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When Training for Your Next Adventure Vacation, Don’t Forget to Stretch

January 10th, 2014

There is much debate about when is the proper time to stretch and for how long.  A typical workout, whether on your own, a workout video, class or even fitness magazine routine will have you stretching briefly prior to your workout and for a mere 5 minutes after the meat of the workout has concluded.  But is this the right time to stretch and is it enough?

Stretching Pre-Workout

The most current exercise physiology research has been moving away from stretching before a workout.  You always want to be sure you warm up before a workout, but you also should be warmed up before you stretch - stretching a cold muscle beyond its normal range of motion can cause muscle strains and pulls.  But adding stretching after your pre-workout warm up may result in a second warm up since now your heart rate has decreased, requiring a second warmup.  This is can be difficult to justify when you are already barely fitting your workout in for the day as it is.  More importantly, current research has shown that stretching before a workout can cause more injury than prevent it as many people will stretch beyond the range of motion necessary for a typical workout.  Unless your workout consists of high kicks, splits and heels to your butt, you are likely to pull a muscle beyond its normal range of motion.  Stretching also causes micro tears in your muscle fibers, which is fine when stretching post workout since you are now relaxing and allowing your body to repair itself, but can cause further muscle damgae during a hardcore workout (which you all should be doing right?).  All you need pre-workout is 10+ minutes of warm up (or as long as you feel necessary) before intensifying your workout.

Post-Workout Stretch

The best time to stretch is after your workout, but how soon after and for how long?  Recent studies have shown that marathon runners who stretched immediately after completion of their longer runs or a race were at greater risk for injury than those who waited about 30 minutes after the run.  The reason for this is after an endurance workout - one or more hours - your muscles are so limber and warm, yet been used in a consistent motion, you risk pulling on your muscle more than you normally would than if your muscles were cold.  And since so many people don't ease into a stretch, muscle pulls again become a common problem.  Think of the last time you stretched your quad muscles (upper thighs).  Did you warm up a bit and slowly and gently bring your heel to your butt or did you just kick your heel to your butt, grab, pull and hold?  Pretty extreme considering your leg never did that before or during your workout yet, there you go, kicking yourself in the a** again!  Additionally, your muscles are shredded after a long workout, give them a bit of time to recover - 15-30 minutes should suffice.

How Long Should You Stretch?

You should hold a stretch for each muscle utilized (which really is all of them) for at least 30 seconds, after easing into the stretch.  And then, you will want to add a stretching routine to your fitness regimin.  Look into taking a Yoga class, video or whatever you may have at your disposal.  There are so many types, some more relaxing, others that will feel like an intense workout on their own, but all will provide you with a great stretch.  A good class or session will last at least 60 minutes, will be in a room at at least 80 degrees F and will ease you in to the stretches, allowing for safer and more effective stretching.  These longer sessions prepare your muscles for the workout they are about to receive.  Yes, stretching is a workout as you are tearing muscle fibers just as you do when lifting weights.  It is the repair of these micro tears that helps you build muscle and become stronger and more flexible.  The stretches are deeper than you may normally do on your own, but a proper class will get your body prepared for deep stretching.

Types of Stretching

There are five types of stretching - static, dynamic, ballistic, active and passive.  

Static stretching is what we are all most familiar with.  You move into a stretch gradually, comfortably and through even movement and hold in place for 10-30 seconds.  It's a foward bend to touch your toes you just hold.  While simple and most common, it is losing popularity among fitnes professionals as a means to improve range of motion for functional movement.

Dynamic stretching involves moving a body part gradually into a larger range of motion over a period of time by moving through a challenging range of motion repeatedly over of period of time - usually 10-12 repetitions.  This consists of controlled arm, leg or torso movement that gently takes you into your range of motion. Because dynamic stretching appears to improve range of motion in functional (eveyday) movement, it is gaining popularity among fitness professionals.

Ballistic stretching (not to be confused with dynamic stretching) uses movement to take your muscles BEYOND their normal range of motion, typically through "bouncing" the muscle into the stretch until you "bounce" beyond your normal range of motion.  This is the least recommended type of stretching and should rarely, if ever, be attempted.  

Active stretching allows you to move slowly into your range of motion with no assitance other than the strength of your agonist muscles (the muscles that cause the motion).  You assume your stretching position, move into the stretch but engage agonist muscles.  The tension on the agonist muscles allow the muscles actually being stretched to relax.  

Passive stretching is active stretching with assistance.  After moving into your stretching position, you either assist the stretch with another part of your body or with a partner or other apparatus (i.e. a ballet bar or your kitchen counter).

Find what what types of stretching work best for you, just ber certain it is part of your routine and treated just as importantly as the rest of your workout.

My First Rock Climb - the lobstering kitten approach

December 30th, 2013

I recently participated in a half day rock climbing tour in Tom's Thumb [in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve, in Scottsdale, Arizona] with Just Roughin' It guide, Jayci, and we-had-a-blast. Emphasis on that last part, a-freakin-blast. I had never climbed outside of a gym before, and even that was years ago. Let me tell you first hand that climbing in an air conditioned gym with colorful hand and foot holds is completely different from "lobstering" your way up what I considered to be a sheer rock face. The first route we tackled was what our guide called a slab climb, and the second one was a "in the chimey." He had fancy names for the routes and the climbs, which I prompty forgot, except this one (which we didn't tackle) called "Girly Man" - and that is so on my to-do list. I showed up at Tom's Thumb trailhead, which, by the way, don't trust google-maps, it is not behind a gate in a community, but is off Ranch Gate Road off Happy Valley Road, anyway...when I showed up a little after 9 AM I found my guide in the parking lot flaking a climbing rope and whistling "Old El Paso". I had never meet him before, but wilderness guides tend to have a very distinct look - the way you could pick out the stock broker at a Rainbow Family gathering from a grainy black and white ariel shot in 2 seconds flat. Something like that. So I found my guide, working a green climbing rope, whistling Western tunes, and grinning.

Just Roughin' It provided us with helmets, shoes and harnesses. Jayci brough out a few different sizes of shoes and harnesess and we suited up right there in the parking lot. The shoes made me feel like a ballarina and they aren't practical for anything other than climbing - so bring another pair of shoes that you can hike at least a mile in but that are easy to take on and off. I wore fashion boots, because my life is a blonde moment, and it made me look really cool all suited up, but I don't recommend it.  However, if you have never stratted around a parking lot in a harness before and you don't wear a utility belt in your daily life (provided you arent Bruce Wayne) then you're going to feel either very silly in it, or else you are going to feel like I did - like a bad-mama-jamma! No? That's just me? 

Like I said, you have to hike about 1 mile to reach the climbing area, but it's relatively flat and the scenery is amazing. The sun was still rising, and as I understand it during other parts of the year (we went in December) you have to start much earlier and the sun will really just be rising. Anywho- we got to the climbing area, around Marrels Wall, and our guid pointed to the top of what I considered to be a mini monolithe and said, I'll be right back. He disappered from view and next thing I knew he was rapelling down from the top! Magic I tell you. 

Once he had attached our ropes to the top he gave us some instruction on technique. What stuck with me was when he said "remember you can fall." At this point I am strapped in, poised to attach this rock face, and I turned to him hesitantly and asked with one eyebrow raised, "like, I could possibly fall or I am allowed to fall?" Without missing a beat and whisting through his teeth he chirped, "both!" With that I turned back to the slab, took a deep breath a litterally pounced. Behind me my fiance is double over with laughter, telling me how I leaped onto the rock like a kitten might attack a ball of yarn. I ignored that taunts from the peanut gallery and focused on finding somewhere to move my feet to. Quickly, I found good grips and raised myself about 5 feet before slipping slightly and lossing my grip with one foot. I dropped about a foot and half - at that moment I realized what Jayci had said was completely true. Yes, I could fall - and I was completely empowered from that moment on. I took more risks while climbing, stuffing my toes into crevices and using the palms of my hands  instead of gripping with my fingers.  Of course, some of this I felt was out of necessity since the whole time I was thinking "my nails! my nails!" - hense what Jayci called "lobstering". Instead of finding tiny little ledges and pulling myself up by my fingers and bicepts, I would plant my hand flat against the rock and literally lever myself up using my forearm. Then I would do the same with a foot, then the other arm, and finally the last foot. One extremity at a time, looking rediculous, but it worked and I never feel again. 

My male counterpart on the other hand, while he did very well, had a very different approach and (much to my pleasure) was slower and received more direction from our guide than I did. He calculated his moves more, using his fingers, bicepts, and shoulders to pull himself upward and spent more time resting and recovering from the exersion. Not because he isn't as strong as me or because he has less endurance, he could school me anyday in cardio and endurance, but just simply  because our approach was different. I think the differences between our two styles is two-fold. For one, he wasn't worried about his nails and went ahead and gripped those rediculously smal rock ledges. Second, he's a man. Something in his instict kicked in and he tried to muscle the rock, resorting to using only upper body strength.  At the end of the day when we compared the experience he reported his shoulders and arms were sore, while my legs were actually hurting me more. Jayci reminded us that no technique is wrong - at least neither of these techniques was wrong, and surprised us both by saying we had actually done very well. Maybe [Just Roughin' It] pays him to say, but I chose to believe him.

6 Reasons Why Just Roughin’ It DOESN’T Offer Pack Horse/Mule Hiking Trips

November 29th, 2013

Grand Canyon Pack MulesOn a weekly basis, we get calls or emails from potential guests that would like to go on a hiking tour with us BUT, they do not want to carry their gear.  Well, aside from the standard response of "that's not roughin' it," we find ourselves having to explain why we don't offer mule, horse, llama, dog, bear, ape, gerbil, marmot or sasquatch supported hiking trips.  Yes, everyone else does it.  But that doesn't mean we have to as well.  It is just not who we are and we LOVE to see the elation in our guests faces when they complete their hike with only the verbal support of the guide and their fellow hikers.  There is nothing more fullfilling than such a great accomplish and we know 90% of those that want their gear carried can actually can carry their own.  So to make this simple, I have put together the top 6 reasons we do not, nor will we ever, offer animal supported tours.  These are in no specific order.

1.  We are a Leave No Trace company.  Your feet leave little impact on the trails in which we travel.  Hooved animals impact the trails greatly and when used daily for everyone wanting a horse or a mule to carry their gear, most specifically in the Grand Canyon, the trails erode and thus require continuous maintenance that is costly.  Just on the corridor trails in Grand Canyon (South and North Kaibab and Bright Angel Trails), the park spends over $3 million annually for trail maintenance, but only receives half of that from entrance fees, concessionaire fees and other trail maintenance fees.  Additionally, very large ruts are created by continual usage from pack animals, making trails much more difficult to hike.  As an added benefit, mules and horses have to poop and pee somewhere, right?  Well, they don't use bathrooms.

2.  There are more places to explore than where mules/horses can go.  When hiking in places such as the National Parks, there are very few places pack stock that is provided as an ammenity is allowed to go.  For that matter, most places do not have pack animals even available so unless you have a pack animal in your back pocket or know someone that has a horse they can lend you, you will be limited to only a few trails, routes, wilderness areas and national parks.  Carry your own backpacking gear and the great outdoors will be open to you to go anywhere - more places to see and fewer people to have to share it with.

3.  As an extension to number 2, Grand Canyon trips are very limited if you do not carry your gear.  Grand Canyon is one of the few national parks that offer the option to get a pack mule to carry your gear.  So instead of 40lbs, you might carry 15lbs (still have to carry food, water and essentials yoiu need to hike into and out of the canyon).  This means you cannot take a Rim to Rim hike as the mules can only descend and ascend the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails of which are on the South Rim of the Canyon.  From the North Rim, mules only carry people and they can only go as far as Supai Tunnel - that is 1.9 miles into the canyon.  So while yes, you could have your gear meet you at the bottom, you have 14 miles of hiking to meet up with it and that is a long hike from the North Rim looking at your feet and not actually seeing the very place you are hiking to see (this means no Ribbon Falls, no Cottonwood Camp and really no time to just stop and look).  If you want to stay on the South RIm trails, the mules cannot stop and drop off your gear half way.  You are committed to hiking from bottom to top in one day instead of having the flexibility of breaking the hike over two days and, again, getting to see more.  Our motto - DO MORE, SEE MORE!

4.  We don't believe in limitations.  If you are able to hike without a full backpack, you are able to hike with one (barring any medical reason that is).  Why limit yourself with what you think you can do and just take that one extra step and open up a whole world of FUN!  It just takes a bit of extra training, bit it  will be worth the effort.  

5.  We specialize in backpacking and the harder adventure (rock climbing as well).  We are not trying to be the company for everyone, which means we are giving our guests the best backpacking trip to Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Olympic, ect. because that is what we do.  You wouldn't want your bank teller giving you advice on investments right?  Yes, a teller has a job dealing with money but they don't have the expertise on what stocks your should buy.  Well, you also don't want a company used to handling lodge-based, mule supported, civilization trips organizing your middle of nowhere backpacking in the great outdoors trip either.

6.  I may have eluded to this a few places but - FEWER PEOPLE!  Where there are pack animals, there are more people.  Carry the gear yourself and you can go as far as your feet can take you, including away from everyone else.  Which is why we venture into the great outdoors in the first place isn't it?

Our Yosemite Ghost Story

October 31st, 2013

As I was struggling to find something to write about this Halloween - not that there are so few ghost stories out there to rehash - but that is the problem, they are rehashed.  Then I remembered an incident that may not been a ghostly encounter, but was strange none the less and I suppose depends on how your mind interprets strange and unusual events - and of course how well you can tell the story and embellish upon the events that did occur.  So here goes.

In mid-November 2011, Ray and I visited Yosemite for a nice, post tourist season trip.  We stayed at the Wawona Hotel, which is in the southern portion of the park and has some pretty interesting history in its own right.  Built it 1876 to serve tourists in the area, the Wawona Hotel is one of the oldest in California. It has its own haunting, Victorian charm that I am sure has its own ghosts.  But that is not where the story starts.

November in the High Sierra sees dusk at around 5:30pm, and you are pretty much guaranteed a nightly fog that creeps in just as the sun sets below the horizon, which makes for a perfect setting for any ghost story as rumor does have it that the hotel and the Loop trail near the hotel is haunted.

The second afternoon/evening of our stay, we decided to hike around Mariposa Grove.  During the tourist season, this area is closed off to traffic and is only accessible by park shuttle.  But this time of year you cna drive yourself in and park.  Mariposa Grove is home to one of the biggest stands of Sequoias in Yosemite National Park and home to the famous Tunnel Tree which is no longer standing but still a must see.  As we were reaching the top of the trail to see the fallen Tunnel Tree, the fog was setting in for the night and the area was virtually empty of all hikers.  Not 200 ft from reaching our destination, we were approached by a hiker that said he was lost, which was strange since the trails in the area are well marked and there is even a paved road just where we met up with this hiker.  He appeared truly panicked and said he has been trying to make his way back to the parking lot where his family was waiting for him for the last hour and couldn't find his way.  We found strange since there were several people that he would have been able to get directions from an hour before finding us.

We said we were just going to head up to the tunnel tree and we would meet him by the sign just off the trail.  He seemed relieved and agreed.  We were maybe gone not more than 10 minutes when we returned to where we left the hiker and he was gone.  We didn't find this too out of the ordinary since we figured he met up with another hiker.  But by this time there were no other hikers around, none that we saw in the vicinity, and mind you we were hiking late so likely there was no one else around that far into the park.  

We headed back to our car and asked anyone we passed (which was maybe five people total) if they knew of this lost hiker or anyone meeting his description.  No one had any recollection and based on our speed, figured we would have passed him on the trail.  Once we arrived to the parking lot, there were only a few cars left, probably belonging to those we passed.  But there was no family waiting and no one that seemed concerned they were missing anyone and there were no people in the parking lot - period.

At the time, we really thought nothing of it, but that is where ghost stories are made - in the imagination of those who experience something a bit off and then have time to start trying to figure out if that was normal or just plain weird.  So we decided that this was just weird and that we encountered our own Yosemite ghost.  Are there logical explanations to what happened?  Of course.  And is it possble that this hiker found another hiker to follow in 10 minute when no one else was around, at dusk, with 2 miles of hiking to go, with no lighting and be able to beat us to the parking lot and not even see him with his family as they are preparing to depart? It just seems like a lot to accomplish based on our extensive hiking experience.  But regardless of what the reality is, part of the fun of experiencing something just a bit "off" is the way our minds do come up with the possible and the improbable.

Grand Canyon removing grass that attracts elk which attracts tourists.

September 22nd, 2013

Grand Canyon South Rim grass removalI can be at Grand Canyon South Rim not more than 5 minutes before seeing a tourist come dangerously close to the area wildlife - dangerous both for the wildlife and the tourist.  Typically it is the tourist with a camera that has just spotted a bull elk and the only way to get the perfect shot is to get within inches of its 10 point rack.  It only takes common sense to know that a 1,200 lb animal could do some serious damage if you get too close; however, that ability tends to be absent when one finds thelself in a place called a "park."  The image of amusement park seems to enter the minds of many visitors.

To save tourists from themselves and of course protect the wildlife, Grand Canyon National Park Service will be removing all the lawns that surround the hotels along the South Rim.  These lawns are found around El Tovar, Kachina and Thunderbird hotels and attract grazing elk looking for an easy food and water source every season.  Elk grazing on the rim just outside the hotels where thousands of tourists flock daily is a distaster waiting to happen - so kudos to Grand Canyon officials for taking a step to improving visitor experience and widlife well-being.  Oh, and not to mention that grass lawns are not exactly indigenous to the area, so a bit of effort to restore the area back to its natural state is a fantastic idea.

 

Let’s go Rock Climbing in Joshua Tree National Park!

September 19th, 2013

Anyone who lives for adventure knows you have to change it up a bit.  Yes, backpacking and hiking offer some great experiences and challenges, but why use only two limbs when you have four?  You can explore so many more places if your are willing to get your hands dirty...and set aside that fear of heights for the day!  And that is why Just Roughin' It wants to take you rock climbing!

Starting November 15th, JRI will be offering private 1/2, 3/4 and full day top-rope and single pitch rock climbing trips at Joshua Tree National Park.  This is the perfect destination for the Fall through Spring months and we are getting our first year started right at one of the busiest months of the year.  So while we debut the 15th, you will want to book your trip well before as dates will fill up fast. 

We are still getting the website set up with all our rock climbing information and online booking, but the news is just too good to wait.  So, until then, give us a call (877-399-2477) or contact us via email (info@justroughinit.com) or via the "Contact Us" link on the website and we will get you set up for a rockin' good time.  Yes, that is major cheese but if you know anything about Joshua Tree's roll in rock music history, it sounds less ridiculous - Okay, maybe not.  But that is for another time and another post - I am supposed to be selling trips here.

 

Pricing

1/2 Day - $210 for the 1st person, $50 for each additional person, up to 5 people total.
3/4 Day - $280 for the 1st person, $50 for each additional person, up to 5 people total.
Full Day - $340 for 1st person, $50 for each additional person, up to 5 people total.

Prices include all rock climbing gear, climbing shoes, helmets, snacks, water and a nationally accredited, certified guide.  Climbing locations are determined based on guest climbing experience, the guide's assessment of the group and locations that are not too crowded - we want to make sure it is a good experience but not one shared with every other climber in the park.  Not to worry, there are endless numbers of rocks to climb. For groups larger than 5, contact us for pricing.

My 4 Days in the Grand Canyon

August 12th, 2013

Here it is, the second installment of "My Grand Canyon Hike" - the sentiment, the challenge, and the awe of the canyon - as experienced by our guests and in their own words. This was shared by our recent guest Lydia K., who writes a blog called the "The Literary Lollipop" - guilt free adventures in reading, writing, and original fiction. Check out the original blog here, and while you're there, spend a few minutes with one of her short stories - well worth it.  This is a great piece that outlines almost to a T what our Rim to Rim backpackers experience. And kudos to you, Lydia, August is a hot hot time to tackle the canyon - and you did it without even a whisper of a complaint about the heat. Whatta gal. Thank you again for the share Lydia, and we hope to have you back again soon - after all, our Rim to Rim hike only covers 23 of the over 400 miles of trails in Grand Canyon. Not to belittle your accomplishment in the least, just saying- if you're interested in joining us again there is a whole lot more to see. Hint, hint, nudge, nudge, wink wink. 

"After nearly five years of wishing, I finally made it to the Grand Canyon. At 4:30 am on August 2, I stood outside my airport hotel and waited for the vehicle that would take me, and three other hikers, to the North Rim. Still being stuck on Eastern Standard Time, waking up that early was oddly easy, so I was alert enough to feel the excitement churning in my belly, and the tension in my shoulders. This is it. Rim to Rim carrying a 30lb pack. For a moment, I considered bringing a book to read, but the thought of adding to my pack weight was enough to dismiss the idea.

Armed with two knowledgeable guides from Just Roughin' It, we drove through the winding roads for several hours, ascending rapidly, until we arrived at the gate. We packed our bags, became acquainted with our fellow hikers, assessed what should or should not be brought, had one last meal, and then set out. I'm not gonna lie; the first two miles were stinky. Plenty o' mules! The stench was enough to clear your sinuses. However, once we passed the mule rest station, it was nothing but smooth sailing - downhill sailing. Oh, and did I mention the cliffs? Yeah, some of the the paths had nothing but a sheer 3,000 foot drop to the left. So I stayed on the right side, taking steps with shaking legs. Suddenly, my sore calves and quads didn't matter anymore. All I can say is thank you for hiking poles!! They kept me balanced and sturdy.

At the end of day one, we reached Cottonwood Campground, where most of us were tto exhausted to enjoy the beautiful stars until the following morning. Instead, we ate, blew up our mattresses, set up our tent and then hit the hay. (Indeed the stars were beautiful, like a planetarium. You could practically touch them and - what the hell? - put one in your pocket.) And I can't forget the food. Holy guacamole, the food completely surpassed my expectations: quinoa and dried fruit for breakfast, chicken and soba noodles for dinner, turkey jerky, chicken sandwiches with nuts and cranberries, and a southwest pasta dish. Totally yummy! Not your typical camping fare.

Day two started with a loverly visit to Ribbon Falls, and progressed until we reached Phantom Ranch Campground, where we discovered...flushable toilets! Praise the gods of plumbing. No showers, but faucets and sinks where we could wash our faces. At this point, we'd starting joking about how grimy we felt, but proudly wore our dirt like badges of honour. I also took every opportunity available to soak my feet and calves, or dunk my whole head, in the creek. Phantom Ranch even had a canteen where you could get a glass of lemonade, sit in air conditioning, and send a postcard to family, stamped with the phrase "Mailed by Mule from the Bottom of the Grand Canyon."

Day three was a short 4-ish mile trek across Colorado River to Indian Garden, where we actually had some leisure time to read. The campground even had a library! I skimmed a few short stories, but eventually nodded off on the picnic table. Later in the evening, we hiked out to Plateau Point to watch the sunset. Finally, I figured out a function on my camera that worked properly!

And last but not least, day four: nothing but an uphill trek to the South Rim. We took many breaks, but paced ourselves well. Our fearless leaders timed each rest with perfection, where we had a chance to chow down a bag of skittles or animal crackers, refill our water bottles and catch our breath. When we reached the top, about an hour ahead of schedule, the exhilaration was palpable. We congratulated one another, and applauded other hikers we'd met along the trail. Everyone was exceptionally happy and proud. The camaraderie and rapport of our group was absolutely awesome! To celebrate, we had a fantastic brunch, toasted our accomplishments, bought a few souvenirs, and then drove back to our hotels. I have never been so excited to see a bottle of shampoo. My hair had turned into a very unappealing helmet of grease, hence the ever-present baseball camp. (And, for the first time in my life, I ordered room services, because I was too frickin' frackin' tired to sit in the restaurant!)

What an amazing opporutnity, a privilege!"

 

 

 

 

Them Pesky Yosemite Bears!

July 29th, 2013

Black Bears in Yosemite National parkWe received a call a couple weeks back from one of our guides informing us that they shared their last day's food with a group of other people on the trail.  Well, since we only provide enough food for the guide and our guests, we had to inquire.  Well apparently these campers had their bear canister of food stolen by a black bear where it was thus lofted over the side of the cliff into the abyss below.  This took place on the last night of our Yosemite Falls/Snow Creek trip and occurred near the foot bridge by the camp area.  Upon discussing with the rangers, this is not an isolated event.  This bear is now on the Yosemite most wanted list as it has been partaking in such criminal behavior for a while.  As of July 5th, there have been 13 incidents reported where a bear at the top of Snow Creek  near the footbridge has been roling bear canisters away from campsites and throwing them over the cliff.   Of these conisters, 9 were park issued and 4 were personal.  The assumption is to break open the bin like a sea gull does a clam shell but couldn't really say.  I haven't been channelling my inner bear recently.

The park is now asking all backpackers to not camp at or near the Snow Creek footbridge, and if possible to hike via a different trailhead and not use the Snow Creek trail at all, until they can get the bear under control.  Yosemite does have its share of bear problems as they do visit the Valley quite often and will peel the door of your car like a banana for that one bottle you left in the cup holder.  However, the park can take blame for some of the problem.  Until the 1950's, Yosemite had a ranger led feed the bears program, which didn't do well for future generations of bears that are now looking for handouts - and visitors do obligue (whether they are willing or not).  So as a reminder, please store all food in a park approved bear canister or locker - do not leave ANYTHING with scent in ANYTHING you want to keep intact.  Besides, we don't want bears eating items other than twigs and berries (and if you are alluding that I mean something else, you are so wrong).  Bears will go after anything that smells good and that includes but now limited to; deodorants, fruit lip balm, lotions, scented wipes. etc.  This isn't food to us (unless a bear stole your food), but it is as far as a bear is concerned.  

And finally, if you do encounter a bear in a highly people populated area, please contact the park so they can hopefully remove the bear to a place safer for it.  You want to see a bear in the wilderness being a bear, not in an area with numerous people being Yogi Bear!  For more information about Yosmite and bears, click here.

 

Big Agnes Zipperless Tents - Yay!

July 26th, 2013

Big Agnes, producer of some of the best backpacking tents, sleeping bags and mats - in my not-so-humble opinion, has now introduced the zipperless tent.  I cannot be more excited about this news as one of the most common equipment fails is the tent zipper.  Get a tent zipper near a novice camper who doesn't know how to carefully open and close a zipper by using the provided zipper pull, or foregoes the zipper pull all together and just pulls the tent door open, you are bound to have a door that will no longer stay closed.  Or, in conditions like those in the desert, where it is dry and dusty, a few days of dust particles in the zipper teeth and you will have some zipper issues.  But this is no more!  And Just Roughin' It was priviledged enough to help Big Agnes test their prototypes and help with the overall product, so we feel we made a small contribution to this giant step forward in backpacking tent-dom.

So now, as our current stash of tent zippers breakdown, we will be replacing them with the new Fish Hook zipperless tents!  No more sending out for repairs, no more people duct taping doors closed and no more having to instruct on the proper way to open and close the zipper on a huge piece of mesh that was never probably meant to have a 4 foot long zipper attached anyway.  I have yet to come across mesh clothing with THAT long of a zipper!  And as an added bonus - they are much lighter than our standard bullet proof outfitter tents by about 4 lbs.  So check out the video - click here  -  so you can see how they work as I am sure you are thinking "So if no zipper, how do they keep the bugs, snakes and bears out?" Do also take note of the awards they won for the Fish Hook UL.  Only the best for our guests!

 

Rogue Guides Leading Trips at Grand Canyon - and Getting BUSTED!

June 27th, 2013

I came across an article in the Phoenix New Times this morning that absolutley made my day!  A "guide company" was busted for leading Rim to Rim trips in one day for a fee, which is a no-no at Grand Canyon or any National Park, Forest Service, BLM, and other federal, state and city managed lands.  As owner of a guide service, we go through great lengths to get the proper authorizations, insurances, certifications, etc in order to guide for a fee and nothing burns me more than seeing "companies" take your hard earned money to do something illegal and unsafe.  And there is little that pleases me more than to see them get caught.  This is not uncommon as the park service is limited in staff and it can be difficult to tell a private group from a guided group - unless all 90 people are wearing matching t-shirts!

So here it is in highlight form - click here for the full article.

Duane Hager and Michael Stephens were the principles for Rim to Rim Adventures - link to their website.

Rim  to Rim Adventures leads day Rim to Rim hikes at Grand Canyon for $175 per person which includes transportation but no gear or food.

Rim to Rim Adventures has no required Commercial Use Authorization (CUA) to lead trips in Grand Canyon National Park - and likely no required certifications such as Wilderness First Responder.

Even if Rim to Rim Adventures had a CUA, they would not be allowed to lead Rim to Rim trips in one day as that is a violation of the CUA. Additionally, 90 people is also not allowed (talk about ruining the quiet of the outdoors we all so love).  A CUA is limited to 11 people with 2 guides - no more in one group at one time.

On June 1st, 2013, twenty of the ninety people with matching shirts are seen by Ranger Della (hi Della!) and asked if they are a guided group - yes says one customer, no says the owner - we are all friends and friends of friends - yes says owner's wife following with "should I have told you that?"  Obviously the owner knew a CUA was required and knew a Rim to Rim when making an over $10,000 gross is illegal.

I am unsure how the trip ended for these 90 unsuspecting people but based on Rim to Rim Adventure's Facebook page, no one seemed the wiser that the owners were about to be slapped with 4 counts changed by the Federal District Court of defrauding the federal government, lying to park rangers and failing to obtain a commercial use permit.  And beware, these guys were planning on taking people up Half Dome in Yosemite, Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Humphrey's Peak in Flagstaff, AZ.  All these locations require CUAs or something similar and some don't allow CUAs period (Coconino National Forest where Humphrey's Peak is located will not allow ANY commercial doings in that area - period).  I truly doubt they have the required authorizations for these locations as well and hope these parks have all been made aware of said future plans.

So how do you know if the guide company you are paying your hard earned money is authorized to lead in the area?  Contact the park service, forest service, BLM or any of the managing bodies of the area in which you are about to venture.  They will be able to tell you if the company is authorized.  Even easier is to ask the company itself.  Most people will be stunned at the question and stammer while answering - but that depends on how good they are at swindling.

Where are they now?  There is still a facebook page - click here - and the website is now just live with the logo.  As and if details come available, I will be certain to update y'all.

 

 

In the Backcountry? Don’t Expect to be Reachable in Case of Emergencies!

May 6th, 2013

I am writting this entry to address a commonly sighted concern that our guests have. I have a smartphone, facebook, twitter and linked-in accounts, a reader and a tablet, a laptop and a desktop, I use skype and Facetime, am a blogger, play on-line games, am addicted to youtube, and have 3 different email accounts - I like technology as much as the next guy. But as soon as I step foot into the backcountry, I'm prepared to pocket all my gadgets and loose myself (figuratively) in nature. Pirates could take over New Orleans, zombies could gobble up the Dallas Cowboy's cheerleaders, Lindsay Lohan could achieve 2 weeks of sobrierty, or America could switch over to the metric system and I would blissfully be none the wiser. Now, by that same token I would also be unaware if my mema passed away, one of my dogs was lost, a pipeline broke in my basement, or if my nephew was running a fever.  Remember, there was a time not too long ago that you could only get a call from a phone attached to a wall and there was no instant messaging.  Believe it or not, we all survived an era that was practically medievel.  And, if you were a teenager during that time, you probably were thankful that your parents couldn't be involved in your every move.  We were also less stressed, had better mental health and had what we used to call "me" time.  People were venturing out in the backcountry without phones, emergency communicators, etc. and they lived to tell the story.

People always ask me the same question though, "what number can I provide my family as an emergency contact while I am on the tour?" Uh, 911? While a lot of our guests are first-time backpackers and we love showing the green horns how enjoyable temporary primitive living can be, one thing people have a hard time understanding is that backcountry procedures are very different from frontcountry, mainly that you are no longer a phone call, text, tweet or poke away from instant communication. There are no cell phone towers in the wilderness, folks - and yes, Yosemite and Grand Canyon, while popular and busy, are the wilderness.  Yes, you may get some spotty covereage depending upon your phone carrier, but I would never assume you will have means of communication - not to mention a way to charge these devices.  My advice in this situation is that the best defense is a good offense.  

If you are worried that your kids may need to reach you, or that work may need you, or that your brother's wife might go into labor- don't expect to be reachable. Expect to be unavailable for the duration of the tour. If there may be something you need to be home for - stay home. It is important to remember that these are group tours and just because you have something to attend to back at home, doesn't make it fair to derail the trip for the whole group. Not to mention that we simply can't let you leave the group or change the itinerary for reasons too numerous to mention here (and I can guarantee this is the case for any guided trip you may go on with most any company). So, the short of the long answer here is that there is no way for your family to contact you while you are in the backcountry. I suggest you have a well conceived plan in place, one that does not involve you, for those three to seven days that you will be on the tour with us. This is a vacation after all, right? 

First Lesson at Indian School

April 29th, 2013

A Child of the Navajo Nation, c. 1950

Becasue she is scared and she is lonelier
Thank she has ever benn,
Who has never in her six years been loenly before,

Because she is so unaware of what loneliness can be
That she is soley directed at what she cannot name,
Directed perfectly in her bone-white fear,

She is the deer mouse who has seen the shadow of the owl in moonlight
And knows nothing of the owl,
Only the shadow, of which the mouse also knows nothing,

Only the single perfect fear, the second of perfect mouseness.
She utters a mere sound, languageless,
Which the teacher takes to be a noise in the girl's native Dine.

The teacher removed from her blouse pocket a small pair
Of classroom scissors, reaches out to the terror of the little girl.
The talons of scissors, the owl beak, snaps,

Clips a few wet eyelashes,
The girl and the mouse silently eaten.
In a week, the wind through the classroom door nudges mouse hair,

All that is left of the children,
And the teacher:
The small of degesting fear.

 - Richard Sederstrom from Disordinary Light
 

Yes, you should tip your guide!

April 4th, 2013

If you are a regular reader of the Just Roughin' It blog, this will seem familiar, (click here to read the first installment - Tipping Etiquette for Tour Guides ) we just feel it necessary to update everyone on gratuity, especially as adventure travel is becoming more and more popular.  It also helps to remind potential adventure travelers of the additional expenses you might not be considering when budgeting travel.

It is standard practice to tip servers in restaurants in the United States - unless the service is poor.  Most people budget the gratuity in when planning on where they will eat.  Backpacking, hiking, kayaking, ziplining, skydiving, and all other guides in the adventure travel industry also work for tips.  Additionally, they are skilled professionals that do much more than just point you in the right direction.  Guides have to keep certifications up to date which requires continuous training and education.  Many guides, you may notice that 90% of Just Roughin' It's guides have college degrees so they have a great deal of money and time invested in their careers and their futures as a guide or just as a participant in the American dream.  Guides are guides because they love their jobs, not for the millions they take in per year.

Depending on your type of trip, guides are in a multi-faceted roll.  For example, a backpacking guide does more than just lead guests on a trail.  They educate their guests about the area, be it flora, fauna, geology, history, hiking ettiquette, etc.  They also cook, drive, ensure guest safety, entertain, coach, manage crises, think on the fly, encourage, adminster first aid, cheer, befriend, talk, listen, manage time, council and sometimes even provide a shoulder to cry on.  You name it, guides have been through it.  Tipping them ensures good service not only for you, but for all the guests that come after.

The average tip amount for an adventure travel guide is between 10% and 20% of the tour cost per person.  For example, if your trip cost is $1000 per person and there are 3 people in your group, the tip would range from $100 to $200 per person or a total of $300 to $600 depending on the level of service provided by your guide.  This includes family members, so if you have dependents on the hike, the cost of their spot on the trip should also be figured in on the gratuity.  

You might end up on a tour with assistants, for example maybe you have a driver at the beginning and end of the trip (not always the same person).  If that is the case, consider their tip as part of what you would give the guide.  Take the above example of $300-$600 total tip for 3 people.  If there is someone else doing the driving, not the guide, you can figure about 5-10% of the gratuity amount would go to the driver.  So for a 10% tip of $300, $15-$30 would go to the driver(s) and $285 to $270 would now go to your guide.

My Grand Canyon Hike - Hermit Trail

March 28th, 2013

The beauty of the canyon speaks for itself, and we, and our guides, can (and do) talk for hours about the things you will see and experience while on the trail with us, but in the end don't you want to hear it from someone just like you? We thought so. This is the first entry in a new segment called "My Grand Canyon Hike." I wanted to name this segment "From the Horses Mouth" but...I got overruled. Anyway...What follows are the words of JRI guest Jim McConnell - Grandpa Jim.

"A Grand Canyon hike has been on my bucket list ever since I vacationed there as a child. Forty plus years later, and not getting any younger, I finally had my opportunity to experience the GC thanks to JRI. The Hermit trail loop looked inviting to a person my age. Middle of the road difficulty, Oh (you know) factor, a high peaceful and solitude rating and thirty miles sounded perfect for my first adventure. Going by myself and not knowing anyone else on the hike would also add to my excitment level. Even though I thought of myself in pretty good shape, I did have that concern of being the grandpa in the group."Put grandpa up front becuase he's the slowest," kept running through my mind. Well, my hike ended up being one of the most exciting times in my life. Yes, I was the grandpa in the group by over twenty years. Yes, I did lead the group at times, but everyone took turns. The panoramic landscape cannot be matched by pictures or words no matter how vivid the description. Knowing that only a very small number of people visit this region in the way I have is powerful to the soul. The group I was with and got to know over those four days were some of the best people on earth. Everyone pitched in when needed, got along well together and did not bring up politics. All of that, to me, equaled bliss. My group was also fortunate to have not only a well trained guide, but a guide in training. Their knowledge of the canyon was an added bonus to the hike and an unexpected education. I have another hike planned at the end of April with JRI. The difficulty is a bit more, but I think I'll do fine. I know now that the breathtaking views will keep my mind off the sore legs and back. I don't want to forget about the staff that helped in prepping me for this trip. "Five Star Service". I wonder if my hiking group refers to me as grandpa in their stories? To be continued...."

The lower photo is of JRI guide Gavin, who, as Jim says " is explaining how big the canyon is." If you look close you can see Hermit Rapids below him, and further along the trail lies the groups next campsite, Monument. The top photo is a group shot taken from the South Rim. Looks like the whole group has learned how big the canyon is. Special thanks to Jim McConnell for sharing his pictures and experience with us. Jim's next adventure is our Tanner/Grandview adventure and we can't wait to hear about his experiences on his second Just Roughin' It Grand Canyon tour. We would love to see pictures from your JRI tour and hear about your experience too. Email Keri (keri@justroughinit.com) with your story.

 

Spring in Phoenix Brings Out the Butterflies!

March 19th, 2013

Spring is here (and it has been for at least a month now in Phoenix) and with it come the wildflowers and the butterflies.  Arizona is a seasonal home to over 250 species of butterfly and wild all the wildflowers are blooming in the Sonoran Desert, Spring is a great time to see them.  Swallowtails, Whites, Sulfers, Blues, Hairstreaks, Metalmarks, Brushfoots, Skippers and Snouts are of the most popular butterflies pollinating the flowers in the state.  A butterfly aficionado would have no trouble spotting and identifying numerous butterflies in the wild (or their own backyard - but some of us need a bit more help in this arean becasue thinking they are pretty only gets you so far).  No worries, help has arrived!

From now until May 12th, the Desert Botantical Garrden in Phoenix has Spring Butterfly Exhibit where you can walk amongst the butterflies.  Wear light colored clothing with colors of their favorite flowers and you will likely become close friends with some of our most favorite fluttering insects.

Opening in May of this year is America's largest butterfly atrium.  Butterfly Wonderland brings to Scottsdale, AZ a highly innovative, indoor rainforest environment featuring the largest butterfly pavilion in North America.  Visitors will embark on a journey through the life of a butterfly as they wander through extraordinaly, educational and interactive exhibits leading up to the opportunity to walk among thousands of buttlerfly species from all over the world.

Does a bear push-brown in the woods?

March 6th, 2013

A while back I wrote a nice little blog about bears' responce to a very feminine concern. This is not that, this one is for you fellas. In case you missed it however, read all about how bears actively search out and eat menstruating women (just kidding). A recent issue of Backpacker Magazine ran a story called Special Report! The Truth About Bears! And I thought, Yes! Fianlly, someone is going to give a definitive answer to the age old question: do bears drop-it-like-its-hot in the woods? You know, make fudgies, dooty, pinch a loaf, back-the-big-brown-Cadillac-out-of-the-garage. To my dissapointment, this was not that. Backpacker didn't even thouch on that, but they did cover a few other bear related myths and facts and I thought in that spirit I would share a little bear knowledge. So here we go, 4 myths and 4 facts about bears to englighten and dazzle you -and maybe make you giggle. 

Myth # 1- Bears are afraid of fire. There are too many first-hand accounts from campers who have seen bears pull leftovers out of camp fires to lend any credence to this theory.

Myth # 2- A bear on it's hind legs is about to charge. While this isn't a sign of aggression, a bear standing up (the better to see you with, my dear) is probably just trying to get a better look at what, or who, wandered into his camp. Don't let this spook you into immediately and frantically running off, or up a tree, lest he becomes tempeted to give chase. (Did we order this dinner to go? Because there it goes!)

Myth # 3- Bears cannot run downhill. I wouldn't bet your life on this one, pal. Some bears have been known to run up to 30 mph, despite the slope of the terrain.

Myth # 4- Care Bears are not the creepies cartoons ever. Think again. I have it on good authority that Care Bears are, in fact, not bears, they do not care, and are actually bio-engineered in  a genetics lab in Cherynobyl.

Fact # 1- Bear popululations in the lower 48 are increasing. Because bears are highly adaptive and thanks to careful mangement by advocacy groups they have been succesful where other populations have not in today's changing habitats.

Fact # 2- There is such a thing as a Pizzly bear: a hybrid polar-grizzly species that has been around (and born in the wild!) since 2006. The Pizzly's likely habitats are those locales which overlap both the Grizzly and the Polar Bear's natural territory: sea ice, coastline, and tundra.

Fact # 3- The Koala Bear is not in fact a bear, but an arboreal marsupial - a pouched mammal. Lets all say "awwwwww" for the Koala not-a-bear. 

Fact # 4- Bears do, in fact, fire-rear-thrusters in the woods. You know, frog-a-log, empty-the-manure-spread, lay-bricks, trash-the-hash. Apparently Big Foot doesn't, but bears sure as shoots do! This leaves me with one serious question. If black bears and grizzly bears squat-and-push in the woods (you know, sit-on-the-throne, recycle-some-cellulose), where do Polar Bears make-the-donuts? You kow, hit-the-can, grow-a-tail, fill-the-pot?

Have a nice day.

 

Grand Canyon National Park 94 Years Strong

February 25th, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park celebrates its 94th BirthdayToday, February 26th, Grand Canyon National Park will celebrate the anniversary of its designation as a national park 94 years to the day after An Act to Establish the Grand Canyon National Park in the State of Arizona was signed into law.

"Protection of this spectacular landscape actually started long before Grand Canyon became a national park," said Grand Canyon Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.  "People started trying to protect the canyon as early as the 1880s; and its first official protection and recognition came in the 1890s when it was set aside as a national forest reserve by President Benjamin Harrison."

Harrison wasn't the only President to take an interest in the canyon's protection.  In the early 1900s, after saying of the canyon, "Leave it as it is.  You cannot improve on it.  The ages have been at work on it and man can only mar it...," President Theodore Roosevelt proclaimed Grand Canyon a national game reserve.  Two years later, after passage of the Antiquities Act, he established it as Grand Canyon National Monument.  Arizona achieved statehood four years later in 1912, just seven years before Grand Canyon was designated a national park in 1919.

"On February 26, the National Park Service will host the park's 94th birthday with cake and a small ceremony at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center...," continued Uberuaga," ...but it might surprise people to know that for years,  the U.S. Forest Service hosted Grand Canyon's birthday celebrations.  The Forest Service administered Grand Canyon from the time it became a forest reserve until it became a national park.  This place really does have a facinating and sometimes complicated history."

Everyone is invited to join in the park's birthday celebration.  A small ceremony will be held at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center on the South Rim of the canyon at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, February 26.  Birthday cake will be served immediately afterward.  (Cake will also be served at the Verkamp's Visitor Center in Grand Canyon Village.)  Those who plan to attend might want to brush up on their Grand Canyon history, though.

"We'll have a contest of sorts to test people's knowledge of the Grand Canyon and its history," explained Uberuaga.  "I wouldn't be surprosed if it got pretty competitive."

The Grand Canyon is 277 river miles long, averaging 10 miles across, and its walls rise almost a mile above the Colorado River.  Designated a national park on February 26, 1919.  Grand Canyon National Park is now a World Heritage Site, as well.  Visitation to the park in 1919 was just under 38,000 and in 2012 was almost 4.5 million.  Grand Canyon National Park is one of 22 national park units in the state of Arizona which collectively contribute over $700 million in economic benefits to the state.

 

Phoenix Gets Snow and Tucson Reports Blizzard-Like Conditions. Did Hell Freeze Over?

February 21st, 2013

A rare event occurred in Phoenix, Arizona yesterday when Mother Nature dropped the white stuff (snow, not "snow") on many parts of the Valley of the Sun. Actually, much of what was thought to be snow was actually what the weather experts call graupel as reported by KPHO Channel 5 News, but it's all snow to those of us desert rats who rarely see anything cold and icy falling from the desert sky.  A small area of Phoenix saw this natural phenomenon as it covered streets, sidewalks and ball fields while other parts of the metro area did see snow.  Cities north and east of Phoenix, such as Mesa and Scottsdale are several hundred feet higher in elevation in some areas and did see snow dust yards and pool decks.  The McDowell Mountains were dusted and the Superstition Mountiains received a nice covering - several inches - blanketing much of the entire range.  The towns of Cave Creek and Apache Junction also found themselves under veil of white.

Tucson, Arizona, south of the valley, reported blizzard-like conditions in the foothils of the Santa Catalinas, where some reported 2 inches of snow.  The higher elevations such as Mount Lemmon reported 9-inches.  Even Tucson reported 0.1 inches (Okay, not much if you're from Minnesota, but it is the lack of snow that brings the winter visitors here). While this is not as rare for Tucson in the northern foothills, it still is not what visitors expect.  In fact, most firt-time visitors are surprised to see that the Sonoran Desert looks nothing like the Sahara and that there is plant-life here.  Oh, not to metion that there are mountains throughout the entire state. 

However, if you are a golf fan, snow is not a welcome sight.  The WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship had to take a snow day for several hours before any of the 64 players could finish their match.

And, these wintery conditions did not occur in the early morning or nighttime hours, but middle of the day - making the occasion even more spectacular.

For Presidents’ Day - some environmental presidential quotes

February 18th, 2013

"If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something mare than the miracle of technology.  We must leave them a glimpse of the workd as it was in the beginning, not just after we get through with it." - Lyndon B. Johnson upon signing the Wilderness Act of 1964

"There is a delight in the hardy life of the open.  There are no words that can tell the hidden spirit of the weilderness that can reveal its mystery, its melancholy and its charm.  The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.  Conservation means development as much as it does protection." - Theodore Roosevelt

"There is nothing so American as our national parks...The fundamental idea behind the parks...is that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us." - Franklin D. Roosevelt

"National parks and reserves are an integral aspect of intelligent use of natural resources.  It is the course of wisdom to set aside an ample portion of our natural resources as national parks and reserves, thus ensuring that furture generations mayt know the majesty of the earth as we know it today." - John F. Kennedy

"The land, the earth God gave to man for his home...should never be the possession of any man, corporation, (or) society...any more than air or water." - Abraham Lincoln

 

This Valentine’s Day, Tell Your Loved One to Take a Hike!

February 14th, 2013

It's Valentine's Day and while we are showering our loved ones (and ourselves) with chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate, take a different route and do something healthy for your body and mind and get outside for a few days and backpack!  While it is cold in most of the Western Hemisphere, there are plenty of places in the Southwestern US and south of the border perfect to get out.  Take a backpacking trip in Grand Canyon, Superstition Mountains, Death Valley - there are too many to mention. 

So, what is in it for you? The average backpacker burns over 4,000 caleries per day - of course you do need to eat, so don't expect to drop 20 pounds in a weekend!  But it's not all about how it makes us look, but how it makes us feel.  Backpacking helps reduce heart disease, strokes, reduces body fat and increases muscle mass, strength and energy.   It is also a weight bearing exercise which helps prevent osteoporosis - helps your bones!  But you can get this by exercising anywhere, right?  Tis true but the big benefit comes from getting outside and off the grid for a while.  In 2011, American Scientist published further evidence that spending time in the natural world benefits human health.  If you are interested, read the article, but if you have spend any amount of time in the wilderness whether a day of hiking, car camping (in tents, not the RV), or backpacking for a few days, you have felt the benefits - inner calm and peace, relaxed nature and a clearer head.  And if you take a hike that really challenges you physically, you gain a great sense of accomplishment.  Hiking as a couple?  Work on some cooperation skills. Oh, and the wilderness means off the grid so leave the electronics at home and refine those map reading skills.

Don't have a siginificant other to share an outdoor adventure with?  So what!  Valentine's Day isn't just about loving others, but loving yourself.  Or, taking that special pet in your life on a nice long outing.

So do yourself and your loved ones a favor and go take a hike!

 

Saguaro Cactus in Superstition Mountains East of Phoenix Tells Hikers it’s OKAY!

February 13th, 2013

Saguaro Cactus Superstition Mountains Phoenix, Arizona - Just Roughin' It

Mine in Phoenix for the Day - Four Peaks Amethyst

February 12th, 2013

Phoenix area mining - Four PeaksAt 7.657 ft in elevation, Four Peaks  is a prominent landmark northeast of Phoenix and part of the Mazatzal Mountains in Tonto National Forest.  While hiking opportunties in the area are great - and every winter you will see some snow capped peaks - yes in Phoenix, the peaks are also home to the Four Peaks Amethyst Mine. I have posted about the mine before and you can read again about my family ties to the mine in case you forgot - there is a quiz later.

The current owners and Sami Fine Jewelry are offering mining tours every April and October for would-be-prospectors to take a helicopter to the mine (that is the only way to transport the ore, except by mule), meet the miners and hammer and chisel and the beautiful light purple rocks.  Yes, you get to take home what you mined (or at least some of it).  The cost for this excursion is $395 per person and spaces are limited.  The mine is also accessible by foot but the area is private and unless you want to get shot for trespassing (this is AZ you know), I would take the tour.

480-837-8168, amethystminetour.com.

Need Another Reason to HIke in Arizona?

February 7th, 2013

With hiking opportunities year-round in Arizona - Sonoran Desert in Spring, Fall and Winter, Grand Canyon all year round and the high country pine forests of the Coconino Plateau or the Mogollon Rim in the Summer, beautiful scenery, amazing wildflowers, wildlife and overall solitude and quiet, what more reason do you need?

Superstition Mountains Phoenix Hiking

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Okay...forgot about personal fullfillment.

 

Courtesy of Arizona Highways.

 

Trying to Sleep in the Wilderness with Sleep Apnea

February 1st, 2013

On some occasions, we have people contact us that would like to go on a Grand Canyon backpacking trip but would need to have an outlet to use their CPAP machine.  Unfortunately (or fortunately), finding electricity in the backcountry of Yosemite or Grand Canyon proves to be a challenge unless you are hiking with your trusty lightning rod.  But this doesn't mean you cannot get out of civilization and enjoy the great outdoors days on end.  While there are a few possible solutions to help encourage a restful night, these recommendations will not work for everyone and please consult your doctor before heading into the wilderness for multiple days if any medical condition hinders your enjoyment or health.

Sleep on your side - This will help keep your tongue from blocking your airway as it rest during sleep.  To avoid rolling back over, place clothing,  your backpack, a nice boulder or a large forest critter behind you.

Avoid alcohol and other depressents - Pretty sure explanation is not required but depressents do relax you, and your tongue. Haven't we all said things we regret when drinking?

Sleep on an incline with your head up hill - Steeper angles will lessen gravity's pull on your tongue.  Sleeping on an incline with your head down hill just makes no sense anyway.

Use breathing appliances - Breath Right nasal strips or a mouthguard type device such as Zyppah help to keep your airway clear.  

Use a portable/battery operated CPAP machine - Some sufferers of Sleep Apnea have no choice but to use a CPAP.  There are battery operated machines out there that can be taken into the back country.  This will add to the weight you are carrying, but for many, this could be well worth it.  

Do try these items or any of these suggestions at home first before trying them out on the trail.

 

Backcountry bed bugs- Am I safe?

January 2nd, 2013

I'll admit it. I jump back and prance in circles on tiptoes, squaling and gestering "eew, eww, eww" whenever I see a cricket. They freak me out. No idea why, but I hate those suckers. I think it is because they jump so darn far and have untrustworthy eyes. Irrational you say? Probably so, but still, the reaction sounds familiar, doesn't it? You yourself might be guilty of this from time to time. I can almost hear this sort of panic in people's voices when I mention they can keep their packweight down by opting to skip the tent on our backpacking tours. But, they'll protest, will I be safe from rattlesnakes and scorpions?! I want to say "No", and that we will let them know you are coming and to expect a free lunch. But I digress. A healthy respect for these animals is what is needed, not an exagerated and irrational fear. Guilty as I may be of this, I have no idea what crickets are really up to behind those shifty eyes- they may be plotting my very demise! (Or maybe they just want to play a little game of canasta). Should you be worried about finding snakes and scorpions in your backcountry bedding? Nope. What I would, actually, say is that tents give snakes and scorpions a better place to hide.

Lets talk about rattlesnakes and venemous snakes in general. I am not saying you won't see a single Diamondback during your visit to Arizona, or a single Grand Canyon Pink while in the canyon, but the point I want to stress is that the likelihood of encountering one with it's fangs sunk into you is highly unlikely, and has in fact never occured on one of our tours. Fewer than one in every thirty-seven-thousand persons is bit by a venemous snake each year, and only one in every fifty-million will die from said bite. You are actually nine times more likely to die from a lightning strike than to die of a snakebite. Even so, people do get bit, but by far and large it is their own actions or inactions that led to the attack.  

The story of one US medical center paints a pretty clear picture. Eighty-five consecutive snakebites were analyzed at one medical center (location undisclosed) and the attacks were designated to be either legitimate or illegitimate. Less than half of the bites treated were considered legitimate, meaning the subject did not realize the danger until it was too late, or else was attacked in the process of moving away from the danger. This often happens when people enter the snake's habitat without first annoucing their presence. Experts say it is best to tap a stick or pole a few feet ahead of your own feet and to make plenty of noise as you enter an area, to alert to snakes to your presence. Over half the bites the med center treated were considered illegitimate; where the subject knew the danger before hand- keep in mind that captive snakes do account for a large chunk of snakebites. A high percentage of illegitimate bites occured while the subject had an elevated blood-alcohol-level and most bites occured to the hands/fingers. All bites which occured to the legs/ankles were legitmate. So...the most likely group to receive snakebites are males between the age of 19 and 30, who have an elevated BAL and who are handeling or provoking a snake.

It is important to note that not all bites include envenomation and are referred to as "dry bites". While still unpleasant, dry bites do occur often in the wild when a snake chooses to keep its precious venom for actually immobilizing prey, not for warding off hikers who get too close. So, what is the likelihood that a rattler will come into camp, looking for an easy snack? So remote you might as well forget it. You may, however, find yourself in the vicinity of a snake, for instance, when taking a short break and sitting on a boulder. You just might find yourself seated next to a sunning rattler, in which case you should slowly back away and remember that you are a guest in that animal's home and you shouuld always give them the best spots (and look before you sit or step!)

As for scorpions, they too are unlikely to actively attack hikers. Although their presence in warm weather is as ubiquitous as that of the Prickley Pear cactus, which I know for certain causes more damage to campers; scorpions are shy, curious and defensive, and not nearly as bold, malicious, and deadly as Hollywood portrays them to be. In Arizona, a state with a large scorpion population, there hasn't been a death in over 50 years and during a 10-month period (in an area of the southwest larger than just AZ) physicians reported only 1,573 cases of scorpion stings, most of which where treated only with painkillers and ice-packs. Worldwide there are over 1.23 million stings, and that fatality rate is less than 2%- where several of the fatalities can be attributed to the use of homeopathic remedies rather than conventional medicine.

Stings, while uncomfortable and painful for sure, are relatively harmless. More of a nuisance than a danger, the pain is localized and can be likened to that of ant, bee or wasp sting, usually lasting less than a few hours. Only those who suffer an allergic reaction will find themselves in serious danger. If you are allergic to fire ants and or bee stings, chances are you are allergic to scorpion venom as well. Just like snakes, scorpions are likely not to inject venom when they sting, as the venom is  precious in biological terms and can take up to 2 weeks to replenish. That being said, stings are still unpleasant, but there are a few things you can do to reduce your chances of being stung. Scorpions are most active at night, and when night-time lows are above seventy degrees fahrenheit, so do your backcountry hiking in the cooler seasons if you are worried. They generally avoid stinging things that are much bigger than themselves unless they are provoked, or stepped on in bare feet. Because they are shy and curious, they tend to find places to explore and hide- like your shoes or cupboards, so always look before you jam your feet and toes into dark areas. Scorpions are also attracted to areas near water, so if you leave a towel on a rock and take a dip in the river, remember to shake out and visually inspect your towel, lest you press one into bare flesh. One more tip, scorpions glow like alient blood under a black light, so carry a small black light flashlight with you to scan any areas at dark, and be sure to always shake out shoes and bedding.

Still not convinced? That's okay. I still scream like a school girl when a cricket crosses my path. But don't let it hinder your Arizona or Grand Canyon backcountry experience. Turn your fear into healthy respect, and remember you are in their home, not the other way around (unless they really are in your home, in which case call the exterminator). Want to avoid the creepy and the crawly all together? Come with us on a tour of Ostrander Lake in Yosemite or the Enchanted Valley in Olympic and put your fears to rest. You just better not scream and run when you see a bear, best to play dead before you become a snack.

 

Dreaming of a White Christmas in Phoenix, AZ

December 21st, 2012

We are all familiar with Irving Berlin's "White Christmas," regardless of your pension for holidays and what you may celebrate.  It is one of, if not THE, most popular Christmas song played today. It was featured in two Christmas movies - Holiday Inn (where it won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 1942) and White Christmas - both sung by Bing Crosby by the way.  It has been covered by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga.  Oh, and Irving Berlin was Jewish.

The first public appearance of the song was by Bing Crosby on his NBC radio show, The Kraft Music Hall, on Christmas Day, 1941.  By the end of 1942, the song hit the top of the "Your Hit Parade" charts and remained there well into the New Year, 1943, likely due to the imagery of home for the soldiers serving during WWII. The version most often heard today is not the original 1942 recording as the original was damaged due to frequent use, but one Crosby re-recorded in 1947 and then made famous again in 1954 with the film White Christmas, the highest grossing film of that year.

But what does this have to do with Phoenix? Well, it is a well established rumor that Irving Berlin wrote "White Christmas" oin 1940 while sitting poolside at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa - a popular haunt for the Hollywood celebrities of the 40's, 50's and 60's.  Other sources say it was written in La Quinta, CA at the La Quinta Hotel.  Either way, if you have been to Phoenix during the winter and around Christmas, the chances of you lounging poolside in 70 degree F weather, with the sun shining is greatly feasible and a white Christmas is highly unlikely.  In fact, the original had a verse dropped before it was recorded...

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
The orange and palm trees sway.
There's never been such a day,
in Beverly Hills, L.A.
But it's December the twenty-fourth, 
And I am longing to be up North.

Aside from  "Beverly Hills, L.A." in the lyrics, the description is Phoenix.  Besides, how do you insert Phoenix, AZ instead and rhyme? How about...

The sun is shining, the grass is green,
I sit poolside with glee.
With no snow you cannot ski,
In the hot Phoenix, A.Zee. 
But it's December the twenty-fourth
And I am longing to be up North.

Yes, I am now ready for my recording contract!

The Favorite Grand Canyon Hiking Routes

December 6th, 2012

Grand Canyon Tanner Escalante BackpackingBackpacker Magazine released a special issue for January 2013, the 2013 Adventure Guide, and they listed favorite hikes in Grand Canyon National Park, and since we are quite familiar with thse routes, I thought it practical to include our two cents (which isn't really worth much any more, I suppose).

Thankfully, Backpacker didn't include the standard trips - Rim to Rim, South Kaibab/Bright Angel Loop and Indian Garden - in their list.  This would just perpetuate the unfounded perception that just because they are the most popular, they are also the best.  That is far from the truth as Grand Canyon has so much more to offer than the trips that people want to check off their bucket list.  Hiking the canyon should be on the bucket list, not just the Rim to Rim trip.  Actually, gives me an idea for a future post - why is Rim to Rim so popular but not the best.  Another time.  But do bear in mind that I do not recommend any of these trips in the summer as there is little to no water and very little shade to protect you from the day time triple digits.

The best week backpacking trip is the Tanner/Escalante to Grandview route.  This is also a favorite of ours.  This is a hike for he or she looking to spend some time in the canyon, away from the crowds, off the grid and looking for some extra adventure (some hand climbing, exposure and steep slopes can get anyone's adrenaline pumping).  And the views are some of the best in the canyon.  For a glimpse of a 6 day trip, check out the Tanner to Grandview trip we offer.

For a close second to the Tanner route, I would add Thunder River.  This trip can been done in a minumum of five days and gives you the best of the canyon from the North Rim.  The drive is long - a good 7-8 hours from Phoenix so staying the night some place like Jacob Lake is advised, but it is worth the drive - some Teddy Roosevelt history, waterfalls, Colorado River and amzing views make this trip worth a second week long visit to Grand Canyon.

The best weekend trip is the Boucher to Hermit Loop.  The obvious amazing views (this is a given for any Grand Canyon trip so very much a moot point) and definitely a bit of a difficult first couple of days.  I personally would recommend giving yourself more than the suggested 3 days as stated in Backpacker - 4 to 5 is much more doable if you have never hiked Grand Canyon before.  Maybe the experienced canyon hiker would be fine, but hiking in Grand Canyon is a whole different experience due to the very nature of canyon and desert hiking.  Trails are not carved within vegetation and moist soil.  To the inexperienced desert hiker, the terrain can start to look all the same and trails disappear very quickly.

For the less experienced desert hiker in great physical condition, I recommend a 4 Day Hernit to Bright Angel Loop or a 3 Day South Bass trip (so you can still experience the seclusion so many areas the canyon has to offer.

The best day hike is the South Kaibab-Tonto-Bright Angel Trail hike.  This 13.4 mile hike is still for the advanced hiker, but it has you hiking the popuar trails (South Kaibab and Bright Angel), but allows you a taste of privacy and serenity as you hike along the Tonto trail from South Kaibab to Bright Angel.  This hike will not get you to the Colorado River, but you will not care as it offers so much more than just bragging rights that you made it to the river and back - who really cares anyway if you didn't get a chance to trully experience a small piece of all the canyon has to offer.  Not to mention that it is not recommended to hike rim to river to rim in one day anyway.

A less agressive day hike for the less advanced hiker looking to get away is Hermit to Santa Maria Springs or (for the fearless) Dripping Springs.  Both of these hikes start at Hermit's Rest Trailhead.  For more information about these and any other day hikes, consult the Grand Canyon National Park website.

And for any Grand Canyon hike - winter or summer - be sure you have researched and are 100% prepared.

 

Safety Tips for Hiking Grand Canyon in Winter

December 4th, 2012

Grand Canyon Bright Angel trail - Just Roughin' ItWhile most visitors to the Grand Canyon experience its beauty in the Spring, Summer and Fall; Winter is still a great time to visit - mild temperatures in the inner canyon for the Grand Canyon hiker, fewer people and the scenery is still amazing, especially when the rim is dusted with snow.  But winter hiking does have some dangers, many of which are the same year round. So to help you on your hike into the canyon, here are some tips for a safe and enjoyable Grand Canyon hiking trip.

Go on a guided hiking or backpacking tour.  You don't even have to read the rest of this blog if you hire a guide - he or she knows the trails (especially those off the beaten path),  will be sure you are safe, know how to stay safe, be prepared before you even show up,  and even teach you a thing or two about the Canyon's history, flora, fauna and geology.  Most guide services will also supply the gear you need so no worrying about being underprepared or forgetting the essentials.

Research the trail(s) you are looking to hike or backpack.  If you decide against hiring a guide (it is not a requirement), be certain you have done your research first.  There are many trails in the canyon and most have no water, can get very icy in the winter and can also be very difficult to navigate (some trails are very difficult to find and take previous desert hiking experience to follow - washes and trails look much alike and following a wash can get you into trouble very quickly.  Also be certain the trail you choose is within your physical ability.  Remember, unless you are hiking the rim trail, you will be descending below the rim and the hike out is the most difficult for most people.  Go to the NPS.gov website for information about trails, conditions, descritions, etc.  And if you are already at Grand Canyon, visit the rangers at the Backcountry Information Office to be certain you have the most current trail information.

Don't underestimate the Grand Canyon or overestimate your abilities.  Hiking Grand Canyon is like none other in most of the world.  There is a different dynamic in hiking down first, then up.  If your knees and ankles don't feel the strain of constant gravitational pull down the steep trails, you may likely hike too far, forgetting that the hike out is strenous.  Give yourself twice as much time to hike out than it takes to hike in.  If you hike out in is less time than expected - good job! - now take in the sites from the rim and enjoy the rest of your day worry and relatively pain free.  If you are a generally sendentary person, stick with hiking along the rim.

Eat and drink.  Yes it is cooler this time of year, but the desert is very arid and you will lose fluids quickly so be sure to drink water often.  Also, eat!  It is best to replace electrolytes with food (and when hiking you can take plenty of snack breaks) than through electrolyte replacements such as Gu or Gatorade.  Take these items as a quick fix, not as a replacement.

Have a pack to carry your belongings.  You can't carry all you need in pockets and two hands.  Have a pack to carry your food, water, extra clothing, lighting, batteries, camera, sunblock, lip balm, first aid kit, trail map, safety devices such as a mirror or whistle and any other items you might need (better to be overprepared - within reason).  Other items you will need since we are on the topic - sunglasses, trekking poles, hat and proper hiking shoes that fit well and are broken in.  I will redirect you to our post about proper hiking footwear.

Grand Canyon does get winter weather so be prepared for snow and ice on the trails.  There is a misconception that Arizona is all desert.  This is far from the truth.  We get plenty of snow in the higher elevations of the state and that includes Grand Canyon.  By December, expect ice and or snow on the trails (most winters) so be sure you have some kind of over-the-shoe traction device - ice cleats, crampons and YakTrax all work well.  My personal preference is an ice cleat or spike.  Temperatures at the canyon vary greatly throughout the day so while you may be hiking in 50 degrees F and any snow on the trail is melting, the lows will easily reach freezing, changing all that snow to ice.  Traction devices such as YakTrax do not grip the ice and could cause more harm than good.

And since Grand Canyon does have a winter, do be certain to have warm layers.  Bring a hat and a knit cap, gloves, a warm and waterproof outer layer and an extra set of dry clothing just in case you get wet from rain, snow or sweat.  Layers are important since as you hike down, it will get warmer in the inner canyon - a good 20-30 degree F difference.  However, hypothermia can strike even in the desert environment.

Follow trail etiquitte for a safe and fun hike.  Aside from many other hikers, especially on the main trails - South Kaibab and Bright Angel - there are also mules on the trails carrying gear and people.  When you are approached by a mule going up hill or down hill, always move as far off the trail as possible to the inside of the canyon (by the wall of the canyon, not by the exposed area) to allow them to pass.  Failure to move over can put you in a battle between mule and human - mule will win and human will likely be at the bottom of the canyon at record speeds.  If you are unsure, listen to and follow the trail boss for instructions.  When you approach other hikers, it is an unwritten rule to always yield to hikers going up hill. Uphill hikers are slower but are also moving steady and once you are hiking uphill, you will too find that stoppomg for the energetic downhill speedster makes it much more challenging to keep going (unless you need to take a breather anyway).  You will find slow and steady is much better than fast with numerous stops.  And for those of you going downhill, the hiker hiking uphill will be looking down most of the hike and likely wearing a brimmed hat.  These two factors make it very likely that they will not see you barrelling down the trail.

 

 

Giving Thanks for Grand Canyon, Where Giving is Receiving

November 16th, 2012

To put it simply, the Grand Canyon Association (GCA) is a private not-for-profit group that supports the educational goals of the National Park Service at Grand Canyon (GCNP). I took that right from the NPS website, so you can quote me on that. Heads up, I am going to hit you with a whole lot of acronyms, so don't let me lose you. The association was founded by Eddie McKee in 1932, who served as the park naturalist for 10 years prior to establishing what was first known as the Grand Canyon Natural History Association. Eddie's vision for the GCNHA was to provide financial support to GCNP to assit with educational goals like publishing canyon related books, funding exhibits, publishing research papers and free publications, and also supporting naturalist programs, such as the lecture series Conservations on the Edge. The GCA also operates retail shops and visitors centers within the park. Among other things, the GCA has restored and conserved several historic buildings within the Park.

A major contribution of the GCA is the Grand Canyon Field Institute. The GCFI offers classes in geology, history, archeology, botony, backcountry skills, and also offers guided educational tours taught by incredible wilderness professionals. Since 1993 the GCFI has served more than ten thousand participants.Since their conception, the value of goods, services, and monetary donations which the GCA has made in support of education and scientific research efforts has exceeded $34 million. One recent event was the 5th annual GC Celebration of Art, showcasing some of the best landscape painters in the country- the proceeds of which go to fund a permanent art venue on the south rim. Upcoming projects include planned improvement to the Bright Angel Trailhead, continued educational classes taught by the GCFI, and a wilderness trail restoration program. Just Roughin' It proudly supports the GCA and you can too. JRI believes it is important to support childhood education and programs that help kids to connect with their environment. Recently JRI has supported distance learning programs as well as the Parks in Focus project, both of which are geared toward educating youths in ecological matters, stewardship, and hands on environmental learning.

This Thanksgiving, give thanks for all that Grand Canyon is and can be, and consider becoming a member of the Grand Canyon Association. The next time you visit, you will see your donation working hard to educate, shelter, entertain and otherwise improve each visitors experience - and that is truly giving back.

Thank you for your service Ira Hayes.

November 12th, 2012

"Let's say he had a little dream in his heart that someday the Indian would be like the white man - be able to walk all over the United State." - Rene Gagnon (flag raiser on Iwo Jima

As a Vietnam War and Cold War Historian, I am appreciative of what our armed forces do for our country, even if I don't necessarily agree with all the actions the United States military takes.  I also like to remind what was sacrified during our history and that these sacrifices were many times made by people considered less than American within the same century.

I hope you are familiar with the famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo by Joe Rosenthal that later became a famous statue in Arlington National Cemetery depicting the raising of the American Flag on Iwo Jima. If not, time to open a World War II history book.  If so, maybe you do not know much about one of the men who was part of this historic photograph, Ira Hayes (even though he was portrayed in a few movies, a book was written about him and has a song made famous by Johnny Cash also written about him).

Ira Hayes was born January 12, 1923 to a World War I veteran and was a Pima Native American enrolled as a member of the Gila River Indian Community in Sacaton, Arizona.  He enlisted into the Marines in 1942, trained as a Paramarine and saw action in the Pacific, participating in the invasion of Iwo Jima on February 19, 1945 as part of Company E, 2nd Battalion, 28th Marines, U.S. 5th Marine Division.  On February 23, Hayes and five other marines were made national heroes thanks to Rosenthal's photo after taking Mount Suribachi.

But the fame that came with the photo did not sit well with Ira, nor did the decorations for the successful battles.  In an attempt to lead a normal civilian life, Hayes was asked often if he was "the Indian who raised the flag on Iwo Jima?" While very proud of his service, the fame from the photo was one of torment as he returned alive to visit the White House and accept medals, while a couple of the men who raised the flag with him and fought on his side were killed within a few days after the flag was raised on Mount Suribachi.  In fact, after his return home, Hayes was troubled by the misidentification of one of the flag raisers, Harlon Block, and hitchhiked 1,300 miles to Weslaco, Texas to reveal the truth to the Block family and allow credit to be given where it was due.

After the war, Hayes was arrested over 52 times for public drunkeness and on the morning of January 24, 1955, he was found dead.  He was lying in his own blood and vomit near an abandoned adobe hut in Sacaton, AZ.  His death was ruled accidental caused by alcohol poisoning and exposure but his brothers believed that his death was a result of an altercation with a fellow Pima names Henry Satoyant during a card game.  An investigation was never conducted.  To much of society, he was just another dead, drunk Indian. A soldier not of the majority that was considered less cabable than the other soldiers.  But in reality, he was, is, a United States soldier and hero.

Hayes is buried in Section 34, Grave 479A at Arlington National Cemetery where his service to the United States will be recognized and remembered for generations to come because heroes are so often found in the most unlikley of people. 

Caveat Emptor - Even with Review Sites

November 6th, 2012

Review sites, blogs, and any other possible way for a consumer to state their opinion is every where on the internet.  As a consumer AND a business owner, these review sites are very helpful in researching who to give my business to and to capture new business.  Trip Advisor, Yelp, and Google are just a few of the third party sites that we may or may not rely on in our research, and we expect what we are reading are honest and true opinions of real people who have experienced these companies first hand.  And while we cannot assume everyone is honest, we also believe we can see through the BS from a mile away - or can we?

Yelp has had its black marks in th news in the past years, most specifically being accused of using bad reviews as leverage to get businesses to purchase advertising on their site.  But now, Yelp is working to clean up its reputation.  While so many companies depend on positive reviews for business, many are willing to buy favorable reviews in order to get your business and manipulate their results - in other words - dupe you into giving them your hard earned money by looking better than they are.  In response, Yelp set up a sting operation to catch solicited, fake reviews.  A recent article published in The New York Times details the operation so click the link to read in its entirety.  But one statement I must restate here as it does speak volumes for all industries that rely on customer reviews and honesty - "With online and offline commerce increasingly driven by reviews, businesses can be irresistibly tempted to make themselves look better than they are.  They commission favorable descriptions of themselves and may even bribe customers to say how terrific things were.  The most unscrupulous write unflattering comments about competitors."

Yelp's sting found that companies solicit reviews from what they call "elite" reviewers - those reviewers with a track record on the site.  These reviewers are typically found on Craigslist - and who says there are no jobs out there! To flush out these companies, a Yelp employee posed as an elite reviewer and waited for companies to come knocking.  Many revealed themselves with a wide variety of payment offers.  A pest control company offered $5 to post a review that was written by the company and $50 for original reviews.  The highest payment was offered by a jewelry store - $200. Anyone caught soliciting reviews gets a "consumer alert" posted on the company page that says: "We caught someone red-handed trying to buy reviews for this business."

This is less than a year after Trip Advisor UK saw itself in a lawsuit stating that the review site cannot claim their reviews can be trusted.  And not all reviews are favorable because they are paid for, as anyone who owns a small business knows, there are a few people out there ready, willing and able to blackmail you with a bad review if you don't pay up - or in a recent personal experience - fire someone.  Check out this article about a person threatening a restaurant for a gift card - or else.  And for any of you who think this is a good idea, please be warned that there are international laws against internet extortion and blackmail.  Fortunately, this is rare (I hope) and the majority of what is found on review sites are written by real people, but remember to read reviews with a grain of salt - just like everything else you read or watch on the internet.

Arizona Ghost Towns

October 31st, 2012

When the term "ghost town" is uttered, it is diffucult not to think about an abandoned old west town that was once occupied by Wyatt Earp, Doc Holiday, Jesse James and Clint Eastwood with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme playing in the background.  Arizona towns such as Tombstone, Bisbee and Jerome hold their own in the history of the Old West with the famous Gunfight at the OK Corral between the Earp Brothers and the Clantons and McLaurys, gold mining, prostitution.  But the typical images of saloons, mines, gunfights and brothels live on in the abandonded and not so abandonded towns found all over the Grand Canyon state.  With up to 100 ghost towns in Arizona, several of which have their share of real ghosts, here I will just discuss the more notable, and haunted, ones.

In spite of the name, ghost towns are not necessarily haunted, but for Halloween, these ghost towns also have real ghosts.

Jerome

Once home to over 10,000 people by the 1920s - thanks to the booming copper industry - Jerome is now called home to a population of less than 500 residents.  While most of the residents in Jerome are among the living, there are a few that have been there for many decades, and they will not be moving out any time soon.

The community center, known as "Spook Hall," is known to be home to many ghosts and odd happenings.  The ghost of the community center is a young woman who has been scene at the front of the building, walking toward a hotel known as a site for prostitution during the town's heyday.

One of these same "ladies" is also known to haunt the Inn at Jerome, formally a very popular brothel for over 120 prostitutes.  One of the former madams, Jennie Banters, still resides in the house with her cat.

The Jerome Grand Hotel was originally opened as a hospital in 1927 to treat injured and sick miners.  Always having a reputation for being haunted - coughing, moaining and weezing could be hears throughout the wards - the addition of Claude Harvey's ghost in 1935 after Claude Harvey was caught underneath an elevator - solidified the hotel's reputation.  Now a hotel, guests report ghostly events quite often.  And the guys from Ghost Adventures were there too.

Then there is "Headless Charlie," the ghost of a miner at the Phelps Dodge Mine who was decapitated in an underground accident.  Unexplained footsteps are heard and the apparition of the miner has been seen over the years.

Tombstone 

Arguably one of the most famous ghost towns in the United States, if not the world, Tombstone has made it's name in the history books as the site of the shoot out at the OK Corral between the Earps and Clantons, boot hill and many other nortorious happenings in the American Southwest.  Tombstone is also one of the most haunted cities in the US, considering it was also one of the most violent towns, this is not shocking.

Founded in 1879, Tombstone was one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the American Old West. The town once held a population of 14,000 and now is home to just over 1500 residents, not including several ghosts.  Rumor has it that the ghosts of the participants of OK Corral still haunt the area, or at least many of the cowboys killed in the area over the past decades.  The Aztec House gets a ghostly window shopper.  Big Nose Kate's Saloon still have cowboys causing a ruckus in the basement and ghosts move items and cause loud crashing noises at Nellie Cashman's Restaurant.

One of the most haunted spots in Tombstone - also visted by the Ghost Adventures team - is the Bird Cage Theatre.  The Bird Cage had a less than perfect reputation; prostitutes, outlaws, cattlemen, lawmen, cowboys and many other characters visited the brothel for some sex, gambling and booze (no drugs and rock and roll, yet). Legend has it that 26 people were killed at the Bird Cage and the spirits from the past are still partying.

Since we are moving on to the later hours of Halloween night, and the kids keep knocking at my door, I will leave you with these two, but there are so many more to discuss.  Maybe next Halloween.

Google Street View Treks into the Grand Canyon

October 24th, 2012

Grand Canyon hiking trails on Google MapsI was made aware of this article through our internet guru - thanks Mike!  But since I am not an expert of the technology, or any for that matter, I have decided I should "reprint" this from Techhive.com by Ian Paul word for word instead of trying to summarize something that can could turn out to read "Google Views Grand Canyon from the Street."  But my part is that we are so excited about the "trailview" and will make explaining trails so much easier.  Now I just have to find a way to ask Google if they need some help with some of the more off-the-beaten-path trails.  On the other hand, sometimes it is better to keep the isolated just that - isolated.

October 24, 2012 - Google announced Wednesday that the Grand Canyon would soon be coming to Google Maps Street View courtesy of Trekker, the search giant's new backpack Street View camera. The company is gathering images from the South Rim at Grand Canyon National Park, but did not say exactly when the images would go online. This is the first major task for Trekker after Google introduced the new Street View camera in June.

Designed to go where Google's Street View cars, trikes and snowmobiles can't, Trekker is a backpack with a 360-degree camera attached to an arm that rises above its wearer's head.  the device weighs about 40 pounds and can take photographs as a person walks around their environment.  The wearer can also control the camera through an Android phone.

Google says the Grand Canyon is an ideal place to use Trekker because of the area's "narrow ridges and steep, exposed trails." Notable Grand Canyon spots headed for Google Maps in the coming months include Bright Angel Trail, South Kaibab Trail and the Canyon's ridge (actually rim but whose judging).

Google continues to add hard-to-reach locations around the world in the company's quest to digitize the planet.  Some of the more interesting locales available in Google Maps include Antarctica, the Amazon Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef.  In August, Google said that it was also working with the community of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut in Canada's Far North to bring one of the most isolated locations on the planet to Street View.

Murdered? Drowned? Disappeared? What Ever Happened to Glen and Bessie Hyde?

October 18th, 2012

Grand Canyon Glen and Bessie HydeOne of the biggest modern mysteries of the Grand Canyon surrounds that of the last few days of the newlywed couple, Glen and Bessie Hyde.   In the Fall/Winter of 1928, Glen and Bessie ventured on an excursion along the Colorado River that would immortilize them in Grand Canyon lore.  October 20th is the 84th anniversary of their first days of a legend in the making.

Glen was a farmer from Idaho who had recently taken up the sport of river rafting; Bessie was an art student who worked in a bookstore.  What could be better than to go to a place of adventure and beauty?  Glen decided he would use his skills and ride the rapids of the Colorado River, while Bessie would write and illustrate with the plans to publish a book, tour the lecture circuit and enjoy the fame and fortune as being the first man-and-woman team to run the Colorado River through Grand Canyon.

Starting in Utah in a 20ft long, 5ft wide flat-bottomed scow built by Glen, the pair spent a few weeks floating down the Green River before reaching Lee's Ferry, the official Grand Canyon starting point for the Colorado River.  While there, they were encouraged to purchase life jackets, which Glen refused.  After 88 miles of travel, Glen and Bessie reached Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Creek.  Here they tied up their scow and hiked to the rim of the canyon via the Bright Angel Trail.  At this time, they had traveled over 400 miles from their starting point.

At the rim, the couple met noted Grand Canyon photographer, Emory Kolb.  Many of the known photos of the Hydes are thanks to Kolb.  Also an experienced river runner, Kolb encouraged Glen to take life vests and Glen again refused - even though he and Bessie both had been thrown from their boat upriver and barely making it back without drowning.

The couple resupplied at the rim and in exchange, agreed to take a tourist by the name of Adolph Sutro to Hermit Camp, just a few river miles down river from Bright Angel. After the Hyde's disapperance became known, Sutro would later comment on Glen's preoccupation with fame and fortune from their trip along the Colorado River. Bessie was less entrigued by the idea, to the point of fear.  After the Hyde's left Hermit Camp, it was the last time they were seen again.

After they failed to reach Needles, CA, Bessie's father alerted the National Park Service, prompting a search along the river.  Evidence of their journey was found, but the where abouts of Glen and Bessie could never be accounted for.  The scow was found at river mile 237 (only about 45 miles from the end of the canyon), trapped in an eddy, completely intact and with all the couple's belongings.  Also found was an abandonded camp upriver near mile 212 and a food jar with markings from Idaho near river mile 217.

Notches in the scow and Bessie's diary put them still on the river and alive on November 30th,  but there was no evidence of where they were or what happened.  Did they drown? They may have been thrown into the river at Mile 232 Rapid after colliding with rocks, but the boat showed no damage of the sort and all their belongings were still in the scow.

Was it murder? After Emory Kolb died in 1976, clothing from the 1920s and a man's skeleton with a bullet hole in the skull were found in a boat to the Kolb Studio on the South Rim.  Rumor was that after the Hydes left the South Rim, Emory left for a short time and made his way down to the river via Diamond Creek and where the abandonded camp was found. Here he found Glen and Bessie.  The two men got in an altercation and Emory shot Glen.  Kolb and Bessie hiked out where she started a new life.  A forensics study at the Univeristy of Arizona determined the skeleton was not that of Glen Hyde but a man around 22 years old and died no ealier than 1972.  So who the heck was that?  Just some random skeleton with a bullet hole in its head hidden in a studio?  Nothing strange there.

In support of this possibility, many believe that Georgie White, a dare-devil rafter of passenger rafting trips on the Colorado River was Bessie Hyde.  After her death in 1992, an employee dug up Georgie's birth certificate in preparation of her funeral.  Her first name was Bessie.  Also found in Georgie's drawer was a pistol and a marriage certificate for Bessie Haley and Glen Hyde.  Additionally, it was a well-known fact that Georgie hated Emory - but I am pretty sure several people hated both of the Kolb brothers - and Georgie wasn't popular in all circles as well.  But this is highly unlikely as Georgie was married to Harold Clark in 1928 and living in New York City until they divorced in 1936.  Plus, pictures show they looked nothing alike.

Other people have claimed to be Bessie and Glen. Bessie was to have stabbed Glen while he was being abusive or Glen killed Bessie after too much nagging, I jest, and started his life anew. 

But it is this intrigue that keeps the disappearance of the Hydes one of the most talked about and famous stories from Grand Canyon.  Books such as Grand Ambition by Lisa Michaels and Sunk Without a Sound: The Tragic Colorado River Honeymoon of Glen and Bessie Hyde document who they were in an attempt to find some resloution.  The Hydes likely became more famous in their disappearance than they would have in completing their journey - just as Glen wanted.

Buffalo Soldiers and the Conservation of Yosemite National Park

October 7th, 2012

Yosemite National Park Buffalo SoldiersCongratulations to Yosemite National Park!  This month Yosemite turns 122 years old.  On October 1, 1890 Congress set aside 1,500 square miles for the public’s enjoyment to be managed by the state of California.  Conservation groups didn’t believe California was doing an adequate job and advocated it be returned to federal control under the newly formed Park Service.  The organization that we currently know as the Park Service evolved over several decades.  But before this, the Army assisted the Department of the Interior with managing our National Parks.

The 24th Infantry and 9th Cavalry served and protected both Yosemite National Park and Sequoia National Park.  These two regiments were different than others because they were an all black unit.  The Cheyenne and other Plains Indians gave them the name "Buffalo Soldiers" due the resemblance they saw between the soldier’s dark curly hair and the cushion between the horns of the buffalo.  Majority of the soldiers were not African-American but rather Euro-American.  The exception to this is Charles Young.  He served as the military superintendent of Sequoia National Park in 1903 and was the third African-American graduate of West Point.  The official administration of these Yosemite and Sequoia helped to create the park management model we see today.

During the winter months, the soldiers were housed at the Presidio of San Francisco.  But during the summer months, the soldiers served in Yosemite and stayed at Wawona.  According the National Park Service, one army officer described being stationed in the Sierra Nevada as a “cavalryman’s paradise”.  While staying in the Parks, soldiers’ duties included confiscating firearms, suppressing wildfires, ending illegal grazing of livestock on federal lands, and overseeing construction of roads, trails, and other infrastructure.  The Buffalo Soldiers were a favorite research topic of Yosemite park ranger Shelton Johnson and he created a 5.5 minute video portraying the Buffalo Soldiers' story.

 

“Brickleberry” - The National Park Service Comes to Comedy Central

October 1st, 2012

On September 25th, 2012, the new, animated series called "Brickleberry" premiered on Comedy Central.  So what the heck is "Brickleberry"? Well, it it appears to be a random idea conjured up by writers and creators Roger Black (known for his character Yucko the Clown) and Waco O'Guin and produced by Daniel Tosh - which guarantees Tosh's brand of tasteless humor that we all know and love. 

The setting is Brickleberry National Park and follows a group of misfit national park rangers during their day to day routine.  Spoofing the National Park Service may appear random - actually, it is - unless you deal with the park service as much as we do as a guide service in Grand Canyon, Olympic and Yosemite National Parks.  then it is quite amusing and rings true in its odd way (which may get lost on the majority of the viewers).  While the show may not be for everyone, especially for those of you that are either sane or prudish, or both, it is difficult not to be intrigued by how the park service is represented in animation.  I don't want to give the show's plot? away, so you will have to see for yourself - Tuesdays at 10:30/9:30c on Comedy Central.  But here is a rundown of the charcters.

Steve Williams - Steve is the overconfident yet bumbling park employee.  He is the brown-nosing do-gooder that has been Ranger of the Month for years and will keep his title at all costs.

Ethel Anderson - Ethel is the young, tall, blonde newcomer that actually knows a thing or two about being a park ranger - she was the top ranger at Yellowstone and transferred to Brickleberry in an effort to get the park back on track.  She is a threat to Steve's Ranger of the Month status and an alcoholic.

Malloy - Malloy is a grizzly bear cub Woody has taken in as a pet.  He is not cute and cuddly.  He spends his days playing video games, eating junk food, has a dirty mouth and rather narcissistic.

Woody Johnson - Woody is a 55-year-old ranger with a military background.  He spent his 30 year career at Brickleberry and struggles to boost the dwindling tourist numbers.

Denzel Jackson - Denzel is an African American ranger. He cannot be fired because he he works for the government, regardless of his lack of competency.  He has a pension for elderly white women, which is what got him fired from his previous job working in Central Park in New York City, after some harrassing phone calls to Barbara Bush.  Oh, and he is afraid of everything in the woods - no stereotypes here.

Connie Cunaman - Connie is a not-so-feminine female ranger.  All the other rangers wonder about her sexuality but she could strangle a bear, so none have the guts to ask. 

 

Navajo Code Talkers - American Heroes

September 20th, 2012

Every year in September, the Navajo Nation has a week-long tribal fair in Window Rock, AZ, the capital of the Navajo Nation.  One of the many festivites is the annual parade and this year the grand marshall was was the last surviving man who helped develp the code used during World War II based on the Navajo langauage.   Ninety year old Chester Nez is the last living Code Talker of the 29 Navajo who served in the Armed Forces and is one of many who have participated in the parade.  According to Norma Bowman, Navajo Nation Fair Manager, anytime a Code Talker participates in the parade, they awe the audience.

The idea of using the Navajo language as a code was originally put forth by one of less than 30 outsiders of the Navajo Nation who knew the language.  World War I veteran Phillip Johnston was raised on the Navajo Nation while his father was a Protestant missionary.  Johnston proposed that the language be used as it was grammatically complex, there was little written record of it at the time and not mutually intelligible.  He recruited the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers in 1942 to serve in the military during the war.  After completing boot camp, the original 29 helped to develop the beginnings of the code.  It started with 200 terms and eventually grew to over 600 by the time of Japan's surrender. Some of these terms had a direct English translation (for example, the Navajo word for turtle was used for "tank".)  The code was formally developed and modeled on the Joint Army/Navy Phonetic Alphabet. Code Talkers had to memorize the code and any uninitiated Navajo would have no idea what was being said and communicated through the code.

While other codes used by other US Armed Forces were broken, the Navajo code, used exclusively by the Marines, never was.  One of the most notable Japanese attempts to break the code was when they forced a Navajo POW to listen to the transmissions and demand he translate for them.  According to the Naval History and Heritage Command, the POW, upon meeting a code talker after the war said, "I never figured out what you guys who got me into all that trouble were saying."  The Japanese were unable to break the code and it remained classified unil 1968.  Because the code was calssified, the code talkers' bravery and service to their country was not recognized when the war ended.  On September 17, 1992, the Navajo men were honored at the Pentagon for their contributions to defense and were awarded Congressional Medals of Honor in 2001.  For more information about these heroic individuals, please visit the official website of the Code Talkers.

 

Grand Canyon Promotes Healthy Outdoor Activity with New Facilities

September 11th, 2012

Grand Canyon Tusayan GreenwayThis is a press release from Grand Canyon National Park so if it reads like a news article, that is because it is a news article.

On Wednesday, September 12, Grand Canyon National Park will celebrate the completion of several new park facilities intended to promote healthy outdoor acitivity in the park and to increase visitor access to the South Rim by means other than automobile.

At 10am, Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga will host a ribbon cutting at the new trailhead and parking lot located on the Kaibab National Forest at the north end of the gateway community of Tusayan, Arizona.  The parking lot's 100 new spaces will serve both as parking for the Tusayan Greenway and as additional parking for those choosing to park and ride the Park Service's seasonal shuttle from Tusayan into the park.  The parking lot will also serve as a trailhead for the Arizona Trail which stretches more than 800 miles from Mexico to the Utah border through Arizona's canyons, deserts and forests.

The recently completed Tusayan Greenway extends from the new parking lot to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center approximately six and one-half miles away.  Completion of this segment of greenway is another important step in the implementation of the park's greenway trail system and provides safe, direct and multi-modal access to the park's primary visitor center for those entering the park on foot, bicycle or horseback.

"The park's greenway trail system now totals 18 and one-half miles and the paved sections meet Accessibility Guidelines for Outdoor Developed Areas," stated Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga.  "It offers visitors and park residents of varying abilities a great opportunity to enjoy the park without their cars."

Following the ribbon cutting, there will be an open house at the new Bike Rental and Cafe located at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center plaza.  The parking lot, greenway and bike rental facility all support the 2008 South Rim Visitor Transportation Plan, a plan that envisioned improved traffic flow, adequate parking and multi-modal access to the South Rim of Grand Canyon National Park.

 

 

 

Arizona Wine Country

August 28th, 2012

When anyone thinks of American wine, it is natural to think of Napa Valley and then maybe Paso Robles or Sonoma.  However, wine making is finding a home right next door in Arizona.   Southern Arizona has long been home to several vineyards and wineries since the early 1980's, growing several varieties of grapes including Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc and Sangiovese - all which do very well in the Arizona desert climate.  There are three main wine trails in Arizona; Sonoita, Willcox and Verde Valley - all areas that produce grapes but most grapes still come from Southern Arizona (Willcox and Sonoita).

Although wine production is about 30 years in the making, it has not been until recently that Arizona has found it way onto the wine map and that has much to do with Maynard James Keenan.  I am not saying he makes the best wine, but it is his celebrity has brought popularity to Arizona, and most specifically the Verde Valley.  For those of you out of the Hard Rock/Metal loop, you may not know who Maynard James Keenan is but he is the frontman of the rock bands Tool and Perfect Circle, and his latest project, Puscifer

Regardless of how Arizona gained popularity in the wine making circles, it has, and here is a list of some of the go-to tasting rooms and vineyards in the Grand Canyon state in the Verde Valley.  For those of you visiting the central and northern portions of the state (most popularly Sedona, Flagstaff and Grand Canyon), test your palate at some of these locations.  Do book yourself a room and even though it is just a "taste," please don't drink and drive.

Jerome
Jerome Winery
Caduceus Cellars
Bitter Creek Winery

Old Town Cottonwood - Great restored area!
Pillsbury Wine Co. (not owned by the dough boy)
Arizona Stronghold
Burning Tree Cellars
Dionysian Cellars

Cornville
Page Springs Cellars
Oak Creek Vineyards
Javelina Leap Vineyard

For more information, go to the Arizona Wine Growers Association website.

Olympic’s Own Marmot

August 20th, 2012

No, the London Olympic games did not have a furry mascot for the Summer Olympics this year - not saying the games aways could use some help in the mascot picking. Now that I think of it, why do the Olympic games need a mascot? Shouldn't the games be exciting... Sorry, wrong soapbox.

Anyway, I am talking about the Olympic marmot, found exclusively in Olympic National Park in Washington state. Marmots can be found in many places in Europe, Asia and North America.  Those of you in North America may be most familiar with the Yellow-bellied marmot (those of you who have visited Yosemite National Park have likely seen one), or you may be familiar with the groundhog or woodchuck? These critters are also part of the Marmota genus (Marmota monax). The Olympic marmot is one of 14 species in the genus Marmota and are only one of two species that are endemic to one particular area.  Aside from the Olympic marmot in Olympic, the Vancouver Island marmot (M. vancouverensis) is endemic to New York.  I kid, but as the name suggests, this marmot is only found on Vancouver Island.

Compared to the genus average, the Olympic marmot is large, weighing in around 15 pounds before hibernation in September and October.  They are often brown in color, sometimes yellow or tan when they emerge from hibernation in Spring and almost black in the Fall.  They are social creatures and live in family groups of one male and one or more adult females and several cohorts of youngin's, sharing a home range of 1/2 to five acres.

Marmots occupy the mountain meadows above 4000 ft so you are unlikely to see one scampering around the Hoh Rainforest, but head up towards the glaciers say around Anderson Peak from Enchanted Valley and you may see a family gallivanting around.

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Olympic marmot numbers declined - possibly due to non-native coyotes and climate change.  In response to the decline, in 2010 the park started a monitoring program staffed mostly by volunteers.  These volunteers hike in teams to collect and record up-to-date information about the number of Olympic marmots currently residing in the park.  According to their research, scientists believe human disturbance and tourism has not had an adverse effect on the marmots' habitat, so enjoy viewing these cute, but rather large creatures, from afar.

For more information and to get involved with the volunteer monitoring program, visit the Olympic National Park website.  And for more cuteness, click here for a short video.

Are Women Tastier to a Bear than Men?

August 10th, 2012

I am a woman, and while at times in the backcounty, I do suffer from, uh, Rummel-envy, most of the time my gender and it's associated equipment is a non-issue. So much so that I was totally surprised and almost speechless when I received this recent inquiry.  A man asked me, as discretely as he could, if he was safe in a tent with his wife in bear country while she was menstruating.  What?! I wanted to say, "You should be more afraid of her than the bears!" Chocolate helps, but irritability at that time just comes with the territory.  I think I speak for a lot of women when I say, we aren't werewolves, but cross me when I am in pain and discomfort and I can make you disappear in the backcountry faster that you can insincerely apologize. (Not a threat, but a promise.)

I addressed his concern with as much tact as I could.  I have never personally heard of a bear attack that was blamed on the scent of a menstruating woman, at least not by any one in the scientific community. Shark attacks maybe, but bears? Please sir, allow me to Google that for you. After some consideration I came to the conclusion that there had been no major media events that may have influenced public opinion - just gossip and fear-mongering. The most recent event occurred in 2003 - remember the Grizzly Man? It was shortly after his girlfriend Annie showed up that they were both attacked and eaten by a grizzly gear. Oh boy, here we go. The speculation at the time was that the smell of her menstrual blood may have incited the bears and provoked the attacks. I'm surprised they didn't say it was her "constant nagging" that did them in. I don't mean to make light of their deaths, but I find this ridiculous for so many reasons, I don't know where to start (and I won't because I am not a bear expert). The idea alone that he thought he was somehow safe living with the bears is more than I can understand. The other incident occurred in Glacier National Park in 1967 when two women, in separate incident, but on the same night, were killed by grizzly bears. Full moon maybe?

Truth is, millions of people visit "bear country" every year. In Yellowstove National Park, for example, from 1980 to 2011, over 90 million people visited the park. Of those, ony 43 were injured by bears (the majority by grizzlies). Of the 43, only 9 were women. In the one incident where a grizzly pulled a sleeping woman out of her tent and began eating her, she was found not to be menstruating at the time. In fact, there is no evidence to support the theory that grizzly or black bears are attracked to menstrual blood (as indicated in a 1991 study conducted in Minnesota by several members of the National Forest Service). Disclaimer: some evidence does suggest that polar bears may be attracted to these odors; fortunately, I'd say if you are backpacking in North American you are likely pretty far from any free-range polar bears.

Personally, I have never given any thought to this notion. However, if you are unconvinced, or if I have managed to turn a non-issue into a concern for you - as is the case in our world of instantanaous misinformation, Yellowstone National Park offers some safety advice for just these such occassions. Additionally, they offer this general advice to decrease your risk of bear attackes: hike in groups of 3 or more; stay alert; make noise when in areas of low visibility; carry bear spray and avoid the urge to scream and run like a school girl if you do meet a bear!

My aim is not to offend, but I asked myself, would evolution and natural selection have allowed a process to occur that would endanger an entire species? I wouldn't think so. If the faintest smell of blood could attract predators, we would never have made it out of the caves. Think about it, the earlist hominids would have never survived to reproduce had this been the case. Don't give me that, woman only survived because men protected them from the beasts. If you believe that, I got a tap-dancing mouse you must see.

The Last Hurrah (this summer) in Fresno, CA

July 31st, 2012

Well It's August and the summer is soon to be winding down - unless you live in the Phoenix area - we still have until early October.  But there is still time to squeeze in a couple more adventures before starting prepare for the holidays.  Since there are so many things to do in so little time, today kids, we will talk about some thing to do around Fresno and the Central Valley in California. 

Many people forget that Fresno does have an international airport.  The rates to fly into this smaller airport rival the other area airports but it is much easier to navigate, as is the city.  Better yet, Fresno is only about a 2 hour drive to the most popular reason to travel to Fresno - Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley.  Go for a hike to the top of Yosemite Falls or Mount Hoffman - the geographic center of the park.  Or, drive through Yosemite Valley and to Tuolumne Meadows to the higher reaches of the park.  August is the best times since winter does leave late and comes early in the High Sierras.  When heading up to Tuolumne, be sure to go hungry.  Outside the park from the East entrance is a small town called Lee Vining and here you will find the best gas station food ever.  No joke, the Tioga Gas Mart is a Mobile gas station but this gas station has fast food that is not just good for a gas station but good for a restaurant - thanks to the Whoa Nellie Deli.  Get lobster tacquitos or fish tacos with fresh made mango salsa, or a meat loaf that is not of your chain restaurant variety.

After Yosemite, round out your national park experience by stopping by Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  About 4 hours Northeast of Fresno, this is the place to see the giant Redwoods and the giant Sequoias.  Yes they are different and you will need to visit to find out why.

Heading back to the Fresno area, you will drive through Clovis - the gateway to the Sierras.  Clovis is a suburb of Fresno with just under 100,000 people, but with a nicely restored down town with good shopping and eats.  And for your ghost hunters out there, Clovis is home to the Wolfe Manor - a location you may have seen featured on an episode of Ghost Adventures.

Once you are finished with the outdoors, it is time to take in some wine!  Those of you that know wine know there is much more than just Napa Valley.  Only a 2 hour drive southeast of Fresno is Paso Robles, a small, quaint town surrounded by some of the best vineyards in California.  If you are into the Rhone style wines, you must go - but be prepared to have a designated driver and stay the night.  On the way  just 26 miles east of town, you will pass by the James Dean memorial and crash site where he wrecked his Porsche Spyder 550 at the intersection of Highways 41 and 46 - and you know the rest.  The roads have been revamped since the accident.

And finally, for you country music buffs, take a trip to Bakersfield, home of Buck Owens and the Bakersfield sound. Go to the Buck Owen's Crystal Palace for the museum, souvenirs or to listen to some good country music.  Honestly, there isn't much to brag about in Bakersfield except some of the worst pollution in the US, but it does hold its place in rock and country music history.

A Bearable Educational Blog - Smokey Bear

July 23rd, 2012

If you've been to a National Forest, a local mall, or ever watched TV since the early 1950s, chances are you have seen the topic of today’s blog – Smokey Bear.  Note that isn’t Smokey the Bear.  The extra “the” was added to his name to make it work better in a song - which I am sure is ringing through your head right now.  If not, check out the 1950s PSA.  Ready to find out what else you think you know about Smokey?  Read on campers.

 

Smokey was not the original poster child for the fire prevention campaign started by the USDA to save our forest resources for fighting WWII.  This honor went to the very adorable Bambi.  The change came because Bambi was only on loan from Disney for a year.  Smokey was originally drawn by Albert Staehle and was released on August 9, 1944 – what is now considered his birthday (so the the bear is actually a Leo).  The new adorable fire prevention mascot was named after a New York City Fire fighter, “Smokey” Joe Martin who was badly burned and blinded during a rescue in 1922.

 

The living Smokey Bear was found by fire personnel clinging to a tree in the aftermath of the Capitan Gap Fire, which burned 17,000 acres in Lincoln National Forest.  The little cub’s feet were so badly burned he was not able to be rehabilitated and released to the wild.  In the mean time, his story had become famous and he was flown to the National Zoo in Washington DC, where he resided until his death on November 9, 1976.  Due to the flood of mail from enamored fans, Smokey even had his own zip code (20252).  In 1962, Smokey got a wife – Goldie Bear.  They were never able to have cubs of their own and “adopted” one in 1971.  The original Smokey was interred where he started – Capitan, New Mexico.  He was honored with a front page obituary in the Wall Street Journal, along with obituaries in many other newspapers.
 

Before you run off and try to find a Smokey costume for Halloween (really who wouldn’t, considering how awesome he is), there are a few things about being Smokey you should know.  The most important thing is, you won’t be able to legally find a costume.  Only the US Forest Service and State Forestry agencies may purchase costumes.  There are even rules governing those who have the honor of wearing the costume to events.  Smokey is only to appear to further public information, education, and awareness of the prevention of wildfires (there goes that Halloween costume idea).  Smokey is not allowed to speak during public appearances.  The reason for this is because there is an official “voice of Smokey”.  The current “voice” is Sam Elliott.  Just in case you still harbored hopes of a great Halloween costume, all boxes containing the costume are to be locked up and marked “Warning: Unauthorized use or possession of this costume is not permitted.”

 

Sources:

http://www.factmonster.com/spot/smokeybear.html

http://www.funtrivia.com/en/subtopics/Smokey-Bear-47057.html

http://www.fs.fed.us/fire/prev_ed/smokeybearawards/Smokey_Bear_Guidelines.pdf

http://www.smokeybear.com/

http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/conservationeducation/smokey-woodsy/smokey-bear/?cid=fsmrs_100600

Knee High by the 4th of July? - Get a Goat!

July 22nd, 2012

What do you do when you accidentally let the lawn get a little too high? Accidently is code for too lazy to mow.  Or a lot too high as the case may be.  Hire a landscaper to work for 2 hours cutting down the budding rain forest in your backyard?  Or go green and rent a goat? 

Wait, did I just say rent a goat?  Why, yes I did.  The City of Mesa (suburb east of Phoenix) currently uses rented goats to maintain a few retention basins around the local freeways.  This plan saves the City a whopping $20,000 over traditional workers clearing the brush.  And that’s all well and good for the City but what are the benefits to the individual?  According to goatseatweeds.com, goats should be used because they eliminate the need for herbicides and pesticides, can eat poisonous plants, can eat 25% of their body weight each day, and the hooves aerate the soil.  Now that I’ve convinced you to use goats, go out and buy a goat! 

But wait, there’s more… actually no there isn’t I’ve just always wanted to say that.  Rent instead!  By renting the goat you don’t have to worry about providing the proper veterinarian care for the goat and feeding it after it’s eaten all of your yard, children’s toys, newspapers, etc.  Livestockforlandscapes.com is a great place to find locally available goats to rent. 

You should be warned though – goats eat grass as a last resort – just in case you were looking for the towel you left by the pool.  Don’t think you have enough non-grass lawn that has grown amok?  Consider a sheep instead.  According to sheep101.info, sheep eat grass, clover, and forbs (a broad-leaf plant other than grass).  Sheep will still give you some of the great benefits of goats, such as aerating the soil and eliminating harmful herbicides and pesticides.  Goats and sheep cannot eat anything that has been chemically treated (for obvious reasons) and you don’t have to ask for ID.  Sounds totally worth it!  For your viewing pleasure, check out this clip from a local news station.

The Bass Rim to Rim Adventure

June 6th, 2012

As you may, or may not, know, Just Roughin' It is the first and only commercial company to offer a Rim to Rim trip via the ever secluded Bass trails in Grand Canyon National Park.  If you are not familar with the trip, check out our Rim to Rim Packrafting trip.

I am not writing this blog to sell you our Bass Rim to Rim.  Actually, I am simply letting you all know of an article published in the Chicago Tribune May 29th about this very trip. While we were not the one's taking them on this trip - they went it without a guide service and with the help of some members of the park service, we were very excited to see this area get some press as it is an amazing section of the canyon and, in my opinion, superior to the standard Rim to Rim trip along the corridor trails (South Kaibab, North Kaibab and Bright Angel trails).  But, this also depends if you are up for trails that are very remote, steep in places and difficult to navigate.  I won't discus much as the article was very well written - and includes video!  Hopefully this will entice you to do something off the beaten path and become a member of an elite group instead of the 100s of Rim to Rim hikers going across canyon annually via the corridor trails.  Oh, and we cross with a pack raft so we don't have to hitch a ride.

Below is the article in its entirety. Enjoy!


chicagotribune.com

Hiking the Grand Canyon rim to rim

By Chris Walker, Tribune Newspapers

6:56 PM CDT, May 29, 2012

 

The Grand Canyon's beauty beckons like gravity, pulling even the timid to the chasm's edge.

But for those committing to the challenge of a cross-canyon hike, there awaits below the rim a reward beyond the spectacular scenery: time travel.

Those horizontal stripes on the postcard panoramas trace a billion years of geological history. They are the sediment and fossils of ancient oceans. According to author Scott Thybony, who literally wrote the books on canyon trails, to hike the canyon is to go back an average of 100,000 years with each downward step. As the trail winds and sometimes plummets through layers of hermit shale, redwall limestone and Tapeats sandstone, the canyon deepens and the climate warms. The hiker sheds his outer layers, and even some layers within, when the cell signal is gone, the world is quiet and the mind centers on the simple: food, water and the next footstep.

"There's something special about being in the canyon," said Mark Wunner, supervisor at the park's Backcountry Information Center. "I get excited just thinking about it."

Our party of four wanted just that kind primal peace, and we were willing to burn a lot of cash and fossil fuel in the pursuit. We planned our trip for early October of last year on the historic North and South Bass Trails, which start at the north and south rims and meet at the Colorado River. But we wanted to cross the 18-mile-wide canyon without having to backtrack to a car. "The point," explained fellow hiker Byron Moffett, of Langley, Wash., "is to see all the trails without having to repeat them."

The solution was to break into pairs in different vehicles, each driving an SUV to a trail head. . The North Bass party (Kevin Horan, of Langley, and me, from Evanston, Ill.) and the South Bass party (Moffett and Scott McNeil, also of Langley) would hike down, meet at the river, exchange car keys and hike up the other side to the vehicle left by the other party. Simple.

Except for one thing. How does one cross a fast-moving, cold river?

"The safe way is to hitchhike," Wunner advised. "You wait for a ride (from rafters), and jump up and down when you see somebody coming. It's not something that's written about in the guide books."

OK, we thought. We'll try that.

The Bass Trails are steep, difficult and suitable only for experienced backpackers. "You're in a real inhospitable place that can hurt you," Moffett said. "You really have to be aware and have some map skills."

There are no trail markers, except at the trail heads. And those border on rude: "Do not expect to be rescued," they warn.

But the Bass Trails are worth the trouble. Built in the late 19th century by their namesake, prospector and tour guide William Bass, the trails are far removed from the more populated corridor routes. That, and a strict permit system, ensure what Wunner calls a "high-quality visitor's experience."

The North Bass Trail is longer and steeper but more verdant and with more accessible water. A two-day side trip to the Powell Plateau, an "island plateau" forest of high-country ponderosa pines, brings more adventurous backpackers to Dutton Point, with canyon views to test the acrophobic. Five thousand feet below is the archaeological site at Shinumo Camp, where artifacts remain from old man Bass' time along the clear and frigid Shinumo Creek. It's where our hiking parties met for the key exchange, a mere ritual because we carried duplicates, but it was a good excuse to break out the whiskey. Earlier, the south party pals had been ferried across the river by rafters after only a four-hour wait.

Two days later our north party crossed with gracious Grand Canyon Association rafters.

The drier South Bass Trail offered overnight side trips onto terraces of different elevations and environments. Below the Redwall cliffs, the Tonto Trail leads east above the river through vast gardens of low desert scrub to Serpentine Canyon, with 2-inch thorns threatening your ankles with each step. Camping under a full moon, we were visited by a bighorn sheep.

The entire hike could be done in five or six days, but our trip of nine days made the pace easier and allowed for those side trips. As Moffett said, "It takes thousands of years for something to happen there, so you have to slow down and appreciate it."

If you go

Backpacking on the noncorridor trails of the canyon demands experience, stamina and route-finding skills. There are no trail markers on the North and South Bass Trails, no campfires, and water is scarce.

Hiking in spring and fall will help avoid the canyon's notorious heat. Required permits become available four months before your desired month, so plan to apply June 1 for an October trip or Dec. 1 for an April trip. They can only be mailed or faxed. Permits are limited and go quickly.

Both trail heads for the Bass Trails are remote and require four-wheel drive vehicles. The North Bass trail head is on the North Rim at Swamp Point. A North Kaibab National Forest map is needed. The South Bass trail head is about 30 miles northwest of Grand Canyon Village. Use a map of the Tusayan Ranger District of the Kaibab National Forest.

There is no water available at the trail heads, so drive it in.

Information

Grand Canyon National Park: nps.gov/grca

The Backcountry Information Center, permits and advice: 928-638-7875, nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/backcountry.htm

The Grand Canyon Association, for books and advice: grandcanyon.org

Should I Eat Salty Snacks When Backpacking in Grand Canyon? - YES!

May 23rd, 2012

We had a guest come back from a May Grand Canyon trip that prompted me to immediately compose this blog.  Not because we have ever had someone suggest this before so it is not a frequent issue, but because of the potential safety concerns involved if you as a reader ever decided that salty snacks are bad for you and that salt tablets are a good option if one must consume salt.  The suggestion was that instead of supplying our guests with salty foods that have to be carried (if salt loss was the concern), we should eliminate those and just supply everyone with salt tablets.

For those of you looking for the short answer,  salt loss is ALWAYS a concern when hiking Grand Canyon (generally May through Sept but April and October can also get hot).  We never recommend you take a salt tablet in lieu of salty foods to replace salt lost in sweat and urine. This is the old school solution and one that most doctors would not agree to unless under their guidance.  Salt tablets can irritate your stomach lining and cause you to vomit - which is counterproductive.  Remember too that you do need energy when replacing salt, tablets do not give you the necessary calories needed when participating in endurance activities.  How do we know this?  Aside from personal experiences from years of guiding in Grand Canyon in the summer, guiding in the Sonoran Desert and training for marathons in the middle of summer in Phoenix, we are also well trained in exercise science and sports nutrition.

But enough about us - it all has to do with something called hyponatremia and is a concern in Grand Canyon (click here for the very technical article written about the study).  So keep reading cause it gets exciting!  Instead of rewriting, I found this article from Rice University’s website that was a study they recirculated from SportsMed Web.  It is written for ultraendurance athletes, but when you are hiking in conditions that exist in the Arizona desert from May through late September, this is all highly relevant.  Enjoy!        


Salt and the Ultraendurance Athlete

Recently, Americans have been urged to pay more attention to their sodium intake. Decades ago, all foods seemed heavily salted. Then, a link between sodium intake and high blood pressure was discovered. Suddenly, "sodium - free" or "low sodium" products began flooding the consumer market. Certainly, to a degree, this is justified. Many diseases are worsened by excess sodium intake, and millions of Americans must closely watch the amount of sodium in their diet.

However, sodium is a required element for normal body functions. It is lost in sweat and urine and is replaced in the diet. The body has a remarkable ability to maintain sodium and water balance throughout a variety of conditions, thus ensuring our survival. Ultraendurance events challenge this survival mechanism.

In hot, humid conditions a large amount of sweat is lost, which can disturb sodium and water balance. Adequate hydration and sodium intake -- either via sports drinks or food -- becomes vitally important during long races. The goal of this article is to help you determine how to maintain sodium balance during training and racing and during recovery. The information for this article came from a variety of published studies done on healthy, young athletes and may not be appropriate for everyone. Athletes who are under a physician's care or have health problems should check with their doctor about salt and their ability to exercise in the heat.

Hyponatremia -- what is it?

Hyponatremia means a low concentration of sodium in the blood. When it occurs in triathletes, it usually happens during long or ultra-distance races in the heat but may occur anytime. It is estimated that approximately 30% of the finishers of the Hawaii Ironman are both hyponatremic and dehydrated. The longer the race, the greater the risk of hyponatremia.

There are thought to be three potential mechanisms to account for hyponatremia during exercise,

I) Salt and water lost in sweat and urine are replaced unequally (i.e. water replacement is greater than sodium). Over a period of time (e.g. an Ironman), the cumulative sodium losses mount up. If an athlete overhydrates with water during an event, this dilutional hyponatremia is more likely to occur.

II) Syndrome of inappropriate ADH release.The hormone that regulates this sodium/water balance is called ADH (anti-diuretic hormone). It is also referred to as vasopressin. It is released by a specific group of cells in the posterior pituitary that monitor blood sodium concentration and blood volume. Normally these cells are more sensitive to small changes in blood sodium. If the sodium level drops, ADH secretion drops, and the kidneys respond by dumping out more free water (the urine becomes more dilute). Thus the blood sodium concentration increases. If the sodium conc. rises, the secretion of ADH increases and the kidneys hold on to more free water; the sodium concentration then falls back to normal.

In the case of changes in blood volume, the pituitary cells are less sensitive to changes in blood volume, but the response is of a much greater magnitude than with osmolality (sodium concentration) changes. A fall in blood volume causes a greater release of ADH -- to try to get the kidneys to hang on to more water to bring the volume back up.

So what happens if the sodium falls and the blood volume falls? The former tells the pituitary to decrease ADH and the latter tells it to increase. The result of these conflicting signals depends upon the magnitude of the changes. Beyond a certain %, the volume pathway predominates and is a much more potent stimulus for ADH release than the sodium pathway. Protecting blood volume is a survival mechanism. Thus, in the case of an athlete who is dehydrated and hyponatremic, the pituitary will continue to release ADH to try to hold on to water, even though this may make the hyponatremia worse.

If ADH is released in an excess, or inappropriate, amount it is referred to as syndrome of inappropriate ADH (SIADH) secretion. In this situation there is a release of ADH from the pituitary in response to certain stimuli (e.g. exercise, pain, stress, narcotic medications). The released ADH then instructs the kidneys to hold on to more free water and less sodium, thus causing hyponatremia. This is seen in a variety of conditions, including post-surgery, head injuries, or in response to certain medications. Under the right conditions, the pain/stress of triathlons or other endurance events may be sufficient to generate SIADH. The hyponatremia would be made worse by drinking water, and corrected by ingesting salt.
 
Another scenario is, as both sodium and water losses mount during a long race, ADH is released to better protect against dehydration. What may happen as the athlete is slipping towards both dehydration and hyponatremia is that the body must make a tough choice,

a. pee out a lot of dilute urine, thus clearing free water and raising the sodium concentration in the blood. Unfortunately this would be at the expense of dropping the blood pressure and facing potential circulatory collapse (shock).
 
OR

b. Protect the declining blood volume by holding on to water; Keep the blood pressure up to make sure that vital organs get perfused with blood and to heck with the sodium concentration. (And hope that the idiot stops exercising soon and finds a salt lick someplace.)
 
The latter is the decision that will best protect survival, but it will cause a lowering of the blood sodium and the consequent hyponatremic symptoms.


III) Excess fluid intake may under certain conditions be sufficient to generate a "third space" effect in the intestine. In this mechanism excess ingested fluid, especially fluids with a high (>10%) carbohydrate content, may pull sodium out of the bloodstream and into the intestine. Thus, sodium is redistributed from the bloodstream into the unabsorbed fluid in the intestinal lumen, and hypontremia occurs.
 
So Which Mechanism is Responsible?

The exact sequence of events leading to exercise associated hyponatremia is most likely a combination of the three mechanisms. Depending upon race conditions and length of the event, different mechanism may predominate. The first mechanism is the easiest to understand but is too simplistic and does not account for the experimental observations seen in hyponatremic athletes. More than likely it is mechanism #2 (ADH), or a variable combination of mechanism #1,#2 and#3.
 
Clinical Example

I was recently consulted by a triathlete who had several visits to the emergency room for hyponatremia following short triathlons (1k/30k/5k or shorter). He is a "front of the pack" level triathlete, and consistently finishes in the top 10%. These triathlons lasted less than 1 1/2 hours, so the cumulative sodium loss would not be anywhere near enough to result in hyponatremia. Similarly, the amount of ingested fluid would be insufficient to allow for a "third space" effect. From reviewing the lab data acquired in the emergency rooms, it was quite clear that inappropriate release of ADH was the likely culprit. Each time the data indicated that he was well hydrated but had a low blood sodium concentration.
 
Unfortunately, an emergency room physician had told him that he was "dehydrated", and that the low blood sodium was the result of vomiting. He was erroneously encouraged to drink more water following his races. He did, but this simply made the hyponatremia develop even faster, resulting in another trip to the ER.
 
The most likely mechanism in him was that the races were causing an increased, and inappropriate, release of ADH. Drinking more water just made the hyponatremia worse. The hyponatremia *caused* the vomiting, not vice versa. The cure for him was to ingest salt following his race. Any food with a hefty salt content (pizza, salty chips, pretzels, etc.) is acceptable. This simple maneuver completely cured his problem. He is now able to train and race under a wide variety of conditions and has not had a further episode of hyponatremia.
 
Conclusion

As many physicians are taught, there are two ways to treat SIADH, water restriction, and increased salt ingestion. The former is cruel and, in the case of triathlons or other endurance events, potentially very dangerous. Dr. Doug Hiller's experience and observations on triathletes at the Ironman in Hawaii have shown that most hyponatremic athletes in this hot climate are both dehydrated and hyponatremic. Thus, fluid restriction is really not a practical consideration.

Increased salt ingestion is the most prudent course. As long as there is not a medical reason to restrict sodium intake, then increasing your salt intake is perfectly safe. If you consume more sodium than your body needs, then your kidneys simply dump the excess.  In summary, eating salty foods, is a very safe, effective treatment and preventive strategy for exercise associated hyponatremia.
 

Cochineal Gets the Colbert Bump!

May 9th, 2012

A few weeks ago, the Colbert Report mentioned the use of bugs in Starbucks for food coloring.  Apparently, Starbucks is using dried bugs or dried Cochineal to make their Strawberry Fraps "strawberry" colored.  I, for one, would much prefer my food coloring to come from a chemical.  Carcinogenic red number 40 - yum! But why the uproar?  Cochineal has been used for centuries as a dye - food, cosmetics and clothing most commonly.

Cochineal is a scale insect from which the crimson-colored dye carmine is derived.  The carmine dye was used in the 15th century for coloring fabrics by the Mayan and Aztec people in Central and North America.  During the colonial period, the production of cochineal grew rapidly, produced almost exclusively in Oaxaca, Mexico and became Mexico's second most valued export after silver.  It eventually became a prized possession in Europe, being quoted on the London and Amsterdam Commodity Exchange by the 18th century.  Once synthetic dyes were invented during the 19th century, natural dye production slowly diminished until health concerns over artificial food additives renewed its production.  Now Peru, is the largest exporter of the dye and has again increased in its commercial value, thus being used in foods once again.  If you are wondering how to find this little bug in your tasty treats, look for “cochineal extract”, “carmine”, “crimson lake”, “natural red 4”, “c.1 75470”, “E120” or “natural coloring.”  While the thought of eating bugs is not all that appetizing, even though they are dried and pulverized in order to make the dye, it is much better than carcinogens.  That is, unless you are one of the rare people who could have an anaphylactic shock reaction from eating a Hostess SnowBall.

You may not be aware, but you have likely come across these little bugs.  If you live in the desert Southwest for example, you may have noticed cacti - especially Prickly Pear - that has a white fungus, moldy looking infestation on the pads.  This is not a fungus.  This is the waxing coating created by the cochineal for protection from the outside elements.  If you look closely, you will see the bug.  Pick it off and squeeze.  You will instantly see the magenta color these bugs create - gross but kind of pretty.

And if you didn’t see the Colbert segment from April 17, 2012, “Thought for Food,” check it out here.

To Make a Long Story Short - 4 Boys from South Park Go Ziplining!

April 21st, 2012

There have been many a blog about the latest South Park episode spoofing the many docudramas such as I Shouldn't Be Alive, I Survived and Jersey Shore the past couple of days.  Not only because of creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone's ability to capture societies absurdities at their finest, but because this episode went to live action (yet with the success of Book of Mormon, is this really all that surprising?)  If you want to find out more about that, read a different blog because this is about the brilliance in the depiction of being in a tour group. 

The episode begins with Kenny, Cartman, Kyle and Stan depressed because they wasted their entire spring break playing Xbox.  So to make sure they end their vacation with a bang, they decide to go ziplining with great anticipation that it will be death-defying and exciting, until they discover they are joining a group of other zipliners - one is about 5 years old and the rest are anywhere from 40 to 60.  Yes, they are joining a tour group with boring tourists.  Fortunately for us in the adventure tour business there is truth in fiction which is what made this episode so great.  But, it only takes having been on one organized tour to be able to relate.  Don't you remember the last time you were on a bus with a group of people that have long short stories and even longer long stories?  And quite honestly, there is nothing more annoying than the manufactured excitment some guides use to elevate anticipation for something than will turn out to be lame.  I have been parasailing before, so I know.  It was as exciting as my last teeth cleaning.  I have also been sky diving and the guides are real because the exceitment is real.

Anyway, to make a long story short, I did think the episode would be about the boys getting lost in the wilderness with the looming risk of death, similar to the Brazilian Rainforest episode of years past, but instead, the boys are risking a different fate - that of boredom.  And yes, Kenny does die of it.

Click here to watch a clip. (I can't figure out how to embed a video with our new blog program.)

 

Something Sacred for April

April 5th, 2012

April is here, and while the desert Southwest will see little in wildflowers this year due a dry winter, one flower is sure to bloom - the Sacred Datura.  No, this is not the name of a death metal band - but well suited to be one.  The Datura wrighhtii is a poisonous perennial plant and white ornamental flower that grows in Mexico and as far north into the United States as Southern Utah.  The plant blooms from April to about October of every year, just in time for all you Grand Canyon, Paria Canyon and Arizona hikers to enjoy its beauty.  But when you see it, you can look, but don't touch.  Well you can touch briefly, but definatley don't eat it!  If you are like me, there isn't a flower or plant out there that I don't look at and think, "that would taste great with a beer!"  All parts of the plant are very toxic, including the sweetly fragrant flower, and may be fatal to humans and animals.  It is also used as a hallucinogen.

The plant gets its name because it is used in many Native American rituals.  It is sacred to many tribes and has been used in rites of passage rituals by the Chumash, the Tongva and others. It is also used as a recreational drug to induce hallucinations, inducing many of the same effects as atrpine (found in deadly nightshade and jimson weed).  Effects may include dry mouth, hyperthermia, profuse sweating, drowsiness and letthargy.  In maney cases, the users pupils can get so dilated to cause tempory vison impairment and even blindness. 

So, when you are on your Rim to Rim to hike in Grand Canyon, you are sure to spot one of thes plants, and while they mostly bloom at night, you will have the opportunity capture one on "film."  But please, don't pick or lick the flowers!

 

Happy Belated Centennial Arizona!

March 19th, 2012

Arizona's centennial started this year on February 14th!  Yes, this blog is a bit late but we have been in the process of making it better.  Better late than never and besides, centennials are celebrated for the entire year practically anyway.

In celebration of 100 years of statehood, here are some interesting tidbits of information about the Grand Canyon State, courtesy of Arizona Highways Magazine - February 2012.

1914 - The Battle of Naco occurs along the Arizona-Mexico border during the Mexican Revolution.
1919 - Grand Canyon National Monument is named a national park.
1922 - The University of Arizona's polo team is established under the Department of Military Science and Tactics, using horses belonging to the ROTC program.
1929 - The Detroit Tigers become the first team to hold spring training in Arizona.
1930 - Pluto is discovered at Lowell Observaory in Flagstaff.
1931 - Winnie Ruth Judd murders her roommates and cuts their bodies up into pieces.
1933 - Isabella Greenway of Arizona becomes the first woman to serve in the U.S. Congress.
1936 - The first Tequila ever produced in the U.S. is made in Nogales.
1937 - Phoenix records its heaviest snowfall to date with 1-4 inches on January 21-22.
1942 - Approximately 18,000 Japanese Americans are interned in Poston Relocation Camp south of Parker.
1948 - Native Americans are given the right to vote in Arizona.
1956 - TWA Flight 2 and United Airlines Flight 718 collide over Grand Canyon, killing 128 people and being the deadliest arline incident on American soil until 9/11.
1959 - Glendale's Marty Robbins records El Paso, later becoming the first country song to win a Grammy.
1966 - The Doors play their first gig outside of LA at Phoenix's Fifth Estate.
1967 - Arizona State University professor Rita Dove wins the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.  (Little known to many but she almost didn't get hired).
1972 - Bob Dylan writes Forever Young in Scottsdale.
1976 - President Gerald Ford releases a statement on the death of Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles, saying he was "distressed and outraged that a reporter in search of the truth became an apparent victim of the underworld."
1981 - Sandra Day O'Connor becomes the first woman appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
1984 - Route 66 officially declared dead with the completion of the last stretch of I-40 bypassing Williams.
1989 - Author Edward Abbey dies, Governor Rose Mofford signs into law a paid holiday honoring the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr, ending a two-year economic boycott of the state - see Gov. Evan Mecham.
1993 - Labor leader Cesar Chavez dies.
2002 - The Rodeo-Chediski fire becomes the worst wildfire in state history to date, burning 468,638 acres.
2004 - Former Arizona State University and Arizona Cardinals player Pat Tillman is killed in Afghanistan.
2009 - The AZ Cardinals are defeated by the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, one of the most memorable Super Bowl games to date, President Barack Obama speaks at Arizona State University's May commencement.
2011 - U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and 18 other are shot outside a Safeway in Tucson.
 

 

You’ve Seen One Grand Canyon, You’ve Seen Them All!

March 5th, 2012

We have been on a bit of a hiatus from blogging, but we are back!  The blog was under construction (and still needs a bit of tweeking), but hopefully you have noticed that our blog is considerably faster!

Anyway, since we are getting back into the blogging game, I picked a topic that is quick, easy, and highly entertaining - at least it was for me.  And my inspritation was some reviews I read about Central Park in New York City.  Not because I felt the need to read reviews before experienceing it for myself, and even if it was given only an average of 1 star, I would go because I belive in experiencing things for myself and be damned someone else's opinion will keep me from new experiences.  Afterall, is that not how we all grow?  I will get off my soap box now:)  Oh, and some are just funny.

Well, Central Park did average 4.5 stars in Trip Advisor and Google.  I also looked at Grand Canyon, which also averaged 4.5 stars?  Many of the low reviews have nothing to do with the location itself but with an event or tour, but I did find some gems I want to share.

Central Park reviews from Trip Advisor

From a senior contributor in New York City...3 Stars..."Nice but Crowded - The park itself is nice, but when the weather is nice or even just decent, it becomes way to crowded."

3 Stars..."Cold and Wet - I think because we visited in February it wasn't what we expected and also it was raining.  We were a little let down!"

3 Stars..."Not Looking It's Best - I visited in February and not looking its best. Grass lacking. Very bare no green scrubs."

Grand Canyon National Park from Google

1 Star..."The North Rim is Better than the South."

1 Star..."Riduculous!  There is no way this was created by a river! Just look at how many rivers there are in the world. If rivers made stuff like this, there would be gigantic canyons EVERYWHERE! This is clearly an ancient test site for some kind of alien laser superweapon. They're going to return soon and use it on our cities!"

Grand Canyon National Park from Trip Advisor

From a top contributor...3 Stars..."You Know What To Expect - The Grand Canyon (north rim) was on our list of parks to do while on honeymoon last year.  We stayed 2 nights, and while I've written about the north rim lodge already (fabulous!) the canyon itself was a bit of a disappointment.  It's the Grand Canyon and you have seen loads of shots/videos already, and really it's like that when you get there! It really lokos a bit the same!"

From someone who is a "senior reviewer" (because has 7 reviews)...3 Stars..."Checked Off the Bucket List. Won't Go Back...I'm glad we went but I wouldn't go back. It's a spectacular sight but once you've seen it, you've seen it...We stopped at all the "must-see" views and enjoyed the information from the tour guide.  The view isn't much different from each of the stops."

 

The Saguaro - A Desert Icon

February 8th, 2012

Many of you may be familiar with the Saguaro Cactus, whether you know it or not.  If you are not sure, think of the image of the green, tall, thick tree-like thing you see in every Wile E. Coyote/Roadrunner cartoon.  Or, you practically see it on anything that depicts the southwestern United States.  But the fact is, the Saguaro Cactus is not deserving of a southwestern icon since its territory is limited to the Sonoran Desert in Arizona and Mexico. These cacti are so unique that Arizona visitors always have many questions about these amazing feats of Mother Nature.  Here are a few courtesy of Saguaro: The Desert Giant by Anna Humphreys and Susan Lowell.

Where do Saguaros Grow? Only in the Sonoran Desert or southwestern and south-central Arizona and western Sonora, with a very few in southern California.

How tall do they grow? Record height is 78 feet with an average mature height of 18-30 feet and often with heights of 50 to 60 feet.

How much do the weigh? About 80 pounds per foot.  Or, a lot!

How fast do they grow? Not very.  Depending on the location and age of the plant, they average about 3 feet in thirty years.

When do they grow arms? At about 12 feet in height or 40 to 80 years.  Some never grow arms.

What are they mostly made of? Water.  But this does not mean you can cut one open to access your own oasis.  The water is absorbed into a pulpy material, making the sap slimy, bad tasting and difficult to extract.

How long do they live? Estimates are up to 200 years.

Are they endangered? Not currently, however, they are protected.  Under the Arizona Native Plant Law, the saguaro is listed as a "salvage-restricted protected native plant,' meaning, they are considered vulnerable to damage by theft or vandalism and are protected by law.  They cannot be legally removed from any lands, without a permit from the Arizona Department of Agriculture.  A saguaro can be legally obtained with a permit and then it is issued an official seal.  Suspected poachers, traffickers and vandals can find themselves in a legal and financial bind with Class 4, 5 or 6 felonies and fines as high as $100,000 for transporting saguaros illegally across state lines.  Just some info in case you were interested in starting a career in Saguaro Trafficking.

Why do they have ridges? Like Ruffles brand potato chips - so the dip doesn't fall off as easy.  Actually, there are three reasons.  The first is to allow for expansion when collecting and storing water after rain - since the desert gets so little, it has to be able to store the water some where.  Second, as you may notice from the above picture, the Saguaro does tower above other plants, but it does need some sort of protection from the sun.  The accordion pleated ribs allow the cactus to produce its own shade - it's not much, but all it needs.  Finally, the ridges act like a wind breaker.  The desert can see winds of 70 plus MPH certain times of year.  Since the Saguaro is the tallest plant in the desert, sometimes with no mountains to break the wind, one would think it would blow over.  Yet, the pleats break the winds up, keeping the cactus tall and strong.  If you ever stand by one during a heavy wind, you can hear the wind as it blows around the ridges. Hopefully this satisfies your thirst for saguaro knowledge - for now.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Elwha River Dams Demolition

January 31st, 2012

The 45 mile long Elwha River runs north through Olympic National Park in Washington from its source, the Elwha snowfinger, to the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  It is also one of the few rivers in the Pacific Northwest that is home to all five species of Pacific salmon.  The Elwha River is also home to two dams, the 108 ft tall Elwha River Dam (1914) and the 210ft tall Glines Canyon Dam (1927), that is until a demolition project that started in September 2011. This two and a half year project will result in the largest dam removal project in history, in an attempt to restore an entire river system.

More than 2.5 million dams - both public and private - have been erected throughout the United States over its 235 year history, blocking streams and rivers.  More than a quarter of these dams have passed their 50 year average life expectancy; by 2020, that figure will reach 85%.   Once past the 50 year mark, most dams begin to degenerate.  Concrete walls degrade, earthworks erode and seep, spillway gates rust and lose tensile strength and sediment clogs reservoirs, reducing their capacity.  At the worst, an aging dam could fail, causing catastrophic flooding.  Maintenance costs, pressure from conservation groups, fishermen, tribal councils and state and federal agencies have created growing pressures with low economic returns, resulting in more and more dams considered for removal nation wide. Before the construction of the Elwha River dams, over 400,000 salmon returned to the River to spawn over 70 miles of river habitat.  Now, fewer than 4,000 salmon return to the river to spawn the 4.9 miles of river left available to spawn below the Elwha Dam.  Once the dams have been removed, the National Park Service estimates that once the area is ecologically restored, the Elwha River habitat will be back to the pre-dam salmon population. For more information, visit the Olympic National Park Elwha River Restoration website.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

A Stretch a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

January 15th, 2012

Stretching is the deliberate lengthening of muscles in order to increase muscle flexibility and joint range of motion. Stretching activities are an important part of any exercise or rehabilitation program. They help warm the body up prior to activity thus decreasing the risk of injury as well as muscle soreness. These days more and more people suffer from circulation, posture, and other joint problems.  Studies have shown that just stretching daily can improve your health.  It takes around ten minutes every morning or night and does wonders on your body at any age. Children that stretch daily improve their coordination and helps control their constantly  growing bodies. Stretching has also been shown to increase a child's alertness and make it easier for them to pay attention in school.  Children who stretch, or exercise regularly) normally get better grades than their less alert counterparts and have a higher chance of completing school and graduating with their class than peers that do not do some form of daily exercise. Senior citizens can also benefit greatly from daily stretching.  It can increase their overall strength and flexibility so they can more around faster and  without hurting themselves in the process. 

Stretching has also been proven to relieve some joint pain from arthritis, back pain, and mobility issues. Even working adults can benefit from daily stretching. It makes those long days sitting at a desk in front of a computer less painful. It also would put you in a better mood throughout the day.  In addition, it is helpful for adults to stretch at night after work to relieve the stress from the day giving you a better night's sleep and prepare them for the next day. There is a proper way to stretch and not stretching correctly can cause injuries.

  • Warm up first - walk around while pumping arms and get the blood flowing.
  • Hold each stretch for at least 30 seconds.
  • Don't Bounce!
  • Focus on a pain free stretch- if it hurts you're going to far.
  • Breathe freely and relax.
  • Stretch both sides - it's a good idea to stay even.

So when you wake up tomorrow morning stretch a little and you'll feel a whole lot better!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Pack the Pack Pillow

January 8th, 2012

True confession: when I was in my early 20s, I purposely slept without a pillow to make myself tough for backpacking. It was part of a well-intentioned (and, in retrospect, ill-conceived) plan to prepare myself to pack light, sleep well, and move efficiently in the backcountry. I was obsessed. I kept a nalgene bottle in my book bag or near my desk in my dorm room to “stay hydrated,” wore my boots around campus to “break them in,” and maintained a rigorous exercise regime in the name of being in better shape for next season. As a wilderness trail builder during my college summers, this behavior was enabled by other similarly motivated zealots. Around steaming bowls of reconstituted red beans and rice or oatmeal, we talked strategies for tackling giant endurance hikes—through hiking the Pacific Crest, Appalachian, or Continental Divide trails—completing timed challenges like a rim-to-rim-to-rim in the Grand Canyon and other ambitious adventures. We debated the advantages and disadvantages of packing light—everything was on the table. Pack a tent, sleep in a bivy sack, or tough it out with neither; toilet paper versus au natural; pack a stove or cook on sterno cans; water purifier or “tablets”; eat met or go without? We argued the ethics of going light or being a “blue blazer” (one who hikes the Applachian Trail with the modest comforts of a thermarest, stove, and possibly a change of underwear). These questions ravaged my mind back at school during the “off season.”

A dozen years and thousands of miles later, I have relaxed a bit. I still strive to move efficiently but also be as comfortable in the backcountry as possible. My mantra: keep it simple by taking fewer, better things. Luckily, modern technology has made it possible to reduce weight and maximize comfort. In that vein, here the three things I never leave home without (also great items for the Christmas list - well for next year, so everyone can start shopping early!):

1. Synthetic down jacket (or a light down jacket if you’re in a dry climate or just prefer down)—I have a Mountain Hardwear Compressor but lots of companies make them (look for “Primaloft” insulation). It compresses into a ball (a perfect pillow if you stuff it in your sleeping back stuff sack!) or you can stuff it into the little empty spaces in your pack and never know it’s there. Synthetic down is warm when wet and incredibly durable and versatile. Whether you need to ward off the cold while lunching on a breezy pass or you’re lounging around camp after dinner, you’ll be glad you have it.

2. Convertible zip-off nylon hiking pants—These are D-O-R-K-Y, dorky. But, when you realize that they eliminate the need to carry any other pants/shorts, you won’t care. Combine with wicking nylon shirt and undies (except in hot desert climates where cotton can help keep you cool) and you can quickly wash and dry your wardrobe on the trail reducing how many changes of clothing you have to pack.

3. A thermarest (or other inflatable air mattresses like Big Agnes)—Spend the money and get the pad that is the lightest while still comfortable (and while you’re at it, a patch kit). I use a full length “Pro-lite” and I sleep as well as I do in my bed at home. The new “NeoAir” pads look incredible. Worth every penny and ounce (mine weighs in at less than a pound).

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

New Year’s Resolutions for the Outdoor Enthusiast - or the Wannabe

December 30th, 2011

The New Year is upon us, so time to start making (and committing to) those resolutions.  Here are some ideas for the outdoor enthusiasts, or the burgeoning enthusiasts alike.   But first a tip or two - keep them specific and reachable.  Only 12-20% of resolutions are kept, depending on the study read.

Get outside more and when you do, leave the phone at home! Give your brain a break and take in the fresh air - even if you just go outside for a 15 minute walk.  This allows the blood to move from your butt to the rest of your body.  Leave the distraction at home and you might get a chance to think freely and come up with new, unique ideas such as, "How would I look with that traffic cone on my head.  Wish I had my phone so I could take a picture and post it on Facebook."

Get even more outside and take a hike or a backpacking trip, and still leave the phone at home! Time to get rid of all the distractions and go somewhere lacking all the modern conveniences such as computers, phones, vehicles, bathrooms, running water, etc.  There is nothing more rejuvenating for the body and brain than taking in nature and seeing the world through your own eyes and not through a computer.  Sleep on the ground under the stars (yes, there are still stars).  Take a dip in the nearby creek for your bath (with no soap).  Be silent and listen to the wilderness - you might even catch some wildlife activity.  Not interested in nature - at least it is a great way to exercise and lose some holiday pounds.  Remember, if people couldn't live without modern conveniences in the past, you would not be here today.

Learn how to read a map and use a compass. Not much to say here except you don't need a GPS to explore the outdoors.

Hire a guide. Whether you want to try something new and adventurous, or you are a seasoned adventurer, hiring a guide is a great investment to teach you some things that can take months upon years to learn if on your own.  A fishing guide can teach you technique, a hiking guide can take you places you would never think to venture, a hunting guide can show you the best places to stalk your prey and any guide can teach you about the history, flora, fauna, geology, etc. about any on the places you go.  Not convinced?  Think of it this way, even the world's best athletes still have coaches, think of a guide as the same.

Leave it as you found it. When you are out in the wilderness, be diligent about leaving nature as you found it so the next person does not have to see you were there.  Most importantly, refrain from carving "Joe was here" on the nearby tree - no one really cares you were there anyway.  Pack out all trash, even microtrash such as crumbs and small bits of paper.  If you spill your trail mix, don't leave it for the wildlife to clean up.  If our food is making the world fat, imagine what it can do to the squirrels (Need evidence? Visit Grand Canyon to see some of the world's fattest squirrels).  This includes pits, peels, and seeds.  In some environments, such as the desert, a small orange peel can take more than 6 months to decompose.

Leave it better than you found it. Go one step further and pick up after other people.  Yes, you don't want to be every one's mother but if you take ownership of the wilderness, it won't feel as arduous to clean up after others.  Additionally, you never want to assume someone else will take care of it.  That kind of apathy does nobody in society any good.  For more tips on leaving no trace, visit the Leave No Trace website.

Volunteer. There are hundreds of programs and organizations geared to preserving and protecting the natural outdoors. Volunteering to clean up trash at a state or national park, assist in a wildlife rehabilitation program, volunteer as a ranger or docent at your local museum, petition to protect some natural land in your own city.  There is much out there and you will find it without much looking. This is just a few of the many ideas.  If you have any, please share with the class. And have a fulfilling 2012!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Don’t Go Hungry in Yosemite this Winter!

December 27th, 2011

Yosemite National Park is one of the country's most popular national parks, with almost 4 million visitors annually (depending on who you ask).  But these numbers are at their peak during the late Spring through early Fall months, where if swimming through a sea of people is not your thing, the only way out is to strap on a backpack and hike into the wilderness for some serious alone time.  Or, you can venture out during the off season for a stress-free vacation - few crowds, beautiful snow capped mountain peaks, flowing waterfalls (when not frozen) and during the months of January and February, some of the best cuisine a wilderness foodie could ever ask for - prepared by some of America's most notable chefs.

Every year for the past 25 years, the Chef's Holiday event has celebrated culinary excellence to the backdrop of all Yosemite has to offer.  Held in the AAA Four Diamond Ahwahnee Hotel (also a Yosemite landmark since it opened in 1927), the Chef's Holiday provides the foodie a number of activities including chef demos, mix and mingle receptions, kitchen tours at the Ahwahnee and gala dinners held in the hotel's grandiose dining room - with views of the towering granite cliffs from the Yosemite Valley floor. The Chef's Holiday includes eight 2-3 night packages from January 8 to February 2, 2012.  This year's event will feature Annie Sommerville from Greens in San Francisco, Donald Link from Herbsaint in New Orleans, Suzanne Goin from Lucques in Los Angeles, David Berzirgan from Fifth Floor in San Francisco and more.  For the full shabang - For $896/person, you can stay 2 nights at the Ahwahnee or three nights for $1,145.  Or, if you want to "slum it," you can bunk up at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls for $665 and $800 respectively.  It really isn't slumming - but compared to staying at the Ahwahnee - well...  Or, drive in for the day and attend the Gala Dinner for $199/person. For more information, call 801-559-4903 or visit the Yosemite Parks website for more information. Bon Apetit!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Santa’s Lifeless Body Thrown Out of Plane Over Mesa, Arizona

December 23rd, 2011

Mesa, AZ (1932) - In an attempt to boost sales in the business district during the worst economic disaster in United States history, (yes worse than that of recent times) A.K.A the Great Depression, editor of the Mesa Journal-Tribune, John McPhee conjured up a brilliant idea to get consumers in the Christmas spending state of mind.  In conjunction with the Mesa Christmas Parade, and the popularity of aerial stunts, McPhee decided to create his own stunt - have Santa open up the parade by parachuting in over downtown Mesa.  The plan was to have a professional skydiver dress as Santa and glide over all the shoppers, making them eager to open their wallets. But as is said, even the best laid plans of mice and men oft go astray.  When Santa Claus showed up, ready for his flying gig, he was drunk (and yes, alcohol was illegal at this time so there was no possible way he could have been drunk - said with intense sarcasm).  So in Miracle on 34th Street fashion, the drunk Santa was fired and the real Santa took his place, went to court to prove his legitimacy and all was good with the world - wait, wrong story. Anyway, McPhee went to plan B - dress a mannequin up in a Santa suit, parachute attached, and throw it out of the plane.  When the dummy landed in a nearby field, McPhee would collect the dummy, and already dressed in Santa apparel, would ride out to the parade and great all his many fans.

Please note the year - 1932 - the iSanta had not yet been invented, so this dummy couldn't pull its own rip cord.  Santa "jumped" from the plane and began his great fall to the desert below.  Spectators stared first with excitement, and then udder horror as Santa continued his mighty descent from the sky, teaching all the children first hand, the laws of gravity. And Santa landed with a thud.  That is when John McPhee became famously known as the Man Who Killed Santa Claus.  Needless to say, spectators were no longer in the shopping mood, vacating the shops and the parade.  This was the saddest Mesa parade ever- while also amusing.  Mesa never let McPhee live down his stunt.  Even when his own newspaper published his death in 1958, he was still best known for his innocent gimmick gone awry.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Luminarias - an American Southwest Christmas Tradition

December 22nd, 2011

If you were not raised in the American Southwest, you may be unfamiliar with luminarias.  Most people associate luminarias with  small candles inside brown paper bags with sand lining the bottom that are lit on Christmas Eve.  However, luminarias have been around since the 16th century as the Spanish tradition of lighting bonfires along roads and churchyards to give people a lighted pathway to Midnight Mass on the last night of Las Posadas (a nine day celebration from December 16th-24th commemorating Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem prior to the birth of Jesus).  The paper bag versions of luminarias are also called farolitos (Spanish for little lantern), a name preferred by the purists since a burning candle inside a paper bag is in no way equivalent to a bonfire.  Over time, the lighting of luminarias has become popular in the secular realm as well, being the center focus of holiday time events and gatherings. If you have never been witness to golden glow of luminarias, it is a site to see, especially in neighborhoods that all partake in the tradition, with sidewalks and driveways lit for miles on Christmas Eve.  And, if you want to see them in person, there are many events during the holiday season devoted to the tradition.

Phoenix, AZ - Las Noches de Las Luminarias at the Desert Botanical Garden.  See over 8000 hand lit luminaries lining the walkways of the desert preserve through the month of December every year.

Tuscon, AZ - The Tucson Botanical Garden also hosts a luminaria event on the first weekend of December. Albuquerque, NM - Many areas in Albuquerque are adorned with this holiday tradition; Old Town, the Country Club and neighborhoods all around the city.  Take a long driving tour or sign up for an organized tour. Mesa Verde National Park, CO - Luminarias glow along the pathways to the headquarters area and along the trail to the Spruce Tree House. Go to the Mesa Verde National Park website for more information. secular

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Mistletoe: The Parasitic, Toxic Plant of Love

December 14th, 2011

The act of kissing under the mistletoe at Christmas time is a long time tradition, starting in ancient Scandinavia from the Norse myth of Baldur. Baldur's mother was the Norse goddess Frigga, whom, when Baldur was born, made each and every plant, animal and inanimate object promise not to harm Baldur. The mistletoe plant was overlooked and he was killed by a spear made of mistletoe.  Although Baldur was restored to life, Frigga declared the mistletoe plant sacred and would bring love into the world instead of death.  Whenever two people pass under the mistletoe, they would celebrate Baldur's resurrection by kissing under the plant. Ironically, mistletoe is not considered a plant of life and love for other plants.  It is a parasite that develops inside its host plant for a couple years before producing aerial shoots outside the host.

True mistletoe (genus Phoradendron) do contain chlorophyll and carry on photosynthesis on its own; however, the parasite depends on its host plant for carbohydrates, water and mineral nutrients. They typically cause a slow decline in the host plant for many years before it eventually dies.  Conversely, the plant provides nutrients and shelter for many animals, especially the berries that are available as a food source when all other sources are scarce during the winter months.  These same berries are toxic if consumed by people, yet the plant itself may be beneficial to human health (the jury is still out on this one). Mistletoe is very difficult to eradicate.  The seed is carried by birds when they are eaten and deposited on the host plant.  Because the mistletoe grows inside the host plant, it cannot be removed without removing the infected branch or even the entire host plant. The plant is found in many places throughout the world, but Arizona, because the landscape and climate varies greatly throughout the state, has a number of species of mistletoe (seven species), including the famous Christmas mistletoe so many kissing afficienados are familiar. Phoradendron macrophyllum occurs in many hardwood trees such as cottonwood, ash, black locust, hackberry, maple, walnut, sycamore and willow from west Texas to Northern California.   It is most conspicuous when the host tree loses its leaves during the winter and is harvested as Christmas mistletoe in Arizona. So next time you are kissing under the mistletoe, remember that there is more to this plant than which Christmas makes it famous.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Arizona I-17 Christmas Tree

December 8th, 2011

For as long as I can remember, which on some occasions may be only as far back as last Tuesday, there is a large Juniper tree on Arizona Interstate 17 that would be decorated after every Thanksgiving Day by the unknown - people, aliens, elves, squirrels, who knows.  As a kid, this was one of my favorite attractions on the road to and from northern Arizona as we drove to Sedona and Prescott for family vacations.  Even in the summer after all the decorations would be removed, I still looked for the decorated Juniper tree.  Sometimes it was decorated in toilet paper or plastic bags but that was just not quite the same - nothing brings out the warm and fuzzy like a bunch of gold balls (just stop - you know what I mean).

For the past 30 or more years, persons of unknown identities have been decorating the 15ft Juniper tree that grows on the center medium near milepost 254.  Reporters have tried to catch the cheery perps in the act but to no avail.  Some say it is the Arizona Highway Patrol and others believe the Department of Transportation may be involved - all have denied of course.  Or maybe the tree is some flashy Christmas miracle.  A retired ADOT engineer has admitted to knowing some of the culprits but will not divulge any identities. In August of this year, a large brush fire threatened the life of the tree, yet the fire only singed the trunk and some lower branches, giving it the new name "Miracle Christmas Tree."  Speculation arose that the first responders to the fire saved the tree, but Glenn Brown, Mayer, AZ fire chief denies this to be the case.   Actually, the canopy of the one-seeded Juniper doesn't allow much undergrowth near the tree, thus eliminating much needed fuel for the fire. But, miracles are fun to believe in this time of year. Unfortunately, last I heard that this tree has yet to be adorned in its annual decor so hopefully someone gets out there quick (but it is illegal to cross a freeway on foot or stop on the freeway  - making the idea of going out with a couple boxes of shiny balls even more enticing.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Practice Leave No Trace at Home

December 4th, 2011

The wind seemed to suck the moisture out of my mouth, eyes and nostrils as I sat beneath the lucid bowl of blue sky and piercing sun on a ridge at 12,000 feet in New Mexico’s Sangre de Cristo Mountains.  On that July day, not yet sixteen years old, I had a profound encounter with wilderness.

As our group sat in the high alpine grass and gravel we could see far down to the small towns of Eagle’s Nest and Angel Fire.  Our guide led a discussion about the value of wild places—as habitat and ecosystems and places to test and develop our characters—and the importance of protecting them.  He pointed to a scar in the verdant mountainside a few miles to the west—a mine.  I can’t remember what was being mined.  None of us—young men in our teens and early twenties from all walks of life and all over the country—needed to be convinced about the grave costs of mining to wild places, nature or water quality.  After climbing to that height, sleeping among the aspen and the dwarfed hardy alpine firs that clung to life in the constant wind, we felt that something was intrinsically wrong with tearing this landscape apart to produce something as seemingly trivial as a piece of jewelry.

We didn’t have the words or logic to make sense of our conflicted existence—our packs had metal frames, we traveled to the trailhead in metal cars fueled and lubricated with petroleum products, enabled to reach this great height and appreciate it by affluence derived from America’s abundant natural resources.  Yet we felt that something was wrong.  Our guide didn’t have to say anything.  After directing out attention to the mine he told us, “what you do when you’re here has little affect on protecting places like this; it’s what you do when you are at home that has the greatest effect on wild places.”

We were left contemplating this argument; in fact, nearly two decades later, I revisit it every time I venture into the outdoors.  We practice “Leave No Trace” outdoor ethics when we are in the backcountry to minimize our impact on our wild lands but the little things we do at home likely have a larger effect on the places we love.  We’ve heard it all before, but simple, apolitical conservation choices, like recycling aluminum and steel cans, reduces the demand for metals from new mines and creates and supports jobs in sustainable industries.  Recycling plastic bottles and driving more efficient cars reduces demand for new oil wells in our public lands and along our coasts.  Using compact florescent light bulbs and choosing to build energy efficient homes and buildings reduces demand for electricity which translates into fewer coal and uranium mines (like those proposed near the Grand Canyon).  Recycling paper reduces the demand for logging old growth forests.

Pop culture has inundated us with exhortations to live “green” over the past few years, but if you love the outdoors and wild places you have one more tangible reason to toss that can or newspaper in the recycling bin.  When you are painstakingly digging your cat hole eight inches deep and 200 feet from a water source and camping and hiking on durable surfaces ask yourself if you are applying the same care to protecting that place when you are at home.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Ask for Warm Stuff for Christmas!

November 29th, 2011

Writing this blog from Phoenix, Arizona is a bit challenging - today saw a high of 79 F.  Although I am wearing shorts and a t-shirt and it is November 29th, I can still inform you of relatively new technology from Columbia Sportswear that is supposed to keep you warmer.  Since I find even holding an ice cube in my bare hands for longer than 30 seconds painful, I am all for items that keep me warmer when in the backcountry during the colder months.

Columbia released its Omni-Heat line of jackets, boots and gloves last year, but they are adding more to the line - definitely worth a look for this holiday season of frenzied shopping.  These items use a thermal technology that helps retain body heat and prevent heat loss.  According to Columbia, their thermal insulation technology helps you maintain warmth and prevent heat loss via the synthetic thermal reflective lining that has "little silver dots" that reflect heat back to your body, keeping you 20% warmer that other insulation.  But the insulation lining breaths so you don't overheat, which is good news since as you may have experienced the conundrum of trying to stay warm, but then you sweat, ultimately making you colder.

For you winter backpackers out there, the extra warmth does not come with extra weight.  Columbia has also been able to make their products warmer without adding more bulk and weight.  Unfortunately, the website does not include weight specs for the jackets, but according to a review on Backpacker Magazine, the jacket reviewed weight 1lb, 5 oz and cost $170. Having not tried any of these products out for myself (waiting for Columbia to come to their senses and allow me to test their cold weather gear in the torturous Phoenix winters), customer reviews have been positive on the warmth aspect but it seems the product may run a bit small so beware if you are ordering on-line.

And if just your body heat won't do it for you, there is also the electric heat-on-demand products (energy produced from rechargeable batteries), giving you 3 levels of core warmth for up to 6 hours with a push of the button.  I personally was hoping for solar recharging.  Where am I going to recharge my batteries in the backcountry after a few days?  Oh, and these products are priced at $300 and up.

And the best part...the ad campaign showing people torturing themselves in snowy winter conditions in their skivvies (that means underwear).

So with a $399 price tag, I can get some Omni-heat electric powered gloves for the next time I have to rummage through the freezer for steaks.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

For Thanksgiving - A Little Wild Turkey History

November 21st, 2011

Before you continue reading, I feel obligated to let you know this blog is not about Wild Turkey Bourbon (but tune in next week).  This blog is to educate all you turkey fans that the United States and the rest of North America has a long history with the turkey and not just for the drum sticks. Pre and Post-Colonial Central and North American Turkey History The turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) or "huexolotlin" in the ancient language of the Aztecs in Mexico was the first animals in the Americas to be domesticated.  The Aztecs considered the turkey one of the most important animals in their culture, as one of the manifestations of Tezcatlipoca, the trickster god, one of the highest regarded gods in the Aztec polytheistic pantheon.  Evidence  shows turkeys were used in sacred Mayan ceremonies as well.  As the popularity of the turkey grew among several other civilizations and cultures, their populations grew well into North America before any of the early European settlers arrived.  In 1519, Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes de Monroy y Pizarro noticed Aztec king Monteczuma raising turkeys and kept them in his zoo as food for other animals.  It is very possible Monteczuma served Cortes turkey mole poblano (mole of the people). The Spanish took the turkeys back to Europe where they became very popular for state dinners.  Turkey feathers were also very popular for use in arrows, headdresses and jewelry. In North America, the Navajo in Southwestern US encountered wild turkeys when the birds would forage in the cornfields, eating their already scant crops.  Unable to keep them from destroying the crops, the Navajo began to feed them and fence them in, becoming a controlled source of food.  In many Native American cultures, including the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo in the Southwest US, the turkey symbolizes the sacrifice of self for a higher purpose, the gift of giving and harvest bounties. Even one of the nation's  founding fathers regarded the the turkey enough to make a case for its nomination as the National Bird (at least Benjamin Franklin was rumored to have felt this should be the case instead of the Bald Eagle).  In a letter he wrote to his daughter, he stated; "For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country.  He is a bird of bad moral Character.  He does not get his Living honestly.  You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and then that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him." Wild Turkeys of the Southwest There are two species of turkey indigenous to the Southwestern states of the US; the Merriam's wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo merriami) and the Gould's wild turkey (Meleagris gallopavo mexicana). The Merriam's wild turkey (named in 1900 by Dr. E.W. Nelson) is found primarily in the ponderosa pine forests and western mountain regions of the US (Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado) and relatively isolated from other wild turkey subspecies - if you have ever seen wild turkeys roaming around the North or South Rim of Grand Canyon, these are they.  There were also a couple turkeys hanging out at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of Grand Canyon a few years back believed to have come from the North Rim, so likely of the merriami subspecies.  The Merriams have been recently transplanted to the pine forests of Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska ad South Dakota.  Their population is estimated at around 350,000 nationwide.

The Gould's wild turkey is one of the least known but largest of the five subspecies and found in the mountains of Northern Mexico with some in the southern portions of Arizona and New Mexico and first discovered in 1896 by J. Gould during his travels to Mexico.  The Gould turkey are also heavily protected and regulated but have never been listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.  In other words, you cannot have this one stuffed for your Thanksgiving feast.  Their numbers declined during the time between the Civil War and WWI when miners working in Southern Arizona used them as a main source of food.  By 1929, they were all but extinct.  Arizona's Game and Fish Department, working with the National Wild Turkey Federation and Mexico, has successfully reintroduced the Gould's wild turkey back into existence in Southern Arizona.  They can now be found in six mountain ranges in Southern Arizona; Pinaleno, Chiracahua, Galiuro, Santa Rita, Catalina and Huachuca.

So, next time you pick up that Butter Ball from your grocer's freezer, remember that the bird you are about to enjoy is much more than just white or dark meat.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Great Outdoors! Disneyland it Ain’t.

November 14th, 2011

Everyone loves an occasional day hike or camping trip, but some people like the idea of the wilderness more than the reality of being away from the advantages of modern day conveniences. The best part about hiking is exploring new places, getting dirty, and staying fit. However, some people refuse to fully embrace the outdoors and would rather be carried to the bottom of Grand Canyon or have a fancy five-course meal at the end of everyday instead of maybe making some mac and cheese over a backpacking stove. These are actual comments left on U. S. Forest Service registration sheets and comment cards by backpackers completing wilderness camping trips:

  • “A small deer came into my camp and stole my bag of pickles. Is there a way I can get reimbursed? Please call.”
  • “Escalators would help on steep uphill sections.”
  • “Instead of a permit system or regulations, the Forest Service needs to reduce worldwide population growth to limit the number of visitors to wilderness.”
  • “Trails need to be wider so people can walk while holding hands.”
  • “Ban walking sticks in wilderness. Hikers that use walking sticks are more likely to chase animals.”
  • “All the mile markers are missing this year.”
  • “Found a smoldering cigarette left by a horse.”
  • “Trails need to be reconstructed. Please avoid building trails that go uphill.”
  • “Too many bugs and leeches and spiders and spider webs. Please spray the wilderness to rid the area of these pests.”
  • “Please pave the trails so they can be plowed of snow in the winter.”
  • “Chair lifts need to be in some places so that we can get to wonderful views without having to hike to them.”
  • “The coyotes made too much noise last night and kept me awake. Please eradicate these annoying animals.”
  • “Reflectors need to be placed on trees every 50 feet so people can hike at night with flashlights.”
  • “Need more signs to keep area pristine.”
  • “A McDonald’s would be nice at the trail head.”
  • “The places where trails do not exist are not well marked.”
  • “Too many rocks in the mountains.”

And here are a few from personal sources. "Why did the Indians build their homes so far from the freeway?" (while touring 1000 year old Sinaguan ruins). "So, Grand Canyon is as deep in the day as it is at night, then?" "Here's my credit card, I wold like to get a helicopter out now please." (a female hiker asking a ranger to get a helicopter from the bottom of Grand Canyon because she was tired of hiking). When passing a Pima Cotton crop - "How do they get the different colored cotton to grow?" And these are just the comments.  People's actions are much more asinine, but that is for another day.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Haunted Hikes in Grand Canyon, Yosemite and Olympic National Parks

November 1st, 2011

Hiking is not supposed to be scary, or is it?  Aside from rattlesnakes, steep trails and absolute isolation, there is nothing to be afraid of.  But, add some spirits to your hike and your hiking adventure gets that much more, well, adventurous.  If you think I am talking about spirits in the liquid form, that is an entire different blog, but with the same adventurous outcome none-the-less.  I speak of those that tug on your hair, go bump in the night and appear as that dark shadow coming towards you from up the trail.

Grand Canyon National Park - Those of you familiar with Grand Canyon may have either been to or at least heard of Phantom Ranch.  While a spooky name and great for the Halloween season, the area at the bottom of the canyon is not named as such due to a scary specter or ghostly apparitions, but after Phantom Canyon, aptly named  from hiding itself from the government cartographers who missed it the first time they mapped Grand Canyon.  But there are stories of a ghost around Phantom Ranch and Bright Angel Campground.  Those of you who may have hiked to the area hiked down South Kaibab Trail, across Black Bridge and over to Bright Angel Campground to catch the Bright Angel Trail may not realize they also pass the grave of Rees Griffiths, one of the trail crew that died while cutting a route to the North Kaibab Trail near Phantom Ranch on February 6, 1922.  Many visitors have said to have witnessed a light that hangs over his grave. The ghosts don't just stay on the South Rim of the canyon.  The lesser visited North Rim of Grand Canyon has its own La Llorona, the weeping woman.  While no one knows the identity of this ghost, the Grand Canyon version reportedly committed suicide after losing her husband and child in a drowning or some other accident.  There are no documented accounts or person linked to the ghost, however, many campers and hikers have heard mournful wails at night and have seen her along the Transept Trail.

Olympic National Park - With a coastline, glaciated mountain peaks and a temperate rainforest, Olympic National Park is one of the largest and most diverse parks in the National Park System.  But more alluring than than all this is, Olympic also has a Big Foot.  The park's first sighting was in 1948 near the Hoh River Trail somewhere between Elk Lake and Glacier Meadows.  During the summer of 2000,  resident of the Hoh Indian Reservation heard strange noises and found giant footsteps behind his home.  Other tracks were found along the Sol Duc River and in October, a European hiker saw two creatures with arms so long their hands were to their knees, hiking the park's Elk Mountain Trail. Rainforests make for an easy environment to never be found.  In August of 1939, rangers found the camp of Marion Stevens, a female botanist.  Despite a intense search, she was never found.  Sixty years later rangers found another abandoned campsite near Elk Lake that belonged to Hendrick Broeren, also never found.  So if you are looking to "get lost" or "disappear," take a hike along the Klahhane Ridge Trail.

Yosemite National Park - Take a hike to Grouse Lake via Chilnualna Falls trail and you may hear a distinct wailing cry like the sound of a lost puppy.  According to Indians from the Yosemite area, the sound is not one from a dog but from an Indian boy that had been drowned in Grouse Lake.  Anytime anyone would wander by, the boy would cry after them to come to the lake and save him.  Anyone who ventured into the lake would be grabbed by the legs and pulled into the lake to drown. The Ahwahneechee call Bridalveil Falls Po-ho-no, meaning "spirit of the evil wind."  Legend says an old woman and a young girl were picking berries near the top of the waterfall when the young girl entered the water, walking to the brink of the roaring falls.  A wind then picked up and pushed her off the edge, where she died on the rocks below.  Her death was blamed on Po-ho-no.  So next time you hike above one of Yosemite's amazing waterfalls, beware of Po-ho-no.  Or, just beware of the dangers inherent in any tall cliff with raging waters plummeting to several hundred feet below. So next time you are on hike hike, keep your eyes and ears open, you may just encounter something to write home about.  Or maybe you already have!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

It’s a Grave Situation!

October 27th, 2011

Halloween is the best time to visit cemeteries and grave sites.  What a better place for a great scare or to see some ghosts!?

Boothill - Tombstone, Arizona

Arizona is home to one of the most famous, or infamous, graveyards in Western history - Boothill.  For all you Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday fans, Tombstone, AZ is the place to visit and you can't pass up the graveyard.  The city of Tombstone was one of the last wide-open frontier boomtowns in the American Old West and produced $40 to $85 million in silver bullion from 1877 to 1890 and had a population that grew from 100 to 14,000 in seven years.  But with growth and wealth also came corruption, theft and political differences.  And then of course the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, in a nutshell. Before being replaced by the current cemetery, Boothill was home to up to 300 deceased, most of which met untimely and unnatural deaths, including Billy Clanton, Tom McLaury and Frank McLaury (the three men shot at the O.K. Corral).  With so many violent deaths, Boothill's Graveyard has a reputation for supernatural activity.  Visitors commonly sense a feeling of uneasiness and unusual cold spots, even during the hottest of the Arizona's summer months.  Not to mention various apparitions that show up in visitor's photographs.

Grave of Cochise - Dragoon Mountains, Arizona

Cochise Stronghold is a canyon in the Coronado National Forest in the southeastern corner of Arizona and is open to hiking, camping and climbing.  But in the mid 1800s, the area was home to the Chiricahua band of Apache Indians, led by the Apache Chief, Cochise.  After many years of resistance to the American intruders, Cochise finally made peace with his enemies and retired to the Chiricahua reservation.  He dies of natural causes in 1874 and was laid to rest in a secret crevice in the Dragoon Mountains.  Only his people and a white man by the name of Tom Jeffords knew the location of his grave.  Visitors to the Cochise Stronghold believe to have seen the warrior - a man in Native American dress with long black hair is often seen roaming around the hills and campers have reported hearing a tune echoing among the rocks and seeing a man with a flute sitting atop one of the towering peaks.

Tom Mix Died Here - Florence, Arizona

Thomas "Tom" Edwin Mix (b. Thomas Hezikiah Mix) was an American film actor, staring in a reported 336 films of which all but nine were silent.  He defined a genre of cowboy actors that followed him and was considered a Western movie megastar of his time,  influencing other stars of the silver screen such as Ronald Reagan (yes, President Reagan) and John Wayne.  But on October 12, 1940, the 60 year old Mr. Mix was in Tucson, AZ visiting the Pima County Sheriff, Ed Nichols and then spent some time at The Oracle Junction Inn, a popular drinking and gambling establishment.  On Arizona State Route 79, driving his 1937 Chord 812 Phaeton, Mix came upon some construction barriers in front of a bridge that had previously washed out by a flash food.  A work crew watched as he was unable to break in time, swerve and rolled his car into an arroyo.  His body was pinned underneath and killed almost instantly.  Witnesses report he was driving upwards of 80 MPH. Today, as you're traveling between Phoenix and Tucson along Hwy 79, you will see the wash named after him "Tom Mix Wash" and the memorial set up in his honor at the crash site.  A plaque on the memorial reads "In memory of Tom Mix whose spirit left his body on this spot and whose characterization and portrayals in life served better to fix memories of the old West in the minds of living men."  No reports of seeing Tom wandering the area, but you never know.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Goat Sucking Beasts and Baby Cannibals - Oh My!

October 18th, 2011

It is October and time for the yearly installment of blogs about ghosts, creatures and other ghoulish things that exist in the western United States.  Today's bedtime story, children, is about a couple monsters living here in Arizona and other parts of the Southwestern United States. So get under the covers and turn on the lights.  Don't bother screaming because no one will hear you - buuuwaaahahahahahahah!

Our first tale is about a beast that defies science but leaves enough evidence to keep even the naysayers saying maybe.  Tales of El Chupacabra, which means "goat sucker," originated in Puerto Rico and spread through Latin America, up through Mexico and into Southwestern US (technically Chupy is an illegal).  It is said El Chupacabra has left thousands of mutilated, blood-drained animals in the areas it is said to inhabit.  the victims are mostly goats, cows and chickens and are discovered after having been attacked in the night.  They are emptied of blood with well-defined puncture wounds in either the neck or the hindquarters but with no evidence of external bleeding.   Also alarming is the lack of any footprints or animal tracks around the carnage.  Stories of the beast only date back to the 1950s and 60s, with one of the first reported sighting in the US at the turn of the century (21st century). A Tucson resident by the name of Billy Nubian reported that he was awakened in the middle of the night by his two panicked goats.  When he went outside, he saw a "rat-like" creature pinning one of his goats to the ground.  A few years later, in 2003, another Tucson resident recalled a "half-man, half-ape looking thing" squatting in her front yard (reports did not mention if she lived near the University of Arizona frat houses, which might explain the sighting).  When the creature saw her, it crouched and leapt towards her, making a hissing sound before running away.  The creature was described as having big piercing eyes, large hind legs and an arched back with spines.  She was not familiar with the legends at the time but her description matched others - kangaroo-like legs, large eyes an a spiked back.  And why would the crime scenes show no footprints?  Because other reported sightings have claimed Chupy also has leathery wings.  One Arizonan said he spotted a small ape-like creature crossing I-19 towards the Arizona/Mexico border that flew into the man's headlights and into the night.

El Chupacabra has yet to attack humans but there is another creature from Native American traditions that do.  Tribes in the Numic language group such as the Paiute in Northern Arizona, tell stories about the Ninimbe.  These tiny elf-like creatures with tails and large heads lurk around wells, bushes and rocky places and are said to be cannibals.  Pima Indian tradition tells of the Vipinim, said to live below a particular spring south of Sacaton, AZ.  Vipinim are related to water babies or water monster children that resemble children but are covered in green or black hair and have webbed hands and feet.  They mimic the cries of drowning babies to lure victims to the water where they drown them. But are these superstitions?  In 2004, archeologists discovered evidence of three to four foot tall species who may have shared the earth with Homo sapiens as recently as 18,000 years ago. So next time you are visiting the desert Southwest, leave your livestock at home and don't be fooled by the sounds of crying, drowning babies in the dark pool of water. Source: Wesley Treat, Weird Arizona, Sterling Publishing Co.:New York, NY, 2007.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Keep it Quiet! Limits Proposed for Helicopter Tours Over Grand Canyon.

September 30th, 2011

When people decide to plan a trip to Grand Canyon National Park, there are many different ways they may choose to experience it. Some may choose to hike down into the canyon and explore the trails, some may choose to take the wet route and travel down the Colorado, or maybe they choose the take the bird's eye option and just fly over the canyon and take in the views from above. However, there is a consequence of flying high.  When people go to the Grand Canyon, or any National park for that matter, they want to get away from noisy city and enjoy some of the country's natural beauty.  They don't want their relaxing trip interrupted by loud planes every 30 minutes.  The National Park Service has taken this into consideration and decided to do something about it.

Grand Canyon gets around 4.5 million visitors each year, and of those tourists around 8% of them never step foot in the National Park boundaries.  Instead they fly over it in helicopters and small planes, creating excessive noise in the canyon and lessening the enjoyment of many of the other visitors, not to mention the effect this noise has on the native wildlife.  To fix this problem, the Park Service is proposing a plan limit this unwanted noise. The goal is to increase the "natural quiet" in the park to 67% and give back the sense of solitude to its guests. The plan includes:

- Alternate some air tours between existing corridors on a seasonal basis; - Require all commercial flights in the special-flight-rules area to use Federal Aviation Administration-approved quiet technology within 10 years;
- Cap daily tour flights at 364; - Slightly modify two of four existing general aviation corridors;
- Ban flights below 18,000 feet in most flight-free zones; - Extend curfew hours around sunrise and sunset, when air tours are prohibited.

This plan has several supporters and detractors. The air tour companies claim that the plan "goes a little too far", and that it will hurt the industry and the economy.  According to Andy Jacobs of the Stilo Group out of Phoenix, AZ, the restrictions will hurt the helicopter tourism industry, "hurt the local economy, hurt tourism and cut out more than 11% of our business during the peak part of the season." (The Stilo Group is largely involved with a multimillion dollar development plan to build housing in the town of Tusayan just one mule outside Grand Canyon National Park's southern entrance and also a controversial plan). Others from the park disagree and say that by doing this they give the companies room to grow and experiment with quieter technology and alternate routes; the industry will not suffer.  Creators of the plan called the process a balancing act, they have to think about the companies flying and making money and the tourists trying to enjoy the park with no extra noises. 

Freelance journalist Kurt Repanshek has made a career covering news for National Parks, including authoring three National Park guide books, states: "Those who visit Grand Canyon National Park should be able to hear the warbling of canyon wrens, the roar of the Colorado River's rapids, and even the buzzing of insects instead of the whoop-whop-whop of helicopters  or the droning of planes." The National Park Service is always trying to keep the park in tip top shape and enjoyable for all its visitors. Recently they also cut the number of daily mule riders from 40 to 10 on the South Rim's Bright Angel Trail, to eliminate trail erosion and cut down on the annoying animal waste for the guests.  All of these park changes are there to maintain the natural beauty of the park and may be a little hard to get used to but have not hurt the industry nor kept guests from coming to the canyon. National Park service officials now have to review and analyze public comments and develop a final environmental impact statement. They will announce which proposal they have decided on in March 2012.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Make like lightning and bolt next time you’re caught hiking in a thunderstorm!

August 29th, 2011

Lightning occurs when there is a natural electrical discharge between a cloud and the ground or within a cloud, accompanied by a bright flash and typically also thunder.  This natural beauty maybe fascinating, but it can also be deadly. The National Weather Service estimates that there are 100,000 thunderstorms in the United States each year.  On Aug 4th, at Mojave Point in the Grand Canyon, emergency assistance was needed for a 64 year-old woman who had collapsed after lightning struck near her and her group.  Five other people in her group were also injured.  She took off in an ambulance but they were not able to revive her.  NWS statistics state that on average more than 70 people in the US die from lightening strikes each year, while at least 300 are struck and survive. Really, your chances of being struck by lightening while camping are relatively low, but it is better to be safe than sorry. If you are camping and there's a thunderstorm here are precautions you should take.
  • Move away from any solitary, tall objects including single trees. Lightening has a tendency to strike the tallest object in the area first.
  • If you are hiking and are on a ridgeline or peak, move to lower ground quickly and find a group of trees that are small and similar heights and get under them (stay away from the trunk).
  • Do not seek shelter in open-air structures such as picnic shelters or gazebos. If you must seek shelter in your tent try to squat on a camp mattress or something that provides insulation and do not touch the tent poles.
  • If you are in a car and it has a hard top, stay inside and keep the windows rolled up.
  • Stay at least a few feet away from open windows, sinks, toilets, tubs, showers, electric boxes and outlets, and appliances. Lightning can flow through these symptoms and "jump" to a person.
  • Avoid using regular telephones, except in an emergency.  Cell or cordless phones that are not connected to the building's wiring are safe to use.
  • If you are swimming, fishing or boating and there are clouds, dark skies and distant rumbles of thunder or flashes of lightning, get to land immediately and seek shelter.
  • If you are in a boat and cannot get to shore, crouch down in the middle of the boat. Go below if possible.
  • As a last resort, run for the latrine. Most campgrounds have facilities in wooden buildings. They are safe, but if you have ever had to seek shelter in a toilet for the duration of a storm, you know it is not pleasant.
  • If your skin tingles or your hair stands on the end, a lightning strike may be about to happen. Crouch down on the balls of your feet with your feet close together. Keep your hands on your knees and lower your head. Get as low as possible without touching your hands or knees to the ground. DO NOT LIE DOWN!
If someone near you is struck by lightning, get emergency medical help as soon as possible. If more than one person is struck by lightning, treat those who are unconscious first, because they are at a greater risk of dying. A person struck by lightning may appear dead, with no pulse or signs of breathing, just perform immediate CPR. The victim does not have any remaining electrical charges, so don't worry about getting shocked. Next time you are caught in a lightning storm, remember these tips and you'll live to hike again!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Yosemite Fatalties: The Media and Your Fears

August 18th, 2011

For those of you who are regular readers of the Just Roughin' It blog (I know there are at least 10 of you), coming across a blog about deaths is a rare occasion since we don't like to gain readership off other people's misfortune.  However, Yosemite has had a high death toll this season and we feel this should be addressed and hopefully help squelch some fears that people may have in visiting the park thanks to the media sensationalizing something that is not common. So far this year, there have been 14 reported deaths that have occurred inside Yosemite National Park boundaries: six drownings, one car accident, two falls and five from natural causes.  Of these fourteen fatalities, three drownings and one fall could have been avoided since they were due to people's lack of better judgment when it comes to dealing with nature.  Instead of rehashing the stories, I have supplied links to the articles below.  You may already be familiar with what happened on July 19th, three people died when they fell into Merced River and went over Vernal Falls after ignoring the obvious danger of the raging Merced River, the signs telling people to stay away from the river and the barricade that they climbed over to get better pictures to capture the moment.  According to reports, ten people ignored the warnings of which three went in. Then, on July 31st, a woman slipped and fell off Half Dome from the cables.  It had been raining and there are warnings that Half Dome is very slippery and dangerous when wet.  Given there are about 400 people permitted to ascend Half Dome per day and that all those except for 20 who were on the granite monolith when it started to rain turned around, it is an unfortunate inevitability that a tragedy could very possibly follow.  You cannot control the weather, but you can control your actions and ego.  To give you an image of what Half Dome is like when it gets wet think about a granite counter top.  It is already shiny and slick when dry, and gets even more so when wet, not that you would ever walk on your kitchen counter.  Half Dome, and much of the trails in Yosemite have exposed granite.  When this granite is walked on by hundreds of people per day, every day over 4 months over many years, the granite will become polished by hiking shoes.  This is already slippery, but then add water to the mix.  There are cables for a reason, but that doesn't mean they are fail safe, weather resistant and fool proof. 

The National Parks are not amusement parks. It is these incidents that get the most publicity and are many times misinterpreted by the public that there is danger around every corner.  But why can I not find information on the other 10 fatalities as easily?  And why doesn't the media discuss the fact that almost 4 million people visit Yosemite per year with the majority of that visitation occurring from May through September?  The news reports discuss the 14th fatality in the context of an accidental death, leading the reader to believe that all park fatalities were of the same.  Where is the information about the other deaths and why are they not discussed when the media is sensationalizing an abnormal fatality rate?  These bits of information would be quite handy in helping those who read the less than informative articles in making an educated determination of what is and is not rational.  On the other side of that coin, we too should all take some responsibility in reading more than what is trending on Yahoo! and maybe to a little more research. While these incidents are tragic and a huge loss for family members and friends to those who lost their lives, they are in no means a reason to avoid Yosemite or any other national park.  You will be neglected of your greater life experiences and miss out on some of the best nature has to offer when you allow the fear instilled by mass media to override what you truly want to do.  As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." For further reading: Yosemite Accident Brings 2011 Death Toll to 14 Barry Glassner, The Culture of Fear: Why Americans are Afraid of the Wrong Things.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Virtual field trips allow children to visit Grand Canyon.

August 5th, 2011

Millions of people visit the Grand Canyon and other national parks every year, but what about those kids who don’t get the opportunity to travel and experience the outdoors.The Grand Canyon Association has developed a program that allows kids to explore the outdoors and learn about environmental issues without leaving the classroom through virtual field trips.These “trips” started back in 2006 in school districts across the country, and their popularity has grown to around 122 programs.Unfortunately, the equipment and software for this project has become outdated and unusable. Park rangers want to continue offering these programs and are looking to purchase the supplies to make it happen.With all of this new equipment Grand Canyon National Park will be able to connect with students through video streaming, green-screen technology, and live shots of the canyon.With this opportunity there ain’t no mountain high or valley low enough that students across America will not be able to experience.

In order to get the program rolling, the Grand Canyon Association is trying to raise $50,000.They are almost half way to their goal and hope that the donations keep on coming. 

Just Roughin' It Adventure Company is very passionate about education and getting kids interested in the outdoors.Nowadays, children would rather play video games than visit a national park. 

"Debbie and I feel the distance-learning program is a powerful tool to get younger generations interested in the Grand Canyon as well as all our national parks." - Ray Hendricks

The new distance-learning program is a way to inspire children to get outside and take what they learn on the virtual field trip and discover new things in their own backyard.Grand Canyon is a must see for everyone, but we do understand that it’s sometimes difficult for people to make the trip.Virtual field trips are a great alternative to the actual thing.Just Roughin' It is a proud donor of Grand Canyon Association’s Virtual Field Trips for Kids program, and look forward to seeing the program in motion.For more information about the program, email Bonnie O’Donnell at bodonnell@grandcanyon.org or to donate, visit http://www.grandcanyon.org.

Hopefully, if virtual trips like this one gain popularity students across the world will be able to see several historical places, ask public figures and war veterans any questions they want, and even meet kids in other countries.  These trips are the first step toward getting kids away from the Play Station and interested in the history, anthropology, biology and geology of the natural and man made wonders around the world.

 

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Ted’s Excellent Adventure: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail

July 26th, 2011

Back in 2007 I was fortunate to lead a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon tour for Just Roughin' It that had two Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers as part of the tour group. One of these hikers, a young lady from Denmark named Mette, had just completed the 2,181 mile trail earlier than expected and thought a Rim to Rim Grand Canyon hike would be a nice way to celebrate the accomplishment. The other thru hiker on that tour is the subject of this post. His name is Ted Warren and he is an avid backpacker that had completed the AT a few years earlier. I remember when we he had hiked together back then, we talked about his goal of someday hiking the Pacific Crest Trail on the west coast and I recently found out that this year is the year he is making that dream come true. 

The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) , like the Appalachian Trail, is one of America's National Scenic Trails. It spans from the Mexican border near the town of Campo, California to the Manning Park, British Columbia, Canada at it's northern terminus. The trail mostly follows the high ridge line of the Sierra Nevada and Cascade Mountains which are about 150 miles from the west coast of the U. S.  and along the 2,663 miles of this trail one hikes through the Mojave Desert as well as 25 National Forests and 7 National Parks including, Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia. A thru hiker of the PCT has to deal with extremes in conditions from the blistering heat of the Southern California desert to potential snow and ice of the high Sierras during the five month journey. With that much of a time commitment, you may get the impression that Ted is a single guy without a steady job or any other strings to hold him back but he is the exact opposite of this. He is a family man, with a wife, two kids, a career and a house in the suburbs of New York City! Ted's wife, Carole, and his kids, Dakota and Jagger, are supporting him every step of the way in his 5 months away from home. Carole has been keeping a blog of his progress at thruhikerswife@blogspot.com. Ted has been reporting on his progress on the trail as he has hiked through 104 degree temperatures, encountered rattlesnakes and been sidelined temporarily with a nasty case of swollen feet due to a combination of poison oak and poodle dog bush contact. Nasty stuff. As of last week, Ted had completed 703 miles of the trek. That leaves only 1,960 miles to go... give or take a few miles. Go Ted!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Watch where you pee or it could be your last.

July 16th, 2011

Anyone who takes a trip to the back country needs to know some basics about the trails they're hiking and its wild life.  There could be a poisonous plant or even a dangerous animal that may not look threatening, but could win you a trip to the hospital.  In one of our past blogs we talked about the Rock Squirrel in the Grand Canyon.  This small creature looks like just another squirrel, but it is actually the most dangerous animal in Grand Canyon National Park.  Researching your hiking destination; such as weather, climate, trail conditions, flora, fauna, water availability and even geology, can keep you safe and get you back home without any problems.  If you do not research your destination you could wind up with a bad run in with a mountain goat like hiker Robert Boardman.blog-goat

Up in Olympic National Park in October 2010, a couple stopped for a lunch break at Klahhane Ridge when they were approached by a mountain goat.  The husband (Robert Boardman) tried to shoo the goat away, but instead it gored him in the leg and hovered over him with rage.  A nearby ranger had to throw rocks at the goat before it finally moved away.  Boardman was rushed to the Port Angeles hospital where he died shortly after.  Park officials stated that the goat had shown aggressive behavior in the past but there was no reason to warrant the next level of removal of these goats.  There had been no incidences like this before and the park is doing everything they can to learn more and prevent more attacks in the future.  Signs have been posted since then, warning hikers to keep their distance from the goats, and in some cases have closed trails where the goats are frequent. 

There are around 300 mountain goats in this area each weighing around 300 pounds and standing up to 3ft at the shoulder, and should not be messed with. After researchingdo-not-pee some of the reasons for this attack, park scientists have concluded that the goat could have been attracted to the group because of urine.  These mountain goats have been known to lick the urine for salt deposits.  Because of this, rangers in Olympic National Park and several other national parks have recently set boundaries on where hikers can do their business. Visitors are advised to urinate at least 200 ft from any mark trails, and if they can spare some water, pour some on it after to dilute it a little.  Goats are not the only animals in the world that are attracted to urine.  Animals like bears, deer, polar bears, cougars, and lions are as well.  All these animals may not be attracted to the salt in urine like goats, but the smell gets them interested in what's out there and they will come to investigate. Even animals like sharks are attracted to the smell of new bodily fluids like urine.  If you've seen the movie The Rundown you have also heard of the candiru parasite in the Amazon that follow the urine trail up a humans' urethra into the body, where it sticks and can cause serious pain and there are stories that it even caused death in some by hemorrhaging.

"Don't pee in the water. Why? A candiru, a vicious parasite will swim up the urine into your pau. Swim up my what? Your pinto. It'll swim up your ding-dong. And once it gets in, you can't get it out. Well, then what? They have to amputate. Not this boy's pinto. Uh-uh, not today!"

This old tale may not be entirely true, but either way it is important for travelers to watch where they pee and do all they can to stay safe on the trail.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Phoenix Dust Bowl or, Another One Bites the Dust

July 6th, 2011

070511-dust-storm-31I couldn't decide what to name this blog.  I always liked the name "Dust Bowl" since this historical event is could also be confused by many as a college football bowl game, when in reality was an event that devastated the Midwest and the entire country, mostly occurring in the Great Plains region of the United States, centering in the panhandle of Texas and Oklahoma in the 1930s.  (For more information on the Dust Bowl - check this out!) So for all those out there hoping for another bowl game to add to your holiday repertoire of televised football frenzy, Phoenix has not added a bowl game.  While an appropriately named new addition to the Arizona bowl games, we already have the aptly named and self-explanatory Insight.com Bowl and the infamous Fiesta Bowl, corrupting politicians all over the state.  On the other hand, who doesn't already have the famous Queen song ringing through their heads?  I digress... Phoenix, Arizona made national news today because of a massive cloud of dust that wafted through the city.  Actually, it blasted its way through, but billowed, wafted and cascaded are all words so seldom used these days.  This splendid wall of dust was reported to have stretched approximately 4,000 to 5,000 feet in the sky and about 70 miles wide at one point.  Winds on the ground reached 50 mph, leaving snapped trees and power lines in its wake.  With its own "black blizzard," the Phoenix Metro area saw day turn to night in a matter of minutes. So what is all the big Haboob? These are pictures from the dust storm from last night (July 5th, 2011).  Mind you that dust storms are quite common this time of year in the Valley of the Sun, and having not been there for this last one, either it was a slow national news day, or this was beyond our normal.  I will side with the latter assumption since I am always out of town for the good stuff! I also added a couple pictures from the Dust Bowl to prove it is not a football game and to show the astonishing similarities.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

I’ll take a tennis champion with a side of movie star, but hold the gluten

June 24th, 2011

Today more and more people are being diagnosed with celiac disease, which is a digestive disease that interferes with absorption of nutrients from food and damages the small intestine.  People with this disease cannot tolerate the protein in wheat, rye, and barley called gluten.  If they do consume this protein it could damage parts of the digestive system and can lead to malnourishment (no matter how much they eat).  Because of this growing problem, many grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and even some local grocery stores, have started offering a great deal of gluten free foods.  Now a days, many restaurants have begun to accommodate those with celiac disease.  The other day I was at California Pizza Kitchen, and the waitress was telling us that they are coming out with gluten-free crust for their famogluten-free-trail-mixus pizzas.

"At first I thought I would never be able to eat anything again without getting sick.  I always had to make sure I ate before I went out or sometimes I even brought a little food with me.  I am very excited that more places are offering gluten free foods. Now it's a lot easier to find foods at restaurants and stores that actually taste pretty good." - Zach 24

The number of people with celiac is growing, however there are several people without the disease that have decided to take the gluten-free route.  Celebrities like Gwenyth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck have adopted the gluten-free lifestyle. Even Pop Queen, Madonna served gluten-free treats at her most recent birthday party.  The trend continues outside the world of paparazzi and red carpet affairs, with some athletes who are trying out this new diet to help them with races and other events.  Apparently, those athletes that eliminated gluten from their training diets had no digestion problems during competition, regulated blood sugar, and performed better overall than usual.

"My performance really improved a lot — there was definitely a correlation, I think that my digestion is better, and because of that my sleep is better and my recovery is better.” - Tom Danielson, Tour de Missouri in 2008

Novak Djokovic, a tennis star from Serbia, is another athlete that has taken to this new diet.  Even though Novak actually has celiac disease, that doesn't change how much changing to gluten free diet has affected his playing.  He is the youngest player to win a Men's Championship (Miami Masters) and to have reached the semi-finals of all four Grand Slam events.  Since he switched to a gluten-free diet he claims that mentally, he is fresher and happier; and physically he is stronger and more dynamic.  "Your muscles will work better. That's what I feel."  According to spectators, Novak Djokovic is really exciting to watch, and has a new found explosiveness. You don't have to be a professional athlete or famous movie star to reap the benefits of going gluten free. There are several gluten-free foods that are easy to prepare and taste pretty great too.  Some of the food ideas are even perfect meals for your next backpacking trip. Things like beef or turkey jerky, nuts, dried fruit, and  gluten-free granola bars, make excellent gluten-free snacks for hiking.  Online you can even find Gluten-free recipes for macaroni and cheese, blueberry pancakes, and sandwiches (with wheat free bread) that are all gluten-free and only take a little time to get together before you take off on your trip.  Going Gluten-free is not for everyone, but if you are interested in trying it or finding out more, the internet is full of information. You can also contact you doctor for more health information.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Half Dome Permits - the Golden Ticket of the Wilderness

June 16th, 2011

halfdometrafficjpegThere has been much ado about the latest Half Dome permit scandal in the news lately, you would think there is nothing else newsworthy going on in the world.  If you are not up on the latest news, here's a synopsis. In 2010, Yosemite National Park started to require permits to day hike up Half Dome for weekends and holidays to curb the number of people hiking up the monolith from 1,000+ to 300 per day. 

Starting this year (2011), the park is requiring permits for everyday of the season from when around Memorial Day to when the cables come down in October.  The $1.50 permits are now a hot commodity, raking in about $150 a pop from Half Dome permit scalpers.  Because of this, the park is asking for ID's at the base of Half Dome to be certain you are the rightful owner of the ticket - I mean permit - before you can ascend up the human laid cables that are placed by the park service to allow you to hike up Half Dome in the first place.  How ironic; the park system placed cables on Half Dome so people could ascend, then they set up limits so fewer people can ascend and now everyone is fighting over and paying mucho bucks to ascend something that would not even be possible for most people if not for the cables the park puts up in the place - as if Half Dome was placed there for people to hike up in the first place.  A real pisser by the way for those who had permits for Memorial Day weekend to mid June since Half Dome had too much snow and ice for the cables to go up.  No cables = no hikers. This whole to do reminds me of Willy Wonka's golden ticket and every character is present; just try to figure out, which one are you?  Slugworth (the scalper), Veruca Salt (gets everything NOW), Charlie (the legitimate permit holder), and I can go on.

So what's my point?  The park is setting up a system to keep the National Park experience safe and enjoyable for everyone.  If you want to throw around money to get a better spot in line, go to Disneyland and pay for their "cut in line" pass.  Not that people should be allowed to scalp tickets, but this is a free market economy and many people were willing to pay some price before it got too high and then they complained about people scalping the permits.  So instead of not paying the prices the scalpers were asking, now you get a TSA agent checking your ID with your ticket (I mean permit) to be sure you are a legitimate holder of the Golden Ticket.  In fact, if everyone keeps trying to thwart the system and accept they fact that they didn't get their way, you'll have pat downs and X-ray machines set up at the base of the Dome.  A bit of a stretch yes, but the organization that sells campsites is now requiring campers to present identification and that identification must match the person who made the reservation - no exceptions. And why does everyone feel the need to hike in an area that is this much of a pain in the ass to access and all because of the numbers of people?  Did I mention this would not be possible if not for the cables that are erected each year? 

Half Dome is not the only amazing place in the park.  There is Yosemite Falls, North Dome, Cloud's Rest, Glacier Point, etc.  You want a real challenge with views?  Hike up the 4 Mile trail to Glacier Point - a 3,200 ft climb and then descent over 9.6 miles. So, if you didn't get a Half Dome permit - deal with it, try again next time or maybe go outside the box and explore the areas of the park that are just as spectacular, if not more so.  Just because everyone Facebooks about their trip up Half Dome, does not make them the expert.  But if your ego is so big that you have to have that too and now, Veruca, then enjoy your life of little adventure, few experiences and an expensive Golden Ticket.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Cool Your Heels, and Your Tasty Beverage

June 9th, 2011

photo-on-2011-06-07-at-1757This is the third installment of the "It's a Dry Heat" series.  At the time I wrote the "It's a Dry Heat" blog, I didn't know this was going to be a series, but since there is so much about the desert environment to be taught, figure what the heck.  I consider the blog about wearing cotton in the desert as the prequel (for all you Star Wars fans).   Anyway, this blog is about evaporative cooling and how you can cool your beverages with a wet wool sock.  How is that possible you ask?  Well, I will tell you. It is pure science - no mind freakin'.  I was told about this trick by an Iraq War vet friend who spend over a year in a desert environment not unlike that of the Arizona desert (aside from being shot at...well then again).  Anyway, to be brief...

1. Take a wool sock, Smart Wool works great (cotton socks will also work).

2. Get the sock wet.

3. Put your beverage in the sock- make sure it is in a sealed container such as a soda can, beer can or an 8 oz milk carton (you can't just put a full margarita glass in a sock).  This works great for chilling candy bars as well!

4. Hang the sock and wait 2-3 hours.  Make sure the sock stays damp and you may have to get it wet a second time depending on the amount of breeze and the dryness of the air (the more humidity, the less effective evaporative cooling is).

5. Remove your beverage from the sock and enjoy the coolness!

How does this work? The process of evaporation happens all the time. Our bodies, for example, perspire in hot weather; through evaporation, the sweat dries and lowers body temperature. Whenever dry air passes over water, some of the water will be absorbed by the air. That's why evaporative cooling naturally occurs near waterfalls, at rivers, lakes and oceans. The hotter and drier the air, the more water that can be absorbed. This happens because the temperature and the vapor pressure of the water and the air attempt to equalize. Liquid water molecules become gas in the dry air, a process that uses energy to change the physical state. Heat moves from the higher temperature of the air to the lower temperature of the water (your wet sock). As a result, the air is cooler, thus making the beverage surrounded by the cooler air colder as if you put the beverage in the refrigerator. Eventually the air becomes saturated, unable to hold more water, and evaporation ceases, which is why evaporation does not occur in more humid environments. Still don't believe me, give it a try next time you are in the Arizona desert in late April through late June or the latter part of September.  Make sure you have 2 beverages, set them outside for a while to get them good and warm.  Put one in the wet sock and the other not, but leaving both outside.  After a few hours, crack open each beverage and experience the results for yourself. Cheers!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Taking a hike… one barefoot at a time.

June 7th, 2011

We came into this  world without shoes, why not keep it that way?  Everyone enjoys the feeling of being free with nothing constricting or binding their feet, but no one wants calluses or dirty feet either; so what's the solution?  That is what creators Robert Fliri and Marco Bramani were thinking when they designed Five Finger shoes. These extraordinary shoes are taking the world by storm; they are on buses, in the five finger shoeswork place, in marathons, and even on some hiking trails.  At first glance, these unique shoes look rather odd, but there is a reason behind the craziness.   After making the switch from traditional running shoes, five finger shoe owners never look back.  These shoes were designed to feel like the natural foot, with a little extra protection for the outdoors.

"Whether a 2-mile paddle or a 15K on city  roads, these are -by far- my favorite footwear!!!" - Michael Renstrom

Five finger shoes allow your feet to move freely and do not damage the structure of your feet like regular running shoes.  Because of all the padding, traditional shoes cause only your heel to constantly strike against the ground which prevents the lower arch and lower part of your leg from absorbing the shock of the landing.  Instead, the shock from impact travels up through the heel to the knees and hips, putting a lot of pressure on your joints, making you more prone to injury.  With Five Finger shoes, the shock is dispersed more evenly throughout your foot and decreases the strain on your joints; giving you an overall better posture.  These "shoes" have also been proven to improve balance and strength, as well as aid in quicker recovery time from injuries.

"About three months before I tried these shoes, I sprained my ankle pretty badly playing ultimate Frisbee. I couldn't get it to heal properly and kept twisting it (which is very common with this type of injury).  I stretch and walked  the foot as much as I could, but the joint was still fragile.  Then I started wearing my Five Fingers. The thing that surprised me the most was how fast my ankle grew stronger and the puffiness of the joint (that people say would never go away) regained its original health.  The healthy movement that these shoes encourage cut my recovery time and helped me regain my old flexibility." - Texas Hikes

Five Finger Shoes are not just for running, you can also use them for activities such as; kayaking, sailing, working out, and even hiking.  I know what you are thinking; wouldn't these shoes get destroyed or be dangerous on a mountain or hiking through the Grand Canyon because they lack support?  The answer is no.  These shoes are very durable and the free design actually provides a lot of traction for downhill trails and climbing rocks.  But, more important than durability is the smell factor.  If they start to get smelly or dirty and you can't stand being within 10 ft of them without keeling over, just throw them in the washing machine! Although these shoes have many benefits, for some hiking trails it might be safer to stick with hiking boots because of things like snakes and poisonous plants.  But if nature doesn't scare you, feel free to put on your Vibram Five Finger shoes next time you take a hike. Now that you've heard what we have to say, take a minute to read some personal stories online about owners and their experiences with Five Finger Shoes (www.vibramfivefingers.com).  So next time you see someone hiking in the Grand Canyon or Yosemite wearing these ridiculous shoes, you will know why they made the switch.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

You’ve Got to be Sh@#&ing Me! I Have to Carry My Poop?!

May 30th, 2011

large_goanywhereIt has been a while since we posted a blog about poop - probably since Bear Grylls ate bear poop.  So it is time to give the scoop about carrying your poop when in the backcountry.  Many backcountry environments are very fragile, or just very populated, which makes it necessary to require certain regulations when it comes to human waste disposal.  As more people venture into the backcountry, the great outdoors will continue to have serious environmental, health and aesthetic impacts.

You may already be aware that most areas ask that you do carry out your used toilet paper and for many people this is unappealing and comes with the question of why would so few people make that much of a difference?  Think back when you were a kid and you used to toilet paper houses - or you were on the other side of the fence on that scenario.  Not a pretty site and you and your neighbors alike were probably less than thrilled if the TP stayed for an extended period of time. Now imagine the same decorations in the wilderness with less means to clean it up.  Not attractive and this TP probably has been used. I digress.  Many high use areas such as Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta, Denali, Mount Hood and Paria Canyon in the Arizona/Utah desert require you to pack out your waste.  These are high use areas or areas that decomposition is quite slow.  Or, if you are in a place such as Paria Canyon, a desert environment where decomp is very slow and the flash floods that hit the area several times a year make the river much like a toilet you just flushed (especially along the confluence of Paria River and Buckskin Gulch). 

So, what would you rather do...carry your own poop or swim in other people's excrement.  Carrying  your own does sound bad, and if not done correctly, could have some pretty nasty consequences; which is why there are products on the market to make carrying your poop a bit more bearable. The WAG (Waste Alleviation and Gelling) Bag has become the overall term for any pack-it-out bag system (kind of like Kleenex when referring to tissues).  The system generally involves one bag which you glove your hand and grab your business and another sturdier, sealable bag in which you deposit and seal the "dump."  Not much different than picking up after your dog, so quit making that face!  Other systems allow you to line the cat-hole with a bag and you just squat and do your business.  This eliminates that step of having to grab your stuff - assuming you have great aim and get it in the bag the first time. The  bags include a biodegradable waste pick up bag loaded with Poo Powder (a chemical that gels the more liquid waste, breaks down solids and controls odors),  transport bag, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.  For more information and further reading, you can check out the WAG bag website, or look into a couple other manufacturers of waste bags, such as, ReStop and Biffy Bags. So, regardless of how you feel about carrying your poop, it beats constipation!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

It’s a Dry Heat!

May 18th, 2011

hmiserSummer is approaching, and if you live in the Southwest, it is already here - May has already seen triple digit temperatures in Phoenix, Arizona.  But 100 degrees in the Southwest desert is not the same as even 90 degrees in the Midwest, South or East Coast (which is what makes the heat in this region of the United States so unique).  So today class, we will discuss the heat, how it effects you and why the statement "It's a dry heat" actually means more than just some silly cliche to justify living in Arizona. Also, it is this dry heat that makes outdoor activities bearable if you understand the climate, fluid loss and how to stay cool on the hottest of days. Summers in the Arizona deserts can be grueling and can reach temperatures of 122 degrees F - even in the shade.  Add 10-20 degrees if you are in the sun. 

However, it is the humidity that makes the heat exponentially more dangerous when participating in outdoor activities.  This is why you may have read or heard about the "feels like" temperatures - or the Heat Index - versus the actual temperatures.  Here are a few examples: A typical June in Arizona is the hottest, but also driest, month of the year.  At 110 degrees F and a relative humidity of 20%, the heat index is 112 degrees.  Yes, that sounds hot, but let's look at temperatures in a humid state such as Illinois.  Springfield, IL can experience humidity of 80% in June, with average temperatures of 85 degrees F.  The  heat index is 97 degrees F, a 12 degree increase.  If the temperature climbs to 90 with 80% humidity, the heat index will soar to 113 degrees F. You might remember the 2007 Chicago marathon that was canceled mid-way through the race due to excessive heat - 88 degrees and 86% humidity (heat index of about 116 degrees F).  One person died, 50 were hospitalized and another 300 were treated for heat related illness.  Many races are held in Phoenix with temperatures in the 80s, in fact, the Tempe Ironman used to be held in April (average temperatures of 85 degrees and about 30-40% humidity - a heat index of 84-86 degrees F).  The Ironman is now in November, but April is a month full of organized races and outdoor activities in Phoenix. The dry heat also means your body can actually cool itself off, which is not much of a possibility regions of high humidity. 

Temperature regulation represents the balance between heat produced (heat-in) and heat removed (heat-out).  When the body's temperature regulation system is working correctly, heat-in and heat-out are in perfect balance.  Radiant heat from the sun and heat created from burning fuel (carbohydrates, protein and fat)  contribute to an increase body temperature.  Therefore, the body must find a way to dissipate the same amount of heat that has been added to maintain a constant body temperature.  This is done is two ways; 1) moving more blood to the skin to allow for heat dissipation through radiation and 2) increasing the rate of sweat production.  These two systems account for 85% of heat removal, while during exercise, virtually all heat loss occurs via evaporation (sweat).  However, in order for evaporation to occur, the air must be dry enough to allow moisture into the atmosphere (think of a very small atmosphere around your body).  If the atmosphere is already saturated from high humidity, then the sweat produced by your body will not evaporate and thus will not regulate your body temperature.  In dry climates, evaporation does occur, thus, regulating body temperatures.  See our blog about wearing cotton when exercising in the desert to further explain this process. In order for these processes to work, adequate blood volume must also be maintained.  As blood volume decreases, so does movement of blood to the skin and sweat production.  With low blood volume, one or both of these systems fail, resulting in diminished performance, dehydration, and if allowed to continue to decrease, heat stroke and death.  So how do we keep an adequate blood volume? Fluid and electrolyte replacement, which is another topic entirely. So, long story short, the "dry heat" in the desert is not such a bad thing and quite easy to deal with if you understand just a little bit of the science behind it.

Sources: Dan Benardot, Advanced Sports Nutrition, 2006.

"Record Heat Halts Chicago Marathon," Washingtonpost.com, October 8, 2007.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Grand Canyon Goes to Fort Worth, TX

May 10th, 2011

IMAGN_AtB_Vector_1-3-11Every year, 4.5 million visitors from all over the world visit Grand Canyon National Park.  Most only stay about 2o minutes and this is after spending about 8 to 10 hours in a large tour bus for a round trip ride from Las Vegas, NV or Phoenix, AZ for a chance to see one of the most amazing places in the world.  That seems like such a waste of time, especially when there is so much more to see and experience than just the views from Bright Angel Lodge.   The people of Fort Worth, TX are foregoing the planes, trains and automobiles and experiencing Grand Canyon from their own back yard! No, the Grand Canyon is not victim of a recent, massive continental drift occurrence, but through experiential learning, Grand Canyon can travel. Imagination Celebration Forth Worth (ICFW) has been conducting a year long series of city-wide multidisciplinary celebrations, performances, exhibits and programs that will bring Grand Canyon to students and the general public through May 2011.  Educational programs relating to the theme "America the Beautiful: A Celebration of Our National Parks" have been presented in both public and private schools since the Fall and have opened these elements to the general public through the Spring 0f 2011. 

Since Fall of 2010, ICFW and numerous Fort Worth arts and cultural organizations have joined in developing this series, all of which include educational components for over 79,000 school children, as well as an anticipated public audience of 100,000. Projects included, but were not limited to, the ICFW Annual Logo Competition and City-Wide exhibit; "A Sense of Place: Artists Explore the American West," the Grand Canyon Artist-in-Residence program, "The Art of Exploration: Our Lands, Forests, Ancient Peoples and Wildlife," and  the "Planting of the Oaks."  May 2011 is the month dedicated to "America the Beautiful: A Celebration of Our National Parks, " where for 31 days, student and public audiences can experience a special series of events with an in-depth focus on Grand Canyon National Park, including unique exhibits, performances, lectures and other activities in cultural institutions and performance halls across Fort Worth. The May 2011 events are numerous and offer more to the visitors of Grand Canyon.  In fact, the only thing lacking is a hike to the Colorado River. Highlights include...

  • A screening of Ken Burns' documentary America's Best Idea
  • Performances by Havasupai, Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni tribal members
  • Grand Canyon-inspired music by cellist Rhoda Rider
  • Premiere of a dance piece inspired by the return of the condor and the glory of Grand Canyon
  • Premiere of "Grand Canyon 360"
  • Newly-composed music by Native American students in Fort Worth with a collaboration with Native American Composers Apprenticeship Project, preformed by New York-based string quartet ETHEL

What is so amazing about this program is it takes about a year to show a smaller number of people everything Grand Canyon has to offer, yet, visitors who have spent only 20 minutes at the park say they have "been to Grand Canyon."  If that is the case, participants of ICFW's program have actually experienced Grand Canyon and hopefully will one day visit for longer than 20 minutes. For more information about "America the Beautiful: A Celebration of Our National Parks," visit the website at http://www.icfw.org/Grand_Canyon.htm.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

How to sleep when the wind blows

April 30th, 2011

As a backpacking guide, people trust me not only with their safety but with their physical comfort as well. Thus far I think I have done a pretty good job of both. I'd like to say that I have some sort of primal instinct on how to keep people safe and comfy, but really it all goes back to a story I was told in my young days as an outdoor leader. It goes like this: An old rancher, way out in the middle of nowhere, decides he has become too crotchety and tired to keep on running his ranch alone. So on one of his bi-monthly trips into town he posts a written ad at the hardware store (he obviously didn't know about Craigslist) advertising the need for a hand. Months go by and no one responds.

Then, one day a scrawny young man who doesn't look like he could tell a steer from a horseshoe shows up at the ranch. The old rancher was hoping for more of a Heath Ledger type, but there stood Jake Gyllenhaal... Feeling that there was a misunderstanding, the rancher felt obligated to clarify the job description. "There's no help for us out here. Ya gotta be independent and know what the hell yer doin'. There's a hundred things needs done everyday an I ain't got time to walk ya through every one of em. So why should I hire the likes of you?" "Cuz I can sleep when the wind blows" was all the kid would say. The rancher wasn't sure what sleeping had to do with anything, but seeing how nobody else had responded to the ad, he agreed to hire the kid on. A couple months later the rancher goes to town for supplies, and intending to be gone overnight, leaves the ranch in care of the kid. Uncertain but willing to take a chance. Before he gets to town, however, a storm rolls in. A big storm, with huge black clouds and wind that could only conjure foreboding in a person. The rancher's skepticism of the kid's competance was too much. He began his return to the ranch expecting to find the operation in ruins.

When he reached the ranch the storm was in full force so instead of looking for the kid he ran around frantically checking on things. He found, to his surprise, that everything was as it should have been. Finally, soaked and tired, he entered the house to find the kid snoozing peacefully. The old rancher shook him awake and yelled, "There's a hell of a storm out there!" The kid, annoyed at having been awoken, says "Ya, I know." "Well how can ya lay there and just sleep like that?" "Cuz I prepared for the worst. Everythin's safe. I told ya, I can sleep when the wind blows." that is the story's end, punchline and all. I always like to reflect on this story and what it means to be able to "sleep when the wind blows." At its' core I think it is an anecdote for risk management. Planning ahead and taking preparations to avoid future problems (CYA 101). The lesson can serve not only as a model for life in the outdoors, but for life in general. From a diversified investment portfolio to making sure someone knows where you're going to hike next weekend. A little work on the front end can save a big headache on the back. I mean really, how many arms would Aron Ralston still have if he had had this story in mind?

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Bugs Bunny Adventures for Easter

April 23rd, 2011

I needed an Easter blog idea without being polarizing and thought what represents Easter more than bunnies, so I got a bit nostalgic and thought of Bugs Bunny.  Then I had to make this relevant to out-doorsy type adventures and researched bugs' classic adventures as he traveled through the US, failing to make that left turn at Albuquerque.  The relevance to our blog is a stretch, but Bugs Bunny is fun stuff and he did spend quite a bit of time here on the West Coast. (What good New Yorker hasn't)?  And you've got to love the cartoon Saguaro Cacti (only found in the US in Arizona) and Bugs filling up Grand Canyon.  What is so difficult to believe is how old these cartoons actually are.  Even more mind blowing is how these cartoons are deemed violent and offensive.  Nothing like video games and I have to say that I find Sponge Bob hugely offensive! Anyway, here is just a list of a few classics.  And instead of giving a synopsis of each, take a few minutes to watch and enjoy the past!
Bugs Bunny Gets the Boid (1942)

Buckaroo Bugs (1944)

Hare Trigger (1945)

Bugs Bunny Rides Again (1948)

Rebel Rabbit (1949)

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Packrafting Grand Canyon Rim to Rim

April 16th, 2011

outside-magazine-cover-biggestVery rarely do we write self gratuitous blogs, but today we must brag about something so cool you'll have to turn on the heat.  As seen in the May issue of Outside Magazine (page 44 in case you didn't see it the first time), Just Roughin' It Adventure Company is offering a new kind of adventure... a rim to rim packrafting trip.  Get away from the typical trails (North and South Kaibab and Bright Angel), the crowds and get a chance to go on an adventure like none other. Our new trip will have us hiking the original rim to rim route via the North and South Bass trails.  Constructed in the early 1900s by the tourism pioneer William Wallace Bass, the Bass trails took visitors to the bottom of Grand Canyon and to the Colorado River.  By 1906, Bass finished building a cable way across the Colorado River, ferrying tourists,  animals, hunting parties and asbestos from his mines.  Now, all but deserted, the Bass trails are a great way to see some practically untouched parts of the canyon with remnants of Bass's camp, Indian ruins and Teddy Roosevelt's Cabin where he would stay on occasion when visiting the canyon.  This trip is a great way to re-connect with history.

The North and South Rim trail heads are about twenty five miles west of the main trails in a very secluded section of Grand Canyon National Park.  The route features one night of camping on the North Rim before we start our descent.  We then spend two to three days hiking to the bottom of the canyon to the Colorado River.  The North Bass Trail is steep, slippery and narrow in parts.  Although only 13 miles from top to bottom, route finding and slow going is necessary for a safe trip.  If you are even more adventurous, the descent can be accomplished in two days.  Once we arrive at the river, we can decide to camp on the north beach, or inflate our pack rafts (everyone has their own raft and you get to carry it too!) and paddle across to camp on the south beach.  Regardless of when we decide, paddling is the only way across. We then ascend to the South Rim via the South Bass trail, spending two days to hike out over 8 miles. This is just a brief overview of the trip.  If you want more details, contact Just Roughin' It Adventure Company at info@justroughinit.com or 877-399-2477.  North Bass is a very challenging trail so you must have extensive backpacking experience.  Prior Grand Canyon experience is preferred, but not necessary. Oh, and the coolest part; we were mentioned in the  Outside issue featuring  a very cool Stephen Colbert on the cover!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Government Shutdown, Almost: A Grand Canyon Guide Company’s Parable

April 9th, 2011

yes-we-are-openOne hour away from a United States Government shutdown and Congress decides to stop marking their territory and make a deal.  If you are a government employee, member of the military, government contractor or own a company that is dependent on the government in an indirect way, i.e. hiking or river guide company, then you are sighing in relief right about now.  I have to say that I would not have been too thrilled about no public services if I was a DC resident either - no trash pickup? Yikes!

The past few days have been a bit challenging as a guide company in Grand Canyon National Park.  It has been very difficult telling people that, "yes, the park will close if there is a shut down and if there is one, we will not be able to go to the Canyon."  Lucky for us, we have alternative routes we can take and that is what we would have done.  However, I can understand the disappointment in not getting what you paid for.  On the other hand; our alternative was the Superstition Mountains outside of Phoenix, Arizona and we were getting a bit excited about showing people something amazing that is not Grand Canyon - 800 year old Indian ruins, mountain views of the Sonoran Desert and the high deserts, seclusion and camp fires.  Oh well, maybe next time.  And, a shout out to our guests who were flexible and open to this alternative - YO!  Do people still do "Shout outs" by the way?

So how did we stay sane through all this?  Well, we gave into the insanity of the whole process and did what Congress did - sat on our hands until someone made a move.  And Ray danced around the office making high pitched squealing noises while waving his arms in the air.  Then again, that is a typical day at Just Roughin' It Central.  Actually, we stayed away from reading blogs, twitter and real time Yahoo! news since that is what breeds all the panic in situations such as these. Honestly, I cannot comprehend how the general public that has no experience in such situations somehow have the most boisterous and "learned" opinions.  We found out Grand Canyon National Park's contingency plan in case of a shutdown and actually had one trip get to the Canyon a day early so they would be "locked in" for their trip.  But the most important was to continue business as usual since canceling trips on guests in the event nothing did happen would have been more troublesome than being patient and waiting it out.  I, for one, was 99% certain a deal was going to be made.  The political climate and the economy is not "right" for a government shutdown.  Obama is not Clinton, Boehner is not Gingrich and the economy is not flourishing.

Now, everyone will get the trips they signed up for, and hopefully in a strange way, enjoyed the adrenaline rush of not knowing what was yet to come.  Since, quite honestly, it is this that makes life much more adventurous!  So the parable?  Be patient and open to the possibilities.  Hasty decisions and inflexibility could have you missing out on some of the best things in life.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

National Park Service Implements Park Beautification Program

April 1st, 2011

canyon-elephants1 Next time you visit a national park, you might find it to be even more beautiful with man-made waterfalls, landscaped meadows and topiaries along the scenic driving and hiking routes! A recent survey conducted by National Survey Inc., an independent marketing research firm, found that the long-time decreasing numbers of visitors to the nation's national parks was due to the parks' lack of beauty. 

On a scale of one to five (five being drop-dead gorgeous), most respondents gave the parks such as Olympic and Yosemite a three average and Grand Canyon came in with a disappointing two.  The survey allowed people to add comments with some people stating about Yosemite National Park; "I have better water features in my backyard!" and "The Redwood trees were kind of scraggly, they need more branches."  For Grand Canyon National Park, one person stated; "What's the big deal, it's just a giant pothole!  I have a couple of those on my street!" and another comment read; "Maybe you should add more plants and water - way too many rocks." In response, the park service has decided to use some of the money granted from the Federal stimulus package to help make these nature-made eyesores into something people may actually enjoy. 

Park rangers have been working day and night with landscape architects in creating something even Walt Disney would be in awe of.  Grand Canyon will soon have 2,000 Palm trees added in various places along the popular Bright Angel Trail and the Colorado River.  Half the cacti will be removed and replaced with shapely Bonzai trees.  Since the precipitation in Grand Canyon is only about 8 inches per year, the same sprinkler and drip systems used by the best golf courses in Scottsdale, AZ will be installed, since they are best at keeping grass growing in the desert. Yosemite doesn't need as much work, just more clean up of pine cones and needles and lawn up keep.  Also, prosthetic branches on the Redwoods. Once this project is complete, the park service will begin adding the very items that makes a park a park - amusement park rides!  There is such a waste of real estate and fun at these parks, so get ready to take a  log-ride down Yosemite Falls or a free fall ride that drops you from the rim of Grand Canyon to the bottom (which is already present but is not currently regulated).

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Roosevelt Dam: A Century of Reliability

March 23rd, 2011

roosevelt_speaking_at_roosevelt_damLast week marked the 100th anniversary of the Theodore Roosevelt Dam in Arizona; once the world's largest masonry dam (at an original height of 280 ft and length of 723 ft) upon its completion in 1911, and the world's largest artificial reservoir.  It was also listed as a National Historic Landmark in 1963 until that designation was lost in 1999 due to reconstruction which added 77 ft to the dam and covered it in concrete.  But the loss of this designation does not make the history of the dam and the environment that surrounds it any less interesting. Originally called Salt River Dam #1, construction began in 1904 and was one of five original projects authorized under the newly enacted Reclamation Act of 1902, the US federal law that funded irrigation projects for the arid lands of 20 states in the western US for farming and of development.  It was also the first to be completed under the act and was the first to introduce the federal production of electric power when in 1906, Congress authorized the Reclamation Service to develop and sell hydroelectric power.  Completed at a cost of $10,000,000, the primary purpose of Roosevelt Dam was to provide water storage for the Salt River irrigation projects and flood control for the Salt River Valley.  The dam dedicated by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911, but not named after him until the dam was renamed in 1959. The dam created Roosevelt Lake, an over 1,000,000 acre feet of water that is the largest reservoir in the state of Arizona (Lake Powell and Lake Mead are the largest in the US but are shared in the states of Utah and Nevada respectively).   Such a large body of water brings with it many opportunities for recreation.  Only 80 miles from Phoenix, the lake gives Phoenix residents a great place for boating, fishing, kayaking and even hiking.  The 800 mile Arizona Trail that extends the state from Mexico to Utah makes its way across the lake via the State Route 188 bridge. Roosevelt, and the numerous other dams in Arizona, have been successful in ensuring water for farming and development the past 100 year, but the abundance of water is sure to fall short for the next century.  The same challenge exists, how to get water for the arid desert population centers, but now the problem is if enough can be contained to supply the increasing demand.  Experts speculate there is enough water for about 30 more years before something drastic must happen in the amount of water usage.  Conservation is the key, but it is difficult to speculate now where those conservation efforts will come from.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

People LOVE Fossil Creek to Death!

March 18th, 2011

fossil-creekFossil Creek, cited as one of the most diverse riparian areas in Arizona, is one of only two waterways to be designated as "Wild and Scenic" in the state. Located southeast of Camp Verde in the Coconino National Forest, it is within a two hour drive of Phoenix and Flagstaff, and it is being "LOVED TO DEATH!" Fossil Creek hasn't always been "wild," but as for "scenic" well, that's probably why we have a problem to talk about. Utilizing Fossil Creek's perennial flow and steep drainage, a hydroelectric facility was built in 1908 and a second facility added in 1916. These two facilities, singly referred to as the Childs-Irving Hydroelectric Facility, dramatically changed the river's ecology. Considered an environmental success story, the dams were decommissioned in 2005 after a lengthy public process to restore the area's biodiversity. Once the power company moved out, the entirety of Fossil Creek was open to the public for the first time in almost 100 years. When one problem moved out, however, another moved in. The abundance of wildlife, fascinating travertine formations, fossils (of course), and myriad opportunities to get wet and play, have lured folks from all over the state in numbers approaching 1,000 per day on a hot weekend. While getting people outside to have fun and utilize our public lands is a good thing, Forest Service officials are finding it difficult to manage their impact. From trampled vegetation and noise pollution to human waste and litter, Fossil Creek is feeling the strain. There seem to be just too many people in too small an area. Officials express the goal of allowing as many people access as possible, but don't be surprised if one day we see a permit system similar to our other desert jewels like Aravaipa Canyon. A management plan for the area is expected in 2012 so until then, get out there and enjoy Fossil Creek as it is, just be mindful and take out all your trash. If you recreate in Arizona, or have an impassioned opinion on land managment policy, get involved! Draft management plans are always available for public comment before becoming official. Information on this issue can be found at: http://redrockcountry.org/fossil/index.shtml

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Midwestern weather in Arizona? Hiking the Grand Canyon in a Snow Storm.

March 9th, 2011

My brother and his girlfriend flew down from Michigan the weekend before last to escape the frigid landscape of the Midwest and, of course, to do some backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  As we pulled in to Tusayan Saturday night, we were greeted by freezing temperatures and blizzard conditions. We went to bed with open minds and fingers crossed... only to throw open the curtains at 8:00AM for a panoramic view of heavy, white flakes pouring from the sky. Being from the Midwest, we weren't about to let a little (or in this case, a lot) of snow put a damper on our adventure. We gorged ourselves at the hotel's breakfast buffet and made our way to the Grand Canyon Visitor Center.  From there, we hopped onto the yellow route and made our way to the South Kaibab Trailhead.  Needless to say, we were the only people on the bus at that time. As we pulled up to the trailhead, we soaked in the last bit of the bus's sauna-like conditions, threw on our packs, and bounced out into the winter wonderland.  The wind was whipping across the snow drifts as we assembled our crampons.  A few frozen faces made their way out of the canyon as we dropped in.  I think we all second guessed our choice for a moment, but hey, we're from the north damn it!  We can do this!  The wind was a pretty crazy as we made our way down the chimney, but the contrast of white snow on red rocks made it all worth it.  With my brother being a geologist, we got a few geology lessons on the way. If you have never been to the Grand Canyon during the winter, I highly recommend it - as long as you dress for the weather and wear some heavy wool socks.  As we got closer to Cedar Ridge, we turned back to take in the view of the canyon walls.  Bright red rocks peaked out from under the white blanket.  The trees looked like the silver tinsel trees brought out around the holidays.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  What made it even better was that we basically had the trail to ourselves.  There were a few others who braved the weather, but it felt like we had the canyon to ourselves for most of the hike. Mikael (my fiance) and I were just doing a day hike since we had to make it back to work the next morning.  We all had lunch just past Skeleton Point before Mikael and I began the trek back up while Jaren and Katie went on for a couple nights at Bright Angel and Indian Garden.  My brother produced one bottle of Seirra Nevada Torpedo that he packed as a celebratory offering.  It was still cold since we were hiking in chilly weather and I can tell you that one beer split four ways has never tasted so good.  While we chowed down on salami, spicy cheese, and granola bars, patches of blue skies made their way out from the grey clouds.  The walls of the canyon were lit up by rays of sun, welcoming the newcomers.  On our way up, we turned back and watched the canyon swallow them up.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Camel Hunting is Illegal in Arizona?

February 28th, 2011

hadji_ali_hi_jolly_quartzsiteazThis probably sounds ridiculous in a state that loves its guns, laws and gun laws.  So why would Arizona ever even think to ban hunting any animal, and especially one that is not even native to this state?  No, the law does not refer to the ones living in the Phoenix Zoo.  But it may  refer to the small herds of camels that were imported to Arizona, Nevada and Texas, if the law even ever existed, that is. The story begins when in 1855, Jefferson Davis, then secretary of war, was in love with the idea to use camels to help build and travel a wagon route through the Southwest from Texas to California.  Davis sold the Camel Military Corps idea to Congress, who appropriated $30,000 to get the plan in motion.  Thirty-three camels were purchased in the Middle East and shipped to Indianola, Texas; with another 44 soon to follow.  Unfortunately, Middle Eastern camels did not speak English and Rosetta Stone did not have a course for Camel to English; therefore, those who could help were sent for from the Middle East to teach the Army how to deal with camels.  Hadji Ali, or Hi Jolly, was one of the men hired and is still remembered in Quartzsite, Arizona; where a pyramid was build in memoriam to Hi Jolly in Quartzsite's cemetery.  But what really solidified Hi Jolly's place in pop culture was the 1962 New Christy Minstrel's song called "Hi Jolly the Camel Driver." In 1857 in Texas, Lt. Edward Beale took over the camel corps and set off on an expedition to map a possible route for a transcontinental railroad.  The camels were a success.  They were able to carry two to three times as much as an Army mule, go without water much longer than horses or mules and most of the desert forage was fine as sustenance.  They were able to cross the Colorado River to get into California quite easily, while two horses drowned.  Rumor has it they could also dodge a speeding bullet and leap over a building in a single bound. They were such a hit that Beale requested Congress send off for an additional 1000 camels.  However, the hostilities between the North and South were growing stronger and Congress had to focus all their attention in the East, bringing the troops back to prepare for battle in the looming war.  This was the end of the camel corps. Some of the camels were sold and others escaped into the wild, where they thrived for a while but eventually died out.  The last camel was reportedly shot by a farmer in 1893.  However, as late as the 1930s and 1940s, unsubstantiated sightings of camels were reported; including that of the Red Camel that roams the desert with a headless skeleton on its back. Hi Jolly purchased 2 camels, using them for a freight route between the Colorado River and the mining towns in eastern Arizona. So, if you ever see a camel roaming the Arizona desert, probably best to keep your gun concealed, just in case it is illegal to shoot a camel. Sources: "Our Fleeting Camel Corps," Clay Thompson, The Arizona Republic, February 12, 2011, E1 and E8.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Make Your Way to McDowell Sonoran Preserve

February 23rd, 2011

As a recent transplant from Minnesota, I was chomping at the bit to get out and enjoy the Arizona weather as soon as the U-Haul was unpacked.  A few weeks ago, I set out on my first venture. Without a plan, I drove into Tonto National Forest and found myself bouncing along the Apache Trail.  I would not recommend this to people who get car sick or have a fear of heights, but if you're up for 20+ miles of gravel roads just wide enough for two small cars to pass each other, the views are worth it!  There is a campground you can drive into around the halfway point called Burnt Corral Campground.  It looked like a cool place to bring some canoes or kayaks and spend the weekend.  They allow dogs, so your pup doesn't have to be left out.  Coming down from the Midwest, I was not expecting to see so much water.  What a great surprise!   My Apache Trail exploration was followed by a short stint at Lost Dutchman State Park in the Superstition Mountains.  I was actually on my way to Tonto for a little fresh air, but stumbled upon this park first.  It was later in the afternoon, so I just hiked up the easy trail to Green Boulder.  The sun was setting as I hiked down and dipped below the horizon when I got back to the car. While writing this blog, I found out that this park offers ranger led hikes fairly frequently.  Check out the Lost Dutchman State Park website if you want more info.  You can also find out why it's called "Lost Dutchman." Most recently, I hiked to Tom's ThuWalking among boulders near Tom's Thumbmb in the McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  Tom's Thumb is a beautiful 4 mile (roundtrip) hike in to McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  My fiance and I brought along our neighbor for an introduction to hiking and she loved it!  Our dog joined us on the trek as well.  We were so glad to see the amount of trails that allow dogs around Phoenix. The McDowell Sonoran Preserve is just northeast of Scottsdale and offers a plethora of hiking options, in addition to mountain biking, horseback riding, and rock climbing.  Public hikes are offered on weekends, so no worries if you can't find anyone to head out with or are looking to make some new friends.  These are FREE and offer great information about the area.  You can find information on public hikes, special events, etc. on the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy website. Spring is just around the corner and I am sure I am not the only one looking forward to wildflowers.  McDowell has a portion of their website dedicated to just that.  The Wildflower Watch is a great tool to keep up to date on colors in the desert.  They even organize wildflower hikes for beginners through experts.  If you're into photography during your adventures, check out "Ask a Photography Expert at Gateway" every Saturday in February.  From 9:00AM to 12:00PM, there will be a photography expert at the Gateway Trailhead who can answer any questions you may have about techniques, equipment, or photography in general. If you are an outdoor enthusiast, Arizona is a great place to be.  I was amazed to find the amount of hiking opportunities available in and around the Phoenix area! I would definitely recommend checking out McDowell Sonoran Preserve.  They have a lot to offer without having to drive too far from the city.  As for me, my Arizona adventures are just beginning.  I am off to the Grand Canyon this weekend and snow is in the forecast.  This could get interesting.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Spring in Yosemite

February 14th, 2011

Yosemite National Park is known as a great summer destination; perfect hiking weather, refreshing high mountain lakes for fishing and swimming, waterfalls (not for swimming), wildflowers, green meadows, and thousands of visitors almost all of which congregate in the Valley area and hundreds attempting to ascend Half Dome.  However, Yosemite can be a prime Fall, Winter and Spring destination if you are cool with ice and snow and you would like to see Mother Nature at work during the Spring thaw. Three spectacular events occur in Yosemite that few people ever get to see since they are either specific to Yosemite or they occur at a time when so few people even think to visit the park; frazil ice, the fiery horsetail falls and the Yosemite Falls Snow Cone. Frazil ice is a collection of loose, randomly oriented needle-shaped ice crystals in water that resemble slush and has the appearance of being slightly oily when seen on the surface of water.  And since that is all I feel comfortable explaining, I will let the experts discuss this phenomenon.  Just take a look at the below video from Yosemite Nature Notes about frazil ice.  (When I first heard of frazil ice, I instantly thought of those weird little Jim Henson muppets from Fraggle Rock).The 2,130ft Horsetail Fall only flows in the Winter and Spring and falls along the east side of El Capitan.  But there are numerous waterfalls in Yosemite that are only seasonal.  What makes Horsetail Fall so unique is that for only a few days every February, the setting sun reflects off the falling water, reflecting a bright orange color that makes the fall looks like fire falling from the towering granite cliff.  How does this work you may ask?  Well, go outside on a partly cloudy day and see what the sky looks like when the setting sun reflects off the clouds. At 2, 245ft, Yosemite Falls is the tallest measured waterfall in North America and can be seen by most visitors that go to Yosemite Valley.  The falls are made up of three sections: the 1,430ft Upper Falls; the Middle Cascades that total 675ft and the final 320ft Lower Falls.  By late summer/early fall, Yosemite Falls can dry up due to winters of little precipitation, but a quick summer thunderstorm can cause the falls to "restart."  While a spectacular sight any time of year, visitors can witness the snow cone that forms under the fall as the falling water refreezes on its way down, creating a cone of ice at the base of upper Yosemite Falls. So, next time you are looking for a National Park to visit but without the crowds, give Yosemite in Winter and Spring a try.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Lawsuit Filed to Clean Up Grand Canyon Air Quality

February 2nd, 2011

It seems like this shouldn't be happening but there is an air quality issue in the Grand Canyon National Park. Over the years the view has been decreasing in quality thanks to pollution brought on by increased growth in Las Vegas and Phoenix among other causes.  In just the last few weeks, several organizations including the Grand Canyon Trust have filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)  to compel them to reduce the air pollution that reduces the visibility in the Grand Canyon as well as Mt Rainer, Mesa Verde and  Petrified Forest National Parks. The Grand Canyon on a clear day The lawsuit points the fingers at the tangible culprits of the pollution in these areas, specifically the Navajo Generating Station in Page, AZ, the Four Corners Power Plant in Fruitland, NM, and the TransAlta/Centralia power plant in Centralia, Washington. Recent studies have also determined that the increase air pollution in the Grand Canyon can be traced to the growth of  Phoenix and Las Vegas although these cities are not named in the lawsuit. Overall, the air quality in the Grand Canyon is still some of the best in the nation but since the beginning of the air quality studies in 1959, there has been an increase in air pollution and a decrease in visibility in the Grand Canyon. There are days where there is a haze that limits the views but not to the extent that you can't see across the canyon. The canyon doesn't look like Los Angeles yet. The view even on hazy days are still spectacular but there is definitely a growing problem that needs to be solved. Hopefully the media will give this legal action sufficient press so we can follow these proceedings since the outcome has an effect on all of us who enjoy our national parks.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Vietnam is a Country, Not a War!

January 25th, 2011

junk_halong_bay_vietnamThis entry will be a bit different from other past blogs.  It is not about Arizona or California.  It is not about Grand Canyon or Yosemite.  And it is not about backpacking, hiking or training.  But it is about travel so technically, this forum is still appropriate.  And after not much ado... Ray and I spent the past few week (Jan 3-17, 2011) in Vietnam.  I plan to write a few entries about it because it is an amazing place to vacation.  But there is one overwhelming reaction we received from our fellow Americans when discussing where we were going or where we had been that is more than just a little disturbing.  The most popular response was not how fun, how splendid or "Wow, how cool!"  It was, "Why would you go there?"  I answer with "Why not?"  The real reason was to do research for my dissertation in US History and Foreign Policy, but regardless, it was definitely a vacation and is a place with plenty of Westerners.  Not to mention almost everything is in English. So this made me wonder, briefly, why such an opposition to going to Vietnam.  Then I realized that Americans are still equating Vietnam with the Vietnam War.  Unfortunately, we have a population of people so repelled by the idea of going to this beautiful South East Asian country because of a war that these same people neither participated in nor know very little about.   And after searching "Vietnam" in Google, the majority of the content that came up was pertaining to the war, so this is understandable.  Is it because it is a war we lost?  Americans have been traveling to Japan for decades, and they attacked us - but we won that war.  Is it because the memory of the war was so devastating in so many levels that few Americans can allow themselves to let the past mend itself and realize there is more to Vietnam than the Vietnam War?  Is it because the US took so long to open relations with the Vietnamese?  Is it the fact that it is a Communist nation repels so many?  Whatever the reason anyone may have to be so opinionated about one's vacation plans, it is time to learn then let it go. I am in no way saying to go there (I actually felt like I was in a foreign country - no McD's), but I feel we as Americans need to be a little more open minded about traveling to foreign countries.  In learning about other people and cultures, we in return, learn so much more about ourselves.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Yosemite Half Dome Permits - Again!

January 12th, 2011

halfdometrafficjpegLast year, around this time, I posted a blog about Yosemite National Park requiring permits for hikers to ascend Half Dome for weekend days and holidays when the cables are up.  (Read it if you like but never mind that the picture is missing.  Those of us technologically handicapped figure these things just happen).  This was a regulation that was instituted for the 2010 season to limit the masses of people who visit annually.  This year, the park is now making it mandatory for hikers to acquire a permit seven days a week to hike up the monolith. Half Dome, is a granite monolith found in Yosemite National Park and it is one of the most popular destinations for visitors, especially for those with a sense of adventure and no fear of heights - just like all our readers!  Actually, if you don't now what Half Dome is already, you probably won't care or feel affected by the need for a permit. A maximum number of 400 permits will be available each day - 300 hundred for day hikers and the rest for hikers with back country permits.  You can reserve your permit up to about four months in advance through the National Recreation Reservation Service for a fee of $1.50 per permit and each person needs a permit.  You will not be able to get permits on a first-come, first-served basis but the park may have cancellations available for those lucky enough to grab them in time. While I know many people were upset about the permitting system for weekends last year and I am sure they are equally as upset for this requirement for every day.  But something must have worked to impose a blanketed requirement.  Plus, this is one regulation that is necessary to make Half Dome a much more enjoyable place for everyone who decides to experience it.  If you want to stand in line and wade through the masses, visit Disneyland.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

National Park New Years Celebrations

December 31st, 2010

I can't believe that 2010 is already almost over! The time is upon us again to join in the time honored tradition of seeing out the old year and ringing in the new. Maybe you have planned a vacation for the holiday or maybe you are heading to a black tie gala tonight or maybe you are toasting the New Year at home with the family, champagne, and Ryan Seacrest (on second thought skip Seacrest), but no matter how you celebrate, it's just great to celebrate start of another year. Gatlinburg New Years Fireworks, via tnvacation.com Our National Parks also make plans to ring in the New Year and here are the New Years events that are planned for some of our parks.

  • Yosemite National Park: Even though there may be snow on the mountains, the lodges in the park are celebrating the holiday with events ranging from a family friendly New Year's celebration at Yosemite Lodge to a black tie gala at the Ahwahnee Hotel.
  • Acadia National Park: The town of Bar Harbor, Maine, just outside of the park entrance, is ringing in the new year with bonfires, hayrides, and dinners at local restaurants.
  • Gateway National Recreation Area: This New York City park is hosting beach walks on New Years Day at the Fort Tilden area in Queens and at Great Kills Park on Staten Island. Hopefully these walks aren't cancelled due to the snow storm that hit the area early this week.
  • Great Smokey Mountains National Park: The gateway town of Galtinburg celebrates big with a New Years Eve Ball Drop and Fireworks display from the Space Needle in town. It's a mini version of the Times Square event but with a big bang.

Regardless of how or where you are celebrating the holiday, enjoy it and be safe. Everyone at Just Roughin' It Adventure Company wishes you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Tumbleweed Christmas Tree

December 25th, 2010

It's a holiday tradition in cities across America; the town Christmas Tree. Whether the tree is placed in the town square or in front of city hall, the tree that symbolizes the holidays is usually a tall pine tree that is decorated with colored lights with a star placed on top. Each year there is even a fuss made about which state can boast about supplying the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center or the White House. Arizona of all places had the distinction of providing the White House Christmas tree in 2009. The city of Chandler, Arizona takes part in this holiday tradition as well by erecting a 30 foot tree in the town square  each year although they don't bring down a mighty pine from the high country of the state. The good folks in Chandler construct a Christmas tree from tumbleweeds! A tumbleweed Christmas tree makes sense in a desert town since tumbleweeds are plentiful in the desert in these parts and it seems more fitting with the way city residents decorate the cacti and mesquite trees around their houses with lights for the holidays. It takes about 1,000 tumbleweeds, stacked into a wire frame, to construct the tree. The tree is then coated with 20 gallons of flame retardant, 25 gallons of white paint and 1,200 lights before it is complete. Chandler, Arizona has been constructing a tree out of tumbleweeds from the desert since 1957 when resident Earl Barnum got the inspiration from a tree in Indiana that was built with pine boughs inserted into a chicken wire frame. If you are having trouble visualizing what a tumbleweed tree would like or you are just unfamiliar with tumbleweeds, check out this video of how the Chandler Christmas tree is made. Happy Holidays !!

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

The Bracebridge Dinner at Yosemite

December 21st, 2010

The summer crowds are gone, the cables are down on Half Dome and roads to the high Sierras are closed with early Winter snow. Yosemite is a Winter wonderland in December and it is at Christmas time that one of the longest running Yosemite traditions takes place at the Ahwahnee Hotel; the Bracebridge Dinner. Yosemite Park's Bracebridge Dinner This annual event takes you back to Renaissance England as you dine on a seven course formal dinner and while being entertained by musical and theatrical numbers that are based on The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon by Washington Irving.  The feast was first held in 1927 and was inspired by the Yule Celebration of Squire Bracebridge from the book. The food is a far cry from your average renaissance fair with courses such as Roasted Kobocha Squash Soup and Braised Pheasant and Chestnut Pithivier and the theatrical production shines due partly to the fact that many of the performers return every year to act in the event. The world renown landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, was a long time director of the Bracebridge performance from 1931 to 1973. There are eight performances each year around Christmas with performances scheduled on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. There are dinner only packages available as well as lodging with dinner packages at the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge or the Wawona Hotel.  Tickets are available through YosemitePark.com or at 801-559-5000.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.

Besh Ba Gowah Festival of Lights

December 16th, 2010

For the past 23 years around Christmas, the Festival of Lights has been held in Globe, Arizona at the Besh Ba Gowah Archeological Park. This year's event is this Sunday, December 19th, and it's an unique event that mixes the ruins of a Salado Indian village with the southwestern tradition of luminarias, and Santa Claus.

The Festival of Lights at Besh Ba Gowah
The Festival of Lights at Besh Ba Gowah

Besh Ba Gowah is the ruins of a Salado Indian pueblo that dates back 800 years. The pueblo stood as high as three stories and had a total of  400 rooms at the peak of its existence. Today, the remains are mostly low walls with a two story portion that has been reconstructed as a cultural museum. One the grounds there are other museum buildings and a garden that grows the same plants that the Salado people used to grow. Interpretive signs throughout the maze of rooms and passages in complex shed insight into the lives of these native inhabitants of Arizona. During the Festival of Lights each year volunteers light over 1,600 luminarias that are placed on the buildings on the walls and the structures of the complex. Luminaria are a traditional southwest Christmas decoration which consists of a candle placed in sand at the bottom of a paper bag. At Besh Ba Gowah, these are lit at about 5pm and stay lit until the park closes at 9pm.  There will be performances from local musicians, a bonfire in the central plaza of the pueblo and the kids have the opportunity to get their picture taken with Santa Claus. This festival is very popular among the residents of the Globe area but each year more and more people are making the drive from Phoenix to witness this uniquely southwestern Christmas celebration.

See our list of "Stuff to Read" to prepare for your next guided hiking and backpacking trip.