Posts Tagged 'hiking'

Walking in the Woods

fallen tree with multiple branches

This past weekend my friend Amy and I went off to walk in the woods. Neither of us wanted anything strenuous. We wanted to be outside in the fresh air, walking, in nature. We had several ideas: the Middlesex Greenway, the Great Swamp, Patterson Falls, the Raritan canal towpath, and the Rutgers Ecological Preserve, among many other options. I’m willing to bet that surprises many of you who probably have only seen pictures of NJ from the NJ Turnpike. NOT our best side, for sure. Try taking Rt 287 up north towards the NY state line – that will surprise you as well. Back in the late 1970s NJ was 2/3 forest. We have all sorts of preserved areas, national parks, state parks and of course the Pine Barrens. There is STILL a lot of Mother Nature green in our state.

twisted vines and branches

Twisted vines and branches

We opted for the Rutgers Ecological Preserve. Amy had only ever seen a tiny sign at one corner of the preserve, and often wondered how/where you could get in there. I often pass 2 of the small parking areas that have trail beginnings. Other than that, neither of us knew anything about it. I was fairly certain it would be mostly flat walking as I knew the general area was not at all hilly, or at least not more than our town. Amy and I both walk about town so it seemed a safe choice. We thought we’d walk for perhaps an hour. I thought we might manage 3 miles that way as I knew we’d be walking, not trying to “make time” or get anywhere.

dead vines wrapped around tree trunk

I liked the texture from the vines wrapped about the trunk

My husband printed out 2 copies of the trail map for us. I figured we could park on Road 3, take the red trail to the orange trail, and then cut back on the white trail to get back to the car. Amy had her walking stick, and I had on long sleeves and long pants – I’d been warned by my neighbor about poison ivy.

bridge over the brook

Our first view of the brook – our surprise!

We parked the car and walked to the only trail opening that we saw. It was the blue and white entrance. We turned and went back because we wanted red. There was a flat field, maybe for parking? To be honest, I can’t remember if there was a barricade up or not, but we walked across gravel and grass and did indeed find a second trail head – the red trail. There was almost no one else on the trail – a bicyclist passed us at the beginning but it was just the 2 of us, chatting and walking and looking at the trees.
brook and tree roots

There were a LOT of dead trees. In as sense the dead trees were much more interesting than the live ones. There is such stark elegance in the stripped branches. They make such curious shapes. We started seeing all sorts of animals and items in the branches.

bark squirrel climbing down tree

Bark ‘squirrel’

We also discovered a brook. I wasn’t expecting a brook. That’s because I didn’t actually LOOK at the map other than to see trails. I’ll spoil the suspense now and tell you that we did not turn off where we had planned to turn back toward the car. We saw another brook when we were high up above it. My memory of the distances does not match with what I see on the map. I’m very bad at spatial recognition. But I’m fairly sure that we saw both brooks that are in the eastern side of the preserve.

bees heading home to dead log

can you see the bees heading home into the log?

Most of the path was completely clear. We had 2 spots where we did have to step over fallen trees. There were other spots where someone had come through and cut away large chunks of tree to open the trail.
cleared path

We figured out we had missed the turn to the white trail when the trail began climbing up and up and all we saw were orange markers and then saw orange and blue markers. We’d also been walking for well over an hour at that point. Hey, we were having fun and enjoying ourselves.

fallen tree roots making a wall

The base of this tree was like a huge wall – or from this angle – a mud monster

I took out my cell phone to see if by any chance the paths would be marked on the map. Not unexpectedly they were not. But using my phone, showing me in what direction I was moving, and using the trail map, we figured out that we needed to hang a sharp left onto the blue path and make our way back there.

criss crossed dead branches

luckily this was NOT on the path

We followed the blue and white paths to a trail exit and realized immediately that it was the one on Road 1, not Road 3. That was easily fixed by backing up a few feet and hanging a right on the white path. That took us back to where we had started – our first foray out of the parking lot. All in all we walked for approximately 2 hours and covered 3.7 miles, including multiple stops for me to take pictures, and a longer stop on a bench on the top of a hill overlooking the brook.

second brook

we were higher than it appears – I zoomed in

We saw only 5 other people, plus some youth hiking group that entered at the junction of the red and orange paths just ahead of our arrival there. We never saw them again. We saw the bicyclist twice – once heading in and once on the trail. We saw a woman with her young dog. I think she said it was an English Springer Spaniel, but it was absolutely terrified of us and we didn’t wish to prolong its misery. We passed a man on his way out at the Orange/Red trail end on Avenue E. We passed 2 young student looking types when we took our hard left onto the Blue path. That was it. We were undoubtedly the loudest slowest folks in the preserve. 🙂

bark possum walking up the tree

Bark possum walking up the tree

Once we were back at the car we decided we deserved some lunch. That of course necessitated thinking and deciding. As we cogitated I drove to show Amy some other neat things I knew in the area (but the horse wasn’t in the field 😦 ). She remembered a health food cafe she’d been to with a friend in our general vicinity. Given her description (near those strip malls, but not in them, but behind them, tucked away) I wasn’t sure we’d find that one but I did know where all the strip malls with tucked away back areas were in that area. We were such successful intrepid trekkers that day that not only did we find our way out of the woods unassisted, but we found her restaurant. We both had delicious wraps and iced coffee. A perfect ending to a perfect walk in the woods. Next time we’ll tackle the Great Swamp!

brook with bridge on blue path

Sedona

sedona 2

On the third day they rose early, filled the car with fuel, filled the backpacks with water and headed north to Sedona.

Sedona 1

Words fail me. Of course I’ll use several score attempting to describe the beauty anyway, but be aware that nothing I say will truly capture how I felt. My photos also fail. To be fair – no photo can capture for me the splendor of the mountains in Sedona. For starters – the mountains are so perfect and the sky is so blue that no matter who takes the picture, it’s going to look fake. Nothing can be that perfect, that awe-inspiring, that breath-taking. But the mountains of Sedona are all those things and more.

on the hike to devils bridge

I had three reasons to go to Sedona. The first was a bit snarky and pretentious. I’d heard how it was so new-age, all about energy and crystals and vortexes. It’s not that I’m not a believer. It’s more that I think I’m not receptive in the least. In the last several years either I’ve become more sensitive or less-blocked. There’s no question that it seems to me that some folks radiate “bad energy”. But other than that, I’ve not ever noticed crystals having much impact on me. I wanted to see if I would be able to “feel” Sedona. The second reason was much like the first. EVERYONE says that you MUST go to Sedona. How could I take a vacation in Arizona and confess that I missed Sedona? (Yes, Mom, if all my friends were jumping off a cliff I WOULD jump with them.)

hiking to devils bridge

The third reason goes back to my wonderful Super Shuttle drivers. Not only did they wax enthusiastic about Sedona, the non-driver pulled out his phone and started showing me pictures he’d taken in Sedona. They were enough to convince me it was worth a trip, even though it would take a good 2 hours to get there. I was intrigued by his picture of the Chapel of the Holy Cross, built into the rocks. He recommended that we hike up to Devil’s Bridge. He told me that it was not a difficult hike until the last quarter of a mile, which was steep. We’d heard that description from our waitress the day before. (Oh I should add a postscript to that post – we had a great lunch at a local brewery after hiking South Mountain – Four Peaks Brewery on 8th Street.) She had also said it was an easy hike until the last quarter mile, which is steep. It certainly sounded do-able and after our success at hiking in South Mountain we were ready for more of a challenge. Hah.

sedona flowers 1

We rose very early and I took over the driving that day as I wake up “better” than does my son. 🙂 The directions couldn’t have been simpler: go straight on this road until we reach Interstate Rt 17 and then go north til we reach Sedona. 🙂 Wikipedia calls Interstate Rt 17 one of the most scenic highways and I am in full agreement. It climbs a mile high on its way from Phoenix to Flagstaff, passing through desert and forest. Like my dear friend Honour, my son also refused to take photos out the window of the car so you will either need to drive it yourself or believe me and Wikipedia that it is scenic. 🙂

sedona 3

We took Dry Creek Road to Vultee Arch, which has a parking lot for the trail to Devil’s Bridge. It was just about 9:00 am, but the lot was full. A car pulled out but that spot was taken immediately by another. I found a place that I figured could be a spot as long as no one had to use the passenger side door. I tucked the car into the brush and dirt and we headed off. There were families and solo hikers and folks with dogs and folks wearing babies. There was all manner of attire. As we walked along Vultee Arch (which seems also to be called ‘the unpaved part of Dry Creek Road’) we were passed by the occasional jeep – tour groups going to Devil’s Bridge. There is obviously another way up there because the jeeps keep going along Dry Creek Road when we pedestrians all turn off to follow the path.

sedona 4

There were still flowers in bloom, and we saw an adorable lizard, who posed. Unfortunately I still have not done anything about getting either a new camera or a photo app for my phone, so no cute lizard pictures. We walked slowly, drank water, and conserved our energy. We met people returning from their hikes. Either they live a lot closer or they got up a LOT earlier than we did. We were impressed that we had actually made it to the trail by 9:00 am, our goal. 🙂 We figured it would be a good 90 minutes up and a good 90 minutes back, and that was just about what it took. The hike was easy until, as expected, the final ascent. That was steep. And narrow. With significantly increasing drops on the left.

the path

I found that I don’t really trust my legs on uneven, steep, rocky, loose gravel paths. I’ve had 2 surgeries on my right foot and I damaged my left knee decades ago. They do just fine for most of my life but steep ascents and descents can be strenuous. I was doing fine until I happened to glance to my left at one very narrow, very steep part of the trail. There was a lot of ‘nothing’ to my left. Oh sure, a tree or two and then nothing. I would have said that kind of view wouldn’t bother me but I happen to have a very deep fear of falling. The strength of my reaction stems from an early childhood event and to this day I have dreams where I reach the top of a hill and there is nothing there. In my dreams I have learned how to take control and ‘fix’ the dream so I don’t fall. There on the side of the mountain there wasn’t too much I could ‘fix’. My face reflected my stress as did my comments to my son. We met people who were on their way down who would encourage me and tell me we were almost there – hang on. As the only other option was to turn around and go back down, I kept going up. We reached the top, the high point of the trail. Devil’s Bridge was below us. It was stunning. If I looked OUT, I was fine. If I looked down, my stomach turned over.

devils bridge

From the high point of the trail you need to move down again and out to get to the bridge. There was a steady line of people doing just that. On the bridge itself we could see people lined up for their turn at being alone on the bridge for their experience and photo op. I sat down on the rocks with some other folks to catch my breath before we headed to the bridge.

I could not get up. I was frozen.

devils bridge up close

I looked at where I had to walk, and despite all of the people navigating that path in front of me, in spite of all the people walking there and back safely, I could not make myself get up. I knew I was not moving until we headed back down. And I knew that heading back down was not going to be fun either. I had no idea that I would freeze like that. My son joined the procession of folks heading down to the bridge and I watched. Well, mostly I watched. When I saw 2 young children jumping up and down on the bridge I nearly threw up. So I stopped watching a lot of things. My son reported that walking out onto the bridge was easy – that it felt wider than it looks from above. He said that when he stopped walking he could feel the wind pushing on him, and there was an illusory effect of the trees below moving. Why does that not sound like something that I want to experience?

why i couldn't walk to devils bridge

The woman on my right was in worse shape than I. She wouldn’t even look at the bridge at all. Her family was heading down there and she simply could not look. The woman on my left told me that her first time up there she did the same thing I was doing – stayed on that rock until it was time to leave. This was her fourth time and she had been down on the bridge and back. I thanked her for telling me that. I don’t know how to explain to you how bizarre it was for me to be sitting there saying to my body – just stand up, and to not have any part of my body move in response. My logic might have been ready to go to the bridge but my primeval soul knew better. I was able to take many pictures of my son out on the bridge, but I could not stand. I was on the verge of tears because my body was so tensed and coiled. Don’t misunderstand – I LOVED looking at the scenery, I loved a lot of it. But there was simply a part of me that was deeply deeply unhappy.

sedona 5

As I sat there and waited some young women asked me if I could take THEIR picture when they were on the bridge. I said sure, as I had no idea if I was ever going to leave my rock. I wondered how many people needed to be rescued from that spot, frozen and unable to leave. By the time the young women were at the bridge, my son had returned. He pointed out to me that the women were waving at me to take a picture of the 2 people on the bridge currently – they were all together. I looked to do so and saw that THOSE 2 people had moved to the edge of the bridge and were sitting down with their feet hanging off. I swear to you I was overcome with nausea and had to turn away. I couldn’t stand to look at them. My son did the honors. They came back, collected their camera and headed back down the mountain. It was time for us to do the same. I waited until there was a break in the steady stream of arrivals so we could leave. When it came to leaving I could stand, thank goodness.

sedona 6

The path down was steeper than the path up. 🙂 Really. As my son’s landlord said: “going up it’s all muscles, going down it’s all joints”. I do NOT trust my left knee, no I don’t. A very awkward time to realize this. On the way up I’d seen many people coming back down on their tush. I knew that would be me as well, and it was. Every now and then we’d reach a spot where the path was sufficiently wide so we could let someone pass us on the way up or pass us on the way down. At one point as I paused on my way down (very easy to pause when you are on your tush) a HUGE yellow butterfly came and sat on my shoulder. It was large enough that it actually cast a shadow across my eyes as it flew. I don’t know what it was telling me but I decided to take it as a vote of confidence and encouragement. *smile* Shortly after that I was able to stand and do the rest of the descent on my feet.

sedona 7

The trip back to the car was uneventful but we both agreed that it was MUCH longer than the trip from the car to the path. 🙂 We headed back to town looking for some place to eat, and for me to browse for crystals. We found a place called Tlaquepaque, which is probably a huge tourist ‘trap’ but it had parking and restaurants. That’s what we wanted. We even found a spot in the shade! We were so hungry and tired that we walked into the very first restaurant for lunch, The Secret Garden Cafe. It was delicious and just what we needed. We ate outside in a shaded courtyard and relaxed and re-hydrated. Afterwards we wandered about the shops. Most of what I liked was too expensive AND too big to carry on an airplane so I was saved from myself. We did finally find a store selling all types of crystals for all different needs. Unfortunately it was the kind of place that also believed that putting scents and odors into the air enhances the shopping experience. Perhaps that is the case for some, but it causes me to sneeze and my sinuses to clog up and hurt. We had to flee the store without seeing very much at all, and certainly without buying a crystal. I am still crystal-less. We found an ice cream store and treated ourselves. As neither of us thought the ice cream was all that special I won’t share it. But if you are at Tlaquapaque I’d suggest you go elsewhere for ice cream. *wink*

sedona 8

The ride home took much longer than the ride there as there was a multi-car accident on Rt 17. Now here is one of the disadvantages of Arizona. If I was traveling on a major interstate in the greater NJ area, there would be multiple options for other routes. Not in Arizona. It’s Rt 17 or it’s Rt 17. So we were in bumper to bumper traffic for much of the way. Honesty compels me to admit that at one point I drove east-coast style and cutoff another car as I changed lanes. Just as in NJ, changing lanes really didn’t accomplish much, but at least I was behind a car and not an SUV so my sight lines were better. 🙂 We made it back home in time for showers and a change of clothes so we could meet my son’s landlords for dinner. We had a VERY tasty sushi dinner at Sushi Ken. The presentation was excellent and the rolls were large and filling. We had a bottle of saki as well. Like mead, this will not become my go-to drink, but it was enjoyable and suited the food. We got back to the hotel and crashed. It had been a long day and we had great plans for the next day as well!

sedona 9

sedona 10

sedona 11

heading home from sedona

heading home from sedona 2

Petroglyphs and Rocks

deer valley petroglpyph 2

Petroglyphs at Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve

On Day 2 of our great adventure in Phoenix we decided to “hike”. My son had checked about with friends for a “good” hike for us. Now his friends didn’t know me, and they know my son is not really a dedicated mountain hiker, so they were looking for “gentle” hikes.deer valley He’d also told them I liked rocks and desert and mountains and scenery. One of my absolute best vacations was the one where we went to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah and saw the hoodoos, Zion National Park in Utah with the gorgeous rock colors and formations, and the Grand Canyon, which has rocks too. *grin* They had suggested Deer Valley Petroglyph Preserve, which has some of the best petroglyphs in the Phoenix area. We decided to go there. Of course, being us, and NOT being my sister, who is incredibly organized and plots and plans HER itinerary, we spent a lot of time driving back and forth over the same roads. deer valley petroglpyphFirst we went from the hotel to breakfast, then to my son’s house to get more clothes for him, then back UP to Deer Valley and then DOWN again to the next stop and then ACROSS for the stop after that and then finally home to The Boulders. Had we actually decided what we wanted to do while we were eating breakfast, we’d have spent a lot less time in the car. But at least the car is air conditioned. 🙂
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SM 5
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Deer Valley is run by Arizona State University. There is a very small museum and then a quarter-mile walk to the petroglyphs. As I said, my son and I don’t always think ahead or analyze what we are going to do.sm 8 We had a little map that showed maybe 10-15 stops to see petroglyphs. We were at #7 before we realized that we were halfway through, and hadn’t noticed any of the other stops. Somehow we thought the path we were on was merely the path LEADING to the walk, and not the walk itself. The distance of “quarter mile” had not registered. We backed up and paid more attention. It is true that there are fantastic petroglyphs there – very well preserved and very interesting. I also appreciated the signs (and the warning from the desk attendant) about rattlesnakes. It’s good work and interesting but as far as our hike expectations, a bit on the bland side. We made an effort to spend 40 minutes there. SM 3 Once I was home I did some more research and see that there is an entire preserve with ‘real’ trails but that’s not where we went. 🙂

Although we did appreciate the petroglyphs at Deer Valley Preserve, we were in the mood for a bit more of a hike. We had a lot of water, hats, sun screen and energy. So despite the fact that it was getting on to high noon, we headed to South Mountain. We stopped in at the information area/gift shop to get a map and more water. The women there were extremely concerned for our well-being. I guess we appeared less than experienced or something.petroglyph at south mountain Maybe they are that concerned for everyone. We’d already discussed with my son’s housemate how much water and how far we should hike (before it turned into a more adventurous trail). The women repeated the warnings that were posted on signs out on the walkway: turn back when half your water is gone. I believe we had over 4 liters of water with us (which is heavy until you start drinking it). We reassured them that we only planned to go as far as the water tower (not that we knew what that MEANT exactly) and that we had water and we would turn back if we hit the water half-point before we hit the water tower. We drove down to the start of the trail and parked the car. We tried to guess which way the sun was moving and if the tree by the car would actually end up giving shade, but that too is not one of our strengths. 🙂
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sm 7

South Mountain was MUCH more the hike we expected. It was NOT strenuous but it was certainly not flat. There was enough loose gravel and steep inclines to have me rely on my son’s arm at certain points. sm 4I don’t really trust my knees and foot anymore so while I do want to ‘hike’, I know better than to do anything extreme.

South Mountain is gorgeous. The South Mountain Preserve is part of the Phoenix Parks System and is the second largest municipal park in the world (so says Wikipedia). It is black rocks and scrub and petroglyphs and dry wadis. We spent days trying to remember what “wadis” are called out west. We both use that term because that is the term used in Israel, the last place we had encountered wadis. We knew that wasn’t the correct terminology. Somewhere along our way I remembered the word “arroyo” but that still didn’t feel correct. We checked with my son’s landlord (and expert hiker/explorer) and he used the term “wash”.SM 2 Once he said “wash” all the old cowboy movies came into focus in my memory. 🙂

I took a zillion photos. I love looking at the rocks. I love looking at the scrub. I love looking at the cactus and desert plants. When I got home I treated myself to a electronic photo storage device that will hold my zillion photos and move through them as a slide show, so I can keep seeing the beauty of the desert even when I’m here in my mid-Atlantic green. 🙂

(The top 3 photos are from Deer Valley; the rest are from South Mountain.)

better petroglyph at SM

sm 11

sm 9

sm 10

SM 1

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