hiking lovers. And it was an amazing experience for all of us, both the novices and the veterans.

For those of you wishing to do this yourselves, here is how it all worked.

There are two choices for staying on the canyon floor – Phantom Ranch or Bright Angel Campground. For Phantom Ranch, you need to call a year in advance, and from what I’ve heard, you’re on the phone for hours, on hold, using multiple phones at the same time, hoping to get through. Knowing this would be too difficult, we opted for applying for a camping permit. There’s specific timing for when you need to fax in your permit application, so since we knew we wanted to get dates in March, we submitted our application in November (four months before). Check out the link for Bright Angel Campground above and all the details are there.

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We got accepted for our request about a week after we submitted the application. And all together the permit cost us $40! Pretty good deal!

Once we got our dates set for two nights (the maximum allowable) at Bright Angel Campground, we started planning – travel to Phoenix where we met up, camping equipment, plans for our meals, our itinerary.

Here was our itinerary:

Day 1: Drove up to the Grand Canyon National Park, about a four hour drive from Phoenix. Once we arrived, we went to Xanterra Livery Barn where we dropped off duffel bags that would be carried down by pack mules which had all our camping and cooking gear and food. This was a luxury we chose to indulge in because we knew it would be a challenging hike down, so instead of carrying all our stuff down on big backpacks, we used the mule duffel service. If you’re not a hardcore backpacker, this is a great option. For the rest of the day, we walked around the main areas in Grand Canyon Village, catching views of where we were headed down the next day. That night, we slept at Maswik Lodge, one of the many accommodations available in the national park.

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Day 2: We awoke around 5:30am to catch the 7am shuttle nearby to get to the South Kaibab trailhead. It was a brisk morning, but we knew it would warm up through the day as we descended into the canyon, so we just made sure to have lots of layers. All we carried on our backs were our snacks, lunch, and water for the day (about 3 liters per person) for the day. It was a little over a 6 hour hike down the 7.2 mile trail. The trail going down is pretty steadily downhill, not too steep but just a continuous downgrade, which did a number on our legs and a few of us had knee challenges. It warmed up pretty quickly, and the trail was really dusty, so it wasn’t the easiest hike. But we enjoyed the views, ran into some mule packs and friendly fellow hikers, and made it down in one piece. Boy, were we tired!

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Once we got to our campground, we set up our tents, got situated with our whereabouts, and relaxed for the rest of the afternoon, getting used to the gurgle of Bright Angel Creek, enjoying the lack of mosquitoes, and congratulating ourselves that we had made it this far. We had our first meal that evening (pretty early because we weren’t sure when it would get dark. You’re not allowed to have campfires down there, so we were going to have to rely on our headlamps after dark). Each of us brought something different – instant soup, freeze dried meals that you just add water to, and Trader Joe’s indian curry in a bag that you can heat up in boiling water. We used these great Jet Boil stoves that heat water in something like 10 seconds. And that was our day! We were exhausted, so we went to bed pretty much right after it got dark!

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Day 3: We had a leisurely morning, comparing muscle soreness, hobbling around the campsite. And after breakfast, we walked the River Trail that loops around the Colorado River, just near the campground. We crossed two bridges – Black Bridge and Silver Bridge and were able to witness the mighty force of the Colorado River.

After a lunch of homemade bread and cheese, we went deep into the canyon, following Bright Angel Creek upstream on the North Kaibab Trail. The trail goes through a box canyon with beautiful canyon walls towering above you. We walked over four bridges, not quite making it to Ribbon Falls which we heard was really pretty but was just too far for us to manage, with sore legs and tired bodies. It was a nice flat walk, following the creek in a mix of sun and shade.

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We got back for dinner. And this time, some of us got to eat the Phantom Ranch canteen. When you make your reservation to go down into the canyon, whether to the campsite or Phantom Ranch, it’s fun to call ahead to see if you can get a meal in the canteen. They serve pretty good breakfast and inner, all family style. You can only dine there with a reservation, so it’s best to do that when you get your permit. We managed to get a few reservations, and enjoyed some vegetarian chili, beef stew, fresh salad, and chocolate cake!

Following dinner, we sat in on a ranger talk, which they do twice a day. This talk was about the history of Phantom Ranch and was a well-told story. Here’s a video that captures some of the story the ranger told. And in fact, I think our ranger was the one in this video.

Before bedtime, we marveled at the expanse of stars we could see, including the Milky Way (though some of us could not see it!). Living in a city, I don’t get to such a multitude of stars, and I have this cool app on my iPhone that allowed us to see what constellations there were in the sky. You hold your phone up to the sky and it connects the dots of the constellations for you, even if you don’t have cell service! A must-have when traveling to places where you’ll see lots of stars.

Day 4: Our last day, we arose at 4:30am because we had to pack up all our things for the mule duffel service drop-off at 6:30am. We got our tents and sleeping bags rolled up, packed up our food which we had been storing in metal lock boxes, and wheelbarrowed our duffel bags to the drop off point at the ranch. After breakfast, we started the ascent up Bright Angel trail.

The 9.5 mile hike took us about seven hours. I was prepared for horrible, grueling, and impossible and instead was pleasantly surprised that it was just strenuous at points. The trail was prettier and more interesting than South Kaibab and was a little more of a gradual grade. We stopped at the various rest points and enjoyed the views both ahead of and behind us. The higher we got, the more amazed I was at how far we got in pretty short time. We hiked with the sun and the sky was a perfect spring blue.

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The only thing that wasn’t so pleasant about the hike up was that the higher elevation we got, the more crowded it was. March is a popular time for tourists – spring break, perfect weather (before it gets too hot) – and Bright Angel trail is a popular trail for tourists to meander down for a bit before heading back up to the top.

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We got to the top and celebrated with an ice cream cone and hot dog at the Bright Angel Lodge. We made it! We survived!

I highly recommend this trip if you’re into hiking and seeing the natural wonders of the world. It’s such a different experience to see the Grand Canyon from down below, a trek that they say 1% of the visitors to the park actually make. It’s beautiful and peaceful at the bottom.

Backtrack Travels

It’s been a loooonnngggg time since I last blogged.  It may be the longest I’ve gone in between posts since I started this blog 154 posts ago!

I’ve done a bit of cooking and traveling since December 17th, so here’s the first bit.  A friend visited right after Christmas, and we did some fun activities: a sculpture garden tour in Sonoma Valley and a wonderful hike in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  So I wanted to share some of the sights we saw as well as the logistics, so you, too, can enjoy what we did!

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

I’d heard that Big Basin was THE place to go see the redwood trees instead of Muir Woods which is often overrun with tourists on a weekend.  So because I’m not a fan of big crowds, I took people’s word for it, and we did the two hour drive from Berkeley on New Year’s Eve to the Big Basin park headquarters.  It was a beautiful (and windy, especially at the end!) drive.  One thing to note if you’re going to do this hike is that you have to pay $10 for the entrance fee to the park.

We did the popular waterfall loop trail, which is about 11 miles, pretty strenuous in parts, but do-able for a pair of pretty fit people.  In all, I think we took about 5 hours, with a short break to eat our almond-butter and jelly sandwiches.  Along the way, we saw the beautiful, breathtaking redwoods:

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It’s amazing to think how old these trees are.  To think who’s come before us and seen these trees and who will come after to see them.  And they just keep doing their thing – growing, reaching for the sky.  As we walked through the forest, we noted that there weren’t many birds or other critters filling the area with little noises.  It was very quiet, and we rarely came across other hikers.   We’re not big talkers, so we were just caught up in our thoughts and nature’s majesty all around us.

We also came across some waterfalls, which weren’t flowing in large amounts but enough to appreciate:

big basin falls

The only thing I was hoping for was more views outside of the forest.  There was a point (I think it was the midpoint) where there was a clearing and we could see other hills around us.  But that part was short-lived.  The forest was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I like to have top-of-mountain views as payoff for lots of climbing steep switchbacks.

Regardless of that small disappointment, it was a wonderful, rewarding hike.  I would definitely do it again.

Do-It-Yourself Sculpture Garden Tour

We spent another day driving up to wine country, not to drink wine but to see outdoor sculpture gardens!  I was doing some research on fun, free things to do in wine country; and I found that there were some outdoor gardens at wineries as well as stand-alone gardens that seemed like fun.  I chose three destinations for this self-guided tour:

Cornerstone Gardens: 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA

A really great outdoor garden/ museum.  We easily spent almost two hours or so walking the grounds and exploring the little stores.  All the sculptures made use of the environment in some kind of interesting way.  These were two favorites – a big head of garlic (well, that’s what it looked like to me – that’s not what the artist titled it) in the middle of a small pond.  And a desert scene with clouds made of wire mesh and crystals resembling raindrops.

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Matanzas Creek Winery: 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA

There wasn’t a sculpture garden at this winery, but there was a beautiful lavender garden.  We just saw lots of dark bushes of all sizes, but I could imagine what it would look like in the spring, a landscape of purple.  This constituted a short stop, but it was enjoyable, and the views from the winery and the lavender garden were worth it.

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Paradise Ridge Winery: 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr., Santa Rosa, CA

This was the last stop on our tour, and what a nice way to end it.  There were two sculpture gardens that were at this location: one is named Marijke’s Grove and seems to be the more permanent of the two “exhibits.”  The other was a temporary exhibit titled The Spirit of the Man.  Both had some pieces that really struck me.  And we spent another hour-plus at this place.  Taking fun photos, engaging with the art, musing about the meaning and the sculptor’s intent… you know, all the things you do when you walk through an art exhibit.

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One of the nice things about our whole tour was that there weren’t too many other people around, in fact, zero at some places.  So we got to enjoy all this wonderful art and scenery by ourselves.  I highly recommend this tour if you’re not a wine drinker or if you just want to be outdoors and see some interesting art.

A side note is that we stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at Flavor Bistro and had a throughly enjoyable meal.  That part of Santa Rosa looked like it had a cute main street that we could have walked down if we had more time.

Happy 2014!

Punakaiki: Pancake Rocks!

I'd been hearing about these so-called Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki that were highly touted as an amazing sight. I didn't really know what to expect, but I was looking forward to it. So when I saw them, WOW!

I came to Punakaiki on recommendation from the gardener at Seresin (thanks, S!) and originally planned on staying three nights, but after seeing how small Franz Josef was and thinking that Punakaiki was smaller, I decided to cut back to two nights so I could have more time in Nelson which was my next destination.

It was a pouring rainy day when I left Franz Josef for Punakaiki, but by the time we arrived, the rain had at least stopped. It was grey, but as the day went on (I arrived in the mid afternoon), the sun made an appearance for a bit.

The bus makes a stop in Punakaiki for all the bus-riders to see the famous Pancake Rocks, so I just joined the rest of them while waiting for my pick up to my hostel.

I love how many of the treks and natural sights kind of creep up on you here in New Zealand and then have a WOW-pop factor. There's an easy trail to get to the rocks, and as you turn a corner, you see the Tasman Sea and the first set of pancake rocks. It kind of takes your breath away because you haven't seen anything like it (at least in my case):

I'm a huge fan of the ocean and big waves anyways, so add on to that these amazing natural formations. I kind of whizzed through the trail on this first time around because I didn't want to be late for my pick up. But every bend and turn of this trail revealed more amazing-ness. I heard that it was cooler to see at high tide, which had passed a few hours before. But it was still amazing to see the waves pounding away at these formations, just cutting, cutting away at the rock. Water and wind are such amazing elements– so soft, rough, elusive, nature's agents, really.

I got picked up by one of the hostel owners, checked in, and got settled in this rainforest retreat: Te Nikau Retreat. It's a hostel tucked away in the rainforest (not a tropical rainforest like in South America, but the rainforest in New Zealand is really a lush forest of lots of native trees and plants. It rains a lot in the West Coast, and there is this a forest, so I guess put those together and you get New Zealand rainforests.). There are separate cottages, and I stayed in Rata Retreat, a dorm with a kitchen, common area, and a cool set up of mattresses on the top level.

After getting settled, I headed out for a walk right away. I walked for about an hour and then realized I wasn't on the trek that I had hoped to be on, so I headed back to the trailhead. There were some nice views, but it was a bit boring. Then I went to a beach trail which was beautiful, near the hostel.

My hostel-mates were an Austrian woman (very energetic and totally sweet. We chatted about traveling and about both having quit our jobs to come travel.) and a group of Chinese tourists led by a guy who had just moved to Auckland and spoke English quite well. The three of us (the Austrian woman and the English-speaking Chinese guy) chatted quite a bit, and the other Chinese tourists were kind of in the background, but very nice. They offered us to eat with them! So cute. It's always nice to come across nice travelers along the way. Swapped travel tips and contact information for future visiting!

My second day in Punakaiki, I did a long hike (all together probably about 8 or 9 miles or more? I wish I had a pedometer to measure how many miles I'm walking!) with some nice views.

Then I went back to the pancake rocks and got to see the amazing-ness of high tide when the big waves come in through the rock formations which act as blowholes that spray water through the small holes. I totally got sprayed with sea water. It was incredibly windy and a bit chilly, otherwise, I would've spent hours just watching the spray and waves.

The sun, which had been hiding most of the morning, came out in the afternoon, and I just sat outside, watching the waves of the sea, soaking in the rays. As I think I've said before, I am so solar-powered it's not even funny. I perk up when I get some sun, and my outlook becomes even more positive than before. Happily I'm headed to Nelson which is supposedly one of the cities with the best weather in New Zealand. Hopefully it'll be nice!

I'm getting a bit tired of my hostel meals– hot porridge (muesli and water) for breakfast, cheese-hummus sandwich with an apple for lunch (and an occasional boiled egg), and some kind of curry with rice for dinner. I made a tomato-lentil-leek curry for my Punakaiki dinners. Still tasty (more choices of spices plus cooking oil at this hostel!!) but I'm getting tired of the same thing everyday. I'll hopefully treat myself to a nice dinner or lunch in Nelson. And I'm thinking of buying some bacon to cook for dinners! Miss my bacon!

That evening, there were some new backpackers in the hostel, and we were all a bunch of women– me and a bunch of European women. A few of us went down to see the sunset and I had my small bottle of seresin dessert wine, and the Austrian woman had a bottle of red, and we drank wine and watched the beatufiul sunset over the Tasman Sea. At one point, it hailed and rained, but then the sun came out again from behind the clouds!

With our cottage being so small, it was easy to just make friends with the other backpackers, and we sat around and talked about life, culture, relationships… all sorts of things. It was a nice time to socialize and meet some new people. We even exchanged emails and Facebook usernames! It's amazing how much you open up and learn from travelers when you know you are just crossing paths for a day or two. I've met such kind and open hearted people.

The next (and final) day in Punakaiki, I hung out with my fellow travelers until they left, and then enjoyed a nice cup of coffee (called a long white– I think it's kind of a latte… didn't really understand the explanation). Yumm. I did a final turn of the Pancake Rocks (they're different all the time– depending on the tides, the wind, the sun, the weather…). And said goodbye to the beautiful coastal town of Punakaiki.

#12: Sun and Shadow

I’m solar-powered.  I recharge from the sun’s rays.  My energy is restored by the sun.  I love days when I can take long walks, soaking in the sun, with a gentle breeze keeping me cool.  It’s even better when I can catch the shade from trees, buildings, and other tall obstructions and then come back into the sunlight.

Today was one of those days I sorely need more often than I get.  No scheduled meetings.  No homework to do.  Just walking around the neighborhoods, enjoying the weather, and feeling my inner gas fill up to the max-line.

And after my long walks (yes, that’s “walkS,” plural, because I was able to take two walks– one in the city, and one in my neighborhood.  What a wonderful day!), I was able to come back home to this– a peaceful home, the sounds of birds outside my window, a cool breeze wafting through the curtains.  It’s a good day to be alive.

I have often thought that one of the reasons I so love days like this is because they are rare.  With the unpredictability of New England weather, one truly appreciates the beautiful days because they come when you don’t expect them.  Like you can’t really appreciate the sun without the shadows.  Or you can’t really appreciate the good without the bad.  One cannot exist without the other.

To be honest, though, I wouldn’t mind if we had a lot more days like this with only the occasional dreary day.  The dreary days are nice for cozying up at home with a good movie or book or loved one.

But I love being outside in my neighborhood.  I love walking by the beach, hearing the waves against the shore.  I love hearing the birds chirp, not being drowned out by city sounds of sirens, cars, and people yelling.  I love smelling the fresh air, untainted by pollution and dirty streets.

I need to live somewhere that I can have all this. Close to the city but far enough away where nature prevails, not choked by man-made waste but allowed to flourish and breathe.

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