I woke up with the first lightening of the sky, long before the sun crested the mountains that frame our valley to the east. The outside thermometer read around 70 degrees, which felt like dog walking weather to me. At first, the breeze coming up the valley felt cool but soon the humidity of that marine air grew oppressive. When we got to the levy, I could see that the flash floods that had ravaged the mountain canyons had made it down to our part of the watershed, leaving the river bottom begrimed with a layer of fine, gray silt. Wary of quick sand, I avoided damp areas upriver from large rocks, which I’ve learned can leave you wet to the mid-calf and with shoes covered in mud. We followed the stream bed upriver enjoying the hard-packed sand. Molly found a spot of shade under a rock and burrowed into the mud.
Since we still had about two miles to go and our water was nearly depleted, we headed cross country back towards the levy and home. Much to Sadie’s delight, there were dozens of young rabbits out that clearly needed chasing. She came back after each futile effort, her ragged panting evidence of having had all the fun a dog could possibly have. Molly watched with interest but couldn’t work up much enthusiasm for running in the dispiriting heat.
This time of year, we can only walk in the early morning or late evening which means our walks are much shorter than in cooler seasons. I was disheartened to find that today’s walk, a scant four miles made my legs feel tired.
On one of our evening walks, I snapped this shot of the last of the fire fighting helicopters returning to base. If you look closely, you can see the chopper and below it a speck that is the basket in which they tote water to the fire. Those pilots are my heroes!
It’s definitely summer in Southern California as evidenced by triple digit heat (115 the last two days) and the dreaded forest fires. Heading home from work on Friday, I spotted a pillar of smoke coming from Mill Creek Canyon, just a few miles up the road from home.
I could see that it was in an area I had hiked recently where I’d been alarmed at the number of dead trees, stacked like kindling. Flames were clearly visible at this distance, shooting up the steep canyon wall. A small blessing, at least it wasn’t windy. But of course, by late afternoon the breeze picked up and quickly stoked the fire into 1,000 acres. The next day, the winds were gale force and the fire fighting aircraft were grounded. The fire is in such steep terrain that hand crews are of no use. This morning, there were a few helicopters chopping their way up the valley but by noon they had given up. Our wilderness is being incinerated and we can only stand helplessly by and hope the wind subsides.
In the heat and smoke, Sally’s firstborn held a wedding celebration outdoors. The venue was just a few blocks from my house and within sight of the staging area where the firefighters were organizing their aerial attack on the fire. As luck would have it, the violent wind that churned up thunder clouds at 1:00, cooled the valley down to a comfortable 100 degrees by 4:00 and then kindly blew itself out.
This was one instance where I was grateful to be a woman of a certain age. While the young women tottered around the expansive grounds of the venue in spikey, strappy sandals and layers of lovely dresses, I wore a comfortable sundress with flat sandals and a straw hat, the only concession to decorum was an underwire bra and granny panties and truthfully, I considered skipping the panties. A lovely young girl sitting beside me, sweltering in a full-length velvet dress, described how long it had taken her to apply her flawless make-up. I commiserated with her admitting that it had taken me nearly fifteen minutes to complete my toilette. Actually, I think I said, “…to get this beautiful,” because she looked at me as if she could readily believe it.
Despite the heat, smoke, humidity, and underwire bra, it was a lovely ceremony. The young couple gave me every reason to believe in happily ever after. Both are college graduates from intact families and have known each other for years. The bride’s family was the kind you wished would adopt you when you were a kid. The groom’s family was deserving of such great in-laws.
So, while Rome burns, life goes on with hope for the future…albeit a future without forests.
I heard once that your conscience is like a sharp block in your chest. Each time you do something that troubles your sense of decency, or morality, if you will, that block spins around, creating a painful sensation which is impossible to ignore. However, if you can train yourself to ignore the discomfort long enough, you can wear the edges of that block so smooth that it spins like a cue ball, causing little sensation at all. It’s at this point you can pardon yourself.
Morning dog walks are one of the best times to feel smug. Alone with my thoughts; dogs bounding happily ahead exuding pure doggy joy; bird drama unfolding around me; unseen snakes lurking; ever-brightening sun halo spreading over the mountains; sage-scented breeze, all reminding me of what a perfect life I’ve constructed. I think of the hectic yet tedious routines some people endure and wonder how did I get so lucky!
At the risk of sounding pompous, I’ll tell you how to achieve such smugness. Don’t buy into the ideal of “success”. Don’t expect the mega-mansion and the leased SUV, new every three years. Ignore the lure of the newest iPhone and biggest flat screen TV. Instead, set your sights on a life where everything is designed to provide peace rather than things. Admittedly, I have far more things than I need and of course, I’d rather not give them up. But being contented with a modest home in a neighborhood of diversity, (yes that’s shorthand for mixed-racial), driving a ten-year old car, and shopping at the second hand store for clothes, has given me the freedom to take a job that I love, close to home, that doesn’t pay very much. It affords me the time to enjoy my garden, my mom, my dogs, and even my husband.
Speaking of bird drama: Along my walk there’s a tower that provides a safe nesting area for a pair of red-tailed hawks. This couple has been raising their broods here for several years, and at this time of the year at least one of them is usually visible guarding the hatchlings. When I didn’t see either of them, I began scanning the sky, expecting to see them circling on the wind currents, doing their grocery shopping within sight of the nest. I spotted what I figured must be them about a half mile away but they had company. A small murder of crows was harassing them and it was only moments later I saw them both making a bee line for the nest. The female landed just below the platform in the tower supports where she was safe from aerial attack. The male veered off, luring all but two of the crows back out into the airspace over the wash. A couple of the crows circled nearby for a few minutes but eventually moved on. I couldn’t see much of the aerobatics of the male but I surmised that he too managed to discourage the contingent of crows that had been heckling him. I don’t take sides in the affairs of birds but it’s hard not to sympathize with this plucky pair after observing them for so many years.
A short time later, I was startled to hear a pfft of wings as a small falcon shot past me in pursuit of a small song bird. I watched dispassionately as the predator chased his prey around me, until the little guy took refuge in a small bush. The falcon landed on a nearby fence and I could see him peering into the bush, not quite ready to give up on his breakfast.
All that bird drama made me feel smug all over again, delighted with the way my morning was shaping up until I remembered that with no murders to report, my readership would probably decline.
I’ve never had the luxury of a vacation so long that I got homesick. My longest vacation, having worked my entire life, was sixteen days. So, naturally, after just three days, I was reluctant to turn the horses towards the barn and face the routine of the Church Secretary. I long ago learned that injecting one last stop on the route home gives one something to look forward to even while getting inexorably closer to home.
Somehow the rest of this blog got deleted so I’ll re-post the pictures of Valley of Fire where we explored a couple of very short trails before heading home.
Two beds, three women (two post-menopausal), and a refrigerator that goes clunk in the night was not a great combination for restful sleep. What we lacked in rest we made up with coffee, and eagerly set out for Zion Canyon again. With the objective being the Overlook Trail, the free shuttle wouldn’t be an option so we packed the car for the day and hoped we would be able to find parking inside the park.
The drive to the Overview Trail snakes up a vertiginous canyon that appears to be a dead end; but the intrepid engineers who built the road, simply burrowed into the sandstone canyon walls and created a road inside the mountain. There are windows to the outside world in the tunnel walls, and years ago, when the park was more remote, motorists could stop and look out over the canyon. However these days there’s no stopping in the tunnel and frequently traffic is backed up at the entrance to allow one-way traffic to accommodate a motorhome to pass through the narrow tunnel. As anticipated, the parking area at the trail head was full so we continued up the road until we could find space along the shoulder to park. Being of the off-road ilk, I led the girls on a cross country hike back towards the trail head.
However, our path was interrupted by a the sheer cliff of a spectacular drainage. We backtracked a bit until we found a place where we could get back down to the highway. It was a short walk on the roadside and motorists were traveling slowly so, disappointingly (for blog interest), no one was killed or even maimed.
The Overlook Trail has the biggest bang for the buck in Zion. A short, fairly easy hike, ends with a view that makes one dream of wings.
And now for something completely different. Back down on the canyon floor, we joined the parade of people walking the paved trail to the Emerald Pools. Walking, talking, gawking, Karen lost track of her footing and suddenly slipped off the edge of the sidewalk, painfully twisting her ankle. The suddenness of the fall and the sharp pain momentarily left her stunned on the ground.
Someone told me that you know you’re old when people gasp rather than laugh when you fall. Thankfully, both Karen and I are better than average fallers. Statistically, people over the age of sixty fall about once a year while Karen and I have both fallen about three times already this year. This speaks more to our lifestyle (active) than our excessive clutziness, or so I prefer to believe. So, we neither gasped nor laughed, rather cursed silently at yet again being inconvenienced by injury. Undaunted, Karen limped along slowly to the lower pool, where she encouraged Kari and me to proceed to the upper pool while she made her way back to the shuttle stop (we had left the car at the visitor center inside the park). Being the concerned and gracious friends we are, Kari and I said, “Are you sure? Okay, bye.”
The crowds thinned just a little as the trail became steeper and more technical but by the time we got to the main pool, it was crawling with kids of all ages. Kari, was deeply disappointed to have the photo op completely ruined, but snapped the following shot anyway. I particularly like it because it depicts the utter degradation overpopulation of the canyon has brought.
We found Karen at the tram stop in good spirits and ready for dinner. I had been looking forward to a meal at Oscar’s ever since some mountain biking friends had turned me on to the place a couple of years ago.
I had remembered a turkey burger topped with chilis and guacamole that was so juicy it ran down my arm to my elbow, and so spicy it made sweat pop out under my eyes and my nose run. But, I’ve gone more and more vegetarian over time, as much for health as for consideration of the animals whose lives are so miserable before being sacrificed for my table, that I was compelled, or enticed to choose the vegetable enchiladas. It was disappointingly bland in contrast to the fiery burger of my memory. Thankfully, Kari had again volunteered to drive us back to St. George so I had a lovely glass of red wine which put a good spin on the whole evening.
The evening light over the canyon was nothing short of breathtaking. Kari and Karen went off in pursuit of curio shopping (a rather vain hope on a Sunday evening in Mormon country) while I staggered around town in search of photograph-able subjects. I’m a bit of a cheap drunk…one glass of wine makes any kind of shopping dangerous. On the other hand, a digital camera is a fairly safe mode of entertainment.
I had to lie down in the parking lot of the Bumbleberry Inn to get this shot, something no sober elderly woman would consider. Worth it, don’t you think?
Our last night at the Inn on the Cliff was perfect. Karen and Kari went down to the spa where they were joined by a couple of young men who regaled them with tales of rock climbing. They were gone so long, I thought perhaps they’d drowned. We unplugged the noisy refrigerator, had a glass of wine, and slept like teenagers.
Tomorrow, we knew we had to head for home but there was one more stop, Valley of Fire, along the way. It was inconceivable that we could possibly be impressed after the spectacular scenery of Zion, but we would need a break in the drive and it seemed like a reasonable detour from the interstate.
So, after a fitful night’s slumber at the Mesquite Best Western, we were awakened by the next door neighbors thumping their wheeled transport bed against the door jamb as they maneuvered an adult quadriplegic out to their van. This woke up the dogs in the room on the other side. Certain they were under attack, they set up a vicious pretense of defending the home front. We slipped into our best robe and slippers and headed for the free breakfast…well, perhaps “free” isn’t quite the word. A room next to the freeway, with a pool in the parking lot, for $180/night (with a senior discount), probably factors in the cost of the self-serve waffle machine. The staff at the front desk didn’t even blink at the sight of Karen’s chartreuse, ostrich feather-trimmed peignoir with matching stiletto-heeled slippers. At sixty-five, she can still pull it off.
The charms of the hotel breakfast buffet, not withstanding the automatic waffle machine, could not deter us from pushing on to St. George, where we hoped to drop off our bags at our next night’s lodging and find more interesting breakfast options. The short drive up the Virgin River Gorge provided a tantalizing preview of the spectacular scenery to come.
Our host’s instructions on how to locate the Inn on the Cliff were evidently based on the erroneous assumption that Southern California was east of Utah and directed us to exit the freeway at the east end of town which required us to traverse the entire length of St. George. This turned out to be a propitious error because we spotted an eatery on a side street with locals lined up out the front door. Standing room only is always an indication of food worth waiting for, so we made note of the location and came back to it after dropping off our bags.
The food and service turned out to be well worth the wait and the artwork on the walls of the hall leading to the restroom was worth the price of admission. I’m not normally a fan of cowboy art but I was forced to examine the prints while I waited for the single stall restroom to become available. The more I scrutinized the prints, the more I giggled. Check it out; you don’t even need to be a golf aficionado to appreciate the humor. http://www.russellhouston.com/
Springdale was crawling with tourists and the road, the only road through town, was under construction. “Expect long delays” we were advised, and we were not disappointed. Parking, always in short supply, was nearly nonexistent but we eventually found a place to park within walking distance of the free tram. We clambered aboard with our National Park Old People passes and squeezed in among throngs of youngsters, all chatting at the top of their lungs. The informative narrative being broadcast over the PA system was inaudible. We were happy to exit at the Hidden Canyon trail head…along with 45,235 other tourists. Undaunted, I assured my companions that we would soon leave most of them behind as the trail climbs rather steeply for about a mile which generally weeds out a large number of them, especially the larger of them.
Since the girls hadn’t cried uncle yet, we jumped on the tram again, riding it to the end of the canyon, where we walked up the paved trail to The Narrows. By this time it was growing cold and we were anticipating dinner at the Cliff Rose Restaurant; so we called it a day and headed back to St. George where our room with a view awaited.
Dinner at the Cliffside Restaurant was everything we had hoped for. The waiter kindly opened the bottle of Justin Cabernet Sauvignon I’d brought from Costco and it was delicious with my farro, mushroom risotto. I love restaurants that have interesting vegetarian options! We walked back to our room and collapsed into bed…only to be awakened by the clunking noise of the in-room refrigerator. I considered defenestration (how often does one have to use THAT word?!) of the offending appliance, but was too comfortable in the luxury linen of the obviously expensive mattress.