The most fun part (for me) of prepping for our Grand Canyon hike was thinking about food. Meal planning four days of camp food was a new challenge for a city girl like me. No sandwiches, as cold cuts won’t last out of the fridge and bread is easily squished. Canned goods are heavy, raw eggs are delicate, hard-boiled eggs go bad too fast, and don’t even think about fresh veg and fruit. Moose goo, S informed me, was the hard core hiker food of choice, but the idea of eating dry pellets of peanut butter and corn flour dough wasn’t too appealing.
Six months into our trip and we’ve already done a lap around the US, circling the country (and more) from Channel Islands to Key West, and from Acadia to Portland. Completing a circle usually calls for some kind of reflection, something that highlights lessons learned or nirvana(s) experienced. This is not that post. (Although you might want to check out this post for more details on where we’ve been.)
We have some serious thoughts that we’ll no doubt put on the interwebs in the coming months, but I thought it might be fun to highlight some significant insignificant observations that we’ve had on our trip. Some are observations that anyone might have had driving 25,000 miles around the country over six months, and some might be more conditioned by the fact that we haven’t lived in the US for about 10 years.
One: Why did anyone let us drive an RV without taking some sort of course first?
Summer’s in full swing here in South Dakota, and we’ve hit 25 National Parks out of 50, and put 25,000+ miles on the road with The Dude. With the Whale in tow, we’ve hit 10,000 miles since January and have managed to drive about 3/4 of the way around the United States.
It’s hard to believe that in 6 months we’ve managed to drive down the Californian coast to the Texan-Mexico borderlands and swing up along the wildflower-ridden Appalachians. Then it was down down down the length of Florida to the Southernmost tip of the US in Key West, and the up up up along the East Coast to the icy lobster-rich waters of Bar Harbor, Maine. From that easternmost point, we darted westward, exploring the Boundary Waters of the North Woods of Minnesota, and then across the Great Plains to the Badlands.
It’s been a dizzying, amazing ride so far. And now, there’s only 25 National Parks to go…
Carlsbad Caverns is a national park many have heard of, as it’s famed for beautiful limestone cave formations and the underground fantasy world they create. Guadalupe? I never heard of it. It’s claim to fame is hosting the highest mountain in … Texas. And while it is striking to see any peaks in the barren desert and mild slopes in this corner of Texas, I wasn’t sure it justified us spending a week of dry-camping in a parking lot. (Indeed, the campsite for RVs is a parking lot, and the heat brought out all the loudest generators in Texas.) While I don’t have a favorite park, it’s a running joke between S and I that I have a least favorite.
Carlsbad Caverns on the other hand… Cave exploration there requires reservations for ranger guided tours, which fill up fast (hint: reserve very early), so we had just one day to explore underground. Much to our dismay, for time seems immaterial in that underground realm, and the hours slipped away too fast. The world below was almost unreal in its spectacular beauty of pale delicate speleothems, moist rooms crammed with spindly stalactites and fragile draperies. Continue reading “Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns: It’s what’s inside that counts”
Month 2 of this adventure saw us in Arizona, zooming from Sedona to Saguaro to the Petrified Forest and then into the Grand Canyon. From there we made our move to Texas where we hung out in Guadalupe and Carlsbad Caverns and Walmart parking lots, found a home in Big Bend, and somehow also made pit stops in the artist haven of Marfa, Lockhart to eat meat in the home of Texas BBQ, and Austin to see bats and hipsters.
As summed up on a sign in the visitor center: “After your first experience backpacking in the Grand Canyon you will be left with one of two reactions: either you will never hike again in your life, or you will find your life up to this moment has been meaningless and you are forever enslaved by thoughts of returning to this tortuous paradise.” I laughed when I first saw this, but sometime during the 4 days of our hike into/out of the Grand Canyon, I felt both reactions…and at the same time. What can I say? It was Grand, and as promised, here’s our plan for a perfect first exploration of the Grand Canyon.
If a picture says a thousand words, a video says… a couple thousand? Who can really say how many words we’d need to detail our adventures, but sometimes just one second of a memory is worth more than a million words.
As part of our 50 in 50 project, I’m creating a video where we record one second of footage for every day of our journey, stringing them together to create a mini-documentary of our lives. At the end of this year’s journey, we’ll have squeezed all our adventures into one six-minute video, demonstrating visibly how time does indeed fly when you’re having fun.
Here’s Month 1 of Parks on Wheels.
*This is all courtesy of 1SE (One Second Everyday), a great app that I recommend to all people who long to journal but get a little too tired to find the words some days!
As Teddy Roosevelt, one of the great champions of the National Parks said of the Grand Canyon – “This is the one great sight which every American should see.” And people all over the world, not just Americans, seem to have taken this to heart – in 2016 the Grand Canyon had over 6 million visitors. But did you know that 90% of people visiting the Grand Canyon only spend a half day there? And only 5% ever leave the rim to walk any distance into the canyon? An even smaller 1% make their way down to camp at the bottom.*
I knew nothing about Saguaro National Park before arriving in Tucson. Relatively small in size, with the city splitting the East and West sides of the park, I didn’t know what to expect other than to see some enormous cacti. Who knew everything would be so utterly delightful?
Saguaro itself only has backcountry tent sites on the East park, so we took the Whale to the Tucson Mountain State Park campground (Gilbert Ray) near the West entrance, and feeling lucky enough after snagging the last spot I wasn’t expecting much besides a square of concrete to call home. But it was great. Not only was it cheap and 5 minutes from the Saguaro visitor center, it is tucked away up in the Tucson mountainside, with saguaro and all kinds of prickly friends scattered around nicely spaced campsites. It even had electricity! (I am learning to savor the days we are plugged in and I can turn on lights and charge computers without a care.)
It’s springtime in the desert. After two months on the road, we finally hit Spring and began seeing the desert bloom. Edward Abbey writes of cactus as having the most beautiful buds of all: “The true distinction of these flowers, I feel, is found in the contrast between the blossom and the plant which produces it. The cactus of the desert is a small, grubby, obscure and humble vegetable associated with cattle dung and overgrazing, interesting only when you tangle with it in the wrong way. Yet from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable, yet soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites.” Continue reading “Desert Blooms”