We were staying in Cave Creek, just north of Phoenix, Arizona. On November 23rd, 2023, a friend and I hiked in the Spur Cross area. It was nice desert hiking.
Most impressive among the local plants were the multi-armed suguaros that towered above us in places. Their scientific name (Carnegiea gigantea) honours businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and they are quite a work of nature. They can grow up to 50 feet tall, and some weight over 2,000 Kg.
It is best to keep your distance from a saguaro. Their spines are very sharp and almost as strong as a steel needle. They can be up to 3 inches long and have been reported to penetrate the skull of a bighorn sheep that was foolish enough to collide with one. According to Wikipedia, a man was killed in 1982 when he came out second best in an altercation with a saguaro. He was shooting and poking at a saguaro in an attempt to make it fall over when a 500-pound arm of the cactus fell on him and crushed both him and his car. Then, as if to add insult to injury, the trunk of the cactus fell on him.
We had a pleasant day, but I kept my distance from the suguaros!
Valley of Fire, Nevada
On November 16, 2022, we visited a strange landscape of tortured red rock, slot canyons, and blue sky: the Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. The Aztec Sandstone in the area is so red, that a traveler in the early part of the 20th century who happened to travel through it at sunset said that it looked like the whole valley was on fire. The name stuck.
There are many nice hikes in the park. One of these goes to Mouse's Tank. This is an interesting "waterhole" in a deep recess in the rock.
One can only imagine how the early travelers through this area must have appreciated the water in Mouse's Tank on a hot summer day, but why is it named after a mouse, a very small and not very impressive animal? Well, it is not named after the animal, but rather after a notorious outlaw.
According to the Utah Adventure Family website, Mouse was an outlaw, and he hid out in the Valley of Fire near Mouse's Tank. Nobody else seemed to know about it, and Mouse could stay there until things cooled down. Even though he was in the desert, he usually had lots of water to survive. Apparently the tank, does not always have water, but on our visit the water was cool and deep, as can be seen in the picture below.
Zion, Valley of the Patriarchs
It is hard to imagine a more serene and awe-inspiring place than Zion Canyon in southern Utah. Today it is the centerpiece of Zion National Park, the second most-visited national park in the USA. The Mormons, who arrived in Utah in 1847, explored the canyon in the 1850s and were obviously just as impressed as we were in 2022. They named it Zion. “Zion” is a hill in Jerusalem but is also used in a general way to refer to a holy place or to the “kingdom of heaven.”
Frederick Vining Fisher, a Methodist minister from Ogden, Utah, visited the valley in 1916, and was equally impressed. He seems to have felt that only biblical names could do justice to the beauty of some of the geological features of the canyon. He named three prominent sandstone peaks along the Virgin River after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob of the Old Testament. Today they are known as the Three Patriarchs.
The Mormons added a fourth to the three. A nearby peak was named after the Angel Moroni, who was reported by Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, to be the guardian of the golden plates which are believed by Mormons to be the source material for the Book of Mormon.
In the photograph of the Three Patriarchs below, the three white-capped sandstone peaks from left to right are named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The red-topped peak between Isaac and Jacob (more or less in front of Jacob) is Mount Moroni.
Another hike we did this summer was Grotto Canyon, which is only about 45 minutes west of Calgary. This hike starts off in an unusual way. The air is filled with the noise of a dozen jet engines as you start the trail from the parking lot. Soon the source of all that noise becomes apparent as you walk by a huge magnesium plant. It is a white surrealistic building that belongs in a science fiction movie.
You might be thinking as you read this that this is a hike you don't want to take, but the noise soon subsides as you move along, and you enter a very impressive canyon. This makes for a great outing, and you can go for as far as you want. After a few kilometres you leave the canyon, and come to the "Grotto" which is a cave up on a gravel hill. The opening of the cave is quite striking, and worth the walk. I will show you a picture of part of the canyon and the cave below.
Hiking The Rockies
I am going to leave the Snake River, Yukon, now. If you want to learn more about my adventures on the Snake, you will need to get my new book once it becomes available. I will let you know when it is published!
Now we are going to see some of the wonders of the Canadian Rockies. This summer I did five memorable hikes in the Front Ranges of the Rockies in Alberta. I will let you know about some of the wonderful things we saw, starting with the last on. This was a hike to Jumpingpound Mountain. It lies about an hour west of Calgary. It is not all that far, but some of the travelling is on a rough gravel road. There is a good trail to its summit at 7,350 feet, From there, most hikers take the west ridge towards Cox Hill, but we took the east ridge. It was a bit of a rough trail, but led to a nice summit (Top number 2) where we had lunch. It was a beautiful fall day.
I will put in a summit photo of Jumpingpound Mountain below.
Stay tuned for my next hike - coming soon!
Setting up Camp
As our rafts nosed in to a gravel bar on the shore for the night, a strong wind suddenly came up. It was blowing so hard that our head guide told us to put up our tents on a flat area which was sparsely covered with low willow bushes. This was unusual, but his further instructions clarified things. He wanted us to tie our tent guy ropes to these deeply rooted willows so that the tents would not blow away.
It was difficult to put up our tents in the wind, but with the help of our two fast-moving grand children, we soon had both our tents up despite the wind, and they stayed up overnight.
This was only our second campsite on the Snake River itself, and our first introduction to weather problems. Later that evening it rained heavily, but nevertheless all went well.
It was a beautiful evening. The photo below was taken after 11 PM.
First day on the river
We were very excited to finally be on the river in our rafts. It was a beautiful day with the colourful Backbone Mountains on our right, and the Bonnet Plume Range on our left. In between, the Snake River of the Yukon ran broad and blue.
It was not long before we began to see Dall Sheep. First there were several large rams resting on a black rocky slope, and then a number of groups that were walking purposefully on high mountain trails. They were an amazing sight.
We had lunch on a gravel bar, and here, as we were gathering firewood for the evening, we came upon a sad reminder that we were indeed in the wilds. The found the remains of an unfortunate lamb that had likely been carried off by eagles and largely eaten.
Even though it was July, we encountered a large bank of ice and snow on the riverbank in one location. Then it was time to set up camp on the shore. As we began to set up camp, we experienced unexpected adversity, but more about that in my next post!
Late evening hike
The days this far north are very long. After we reached the campsite with our canoes and had dinner, there was still time for a late evening hike. We had not gone far before we came across a very interesting purple flower. It was the hairy butterwort (Pinguicula villosa). Like its larger relative, the common butterwort, it is carnivorous. It leaves are sticky and secrete enzymes which digest any insect or pollen that become trapped on their surface. With the millions of mosquitoes in the Yukon, this plant is not likely to go hungry. It is often found on relatively dry hummocks in muskegs.
It was 11 PM when we got back into camp, but it was still broad daylight, and remained so even after we finally got into our sleeping bags.
How did we get to the snake river?
Our rafts could not go through the upper Snake River Canyon, so the rafts were taken to a starting point below the canyon. We had a choice of taking a helicopter to join the rafts, or to portage on foot from Duo Lake to the Snake River above the canyon. If we portaged, we would then take canoes through the upper canyon to join the other rafters.
My grandson and I chose the portage, while my wife and granddaughter chose the helicopter.
Max and I joined the guides and another couple and walked a few kilometres to the Snake where the canoes were. Then, an exhilarating canoe trip along the upper Snake and its canyon brought us to the rest of our group.
Part of the portage is shown in the picture below, along with three of the portagers.
Snake River Trip
In 2021, we rafted the Snake River in the northern Yukon. It was a tremendous trip. I am currently working to publish that trip as well. If you are interested in the Snake, watch this blog for updates.
It was a hard river to get to, especially with Covid-19 still active. We flew from Calgary to Whitehorse, and were whisked away by van to the Fox Bay Resort on Historic Lac Laberge. The next day we were bussed up to Mayo, all the while being kept away from the local communities we passed through. Then we flew by float plane to Duo Lakes, which is near the Snake River.
We were close, but still not there. Next time I will tell you how we got from Duo Lake to the Snake itself. We had a choice of an ultra modern form of transportation, or a much older more historical form.
Above: Duo Lake in the Yukon, very close to the Snake River
I have described my first three rafting trips in the book Rafting the Great Northern Rivers: The Nahanni, Firth, and Tatshenshini.