Monday, July 9, 2007
We spent two days before the rafting trip and one day after visiting Las Vegas. Betsy and David Mullins were with us as well as Scott and Libby.
Our first impression was that it was gaudy and just plain over the top - all neon and extra large. We were not intent on losing money gambling so we sought out other diversions.
There were some interesting things that we visited. The Mandalay Bay Resort and Convention Center was gorgeous - marble floors, small aquariums, a huge pool area with wave pool, regular pool, and even a sandy beach! The Bellagio Resort had a room with a beautiful ceiling of glass flowers created by Dale Chihuly, a botanic garden, indoor fountains, and a huge outdoor musical fountain. Both resorts were like small cities. They seemed to go on for miles and had stores, albeit upscale, and all sorts of restaurants. And, there was only one way to get in and out. You had to pass by the all important casino and sometimes horse betting track.
It was very hot, probably 105 or more so walking outside was not fun.
One highlight: Becky had a childhood friend, Joan Livak Dunn, who lived in Las Vegas and a friend of Libby's had just moved there to start a Teach for America job with his girlfriend. We all had dinner one night at a Thai restaurant. It was a fun evening getting to know each other and questioning Joan regarding life and child rearing in "Sin City." She really likes it. She says it's got lots of things to do like any big city and you just have to give your children appropriate training in morals, like we all do anyway.
There may be some interesting things to see and do outside Las Vegas but we all agreed that we don't need to go there again unless we're passing through. We'd had our fill!
After the rafting trip, Libby and Scott headed home and we flew to Reno with the Mullins. Lake Tahoe borders both California and Nevada. We were in northern Lake Tahoe, in Kings Beach, CA, very close to the Nevada border.
The lake was literally a breath of fresh air! It was absolutely gorgeous blue water against green mountains. It was also much cooler, only about 80. We had rented a cabin on the lake through vrbo.com. The downside was the unorganized kitchen and the dim lighting. But it was a great setting, with a hot tub and a big porch facing the lake.
Day 1 (4th of July): After we checked in to the cabin, unpacked, and got groceries, we met a friend from college, Jim Rubins, and his wife, Dianne, at a beach in Tahoe City. They were all set up for us with a table with a wonderful picnic dinner, and lounge chairs to watch the fireworks. We had a great dinner and visit. The fireworks were super and because they were way out on the lake there wasn't the tremendous boom with each one. They were just pretty. David decided to take pictures of almost all of them. (He really just watched them through the camera.)
Day 2: We drove up to Donner State Park, northwest of Kings Beach . It was a nice park which bordered a lake. Our first stop was the Visitor Center where we learned about the Donner Party who, on their way west, met up with a harsh winter, which prompted some cannibalism. We took a self-guided walk where we learned about a lot of flowers and trees which we would continue to see around the lake. A very distinctive tree was the Jeffrey Pine, a very tall tree with a reddish-brown and deeply furrowed bark and a pineapple or vanilla odor.
blue & purple: lupine, meadow penstemon
pink & red: bolumbine, Indian paintbrush
white: California corn lily, yarrow, ranger buttons
yellow: buttercup, mountain mule ears
We also learned about the prevalence of the Steller's Jay, near our picnic table, and everywhere else there were people. It's really a beautiful blue bird, not found in the east.
We ended a lovely day reading at the beach in Kings Beach. We quickly learned that Lake Tahoe, being high in elevation (6225') and a very deep lake (1645' at its deepest point), has pretty cold water (about 68 degrees). Granted, it was warmer than the Colorado River but still cold to swim in.
Day 3: At Jim's suggestion we hiked to Eagle Lake, passing Eagle Falls along the way. There were a lot of steps at first but then it became easier to climb. It was a beautiful view with lots of granite peaks on either side. On the way down there was a great view of picturesque Emerald Bay where we saw a lot of boats come in to.
After lunch we toured a beautiful "castle" built in 1929. We hiked down a steep road with many switchbacks to a Scandanavian style home built on Emerald Bay called Vikingsholm Castle. It was built by Lora Moore Knight born in Galena, IL to a wealthy corporate lawyer. She had been married twice but at this point she was not married. She bought the property, including an island, Fannette Island nearby, in 1928 for $250,000 - a small fortune back then. And no, her fortune was not affected by the stock market crash. It had 48 rooms! It was like 4 connected houses built in a square with a courtyard where cars would let off and pick up passengers. There were two different roofs: two sod planted with wildflowers and two split log. Mrs. Knight had a huge staff for the summer and entertained many friends and associates. She had a tea house on Fannette Island specifically for afternoon tea. Her guests would take boats across just for tea! She had no children but was very generous with her staff and their families and donated generously to local children's charities. As beautiful as the castle was it was about 90 degrees and the steep switchback road seemed very long!
The day ended with a barbequed steak dinner with Jim and Dianne at our cabin. Good food and good company! We walked down to the lake and passed through an upscale development of homes selling for $5 million and up. Beautiful but not our style.
Here's a sign we saw numerous places around the lake.
Day 4: Betsy was feeling a little under the weather so the rest of us headed out and let her rest. We went to hike along the lake at Sugar Pine Point State Park on the southwest side. It was a beautiful, peaceful hike with lots of wildflowers, burned out trees, and an interesting hard coral-like, yellow-green moss that we hadn't yet seen, growing on the trees. Much to Sandy's chagrin, David and I took copious numbers of pictures. Sorry, Sandy, there were just so many interesting things- ah, the beauty of a digital camera . We had a really relaxing end of our hike when we stopped for a bit to sit on a log facing the lake and read.
We spent a couple of hours at the cabin reading, relaxing and catching up with the Red Sox before heading up for a Sunset Hike at Squaw Valley.
Squaw Valley, in northwest Tahoe, south of Donner Pass, was the site of the 1960's Winter Olympics. The base is at 6200' with the summit 2500 ' higher. We bought tickets for a guided nature hike and then got some dinner in the village. It was a cute village with an Alps type architecture, miniature golf, a trapeze, and lots of stores and restaurants.
We boarded the huge tram which took us to High Camp at 8200'. There was an Olympic size swimming pool, skating rink, restaurant, and huge open area for gatherings. What a view from up there! We hiked past beautiful fields of lupine and mule's ears. The guide said they were especially abundant this year. He pointed out the snow fields (remember, it's July 7) and different peaks. We hiked up to Emigrant Peak at 8700'. He also showed us some double diamond ski runs (not for us - we wouldn't even have walked down them!!). By the time we were hiking up to the top and the sun was starting to set it suddenly became quite windy and chilly. We were happy to have our fleece jackets. The sunset was gorgeous! We took numerous pictures. As if that wasn't a great end to a great day, we topped it off by getting in the hot tub at the cabin. That really helped our muscles, slightly worn out from the big hike.
Day 5: We drove back over the border through Incline Village, NV and stopped at Sand Harbor Visitor Area. It was nicely landscaped and had interesting info on the history of the lake and flora and fauna. We learned there was another pine, the Ponderosa Pine, almost identical to the Jeffrey Pine but its bark doesn't have an odor.
On the drive we noticed a haze over the lake and didn't find out until later that it was smoke from forest fires up to 3 hours away! We were glad we had arrived earlier in the week to see the lake with clear, clean air.
On Rt. 28, about 2 miles north of Rt. 50 there was a trailhead at an iron gate. We walked down a switchback. Shortly after we started we met a couple in their late 70's, Mary and Al, who walked this trail often and lived in nearby Carson City. Al was a former civil engineer and was hired in the early 60's to do road work near here. They were interesting to talk with. Mary identified our unidentified moss as segrum moss although I can find no info to confirm that. It was also growing on granite.
The path meandered down, down, down past a meadow on the left and Skunk Harbor straight down. It was a beautiful cove where there were a number of boats docked. On one side there was a house now owned by the US Park Service. It needed to be renovated but we could peek through the windows. The plaque read that it was built in the 1920's with family money from gold. No surprise there.
We ate lunch on rocks in the the shade at Skunk Harbor and read a bit. It was very relaxing and a beautiful setting.
It was hot and tiring walking up as it was in the 80's and quite a steep climb. We enjoyed the AC in the car as we drove back through Incline Village on a road bordering the lake. Here there were many big, beautiful homes costing many millions, so said the owner of the cabin, Jan Steinmann. She said that if you wanted to build on the lake, the tendency was to build in Nevada because the taxes were a lot less. She said many owners were from the Bay Area.
We needed to print boarding passes so Jan let us use her computer and printer. She and her husband were playing croquet across the street so we were alone in her house. It was quite a house! From the manuals in the study it looked like he worked for an architectural firm. They had cherry cabinets and trim everywhere and an interesting granite countertop with a rough edge. On the ground floor they even built around boulders in the landscape! That was unique.
We had a wonderful time in Lake Tahoe and with the Mullins. We ate breakfast and dinners in the cabin and packed lunches and snacks. It worked out great and we'd do it again!
Tuesday, July 3, 2007
June 26 –
By Libby Sproat & Becky McNiven
We woke up at and piled onto a coach bus at . Destination:
These are the 12 people that were in our group: Sandy & Becky McNiven; son, Scott; his girlfriend, Libby Sproat; Betsy & David Mullins, Anne & Norm Vexler, Tom & Kay Mahoney (the Vexlers met them in
We started seeing beautiful canyon walls immediately (
There were tons of swallows and swifts swooping down to catch insects near the top of the river. You could see the bird’s homes on the side of the canyon.
We stopped for lunch in a small area where the guides made us taco chicken salad in pita bread. It was excellent. We were starved since we’d had breakfast at the motel at .
There weren't any big rapids, but enough "riffles" and splashing to wake us up. The water was a chilly 48°F. We got soaked. Becky had worn her bathing suit with a shirt on top. She got cold so took the shirt off to dry and warm up. We were happy to find our campsite and change into dry clothes. We had an excellent salmon dinner, read for a few minutes, and fell asleep, exhausted, as night fell. It was probably around .
We chose to sleep out under the stars rather than in a tent. It meant that more sand blew in your face, but it was also much cooler. We'd forgotten what it's like to be in a place where you can see all the stars in the sky and just how dense they are. The milky way was glowing. Absolutely incredible.
The only downside of the day was Scott's ant bite. He was walking around barefoot and got stung on the toe. He spent the rest of the evening sitting next to the river, numbing the pain, and ended up sleeping on the beach with his foot in the water as well. Pretty powerful ant. Or maybe it was a small scorpion.
Camp was at
We started to settle into the routine that would structure our lives for the next seven days:
- Wake up as it gets light out, around . Often accompanied by Travis, one of our guides, letting off a long, Tarzan-esque "cofffff-eeeee!"
- Pack up your sheets, sleeping bags & mats, and tarps.
- Wash your hands, rinse off a plate, eat breakfast and drink coffee. Make a sandwich for lunch.
- Wash your plate, brush your teeth, pack up your stuff and bring your bags down to the beach.
- Form a fire line and pass bags from the beach to the rafts. Spend a few minutes hanging out while the guides pack up the portable toilet (a new one for each day).
- Hop onto the rafts and enjoy the adventures in store for us that day.
- Towards the end of the afternoon, pull into a campsite. Leap off the raft, explore the lay of the land, and stake out a good spot to sleep, preferably near the river, since the canyon walls have been soaking up heat from the sun all day long and radiate it well after you're ready to go to sleep. Leave your life jacket to claim your territory.
- Form a fire line to unload everyone's bags and all of the kitchen items and to pass buckets of dish water up to the kitchen.
- Hors d'oeuvres, alcohol, chatting, reading, bathing.
- Dinner, which was consistently excellent. We ate only local, organic meat and dairy products, which would have been good even if we weren't hungry from a day in the sun and water.
- More chatting, maybe some singing (with any of the 3 guitars that were along on the trip).
- Becky used a head lamp to read.
used a flashlight. The sun went down about . We were asleep by or so. Sandy
- Fall asleep under the stars and the rising moon.
It was a wonderful routine. I loved waking up naturally, as it got light out, and falling asleep under the stars.
Enough about routine though. Here's what was special about Day 2. We started the day with a hike up the canyon where we were camped. It ended at a beautiful little pool. Then we hopped on the rafts and started our day on the river with the Roaring Twenties -- miles 20 through 30 on the
We ate lunch under this big beautiful natural band shell that covered the beach (Red Wall Canyon). Scott and Travis practiced climbing up the wall, and Libby tossed a Frisbee around with some of the college students who were on the trip. Scott and Libby saw some neat lizard and bird and insect tracks.
We took another hike in the afternoon, and saw some Hopi artifacts: the stone foundations of a shelter and some petroglyphs. There was also a huge rock with tons of beautiful marine fossils.
Farther on down the river, we passed a group that was stopped on a beach eating lunch, and there was a full string quartet serenading them. Erica, our leader, said they were professionals who get to go on the trip for free in exchange for providing entertainment to high-paying customers. I can't imagine bringing a violin down the river and exposing it to such extreme heat... but they seemed to be doing pretty well! They sounded great. What a neat summer job.
Camped at Pres. Harding Rapids, mile 43.5
We had another short day mileage-wise. So far we've been averaging about 20 miles per day, even though we have to cover about 240 total. The logic is that it's cooler at this end of the canyon, so it's better to spend more time here, and then move more quickly through the hottest parts.
In the morning, we hiked up into
We saw mule deer drinking at the river and also a blue heron.
We set up camp early, right across the river from where the
We headed back to our campsite when the sun had dipped below the canyon walls and shrouded our beach in shadow. As we were getting ready for dinner, our guides spotted some humpback chubs in the water - a special sight, as there are very few remaining native fish in the
We used the Mullins solar shower. They had put water in it earlier and laid it out in the sun. Sandy and David held it up and Betsy and Becky washed their hair. It worked out great. It felt good to have warm water. Becky’s Dr. Bronner’s soap didn’t work great for shampoo though in this mineral-laden water.
Saw our first butterfly on the river, a yellow swallowtail.
After dinner, we got to watch the rising moon slowly light up the canyon walls around us - sort of a reverse of the shadow shrouding that had happened earlier. Just as we were going to sleep, the moon itself rose above the walls.
Today was our first day of really big water. (We entered the official beginning of the
Sometime today Becky started riding the front of the pontoon and Norm kidded her about being a “new Becky”, version 2.5. He called her a “wild woman”. Hardly, but definitely more of a risk taker than before the trip.
The rock was beautiful. The formations on the bottom were granite. Then they were uplifted so at some spots the granite runs vertical in the cliffs. And some looked like
Our only hike this morning was a short, flat one to Phantom Ranch, which is only accessible by boat and by mule. There are cabins and campsites and, nicest of all, a canteen where some people bought ice-cold lemonade and mailed postcards. Right near the river on the way to Phantom Ranch was a wonderfully cool stream that some of us sat in. It was 120 degrees at Phantom Ranch so the guides guessed it was 115 on the river. We were shocked. We knew it was hot but didn’t guess it was that hot. The breeze was really hot though, like an oven door opening.
Snacks were freely given out morning and afternoon: Snickers, peanut M&Ms, trail mix, mixed nuts. We were told to eat more sweet and salty foods for energy and to make us drink more since it’s so hot and dry.
We arrived at our campsite around , right along a thundering rapids. Our noisiest campsite yet, but in the best possible way. We got set up under the blazing sun, and then washed up and did some laundry. (We hung things to dry on bushes and rocks.)
It was Glen’s 31st birthday and Travis baked him a surprise cake in the dutch oven. It was delicious. About the time we finished we noticed a ring-tailed cat that had come down to the kitchen area. It definitely had the moves of a cat. It finally left with a plastic bag someone had left.
After dinner, Norm got out his guitar, and we all sang songs together.
We camped at mile 96.5.
Libby woke up last night and saw the stars. The big dipper had fallen out of sight behind the canyon wall, but Cassiopia and Signus had risen. The moon was shining too brightly to see much else. Sunset, moonrise and nighttime are favorite times here - the first two for their effect on the walls. It's amazing to watch the slow creep of sunlight and moonlight and their respective shadows on these rock surfaces.
Today was another day of big rapids, which was great. The first big rapid was Crystal Rapid. First we stopped to scope it out. Then we hiked to a waterfall that came down with a lot of force. You could swim around behind the falling water, and then get pushed out through all the turbulence. A second waterfall we hiked to (Elves Chasm at mile 116) was even better, because you could swim around behind, climb up through a tangle of dark rocks, emerge at the top of the waterfall, and jump down into the pool below. Besides them being cool and fun, the fern near them added to their beauty.
At mile 129 was Specter Rapid.
We saw a family of big horn sheep near the side of the river. We switched boats from Erica as our guide to Travis. We soon found out that Travis takes a different route through the rapids, a little more adventurous, therefore a little more bumpy.
We saw a velvet spider: big, orange, and furry. Very cool!
We put in a long day on the river and made it to mile 131.
Today was the first day we really had any clouds, a few wispy one and then a light cloud cover which felt great!
We emerged from the bedrock, the hard schist, and returned to sedimentary layers - a pity, as the schist was really pretty.
We were all tired this morning. We've been out for long enough that we're starting to feel worn down. For the first time, we felt ready for the trip to be over. We were tired and had a heat-rash all over.
We went on a really neat hike along the upper rim of a slot canyon called
We saw lots of Bright Angel Shale, a dark green rock that’s very crumbly but beautiful when worn smooth.
We camped at
Today was our last full day on the river - certainly bittersweet. I love the pace here, the rhythm dictated by the light and the water level rather than by work. But our bodies are ready to get back to more shade and less hot, dry wind. The river is much warmer now than when we began - its temperature rises 1°F every 20 miles, so today's water was around 58°F, rather than the 48° of Day 1.
We didn't go on any hikes today, because we had to cover a lot of ground. Our only stop was at Pumpkin Spring, named for the bright orange arsenic and selenium deposits. It was right at the river's edge, and the river was wide and safe enough that we could climb up onto some high rocks and jump off into the river. It stayed hot for a long time once we got to camp.
We saw lots of basalt rock. Some of the black rock was smooth and some rough.
We also saw groups of big horn sheep.
We had a very good dinner of rib eye steaks, and then sat around together for closing remarks - good-byes, thank-yous, promises to exchange e-mail addresses and photos. All week our guides have been telling us what a great group we are, and we've been telling them what great guides they are, but it was nice to do it one last time, altogether, under a starry sky.
When we had said what we wanted to say, Scott, Libby, David and others went scorpion hunting. Ani had a black light along, so they followed her back along a path, peering under bushes and behind rocks. And they found some! They really do glow in the dark! Bright neon yellow. They even found one hunting - we watched it sting an insect with its tail, grab it in its left claw and eat it. It's a scary insect but beauiful, and amazing to watch. Very graceful.
We woke up and got moving earlier than usual, since we were on a tight schedule. We ate cereal rather than our usual full meal, loaded up the rafts, headed downriver 15 more miles, to mile 240. There we changed into our going home clothes. We took our duffles out of the waterproof bags and combined our duffles and day packs. The guides and some of the group helped deflated the side pontoons which were then rolled up and packed on the rafts. The rafts were lashed together and we down in tandem for another 5 miles. A speedboat was waiting for us there, so we loaded our duffles, said good-bye to our guides and cruised for 2 hours to get to
The boat slowed down to show us the Skywalk, the semi-circle clear bottom overhang over a side of the
Our guides would spend about 7 hours making the same trip on the rafts. Flat water, low dirty yellow walls... an anticlimactic finale. At
A fantastic trip. It was fun for us to have done it with Scott and Libby and friends. We hope the