There is normally the more-bitter-than-sweet, bittersweet reacclimatization of returning home after a vacation, any vacation, but this time seems to have been even harder on your dear mistress. I miss my vacation terribly.
I miss the exertion. I miss the early morning stillness. I miss the trail and the deer and the wonder and majesty of it all. And it’s funny, I really didn’t think I’d enjoy Grand Canyon National Park all that much. I’m more of an off-the-beaten-path nonconformist and figured it would be spectacular, but mainstream; breath-taking but crowded; nice for panoramas but eventually boring. It’s just rocks. They’re not even unique rocks; they’re found all over the world.
I was wrong. It was amazing in every way. Well, I was right in some things. It was spectacular; it was breath-taking; some places were crowded and it was one of the greatest panorama pic locations I’ve ever seen…
My guess is, the intimacy I experienced with the canyon during my backpacking excursion is the cause of my kinship towards it now and it’s also to blame for my feelings of longing after leaving it.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first wilderness adventure on this trip took us to the Petrified Forest. Wild, psychedelic colors ranging from blues, purple, green, orange, reds, white and yellow (wait; I guess that’s all colors; isn’t it?) So yes, every color was represented in these strange formations that looked exactly like logs, stumps and even wood chips.
The explanation is fascinating and can not be surmised in a simple statement such as, “trees so old, they’ve turned to stone” although it kind of looks like that.
In all actuality, the process is a little more involved, but I’ll give you the condensed version. Petrified wood is petrified just like anything else but there’s a little something special that happens at the end which makes it distinctive. Approximately 200 million years ago, Arizona was a swampy rainforest full of big, huge conifers and big, huge reptiles. (The reptiles have no pertinence to this story; only that they looked really cool in the drawings we saw at one of the museums.) There was lots of water. Trees died. They lost their leaves, branches and bark within their deaths and were toppled over and carried down stream by water currents. Many got jammed up together or snagged along riverbanks. Crazy shit happened, flooding, major changes in the ecology and sentiments buried these trees. And because they were buried, they didn’t break down, erode or decay. So far, we’re at the general definition of petrified, but because the tree is composed of dense organic matter something magical takes place. Eventually silica in the ground water percolates through the wood and replaces its cellulose with minerals but because it’s buried tightly under 200 million years of sand and sediment, it retains the shape of the tree..!! Over time erosion has brought these spectacular specimens back up to the surface to reappear as extraordinary delights wondrous enough to be featured on my blog.
So it’s really not wood anymore at all, but rather wood-shapped gemstones, mainly quartz. (Hence the use of my quotations when referring to it as, “wood.”)
When looking to see that I’ve gotten all my facts straight, I realize I really should have just told you to google it. Wikipedia gives a nicely clean cut definition: Petrified wood is the result of a tree or tree-like plants having completely transitioned to stone by the process of permineralization. All the organic materials have been replaced with minerals (mostly a silicate, such as quartz), while retaining the original structure of the stem tissue.
But it wasn’t just the “wood” that made this place surreal and other-worldly; it was also the landscape.
Barren and arid, these fossilized trees dominated the landscape in places giving it the feel of an archeologist’s dig.
But in other places, blue buttes, iron-oxidated mud hilltops and slopes made the badlands varied and surreal in a different way. It looked very much like something from a sci-fi movie, maybe Star Wars or Planet of the Apes.
Scampering around these bejeweled “trees” and blue buttes for a four days was magnificent and lots of fun.. The next morning we were off to the park I’m not really going to like; right?
Oh but on our way to the Grand Canyon, we stopped at Meteor Crater.
It’s a big depression in the ground from when a not-as-large-as-you’d-think meteor hit the earth going really, really fast 50,000 years ago and it boasts to be the best preserved meteorite crater on earth. Anyway.
I’m more of a zoology and botany kind of girl, which is again why I didn’t think I’d get my panties too wet at the GC.
It sure was grand though. I gave it that much of a compliment when we first sat down next to it upon arrival. Or I should say I sat down; my man ran off to take photos. But I just wanted to sit, sit in awe and contemplate or just go blank, either one seemed appropriate in this setting.
We rambled about, taking the beaten, paved path trails that first day getting our lay of the land. The next day was forecasted to be super cold so we thought we’d hit up all the shops, museums and interactive learning exhibits. Not only was it cold, it was snowing! Not only was it snowing, but it was snow-squalling! The canyon had literally disappeared!
The next day included more meanderings in and around the park.
I was warming up to it, but still felt as though I were interacting with a distant cousin who lived far away and spoke another language.
Then the exciting, breaking event that changed my experience with the GC forever….
We got the permit.
You have to understand that we only made plans to do this trip a couple of months ago and since we didn’t plan this two years in advance, we were unable to rent one of the cabins down at the bottom of the canyon at Phantom Ranch. The only other way to go down to the bottom would be to backpack down and camp at the Angel Creek Campground, but for that you need a permit. To receive such an illustrious permit, one must plan their trip eight or more months in advance or you are destined to have your hopes crushed every time you go through this archaic backwoods-permit-requesting rigamarole of faxing a form to whom I firmly believe is some asshole sadist who was once wronged by nature and lives in his mother’s basement resenting and torturing all of us who want our chance at wilderness intimacy.
Fortunately there’s also a backwoods country office within GC NP, perfectly legit with helpful, nature-loving folks who work there and they had 4 permits left for the week we were visiting. And we got one of them!
We decided to hike down the South Kaibab trail, the steeper but shorter of the two trail options and the next day hike back up along the Bright Angel trail, which is longer but more gradual. The guidebooks we have (“National Geographic’s Guide to National Parks of the United States” and “National Geographic’s Secrets of the National Parks”) are always spot on as far as mileage, like to the hundredth of a mile. It makes it very easy to locate unmarked trails or plan your exertion for the day. So upon consulting our books I learned the route we decided to take would be “an extremely challenging hike, 6.5 miles down to the canyon floor and 8 back up.” The Grand Canyon park newspaper was more exact, but totally different, quoting 7.6 miles down and 10.2 up. Hmmmmmm; I guess both authors figure only 1% of all visitors to the GC actually go to the bottom, so why bother getting it exactly correct? No bother; I wasn’t going to be deterred by anything. We got the permit and we found a place to rent camping/ backpacking equipment. I was going to get further acquainted with this foreign cousin until we were bosom buddies even if it killed me. According to my Fitbit, it was 10.12 miles down and 13.56 on the way up. I wouldn’t say it killed me, but it was definitely one of the most physically strenuous things Ive ever done in under 19 hours.
But damn was it worth it.
The climate changes dramatically from ridge to river. There’s usually a 20-30 degree temperature difference and traveling down all 10.12 miles to the river below, you can feel it. You can also see it in the lush landscape and increased fauna.
Then the next day, we hiked back up. And it was gorgeous.
And then the day after that, we hobbled to the airport. With several patches of moleskin and a few band-aids on my feet, I got on the plane and came back home. And oh, woe is me, I’ve been so forlorn ever since.
However there is always a glimmer on the horizon within my exciting life and right now that glimmer is Death Valley in January. So for fuck’s sake, buy my clips on Kinkbomb throughout the month of November, help me win airfare to Vegas and get me back out there. After November, buy my clips and make your well-deserved tributes where ever you want. I don’t care. I just want to hike… and make money in between.
until next time,
go fuck yourselves, you miserable cunts,