Posts Tagged ‘Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser’

As the Gateway Community Liaison for the Arizona Trail Association, one of my duties is to help communities throw Trail Days events. Events centered on getting people outdoors to experience what the Gateway Communities have to offer. I had helped organize one in February in Superior, but I unfortunately wasn’t able to attend because of prior commitments.

Setting up in the morning at the Pine Trailhead

After having a post-event meeting in Superior, I made my way north to attend an initial Trail Days planning meeting in Pine. I was expecting 5-6 people sitting around a table for the meeting, instead I walked into the Rimside Grill to find the bar bustling with almost 30 people! I was immediately impressed by the outpouring of support from Pine and its sister community up the hill, Strawberry.


The first annual Pine/Strawberry Trails Day was held on April 21st on a day that was sweltering hundred degrees in the valley. North in Pine, which sits at 5400 feet at the base of the Mogollon Rim,  it was a perfect day. Many groups came out and volunteered their time to make this event happen.

Lou Hoover and Dave Seigal man the Arizona Trail booth

One of my favorite parts of the day was meeting Joyce Bittner and her three llamas from the Ranch at Fossil Creek. She had agreed to lead a llama hike and it was very interesting hearing her speak about the things that make a llama an ideal pack animal. They can pack 75 lbs. apiece and she said that on overnights, she straps a cooler onto the llamas so that you can enjoy quite the fancy meal on the trail!

Joyce Bittner brushes the llamas while we wait for the hikers

My dad, my mom and a llama

What a face! -photo by Budh Rana

Starting the hike

There was a longer hike later in the day to Bradshaw Meadows and many booths and demonstrations throughout the event. Music came courtesy of Chuck and Barb Casey. There was even a medieval fighting exhibit! Many businesses donated items and gift certificates for a giant raffle basket of goodies. A good time was had by all who attended and I’m already looking forward to planning next year’s event.

Basket of raffle goodies

Arno from Germany riding the Arizona Trail 750 race rode into town as we were packing up- Tamara from Rimside Grill made sure he got a hot meal and a shower before tackling the Highline Trail

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news, it’s full-on baby season at the rehab. There are so many cute birds, bunnies, and squirrels I can hardly stand it! Click below to donate to help feed these little guys:

Little Harris Hawk, big feet!

Baby Great Horned Owls

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The second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson took place on April 14th and a fantastic time was had by all! Despite cold weather and Fourth Avenue being totally torn up for the trolley construction, we had a good turnout and raised $833 toward wildlife rehabilitation. Here’s some pictures from the event- all photos by the very talented Mike Bieke.

Luna the Great Horned Owl

Troupe HipNautic- from the left: Tama, Raja, Zahyra, Marjani, and Krishana


Janet Miller who runs the rehab and her son Russell with Elfie the Elf Owl, who had to stay in his house because it was too cold out.


Citan the Harris Hawk

Krishana's candle dance

The Railbirdz and their funky danceable blues music

Troupe HipNautic

Vagabond Incorporated provided live music for the bellydancers

Luna and her handler Sue

Things went so smoothly this year, there was even time for me to do a surprise performance!

What an event! There were so many people who donated their time and talents to make this happen. Huge thanks to Sky Bar and Brooklyn Pizza for donating the space, the talents of their graphic designer Serena Rose, and 15% of the food and drink receipts. All of our performers: The Railbirdz, Troupe HipNautic, Vagabond Incorporated, and Boz the MC were fantastic and generously donated their time to the cause. Thanks to Mike Bieke for donating his time to produce these beautiful photos. We also had a bunch of help from Russell Miller, Janet’s son, who brought members of the TKE fraternity, who volunteered their time. If you missed the event this year, don’t worry, it will be back again next spring! If you’d like to donate, you can do so online securely via PayPal to the wildlife rehab by clicking the button below, or send an old-fashioned check made out to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson to Pima Federal Credit Union P.O. Box 50267  Tucson, Arizona 85703.

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Sirena contemplating the desert splendor- photo by Wendy Lotze

I think the best way to start out the year is with a big hike. My husband, on the other hand, likes to start the year out with football. For years, we’ve spent New Year’s Eve together and then gone our separate ways on the first. More often than not, I just go for a dayhike, but this year I wanted to start things out with something a little more ambitious. 35 miles of Arizona Trail on Passage 16 and 17, much of which has been built since I finished hiking the trail in 2009. At the Arizona Trail completion ceremony, I’d salivated at the thought of all those miles of fresh AZT and now it was time to see the (almost) finished product. One caveat- Passage 16 will not officially be open until February 2012, but I’d gotten permission from the powers that be to hike through at the completion ceremony. Until it is officially open, ASARCO has large drilling equipment on the last two miles into Kelvin. The drilling road will be reclaimed down to singletrack before it opens.

Picketpost Mountain

My hiking partner Wendy and I met our shuttle at the tiny town of Kelvin along the Gila River off Highway 177. Rick and Jerry provided ample amusing banter on our way up to Picketpost Trailhead. We stopped in at the Copper Mountain Motel so that I could meet Troy, the manager who had helped set up our shuttle. Troy is the new manager and very enthusiastic about the hikers that come into town using the Arizona Trail and Grand Enchantment Trail. The AZT and GET run concurrently here so you get a long-distance hiking twofer. We finally made it over to Picketpost and got hiking at noon. The first thing we realized was that it was hot! Quite the weather for the first of the year- I immediately got out my umbrella. There were a lot of folks out for a hike under the giant monolith of Picketpost Mountain. We hiked for all of an hour before getting hungry and sitting down to eat lunch. The views north toward   the Flatiron, Ridgeline and Weavers Needle in the Superstitions were fantastic. Here’s a video:

Photo by Wendy Lotze- click to enlarge

The rest of the day had us swooping south on singletrack- this trail is very obviously built with mountain bikers in mind. We saw hikers, bikers and equestrians- all the users of the AZT represented. We only went six miles before reaching a saddle with a great view and decided to call it a day. We spent a while wandering around camp and watching the sunset on Picketpost and Ajax Peak. It was unseasonably warm but windy as we had one of my favorite trail meals- cheese fondue. Wendy turned in early and I stayed up for a while, watching the moonlight on the desert and getting some quality dance time in.


Ajax Peak to the right and a healthy stand of saguaros

It had been a day of reflection and reminiscing about the last time I was here in April of 2008. It seemed like another lifetime ago. It was only my fourth backpacking trip ever and one of my first pieces of the Arizona Trail. Back then I thought of the AZT as something to complete, to check off a list and probably move on. Now I see that it is the gift that keeps on giving- since finishing my hike I have revisited numerous pieces of the trail and probably will for the rest of my life. I never would have imagined that my love for the trail would turn into my job at the Arizona Trail Association working with the Gateway Communities.

The next morning we knew we had a lot of miles to do with not a lot of daylight to work with. The trail steward had told us that the whole passage was 35-36 miles, so in theory it meant two fifteen-mile days. More on that later. Our first matter of business was water. A friend had put a cache for us by the Gila River, about 15 miles away, but we were hoping to find water at Trough Springs, near the crossing of FR 4. Thankfully the trough was full and the spring was dripping.

Good morning Picketpost!

Sirena hits the AZT- photo by Wendy Lotze

Micro Chicken aka "Mike" visits Trough Springs on his first backpacking trip

The rest of the passage was all singletrack that had not been built when I hiked this part of the Arizona Trail in 2008. Wendy and I marveled all trip at how wide the tread and how gentle the grade of the trail was. After the spring, we entered this area under Ajax Peak that we called “The Valley of the Mutant Shrubs”. There were giant Crucifixion Thorn bushes, Sugar Sumac, and massive mesquites with the saguaros at 3500 feet. I was excited to see that there was the occasional juniper- there is no better smell.

Giant Ephedra, HUGE graythorn and massive sotols - all of this awaits you in the Valley of the Mutant Shrubs! -photo by Wendy Lotze

The trail gently switchbacked out of the valley up to a saddle where we got views of the snow-capped Pinals to the northeast, the Galiuros to the southeast, and the Spine and White Canyon Wilderness. Even the white tops of the Pinalenos were visible. There was an incredible amount of mountain lion, bobcat, and bighorn sheep scat on the trail all through these two passages.

Wendy at the saddle

After the saddle, we said a final farewell to Picketpost and switchbacked down past an attractive striped wall and up to another saddle with a gate that marked the end of Passage 17.

Striped Wall

Looking back across the valley at the striped wall and the trail coming down from it

I could see the newly-built trail snaking its way through the canyon heading south and could barely wait to see the newly-named Gila River Canyons passage. Here’s a video:

The new trail did not disappoint. I lost count of how many times I said “This trail is so nice! So fancy!” It was a wide bench through steep slopes with attractive rock formations and views of rugged Martinez Canyon.

Quite the rock formation


Looking into Martinez Canyon

And then it got even better- we reached a saddle where we could see all the way south to the snow-covered Catalinas with the trail winding through the jagged peaks below. The best part of the Arizona Trail is seeing something like the Catalinas way in the distance and knowing you could walk there if you just had enough provisions and time. Or if you really wanted to, you could just keep hiking north to Utah or south to Mexico. It makes being on the AZT that much more special than an ordinary trail, that feeling of being part of a larger thread that connects you to the rest of the state.  I wished that we could drop our packs and sleep right there, it would be a spectacular camp. The trail stayed high, climbing westward beneath a  cliffband before turning south.

Excited about the fresh AZT- Photo by Wendy Lotze

Spectacular views south

Evening light

The trail swooped back and forth to descend the canyon at a most civilized grade and “Dale’s Butte” came into view. This is an unnamed butte that the ATA is trying to get renamed for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail. The AZT spends quite a bit of time with this attractive formation and we could see the shadow the butte cast upon the mountains as the sun was setting. We were running out of light and in true AZT fashion, it looked like we had some bonus miles to contend with. (The 2 passages ended up being 39 miles, not 35) We happily night-hiked toward the Gila River, making camp where Rincon-Battleaxe Road crosses the AZT. Wendy was in charge of dinner and made a delicious Pizza Ramen.

Shadow of Dale's Butte

Dale's Butte

Table Top

I didn’t get a great shot of it in the light, so here’s one from bikepacker and fellow AZT enthusiast Scott Morris:

Photo by Scott Morris

The next morning, we ate breakfast warm in our sleeping bags and got an early start. We were still about two miles short of our water cache and the trail immediately came to the Gila River. Surprisingly, there was still “fall color” on the cottonwoods and walnut trees, even in January. The well-groomed path followed the river and surrounding flatlands and was a nice mellow walk. The wet December had sprouted green grasses and wildflower seedlings everywhere. We reached our cache, driven in on a very rough 4wd road by people working to finish the trail last month (thanks, guys!).

Minor AZT roadwalk to the Gila

Along the Gila

The Rincon

We could see The Rincon and the White Canyon Wilderness (where the previous route of the AZT went) to the north. I have to admit that I had been a bit skeptical about how I’d like the new passage because I enjoyed the 2008 route through the White Canyon so much.

There were mining drill holes and some old mining equipment near our cache and after a break to rehydrate we continued contouring along the Gila. I’d been told by the people that did the trail construction that they were looking for people using the trail to help take all the flagging out. Wendy and I amassed a collection of pin flags and many colors of flagging tape in varying levels of disintegration from the numerous trail alignments that had been marked over the years. There’s still plenty left, so if you’re using the trail, please take some flags out with you. The Spine came into view along the banks of the Gila River:

As we hiked toward Walnut Canyon, I wished we were going to be seeing the Artesian Well on this trip. It is one of the great losses of the new route. There was a bit of two-track along the Gila and then it was back onto fancy benched singletrack again. We finally reached The Spine and contoured along both arms through boulder fields high above the river.

The path of the old route was up Walnut Canyon

Trail along the base of The Spine

After The Spine, the trail winds away from the Gila to give views of a nice horseshoe bend on the river. This would be a spectacular place at the height of the fall colors. Finally, we reached the trestle bridge and took one last break along the river before the trail climbed up to the viewing platform where the completion ceremony took place.

Horseshoe Bend of the Gila

Trestle Bridge

Completion Marker- the DS stands for Dale Shewalter, the founder of the Arizona Trail

There was a beautiful sunset as we made the climb, and then we called our spouses to tell them not to worry about us because we still had a couple of miles to go in the dark (again) to get to our vehicle in Kelvin. Even though our feet were sore, our spirits were high as we walked the ASARCO road that will become the trail when it is reclaimed later this month. From Picketpost to Kelvin ended up being 39 miles, not 35. Embrace the Arizona Trail bonus miles. It felt good to do some high-mileage days and cover a bunch of spectacular Sonoran desert.

Sunset and we still have a couple miles to go

Wendy and I made a stop in Kearny at Old Time Pizza because I had to speak to Gary, the owner, about scheduling an Arizona Trail presentation there and he hooked us up with all sorts of tasty food. What a way to spend the first three days of the year! Wendy and I had a blast- it is a rare thing to find someone with a similar backpacking style and pace (and who shares my love for gourmet homemade trail snacks). She also has built trail and could appreciate why I was geeking out the whole time about the impressive construction techniques used on these passages. This trip has inspired me to hike the rest of the pieces of the Arizona Trail that have been built since 2009. Click below to see the full set of pictures from our trip.

Arizona Trail- Picketpost to Kelvin

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, I am starting to plan the second annual Birds, Blues, and Bellydance fundraiser, coming sometime this spring. Last year’s event was a lot of fun and raised $1000 for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I’ll be sure to post as soon as I have the date confirmed. Here’s an Eared Grebe in its winter plumage. Below are the much fancier colors it dons for the summer season.

Eared Grebe (winter)

Eared Grebe (summer)

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What a year this has been- it’s always fun to take a look back at the highlights. If you’re a regular reader, don’t worry- I’ve added a lot of new pictures and videos. Click on the links to go to the original posts.

In January, I volunteered to lead an Arizona Trail trailbuilding crew on a project to reroute the trail off a pipeline road north of Oracle. I started the year with a hike of Agua Caliente Hill and Agua Caliente/La Milagrosa Canyons on the east side of Tucson.

The crew by the lone saguaro

Agua Caliente Hill Trail

La Milagrosa Canyon

My bushwhack to Thimble Peak via Bear Canyon and returning down the gully to Tram Stop 9 in Sabino Canyon was one of my favorite hikes of the year. It had it all- waterfalls, a challenging bushwhack, scramble, and climb to an iconic peak with outstanding views.

Thimble Peak Summit

February started out with a scramble up Battleship Mountain in the Superstitions:

Battleship Mountain

For my birthday, I visited The Wave at the Arizona/Utah border with a carload of fellow shutterbugs- big thanks to Wendy the Permit Whisperer:

The Wave- photo by Angela Romain

Another of my favorite adventures was climbing Weaver’s Needle in the Superstitions. I have admired this spire for years and thanks to my friend Kent Lawrence, I was able to stand on top! Someday, I have to get back up there to spend the night at the sweet little campsite.

Weaver's Needle from Fremont Saddle

Free Rappel

In March, I kept things local and worked on finishing the trails in the Catalinas. I backpacked a Ventana Canyon Trail to Esperero Trail hike and one from Pima Canyon to Ventana Canyon in the front range. One of my goals for 2012 is to finish off the remaining trails. I also took a trip to the south side of the Santa Ritas for a Gardner Canyon-Wrightson-Crest Tr.- Cave Canyon loop with my friend Chris Forsyth. I feel fortunate to have such good trails for Grand Canyon conditioning here in Tucson.

Santa Ritas and Little Kimball from the Esperero Trail

Near the head of Ventana Canyon

View looking down at Gardner Canyon

April started out with a return to the Royal Arch Route in the Grand Canyon, but this time via Point Huitzil with Chris and Wendy- a trip memorable not only for its rich ancient history and scenery, but also for weather that changed every five minutes and one of the worst sandblastings I’ve endured to date. At least it made for great pictures!

Top of the descent- Royal Arch Creek below

So many layers of petroglyphs

Majestic Fan Island

I hiked the Oracle Ridge-Red Ridge loop and got to see One Park Place. I also did something I’ve wanted to do for a long time- a solo hike from the summit of Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park in one day via the Romero Trail. Aspens to saguaros in one hike- I love Tucson!

Catalina Camp aka One Park Place

Arizona Trail near Romero Pass

In May, I threw my very first event for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson- the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance benefit. It raised $1000 for the birds and small animals at the wildlife rehab. Look forward to the second annual event this spring! A big thanks goes to my husband Brian for being such a big help with the event and for being supportive of my many adventures.

Gina -photo by Mike Bieke

After the fundraiser, I got to see the Grand Canyon again, but from a totally different perspective of volunteering for 12 days on an Arizona Game and Fish survey on the Colorado River. I fell in love with the Grand Canyon all over again- it was life-changing awesome.

Incredible views abound at every turn

Olo Canyon Waterfall- I got to wake up to this beautiful view

June was a bit of a bummer, as usually happens after an epic experience. Plus, Arizona was on fire and restrictions in the Coronado National Forest went into effect. But before it did, Wendy and I visited Lemmon Pools, which were very low. I was grumpy and did a little bit of wandering in the Tortolitas.

July 7th the fire restrictions were lifted and I took my floatie to Tanque Verde Falls and Romero Pools. Sadly, it was a very dry monsoon season and there was not a lot of swimming happening this summer. I spent a lot of time this summer hiking near the town of Catalina- there’s tons of rock formations, history, and an extensive network of  trails to explore beneath Samaniego Ridge. I saw a baby desert tortoise, one of my favorite wildlife sightings ever! Here’s a video:

In August, Brian and I camped in the Pinalenos and got a respite from the heat. I did a long, hot dayhike of the Palisades Trail to Prison Camp and I satisfied my thirst for swimming at Frog Hollow and Aravaipa Canyon, where I took my favorite video of the year:

Arcadia CG and the Swift Trail in the Pinalenos

Best seat at Frog Hollow!

Sabino Canyon from Palisades Trail

In September, I was offered a part-time job with the Arizona Trail Association as their Gateway Community Liaison. I get to travel and promote the trail to the 25 communities along the Arizona Trail. I feel so lucky to have been chosen for this position! And I get to drive the Arizona Trail Bronco:

Me and the Arizona Trail Bronco

October, I visited Cochise Stronghold for a night on the trail (literally!) and ventured outside of Arizona with Brian for a visit to San Diego. We went sea kayaking into the cave in the picture.  At the end of the month, I was in the Tonto Basin for Arizona Trail work and also summited Picketpost Mountain.

What a view!

La Jolla Sea Cave

The mailbox atop Picketpost

I got to see November’s fall colors on the Canada del Oro Trail, which has been cleared by the Forest Service since my write-up. I also did a threefer of Catalina trails on an overnight backpack: Green Mountain, Bug Spring, and Soldier Trail.

I found the gold in the Canada del Oro!

Sunset on the Bug Springs Trail

In the beginning of December I took an 8-day Wilderness First Responder Certification class. It was incredibly intense and I learned a lot that I hope I never have to use in the field. On December 16th, I got to attend the completion ceremony of the Arizona Trail– what an honor that was to be able to participate in building the last little connecting piece of trail! I so look forward to the day when I can make a thru-hike happen and experience the now-continuous path across the state.

Volunteers and agency partners finish up the final piece of trail

I also hiked the Pontatoc Canyon Trail and neighboring Peak 5783, a fun bushwhack despite the very healthy shindagger population.

Pontatoc Canyon from Peak 5783

For the second year in a row, I have logged all my hikes on www.hikearizona.com and here are the stats: 572 miles hiked with 105,000 feet of elevation gained, plus immeasurable fun and excitement. I am looking forward to 2012- I have some trips planned already, but some of my favorite adventures are ones that happen spur-of-the moment.

I am so grateful for all the people who donated this year to Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson via this blog or the Birds, Blues, and Bellydance event. The rehab is entirely self-supported and every cent counts. I have enjoyed sharing the critters at the rehab with my readers- here’s some of my favorites from this year:

Baby Ringtail

Baby Black-Crowned Night Heron

This is what the baby Raccoon thinks of our food offerings

Flying a Red-Tailed Hawk

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Arizona Trail Trailhead by Jacob Lake

I got the most interesting call from Dave Hicks, the Executive Director of the Arizona Trail Association. He said that now that the trail is almost finished, that the one of the next priorities is to promote the trail and get the Gateway Communities along the trail involved. He said that the AZT really needs a Gateway Community Liaison dedicated to fostering relationships with the communities, and that he thought that I would be perfect for it. I agreed, but in my head I was thinking that my volunteering plate is pretty full at the moment. Then he said the magic words, “And I have a grant”.  So for the next year, I will have a new part-time job- doing presentations, promoting the trail and trying to gain support and trail stewards from the Gateway Communities. What a dream job! I get to promote the Arizona Trail and visit towns from Sierra Vista, Patagonia and Sonoita in the south, to Payson and Pine and Flagstaff, and as far north as Fredonia and Kanab, Utah. I get a per diem for food and lodging, but I have a feeling my bed will more often than not be a spot along the Arizona Trail instead of in some hotel. I am incredibly honored that Dave thought of me for the job and am really looking forward to getting people all over the state acquainted with this fantastic trail. Hiking the Arizona Trail changed my life in so many ways and here’s yet another one. Easily one of the best things I’ve ever done. Next week I’m on the road for my new job, traveling to Payson, Pine, Flagstaff, and the Arizona Trail Rendezvous at Mormon Lake. I can’t wait. If you’d like to learn more about the Gateway Communities, click this link: www.aztrail.org/ata_news/ATANewsWinter10.pdf

In Wildlife Rehabilitation Fundraiser news, here’s a juvenile Great Horned Owl trying to make itself big and tough-looking:

Fluffy Juvenile Great Horned Owl

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I was tagged in a game by my friend Kimberlie Dame, who writes a fantastic blog called The New Nomads. The game was started at Tripbase.com and involves finding the 7 blog posts within my site that fulfill the following requirements:

  1. Most beautiful.
  2. Most popular.
  3. Most controversial.
  4. Most helpful.
  5. A post who’s success surprised you.
  6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved.
  7. The post of which you are most proud.

It was fun to wander through my past posts. Here are my picks:

1. Most Beautiful: Royal Arch Loop via Point Huitzil– My favorite Grand Canyon trip so far. It was the first time I got to see my beloved Grand Canyon in the snow and it made everything that much more beautiful. Also, the petroglyphs on the Point Huitzil Route were spectacular.

Majestic Fan Island

2. Most Popular: Royal Arch Loop– I feel so fortunate to have done this incredible route twice. This post is from my October 2010 trip. The great part about this post is that people come to my website looking for trail beta and in addition get a crazy story about the group dynamics of the trip. (and hopefully don’t make the same mistakes as I did, going with such a large group on a tough route with people you don’t know)

Elves Chasm

3. Most Controversial: A Tale of Two Doomed State Parks-Since my blog is more of a trail journal, I tend not to get into controversial topics, but when I learned in 2010 that Arizona was planning on closing its state parks due to lack of funding, I had to speak up on the insanity. Fortunately, for now most of the state parks remain open. Unfortunately, the current legislature has been swiping money from an already-tenuous situation. You can read more about it in this recent article in the Tucson Weekly.

Lost Dutchman State Park in bloom

4. Most Helpful: Mount Lemmon to Catalina State Park via Sutherland Trail– There isn’t a whole lot on the internet about the Sutherland Trail, and I was happy to be able to help others who want to hike this little-used but fantastic trail.

Sutherland Trail

5. A post who’s success surprised you: A moonlit hike in Sabino Canyon– Just a short blog about hiking up the Sabino Canyon Road in the moonlight, but it still generates quite a few hits. Since that post was written, I have done that hike what seems like a million times, but it never gets old. I like looking for critters on the road in the summertime, and have had some fantastic sightings- rattlesnakes of all kinds, ringtails, skunks, deer, and many many tarantulas, frogs, and toads. One of my favorites was a baby Gila Monster, about four inches long and an inch wide.

Rattlesnake on a night hike

6. A post you feel didn’t get the attention it deserved: A Night on The Spine– A short but rugged solo bushwhacking backpacking adventure near the White Canyon Wilderness that describes perfectly how solo hiking rejuvenates my soul.

Morning view

7. The post of which you are most proud: This was a tough one. Which to choose? I thought about nominating my post about the recent Birds, Blues, and Bellydance Benefit for Wildlife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson. I put the entire event together by myself and am very proud of my volunteer work and fundraising efforts through this blog. But since this is a hiking blog, I’ll have to go with A look back at 2010. It is really amazing to me all the incredible adventures I packed into last year. In part because I have had fibromyalgia for almost 15 years now and when I was really sick, if you would have told me that I was going to hike and backpack over 700 miles in one year, my bedridden self would have thought that you were delusional.

Holdout Canyon

Thanks to Kimberlie for this fun exercise! She is quite the adventurer and a good friend who I met through the Arizona Trail. You should definitely go check out and support Kimberlie’s Kickstarter project of her plan to hike the US for three years: All Who Wander…Living Outside of it All. Here’s her description of the project:

“The plan is to walk away (literally and with great fanfare) from my life in Brooklyn, New York and head south along the Appalachian Trail. After completing the trail, I will then head west onto a network of smaller trails along the southern periphery of the United States. Along this route I will join up with a Hobo convention, a Renaissance camp, a Rainbow gathering, and other people in subcultures that I already am aware of, and hopefully with some that I will become aware of. I will then begin the Pacific Crest Trail in California and head north to its terminus, completing all 2,650 miles of it with varied and interesting people. I will then enter the “flaneur” part of the journey,intentionally  allowing open space and time to research and pursue new trails, new people, and new experiences that are outside the range of normal civilization. I will return to Brooklyn when three years has passed. All throughout this time, I will be doing a whole bunch of writing, communicating, and figuring it all out. My legs and fingers will become deft and muscular.”

In Wildlife Rehab Fundraiser news, we have still been very busy with all sorts of babies. One of my recent favorites is a racoon:

This is what the baby Raccoon thiinks of our food offerings

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Looking back at Lava Falls Rapid

I was fortunate enough to land a volunteer spot on a fish survey in the Grand Canyon conducted by Arizona Game and Fish. I hiked down the Bright Angel Trail on May 17th, excited about what the next 12 days would bring. At Pipe Creek, the four of us that hiked down were met by two small powerboats and we were shuttled a short distance to our camp on river right. I was surprised at the small size of the crew: four boatmen, three scientists and one other volunteer. Our campsite had a great view of Plateau Point and we watched people come out for the sunset. We also spotted a condor, still gigantic even though it was up at the Tapeats level.  We rotated so that there was always one person who had the night off, and I was the first in rotation. Since I had the night off I had to help the cook prepare dinner. Dinner was quite the lavish affair- ribs with potatoes and strawberry poundcake complete with whipped cream for dessert. Much different from my usual backpacking fare of something rehydrated eaten out of a freezer bag! I was a little nervous about the next day- my first time ever on a river running rapids and we had some big ones coming up.

Spring flowers on the Bright Angel Trail

Strawberry poundcake with whipped cream for dessert- not my usual Grand Canyon fare

Well, the weather for my first big day of rapids was less than ideal- rainy and overcast. I got suited up and took my seat on the science boat with the two women scientists Pilar and Robin. I had been nervous before the trip about who was going to be driving my boat. That was, until I realized that the person driving my boat has more nights on the river in the Grand Canyon than any other boatman. Brian Dierker has been on the river for four decades and almost every boatman that we passed on the trip knew him. He provides boat support for scientific trips of all kinds in the Canyon. He also provides marine services for movies, which led to him being cast as Rainey (half of the California hippie couple) in the movie Into the Wild. A big guy with an even bigger personality, we hit it off immediately and I knew I was in good hands.

Suited up for some big rapids on a rainy day

We had 20 miles of river to cover, from Pipe Creek to the South Bass area. The river was running at 23,000 cfs, quite a bit higher than usual. Horn Creek Rapid was up first- I held on as the boat bounced up and down and I got sprayed with icy Colorado River water. Our next big rapid was Hermit, and it was one of the best of the entire trip. There are five waves in succession and the fifth one was gigantic- what a ride! I am a giant fan of roller-coasters and other amusement park rides, but this beat them all! The higher levels had made even the boatmen impressed with Hermit and we all whooped and cheered with giant smiles on our faces. Nervousness about the rapids was gone, and I had a blast running Granite and Crystal, which were kind of washed out from the high flows. We floated by the mouths of all the Gems and made camp at the mouth of Hotauta Canyon. It blew my mind how fast river travel is versus backpacking. It would have taken me 60 trail miles and a week of hiking to travel by the Tonto Trail. The most fun rapid of the trip was Lava, by a long shot. What a ride that was! Even better was watching our tiny powerboats take on the massive water.

Here we go! Horn Creek Rapid is up first

Hermit Rapids- one of the most fun of the whole trip


Lava Falls Rapid

How'd you feel about Lava, Brian?

Big smiles after the best ride of the trip

We had time in the afternoon to take a nap before having dinner and going to work in the evening. I was too excited to nap, so I hiked a little way up Hotauta Canyon. The canyon is right across from Tyndall Dome and the South Bass/Tonto trail intersection, where I’d been just 6 weeks before. I could see my favorite point camp high above, just an undercut shelf of rock hanging over the Tapeats cliffs. I returned back to camp for dinner and then changed into my raingear for my first night of fishing.

View downstream from Hotauta Canyon

Looking up at my Tonto point campsite from last October- the rocks jutting out on the left

When I’d signed up for the volunteer position, I read that I was going to be night electrofishing. I’d had the process explained to me a couple of times, but it was hard to imagine- now I was going to finally see for myself. Mind you, before this trip I had never even fished with a fishing pole. I was paired with Clay, one of the scientists, and Joe, the boatman who would be driving the powerboat. At 8:30 pm, we started fishing. The boat was equipped with a generator that ran the electrical current via two large silver balls into the water. The boat swept the shoreline, and as the current hit the water, the fish would surface for just a second before sinking or swimming away. I had to catch the fish with my net before it sunk or the boat pulled away, then turn and put it in a cooler filled with water behind me.  Definitely something that took a little practice- it was kind of like a game of Whack-a-Mole. It was hard not to get distracted looking at the moonlit canyon sometimes. After 5 minutes of fishing, we measured and tagged the fish before releasing them back into the river. We repeated this 15 times per night and it usually took us until 1 or 2 in the morning to finish. After we got back from fishing, we’d usually hang out talking on the boats for a while before going to bed. But no matter how late we stayed up, once the sun came over the cliffs at around 7 am, we were all awakened by the hot sun.

Ready for a night of fishing

Netting a fish

Flannelmouth Sucker

Tradition holds that everyone must kiss a flannie

In the morning, we loaded up the two big boats so that they could move downstream toward our next camp. Then we drove back in the powerboats to where we fished to do habitat descriptions of our segments and mark them on the map. It was great to be able to go upstream and see the same area in the light after having fished it the night before. We had a map made of aerial photographs of when the river was running at 8,000 cfs and it was interesting to see how much of the beaches and shoreline was underwater at almost three times the flow. After habitat description, we’d catch up with the larger boats and transfer onto them to run the rest of the way to camp. (we weren’t allowed to ride in the powerboats through the larger rapids) Part of our work also included fishing with poles for catfish three times a day for 20 minutes. After we set up camp, we usually had about four hours to nap, hike, and eat before going to work in the evening and the whole cycle started over again.

Ever-changing scenery

To go into detail about every day would take a novel-length blog entry, so I’ll just hit on some of the highlights and point you to the full set of my pictures for more detail. One of my favorite parts of the trip was how easy it was to get to interesting hiking destinations. The boatmen would take us in the powerboats and pick us up a couple of hours later. The beautiful narrows of Blacktail and National Canyons were just a 15 minute walk away. My favorite hiking destination of the trip was definitely Havasu Canyon. I had never seen the turquoise waters and it was truly breathtaking. We hiked up until we found a good pool and I inflated my floatie and went for a fantastic float. The rest of the group hiked on, but I stayed in the pool and had the place to myself for 20 delicious minutes.

National Canyon

What a sight- the turquoise waters of Havasu Creek

Me, Nick, Robin, and Pilar

Using the floatie in Havasu Creek

Grand Canyon Pink or Speckled Rattler? Either way, it was really angry!

Desert Spiny Lizard

Ruins near Deer Creek

Because ours was a scientific trip, we had to use smaller and less desirable campsites and leave the nice big ones to the private and commercial trips. We also couldn’t stop at Elves Chasm or Deer Creek because there were already groups there. (Good thing I’d been to Elves recently!)  The high water had also drowned a lot of the real estate on the river, but we were always able to find a spit of sand to spread out on. My favorite camp of the trip was in Olo Canyon. There was a perfect waterfall with a pool for my floatie and I got to go to sleep lulled by the sound of the cascade.  I was lucky enough to be able to sleep under the stars on a comfy cot all but two nights.

Olo Canyon Waterfall- I got to wake up to this beautiful view

Sand Verbena

I just adored the river life- it was so much fancier than backpacking! The food alone- there is a reason that river trips are called a “float and bloat”.  The ever-present sound of the river was fantastic and it was so nice to have access to water that didn’t have to be carried on my back. The only unfortunate thing that I didn’t anticipate was that I felt like I was on the river, even when I was not. I had all sorts of issues with my equilibrium, which made hiking interesting. I would wake up and feel like my cot was floating on the river. Even when I came back from the trip, for several days my inner ear was convinced I was still on the boat.

Majestic views abound at every turn

Day 11 and I look so clean! Way different than backpacking.

I am so glad that I got to experience the river in the Grand Canyon for the first time on a small scientific trip with a very experienced crew. I saw the large commercial trips float by, packed with 16 people to a boat and considered myself very fortunate. I enjoyed everyone’s company and learning about the fish was very interesting.

Back row: Brian Smith, Clay, Pilar, Joe Front row: Robin, me, Nick, Brian Dierker, Stevie J

Diamond Peak

Diamond Creek- where the trip ends for me, Pilar, Clay and Nick.

End of my first trip on the river- now when can I come back?

I encourage you to check out my full set of pictures on my Picasa account by clicking the picture below- I’ve added captions describing my trip in greater detail:

Grand Canyon River Trip May 2011

In Wildlife Rehabilitation news: It is baby season at Wildife Rehabilitation Northwest Tucson and we’ve had everything from hatchling ducks to baby hawks and owls of all sizes, plus a very tiny and cute ringtail cat. There’s too much cuteness to choose from so I’ll include several pictures in this entry. Your donation goes toward feeding, housing, and providing medical care.

Baby ringtail

Baby Cooper's Hawk

Bunches of inch-long baby quail

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