Archive: June, 2013
Not a single person I spoke to in Yosemite was on their first trip there. They return year after year to take in all that the park has to offer and they probably still have so much to see. The south end of the park is littered with groves of giant sequoias. These three thousand year old trees are wide enough to drive through and over 200 ft tall. As one drives toward the center of the park they begin to see the majesty the valley holds. The floor is bustling with life, from the lush green plant life supported by the mighty Merced River to the thousands of tourists milling about the lodge and other attractions. From the floor looking up you can see steep rock faces, including that of El Capitan, and if you are lucky enough, you may even spot one of the many climbers it draws each year trying to scale the giant granite vertical. People are so captivated by the Sierras, that every year they come to do the same hikes, stay in the lodge, or just come to play their guitar on one of the porches in the valley.
My father and my uncle Pete had caught the bug on one of their first trips out and had returned several times since then. Once again they had quite a bit of knowledge on where to go and what to see. The first thing on the list was Half Dome, and to make the summit you needed to get permits. Last year we were denied, but this year my Uncle Pete had suggested we get a backcountry permit (which is needed to go on the trail for a number of nights, carrying all our supplies in our rucksacks) because it is usually easier to get acess to Half Dome through a combined permit.
This year, we were granted access and I was pumped to go. The only question was, how would my circulatory system hold up at nearly 10,000 ft. above sea level? My heart already has issues transporting oxygen throughout my body. A normal oxygen saturation is around 100, whereas the upper 80's is good, and anything above 90 is great for me. Around 9,000 ft. altitude sickness sets in and oxygen saturation levels drop 10%. I would be going higher than that, and as one goes higher, the air definitely gets thinner. I was not nearly as worried about it as my parents were (as per usual), before my coil embolizations (operations that put stainless steel corks in my septum to stop red and blue blood from mixing) my oxygen saturation was in the low 80's, upper 70's, and if I had lived there before I could do it again. Plus, the hike that my uncle had planned for us was mostly downhill, starting from Tuolumne Meadows in the eastern part of the park, we would take 3 days and 2 nights to hike down to the valley floor. Our last day would be the toughest, we would summit half dome in the morning and then finish our 20 something mile, 3 day excursion to the floor that afternoon.
From advice on where to go next or just having a few laughs, the people you meet and see on the road could be anything from a wealth of knowledge to absolute nut jobs. For the most part, we have known which ones to avoid (hitchhikers, homeless people, etc.) and which ones could help us get the most of our journey (our blogging cyclist friend, the lovely ladies from Arizona we met in Vegas, etc.). Though almost all of the people we have met have been amazing people, there were two that we met in Zion National Park that particularly stood out to me.
First off, Zion (another desert park) is absolutely beautiful, and the hike we did gave us a tremendous view of the canyon (and was rather difficult with the elevation change). The Angels Landing trail began with long switch backs, which we started in the heat of the day. I did not think I was going to make it as I heaved myself up the first section. Eventually those switchbacks leveled out and I caught my breath, just before the shorter switchbacks came in and snatched the wind right out of me again. The coolest part came after those short switchbacks, when we hiked out to get to our view of the canyon. What we hiked along my father tells me is called a window, it was a narrow path along a ridge, where there are steep drops to either side of you. The Angels Landing window had chains set up to help guide you up the steep and narrow passage (it was not as strenuous as the switchbacks for me, and was by far one of if not the coolest thing I have ever done). If you want an idea of the view from the top you should check my Instagram (http://instagram.com/rotz_l), but I will tell you now that a panorama does not give justice to the beauty and the amazing feeling you get when you have made it to the top, let alone a 2 inch by 2 inch square on Instagram.
When I arrived at the top Cola and Jeff had already walked around and took in all the vantage points. I joined them as they were shooing away some overly friendly chipmunks with a hankering for trail mix. Shortly after I reached the summit, a man in his early thirties and his father found the top. He asked me to take a video of he and his father with his monstrous camera and then we conversed for awhile. John is a film editor living in Los Angeles, and as his father sat and relaxed with his hat shielding the sun from his face, I learned about a new Mercedes commercial he had worked on and a place in San Francisco that had the best burritos. His father would chime in every once and a while with a funny quip now and again, but he mostly sat quietly. We spoke of everything from my health, to his passion projects and even the old ladies in Vegas who sit on their scooters from dusk till dawn playing slots, only retiring when they run out of money or when their mountain of chain smoked cigarette butts avalanches out of their ashtray.
Gila National Cliff Dwellings was a fascinating place. We were able to see how and where a civilization had lived for a generation. The homes built into the side of the caves along the Gila River supported the Mogollon people during an intense drought. The dwellings had different chambers for tribal gatherings, preparing food, and living in. The most interesting part to me is how the ranger felt obliged to tell us that many of his facts, were merely his opinion. These people lived so long ago that it is challenging to know exactly what they had done or how they had lived. The only thing historians and I alike are sure of was the fact that these people were hard workers and gifted architects for their time. They built a home for their society that has withstood the test of time, and it was very impressive.
Though they probably were not direct descendants of the Mogollon people, our next destination involved a current tribe of native peoples, the Havasupai. It was rather interesting to see the differences between the civilizations. The main source of revenue for the Havasupai people is tourism, which was why Jeff, Cola and I, among many others, were there. Thousands of people a year make the trek down to the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The falls are located at the bottom of a canyon, ten miles from the trailhead located on the Hulupai Hilltop, which is just west of the Grand Canyon's south rim. The Havasupai provide a number of different ways to get to the bottom of the canyon, the most luxurious way is to fly a helicopter down and then sleep in the lodge, but people also ride mules down (and have their bags brought down by them too), or the third option is to hike and camp (which was the route we took). This would mark my first real experience with my backpack (actually it's my brothers but I swapped him a golf bag for it), lugging my camp around for ten miles in the desert heat.
The hike down is not bad. The most interesting part of it for me (besides the gorgeous crystal blue falls) was the Supai reservation which was on the way to said falls. It was quite different from the Mogollon cliff dwellings. The farms, which were shacks with some land, were separated by barbed wire fences strung between branches. There was a sign advertising a peach festival in August, but I saw no crops. I am not sure how anything grows in the sandy bottom of that desert canyon. There were horses and wild dogs everywhere though. On the hike down to Supai there were mule and horse caravans carrying visitors and their luggage through the canyon (at least one every mile) . They were followed by a Havasupai cowboy and usually one or two dogs and they would probably run you over if you sat in the middle of the trail, but I never tested them.
On our way down to San Antonio we stopped at the Hamilton Pool Preserve, a neat cavern with a waterfall that we hoped to swim in. Unfortunately the drought that the area has been in caused bacteria levels in the stagnant water to be too high for swimming. We still hiked out to see the cavern, the trickling waterfall and a river that we actually could swim in. We caught a turtle and then ate a delicious picnic of left over barbecue from Sue Ann and Gary, and were on our way to San Antonio.
Unlike New Orleans, San Antonio was a little more my speed. First, on our walk to the Alamo for some Texas history we noticed the city itself was very aesthetically pleasing. It is littered with fountains, and a man made river runs through the city center. The banks of the river are lined with bars and restaurants (the Mexican food is outta sight by the way). Secondly, the city settles down early, and as I have mentioned before, I need my rest to function. By the time we walked to dinner around 9 everything was slow. At midnight only one or two bars on the river walk had customers. In New Orleans the party started at 11 and in Philadelphia thirsty Thursday is a huge drinking night (for college students at least). The next morning we departed for southwest Texas.
For the most part, our road trip is focused around National Parks, and that was why our trip to Big Bend was so momentous (for me anyway). The drive through west Texas is all desert and it takes forever. The hours in the car were worthwhile to see the Chisos mountains as we rolled up to the park. As we drove through the park we took in the wildlife, plant life and the amazing scenery. Cola was able to take the truck down a little windy road which led to a hot spring, which I relaxed in while Cola and Jeff climbed to windy peak nearby. Even though the bottom was gross and mushy, and an ecology class on a field trip warned me of the dangers of protists lurking in the spring, I was able to look past it and enjoy myself. How could I not? I was sitting in a hot spring on the Rio Grand looking out at a Mexican sun starting to set. It was amazing.