We left Page, Arizona and made the short drive to Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff is situated at an altitude of over 7000 feet, so we had very pleasant weather with highs in the 70's and a low of 39 one night. Flagstaff is also located on Route 66 and the city has restored a few of the hotel signs from the hay day of the "Mother Road". The railroad tracks go right through downtown with up to 60 trains a day passing through. With the coming of the railroad they were able to harvest the tall lodge-pole pines that grow in the area. One of those pines was shipped east and used as the ceremonial flag pole celebrating the nations centennial. There in the name Flagstaff was born. One evening we visited the Lowell Observatory on a hill just west of town. We were treated to great looks at a few of the planets and star clusters, that were thousands of light years away. If you are ever in the area we highly recommend visiting the observatory one evening. On Saturday afternoon we attended the OKTO Beer Fest hosted by the Lumberyard Brewery in downtown Flagstaff. All proceeds went to the local animal shelter. We had a great time meeting the locals and sampling beers from 10 Northern Arizona Breweries. I bought Josie a beer snack necklace made of pretzels, Slim Jims and a bag of Cashews. We also had a great brat and homemade chips. It was a lot of fun watching the brat eating contest and the human Foos ball game.
One day we drove the 36 mile loop road through Sunset Crater and Wupatki Pueblo National Monuments. The lava flow from the crater is very impressive. The road then drops in altitude into the Painted Desert where the two major Pueblos of Wupatki are located. The temperature went up over twenty degrees as we descended from the Crater to the desert below.
I drove up into the San Francisco Peaks one morning and did a little birding. Not only did I get some great birds but also was treated to great scenery and vistas. I had seen very few Crossbills in my birding career, so it was unbelievable to see hundreds of them migrating through the area.
We left Flagstaff and spent a week in the Prescott Valley about 80 miles north of Phoenix. One day we drove Scenic Highway 89A over the Mingus Mountains to the old copper mining town of Jerome. In its boom days over 15,000 people lived here. So much copper was mined that they were making a million dollars a month. After the copper ran out in the 1950's the town became a ghost town for many years until a few hearty souls decided to move there and restore many of the original buildings. Today the town has a population of 500 and entertains over 1 million tourists a year. It is a very unique place since it hangs off the side of the mountain looking down into the old copper mining pit. They were having a Volkswagen weekend coming up and we spotted this double-decker bus customized into a VW bus being taken up the mountain. We were going to go on down the mountain to the town of Cottonwood but we saw the sign for the Verde Canyon Railroad in Clarksdale and stopped in to see if they had any seats left for that days train. We snagged the last two seats in first class and sat back and enjoyed the 40 mile round trip journey into the canyon. One of the highlights of the trip was riding through a 600 foot tunnel.
Two years ago I mentioned to the group in Virginia Beach (over a great Bourbon Barrel Stout) that I wanted to take another raft trip down the Grand Canyon, and asked if any of them would like to join my daughter, Missy, and me. To my surprise four of them said yes and two years later we all met in Page, Arizona to begin our adventure. Our group of River Rats included Josie's daughter Cathy and her husband Scott, Laura Hoots and Aaron Decker and of course my daughter Missy. Josie sat this one out because she did not want to get soaked by 50 degree water, camp under the stars in 90 degree weather, pee in the river and poop in a bucket. The canyon is so magnificent that the pictures below cannot do it justice. Around every bend for over 180 miles we were blown away by the grandeur of the canyon. We also had a great time with our fellow rafters, some from as far away as Australia.
Besides the scenery, the main draw of this trip is shooting the over 100 rapids, ranging on a scale of 1 to 10. The Colorado River is the only river to have a rating system that goes as high as 10. It was very hard to take pictures in a lot of the rapids because we had to hold on with both hands, I did manage to take a few pictures but also took about 20 videos, which I cannot add to the blog. We were drenched many times and despite the 100 degree air temperature the 50 degree water could take your breath away.
We had a great time on the trip and everyone was styling in their river running gear, life vests, and camping gear.
We also took many shore excursions. Our first one was Red Wall Cavern. It did not look so big from the river but once we landed we could see it could hold over 5000 people. We spent some of our time throwing the football around.
We hiked up the Little Colorado River and on the way Cathy got here feet just a "little" muddy. We put our life jackets on over our butts and proceeded to float done the small rapids and water falls. We were told the river gets its milky color from the travertine in the area.
One day we hiked up to the ruins of an ancient native village and looked at the discarded pottery shreds and kiva walls. This was a hot hike and we were glad to get back to the river and into the next rapid.
Half way down the river we floated under the foot bridge to Phantom Ranch, a campground for hikers at the bottom of the canyon. We refilled our water jugs and anyone who wanted to was able to use a flushing toilet. While we waited we sat in the cold water to beat the heat of another 100 degree day.
We hiked over a small ridge one day and down into a small canyon and up the stream coming from it. We came to a small but powerful waterfall with a cave to the right of it. We were able to go into the cave and get behind the waterfall and then jump out into the pool below. It was a lot of fun.
At the end of our fourth day we hiked up Black Tail Canyon, so called because of the black rock that forms it. We hung out here for an hour or so as we waited for the sun to go behind the cliff wall on our camp site on the other side of the river.
When we came to Deer Creek Falls, Missy and Scott went on the hike to the top of the falls while the rest of us lazed at the bottom and watch a British group kayak down the rapids. Once Scott and Missy got back we all dove into the pool formed by the falls and got as close to the falls as we wanted to or dared.
Our last excursion was hiking into Havasu Canyon, Cathy and Laura really came through and conquered their fear of the cliffs we had to walk on to get into the canyon and they were rewarded with beautiful pools of aquamarine water and small waterfalls. When we got back to the raft we celebrated their fortitude and our last full day in the canyon by passing the bottle of Captain Morgans Spiced Rum around our raft.
We cannot say enough about our outstanding crew. Al, our head rafts man, Erica our second raft captain and Adam and Cheyenne their assistants also called Swampers. Not only did they expertly guide us through many technical rapids but they told us stories, fed us very well, packed the rafts and even had to change an engine on one of the rafts. They loved what they were doing and the canyon is in good hands with these fine folks as its guardian.
We ate like kings on this trip. From a cold cut or taco salad pita bar for lunch to Pork chops, rib eye and prime rib for dinner. We had eggs to order in the morning with french toast, pancakes, sausage bacon and so much more each evening and morning. They even made a fantastic chocolate birthday cake for one of our fellow travelers. Many of the rafters said this may be the first camping trip where they gained weight.
Camp life each evening and morning started with all of us helping to unload or load the rafts. We could unload and load everyone's gear, all the cots and chairs and kitchen equipment in less then 20 minutes. We had to learn how to use the dish washing line and we helped out by also washing some of the cooking pots and pans too. We also had to get used to pooping in a bucket, affectionately called Oscar. It turned out to not be as bad as it looks. Of course sanitation was a priority and they had three sanitary stations set up, one for each Oscar and one before every meal.
Our camp sites were in some of the most beautiful places you can imagine. After we got our cots set up it was time to clean up and we used the river for that. Then we would join the group for cocktail hour and after dinner just sit around and socialize. Scott was out first aid medic and he had to patch up a few blisters and nicks and cuts.
We saw over 50 Big Horn Sheep as we floated down the river and even witnessed two rams butting heads for superiority of the herd. We also found a Ring-tailed Cat in the rocks at one of our lunch stops. We would see their foot prints around camp each morning. There were many lizards almost everywhere you looked, they never bothered us. One morning we had beautiful Sphinx Moth sucking the juice out of our grapefruit. We also got to witness a Tarantula Hawk dragging his kill, a small Tarantula across our campsite.
Our adventure ended with another adventure as we were flown out of the canyon on a wild helicopter ride to the Bar Ten Ranch where we were able to shower before all of our group caught a charter flight to Las Vegas. I had to say goodbye here as I flew back to Page where Josie was waiting in the Winnebago.
I took this same trip 25 years ago and it was so much fun then. But having this group along for this trip made it so much more fun and special. Memories for a life time.