Category Archives: Travel by Car

Smokey-the-Bear Hats

Hiking/Driving US National Parks 2010/10/19-11/18
It was good to get back into hiking, and the US certainly does its National Parks well. We purchased an Annual Pass for a very reasonable sum, and visited a total of 14 National Parks, Monuments, and Historic Sites during our trip. These were: Crater Lake NPLassen Volcanic Peak NPDeath Valley NPZion NPBryce Canyon NPPipe Spring NMGrand Canyon NPWalnut Canyon NMMontezuma Castle NMCasa Grande Ruins NMSaguaro NPSequoia & Kings Canyon NPOregon Caves NM, and Fort Vancouver NHS.
Part of the NPS Rangers’ uniform is the iconic Smokey-the-Bear hat. Every Ranger we saw looked neat and tidy, their hats always in perfect form with brims perfectly flat. If you’ve ever wondered how this is achieved, we discovered the answer only near the end of our trip.

US National Park Ranger's Hat Press

Every ranger has a vertical slot-like hat rack in his or her office. It’s built directly onto the wall, and this is where the Smokey-the-Bear hats reside when not on a ranger’s head. It also acts as a “hat press” and keeps the brim flat.

So now you know!


The Sonoran Desert – A Cactus Jungle

2010/11/11: Saguaro National Park – a 10 mile hike
Surprises are everywhere. We walk slowly, with binoculars and camera ready. We stop and listen to the sounds of the desert. This is a quiet place, though it’s just on the outskirts of Tucson. Quiet – but not empty.

A jackrabbit bounds away. Two mule deer eye us warily as they make their way among heavily-armoured plants. How does an ungulate graze here? A Gila woodpecker perches atop first one saguaro then another.

The network of sandy trails is used by riders as well as hikers, and a volunteer park patroller greets us from her horse. We chat. She looks like an english style (i.e.hunt seat) rider, but is using what looks like a cavalry saddle; protective guards extend from her stirrups to cover her feet. She wears chaps on her lower legs. Without these, I suppose her legs would become mincemeat if her horse took her too close to a saguaro, a cholla, or an ocotillo. She wears a large sun hat with a broad brim that fits over her helmet. It’s hot enough for me here at midday in November, and the light is harsh and bright.

Chainfruit Cholla

We came to Saguaro East the previous afternoon to get a trail map from the visitors’ centre, and decided on a day hike because the water logistics are so much easier than for overnighters. We’d had an overnighter in mind, because we’d heard much more is out and about in the desert at night. Perhaps we wouldn’t know what we were looking at without a local naturalist in tow, or perhaps our lack of local knowledge would put us at risk. Arriving in the Tucson area, first we’d visited Saguaro West, and then driven across town to Saguaro East because it had more scope for walks.

In the Arid Jungle

I’m always watching carefully for rattlesnakes as we move south, but we didn’t see one. A bit of a let down, really. We’re a bit sad to leave this striking desert landscape. We’re a little sad to leave this place, but it’s time to head west and north and homeward.

Note: It is pronounced more like Sawhhuaro than Saguaro.

An Arizona Flickr set has been uploaded.


Gila woodpecker

Since leaving the Grand Canyon

We have spent a couple of days travelling south, with stop offs for National Historic Monuments showing ancient Puebloan culture. We came off the Colorado Plateau at Sedona which is very touristy and has impressive red rock. We have also seen our first saguaro cacti.

Two important events have happened: we are now both 58 with Margo’s birthday today, and our 1993 Acura passed through 200,000km and was rewarded with new windscreen wiper blades (Margo got a Starbucks latte and cake).

Montezuma Castle (Misnamed because this was built by Sinauga farmers not Aztecs, who never came this far north)


A butte at Sedona (edge of Colorado Plateau)

Grand Canyon – The Tonto Trail

2010/11/5-8: Down, along the Tonto, down to river, and back up to rim – 28 miles

Our first short day took us down the heavily travelled Bright Angel trail to camp at Indian Gardens. We had lots of time to laze, and there is even a lending library of field guides to use. We’d only brought a tarp, which we rigged from the picnic table.

The second day took us away from “the corridor” and eleven meandering miles along the Tonto trail. The Grand Canyon is complex terrain and this contour line trail provided many different views as we made our way to Monument Creek, where a spring emerges at the head of a box canyon.

We had two nights at this lovely site, which allowed us to wander down to Granite Rapids on the Colorado River the next day and sit among the dunes for a while, watching a rafting group arrive. Our adventure back at our campsite was to discover that our final meal, a package of Harvest Works Beef Stroganoff recently purchased from MEC, was infested with mealy bugs!!!! Having little else left to eat on our last night, we carefully picked the discarded exoskeletons and obvious insect parts from the pasta and dried vegetables, and cooked it anyway, no doubt with quite bit of extra protein.
Note: We’ve kept the packaging with evidence of the infestation as well as stamped manufacture dates so as to return it to MEC and to ask them to review their quality control and/or stocking practices. I will follow this through, because I know from my own kitchen that it is improbable that this was the only infested package.
On the last day, we started early up the eight miles and 4500 feet to Hermit’s Rest. The morning was cloudy, and the soft light made for rewarding views as we plodded upward. In the early afternoon we got involved with helping a man who had become separated from his wife, and after some time of raised stress levels and blowing of whistles, it became clear she had  taken a wrong turn at a switchback, and had scrambled some distance into alarmingly steep and exposed terrain before stopping. They were a fit and experienced (he said) pair, but we wondered why they didn’t hike closer together, and we kept an eye on the frantic solo husband in case things escalated. We didn’t leave the scene till they were reunited and back on the trail. We’d noted all their information and were poised to rush to the top and summon rangers.
We reached Hermit’s Rest in a cold drizzle, and hopped a shuttle back to our car. After a bite, we drove to Flagstaff for a motel with a hot bath, and spent an exciting evening trying to find the hole in the deflating Thermarest.

To the Grand Canyon

2010/11/3-4: From Bryce to Grand Canyon

We drove east from where we’d spent a comfy indoor night just west of Bryce, to Cannonville, Utah, looking for an adventurous back road that would take us south toward the North Rim. Good thing we stopped at the visitor information there, because the road was badly washed out. Karen, the visitor information lady was an ardent amateur botanist, so even though we had to back track, our time with her was well spent learning how to identify four-wing saltbush, among other dryland vegetation.
Four-wing saltbush (Atriplex canescens)
After backtracking, we drove south visiting Pipe Spring National Monument along the way, and learning a bit of Mormon pioneer history. The enthusiastic volunteer we had all to ourselves was from South Carolina. She had a great depth of knowledge on her subject, too. The fortified ranch house was built by a Mormon group right over the spring,  taking control of the only water supply for many miles. This protected them from siege, but also deprived local native people of access to water they had previously used.
Pipe Spring National Monument

They kept a large herd of Texas longhorn cattle that expanded as a result of tithing payments, and provided cheese and butter to St. George,Utah. Having cautiously eyed the two longhorns that were there, I can assure you I would not like to try and milk one.

Texas Longhorn
We spent another indoor night at Jacob Lake, arriving at the North Rim next morning. After warnings about the onerous back country permit system, and the slim chances of a permit without prior reservation, we got exactly what we wanted! Luckily, we’d done our reading, so I asked if we could do a section of the Tonto trail which follows the contour line along a platform or step forming the lip of the inner canyon on the south side. The rangers cannot offer you options outside “the corridor” for liability reasons, but if you make a specific suggestion they can respond to it. The forecast for the next few days was good, so with permit in hand for a next-day departure and three nights out, we drove round to the South Rim. I was fascinated, at a convenience store on our way across the Arizona strip to hear old men speaking what I believe was Navajo. As we walked on the old Navajo Bridge across the Colorado at Marble Canyon, we saw a pair of tagged California condors perched on the canyon wall. Once extirpated from this region, these huge black birds have been recently reintroduced with some success. We car camped at the South Rim camp ground, and organized ourselves for the hike.
Tagged California condors perched on the Colorado river canyon wall
Navajo Bridges (left-old, right new)