Category: hiking

Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

Throwback to Cave Rappelling and Yosemite in California!

In the summer of 2012, I was sitting at my desk at work when my boss ran in.  Very excited, she said, “You’re about to get a phone call.  They are going to ask you two questions, and if you answer correctly, you might be sent home immediately to pack a suitcase and catch a plane to go work on a winery in California.”

That was the most exciting news I could possibly hear at that time!  I was so bored in Excel hell.  I couldn’t wait to get out of the office and get some hands-on experience!  I don’t remember what the two questions were, but I must have given the correct answer.  The next day I was on a flight to San Francisco for a business trip to Wine Country!

At the winery, we worked long 16-hour days outside on a construction site.  They worked us hard, but we had one day off every week.  I decided to take full advantage of this short “weekend.”

The night before my first weekend, I left the winery in Livingston, CA, and headed to San Francisco.  My phone somehow got bricked within a few hours of landing in San Francisco, so I had to navigate the old fashioned way – with a map and handwritten directions.  I visited a friend from college who (like every time I visit) tried to convince me to come back to do the Escape From Alcatraz Shark Swim competition that he does every year.  It’s easy to see why we are friends.

The next morning, I drove three hours to Moaning Cavern.  I read about the place in a brochure about ziplining and rappelling and decided to try it out.  It was in a very remote place with no cell phone signal.  The roads and buildings made it look like I was transported back to the 1980s in a one-horse country town.

The “parking lot” was a field of dead grass.  There was a white trailer in the corner.  I started to panic.  “I drove three hours to the wrong place! Where the hell am I??”

I got out of my car and looked around. A few minutes later, I heard screaming from overhead as someone flew by on a zipline.  Yes! This is definitely the right place!

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The entrance to the cavern

I went inside and registered to rappel.  There were a few people ahead of me in line.  The entrance to the cave was on the ground level, so I didn’t have to worry about climbing up before the rappel.

When it was my turn, they fitted me with a harness and hardhat, and taught me how to use their rope system.  Then they opened the gate and let me in.  It was a dark narrow tunnel.  Cool!  Not what I was expecting, but it looks like fun!  I climbed down to about 15 feet to the first platform.  After the platform, I had to maneuver around a rocky area to get to the next section, which was also a tunnel.  After about 10 more feet, the tunnel opened up, and was just a flat wall.  This is going to be easy, I thought.  All I have to do is walk down the wall.  But I was wrong.

When the tunnel opened up to a flat wall, I could see the entire cave.  It was breathtaking!  It looked like something I would see on a SCUBA dive, but without the water.  I climbed down a bit more.  For a split second, my brain was tricked into thinking I could swim over to the far side of the dimly lit cavern to get a better view.

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The cavern wall opened up and my feet couldn’t reach the wall anymore

The cavern opened up even more – my feet were too far away to touch the wall!  I was dangling from a rope 150 ft in the air!  I panicked and for a moment forgot how to use the device to climb down the ropes.  Then I realized I was stuck; the only way I could move was to use the device.  I struggled for a second, but then it came back to me.  It was fascinating to be able to see the walls of the cavern up close.  On my way down, I could see people from the walking tour (read: too scared to rappel, but still wanted to see the caves).  I waved hello to them and continued my descent.

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Cavern selfie

I finally made it to the bottom!  Still shaking from the adrenaline rush, I got a selfie inside the canyon.  And then it hit me:  If the entrance to the cave was on ground level, then I’m currently 165 ft below ground level.  How do I get back up?

Climbers join the walking tour at the bottom of the cavern.  The tour guide pointed out some named features inside the cavern.  Shortly after, it was time to go up.  The way up?  A 17 story spiral staircase made entirely of WWII scrap metal!  As an engineer, the idea of an old rickety spiral staircase erected from used scrap metal was more terrifying than rappelling down the cavern!

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The view from the top of the spiral staircase

I made it all the way up the terrifying spiral staircase and back to the lobby.

I did it!  It was awesome!

But I wasn’t done yet.  Since I only had one day off, I had to maximize my time by squeezing more than one adventure into a day.  I headed off to Yosemite National Park.

 

 

After a two hour drive, I arrived at the entrance to Yosemite National Park.  This was my first time at a National Park.  I pulled up to the hut and was handed a map.  I figured it would be like a theme park.  Pay for parking, get handed a map, and given directions to the main attractions.  Wrong, again!

After driving a few miles without seeing any signs, I pulled over to look at the map.  The entrance I just drove through wasn’t even on the map.  I had no idea what I was looking at.  I decided to just keep driving, and I’d probably come across a sign eventually.  Several miles later, I still hadn’t seen a single sign.  I started to wonder if I drove all the way out here for nothing.  Maybe I was at the wrong entrance?  Maybe I won’t be able to find anything and still make it back to the winery at a decent hour.

Finally, I saw a sign.  There was an arrow pointing left with a name (presumably something that was on the map), 65 miles.

Sixty-five miles?!  I already drove two hours!  I need to be somewhere now!  Not in 65 miles!  I decided to pass on that one.  Too far.

After what seemed like another lonely 10 miles, I found a parking lot with people walking towards a rocky path.  Not exactly what I was expecting, but I figured it was my best chance at seeing something before the end of my short weekend. I parked and saw lots of other people there.  It turned out to be Olmsted Point.

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Olmsted Point (the big and little domes near the horizon), as seen from wherever I was when I got lost.

Among the rocks, there was a path down into the valley.  It was gorgeous! I walked around and soaked up the view.  I took a few pictures and headed back to my car.  I felt like there was more to see and time was of the essence.

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I found a paved path among the redwoods.  It was so humbling to be among such enormous trees!  Being from Florida, I had never been on a real hike before (except in Costa Rica).  When I first got there, I preferred the paved path.  But after walking among all of those trees, the paved path in the middle of a forest seemed very artificial.  I understood why real hikers preferred unpaved trails.

I decided to keep driving a bit further.  Just past a campground was the entrance to Hetch Hetchy, which I honestly had never heard of but recognized the view.

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Hetch Hetchy
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While crossing the bridge, I discovered that Hetch Hetchy is a dam!

There is a trail that goes around the lake.  After walking over a bridge and then through a tunnel, I came out around the left side of the lake and started hiking.  The trail was magical. Despite the long day, I felt more and more energized with each step along the trail.  As nightfall began, the trail became darker and darker.  I started to wonder if I’d encounter a bear.  A coworker told me he had gone to the non-touristy parts of Yosemite the previous weekend and had a close encounter with a bear.  I still wasn’t sure if I was on the touristy side or not.

305027_10101895299596233_1125771702_nThe trail turned out to be much longer than I expected.  I turned around and raced the darkness, trying to make it to my car before nightfall.  Lights illuminated the inside of the tunnel.  Though the sun had set completely, the moon was very bright.

I got back in my car and started my journey back to the winery.  But first, I stopped at the campground to use the restroom.  When I entered the restroom, I was greeted by an awesome sign:  step-by-step picture instructions on how to poop in the woods.

293077_10101895300170083_800385655_n While there was running water and flush toilets, there weren’t any lights.  (Sorry for the glare in the middle of the picture.)

As I left the restroom, the park ranger came to ask me if I was leaving because they were just about to close the park gates.  I made it out just in time!

On my long drive back to the winery, I reflected on all of the awesome experiences I had in just one day.  I was in disbelief!  I had seen more in a short weekend than I had in any other weekend in my entire life!  I am so happy that I had the opportunity to make this happen.

Cross-Country Road Trip: Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

Cross-Country Road Trip: Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

I didn’t really have a plan for what to do in Utah.  I knew I wanted to see Zion National Park, The Wave, and some other hikes.  On my way up, I drove through Zion.  I thought about going in, but didn’t want to pay $30 near the end of the day with little time left.

When I got to the Cowboy Bunkhouse Hostel in Kanab, I met the Trail Boss.  He gave me

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The Cowboy Bunkhouse

lots of awesome ideas on what to see and where to go.  He also informed me of a little known fact among visitors:  you have to enter and win a lottery in order to hike The Wave, so that is out of the question.  With his help, I was able to plan the best trip to suit my needs.  I could have stayed for a whole month and still not seen everything.  But it was the end of the season, and many places were getting ready to close for the winter.

Each trail was a long drive from the hostel.  The parks and trails are vast and spread out along southern Utah and northern Arizona.

On my first full day, I went to Capital Reef National Park.  A few miles outside of the park, I stopped at a visitor’s center.  I was hoping to scope out which trails to hike.  But instead, the visitor’s center employee threw a whole bunch of judgment at me.

“You drove all the way out here by yourself?  You’re so brave! Your momma let you drive here alone? Jesus Christ, you need to call your mom, she must be terrified!”

Thank you for your unwanted opinion.  But you don’t know my mom.  You don’t know if she’s still alive, or what kind of relationship I have with her.  I’d be lying if I said this encounter did not spoil my mood.  Sure, she probably “meant well,” but perpetuating gender stereotypes is not always helpful.  Sometimes it is dangerous.

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Hickman Bridge at Capital Reef National Park.

Once I got inside the park, I was in complete awe.  I’m very happy I got to experience this park!

On the second day in Utah, I decided I wanted to take it easy and just do a short hike.  I headed out for the Toadstools at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  The sign for the entrance was so small, I passed it a few times down the two-lane highway through a country road.  I almost missed it! The trailhead was further from the entrance than I expected.

14724374_534539253403136_1250298869823765830_nI almost got lost looking for it.  Then once I found it, I almost lost the trail pretty early on.  It was very narrow and on the sloping side of a roof!  (Shown on the right.)  That didn’t seem like the way I was supposed to go!  I stayed around long enough for other hikers to come by, and they assured me that was the trail.  After that, I made it all the way to the toadstools with no issues.  Once I got there, it started to rain!  The cover picture is me standing next to the toadstools.

My next trip was to Bryce Canyon.  I was told if I only have time to do one hike, I need to

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View of Bryce Canyon as seen from the rim

do the Navajo Trail, which is a 1.3 mile moderate hike. It starts at the rim of the canyon and goes inside on a narrow, winding path on the side of a cliff.  It’s one of the best spots for spectacular views of the canyon.  I set out about an hour before sunset.  Plenty of time. Not too far into the trail, I spent a lot of time taking pictures.  There views were amazing!  But about half a mile in, I realized that the sun was setting.  I needed to hurry back to the rim before dark!  But I felt so exhausted.  I gave myself a break and took a few minutes rest before what I thought would be a sprint to the end of the trail.  After my break, I didn’t feel any more rested.  I still couldn’t catch my breath!  I knew I should probably rush to the end of the trail, but I couldn’t push myself.  I was so out of breath! I kept going at a slower pace.  Better than not moving at all.  I just didn’t want to be out on the trail in the dark.  I started to feel nauseous.  Still out of breath, I tried to keep moving.  But it was

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Bryce Canyon as seen from the Navajo Trail

inevitable:  I would be stuck on the narrow, winding trail on the side of a cliff in the dark.  Once the sun set and darkness came over the trail, I realized something.  I had altitude sickness.  This was my first hike over 9000 ft.  I can’t catch my breath, despite taking plenty of rest.  And now I was in the dark on the side of a cliff.  I didn’t panic.  I was just fine in the dark.  I just wished I brought my headlamp that was in my car!   I decided to keep going in the dark, but if I had any sense of panic or if I couldn’t see where I was going, I would attempt to call for help.  I wasn’t scared, but I knew I had to stay safe.  I pulled out my almost-dead cell phone and used it to light up the trail.  At this particular point on the trail, only one side was on a cliff; the other side was a wall.  I stayed as close to the wall as possible.  After about a quarter of a mile and a few hairpin turns, I finally made it to the end!

The next day, I was hoping to check out Zion.  Then I would head to the Grand Canyon North Rim (the less popular side).  But due to altitude sickness, hiking was out of the question for several days, even at lower altitudes.

Several friends recommended I check out Best Friends Animal Sanctuary.  It was only

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The Wishing Fountain at Best Friends

five miles from my hostel, and didn’t require hiking.  I signed up for a tour of the sanctuary.  Since I arrived early, I had time for lunch in their all-vegetarian cafeteria.  During the tour, we drove by the horses on our way to see the rescue cats.  We got to go inside and pet all of the kitties!  Then we drove over to where they keep the rescue dogs.  They don’t allow people to play with the dogs, but they brought out one of the dogs for us to pet.  He was so cute and sweet.  I wanted to take him home with me!  But I wasn’t sure if the rest of my hostels allowed pets.  Or if I could afford to feed him.

When I left Best Friends, I headed south to Arizona.  I drove through Glen Canyon.  I stopped at a little pull-out on the side of the highway and took this video:

I got to my hostel in Flagstaff with every intention of getting right back into adventures.  At check-in, I asked the people who worked there about Grand Canyon tours and Sedona trips.  The first guy said he recently moved to Flagstaff and didn’t know the area.  I asked a few others and they didn’t know either.  Oh well, I could figure it out on my own.  I used to live in Arizona, and this wasn’t my first trip to Flagstaff.

I went upstairs to my room.  There were two bunk beds, a tiny fridge, and a sink.  Two of my roommates were from Europe.  They were friendly and chatted about their time in Flagstaff.  I offered for them to join me on my trip to the Grand Canyon South Rim, but they already booked a tour.  Everywhere I went since Las Vegas offered their own private Grand Canyon tour.  They also had a list of third-party tours that they recommended, in case the in-house tours were full.  Most of the tours were well over $100!  Since I already bought my National Park annual pass, I got in free.  My only expense was transportation, which was easy since I was driving.  Many of those trips seem overpriced and don’t offer much for what they are.  But I suppose if you don’t have a car, those tours might be your only option.

The next day, one of my roommates got very sick.  The day after, the other one was very sick as well.  They thought back to what they had eaten the previous days.  The only thing they both ate was something from the hostel kitchen.

After two days in bed with the occasional trip next door for Pad Thai and Vietnamese Iced Coffee, I decided to get up and do something. Now would be a good time to start experimenting with homemade dog shampoo.  I went into the hostel kitchen to make my first batch.  At some point, I saw a huge rat run across the floor and hide behind the fridge.  I went downstairs to alert the staff.  Their response?

“This place has been infested with rats for years.  There’s no way to keep them out.  It’s ok, they won’t hurt anything.  What, you mean you want us to get rid of them?  How do you propose we do that?  There are some stray cats outside.  How about I let them in?”

Guests frequently cook food in that kitchen!  Hmm, maybe that could explain why my roommates got sick.

I left early the next morning and headed to the Grand Canyon South Rim.  It was nothing like what I expected.  The Rim Trail was like a really wide sidewalk that is wheelchair accessible. It’s awesome that such a well-known trail  at a National

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Grand Canyon South Rim

Park is accessible.  But the crowds were overwhelming.  The South Rim is the Disney World of National Parks.  Many of the visitors are not hiking enthusiasts.  Nor even National Park enthusiasts.  But once you get on the trail and see the Grand Canyon with your own eyes, you realize that no picture you’ve ever seen has done it justice.  Spectacular views as far as the eye can see.  I was not feeling 100% yet after getting altitude sickness, so I stuck to the Rim Trail.  The guides at the Grand Canyon info desk suggested I also go on Bright Angel Trail, which is one of the trails that went down to the bottom of the rim.

You can’t hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in the same day.  And you have to leave early if you plan on going to the bottom.  She said about 200 ft into the trail, there is a lookout point that is great place to stop and get spectacular pictures.  Many people go to that lookout point and come right back.  I stood at the Bright Angel trailhead and looked down.  Those first 200 ft were very steep!  Just the thought of climbing back up that hill was exhausting, so I passed on the Bright Angel Trail lookout point.  Maybe next time.  The next morning, I checked out of the hostel and headed to Sedona.  I couldn’t wait to get out of that rat-infested hole of a hostel!

I planned on getting to Sedona early, checking out all of the sites, then heading to my AirBnB.  I’d spend the night and then head to my next hostel in Santa Fe, NM.

It was Halloween!  I found the touristy area of Sedona.  There are lots of little gift shops and restaurants that span several blocks.  I found a visitors center, and they explained that Sedona is famous for it’s vortexes.  (Yes, they are called “vortexes,” which isn’t even a real word.  Nobody calls them “vortices,” which is the correct plural form of vortex.)  These vortexes are locations that have lots of energy.  Supposedly, if you stand on a vortex, you can feel the energy from it.  Many people have traveled to Sedona and had life-changing experiences.  I wasn’t sold on the energy idea.  But I figured they would be great places to take pictures.  Maybe it would make more sense when I got there.  I took a map with the vortexes labeled and set out.  I went to the furthest one first, and figured I’d make my way back into town, have dinner, then go to the AirBnB.

I followed the map to the first vortex.  It was on the side of a country road.  I found two trailheads nearby.  I parked and got out, looking for directions that said “This way to the vortex,” or “vortex here.”  No signs of a vortex.  Even the signs that explained the history of the trail made no mention of a vortex.  I tried to use Google Maps, but I did not have phone signal.  I found several other people who were looking for the same vortex, just as confused.  How would I know if I found it?  I decided to give up and move on to the next vortex.  I ended up having a similar experience.  No signs of a vortex.  I decided to give up on the vortex scavenger hunt and head to the airport.  The lady at the info desk highly recommended that I see the sunset at the airport.  It had the best views in all of Sedona, she said.  The airport at the top of a hill.  Halfway up the hill, there are about four

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View from Sedona Airport at sunset

parking spots.  That’s the spot I where I was supposed to watch the sunset.  All four spots were taken, so I decided to go all the way up to the top.  On my way back down, I found a spot.  The sunset photo op spot is a bit of a hike from the parking spot, on top of another hill.  I walked around and enjoyed the views, then hiked up the hill.

I remembered there was a vortex at the airport.  Again, no mention of a vortex.  The place was crowded.  I overheard people saying the vortex is at the top of the hill.  I climbed up and saw the amazing views.  I stayed up there for quite a while.  As the sun began to set, I got an itchy feeling like I didn’t want to be there anymore.  (Does that mean anything about the energy at the airport?)  I grabbed some dinner from a nearby grocery store and headed to my AirBnB.  Sedona Airport View:

My AirBnB was advertised as only 20 minutes away from Sedona.  It turned out to be an hour away.  It was on top of a large plateau that had no cell phone signal.  My host didn’t seem to mind that I arrived late.  Bonus: she had a cute dog.  We chatted for a bit, and then she said she was going to bed.  Shortly after catching up on texts, I realized I had left my bag in the car.  I go out to my car and realize I don’t have my keys.  Maybe I left them on the coffee table.  I go inside and tear apart everything in the bedroom and the living room.  No keys.  Maybe I left them on the roof of my car?  Or dropped them on the lawn?  I went back outside.  No keys on the roof.  I got on my hands and knees, picking through the lawn using my cell phone as a light.  No keys.  I started to panic.  I couldn’t call anyone because I had no phone signal.  But I had a spare set of keys inside my car.  Maybe I could call a locksmith in the morning?  But I didn’t have any clean clothes or contact lens solution.  I went to go sit in bed to try to calm down and figure something out.  When I sat down, I realized it was an air mattress instead of a real bed.  I hate air mattresses, and never would have booked had I known.  But it was too late, and I couldn’t get ahold of anyone anyway.  I started to feel nauseous.  What if she took my  keys in order to control me, to make sure I didn’t leave?  I felt trapped.  I just wanted to escape this situation, but I had no way out.  There was nothing I could do until morning.  I threw away my contact lenses and went to bed without showering, brushing my teeth, or putting on clean clothes.  My best bet was to try to rest a little bit until morning.

In the morning, my host said “funny thing happened, I found your keys on the desk in my bedroom!  I wonder how they got there?”

Not funny.  I never went into her bedroom.  Terrified and attempting to escape in one piece, I got some clean clothes, glasses, and a toothbrush out of my car and took a really fast shower.  I made a quick smoothie and hit the road.  I couldn’t get out of Arizona fast enough!

As soon as I got to Albuquerque, I contacted AirBnB and let them know about my terrifying experience.  I ended up getting a refund.

I stayed at a hostel in Santa Fe.  They had a lot of different tour options, including some free ones.  I was given a tour of the property, and given my key.  I stayed in a room by myself this time.  The people at the hostel weren’t very social.  I only ever saw other people during breakfast, and none of them acknowledged my existence.  I slept in and then did laundry.  It was good to feel safe again.

The people who worked at the hostel highly recommended Ojo Caliente, a hot springs resort just north of Santa Fe.  I saw that they had a campground.  Sweet! I can stay in my hammock and relax at the hot spring.

It turned out that none of their available campsites could accommodate my hammock tent.  There aren’t too many trees in New Mexico.  And even then, finding two that are sturdy enough and perfectly spaced for a hammock is rare.  I decided to go to the hot springs and spend the night at an AirBnB in Albuquerque.  My hot springs experience at Ojo Caliente was much different from my experience in Oregon.  It was expensive to get in.  Once I got in, I was given a robe, a towel, and a locker.  I put my stuff in the locker and headed to the water.  There are 10 different pools.  Each one is naturally enriched with different minerals.  Some are indoors, some are outside with a great view.  There’s even a mud bath!  It felt really good to finally relax after my bad experiences in Arizona.

 

Full albums from this part of the trip: Zion, Bryce, and Grand Canyon and Sedona

 

Road Trip Series:

Part 1: Cross-Country Road Trip: Washington and Oregon

Part 2: Cross-Country Road Trip: California and the accidental stop in Las Vegas

Part 3: Part 3: Cross-Country Road Trip: Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico

Part 4: Cross-Country Road Trip: Texas

Part 5: Cross-Country Road Trip: Mississppi, New Orleans, and arrival in Florida