Friday, April 20, 2018

Sedona - Hiking the Hiline Trail

Sedona's fantastic scenery blew me away.

My trail friends - Hans, Lisa, Steve and Mona Liza

Last August, when blogging friends Hans and Lisa extended an invitation for a March visit, I didn't know much about this popular redrock town smack-dab in the middle of Arizona.  They both glowingly described its scenic attributes, adding "photographers love this place.  Your camera will be busy!"

Approaching Cathedral Rock

I'll admit I didn't do much research about the Sedona area, instead concentrating my efforts on the Grand Canyon.  So when Hans and Lisa drove me towards town on my first morning, I gaped in awe at the giant sandstone formations rising from the desert floor.  It looked like something straight out of a John Wayne western!

Well-signed trails

Hans and Lisa love this area, having visited many times.  They both retired early and live full time in their RV (and blog at Metamorphosis Road), so have had the opportunity to explore Sedona and it's nearby trails in depth.  I was about to be the beneficiary of their extensive knowledge.

Mountain bikers have the same trail ratings as skiers!

My first hike in Sedona?  The Hiline Trail located southeast of town.  We pulled into the Baldwin Trailhead bright and early and bundled up against the morning chill (yes, it gets cold in the desert at night - even in early spring).  Hans and Lisa stay in touch with a large network of RV bloggers and were planning to meet one of their blogging friends, Steve and Mona Liza, at the trailhead.

In my happy place

It was great to meet Steve and Mona Liza.  Also retired full time RVers, they've traveled all over, and had many interesting tales to tell (check out their blog The Lowe's RV Adventures).  I discovered Mona Liza was an avid photographer, and while on the trail we bonded over our shared interest.

Steep climb (can you believe bikes ride down this??)

We started out on the Baldwin Trail, winding through red soil and brushy vegetation.  The surrounding scenery was fantastic from the get-go.  My camera came out almost immediately, and I instantly lagged behind the group (which would become the norm for the entire day).

Wonderful red rocks

After about a mile, the Baldwin intersected with the Hiline Trail, our featured hike of the day.  It wound below Cathedral Rock, an impressive collection of towering red and tan striped sandstone columns.

One can never have too many cameras!

Mona Liza was truly a kindred spirit.  I laughed when I saw her capturing images using not only her regular camera, but her cell phone too.  I just had to get this fun pic of her with a camera in each hand.  Always schlepping around a ton of camera gear myself, I could totally relate!

First mountain biker of the day

In Sedona, hikers shared the trails with mountain bikers.  At each junction were signs giving directions to the bikers (many trails were one way only) and rating its level of difficulty.  I was amused that the ratings used the same symbols as ski trails.  (Double black diamond also meant experts only!)

Amazing view of Cathedral Rock

We climbed up to an flat rock overlook and there spread out before us was the town of Sedona.  What an absolutely stunning vista!

Sedona Valley panorama

And Cathedral Rock didn't look too shabby from here either.

Cathedral Rock was nearly always in sight

Follow the red dirt trail....

The houses appeared to be nestled right up against many of the large rock formations.  Hans pointed out the local Catholic Chapel, an impressive structure that appeared to have been built right on top of the red rock.  (See photos of it here)

Looking down into Sedona

From the viewpoint, our trail clung to the side of a steep cliff.  More fabulous views opened up as we worked our way down. 

Spectacular views!

Some of the trail was so steep and rocky I couldn't believe mountain bikers rode here (and survived!)

Great scenery around every corner

Lisa knew the names of all the rock formations and also the unique (to this Pacific NW'er anyway) desert plants.  Having hiked this trail before, she also pointed out many good photo op locations.  I couldn't have asked for a better guide!

Loved this rock formation (but forgot it's name)

Yeah, I took about a gazillion photos.  It was super hard to narrow them sit back and scroll through the next few.

My photo-buddy in action

Cacti close-up

Picking our way down the rocky trail

Checking out the trail junction

Agave plant

More red rock formations

Finally we hiked down to another trail junction.  Having traveled the entire length of the Hiline Trail, we'd now turn and follow the Templeton Trail on a long, skinny loop back to the parking area.

Bikers zipping by

The  proximity to several trailheads meant we began to see lots more people.  And more bikers too (but the mountain bikers were fun to photograph).  We crossed paths with a few mountain bike trails sporting cool names, like Easy Breezy and Slim Shady.

Loved these red towers

There was no shortage of red rock, or towering pillars.

Trail contours this rocky slope

Good thing I had a large memory card!

Lisa takes in the view

As we headed back towards our beginning point, the trail passed several neighborhoods perched upon nearby rocky slopes.  Some truly stunning homes (with fantastic views!)

Homes perched in the rocks

This mountain biker saw me waiting with my camera and popped a wheelie (which I didn't notice until reviewing the day's photos later that night)

This biker popped a wheelie for me

We passed by a wide flat rock with a bunch of cairns placed randomly.  Not sure why there were so many. 

Not sure why there was so many cairns here

Our return trail took us closer and closer back to the base of Cathedral Rock.  We passed by a trail leading hikers all the way to it's summit.  It was packed with people!

Crowds climbing Cathedral Rock

Having already hiked about 6 miles, climbing up this steep rocky trail didn't appeal to me at the time (luckily, it wasn't on our agenda).

Zoomed out view

One of the great things about the loop hike we did, since the trail circled the base of Cathedral Rock, I got to see it from all directions.  Not sure which view was my favorite but if the sun had been at a better angle, it might have been this one.

Red rock cairn

One thing I try to remember as I hike is to look back.  Sometimes the best views are behind you.

Fantastic view looking back

For our final mile, Hans and Lisa led us down to the banks of Oak Creek.  We wound through an impressive grove of sycamore trees, their gnarly limbs and white bark shining in the afternoon light.  I'd never before seen trees like these!

Silvery new leaves on the trees

Oak Creek was a sizeable stream.  I didn't expect to see such a large water body here in the desert.

Admiring Oak Creek

Hans and Lisa mentioned they'd once seen a pack of javelinas (wild boars commonly found in desert areas) while hiking along this creek.  Although we all hoped for another wildlife sighting, there were none to be found. 

Lovely Oak Creek

The lovely shady creek area and interesting sycamore trees more than made up for any lack of javelinas.  A nice way to end this hike!

White bark Sycamore trees

We clocked in around 8.5 to 9 miles covered (depending upon which gps you looked at).  A great introduction to Sedona's amazing red rock country.

Calm waters

Time to head back to Hans and Lisa's RV for some well earned cold brews!  And plan tomorrow's next adventure.

Check out Steve and Mona Liza's blog (and all of Mona Liza's fantastic photographs) at The Lowe's RV Adventures

Check out Hans and Lisa's blog at Metamorphosis Road

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Grand Canyon - Sunrise, Desert View, and Surprise Snowstorm

I'm gonna inundate you with photos again.....

Bright Angel Traihead, just before sunrise

Remember in my last post I mentioned that snow was forecast the following day?  Well I spent a extremely cold night in my unheated van (although equipped with a plug-in heater, I mistakenly chose a campsite without electrical hookups - doh!).  The only bedding provided by the rental company was a thin sheet and cotton comforter.  Although dressed in long johns, wool socks, and knit beanie, the temps dropped low enough that I donned my down vest during the night.  I could have really used a warm sleeping bag!

Nice light in the canyon

I survived my frigid night in the van, finally tucking myself into a (mostly) cozy ball and drifting off to sleep.  Unlike the previous day, I was able to rouse myself before first light.  But on such a cold morning, it was hard to leave my now-warm bed. 

Colors are getting brigher

For today's sunrise, I'd originally planned to catch a bus back to Mather Point.  But after waiting a few long minutes, none were showing themselves.  So I trekked over to the westbound stop and hopped a shuttle heading to Bright Angel Lodge.

Interesting rock formations

Best decision ever!  Disembarking at the Bright Angel Trailhead, I gaped in amazement at the colorful panorama spread out below, bathed in soft predawn light.

First golden rays

Although cloudy skies hid the sunrise, a few golden rays were able to escape and illuminated the upper rim in beautiful golden hues.

Morning panorama

I stood in the chilly morning air and watched in amazement as this light spread into the canyon below.

Beginning of Bright Angel Trail

After spending several minutes taking in this fantastic light show, I tore myself away and headed towards the Bright Angel Trail.  I didn't originally intend to hike it, but an interesting tunnel on the trail piqued my curiosity.

Sagebrush foreground

I could at least go check out the tunnel - it didn't look very far away.  So down I traipsed.

Bright Angel Trail

Luckily this time of the morning, hardly anybody was around.  I met a couple hikers burdened with huge backpacks, who I assumed were heading towards the bottom.  But other than that, I pretty much had the place to myself.

Hiker tunnel on Bright Angel Trail

The hiker tunnel was really cool.  A worthy destination, that's as far as I traveled.  I would have liked to hike further down the Bright Angel Trail, but today's time was limited.  So back up I went.

Only in the Grand Canyon do you see signs like these!

This National Park sports many unique signs.  Returning up the Bright Angel, I found one explaining mule etiquette.  Only in the Grand Canyon!

This mule's ready for another trip

Speaking of mule trains, guess who I met at the top of Bright Angel Trail?  Another group of mules, saddled up and ready for their downhill trek.  A new batch of riders were also preparing for the journey, bundled up heavily against the cold wind.  Didn't look like the best day for such a trip.

Light and shadow

I headed east along the rim trail.  Although crammed with tourists the previous afternoon, this morning I was delighted to find the place deserted.  (Linda's tip for visiting National Parks - get up early to avoid the crowds)

Kolb Studio

I passed by the Kolb Studio.  This historic structure was built by the Kolb brothers as a photography studio and family home.  (Can you imagine having your house on the Grand Canyon's rim?  How cool is that?)  Of course, it's no longer used as a residence, and now functions as a bookstore and art gallery.

Lookout Studio perched on a cliff

I also got a great view of the Lookout Studio.  Perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the canyon, this structure was built by the Santa Fe Railway as a photography studio to compete with the Kolbs.  Designed by Mary Colter, the famous Grand Canyon architect, it's now part of the Grand Canyon Village National Historic Landmark District.

Spiny vegetation

It was great to be able to wander the rim path, taking photos whenever I wanted, and not have to wait for people to get out of the way.

The canyon colors come out

Knowing I had to vacate my campsite by 11 am, I opted for a short excursion.  I decided to walk the rim trail back to the campground connector trail. 

Patterns on the canyon floor

A portion of the trail I'd yet to see, there was more spectacular scenery for my camera's lens to feast on.

Stormy weather is coming in

About that snowy forecast.....although I was relieved to find bare ground in the morning, the canyon wasn't out of the woods yet.  Making my way back on the Rim Trail, I started to notice tiny white flakes swirling in the wind.

Rock towers

The snow started falling heavier.  Although the flurries appeared to be melting as soon as they hit the ground, I began to get nervous.  Although I love snow, I didn't relish the thought of driving my rented van, with unknown tire conditions and snow-handling abilities, through icy roads.

Interesting rock layers

So I headed back to my campsite, packed up and took a quick shower.  The snow seemed to slack off while I was completing my chores.  But I decided it would be best to start heading to lower elevations.  Besides, I was due to meet up with my blogging buddies, Hans and Lisa, in Camp Verde late that afternoon.

Desert View Watchtower

I pondered which route to take back to I-17.  Via nail-biting Highway 64 to Williams, or east on Desert View Drive to Cameron?


I really wanted to see more of the Park, so Desert View Drive won.  This scenic road wound 22 miles past the Visitor Center along more of the canyon's rim.

Another tower doorway

Another good choice.  This road meandered past more stunning viewpoints.  I stopped at a couple, where parking spaces were wide and plentiful (my big van wasn't the easiest to maneuver!).  

The tower without people!

Sadly, the weather took another turn for the worse.  The wind began blowing and snowfall picked up in intensity.  The canyon became cloaked in a wispy white fog, restricting visibility at all the viewpoints.

Foggy canyon views

I'd read the Desert View Watchtower, at the park's eastern entrance, was worth seeing.  So I bypassed the final three overlooks and pulled into the Desert View Visitor Center parking lot.  Exiting my vehicle, I noticed two large tour buses had just finished unloading.  The place was packed with  tourists from these buses.

Red walls

The Desert View Watchtower was another structure designed by Grand Canyon architect Mary Colter.  Created to resemble an ancient Pueblo watchtower, it was an impressive building.  I really wanted to explore the place, but it was so packed with people, I ended up walking out.  Even the overlooks were busy with tourists.  But the weather was so lousy, with fog shortening visibility, there wasn't as much to see.  I tried a few photos but was mostly disappointed.  Time to head south!

Lone gnarly tree

I thought once I left the Grand Canyon and descended in elevation, I'd leave the snow behind.  But I forgot one thing - I had to pass through Flagstaff, a city that sits at an elevation of 7000 feet.  Snow began to fall thicker and thicker as I started the climb into town.  By the time I reached the city limits, this storm had morphed into a full-on blizzard, with 3-4 inches of accumulation already on the ground and barely any visibility.  Oh...this wasn't good!

The roads started to look windshield began to ice over.  I blasted the defroster and slowed down.  I reminded myself I'd driven on snowy roads many times this winter, and could handle this.  And then, just south of Flagstaff, traffic came to a standstill.  Google maps showed an accident (a large gravel truck had slid into the median taking a car with it).  Although the next 10 miles was a slow crawl, I was happy for the reduced speed.  Not only did I not want to wreck the rental van, I didn't want anyone to hit me (about this time I was really thankful I'd purchased that additional insurance on the van!)

Snowstorm in Flagstaff

Finally cresting over the last big hill, I-17 began to lose elevation, and the snow transitioned to rain (can't begin to tell you how relieved I was!)  By the time I pulled into Camp Verde, the weather was back to warm, dry, typical Arizona desert weather.

It was so good to see Hans and Lisa!  They welcomed me with cold beer and a delicious meal.  Tomorrow would begin the second part of my Arizona adventure, hiking the jaw-dropping scenic trails of Sedona.