Lucky me! My flexible schedule allowed me to plan a last minute trip to visit my son before he deployed. The last two stanzas of America the Beautiful bring tears to my eyes.
O beautiful for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!
May God thy gold refine,
Till all success be nobleness,
And every gain divine!
O beautiful for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
On a recent trip to El Paso, Texas, my son and I drove to Las Cruces, New Mexico to hike Soledad Canyon. The canyon sits in the western foothills of the Organ Mountains, which originated about 32 million years ago in the middle of the Tertiary Period. I immediately thought of America the Beautiful.
Here are the first two stanzas of America the Beautiful.
O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
God shed His grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!
O beautiful for pilgrim feet,
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!
God mend thine every flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law!
If you’ve been to the Southwest, did you have a favorite place to hike?
In my last post, Tarantula Territory, I lamented that I didn’t see any tarantulas on a hike but, guess what I did see? A Plains Lubber Grasshopper! The approximately five-inch insect caught my attention–how could it not?–and I had to get a closer look. I looked at her and she at me. We bonded.
I can’t believe I got such a clear photo of her awesome exoskeleton, which protects her against predators and prevents dehydration. (Come to think of it, that could be a great pick-up line. “Excuse me, but you have an awesome exoskeleton.”) Plains Lubbers are native to southern and central USA and Northern Mexico.
Top Ten Cool Facts About Plains Lubber Grasshoppers
A Plains Lubber can’t fly because its wings are too small.
A lubber has a pod that holds approximately 20-35 eggs. After incubating in the ground during the colder months, or for as long as two years, the eggs hatch in May or June.
It uses two pairs of eyes (simple and compound) to see.
It uses its bluish-brown antennae to feel and smell.
The tympanum, or round membrane located on either side of its body near its legs allows it to “hear” or detect sound waves.
To breathe, it has spiracles, or tiny holes located all along the abdomen.
A lubber is capable of jumping from several inches to several feet using its oversized hind legs.
A young lubber will molt its exoskeleton five times at roughly 15-day intervals before reaching adulthood.
Bright coloring and patterning on a lubber’s shell warns predators that it’s unpalatable to downright poisonous. A lubber ingests substances in the plants it eats that, although harmless to humans and the lubber itself, are toxic to many predators. These chemicals may kill smaller creatures such as birds or leave larger animals quite ill after ingesting a lubber.
To protect against predators, a lubber can secrete a noxious foam while making a loud hissing sound. It can also regurgitate a dark brown liquid (commonly called tobacco spit) as a defense.
Hon, which category are you in? Cool or ewww?
For all of the ewww’s, consider the photos below as visual palette cleansers.
A sign says, “Please yield for tarantulas on the road.” What do you do?
a) Hightail it out of there and head to civilization or a mini mall?
b) Hike in moon boots or platform shoes?
c) Get super excited and keep your eyes peeled for large creepy-crawlies?
Hon, if you chose C, we’ll be very good friends! Two weeks ago, before a hike in Albuquerque, New Mexico’s Sandia Mountains, I asked a park ranger why tarantulas might be on the road. He said it’s mating season. Cool!
Did “Caution!! Watch for Snakes” catch your eye? Even though two exclamation marks follow “caution,” snakes took a backseat to the hopeful main event–spotting a tarantula. Unfortunately, my childhood friend Cindy and I didn’t spot any. Years before in New Mexico, I did.
While driving 60 mph along a flat highway on the Turquoise Trail, I screamed, “Stop the car!” Hubby wanted to know why, but I didn’t have time to explain.
A tarantula was crossing the highway and I needed to see it up close! It was bigger than my hand!
I tried to record the big, hairy, brown spider, so I grabbed the only thing I could think of–a pencil. I placed (umm, threw) it on the ground next to the enormous arachnid and snapped a picture. I know I’m talking to “seasoned” (read: older) picture takers when I say my camera took film. It wasn’t until I got the film developed that I realized the photo was blurry. Oh well! I’ll always remember that tarantula, who somehow knew he had enough time between cars to cross the highway. Cool!
It wasn’t the extremely steep 5-6 hour hike with tons of switchbacks that made his heart race, it was the hike at the top of the mountain, on narrow ridges with deep chasms. Did I mention that you get across the most narrow parts by holding onto a chain anchored into the sandstone?
Guess what I found out? THERE ARE BREAKS IN THE CHAIN!
We warmed up by hiking Emerald Pools. Our guide then led us to the bottom of the Angel’s Landing where we started the steep ascension in full sun. Technically, the trail is called the West Rim Trail until it meets Angel’s Landing. Hiking along, we suddenly reached the aptly named Refrigerator Canyon, a mile-long shady part of the trail. We cooled off in time to sweat again, climbing Walter’s Wiggles, “steep 21 sharp zig-zags” that lead to Scout Lookout.
Hubby and Teen Daughter decided to rest on Scout’s Lookout while our guide James and I continued on. Here’s the thing. It was crowded. Walking on sandstone is slippery, the ground is gritty and the slopes are smooth. It’s hard to get traction or know where to put your foot as you climb up. I didn’t want to let go of the chain (when there was one), and people were climbing down as we were climbing up.
“I’m not letting go of the chain, so you’ll have to place your hands on either side of me and go around me,” I said.
“You come down, then I’ll go up,” I said.
“We’re doing the ‘chain dance’,” I said.
When there were breaks in the chain and we had to “Spiderman Scramble” up the mountain, I told James, “If I had a bucket list, this would officially be off of it!”
There was a point on the one-way trail where it was so crowded, we would have had to wait to keep going. I said I was “just fine” ending our hike there. James was, too. He said it but we both felt it.
Not only were we all exhilarated (except for Teen Daughter, who was out of breath!), we were ready for our next adventure.If I go back to Zion one day, I’ll wave to the Angels landing on the top of that trail.
Researching Zion, I came up with an itinerary. In the morning, we would hike the Narrows and, in the afternoon, we’d go canyoneering.
Hiking the Narrows means hiking in water through slotted canyons. Even though large rocks line the bottom of the river, we’d be dressed properly, carry tall walking sticks, and be guided by an experienced hiker. We picked up our waterproof boots and Neoprene socks at Zion Outfitter the day before, so we’d be ready to roll at 7am the next day.
One problem. It rained overnight. A lot.
The Parks Service closed the Narrows because the water level was too high. The usually clear, shallow water was now brown, swirling, strong, and deep. Even if the Park Service opened up the Narrows later, which it did, we had to make a decision. We decided to hike Emerald Pools and Angels Landing.
One more problem. Back at home, when I showed Hubby a video of hikers on Angel’s Landing, his breathing turned rapid. “What’s wrong?” I asked. “It’s just a video.” “I have no interest in hiking that!” he replied. Yet, there we were. With Plan A shelved, it was time for Plan B.
Hiking Emerald Pools was a great warm-up for the day. Our guide, James Milligan, led us to the lower and upper pools, then we hiked from the pools to the start of Angel’s Landing.
It wasn’t necessary to have a guide for the morning hikes but 1) we’d already hired him, 2) he knows the mountain so well that he efficiently led us from trail to trail (otherwise, we might still be consulting our map, wondering where to go!), 3) James could answer our many questions, and 4) having a guide gave Hubby assurance that he could hike however much–or little-of Angel’s Landing he was comfortable with!
Stay tuned for Part 2.
Have you been to Zion? Have you hiked the Narrows? Emerald Pools? Angels Landing?
Tip: “Lower you butt until it’s in line with your feet, then ‘walk’ down the canyon.”
James informed us that the bottom of the canyons had been dry for the past four years, but it had flooded in April as well as rained the night before. We were going to have to jump into water. How deep was the water? Not sure. What was at the bottom of the water? Quicksand!
Hubby rappelled first, then belayed Teen Daughter, me and James. When there was just a pool of (cold) water at the canyon bottom, Hubby would let us know where is seemed shallowest. Then we’d jump in and scramble to flat ground. Teamwork was essential!
James guessed (right) that there was quicksand at the bottom of one pool. I’d doubted if quicksand really existed. Hon, quicksand is real! Hubby went down first, hoisted himself out of the goop and made it to flat ground. Whew! He held the rope below while James held it above, creating a taut line for me and Teen Daughter to grab onto and, hand-over-hand, get us out of the muck. But the muck pulled me in!
Want to know what panic feels like? It feels like quicksand sucking you in, drawing you deeper as you try to kick your way out. Help!
I used all of my upper body strength to pull up on that taut rope. I hollered for Hubby to grab my arm and GET ME THE HECK OUT OF THERE!
Once we were all out, the feeling was fabulous. WE DID IT!
The only way back was up!
A fallen tree blocked the less steep path back to the car, so we had to change plans. “Huh?” I asked. “We’re going straight up?” Thank goodness James knew what to do. When we couldn’t find a foothold, he placed his foot sideways so we could brace against it like a step! We “Spidermanned” our way up the sandstone (which, I learned the hard way, you can’t grasp like rock because petrified sand dunes crumble when you grab them) and finally reached the car…Gritty. Dirty. Wet. Sooo happy!
When can I go again?
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In my last post, I was at the base of The Great Sand Dunes in Alamosa, Colorado. I was awed by their height, the starkness of the sand against the sky and The Quiet.
Some of us had the urge to slide down the dunes then climb back up. We all wanted to absorb the warmth of the sand.
In the profoundness of The Quiet, I thought I might hear G-d whisper. Standing atop a mountain of sand, I felt close to the heavens. Walking ahead, the rising sand is all you can see. Behind, the immense, lush Sangre de Cristo Rocky Mountains are as tall as the clouds.
The dunes call out to your mind, body and soul. I never wanted to leave.
Our summer roadtrip seems like a long time ago, but I’ll never forget visiting The Great Sand Dunes.
It was a long drive from the main road in Alamosa County, Colorado to the park’s entrance. Then, finding the one lane, dirt road that wound up along the base of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range to a parking area was a challenge. Would our rental car make it up the hill and over the rocky, bumpy path? Once we parked, the sand dunes seemed very far off, and in between us and the sand dunes was scrub, bent trees and cacti.
Maybe it was the big sky that made the sand seem so far away, but it didn’t take long to hike down to the base of the dunes and reach a stream.
I saw creatures in the partly submerged driftwood. After I let my imagination stretch wide, I looked up and…
Sure sign you’re at a high altitude? The gift shop sells oxygen.
At Breckenridge, Colorado, I didn’t need the oxygen-for-sale to tell me we hiked to 9,000 feet above sea level. Panting as I walked up the mountain, I wondered why I don’t gasp for air when skiing. My aunt and uncle said its because the ski lift does the work for me. Thank goodness or skiing wouldn’t be one of my favorite-things-to-do-ever.
We met up with more cousins for lunch (shout out to the Tulsa connection), took a gondola part-way up the mountain and slid down on an alpine slide. There was a rollercoaster and a maze on the mountain. We window shopped in the adorable downtown (Hubby starts to hyperventilate when I crane my neck towards a store, so if I purchase anything, it’s on the down low and done quick!) The water was clear and cold and the flowers exquisite.