Four weeks ago, Hannah and I took a two week bite out of our January by hiking on the coast of California. Today we begin ten days on parole thanks to the Snow Warden in New England to visit the red rocks of Nevada, the mountain perches of Utah, and the deepest desert in California.
Leaving home in York, Maine at 540A for our 855A flight to Vegas from Boston this late February morning, we cruise down I-95 quite blissfully. Then boom. We get snarled in the Monday morning commuter traffic of big bad Route One in Danvers and Saugus, Massachusetts. Crawling along at 15 mph, we finally arrive at Park, Ride, and Fly in Revere where we leave our Hyundai Elantra and get ready to take the shuttle van to Logan Airport. Unfortunately, delays due to this past weekend’s snow storm mean the shuttle doesn’t arrive for us til after 8A.
With minutes to spare, we arrive for our Jet Blue flight. Never again will we cut it so closely, as the stress of “will we make it or not” messes with the start of our hiking vacation in the West. Jet Blue knows how to soothe the beast within the air traveler: an individual TV makes my six hours of non-stop flying, well, fly by.
Once in Vegas, we take two shuttle buses to get to the Fox Rent-a-Car lot; we always rent the cheapest car we can. Today we end up with a Toyota Yaris. It is basic wind-up toy – hand crank windows, no cruise control, side view mirrors that you adjust by hand. At $226 for ten days, it’s all good.
And by the way, we always tip, be it shuttle drivers or housekeepers at our motels. We are the fortunate ones to share our wealth. Tipping is like praying. Praying changes the one who prays. Tipping changes us for the better. As Maya Angelou says Giving liberates the soul of the giver.
Can you believe it? It snowed last night in Vegas; on our arrival Monday the temperature never gets above 50 degrees. Have we brought the curse of the New England winter west? Let’s pump the brakes. We are lucky to even be here on a day when 1500 flights are cancelled. It will be -7 degrees tomorrow morning on the coast of Maine. Fifty degrees is an excellent alternative.
Looking to be as far away from the Vegas Strip as we can, we settle in at the La Quinta Motel in the Summerlin section of the western Las Vegas suburbs. A mere eight miles from our first day hike in Red Rock Canyon, La Quinta has the requisite free breakfast and a Jacuzzi by the pool as a bonus.
Though Hannah and I want no part of traditional Las Vegas, I once was a blackjack card counter when we lived in Arizona. I’d take an airline shuttle at 8P from Phoenix, play a minimum of $5 bets through the night, and then be flown home the next morning. All for $25! Weeks ago, thinking I might recapture some of my blackjack glory, I planned to study the basic strategy for blackjack (this system is online and legit for it gives the player a break-even chance of winning). And yet I couldn’t make myself study and put in the time for the chance to make a little spending cash. The memorizing of the proper blackjack plays was just too much work.
Traveling east to west, we have ourselves a 27 hour day this Monday. By 7P Pacific Time, I can’t stay awake and zonk out. The bad thing about that is that I awake at 230A the next morning (530A ET). I listen to Hannah breathe as she sleeps and think, Damn I’m lucky to be here just lying in bed, not subfreezing in York.
After yesterday’s high of 49 degrees, 60s with full sun are promised for our hike in Red Rock Canyon. Heading out Charlestown Avenue, we have our senses blasted by the red rock mountains to the west. Pulling into the lane to pay at the Red Rock Canyon, we learn that the 13 mile one-way Scenic Drive is currently closed due to snow removal. Really? The visitor center is open; the Moenkopi Loop and the Calico Hills Trails are ready and waiting for us.
The terrain is déjà vu for us one-time Arizona residents. There isn’t a tree within the area. Scrub brush and cacti are our only friends. A lizard checks us out, but on the surface, the landscape has all the earmarks of a barren wasteland.
At 3400 feet, the Moenkopi Trail is a 2.5 mile loop that the guidebook says will take 2 hours. Nonsense. It’s, maybe, an hour or so over this mostly level terrain. With the wind whipping, I opt for shorts and Hannah capris. Sweatshirts are a must as the full sun does balance out the wind and we are rocking along on, as you might imagine one would do on a rocky trail. Much of the time we can walk side by side. Always in sight of the visitor center, we never feel like we could get lost.
Once at the far end of the Moenkopi Loop we cross over the Scenic Drive to the Calico Hills trail. We meander between the road and the Red Rock cliffs. As a popular hike, we are not alone on what is the beginning of Spring Breaks across the country. The Red Rock cliffs are favorites of rock scramblers and sport climbers.
The rock scramblers are the ones who are just plain nuts going up vertical cliffs while sport climbers go up and over the boulders set in their way on, say, a dry creek bottom or mountainside. For us the Red Rock Canyon is a great transition from the cold of New England to the warmth of the West.
Once the park’s Scenic Drive opens, there are tourists up the ying yang at both Calico I and Calico II lookout points. Far below, at times we lose the trail of loose rocks and scramble us some boulders back to the trail. The many loose rocks make for an uneven hike but not a difficult one.
First days of our hiking vacation in the West have good energy and all the possibilities lie ahead. The snow? Forgiven and forgotten. The Valley of Fire State Park on the Colorado River awaits for Wednesday and Observation Point at Zion National Park on Thursday. We are at home in the Mountain West.