Dan and Hannah Hike the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona

Red Rocks of Sedona, ArizonaIs there a prettier name for a town than Sedona?  I think not.  As Arizona residents at the time of the birth of our first daughter Molly, Hannah and I regretfully never considered “Sedona” for her first name.  Did we drop the ball?  Driving to Sedona today in early June, I think we might have.   Like Montana and Dakota, Sedona suggest a strong individual, an unbridled spirit, the West personified.  Who wouldn’t want such a daughter?  Molly is all of these and more.  Informed later of our regrets, Molly said, Thank you, thank you, thank you for not naming me Sedona.  Another bit of unintended karma along our parenting trail.

Through the heavily forested Oak Creek Canyon, we meander down two lane serpentine Route 89A to Sedona, just an hour’s drive south of Flagstaff.

Oak Creek Canyon, on the road south from Flagstaff

Passing two of the more popular recreation spots in the area, one at the West Fork Oak Creek Trail in Oak Creek Canyon

Oak Creek Canyon

and the other at Slide Rock State Park,

Slide Rock near Sedona, Arizona

we take the rotary just south of town heading down Showalter Road to the parking area for the Munds Wagon Hike.  Paying five dollars by credit card to park, we feel a small bit of pride in supporting Arizona’s state parks.

Munds Wagon Trail

Beginning late morning, we head out under blue skies with very little shade under a blazing sun.  Head gear is a must.  Following brilliant red sandstone cairns (stacked rocks, in this instance encased in wire mesh cylinders), our trail is nicely marked and easy to follow.

Wired rock cairns

A well-marked trail with others hiking allows me to relax and enjoy myself, unconcerned about getting lost.  Wondering if we are on the trail or not can ruin the best of hikes.

Along Munds Wagon Trail

After talking with a returning, agreeable twenty-something hiker, we politely decline his offer of multi-grain energy bars.  It doesn’t take us ten seconds to realize that we just blew it in a big way.  We broke the Third Commandment of the Trail – Accept every offer of food and water appreciatively.   We hikers are one, inseparable.   We need to do all we can to support and honor each other.

Crossing the dry riverbed again and again, we find the modest elevation gain easy to handle.  Ninety minutes later we arrive at a beautiful outcropping at Merry-Go-Round Rock with panoramic views of Bear Wallow Canyon River Valley.

Merry-Go-Round Rock

In stones, Will you marry me? greet us from a Romeo to his Juliet or perhaps a Juliet to her Romeo or even a Thelma to her Louise or… Ah, the mysteries of love and the trail.

Heading back to the trailhead, we find pools of cool water to soothe our boot weary feet.

Pools along the Mund’s Wagon Trail

Resting on a rock, I think of the wanderlust legacy bestowed on me by my own Mom and Dad.  In the early Sixties, they took their three East Coast suburban kids West in a woody station wagon, where I learned that the world of mountains and deserts beyond New Jersey was not such a dangerous place and developed in me an adventurous spirit (e.g., transfer from the College of Wooster in Ohio as a political science major to Arizona State University for my senior year of college to train to be a teacher).

Woody station wagon similar to ours

Once back at the trailhead three hours later with the temperature in the low 90s, we abandon any idea of eating at the open-air picnic tables for it must have been 120 degrees in the sun.  Heading home, we find shaded areas along on Oak Creek Canyon to lunch and cool our jets.

Back in Flagstaff, we relax with an evening Cabernet.   We recommend the Mund’s Wagon Trail.  As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

The red rocks of Munds Wagon Trail

Dan and Hannah Hike Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Kanab, Utah is a Western town you will come to love for its slow pace and easy access to national parks.  It is a mere 80 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park and just 40 to Zion National Park.  Our morning walk before breakfast is through quiet streets of single story homes in neighborhoods where it seems like everyone would know your name.

At the Kanab High School track, a promising young athlete works with her coach before the heat of the day.  Kanab is known as “Little Hollywood” with such television shows filmed here as Gunsmoke and the Lone Ranger.  We breakfast by the pool at the Red Rock Country Inn with biscuits, coffee, and Special K.  And believe it or not, you can get the USA Today at 7A in Kanab!

Driving through the spectacular Red Rock Canyon just prior to Bryce Canyon, Hannah and I smile to ourselves as we revisit a national park that we once took our three children to.  One memorable trip to Bryce was when our family hiked hike with our dear Arizona friends, the Turleys.  Nostalgia rocks (Danny is quite the punster!).  Even though it is called a canyon, Bryce is really a giant amphitheater of brilliantly colored stone formations created by erosion.   At the first stage of erosion, these “fins” weave through the park floor like exposed dorsal shark fins.

At Sunset Point, with salty snacks, water, a sun protecting hat, and sunscreen, we descend on the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop on the way to the Peekaboo Trail.  Once there, the canyon walls bracket us as the trail is sandy smooth and often wide enough for Hannah and me to walk side by side.

Descending on the Navajo Loop Trail

Steep cliffs of the narrow Navajo Trail

With many foreign and homegrown visitors, Bryce gives us many opportunities to engage others in conversation.  We actively seek out others and learn of preferred hikes at Zion National Park and adventures of sleeping in cars because campgrounds are full.  Germans Michael and Anja willingly respond to our opening and tell us, Americans are most welcoming.  This would not be the case if hiking in Germany.  We exchange email addresses and invite them to stay with us in Maine when they visit Acadia National Park.

Peekaboo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Rated strenuous, the Peekaboo Trail rises and falls easily as brilliant vistas showcase “windows” that are created in the fins (second stage of erosion).  They appear around many turns in the trail as if to say “Peekaboo.”

The Bryce guide cautions that mild exertion can cause light-headedness and even nausea.  The Sixth Commandment of the Trail – Know thyself and thy limits. Thy is not as young as thy once was.

A narrow spur trail where we step carefully, but not fearfully, ascends to the canyon rim at 8300-foot Bryce Point.  Our breathing is harder but not taxing.  Whereas all our other days of hiking were sun filled, postcard blue skies, today we have the clouds, and what a blessed relief they are.  As we retrace our steps from Bryce Point back down into the amphitheater to Sunset Point, we stand in awe of the towering soft orange/pink hoodoos, pinnacles of stone formed by wind, water, and ice, the final stage of limestone erosion.

Hoodoo of Bryce Canyon National Park

Let me now underscore the importance of a picnic table at the end of the hike for an afternoon snack.  Without a can opener for our Rolling Rocks (the appropriate brewski for this national park), we seek out the nearest RV and hit “can opener pay dirt.”  We celebrate in this rocking part of the world (the final pun).

Our Peekaboo Trail rating is excellent.   As always when hiking in Bryce Canyon, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

Dan and Hannah Hike the South Rim of the Grand Canyon

Bright Angel Trail – 1     Danny Boy – 0


Bright Angel Trail by Wayne Boardman

That score has been burned into my mind for the last two years.  Not wanting to miss out on our beloved breakfast of biscuits, scrambled eggs, and fresh brewed coffee and reading the USA Today, Hannah and I did not arrive to hike the Bright Angel Trail of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon that day two years ago until 10A.  What were these kids thinking?  Starting a desert hike mid-morning?  Were they smoking something?  No,  but we had taken the bright out of the Bright Angel Trail.

Bright Angel Trail at 3 Mile Rest Stop

Bright Angel Trail at 3 Mile Rest Stop

On that day after two hours of hiking into the canyon we began our ascent from Indian Gardens a little after noon.  Mistakenly I had the idea that if I drank enough water, I’d be fine.  I wasn’t fine.  I wasn’t good.  I wasn’t fair.  I was rotten.  Dizzy and light-headed, I soon learned from a canyon volunteer during our assent that I was suffering from hyponatremia – basically too little salt in my system.  Indeed, I had broken the Second Commandment of the Trail – Eat salty snacks with water, D. B.  With Hannah’s help I wobbled, nay teetered to the top, consumed peanuts and gorp on the rim, and before long was reasonably coherent; clearly the Bright Angel had kicked my butt.  For two years, I  have been looking to settle the score.

The desert landscape of the Bright Angel Trail

The desert landscape of the Bright Angel Trail

Today, driving the 78 miles north from Flagstaff on excellent two lane roads at 540A, we encounter very little traffic and are able to park on the road in front of the Bright Angel Lodge.  Staying at the South Rim takes planning and forethought as the rooms fill up months ahead of time.  Getting reservations for the BAL a year ahead of time is not too early.

View of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Lodge

View of the Grand Canyon from Bright Angel Lodge

Ready to hike a good two plus hours earlier than two years ago, we descend the Bright Angel Trail at 7000 feet with water bottles, Salty Cajun Trail Mix, and liberally-applied sunscreen to begin the nine mile round trip to Indian Gardens at 4000 feet.

Bracing our knees with each descending step, we enjoy the clearly marked rocky trail, though in most places only wide enough for one, with its panoramic views without a cloud in the sky.  After having lived in Tempe. Arizona for ten years, we know this is a typical desert day: blue skies and hotter than Charles or any other dickens.  Stepping aside against the canyon wall and carefully avoiding the prickly pear cactus when the mule trains pass, we smile and wonder why everyone climbing out looks so beleaguered.  We have short memories and continue to “good morning” everyone.  Unfortunately our desire to verbally engage goes for naught.  It seems three quarters of all trail hikers today are European, and most of those German, who are not confident enough in their English to engage or just find our upbeat manner a little too annoying.

Mule train from the South Rim to Indian Gardens

Mule train from the South Rim to Indian Gardens Travels Faster Than We Do

Within two hours, we are at Indian Gardens and snacking on peanut butter and crackers as well as gorp under the shade of covered picnic tables with water available at a nearby fountain.   The thermometer in the shade by the mule hitching posts indicates a temperate 78F.  It lies.  Opposite is another thermometer in the sun bragging of its 110F.  It’s 10 AM and there is no shade on the Bright Angel Trail.

Indian Gardens - Dan and Hannah's Turn Around Point

Indian Gardens – Dan and Hannah’s Turn Around Point

Our ascent is hot and shadeless and we are not so chatty.  The Bright Angel Trail is strutting its stuff.  On steeper inclines our breathing gets heavier.  Being the stronger hiker, Hannah sets the pace where my mantra is:  Get to the rim, just get to the rim, Danny Boy.  Nasty smelling mule urine distracts me, but only slightly.   There is water at the three-mile hut and at another hut within a mile and a half of the rim to supplement our trail mix.   Approaching the top I have nothing left to give.  Plodding and surviving accurately capture my condition on those last steps to the rim.

The trail near Indian Gardens

The trail near Indian Gardens

Yet, let’s update the score.

Bright Angel Trail – 2 (Very good and still champion)     Danny Boy – 1 (Bloodied (metaphorically) and bowed but still standing)

As always when hiking, be ye olde or be ye younge, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

The switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail

The treeless switchbacks of the Bright Angel Trail

Dan and Hannah Hike the North Rim of the Grand Canyon

Snowing in late May!  Late May?  Really?  Yes, snow falls in late May in northern Arizona.  Two years ago in late May while hiking at the North Rim in long pants and sweatshirts, Hannah and I were under the threat of snow throughout the afternoon.   After hiking, we drove at 25 mph north to Kanab, UT in a blinding snowstorm that New Englanders would be proud to call their own.  But today 60 degrees welcomes us to the North Rim on this Memorial Day.  Before we hike we use our cell phones to call our daughter Robyn (veteran of the War in Afghanistan) and my parents (World War II) to thank them for their service to our country.

The North Rim is out of the way, in a big way.  From central Arizona, we drive five hours north on lonely roads on Route 89 through the Navajo Reservation, over the Colorado River south of Page, AZ, and through the Kaibab Plateau.

National Geographic meadows and Smithsonian forests open up as we now drive south to enter the park.  Slightly dismayed at the fifteen-minute midday wait at the North Rim gate, we wonder what must the traffic be like in mid-summer?  Finally, we proudly flash our Seniors Pass, available to all those 62 and older.  For ten greenbacks we now get into all National Parks without paying another dime.  It’s the deal of a lifetime.

In the early afternoon at the North Rim, we have left behind the heat of the desert and take to the five-mile roundtrip, clearly marked Uncle Jim Trail on the rim of the Canyon.   Through a forest of dappled sunlight the trail meanders gently to a Canyon overlook.  Only a few hikers pass by this loop trail that is easy on the feet, and the mild temperatures have us drinking less water than we did in the desert.   Passing crews working on the trail, we learn that they have a short season to repair trails as they must wait til the snow melts in May to begin trail maintenance.


Due to heavy winter snows the North Rim, at an elevation of 9000 feet, doesn’t open till mid-May.

Surprisingly, many areas of the forest are burned.  The ranger says the use of controlled burns minimizes major forest fires, which maintains the high plateau ecosystem.


To meet our goal of hiking for at least three hours, we take to the level, easy to negotiate hikes of the Bridle Trail and Transept Trail near the Bright Angel Lodge.

With many views of the canyon, the hikes are leisurely, well marked, and satisfying.  Which brings us to the Fifth Commandment of the Trail – Ask others to take your picture with your phone or camera.  The actual picture is secondary.  It’s the entrée to a conversation with another hiker, to find the connection that we yearn to find.

Since we waited till just a week before our trip to make lodging reservations at the North Rim, we have no park accommodations and must head north to find motels.  There are few motels 45 miles due north in Jacob’s Lake, AZ or 75 miles away in Fredonia, AZ.  Some 80 miles away, Kanab, UT gives us many choices for motels.  Opting for the quite inexpensive, we choose The Red Rock Country Inn at $49/night with a queen bed, a refrigerator, and microwave.

Kanab has wide streets and a lazy feel, something out of American Graffiti (A George Lucas coming of age film set in Modesto, CA in 1962 – A couple of high school grads spend one final night cruising the strip with their buddies before they go off to college.)  We sit by the pool, toast the evening, and watch the cars roll by as the sun sets.  To our right is a patrol car parked by the side of the road to slow down incoming out-of-towners.  Once we examine it more closely, we realize there is a dummy in the front seat.  We smile in admiration.

As always when hiking the North Rim, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

North Rim Lodge at Bright Angel Point by MScott

Dan and Hannah’s Joy

No doubt readers of this blog know that our grandson, Owen Daniel Rawding, is the most recent joy in our lives.  In a life filled with many joys, Owen Daniel is the latest.  When Hannah and I voted recently, it was unanimous that our greatest joys are our children, Molly, Robyn, and Will.  They are blessings beyond belief.  Along with his father Tip, we add Owen to that triumvirate.

Funny thing about joy.  Joy begets joy.  We are reminded of it when we see our daughter Molly and son-in-law Tip with their first born.

And now you can see it, too.