Arizona

EE’s Canyoneering Adventure

Driving from Sedona to Flagstaff is a treat. The road that leads directly up the mountain is one of the classics of the Arizona Highways. The climb takes you up, up, up for three thousand feet until finally it stops winding and you’re driving amidst Ponderosa Pine forests to Flagstaff. Through the trees you see the views – The San Francisco Peaks, the highest point in Arizona stand 12,600 feet tall just above and to the north of town making a pretty backdrop to the area.

We arrived at the home of my old Prescott College roommate, Scott and his wife Lindsay in Flagstaff and the mood was festive. When I saw Lindsay I knew she was pregnant but I didn’t want to say anything. They shared the news and the time to celebrate was on – they were going to have a baby! We soaked up our friends for a bit but things were different. In the past Scott would have played hooky from work to go climbing or exploring but not this time. Nesting was their game so we enjoyed small adventures to some of the fun rock climbing venues, shared some great meals and moved on to the north – Grand Canyon bound. Both Michelle and I have been to the canyon before so it was with excitement that we showed it to the kids. Through their eyes the canyon was new and full of wonder.

Elias tells us about his experience in the Grand Canyon below…

Dad, Jacob and I started our adventure hiking down the Bright Angel Trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. We stopped at Indian Gardens, refilled our water and cut off the trail to another trail that went around the hill. We traveled down a wash and had lunch and put on our harnesses. We then started down a canyon mouth that was shaped like the pouring part of a water pitcher. Daddy set up an anchor (which we had to leave with 2 carabineers) and we began our first big rappel. I went first and then Jacob went. We descended down in front of this huge cave and so we weren’t touching anything just lowering into open space for almost 200 feet. Finally we got to the lip of the rock and pushed off and swung way out and rappelled some more to get to the bottom. I jumped so I didn’t land in a bush. It felt really awesome to go down into the canyon. It felt like I was flying! Everything was before me like I was in the middle of a 3D movie.

Daddy came down and while he was packing up the ropes Jacob and I went down canyon. Suddenly there was a big drop. I stayed near the stream while Jacob checked it out and then we followed a small route that went to the bottom of the drop where there was a small pool of water with tiny tadpoles and water bugs. We kept going down canyon and there was another drop with a little waterfall. I tried to un-dam part of the stream and when I picked up a rock it jumped out of my hand! I shouted in surprise and Jacob came over to see what the ruckus was about. We checked out the critter and it was a toad the color of dark pine needles. It had pimply things all over its body. Initially it was squished between two rocks and I thought it was a slim rock but really it was about the size of my fist.

Daddy got back so we went up and over the water fall. Then there was a beach on the right side and a bit later a slot canyon that seemed to go all the way down. The right side of the canyon was kind of rocky lifting up on a slant so we walked until there were little sand and rock islands in the shallow water. Then we jumped onto land and walked for about ½ mile until there was a sheer drop with a waterfall going down it. I heard Jacob say, “come here come here” and daddy and I ran over and there were five Big Horn Sheep climbing up the cliff. They were tan with two babies, one with little stub horns and the other without any horns. It looked like the mama didn’t have horns but her ears looked like small horns. The other adults had curly horns. We kept going talking about the sheep when we saw rocks falling and five more sheep climbing up another cliff wall with no problem. Once in a while we heard “braaaaa” or “crash” or rock falls, but I felt safe because they were way up there.

We kept walking down the canyon for another while when we stopped and daddy said “here it is”. The canyon all the sudden became like stairs going down towards the canyon floor. I started to unblock the little dam of rocks that slowed down the water heading down the falls while daddy set up the anchor of rope and locker carabineers. Then Jacob started to go down and he said ”Elias, your making the water flow faster”! (It flowed right next to you as you descended the canyon.) Then he called up to tell us that there was another big anchor down there. Then he said “ok, off rappel” as he was at the bottom. I started next and I got down past the first stair and there was a big pond of water because I made it flow so fast. I started going down the second stair and there was a waterfall going right in front of me below my shoes. I asked Jacob how to continue so I didn’t get wet and he told me that I was going to get wet anyway so just do it. I started going and he said “you’re going to swing to the right“ so I flicked the rope under an overhang and swung perfectly to the water beside me without getting wet. Then I jumped over the waterfall and into the pool on the bottom and dipped the front of my sneakers in but the water didn’t harm them. Daddy rappelled down, changed into shorts and we walked further down canyon. In about 20 steps there were big rocks as big as a couch. When I got to the bottom I saw the falling water that turned into a stream and disappeared under a rock. I tried to dam up the stream with dirt and rocks so it would go the other way but the water was really strong and it just busted through the dirt and went around the rocks. We went on a little bit and the stream was back. Here we discovered this seaweed stuff that looked like a splattered out brain but when you picked it up it felt like a carpet and it came up in big sheets. We couldn’t rip it and it seemed water resistant totally dry on the inside.

We made our all the way down and hiked for a ways and finally got to the trail on the bottom o f the canyon. After two exhausting hours hiking back up the canyon, daddy and I looked and there was a purple throated, green faced, blue/grey hummingbird chasing a bee around a blooming yucca stalk. They both wanted the nectar. The hummingbird knew that the bee could sting it and the bee knew that the bird could eat it so they chased each other at a fair distance. Finally both of them settled down on flowers equally distant from each other to drink.

Up the trail, I spotted a tree that I remembered at Indian Gardens right where we filled up water on the way down and rested. We continued up, up, up the trail and finally got to the first tunnel which made its way a short distance through the Grand Canyon rock and spotted a lizard about as long as my forearm with a purple head, white belly and legs and blue, green, red and orange back. I knew we were very close. We got to the second tunnel and a guy asked daddy how far the canyon floor was. Daddy said it would probably take him about 10 hours to hike there and back. We then finished the hike and met Mommy and Ila on the Canyon Rim.

What a trip, we went down the Bright Angel trail, down through Indian Gardens to Pipe Canyon, up the Grand Canyon trail again to Indian Gardens and back up the Bright Angel trail. Our 15 mile adventure was over!

GC 4 GC 6 GC 5 GC 7 GC 11 GC 12 GC 8 GC 13 GC 14 GC 15

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Bright Angel Trail, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Grand Canyon, Hiking, Homeschooling, Rappelling | 3 Comments

Prescott

At 18 I was attending a University too similar to my high school. My snot would freeze in the northern New York cold as I stepped outside in the early morning to attend 8:00 AM Calculus. Scurrying from lecture hall to lecture hall I couldn’t get into classes that appealed to me, I felt lost in the frenzy of fraternities and sororities. After completing my finals in December of my 3rd quarter I came down with bronchitis that seemed to be heading towards pneumonia. I felt like the illness was a spiritual crisis in disguise and chose not take meds to heal. Instead I sat, I thought, I cried and although my parents threatened with everything they had to keep me in school I dropped out (an act so foreign to my upbringing and decision making). I began to listen to a deeper part of me that spoke louder than my parent’s fears (and my own fears). Simon, my brother and I borrowed a friends van, drove up to the University while everyone was on winter break, packed up my things, went on a big hike to say good bye to the forests behind my dorm and ended the Upstate NY chapter – one of the more powerful and independent decisions in my life. It felt like my soul came knocking and redirected me towards giant chaos and unfamiliar terrain. A ferocious balance of trust, courage and audacity moved me forward towards the next step.

After dropping out I found Prescott College (PC) located in Prescott, AZ. I remember reading the PC handbook over and over with its photos and bio’s of faculty but it was the photo of the student body that resonated with me.…I found my people. Prescott was filled with students like me, slightly older and often with a bit of previous college under their belt asking quintessential questions left unexamined by more traditional institutions. Before it became trite the motto of PC was “learning is a journey not the destination” and truly that was my experience. After years of being educated, this was where I learned how to learn.

Hopping into a car with an acquaintance also enrolled to start Prescott College we drove away from Long Island August 1995 for what could have been a different planet in landscape and culture. It is notable that upon arriving in Boulder, CO a few weeks into our drive on our way to AZ we heard the news that Jerry Garcia died. Joining what felt like the entire city, we mourned…so many changes.

The transition to PC begins for each student with a 3 week Wilderness Orientation which for me took place in Barbershop and Tonto Canyons of Arizona. Shouldering our backpacks filled with gear stuffed into thick trash compactor bags making our backpacks buoyant, we floated and swam down gorgeous dessert canyons. As a child my family and I went camping at places on the East Coast like Yogi Bear Parks sort of KOA style. I hiked and backpacked a little at summer camp however I was pretty green to wilderness backpacking. The PC Orientation, formative in so many ways was my introduction to backpacking, the Arizona wilderness, student-directed learning, and was where I met great friends including my future husband, a long haired, goofy 19 year old Joseph. Everything was so new and foreign.

Prescott Orientation

The years that followed were spent hitchhiking “up the hill” to Groom Creek where I lived in a tiny cabin in the pines a few miles outside of Prescott with a changing cast of great PC friends. These years marked my rites of passage into early adulthood. This is where I learned how to listen, how to trust myself, and I developed a resonant and intimate relationship with nature. Studying alternative education and eco-psychology I was planting the seeds for a career in counseling, a passion for “right education” for myself and my children and an experiential relationship with nature. As we travel around the country stopping to visit our PC friends and alumni, I recognize in them the passion that optimizes the PC student; professionals on the fringe of dominant culture, successful in the arts of organic farmers, sustainable builders, midwifes, educators, Park Rangers – independent, whole hearted and creative humans.

Stepping out of the car 2 decades later, footfalls on pine needles amongst the granite boulders of Groom Creek, I flashback 18 years – the crisp feeling of freedom rushed into my breath, my body and my spirit. Was this me? A faraway and forgotten friend, covered up by newer layers of self… mother, wife, counselor, daughter. It’s as if whispers of my past flooded in on the familiar vanilla scented Ponderosa Pine breeze reminding me of my independence, freedom and vision of my younger self. Are these qualities still at play in my life now, with my kids, my husband, my inner world? I ached to share this part of myself with my kids and at the same time wanted to run into the forest and seek refuge for a while to reconnect with who I have become.

Yet here we were, Joseph and I wanted to share with the kids Prescott and our college, the town and the woods where we met and began blending our lives together. We rented a house for the duration of our Prescott visit with the family, a little cottage walkable to downtown and Whiskey Row. The house was stocked with all sorts of delicious foods by our college friend, Mark, who still lives here in Prescott. As we eagerly munched on the hors d’oeuvres we explained to the boys that our mystery friend Mark is Cody Lundine’s right hand man and helps to run Cody’s Aboriginal Primitive Living Skills School. For our family Cody Lundine is a household name from one of the few TV shows that we catch on Netflix : Duel Survival. Joseph took Cody’s Aboriginal Living Skills class years ago at Prescott and he is sort of an Anderson Superhero.

Just minutes after arriving Joseph received a text from long lost friend Tim Murphy, Joseph’s college roommate and best man at our wedding who lives in Durango, CO. We haven’t connected with Tim in 10 years. “Where are you guys on your trip?” read the text. Joseph answers “We just got to Prescott, we’ll be in Durango in about a month.” “I’m in Prescott” Tim answered. What were the odds? “The force is strong with you…” Joseph responded. Within the next hour Tim, Mark, Leta (Mark’s Wife) and our family were reconnecting at the Prescott Brew Pub. The boys eagerly listened to goofy stories about us as college kids from Tim and to Mark’s. Mark became the primetime show while recounting behind the scenes details of Dual Survival and the life of running an aboriginal living skills school.

Prescott College has changed over the last 20 years still an experiential, environmentally based liberal arts school but now with a campus. For us it was strange to see our Prescott College with actual dorms in the lot behind the riparian area and built library, classrooms and café. Everything was built using sustainable building practices and materials. The college is ‘walking its talk’ moving towards a zero waste campus. Students tend to be younger now seemingly still appreciating the dynamic and experiential approach and the mission of the school.

Introducing PC to my kids made me appreciate our year of “Adventure School”. As we are homeschooling all year, their curriculum is a a dynamic mix of classical studies with experiential learning related to our travels, geography, geology, art, culture and history mixed in. They are learning like we did when we met, engaging their curiosities and creativity and together searching for meaning. They are 2, 8 and 12 we were 19 and 20. I realized that so much of the invention, adventure and fortitude of this year’s family adventure was spun and learned during our time at Prescott. These are the qualities that we hope to share and model with the kids forever.

Family climbing at the Dells and at Sullivans Canyon, hiking Spruce Mountain and having breakfast at the Dinner Bell brought back similar reminiscing of the past. If I squinted my eyes, I could have sworn that the group of 5 young guys climbing beside us in the Sullivan’s canyon was us 20 years ago. Such de ja vu felt shocking…2 decades have passed.

Old Prescott

 

Categories: Arizona, Homeschooling, Prescott College | 4 Comments

The Superstitions

There is a legend of an old Dutchman who on his dying bed in 1892 in Phoenix Arizona revealed that he had endless riches stored within a secret gold mine deep in the Superstition Mountains.  Since that time countless hopefuls have searched and searched throughout this impossibly rugged desert mountain range.  Many have devoted a lifetime to this confusing landscape searching for the gold, emptying life savings, life dreams year after year hopeful and then hopelessly being alluded by the legend.  People have murdered, people have died and people continue to look for it and it has never been found.  This lost Dutchman’s mine is only one and perhaps the most popular tale spun as a result of these mountains.  There are also stories of shape shifting natives, haunting ghosts and even extra terrestrial activity within these hills.  It’s all, in my opinion, inspired by the landscape.  This is a place where the imaginative part of ones mind is deeply stimulated.  Every corner that you peak around you are rewarded with another unlikely landscape that pulls your curiosity in for an adventure.   That’s why we came here, the climbing, hiking, canyoneering, the fun and the adventure.

This mountain range became possible when 20 Million years ago a giant caldera that occupied a good portion of central Arizona blew its lid spewing volcanic debris causing an epic heated mud flow and ash deposit that occupied a region 80 miles in diameter.  Over time the forces of nature, wind and water, have chiseled away at this country carving a confusing landscape of deep canyons, large mountain walls, crooked spires and mazes of jumbled rocky variations on landscapes.   We began our journey here at Lost Dutchman State Park on the very North Western edge of the mountain range where the flat populated plains of central Arizona meet an abrupt mountain wall.

Apache Junction, one of the nations larger retirement meccas and the most eastern suburb of Phoenix was literally minutes away from our camp.  As much of a paradox as these two places are it actually made things quite easy for us as home schooling and office facilities were accessible at the Apache Junction Library.  We could have stayed forever.  Except eventually the water would surely run out.  Almost all of the original water sources for this region are mostly dried up.  The Salt and the Gila rivers rarely run anymore except for much higher in the mountain where they are stored in reservoirs.  Most of the water that hydrates this area comes from the Colorado River.  It comes from hundreds of miles away, evaporating in the hot and dry desert air in a series of canals called the Central Arizona Project.

Every evening here at our camp the big mountain walls and spires above us dominate and turn blood red with the sun set.  These wildly exposed spires have earned names such as Vertigo Spire, The Tower, Los Banditos, and the Hobgoblin Spires.  Jacob, Elias and I got our start with The Praying Hands.  This 200 foot high spire put Jacob over the edge so to speak of his tolerance for heights.  I think at some point he was thinking that he’d get to a ledge of some sort or there would be some kind of break but the exposure was always there.

Two days later we climbed one of the Hob Goblin Spires.  Spiderwalk, this time a 600 foot climb with unrelenting exposure.  I was quite proud of Jacob and Elias on that one.  That was by far the biggest thing they’d ever climbed.

     IMG_2225 IMG_2231 IMG_2233IMG_2313 IMG_2302

 Fish Creek is at the bottom of a large and abrupt canyon that defines the northern boarder of the Superstitions.  Jacob, Elias and I explored a few of the technical canyons that empty into Fish creek.  Some had fun caves you had to crawl through and rappel through.  One of them had 500 foot cliff that needed to be rappelled.

IMG_2390 IMG_2397  IMG_2401 IMG_2405IMG_2464 IMG_2466 IMG_2467 IMG_2468

After a week we took a four day break from the Superstitions and moved camp to the McDowell mountains.  This is a beautiful desert Mountain range sandwiched between two affluent suburbs of Phoenix.  The craggy 1.4 billion year old granite mountain range was fun to explore and rock climb in but what was most memorable was the Suburban town of Fountain Hills.  This place could be the closest thing I have ever seen to a real live Truman Show.  The center of the town is marked by a large rolling green park that wraps around a big lake with THE FOUNTAIN in the middle of the lake.  Every hour on the hour it shoots a spray of water several hundred feet into the air, visible from the top of the Hobgoblin spire, an hour drive away.

IMG_2376 IMG_2378

Now back to the subject of the lost Dutchman and treasure hunters in general, geologists say that there is no natural gold deposit anywhere in the area.  The only riches found in the form of precious metal are 7,000 feet below and underneath the eastern part of the range in an older granitic rock layer.  Just outside of Superior Arizona in the eastern Superstitions lies the last and largest vein of copper ore remaining in the United States.  This copper deposit is worth billions and is quickly and efficiently being mined by Resolution Copper.   As an assortment of fascinating characters faithfully apply their heart and soul to finding the Lost Dutchman’s mine, Resolution rakes in profits worth billions with the real treasure.

Queen Creek, one of the finest, most extensive winter sport climbing venues in the country is located right there above all that copper.  When mining operations were proposed over a decade ago the climbers and the Resolution Copper mine squabbled at first over whether this precious rock climbing venue would stay open or not, but eventually the climbers proved to be organized while Resolution Copper stayed faithful to their namesake when realizing how important the climbing access is to so many people.  Almost all of Queen Creek rock climbing venues are safely and legally accessible adjacent to the mine.

We stayed at Queen Creek for four days climbing on the countless bizarre formations.  Every day was met with warm blue skies and a playground of pocketed volcanic rock.  We were delighted to curiously work our way around this extraterrestrial landscape exercising our fingers, toes and nerves, the first bolt was always quite far off the ground.  Everyone climbed here, even Ila and for some reason we saw almost nobody else.

IMG_2116   IMG_2126  IMG_2144 IMG_2145  IMG_2150 IMG_2157 IMG_2162

From Queen Creek we moved to the Southern end of the Superstitions a region that has invoked yet other controversies in the world of rock climbing: The ban on bolting in Wilderness Areas.  This has been a nationwide debate on whether the placement of protective bolts on rock climbs should be allowed to any sort of degree in legally designated Wilderness areas.  It started in this region of the Southern Superstition Wilderness 30 years ago when a remote hiker stumbled upon a solo climber blasting music from his ghetto blaster* while setting bolts.  The hiker complained to the powers that be and since that time the dilemma has escalated to engulf the entire country.  Should the use of protective bolts be legal in Wilderness areas?  And if so to what degree?  Logic and emotions have been slowly searching for common ground throughout the United States for over 30 years now.  Just last year the Department of the Interior released a final statement allowing the use of bolts with prior authorization.  Although resolution is leaning towards common sense, the debate rages on.  The rules are open to wide interpretation and some park management plans remain anti bolting at any cost.  Fringe environmental groups have threatened to sue making their view clear that climbing “is not a reasonable activity.”  Where and if the debate will ever end I do not know but it started here.

We hiked into yet another completely new landscape of craggy labyrinths of rock spires and walls.  A playground, yes, but on a much larger scale than Queen Creek.  Tolkien’s Mordor is what came to mind as we climbed steep switchbacks and unlikely ridge lines working our way to the Bark Canyon Wall a sweeping wilderness buttress deep in the heart of Superstitions.  This was the coolest part of the mountain range giving us yet another big athletic adventure.  The climb followed interesting and varied cracks up the 300 foot wall.  Although the climb was mostly devoid of bolts the descent from the top was made possible due to a two bolted rappel anchor……only visible to climbers and birds.

IMG_2629 IMG_2636 IMG_2638 IMG_2645

This place has absorbed our attention, our imagination and has become our home for a total of almost four weeks.  As we were winding down our time here our friends Amy, Soleina and Auriah came to visit from rainy Bellingham here at the Lost Dutchman state Park.  It was only three days but is was a sweet three days of playing, imagination, storytelling over campfires, hiking, ice-cream and sweet memories of Bellingham. Ila woke up for days after asking for “the girls”. What a treat to give our friends a glimpse of our life on our year of adventure.

*Ghetto Blaster:  A large, portable, radio cassette player, from the 1980s. It is played especially outdoors, in public places at loud volume.

IMG_2689 IMG_2692 IMG_2705

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, adventure travel, Arizona, Camping, Family camping, Family Climbing, Homeschooling, Lost Dutchman State Park, Queen Creek, Rock Climbing, Rock climbing kids, Superstition Mountains, The Lost Dutchman | 1 Comment

E E’s Adventures

It was a Wednesday morning and I woke up. My mom and dad told me what we were going to do; we were going on a hike to the divide between the East and West Stronghold in the Dragoon Mountains. That is where the Apaches used to live and later the Wild West outlaws hid out. It is close to the Mexico border and to Tombstone, Arizona.

 I got dressed wearing sweatpants, a long sleeve shirt, socks, sneakers a hat and sunscreen. I packed my backpack with, head lamp, pocket knife, flip knife (that I found around the campsite under a tree), multi-tool (it has a compass, thermometer, magnifying glass, mirror, whistle and a flashlight), gloves, a sweatshirt, a water bottle, an orange and carrots, binoculars and my animal tracking book. I felt prepared!

EE's Adventures

We drove to the trailhead and started hiking up to the pass about 1 3/4 miles. I saw different birds Yucca, Manzanita and Alligator Juniper trees. I snacked on some carrots on the way up. Dad spotted a climbers trail off of the main trail and we explored it while Mama and Ila were catching up. Then we continued on the trail when we were all together.

After what felt like 3000 miles, finally we got to the pass. I started whittling a spoon, out of a piece of wood I found, and the others started eating lunch, I hurried to eat lunch towards the end. When we finished eating lunch we repacked our backpacks and started down the trail.  I spotted the climbers trail again and we started down it together. It was rugged, narrow, steep, bumpy and slippery and ended in a very rocky, sandy wash. Daddy found distinct footprints that went towards the right side of the wash which we followed. It met up with a narrow trail that went up into slick rock. We scrambled to this little flattish rocky platform. The landscape around us looked like a Dr. Seuss world, the rocks and boulders where bubbly and bulging, lumpy and huge. When you looked at them they looked paper smooth and when you went up to them they were rough like sandpaper.  Ila wanted to explore and went off with daddy. I started whittling again while Mama and Jacob relaxed.

Cochise

After some time Daddy and Ila came back and asked if we wanted to go. We said yes, put our stuff away and we left. We hiked back down the wash, up the climbers trail and down the first trail. A little while later I figured out that I left my multi-tool at the Dr. Seuss place. I got really, really nervous. I ran up to my mom and told her and she said we will probably find it in someone’s backpack. I forgot about it and started hiking with them.

 Elias and Ila Elias Hiking Ila at Cochise

I figured out that we were almost at the end of the trail by remembering the landmarks and I saw a place where I rested and waited for everybody on the way up. I yelled out “yippee” and sprinted down. I only stopped once to see what Jacob was doing. He asked me if I had long nails and I asked why. He told me because he had a big splinter in his hand. I looked at my nails and realized that we clipped them the day before so I told Jacob that I couldn’t take the splinter out. So then he said “ok”.

I sprinted down the rest of the trail. Finally I got to the bigger wash and I was out of breath but I didn’t want to stop moving so I walked to the car. When I sat down at the car I felt like my legs were about to fall off, after a while my legs got tingly and a little while later they stopped getting tingly and they felt like they weren’t going to fall off.  Soon after I heard voices and everyone else appeared, we hopped into the car and drove back to camp. When we got to camp a little while after I looked on the dashboard and there was the binocular case (which I dropped on the first trail) and my multi-tool. I asked my mom where she found it and she said “in your dad’s backpack”. I said “thank you”.  That night I went to sleep listening to a book. When I shut it off I thought about the hike.

The End

Cochise Camp

Categories: Adventure, adventure geology, Arizona, Cochise Stronghold, Dragoon Mountains, Family camping, Hiking, Homeschooling | 5 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.