Grand Canyon had a fee free weekend

Every time I think about the Grand Canyon, my mind is flooded with intense photographic memories from my first and only visit to the destination.

I was touring with my now defunct band in the summer of 2006. As you likely know, it’s tough to make it as a musician–particularly if you’re on the road (read Emily Zemler’s newest piece on Alternative Press, No Money, Mo’ Problems: Why even successful bands struggle financially). When I use the phrase ‘make it’, what I’m referring to is making enough money to pay for gas to the next city; making enough money to buy peanut butter and bread. We were a band just breaking even at our best, which is actually kind of a feat in itself. But our budget wasn’t flexible and it certainly didn’t leave much room for excursions to places like the Grand Canyon. Our final decision to skip a few meals and just see the damn thing turned out to be one of our best decisions that summer.

The decision to visit the Grand Canyon took so required so much contemplative deliberation from us because it was $25 per car to enter (and still is). $25 goes a long way when you’re living off of oatmeal packets and boiling water from gas stations. But the Grand Canyon joined other national parks this past weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, in offering a free weekend.

How cool is that?

This national park is one that gets such overwhelming coverage for a reason: it’s simply amazing. If you missed out on the free weekend, let me assure you… the visit is worth the price, even if you find yourself collecting change from beneath the van seats just to get through.

[photo by Elizabeth Seward]

Rafting the Grand Canyon: Adventure of a lifetime

Even a few hours raft trip can feel like an adventure. A raft trip down the Grand Canyon is perhaps one of the greatest raft adventures of all. My husband used to be a rafting guide in Alaska and Montana and still recalls the 21-day raft trip he took down the Colorado River years ago with friends as the one trip he’d love to repeat one day.

Rafting the Grand Canyon takes planning, reservations, time and money. Because the number of trips allowed down the Colorado River through the canyon are limited, it’s important to plan ahead.

In my husband’s case, their trip was a do-it-yourself, non-commercial trip (private) which cut down on the money part, but increased the level of planning to make sure their food lasted for the 21 days and to make sure they had all the gear they needed.

To get a permit for a private 15 to 25 day trip from Lees Ferry to Diamond Creek, apply through the Grand Canyon National Park’s weighted lottery system. Before you apply, though, read the requirements to see if your group qualifies. The lottery is held each February for trips for the following year.

If you want a private trip for a shorter period of time, apply for a non-commercial 2-5 day trip. This trip through the Lower Gorge section of the canyon offers 52 miles of smooth and white water paddling. Permits are given out on a first come, first serve basis a year in advance. Here’s the application that includes a phone number.

If you want just a taste of rafting where someone else does the planning, consider a commercial one-day or half-day trip.

The Hualapai Tribe operates the Hualapai River Runners which offers full-day white water trips that begin at Diamond Creek.

For or half-day or full-day smooth water trips from Glen Canyon Dam to Lees Ferry, check out Colorado River Discovery, LCC. Trips start up in March.

Like the non-commercial trips, reservations need to be made well in advance. There are other commercial operations that offer trips of the several day to a few hours variety.

Rafting The Grand Canyon and Utah’s website is one place to look at a variety of options. There are links that highlight sections of the Colorado River. If you have some cash to spend, go for it.

Also, check out Rafting through the Grand Canyon by Philip Greenspun for a up-close look at a longer raft trip. Greenspun does a tidy job of highlighting a commercial trip he took with the outfitter OARS. Wonderful photos are part of the mix.

Good luck lining up the trip that’s perfect for you and happy rafting!

Grand Canyon hiking: Tips on how not to have a heart attack

If hiking the Bright Angel Trail, or any other trail that leads down into the Grand Canyon is the stuff of your dreams, be warned–it isn’t the easiest thing to do. Sure, going down is fine. That path of switchbacks, often with mule pee at every turn, beckons downward. “This is swell, ” you might say to yourself. “Isn’t the Grand Canyon grand?”

Sure. It’s spectacular. The Grand Canyon is probably one of the most glorious, breathtaking sights I’ve seen in my life, and I’ve seen a lot–not to brag, just saying. But that alluring trip down towards the Colorado River that formed such majesty can be hell on the way back up. It can even give people a heart attack.

That what happened to Frank Poole. He was fit as a fiddle, a real exercise buff, but ended up in an Arizona hospital because of breathing problems. Tests found out that he had had a heart attack.

Frank Poole is not the first to have had physical issues when testing ones mettle against the great outdoors. According to the article I read that talked about Frank Poole’s plight, Grand Canyon’s park and health officials see more people with health issues as the summer tourist traffic picks up. [Kraig gave his words of warning also.] The high temperatures can cause heat stroke and the terrain is stuff muscle pulls are made of. Or, people can have just a crappy time, much different than the feeling they had when they still were at the top, slipping into their day pack and feeling perky

I’ve experienced what hiking in the Grand Canyon can do myself. The first time I hiked there it was in April. I headed downwards while wearing a jacket. By the time I got to the half-way point of Bright Angel Trail, I was sweating from the heat. The temperatures rise substantially due to the shift in the climate. The further down, the more desert like the landscape.

By the time I got back to the top, I became colder and shivery as the temperature dropped again. Luckily, I was prepared and slipped back on my jacket. My hiking companion and I also paced ourselves. Since we knew that we only had enough time to make it to the half-way point to the bottom, we turned around for the strenuous hike back up. We also came prepared with plenty of water and snacks. We also had on hiking boots.

On the other two times I’ve been to the Grand Canyon, as with that time, I saw other people who weren’t so fortunate. They definitely weren’t having the best of times. They were weeping in pain with several more switchbacks to go before reaching the top. As I passed them, I tried not to think about how my own thighs burned. I was thankful that I had on a good pair of shoes that offered support. I was also wearing a hat to help regulate my temperature.

At the Grand Canyon, it’s easy to go too far downwards. My suggestion is to think about how far down you’re willing to go, and how much time you have to do it. It’s roughly twice as long to come back up as it is to go down.

Here are the main points to keep in mind from the Grand Canyon Hike Smart Guidelines.

  • Have a plan
  • Don’t hike alone
  • Know your limits
  • Don’t huff and puff
  • Take food
  • Be kind to yourself (Give yourself a break when you need it)
  • Watch out for mules and other hikers
  • Keep track of your time

And here’s one more from me. Hike to have fun, not to prove a point.

Even if you aren’t able to hike that far downwards, so what? You’re at the Grand Canyon.

The sign in the photo is of the 3 mile rest area on the Bright Angel Trail. I rested there and kept going for a little while.

Is Travel Causing the Planet’s Demise?

Is travel ruining the environment? John Rosenthal in his article, “Is Traveling Destroying The Planet?” ponders the question.

I’m thinking back to years ago when I visited the Grand Canyon and had to compete with monstrous RVs for parking spots. But, then, there’s the time I caved to luxury on a trek in Nepal. Four days in, I paid for a hot bucket of water for a “shower.” Even though I had read that the wood burned to make the hot water was a deforestation project of sorts, I succumbed to the notion of “just this once.” I did make sure I relished extra hard the feeling of being clean. Besides, it was Christmas.

I’ve heard that hunters are among the biggest environmental champions because they know that if they don’t take care of their natural surroundings, they’ll lose their pastime. So, perhaps those of us who travel are more sensitive to the earth we walk on, rappel down, whitewater raft through, climb up, or buzz by in some form of transportation to get us from here to there.

If we didn’t travel, what then? Parts of India were in a panic after 9/11 because tourists weren’t coming. My mom, who visited us that December to January was the only person on her group tour to the Taj Mahal and Jaipur. She felt compelled to buy not one marble inlay table, but four, and loaded up her bag with marble inlay boxes for everyone she knew. She might have been the only customer for days.

Seeing the Amazon Rainforest, perhaps leads to us wanting to save it. India takes care of the tiger preserve Ranthambore National Park, that Erik Olsen wrote about in one of his Gadling posts, partly because it’s a money maker. When I visited Ranthanbore, one of the people piled onto one of the big trucks without a prayer of seeing a tiger, I bought a hat and gloves from someone in a village we passed since before sun up its wicked cold there. After our hotel dinner were the requisite traditional dancers for the evening entertainment. Each activity put money in people’s pockets.

In the US, tax money is funds national parks and forests. This is one of the reasons why the Wayne National Forest has ORV/ATV trails. People who can get far into the woods in an afternoon, particularly people who can’t walk that far, have some desire to protect it.

I do wonder about the space travel trend? Charles Simonye, an American tourist billionaire just returned from his two-week trip to a space station. At what point will it cost less than $25 million to take in a space station for summer vacation? Drop the price to even $10 million and several celebrities are in. How long before there are trips designed purely for tourism?

I don’t have any answers, but reading John Rosenthal’s article got me to ponder some more about thoughts that travel through my head when I’m traveling.