Monday, August 03, 2015

Havasupai Falls and the Grand Canyon

I think this is the most pictures I've ever put in a single blog post. Prepare yourselves. (Or for a condensed and more Mormony version of events, see my brief write-up on BCC).

Less than three weeks ago, our friends Randal and Rebecca invited us to hike Havasupai Falls with them. They had secured a permit for a group of ten to hike in on Sunday, July 26th and hike out the following day. Permits are extremely limited for this hike - usually you're lucky to book months in advance - but Randal's brother was fortunate to call the permitting office shortly after someone else had cancelled their spot. So Jon and I committed to a 20-mile round trip backpacking trip into the Grand Canyon with only a week to prepare.

I was pretty nervous. I'm not in shape, not particularly adventurous, and, in short, I wasn't sure if I had the constitution for it. My worrying was pointless though, because this trip ended up being the single most incredible experience of my life.

The magic started before we even got to the Hilltop parking lot, where we camped the night before. There's a 60+ mile long road that leads to the trailhead from Route 66. I'd read on other peoples' trip diaries to be cautious on that road, especially when traveling at night, because of "animals." I figured they meant cows so we both kept our eyes peeled and went a few miles-per-hour under the speed limit since it was well past dark. Just about five miles down the road, Jon slowed and flashed his brakes for Randal, who was following behind in a van. There was a massive female elk standing on the right side of the road, only feet from my face. She stood like a statue as we passed; it was eerie. Jon knocked another couple of miles-per-hour off his speed as we continued. Not long after, we started to see the largest bucks any of us (including a bunch of guys who were raised near the Canadian Rockies) had ever seen. I still get covered in chills just thinking about it. We would slow nearly to a stop as soon as their eyes caught the headlights, and as we crawled past they would slowly turn and disappear into the forest. Elk after elk after elk. One of them had a rack of antlers that ran the entire length of his body. Jon turned the car so our headlights illuminated him for the group behind us. He moved into the forest and leapt a 5 foot high fence like it was nothing. I could cry thinking about it. Magical.

We camped that night in the Hilltop parking lot. I slept on the back seat of the Honda and everyone else braved the mosquitos on cots outside. I successfully murdered the two that snuck into the car while we were setting up camp, and ten seconds later Jon tapped on the window wondering why I was "beating up the car."

No one slept well, and we were on the trail by 4:30am. We used our headlamps for the first 30 minutes or so before sunrise. I would like to use this opportunity to whole-heartedly recommend seeing the canyon at sunrise.

This dog followed us in. The kids kept calling him "Max" and when Randal asked how they knew his name, his 7 year old daughter chirruped, "Because we named him that!"

Most of the hike was in this narrow canyon, so even once the sun was up, we were shaded.

We were all in fits of joy over this tree. It was HUGE and literally glowing in a pool of sunshine.

^These^ pack horses were more subdued than most. The first train that passed us went galloping by. Randal's son, Carson, heard it coming and exclaimed "I can hear the falls! We're so close!" (There were still at least 5 miles to go.) We all went leaping out of the way.

WATER! As soon as we met up with the river, the temperature dropped about ten degrees. It was glorious.

These rock formations are called "The Watchers." They overlook the small village of Supai, where most of the Havasupai tribe lives. It's the most remote community in the lower 48 (and the only place in the US where mail is still delivered by mule! I'm kicking myself that I forgot to get a picture of the mules all lined up at a hitching post at the hilltop, behind a United States Mail sign.)

The first waterfall! This one is New Navajo Falls, created when there was a major flood event here in 2008.

Same falls, downstream view (and there's another cascade in the background)

Addie and me. Jon took lots of sneaky trail photos.

Havasu Falls. It's even more incredible in person, of course. I did a lot of research and looked at a lot of photos, and I was still completely overwhelmed by how beautiful it was.
"Havasupai" means "People of the blue green water." (The water is so-colored because of an abundance of limestone.)

Trading spaces
Because of our early start on the trail, we had almost all day to enjoy the falls. I was so glad to have gone when we did - the water is pretty chilly, so if it were any colder than 100 degrees outside, I doubt the water would have felt pleasant.

As the sun dropped behind the canyon wall

Inside the campground (which was nearly empty?? I couldn't believe how few people were there! We had our pick of amazing campsites.)

Mooney Falls - twice as high as Havasu Falls, but much less accessible. Of course, you can't really get an idea of height from a picture, but that lip of rock at the bottom of this photo is the top of a sheer 200 foot cliff. My heart was pounding as I took this. (Me + heights = diarrhea.)


"Descend at own risk"
I knew ahead of time that the descent involved some intense climbing, passing through an old silver mine, and negotiating some rickety ladders bolted to the cliff wall. I knew I wouldn't be able to make it all the way down, but figured I'd go until I got too freaked out. It happened earlier than I thought it would. I quite suddenly found myself on a narrow ledge , navigating a tight corner, with a 250 degree view of the sheer drop and the thundering falls below. It was impossible to turn around, so I slithered down to a safer area, and it took me a good twenty minutes to work up the courage to turn around and go back up. My whole body was shaking when I finally did.

Safely at the top again

Feeling a little braver: Nestled in an alcove, inches from the drop.

From Mooney, we headed back to Havasu Falls. It was dusk and we were the only people there. I couldn't even believe it. Again, magic.

The turquoise pool was calling to me, so I hopped in. (My Teva sandals are very buoyant.)


Falls, moon, bat
We camped that night on picnic tables near the river under the starriest sky I have ever seen. There weren't even any mosquitos in the canyon! Jon did wake up with a mouse on him though. He never quite managed to fall back asleep after that. In his own words: "I kicked it pretty far."

It was another early wake-up call to get the majority of the hike out of the canyon done before the sun was too intense. (The blue thing on my shoulders is a cooling towel. We bought a couple from Costco and they were lifesavers.)
Most of the hike out is a steady uphill slope through the canyon, with about a mile and a half of switchbacks up the cliff wall at the very end. I dreaded that last mile and a half the entire time. It was really intense but we went slow, took lots of breaks, and drank lots of water. I never felt like I couldn't do it, or like I was at risk of heatstroke or super tacky (I only ever have issues with my heart anymore during strenuous exercise).
We'd stashed some frozen Gatorades and coconut water in a cooler in our trunk, and they were perfectly slushy when we finally climbed out of the canyon. (A Twitter follower had promised me a spiritual experience if I did that, and he was right!)
Oh my gosh, this blog post is so long. But there's more. I decided to take another day off of work so we could stay the night in Seligman, AZ and do the full Grand Canyon experience the next day. Seligman is a kitschy Route 66 stop. We checked into our quaint little motel (Aztec Motel, I can't recommend it enough), hobbled around on un-bending legs, showered, nursed our blisters, napped for three hours, went and got burgers here...

...came back, laid in bed drinking Gatorade and eating Oreos, watched the Bachelorette season finale, and crashed at 9pm. As we drove away the next morning toward the Grand Canyon and after having eaten a hearty breakfast at a local diner, I teared up, sad to be leaving the falls and our cozy little motel room behind.
This was my first time at the Grand Canyon. WHOA you guys.

Jon: "I think you bent that railing." Hahahahaha. Death grip.

Blue bird

The biggest a-hole at the Grand Canyon, everyone!

Then this happened as we were leaving the visitor's center parking lot. (But I've seen bigger.)

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Annual Homecoming 2015

Jon wanted to be home for Canada Day, so our annual trip up north came about a month earlier than usual this year. We spent two nights at Annie’s place in Heber and one night at Sweetie’s house in SLC before caravanning up to Idaho (Three cars: us, Annie and Steve, and my mom + Corinne + niephew).

In Utah:

…Annie’s dressage student and family friend (and future para-Olympian) has BABY GOATS so Annie arranged for me to meet (AND HOLD!!!) them:

…Some of the BCC gang got together for lunch (I cannot believe it's been over a year since I've been blogging with them. And that they haven't kicked me out.):

…I got Steve Peck’s autograph!

…The next morning I had breakfast at Chez Steve Evans (BCC founder and fearless leader). I didn’t get a picture with him, or his gorgeous wife, or their adorable kids, or the huge breakfast smorgasbord, but I DID manage a blurry selfie with Shirley, the most appealing little dog I’ve ever met:

Food we ate in Utah: Raspberries from a produce stand, scones at The Hub, Tony’s Tacos, Summerhays, and Maddox on our way up to Idaho. (I met a blog friend of mine, Gina, in person in Brigham City! Then she very kindly watched Penny for us while we went to eat. The internet is so cool.)

Once we got to Idaho it was mostly sprinklers, squirt guns, swimming, popsicles, snow cones, Yellowstone, naps, horses, and ducklings from there on out. And it was glorious.

Look closely: Ada is forcing Joseph's hand into the cage.

Tetons on the way back from lunch in Driggs

Gunner + Joseph + Popsicle from Jessie Jensen on Vimeo.

Let's take a moment to fully appreciate this still frame:

These ones, too.

Dog in goggles (bison in the background)

Picnic in the park


Jon spent the middle portion of the week in Southern Alberta and sent me pictures like this:

The night he got back (late), Joseph was having a hard time staying in bed. As a last resort, Corinne told him that Jon was going to be home when he woke up, "so you'd better go to sleep quick! The sooner you sleep, the sooner Jon will be here!" A look of pure joy crossed Joseph's face and he exclaimed "Okay!!", literally dropped everything he was holding (a sippy cup in one hand, a slap bracelet he'd gotten in Yellowstone in the other), sprinted down the hallway, and slammed his bedroom door.

Jon and Joseph being adorable on the short trail to Mesa Falls the next day

My mom, delighting us all: "What, do they think they can't go FIFTEEN MINUTES without drinking a gallon of water??"

We had to start our long drive back on Saturday, the 4th of July. Christa had been out of town when we passed through Utah on our way north, but we met up on our way back through:

Then Annie, Steve, Jon, and I rode bikes to dinner (Tarahumara) and then to the fireworks. The sprinklers came on in the park the moment the fireworks show began (10:00 sharp) so someone in Heber City Parks and Rec had a rough Monday...

Practicing our amazed faces pre-fireworks and laughing so hard it physically hurt:

Unpictured: Sandbar, lunch at the Hickory (after having been thwarted last year), making rice krispy treats with cookie butter on top (NOMG), watching Uncle Buck (totally holds up), and trekking outside late one night to view the alignment of Venus and Jupiter.

Relevant tweets:

Other stuff:

Ada wanted to know who was going to die, and of what, and in what order. Jon obliged her: "Well, Gunner will be the first to go. He'll die of old age. Then Penny will be next, unless Charlie gets hit by a car..." 

Annie: Birds are my favorite animal. Except for, like...storks.

We were running low on bread for sandwiches for our picnic lunch in Yellowstone.
Mom: We could make one with a hamburger bun. Hamburger buns make yummy sandwiches.
Me: [suspiciously] they?

Steve: Jigga jigga what? [making fun of Annie trying and failing (over and over) to say "Did Julie get..."]

Corinne told us that when Ada's kindergarten ended, she asked "When am I going to be done with church, too?"  Corinne told her that church doesn't end like how school does, and Ada instantly started bawling. "But it's so boring!!"

It's over!