Day 8 & 9 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 27th, 2008

Day 8:

How heavenly a soft bed can be. Small comforts like running water, a flushing toilet, and a soft pillow are taken for granted by each of us. You truly don’t appreciate these everyday items until you don’t have them for a while.

After sleeping in this morning, we made our way to Deming, AZ. Our family loves rocks and my husband had read about Rock Hound State Park in Deming. They boast of geodes and gems. You pay $5/car and can dig all day long. On our way, we pulled over for an In & Out burger (heaven on earth to my husband).

We arrived after the visitor’s center had closed at Rock Hound Park, so we didn’t know quite where to look for geodes. Sadly, we didn’t find anything. So, we drove to Las Cruces for the night. I know that most of the hotel patrons heard me snoring. I didn’t care.

Day 9:

Here we come, Texas! We are all so busy in our lives and can’t wait to “get away from it all”. However, there is something so wonderful about coming home to a familiar bed and your own, private haven.

We drove and drove today. Most of our trip was filled with rest stops, bathroom breaks, expensive gasoline fill-ups, passing semi trucks, and barren landscape. I couldn’t believe the amount of smog in El Paso. My husband said that Juarez, Mexico pumps a lot of smog into the atmosphere as they don’t have the environmental restrictions that the United States has. All I can say is that folks in that area probably have burning lungs and don’t live a full life. You could cut the air. It was just a dirty, gray soup of atmosphere.

When we got home, we brought everything in and started to do laundry. My foot hadn’t gotten any better and I couldn’t bend my foot. Under protest, my husband took me to an urgent care clinic. They took x-rays of my foot and diagnosed a nasty infection from my blister. I was given antibiotics and told to rest. Silly foot.

I have to say that I am glad to be home. I enjoyed seeing the Grand Canyon, meeting very friendly hikers, seeing the beautiful South West, and spending time with my family. It was quite the vacation.

Cost for Trip:

  • Permit: $70
  • Equipment for Trip: $1500
  • Food for Hike: approx. $100
  • Food on Trip: approx. $200
  • Park Fees/Souveniers: approx. $100
  • Hotel stays: $600
  • Gasoline: $340

Total miles hiked in 3 days: 28.5

Epiphany: Most hikers are considerate, helpful, and follow the rules. Tourists are less likely to.

What is next for us? Well, we have Walt Disney World and the Goofy Races in 2009. We might go to Lake Powell on a houseboat too. Who knows? Life is too short to sit at home and say “If only I could”. There are so many possibilities. I guess it is time to start saving for our next adventure. Marshmallow river Yosemite

Day 7 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 26th, 2008

*Yawn* What a night! Between hearing critters outside our tent and the wind blowing…where is my comfy bed? I miss it!

We started hiking right at 8am from Horn Creek so we could get to Indian Gardens in good time. My feet were KILLING me, but I knew I had to wrap them up and be strong. It was going to be a long day hiking. We planned on getting to the top of the canyon before dark.

My husband didn’t tell me, but he had taken some of my items out of my pack and added them to his when I was “visiting nature”. He knew my feet were hurting and wanted to make my load easier. We were making good time as we headed to Indian Gardens until my husband started to feel weak. He was getting over-exerted. He hadn’t eaten breakfast and was pushing his body too hard. We stopped on the trail for a break and to energize. This place sure makes you realize how fragile you can be. Not drinking enough water, not eating enough calories, blisters, sprains, falls….staying focused is absolutely necessary for survival.

The Tonto trail to Indian Gardens was beautiful. I loved seeing all native cacti (barrel, flat paddle, tubular, etc.). Thankfully, this part of the trail was more flat (and not as many sheer cliffs). As this canyon is so large, hikers don’t usually run into many folks. We did cross paths with a man and his daughter. They were on a 12 mile hike and hadn’t taken a picture of themselves since they started their hike. We took their picture for them, and kept on our path.

The scenery started to change the closer we got to Indian Gardens. We started seeing less scrub brush, and started to see trees. There were less boulders and more fine dirt/sand. We had finally made it to Indian Gardens and WATER. There was a gorgeous spring running through with amenities that we hadn’t had in days (port-a-potty, benches, trees offering shade, and fellow hikers to chat with).

Indian Garden is at the end of the Bright Angel Trail. This is the 5 mile trail that leads to the top of the canyon. We sat at Indian Gardens and chatted with several hikers. One gentleman was on his way to meet up with friends so they could raft 180 miles down the Colorado River. Amazing! When my husband told him what we had done over the last few days, he said: “Wilderness rafting is a challenge, but you people that carry everything you need on your back and hike for miles & miles are HARD CORE”. That made us feel good to hear.

We mentioned to other hikers that we had come down the Hermit Rest Trail and some were impressed. Apparently, it is one of the toughest trails in the canyon. I felt better after their praise. I had been feeling like a scaredy cat on some of those sheer cliffs. When you walk on a “non-maintained trail”, be prepared for anything.

We filled up our water packs and headed up the 5 mile trail of Bright Angel (going from 3,000 to 6,700 feet up). Thank goodness for hiking poles! We encountered several mule trains up the trail. The ranglers told us that there was ice about 1.5 miles from the top, but that we should be fine with our poles. I was nervous about the ice, but was optimistic.

Our son quickly got tired of the steep climb, so we took frequent rests. Our legs were screaming from the climb and our lungs were burning from the elevation change.

We stopped at 1.5 Mile House (rest stop 1.5 down from the top of the rim) so my guys could go to the bathroom. About 30 minutes after 1.5 Mile House, we passed a rangerBright Angel helicopter going down the trail. She asked if we knew anything about the man that had collapsed at 1.5 Mile House. We hadn’t heard anything about him, and told her as much. She said that an older man had collapsed and they were doing CPR on him. A few minutes later, we saw a rescue helicopter land at 1.5 Mile House. Things did not look good for the older hiker. I said a prayer for the man, and kept hiking up.

The trail started to get icy right after seeing the ranger. We had heard that there were patches of ice just below the rim. In the shady areas, the ice had not melted completely. In some places, the ice was 1″-12″ thick. This made hiking “very challenging” as you were watching your footing on the sheer cliffs and trying not to slip and fall over the side. The ranger had told us that we didn’t need clamp-ons. I started to wish that I had them. Even with our hiking poles for additional balance, it was VERY scary going around corners.

Up Bright Angel There was one switchback corner where I chose the wrong way to step. My husband and son were ahead of me and had already gone around the corner. I started to slip and happened to look to the side. I saw a very steep cliff that I was sliding towards. I stuck in my pole and completely panicked. I was completely frozen and started to hyperventilate. My husband and son kept telling me to push myself forward with my poles, but I was so scared that I couldn’t move. Thankfully, I married a very understanding (chivalrous, patient) man. He came down to me, had me hold onto his backpack, and pulled me up the hill. I don’t think I could have moved without his help. I was probably the most scared I have EVER been in my life.

As we approached the top of the rim (I think I heard angels singing about that time), we saw a gorgeous site – a California Condor. This large, scavenging bird was perched on a far out ledge about 50 meters from the trail. We then noticed a COMPLETE MORON woman tourist climb out onto the same ledge and grab a hold of a pine tree branch. She swung out on the branch like a monkey. Her feet were dangling over the canyon!!!! She was laughing and wanted her friends to take a picture of her. I couldn’t look. I just knew she was going to fall to her death. Such an idiot!

The last few switchbacks of the trail were muddy and covered in mule droppings. I didn’t care as long as the trail wasn’t icy. I could deal with mud any day. Mud washes away. Icy paths can cause slipping to your death. Mud is nice. Death doesn’t wash away.

After many shaky steps, beautiful vistas, breathtaking valleys, refreshing drinks from natural springs, and nights slept on rocky terrain – we had made it to the top of the Grand Canyon. We were so proud of ourselves. I personally felt that this hike was harder than any half or full marathon I had ever run. A marathon race doesn’t try to kill you with dehydration or slippery slopes. There are no cheering bystanders offering energy drinks and motivation at the Grand Canyon.

The Grand Canyon gave us a glimpse of her majesty and unforgiving harshness. We saw: lizards, deer, rattlesnakes, mules, mice, ravens, condor, eagles, and various birds and insects. We came away with a: hurt knee, twisted ankle, many bruises/scrapes, blisters, a lost toe nail, and sunburn. We took over 400 pictures, and left only our footprints. Although it was the scariest vacation of my life, I don’t regret doing it. How many people can say they have experienced such a trip in their life? We pushed our bodies, our minds, and our family bonds to the limit. I think if we can make it through such an adventure, we can make it through anything.

We dedicated our trip to Uncle Roy and Grandpa Del. They both left this world too early. They would have enjoyed the trip. We are sorry they couldn’t go with us in body, but they were with us in spirit.

We also say a solemn prayer for the 72 yr. old man at 1.5 Mile House. Sadly, he passed away. The canyon rescue team were just heading down to retrieve the body when we reached the rim top.. Seeing the rescuers was a reminder that the Grand Canyon may be a beautiful national park, but it is also unforgiving. One false move, and you could perish. I am so glad that we were allowed to experience it’s wonder and can live to tell about it.

After having a picture taken at the top of Bright Angel Trail (thank you random lady tourist), we walked over to the Back Country office. My husband told the ranger about his injury and offered our 2 remaining camping nights to another hiking group. As the park only allows so many hiking permits, the ranger was sure that someone could use the 2 nights.

We piled our packs, and stinky/sweaty bodies into my car and headed to Flagstaff, AZ for the night. The drive was gorgeous through the pine & aspen forests just outside of Snow Bend on Hwy 180. Seeing the forests blanketed in snow made my husband and I want to build a log cabin and retire right there. It was a serene sight to behold.

We got to our hotel 11 hours after we had started our day at Horn Creek. Our hot showers NEVER felt so good. A soft, clean bed was like getting Christmas early. We ordered pizza (how many calories had we just burned over the last few days?) and collapsed.

My feet took quite a beating. My husband said that I went through almost all layers of skin on my heel. In his words: “I have never seen a blister that bad.” As he was an EMT once, I guess I should be proud, huh? My big toe is another problem. I foresee a doctor visit in the future. I think I have a pretty bad infection this time. Stupid blisters. Top of Grand Canyon YEAH

Day 6 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 25th, 2008

Who on earth put all those rocks under my sleeping mat? Between the rocks and slope of our camping spot, I didn’t get the best beauty sleep of my life (at least, that is the story I am using for why I look like this this morning).Monument

Today we go from Monument to Granite Rapids. Granite Rapids is less than 1 mile down (less than 1,000 vertical feet) from Monument. It is also full of steep cliffs and trails covered in granite gravel (which makes for sure footing – NOT!).

As we were packing up to head towards Granite Rapids, two children came over to visit us from the next camp site. The kids were 6 & 9 yrs. old and hiking for a long week with their parents. Our son was thrilled to see other kids. My husband and I were impressed that these little tykes were hiking the Grand Canyon. We got the impression that their Mom & Dad were serious hikers and the “hiking bug” was in their blood. They were really nice folks.

We made our way towards Granite Rapids. As I am terrified of heights, my two guys went ahead of me (I inched my way on the trail to avoid slipping). My husband was around the corner taking photos of the valley and stepped the wrong way, injuring his knee. The same knee that he has had surgery on in the past. When I met up with them at last, my husband made the decision to change our plans. Instead of descending further and hurting himself more, he decided to cut our vacation a little short with a change of route. As the signs say around the park: “Going to the bottom – Optional. Getting to the top – Mandatory.”

Steep cliffs Cedar Springs Honestly, after looking at the steep cliffs (did I mention the 100 story drops?), I was relieved that we wouldn’t be going down to Granite. I was a bit disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to soak my feet in the Colorado River though. I know I will always regret that.

We turned around and went back through Monument to Horn Creek. We were glad that we refilled our water jugs at Monument as our next water stop, Cedar Creek, was completely dry. We kept walking on to Salt Creek. My husband and I didn’t realize that our son wasn’t drinking enough water until he started saying he felt nauseous and dizzy (clear signs of dehydration). We pulled off the trail and forced our son to drink all of the Gatorade we had. By the time we got to Salt Creek, we were on our last drops of water. As it was around 80 degrees, drinking water was imperative. Above the Colorado

Salt Creek was a gorgeous slot canyon as it was comprised of high cliffs and waterfalls cascading over sand stone boulders. We wanted to stay for hours and play in the water, but knew we had to get moving. Darkness was just a few hours away. We filled up almost 4 gallons of water and headed towards Horn Creek. The hike was nice to Horn Creek as it was mostly rolling hills along the edge of the canyon. I did find out later that my husband spotted a large Diamond Back Rattlesnake under a rock just a few feet from our trail. He was smart enough not to tell me when he saw it. I am not a big fan of poisonous critters.

The water in Horn Creek is undrinkable as there is an abandoned uranium mine above the creek. The water is a sickly yellow color. Hikers are told not to drink from the creek unless it is a “life or death situation”. Thus, the reason why we were carrying 4 gallons of water with us.

As we had changed our itinerary from what the park service granted us, we had to pray that there was camping room at Horn Creek for us. That particular site only allows 6 people a night. We arrived right at sunset. There was another couple there. My husband explained our plight and his knee injury. The couple had reserved the spot for themselves and 2 other couples. The other couples hadn’t showed, so they allowed us to be their guests for the evening. Whew! That was a relief.

After setting up camp, my guys decided to live life dangerously and have dessert for dinner. Nothing like Triple Chocolate Cheesecake or Three Berry Cobbler for dinner. I knew that my feet were in bad shape, but didn’t realize it until I took off my boots. I had a 2″ blister on my right heel and my right big toe had a huge blister under it. I was in serious pain. Thank goodness for Ibuprofen!

That night, we heard deer munching outside our tent. The wind blew with a vengeance. We had made it through another day in this beautiful, national treasure. I was beginning to have a lot of respect for her. She was a tough old girl. I was hoping I could be too.

Day 5 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 24th, 2008

Today is the day. We have been hiking, running, doing martial arts, and speed walking for 6 months in preparation. The day is finally here.Starting off at Hermit

The trail down the canyon that my husband chose for our trek is the Hermit Rest Trail. My husband told me that the trail was rated a “5 out of 10” in difficulty (that doesn’t sound too intimidating, right?). The guide that I read said “very strenuous” as a rating. That did NOT sound good to me.

The Hermit Rest Trail is 6,600 feet above sea level. The first two miles down the trail were really easy with a clear path and easy descent. I actually thought to myself: “You know, this is EASY. What on earth was I so scared about? Silly Shan!” If you ever happen to have one of these moments – STOP! Take it back! You are asking for trouble. I did….

Hermit family pic Our family were carrying packs of various weight. Our son was carrying approx. 22lbs., I was carrying appox. 34lbs., and my husband was carrying approx. 47lbs. The weight wasn’t a big deal at the beginning of the trail, however it made it more difficult as we descended into the abyss of the canyon.

We filled up our water containers at mile 2 at the Santa Maria Spring. This is a lovely hut that is covered in vines just off the trail. Below the trail is a several hundred foot drop. Not a good place to misplace your feet. After refilling our water and having aSanta Maria Spring light lunch, we started back on the trail. That is when things started to get scary.

The trail started to offer areas where there was no trail. Gaps in the trail made youHermit 2 step over gingerly (or you would plummet to your early grave several stories below). There were also several rock slides. Most were easy to move across. One of them my son fell on (talk about Mom having a heart attack!). One particularly nasty slide was so bad that my husband had us take off our packs and made us crawl over the boulders to safety. Then, my husband brought each of our packs over one by one. THAT was really scary. I think my husband earned a few new gray hairs with that rock slide. You could just see that he was worried for his family in his eyes. Poor guy.

We got to the end of the Hermit Rest Trail right at dusk. We still had over 2 miles to get to camp and darkness was fast approaching. We put on our headlamps andHermit 3 continued on the trail to camp. Along the way, we met up with an older couple in their late 50’s. They said that they were meeting their children at the same camp we were going to. Please let their family know that they would be coming, if not slowly.

My guys on Hermit Those last 2 miles to camp were extremely rough for me. Not only was I terrified of not making it to camp, I was scared that one false move by one of us would lead to us falling down a cliff. All through those 2 miles, I kept praying that God would guide our footsteps to safety. I can honestly say that I was scared out of my mind.

About 3/4 of a mile from camp, my husband stopped on the trail and shined his light down for us to look at something “interesting”. It was aHermit 4 baby Diamond Back rattlesnake ON THE TRAIL. The cute ‘lil fella was looking for a warm trail to rest on. We scooted around him. We didn’t feel like snuggling just then.

We finally made it to Monument Creek camp around 7:30pm. We were exhausted. I was elated that we made it without falling. We had walked about 10 miles and descended close to 4,000 ft. (about 3/4 mile down from where we started).

The creek had a spring so we filtered more water and had a gourmet hiking meal of Hawaiian BBQ chicken for dinner. It wasn’t fancy, but it hit the spot. We all took a “wet wipe” bath and collapsed in our 3-man tent. That night, our son flipped and flopped like nobody’s business. Good luck to his future wife. Poor girl won’t ever get any sleep with him flipping around like he does.

The older couple finally showed up around 10:30pm. Everyone was thrilled to see that they arrived safely.

We survived the first day with some bruises, blisters, and sore muscles. As I laid in our tent, I wondered why I hadn’t asked a doctor for anti-anxiety meds. I sure could have used them.

Day 4 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 23rd, 2008

WE GOT HERE! We got to the Grand Canyon. How beautiful it is here. Incredible views, pine trees, scattered patches of ice, and lots of tourists. Isn’t school back in session? Where did all of these people come from?

The amazing thing about the Grand Canyon (besides that it is an amazing place to experience) is that people from all over the world are here. Today, we heard: German, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, Italian, French, Swedish, English, and American languages. How cool is that?Tony on edge of Mather Point

We also learned that there are many people in the world that either: (a) Can’t read or (b) Are completely brain-dead and don’t value their own lives. Do the words: “Stay behind the barrier” mean anything, folks? We saw so many people go over railing so they could take pictures ON THE EDGE. What? There are constant warnings all over the park stating not to do that? Oh! Those rules are for everyone else but me. No wonder people die here each year. (FYI: My hubby looks like he is on the edge here, but he isn’t. There is more of the path below him. He offered to have me in the picture with him. I didn’t think so…)

littlegcedge.jpgToday, we stopped at Little Colorado River Gorge. This is an outlook that is approximately 1800 feet down to the Little Colorado River. I was NOT thrilled to go look over the edge. My husband laughed when he grabbed my “clammy” hands. Personally, the railing was a bit damp. No, really. Heights? Me afraid of them? Well….

After getting into the Grand Canyon, we visited the Back Country office for an update about the Hermit Trail for tomorrow’s trek into the unknown. The ranger said: “Ice isn’t a problem at the time of year as the Hermit Trail is a west-facing trail. The ice has mostly melted off. There are a couple of rock slide spots that you need to watch out for and move around (Oh joy..). You scored a good itinerary for this time of year. Have a great time!” My husband was thrilled with her insight. I was less than happy with the rock slide update. *Gulp* Thankfully, we won’t need cramp-ons (spiked tire chains for your boots) as the snow has mostly melted off.

We will be leaving around 7am on Monday morning. That will be almost 5 days without any electronics. No phones, computers, e-mail, television, instant messaging…NADA. It will be 5 days of: rocky trails, the Colorado River, bugs, wildlife, rocks under my sleeping back, dehydrated vittles, filtered water, “Navy showers”, sun/wind burn, stargazing, picture taking, and family bonding. It will be a hike of a lifetime. Wish us luck. We will be back to civilization on Friday, March 28th. Happy Trails!

Thank you, Easter Bunny! Bawk! Bawk!

March 23rd, 2008

As our family heads to Grand Canyon this Easter, I wanted to share this classic commercial.

We know that this special day is the gift from our Lord. It is a day of celebration and rebirth. We are celebrating this joyous day by enjoying nature and spending time with each other.

May this post find you healthy, happy, and surrounded by those that you love. Happy Easter to you and yours! -The Fannins

Day 3 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 22nd, 2008

Today was beautiful as we woke up in Albuquerque, NM. After a decent continental breakfast, we set off for Interstate 40. We stopped off to fill up the car (at $3.13/gal.) and were treated to an amazing sight. There were approximately 20-30 hot air balloons taking off in the Albuquerque morning. Apparently, the still, cool weather in Albuquerque makes it a perfect launching spot for hot air balloons. The sky was filled with color and strips from the balloons. They were awesome to see.

We planned on driving to the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Parks. On I-40, we saw the gorgeous adobe style buildings that the southwest is famous for. Their smooth walls and earth tone materials keep the buildings cooler in the summer months. They also seem to blend in well with the landscape and enhance instead of competing with it.

On I-40, I noticed quite a bit of roadkill. Sadly, this is expected when folks are driving 75-90 miles an hour. Fortunately, the southwest has nature’s trashmen (i.e. ravens & vultures). Everything is recycled in nature. Nothing goes to waste.

Just outside of Grants, NM, there was a change in the red rock landscape. Large clumps of black volcanic rocks dotted the serene land. The Bandera Volcano erupted through this area and left behind black, igneous rock. We HAD to pull over and grab a small volcanic rock to share later at Scouts.

Our iPod was motivating us over the rolling hills with tunes from: Van Morrison, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Johnny Cash, Cake, Casey Chambers, and Blues Travelers.

Extremely long trains drove parallel to the highway pulling freight across country. It made me wonder whether freight shipped by train is increasing with the rise of gasoline. By the length of the trains we saw, there is quite a bit of cargo being transported on rails.

We all noticed the abandoned motels litering Route 66 along the highway. Many areas of Route 66 are overgrown and impossible to drive on. Seeing the ghost towns that once thrived because of this historic road made me a bit sad. I wonder what they were like back in their hey day. How I would love to have some of the old signage on those buildings that we passed. I would care for them, even if they have been long forgotten.

Before we got to our first destination, we passed over the Continental Divide at 7,700+ feet above sea level. As we were in the Navajo Nation, my husband wanted to see what radio stations we could get. On AM660, we got a Navajo station. It was very interesting to listen to regular radio announcements in english, and then hear the same announcements in Navajo. What a language! You would hear a word of english every now and then (like trailer, registration, etc.) because they didn’t have that word in their language. Really interesting.

Adobe in Painted Desert

We finally arrived at the Painted Desert/Petrofied Forest National Parks. The Painted Desert wasn’t exactly what I pictured. Although beautiful with a palette of pale striped hills, it was small. Much smaller than one thinks of when you hear Painted Desert. You think vast. It didn’t quite fit my expectations. My husband took some great adobe pictures at the Painted Desert Inn (no longer a hotel, but a museum).

After the Painted Desert, we drove the 15 miles to the Petrified Forest. It was a bit bizarre to see sandy, rolling hills with fallen trees all over. Those fallen trees have long since turned into rocks. The petrified wood was beautiful to see. Some logs were the size of a couch! The logs were in terra cotta, milky quartz, browns, and even purples. The park rangers made it extremely apparent that you were NOT ALLOWED to take anything away from the park. If you were to pick up a petrified rock and try to leave the park, you were fined a minimum of $375. Not a good idea to start rock collected at a national park. We found a store outside of the park and our son bought a rock there. No fines for us, thanks.

Petrified Trees

After our two stops, we made our way to Flagstaff, AZ. Arizona really is a beautiful state. There is so much red rock everywhere. As we were driving towards higher elevations, we started to see lots of pine trees and SNOW! We got to our hotel and dropped off all of our camping gear (I swear it looks like we are opening a sporting goods store or something).

My husband offered to take me to Sedona, AZ so I could look around the art/jewelry shops. The drive through Oak Creek Canyon was gorgeous. It was filled with winding turns lined with magestic pine trees. The bubbly creek made a lovely sound as we drove by. When we got 2 miles away from the outskirts of Sedona, traffic STOPPED. We soon realized that the Easter holiday had brought many tourists to Sedona and two miles of back up was what we had in store for us. After a quick minute of deliberation, we turned around and headed back to Flagstaff.

As our stomachs thought it was 8pm (Texas time), we needed to find dinner, and fast. We found a delightful Thai food restaurant named Swaddee . It was just what we needed after a long, eventful day.

Tomorrow is filled with getting to Grand Canyon Village and preparing for our descent into the canyon on Monday. We are all nervous about the trek down. We don’t know what to expect and pray that we are prepared. We won’t really know until we get there and get going. One thing is for sure, it is a hiking trip of a lifetime. Write to you tomorrow!

Day 2 of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust”

March 21st, 2008

Whew! What a day we had. We started our day with a complimentary breakfast at our Best Western. Take my advice on this gang: Skip breakfast. Seriously. Licking wallpaper paste off of the hotel room walls tastes better. No, really.Reflection

After breakfast, we made our way to Carlsbad Cavern. We were one of the first visitors of the day as it was just after 9am. Another plus for well-known attractions: Get there early. We hate crowds and getting there early helped us to avoid the masses.

The caverns were amazing (DUH!). There were lots of switchback trails which were good as our legs need the training for Grand Canyon. Besides the amazing sights (more of that in a second), I did have a few pet peeves. My guys both thought that getting dripped on by the cave was a special thing and something to be proud of. In the 4 or so hours that we walked the caves, they were dripped on tons of times. I got it once. My guys thought that was hilarious. I wanted to be special. Our other HUGE gripe were stupid tourists that didn’t listen or read the signs that said: “DO NOT TOUCH THE FORMATIONS!” We also saw spare change in the pools (which was HIGHLY discouraged) and kids running around. What is up with THAT?!

As for the formations, we loved everything. From the stalagtites (hug tight to the ceiling), stalagmites (they are mighty and might reach the ceiling), the “popcorn” calcite deposits (a.k.a. wall barnacles), to the “draperies” (a.k.a. Steak-Ums curtains). Our family really enjoyed the natural beauty like Carlsbad. We couldn’t believe how many people just breezed by us on the trails and didn’t take but a fraction of a second to look at their surroundings. Silly people.

From Carlsbad Caverns, we drove through Roswell, New Mexico. I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with Roswell. With all the hype that Mulder & Scully gave about Roswell, I was expecting to see aliens waving from every street corner. Hardly! They did have some cheesy gift shops down the main street, but most of the city looked just like that – a city. We did spy an amazing junk yard FULL of old 1950’s trucks and classic cars. It was a rusty, classic car graveyard. Really sad to see such amazing cars rust away. We also saw that Roswell has a HUGE people cemetary. Seriously. One of the largest cemetaries I have EVER seen. It was like every person west of the Mississippi River that had passed away was buried there.

Alien Lamp post

Sadly, I didn’t find the cheesy alien t-shirt that I was looking for. I was hoping to find something that had a nostalgic feel. Something like a “Creature from the Black Lagoon” (I mean Space) feel. I didn’t find anything like that. Instead, we got a postcard for our scrapbook and a magnet for our fridge. I did think that the Roswell street lamps were a hoot.

As far as Southern New Mexico goes, here are things that we noticed:

  • It is VERY flat
  • There are lots of cool dust devils swirling on the plains
  • Farmers love to plant crops in a circle format instead of rectangular fields
  • There are lots of goats & cows – something you wouldn’t expect in a dry area such as this
  • There are lots of cactus & yucca everywhere
  • There are endless miles of barbed wire fences (seems the ranchers want to keep those goats & cows inside)

After Roswell, we made our way to Albuquerque, NM for the evening. You know you are in a bigger city when you see: “Albuquerque – Next 17 exits” on the Interstate signs. Our son saw that Route 66 was just off the Interstate and asked if we could drive on it a bit. We got in about a 5 mile drive on Rte. 66. Of course, I had to play “Route 66” by Depeche Mode on our iPod while we were driving. Mood music and all.

For tomorrow’s schedule, we are planning on Flagstaff & Sedona. We heard on our Grand Canyon podcast that the Grand Canyon still has ice at the top of the rim. We are thinking of picking up (or, hopefully renting from the local REI) some ice spikes for our boots. I would like us to get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon without slipping and sliding on ice.

I am off to get a good night sleep on our DOUBLE BED. What?! Our son loves that he gets a double to himself. I hope my hubby likes me alot because a double bed is tiny compared to our king at home. Oh well, it is just one night. Sweet dreams!

Day 1 of “Operation Grand Canyon Or Bust”

March 20th, 2008

I can just hear Willy Nelson singing “On the Road Again”. We are now, thankfully after 7.5 hours of driving, sitting in a hotel room in Carlsbad, NM. I am sitting at a plywood table in the suite (well…not really, but it is functional) of a Best Western. Our room has your standard “just passing through” interior with the maroon floral bedspread, green plaid carpeting, mini-fridge, and complimentary coffee maker. My guys are across the scenic courtyard (okay, paved parking lot crammed with Spring Break visitors) investigating the restaurant. We didn’t see much promise for Carlsbad’s culinary offering while driving through town. Chili’s looks to be the only 5-Star bistro. Gotta love those chain restaurants.

The first day of “Operation Grand Canyon or Bust” was long. Driving on Interstate 10 through Texas makes you realize how large a state it truly is. Miles upon miles of scrub brush and rolling hills. The view reminded me of a man that hadn’t shaved in a few days. Lots of stubble (i.e. bushes), but not a full beard. Thankfully, Interstate 10 has a speed limit of 80 miles an hour. The fastest speed limit in the country.

Outside of Fort Stockton, we saw a prime example of old energy vs. new. On one side of the highway were the old oil rigs slowly pumping gallons of oil from the earth. On the flip side were hills of wind farm blades rotating in the breeze.

The plan for tomorrow is to get up early for breakfast and then head out for Carlsbad Caverns. This is our 2nd time to Carlsbad Caverns. The first time was when our son fit in a baby backpack. Yup, it has been a while.

From Carlsbad Caverns (probably about 4 hours later), we are driving to Albuquerque, NM. Before we get to Albuquerque, we are going through Alien-Central, Roswell. I told my husband that I was hopeful of a cheap t-shirt stand in Roswell so I could buy one of those “I landed in Roswell and all I got was the shirt” or something. A souvenir that says CHEESE.

My husband did say that we will be able to go to Sedona, NM on our way to the Grand Canyon. Santa Fe is one of my favorite cities as it is full of art. As a former art major, I just eat up creativity and a town that is full of it HAS to be one of my favorites. Sedona is supposed to be just like Santa Fe as far as art and culture. It will be an unexpected treat to visit Sedona.

We will start down the Grand Canyon on Monday. Our backpacks, tent, sleeping bags, food, water, etc. came in a bit more than we planned. Our packs weigh: 22# for our son, 33# for me, 45# for my husband. Our packs will weigh the most as we head off as the trail on the way down doesn’t have water stops. When we come out, there are plenty of water stops and most of our food will be gone. Thank goodness for Ibuprofen and Bengay!

Day 1 is in the books. I can’t wait for a hot shower and a good night sleep. Tomorrow will be full of stalagmites, stalatites, bats, and aliens. OH MY!

Putting Grandpa to rest

March 18th, 2008

Today was a day of tears, fond memories, and looking forward. All because we put Grandpa to rest today. The day started with rushing around ensuring that all was ready for the 4pm funeral services. Cleaning my in-laws home, shopping for black dress shirts for my husband & son, making sure there would be enough food for the guests, etc.Color Guard

Grandpa would’ve been touched by the more than 100 people that came to his funeral. He might have been an “old geezer”, but he was a friend to many. Relatives came from Iowa & Kansas. Former Marines came wearing pins, hats, and ensignias in respect. An Air Force Apache pilot came in his uniform. My father-in-law gave a beautiful eulogy full of stories and happy memories. Grandpa would’ve been touched indeed by the show of love. I can also almost hear him say: “What the hell is everyone crying about?!”

He was given full Marine honors of a 15-gun salute. That was amazing to see. My husband and I both lost it when the bugler started to play “Taps”. That hymn will forever remind me of Grandpa now. It was beautiful, but lonely too.

My husband has been trying so hard to “hold it together”. He loved his Grandpa so much. I have only seen my husband cry 2 times in our lives together: When our son was born, and when his Uncle passed away. Today was his 3rd time. I wanted so much to take away his pain. You could just see that his heart hurt. That feeling of losing something precious and knowing you will never get it back. Soul-wrenching pain. I hate that.

As I looked around at all the tear-stained faces, I came to a decision: I don’t want this when I die. I don’t. I don’t want a funeral, black clothing, and sobbing. I want people to say: “Shan was always silly. She always tried to make others laugh. She was helpful and loved with her whole heart. She was a good friend. She wanted to make people happy. Their happiness made her feel whole.”

I decided that when I die, I don’t want a funeral. I want to be cremated, and when I am delivered to the family, they can have a party. I don’t want any black clothing worn by anyone. I want hawaiian shirts and jeans. I want Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong playing in the background. I want mexican food or greasy burgers for everyone. I want people to talk about the stupid things I did, and how I made them laugh. I want to be remembered like that. Not with grief, but with life.

I know my husband was hurting when we went to my in-laws house after the funeral. Grandpa liked Scotch, so my husband bought a $50 bottle of Scotch. He rarely drinks, but tonight he did (and then some). After all the guests left, my father-in-law told me that my husband had drunk between 1/3-1/2 of the bottle. My husband looked green and promptly lost everything in his stomach. He did the same thing when his uncle died 5 yrs. ago. I guess that is one more way to show grief: Cause pain to yourself (i.e. getting drunk) to dull the pain.

After getting him home, into a hot shower, and into bed, I made him promise that he wouldn’t do that if I were to die early. I don’t like seeing people hurt themselves. Even when it is through grief. He promised. I sure hope he keeps it if that day ever comes. I hope that isn’t for about 40-50 yrs. though. I have quite a bit to do in this life still.Marine flag funeral

Grandpa, we will miss you. I know that under your tough shell, you were sweet and gentle. I am so glad that I knew you and that you knew your Great-Grandson. I promise that we will take care of Nana for you. Don’t you worry about her. She is a spunky girl. Although she misses you terribly, she has family that will care for her for a long, long time. We love you and always will. xoxoxo

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