Texas Hill Country
Plano, Texas, United States
Nov 26, 2019
With no plans or reservations, Copperhead and I drove to the Grand Canyon, passing her childhood home outside of Flagstaff along the way. She had grown up in a small community on a high plain at the foot of a mountain, mostly populated by Native Americans. Living in an isolated location has always intrigued me.
Camping in the Grand Canyon requires reservations made months in advance, and even then, it's a lottery system. However, sometimes there are last-minute cancellations, so we still had a glimmer of hope that we'd be able to do so. No such luck. Instead, we decided we'd do a day hike in the afternoon, camp outside of the park (again, wild camping was free), then another hike in the morning.
As Copperhead had accurately described, the Grand Canyon is not as breathtaking as Sedona - the colors are simply not as vibrant, nor the rock formations as striking. However, the scale of the place is incomprehensible. Sometimes you had to concentrate before the full size of the canyon looked real. Without reminding yourself, the opposite side almost looked like it was simply a painting. And what at a glance looks like the bottom isn't even close - there's a further gorge, at least as deep as the first tier. The canyon is literally over a mile deep - nearly 1,000 feet greater than the distance between Denver and sea level.
The weather was cloudy for now, but was questionable for the morning - showers were almost certain, and intense storms were possible. We had the choice between a wide-open trail and a more enclosed one, and decided the enclosed trail might be better for foul weather. Wide-open it is.
Instead of taking a bus to the trailhead, we walked there, along the rim. Most of the trails on the south rim allow bicycles, except the one with a view! Once there, you could see why - the trail is at times only a few feet from the edge, with a probably-fatal drop, and no guard rail. One swerve to avoid some kid running across the trail and that could be all for you.
The trail was exceptionally well-maintained, at least compared to the Appalachian Trail (but what isn't?). Despite mostly hiking on rocks, there was an attempt to crush or flatten them. As we descended, the sun made a few attempts to come out, succeeding once or twice.
After an hour and a half, we reached a pretty rock formation and decided this was a good spot to hang out, then probably turn around. A round of photos, some conversations with other hikers. Then a long walk uphill.
It felt liked we'd descended a lot - the trail is simply one long downhill into the canyon, and an hour and a half of that should mean a significant drop in elevation. By looking at the canyon walls, you could see your position compared to the levels at which the rock changes color. We had just barely made it where the rocks went from white to red. Looking across the canyon, we could see that meant we had barely descended at all.
It took a little longer to get out of the canyon, all uphill this time, and by the time we did, it was starting to get chilly already. I was glad to make it to the car and drive out to the woods nearby to set up camp. On the way, we kept seeing unusually large deer!
It never rained overnight, even though the forecast had called for it, and the skies had grown ominous just before dark. But it was enough to keep us from stargazing. Boo.
It may have been below freezing by morning! During the night, I kept grabbing more layers to put on while inside my sleeping bag. I never got good rest, and initially felt reluctant about hiking. I can't stand the cold.
By the time we got to the park though, my spirits had regrouped, and I was eager to get back on a trail. This was especially aided with Copperhead's suggestion of getting a hot drink. I'm not a coffee drinker, so this doesn't occur to me, and having a hot drink is something worth noting, not part of my routine. Warmed from the inside, we hit the trail together in high spirits.
After about an hour, Copperhead felt like she preferred hiking at a slower pace, and didn't care to go down as far as I did. So we split off, me hurrying down to an outlook, and her taking her time with her section of trail. It was just as well; we don't have to do everything the exact same way. After reaching the lookout and spending some time there, I saw darker clouds rolling in, quickly. This might not end well.
I jogged off-and-on during the ascent, getting rained on periodically. I had no rain jacket. Silly me thought that if it was 25 C in Texas, it was probably warmer in the desert. And rain? C'mon, it's the desert! I'd forgotten that this area was at high altitude, and it's cold here, even in spring.
By the time I got back to the top, it was snowing. In April! How is this even possible?!? Snow is for winter. I figured the only places it snows more than three months a year are places in the far north, like Minnesota or something. Not Arizona! Where I'm from, it doesn't even snow in the winter, so you would think you must be somewhere extreme if it snows all winter, and in March, and even April!
Copperhead and I found each other at the visitor's center, then found the car and pointed it back east. We made a stop in Santa Fe along the way, marvelling at the adobe and the old Spanish cathedrals, including the oldest church in North America, dating to 1610!
We had planned a stop in Palo Duro Canyon and Caprock Canyon, two parks both found in the same canyon, the second-largest in the United States. The strangest thing about it is the location: the Texas Panhandle. The flattest part of an already-flat state, and all of a sudden, there's this enormous canyon!
Alas, there was a violent thunderstorm as we were passing through, and we correctly ruled that hiking would be no fun, and the scenery spoiled. But we got nice weather as we passed through Amarillo, just enough for a photo shoot at Cadillac Ranch.
One last day in Texas before Copperhead had to head home and continue her studies. Some southern cooking, a refreshing bike ride, a lazy afternoon. Good times.
from Southwest 2016