At the end of October, I descend into the Grand Canyon in search of the turquoise, travertine paradise located on the remote Havasupai Indian Reservation. The backpacking trek is 26 miles round trip – give or take a few detours. In preparation for my first backpacking trip, my crew and I decided to test run our gear by hiking the 10-mile Fossil Creek Wild and Scenic River located in Coconino National Park.
Fossil Creek is a rare riparian area with a spring that bubbles out of a rare rock formation called Redwall Limestone. Due to high mineral content travertine forms and encases anything that happens to fall into the streambed – essentially fossilizing everything. Hence the name Fossil Creek, all similar to places like Plitvice National Park in Croatia and Havasupai in the Grand Canyon. It’s estimated that the spring fed waterfall pushes out 20,000 gallons of water per minute. It’s crazy that so much water seems to appear out of nowhere as an oasis in an overall high desert biome.
The hike begins in Strawberry (adorable right?), Arizona which is a little town outside of Payson. The elevation of Strawberry is 5,800ft the bottom of the canyon is 4,300ft which means that in five miles, the hike loses or gains 1,500ft. Needless to say, the hike down is easy just beware of rolled ankles. However, the hike back up is a killer. Literally. The Parks Service warns that an average of two hundred people a year have to be helicoptered out of the canyon due to heat exhaustion, improper planning, and insufficient water. Fossil Creek is no joke.
Once the creek is reached, rejoice! Wade into the icy water and cool off. There is plenty of room to cliff jump and explore flooded caves. The pools are deep and the current is strong so keep an eye on children and less experienced swimmers. The Toilet Bowl is particularly dangerous. Yes, there is a feature called the Toilet Bowl. Runoff from the powerful waterfall eroded a travertine chamber that catches and swirls like a whirlpool. The bottom of the canyon is a good ten degrees cooler than the top mostly because of the shade, so enjoy, eat lunch, and rest up!
If you don’t carry enough water, electrolytes, and food you will die. No matter what time of year you go. Don’t be one of the two hundred that have to be extracted by helicopter. The desert is dry, combined with the steep elevation gain is a recipe for disaster if you don’t plan accordingly.
I carried a gallon of water, Gatorade, and a full lunch. It would also be wise to have sunscreen, hats, and sunglasses.
Do: Pack in pack out. Respect everyone’s space. Bring a hammock. Beware of rattlesnakes and javelina. Bring a swimsuit and water shoes. Bring lunch. Take a nap.
Don’t: Light a campfire. Litter. Slip on the travertine (ouch). Hike in flipflops. Hike if it’s over 95 degrees in the morning. Get caught in a flash flood – keep an eye on weather a few days out from your hike.
Due to high volumes of visitors, April 1st through October 1st REQUIRES a permit. Permits are approximately $10 per car. A friendly park ranger will be stationed to check your permits upon arrival. They will accept printed copies only. No phone screenshots.
Also this guy, a green Mojave just laying across the trail, known for neuro and hemotoxins:
My favorite trips are the ones stumbled upon. It’s a common occurrence in my household to pick up and leave on a day of leisure. I would rather sit in my car all day not knowing where I will end up than to sit in my house watching Nexflix. Direction never matters but, in the summer it feels liberating to get away from the heat. Higher elevation subdues the brutal sun – on my last trip it was upward of 105F at home but Flagstaff was a beautiful, balmy 75F. The road is unpredictable but, it makes each trip you take memorable. On such an occasion, a trip up the Beeline Highway landed my family unit in Winslow – in a windstorm- with thunderheads looming in the distance. On the plus side I got to stand on ‘a corner in Winslow, Arizona’ and I happened to be in a flatbed Ford. The destination is not the most important part of the trip – it’s how you get there. That’s all I will touch on with philosophy. The best part about central Arizona is you only need one or two hours to get anywhere if you live in the Phoenix/Scottsdale. Below I have compiled my favorite escapes that you can make a day or a weekend out of.
Steel-cowboy-wild-west-artist-paradise? Nailed it: Cave Creek is calling your name, located off of the Carefree Highway. Don’t get me wrong the town itself is a tourist trap – but a worthy one. There are art galleries to your hearts desire; Good food, eccentric locals and if you are into football Cave Creek hosts a Bear’s, Steeler’s, Packer’s, and Viking’s bar. Let me tell you this place is WILD.
I frequent Cave Creek because of the fantastic hiking at Spur Cross Conservation Area which is about five miles north of Cave Creek. There are hiking options for all levels of ambition.
Looking for an easy stroll? Follow the Dragonfly/Jewel of the Creek trail. On this trail you will see the creek oasis where there are tall seemingly out of place oak trees. The area is cool and mostly shaded. Keep your eyes out for prehistoric rock art – petroglyphs – the whereabouts are not noted so it is up to you to keep your eyes peeled.
Want to break a sweat? Take the Metate or Tortuga trail. The Metate trail has an AMAZING collection of saguaro cactus and examples of metate grindstones which were used to prepare grains by the Native people who occupied the area.
Feeling Ambitious? If you have an entire day to spend (roughly 4-5 hours) and it isn’t too hot consider taking the Elephant Mountain trekk. It is an extremely tough hike that touches the boarder into Tonto National Park but summits at the prehistoric Hohokam fortress. Be sure to bring adequate water. I’m not kidding – it is up hill both ways 🙂
Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument and Wupatki National Monument is one of the coolest attractions in Flagstaff. The entrance to the park is right off of the state route 89A – blink and you will miss it. The fee is $20 per person and it is well worth the experience. The lava flow field and cinder mounds alone were awe-inspiring. Make sure you grab a map at the ranger station before you start into the twenty mile national monument it will show you where all of the pull offs are.
The second half of the park is dedicated to the Native people who occupied the land. There are amazing sites which showcase the pueblo villages which have been standing for nine hundred years. We visited the Wukoki Pueblo, Lomaki and Box Canyon ruins. Exploring can be cut short due to a threatening thunderstorm. Be aware of storms that prowl over the open prairie – be ready to take cover when the thunderheads move in.
The trails in this national monument are very well maintained and are for everyone to enjoy. My only caution would be to bring adequate water and some lunch which you can enjoy at the numerous pull offs.
If you are into becoming one with nature – Sedona is the place for you! Nestled in red rock country and an hour south of Flagstaff is the eclectic city of Sedona. It has a little bit of everything for everyone – the main strip has art galleries, food, crystal shops, tee shirt shops, and so much more. Sedona is credited with having several large and rather powerful vortexes. A vortex is a location that is said to release earth’s energy. Whether you believe in it or not Sedona has always had a magnetic pull on me – it makes you feel raw and pure. As you can probably tell I am mostly into hiking so I will go ahead and cut to the chase.
I have to admit – I can’t pick just one location as my favorite hiking spot – I have several. I will work on a separate post for the best hikes but for the sake of this article:
Bell Rock Hike – Red Rock Pass required, but accessible in parking area. Bell rock is an easy to moderate hike. Easy if you walk around the base but moderate if you climb the rim. This is a great hike if you are a climber and the elevation allows you to take in the views of the red rock surrounding.
Devil’s Bridge – moderate because of the elevation change and it is mostly open to the sun. This hike offers a walk through a small valley – at the end is a natural rock arch that you can safely walk across. I must warn you the height is dizzying but exhilarating.
Fay Canyon – easy to moderate. If you stay on the maintained trail it is a nice easy walk through the canyon. It is pretty well shaded but I suggest sunscreen all the same. If you follow the un-maintained trail it’s a pretty strenuous ascent. The view at the top is amazing! you can see it in my slide show.
Jerome is an amazing find – not too many people know about it because it is essentially a ghost town that is on the up swing. In the 1800’s it was a copper mining town and fell into disrepair in the 1960’s until an artist commune moved in. The town itself is a work of art – it sits on a hill that has a view that takes your breath away.
Are you a Tool fan? Visit Maynard’s winery Caduceus Cellar in the upper corner of the small town. Jerome boasts two winery’s that are worthy of a visit, antique shops with curios from the 1950’s, boutiques, and a few great lunch choices.
I suggest the Haunted Hamburger which is always packed or the Mile High Grill which has great service and even better food.
Payson is a quaint cowboy town that is most popular for it’s rodeos. I haven’t had much time to explore the city of Payson but there are a few places that I have been able to fall in love with.
Tonto Natural Bridge – one word for this place is magical. As you descend into the canyon the first thing that hits you is the smell of water, the kind of musty, sweet smell. Then you see the arch – huge and carved out of the opposing side of the canyon. The greatest part is walking right through it! You can pick your way through the rocks and the river to the steps on the other side. Note: Pets are not allowed.
If you have additional time another great destination is family run Fossil Creek Ranch in Strawberry. Fossil Creek Ranch is a goat and llama farm as well as a creamery. The fudge is to die for and so is the goat milk moisturizer. This is a perfect destination if you are traveling with kids (no goat pun intended). Fossil Creek Ranch offers felting classes, cheese making classes and ranch tours as well.
ALSO OFFERED: Llama hikes.For $30 a person you can lead llamas through the Mogollon Rim. Reservations are required.
Ok, so this last place isn’t in a cooler elevation but, worth taking a day trip. Once upon a time, Late Triassic to be approximate, Arizona was a tropical forest. As the climate changed trees fossilized and what was left behind became known as petrified wood. Petrified Wood National Park in Holbrook, Arizona boasts one of the largest deposits of petrified wood in the world. Along with 200 various plant fossils the desert area has also produced fossils belonging to phytosaurs (giant crocodiles) and Buettneria (giant salamanders).
As if it cant get any more magnificent, keep driving through Petrified Forest National Park and enter the Painted Desert. The Painted Desert extends through the four corners area – Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona. The badlands are known for a signature rusty red but be sure to look out for shades of olive, lavender and ivory.
Cobweb Clearer – Kate
“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”
– Theodore Roosevelt
The wilderness… It isn’t for everyone. It truly is for me. I get a real thrill exploring where few or limited people visit. The wilderness is primitive and untamed despite the world filling up with people. The first key is to stay safe. Every traveler knows that accidents happen and inevitably situations arise where you wont be safe. Preparedness is secondary.
One day, hiking in the Utah wilderness I found myself in a bit of a sticky situation (The Day the Desert Tried to Kill Me – Stories From the Front Seat). Luckily, I had basic essentials like food, water, and sun protection. There were some items, looking back, that would have come in handy. It can happen. A traveler can only have luck for so long until something goes wrong. A shipwrecked truck, a broken ankle, an allergic reaction, losing your way, and getting mugged are all situations wanderers have nightmares about. The severity of the event can be altered based on behavior and planning of the travelers involved. Here are my tips to staying safe when an emergency strikes in the wilderness:
A $400 investment will get you a phone and a plan that will work in the remotest of areas. Using a satellite phone in my situation in Utah would have solved all of my problems. I could have called AAA or a tow company without fear of losing connection. Another feature about satellite phones is its GPS. Along with connection a traveler can also send exact GPS coordinates to someone trying to help.
Disasters can bring out the best and worst personality traits. Just remember the more time you spend panicking the, longer it will take to remove yourself from the situation. Similarly with arguing, stress and fear tend to make even the best of friends argue. Again, work together to come up with a solution.
A healthy person needs sixty four ounces of water per day to survive. When you exert yourself one hundred ounces is suggested. I plan on a gallon and a half of water per person, per day. I carry all of my water in the vehicle as well. Water in the refrigerator back at the hotel is all well and good but, account for an emergency and load up the vehicle as well. Carry gallon jugs to keep in the vehicle and transfer water into smaller bottles that will fit in your back pack. Water is the MOST important survival tool especially in a desert.
Injury happens as frequently as flat tires and broken equipment. A first aid kit with simple items like disinfectant, wound bandages, ankle/wrist wraps, and a sewing kit can fix an issue temporarily until medical help arrives. I also keep a snake bit kit in my back pack as the risk of getting bitten here in Arizona is great.
Speaking of flat tires… Pack basics like jacks and tire changing kits. Stuck in mud or sand? To keep a stuck tire from spinning out and digging in deeper let air out of the tires to create a larger surface area. A tire with a greater surface area will have more grip and give you more mobility to maneuver out. A tire can be let out to almost 10% in emergencies. This would be an argument to carry an inflation pump as well.
In an emergency it is best to just stay together. It may seem like a constructive idea to cover more ground but in the wilderness anything can happen. Chances of getting lost alone, injury, or predator attack rises as the number in your party decreases. A pack of coyotes would attack a single person as well as bears, mountain lions, and even elk if they saw you as a threat.
Wild animals will be more apt to approach if you have an animal traveling with you. Even a large dog like a German Shepherd or a Pit Bull could be subject to becoming prey. If you are forced to hike at night or at sundown keep your pets close and be aware of your surroundings.
Keep a headlamp or a flashlight in your pack. It is also important to keep a mirror or reflective material for signaling a plane, car or a rescue team
Know when it is time to stop or move on. Choosing to wait out a thunder storm is logical if you are in a sheltered safe location. If you are off the trail and lost, staying put may not be an option. If night is approaching and rescue is not foreseeable consider setting up shelter before it gets too dark. There are a plethora of ‘ifs’ in an emergency situation. Go with your gut – usually it knows what it is doing.
This is vital. Storms can be devastating especially in desert wilderness. Risks include flash flooding, lightening, obstructed trails and continued bad weather. Hike knowing if and when a storm might be brewing. Also note storms in surrounding areas. For example a storm north of a river will cause fast moving water or unseasonably high water levels. Even a storm miles away can still effect you. This is especially important if you are hiking in a canyon.
Dress sensibly for where you will be hiking. Layers allow protection from the sun and adjustments for temperature. Check this post out for some cold weather layering inspiration! 8 Outfits I Wore in the Arctic
Stay safe out there! Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate
The beating heart of Split, Croatia holds the UNESCO Palace of Diocletian. The ancient Roman behemoth was built in between the 3rd and 4th century by retired Emperor Diocletian. Fortunately for us, he didn’t use his full name – Gaius Aurelius Valerius Diocletianus. He likes names as much as Daenerys Targaryen. The Diocletian Palace is special as it reflects transitional architecture from Greek occupation to Byzantine rule. The seven-acre fortress looks over the sparkling Adriatic Sea and is sheltered by Mount Mosor. My best suggestion, lose yourself in the narrow, granite alley ways. The palace reminds me of walking in an Arizona slot canyon. Steep, claustrophobic walls that become maze. Enter for free through one of four gates – Golden, Silver, Iron, and Bronze.
I knew nothing about Split, let alone Croatia when I decided to visit. When my carefully planned, six-month itinerary went out the window and a cheap flight popped up on Skyscanner it all seemed chalked up to fate.
Firstly, embrace your inner Cersei Lannister and enjoy the greatest local reds. Wine is a trade that has been produced in Split for thousands of years. Coastal wine made in the Dalmatian region tends to be fruity yet, bold. Pick a light white to accompany a fresh fish dinner. Speaking of the Lannisters… there are several Game of Thrones filming sites in and around Split. The first site is the Fortress of Klis (about ten miles out of Split) and recently for GOT season 5, the Diocletian Palace itself. One of the best feelings is recognizing a place you have visited on screen.
I entered through the buzzing Iron Gate from the equally as ancient, residential area of Varos. The Iron Gate is truly the place to be for food and is lively from 10AM to late in the evening. Split offers hundreds of local eateries and shops in and around the Diocletian Palace. Croatian food? They have it. Sparkly sandals? Check. Italian cuisine? Yup. Gelato? Please, don’t get between a tourist and a gelato stand or risk foot prints on your forehead.
The Iron Gate leads directly to Peristyle Square. Want to see the square empty? You have to rise with the sun. I took this at 6AM as the sun was waking up. The morning is an incredible time to start exploring the city however, entry into the paid sites are normally not open. Another notable time to be in the center of the palace is noon. At noon actors present changing of the guards. It’s completely kitschy but, fun to watch! What girl doesn’t want to watch muscular, Roman guards march about?
My favorite find was through a tunnel leading to the subterranean palace. The arched hallways are untouched and seem completely original. How many years has this cavern seen? Oh right, thousands. Likeness to not being able to visualize millions of dollars, thousands of years doesn’t seem to make sense. The world was such a different place. Echoes produced by the tall ceilings are harrowing as you wander about. The buzz of the city above is haunting. Here you can wander about in yet another maze. The rooms below used to be under water when the palace was first built. Afterwards, the rooms were used as a home for the Roman’s pet dragons. Um, kidding. But, it was used to produce wine – see a picture of the press below!
The Temple of Jupiter represents the old gods. Jupiter was the top Roman god. The vaulted ceilings create an acoustic sweet spot. There was a group of German tourists singing in the center of the temple. The result gave me goosebumps.
Right outside Jupiter’s temple is the narrowest alley in Split. Two adults are unable to squeeze through!
St. Duje Cathedral and the bell tower reigns supreme over the Split skyline. The bell tower, located next to the Peristyle is the tallest building in the city. The octagonal Christian Cathedral did’t exist until the 13th century as Emporer Diocletian was a persecutor of Christians. Climb the spiral staircase for a panoramic view of Split and surrounding areas.
Facing the Riva is another quiet corner of the palace. Here you can also find the Ethnographic Museum of Split. I highly recommend stopping by this museum! Here you can learn about dress, weapons and wine making in Split throughout history.
In closing I’m completely in love with Split, and the bits of Croatia I have experienced. I cant wait to go back. A quick side note – watch that sky. The weather changed in a matter of hours.
Love, your Queen of Travel, Clearer of Cobwebs, Mother of Ferrets, Twister of Ankles – Kate
Hoodoo: A natural geological pillar formed by wind and rain erosion
The last leg of the journey led us to Bryce Canyon National Park – 52 square miles of strange rock formations and other worldly views.
My fellow adventurers and I had packed up our belongings in Zion and headed to Bryce. It took about two hours of straight road, nothing complicated – after trying to find a spot in Zion, we wanted to be super early with the hope of not fighting for a site. Much to our surprise we had the campground to ourselves. After settling in at Sunset Campground ($30/ night) – food was a priority. As it was our fourth day of camping perishables were starting to run low – so our options were slim. In town before the entrance to the park were some shops, tourist traps, a gas station, and some food options. NOTE: the only diner is in fact not a diner, but a re-purposed Burger King that now sells pizza, burgers, and hot dogs. I would not recommend this place unless you were desperate – I would have opted to visit the camp store for hot dogs. Overall food options were slim – maybe we should have saved our perishable for here instead of Zion.
Anywho, now for the reason to visit to Bryce! There are a plethora of activities to do in Bryce –hiking, horseback riding, sightseeing, and even Snowshoeing in the winter. The landscape is a Ponderosa Pine forest, however when the canyon starts the forest literally goes away and becomes desert. This is actually how the terrain of the southwest works. We walked the rim for quite some time given that there was so much to absorb. The hike chosen was the Tower Bridge considered a moderate three mile hike through the hoodoos. The Tower Bridge takes you downhill the entire way down and uphill the complete way back, nevertheless there was so much in one hike! You could view the Queen’s Garden overhead; you could walk along the China wall and after that the Tower Bridge at the bottom of the canyon.
The China Wall was my favorite despite having to walk down hill for 2.5 miles then, back up 2.5. My big toe sported a nice bruise at the end of the day. That section of the hike that was just that a long, looming wall with sheer drops on both sides.
That night temperatures plummeted to 34°F which we all knew was a possibility, but somehow we just neglected to believe it. We had the clothes and the heavy, heavy sleeping bags, but our tents were not meant for late fall/winter camping. Ooops. The best part of the campsite – the heated bathrooms – ah, in the morning it was heaven. If you have ever sat on a freezing toilet seat, then you know the relief of a heated bathroom.
We finished our tour of Bryce by driving the fire eaten seventeen mile road to the highest point on the rim. At a staggering elevation of 9,110 Rainbow Point was breathtaking. My other favorite pull off was the Bryce Canyon Arch – erosion and wind blew a gaping hole right through the wall of the canyon.
Overall Bryce has much additional sights to appreciate and do without a permit and is less crowded than Zion. The park is much smaller and feels intimate. The campsites have a larger space and did I mention heated bathrooms?
Your Cobweb Clearer, Kate