Dan and Hannah Hike to Stewart Falls in Sundance, Utah

violinists

Physically, it has not been a good morning.  Wa, wa, wa.  Cue the violins.  In fact, bring on the whole string section.  I can’t be the only one whose body starts to turn on them in their late sixties.

My patellar (knee cap) tendon lets me know that he is not going to play nice today.  I admit I haven’t been easy on the ole boy, this being the sixth day of our seven-day hiking and pickleballing adventures in Utah.  At the neighborhood pickleball courts this morning, he showed me who’s boss.  I am hesitant in my court movements as Hannah and I play with our friend Nancy, her daughter Cara, and Nancy’s grandson Milo.

Then walking the mile back to Nancy’s place on the 90F morning, I walk haltingly, not quite limping, even with my compression sleeve.  Bad news is on the doorstep, I couldn’t take one more step.  (You got to love the appropriateness of this classic line from Don McLean’s American Pie.)

SF 3D falls alone

Stewart Falls above the Sundance Resort

The bad news is that our hike to Stewart Falls with our friend Dixie this afternoon is looking like it’ll be sans dear ole Dan.  There’s no way you should go and risk injury, my rationale side speaks up.  Don’t be an even bigger fool!  

By noon, with no improvement, it is clear, I will sit this hike out.  But things are never as simple as they seem.  Sweet as ever, Hannah lets me know if there is any way I could make this hike happen, she would love me to go.

SF 1C H and D

Dixie and Hannah

She offers the possibility that I drive out with them 25 minutes to the trailhead and just give it a shot.  If it’s a no go, I can take my iPhone and some reading and hang out at the trailhead while the others hike.  Who could say no to such a sensible option and that smile?  Pas moi!

Popping Tylenol and packing my compression sleeve, I suck it up and do it for the love of my life.  In fact, giving the hike a shot turns out to be no sacrifice at all.  If I hadn’t gone, I would have missed a sparkling afternoon with new friends.  Let me explain and show you in pictures.

SF 1D D S and D

Scot, Dixie, and the Ithaca Bomber

AL 2C AL in distance

Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park

Dixie arrives just after three with her bf Scot.  Hannah and I have not seen Dixie since February 2015, when we met her and her then 12-year-old daughter Jocelyn on Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park.  I mean, we were hiking the last half mile of the “hanging on to chains” part of the trail, 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley when we met them!   Click here for the link to that hike.  https://over60hiker.wordpress.com/2015/05/30/dan-and-hannah-wonder-about-angels-landing-in-zion-national-park/

AL 4D d and h at top to the east

Atop Angel’s Landing

As we four hiked the last half mile to Angel’s Landing itself that day, I was impressed with Jocelyn’s cool-as-a-cucumber-ness and with Dixie’s parenting, believing in her daughter and encouraging her along the way.  Think Seb to Mia in La La Land.

After the hike, Hannah and Dixie exchanged contact information, kept in touch regularly, and here we are more than two years later ready to hike together near Dixie’s home in central Utah.

SF butch and sundance

Robert Redford and Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

At the Emery Grove State Park, Stewart Falls at 7000’ is three miles above the Sundance Resort to the west of Provo, UT.  Six years ago, Hannah and I came here to hike in the area.   Once done hiking, we walked around the Sundance complex of studios, restaurants, and grounds.  Stunningly that Sunday afternoon, we saw The one and only Robert Redford being interviewed.  Respecting his privacy but star struck nonetheless, we stole glances and made excuses to walk nearby.  If you are of a certain age, Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) is about as cool as it gets.  He was then cool squared in The Sting (1973).

SF 2C mountains above the trail

Stewart Falls Trail with the falls (dead center) in the distance

The trail to Stewart Falls climbs a few hundred feet of elevation and then down to the falls 1.7 miles in total from the trailhead, which makes it family-friendly and, indeed, an enjoyable walk-in-the-park for those of us over-60.   In the distance, we see the majestic, snow-laced Mount Timpanogos at 11,752’.

Hiking in pairs through the forest, Dixie and Hannah up front, Scot and me trailing behind, my conversation with Scot is easy: first sports, then family, then work (him), retirement (me).  I then learn that he is a lawyer.

Sizing people up with uncanny accuracy, I take him for one who enjoys a good lawyer joke.  So, I jump into the deep end; my “go to” lawyer joke is from The War of the Roses (1989) with Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner.   What are 500 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?

A good start.  Scot has his own go-to lawyer joke, why don’t sharks eat lawyers?

Professional courtesy.

SF 3A D H D closeup

Dixie, Hannah, and Dan

Once up the mountainside of pines, the trail levels off to aspens on this sun-dappled first Monday in June.  Within a half mile of the Stewart Falls, the trail descends as many happy waterfall seekers are returning to the trailhead.

The Stewart Falls are in their glory this first week of June after a rainy winter.  Then it hits both Hannah and me at the same moment!

SF 3E we four at falls

Scot, Dixie, Hannah, and Dan

We have, in fact, been to these falls before.  Six years ago, when snow forced us off the Mount Timpanogos Trail, we indeed hiked to Stewart Falls.

Sit down if you are standing because I am going deep, I’m talking Henry David Thoreau deep.  Hiking in the great outdoors can be therapeutic – mitigating sadness and depression; promoting gratitude and appreciating life; deepening friendships in a woodland setting.  Our love affair with Natural Utah has an apt ending with waterfalls and new friends – Dixie and Scot.

 

 

Falls with Nancy Turley early June

Battle Creek Falls in June

PS It turns out the next day, our longtime friend Nancy Turley takes us to Battle Creek Falls near Pleasant Grove in central Utah.  I love this artsy picture of mine.  Do I hear an Amen, brother?

 

 

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Dan and Hannah Hike in Canyonlands National Park in Utah

With one full day of hiking under my belt without any left knee pain, I am giddy and ready to go for the gold in eastern Utah!  Prior to our hike, I’ll do my hammy stretches, take my Tylenol, and slip on my compression sleeve – a dream threesome of preparation.

Can map of five parks

Hannah and I have history with Canyonlands National Park.  In 1993, with our kids, Will (9), Robyn (11), and Molly (13), we drove cross country from Maine throughout the American West: putting up two tents each night (a tent for Hannah and me and one for the kids), we learned the inexpensive joy of hiking and Coleman stove cuisine.

Camping at Devils Garden Campground in the Arches National Park, we five took a side trip to Canyonlands National Park, hiked some forgettable mountainside of stone, and left without the Canyonlands making much of an impression on us.

Can 1 D and H at sign for Can

Let’s be real, we didn’t give Canyonlands a fair shake.  Today we are back to right that wrong; to make up for that dismissive disregard of this treasure of trails.

Can Currys

Think of the Canyonlands as the little brother Seth Curry, a successful pro in his own right for the Dallas Mavericks, but dwarfed by his two-time MVP, NBA champion rock star brother, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors.   Though Canyonlands plays second fiddle, let me tell you, it’s a helluva stringed instrument on its own.  It is a national park on a modest scale, without the delays, long lines, and circus feel that comes with the Arches; its distinctive trails across stony landscapes rock the senses.  (You saw what I did there, right?)

Can 2D H tucked in rock

Hannah tucked away just off the trail

Arriving at the visitor center at Canyonlands, at 930A we meet a less than enthused ranger.  (Come on honey, fake it till you make it.  I get that you are probably recommending the same %#&*# hiking trails hour after hour, day after day; but choosing to be Debbie Downer? – how is that working for you?).   Despite her sullen demeanor, she does steer us to three of the park’s signature hikes.

Can 1A trail to Mesa Arch

Trail to Mesa Arch

By the way, Hannah buys post cards afterward and they ask her if she would like to round up her purchase to the next dollar as a donation to the park.  How cool is that!  So, a sweet $0.83 goes to support what Ken Burns calls our National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Can 1B Mesa Arch

Morning at Mesa Arch

Five miles down the park road, we find a spot at the modest Mesa Arch parking area for 18 cars.  At 945A, we have a short and sweet 0.5-mile loop hike out to the arch, bustling with families of preschoolers and foreign guests, often from Europe. At the start of the trail, we see a tube with Mesa Arch brochures for 50 cents each.  Come on, who has coins in this day and age!  Ah, but the park service is wise beyond its years.

First, no one has coins!   Second, the park is encouraging patrons to reach out to fellow hikers and treat one another by buying two brochures for a dollar, then giving one away!  Brilliant!  So, with my shiny greenback, I look for someone to approach the tube.  Within 60 seconds, three folks from North Carolina approach.  At this point, I swoop in and say, I have a dollar to pay for your brochure and ours.

Can 1C D by cairns at Mesa Arch

Cairn on the trail to Mesa Arch

And then they do the unexpected.  They don’t say, No, no; they don’t say, We couldn’t let you; they say, Thank you.  A simple thank you.  I love me some Tarheels.

The loop trail to Mesa Arch is well-marked with red stone edges bracketing the trail.  Since it is such a short trail, it draws hikers of all shapes and sizes.  It begins a trend of great, family-friendly hikes in Canyonlands National Park.

Check out the video.  

 

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel

On the way to Upheaval #1

Jumping back into the car (we can be quite the enthusiastic couple, hence the jumping), we head to the second ranger recommendation; Upheaval Dome Trails #1 and #2, two miles of hiking over red rock trails and massive stone formations.  Guided by cairns (i.e., piled rocks directing hikers over stony landscapes), we look out over the Green River here in eastern Utah.

Can 2 H on trail to Upheavel 2

On the way to Upheaval #2

Twenty minutes later on the trail, a woman says, Are you from New York?  Seeing my ever-present Ithaca College white shirt, I say, I married a New York girl and our son works at Ithaca College; to which she replies, I work for legal services in Binghamton (NY) and we have an office in Ithaca.

Can 2B D and H with Suzanne

Hannah, Dan, and Suzanne in front of the Upheaval Dome

Brighter than many assume, I put two and two together and make the connection that our niece Lauren (married to my brother Richard’s kid, Jon) works for legal services in Binghamton!  It turns out Suzanne has worked with Lauren for years.

Cue the Disney music of It’s a Small World After All…  The mini-moral of this story is pick your hiking gear appropriately to make the most of chance connections.  By the way, I make that sartorial choice of white when hiking because white stands out in pictures in the wilderness.

Can 3A H at Whale

Hannah in front of Whale Rock

Hike #3 is not a cranky ranger recommendation, but it’s a winner.  A mile down the road from Upheavals 1 and 2, we are taken by the massive Moby Dick stone monolith – the appropriately named Whale Rock.  Hiking a short mile round-trip up the spine of the massive stone behemoth, we have another family hike in a family-friendly park.

Can 4A D at Grandview point

Grandview Point before a storm

Weary in the early afternoon, we push on to hike #4, the Grand Dame of Canyonlands, the classic Grandview Point Overlook Trail.  With the gray/black storm clouds building across the canyon, Hannah and I have another red sandstone trail over stony outcroppings, guided by cairns.

Can 4B H on Grandview Trail

Overlooking the canyon on the Grandview Point Trail

With the storms moving our way, we wonder if we’ll make the mile out and the mile back before the deluge.  Check out this video from Grandview Point showing the enormity and isolation of this area.

Hiking along with Lady Luck today, we make it back to our rented Nissan Altima ten minutes before the rain has her way, this eastern Utah summer afternoon.

Dan and Hannah Come to Utah to hike its National Parks (4 of 5)

It’s May and in a month our plan is to hike the trails at Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks in Wyoming, then head south to Arches National Park in Utah.  Knowing it’s been a snowy winter in the West after years of drought, I call the ranger station at Yellowstone, just north of Grand Teton, to find out the conditions of the trails.

Intro Yellowstone

It seems all the rain we had in southern California in February has been part of the same weather pattern that dumped 600” of snow on the Yellowstone/Grand Teton area. (Normal snowfall for the area is 450” per year.  A very snowy winter in Portland, Maine is 100”.)   I learn that the trails have 3 to 4 feet of snow and may not be hike-able during our visit during the last week in May.   On to Plan B.

One of the great things about flying into Salt Lake City to hike in Wyoming is that it’s an easy pivot to the southeast to hike first in the Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, by the Colorado border.  From there we can head to the southwest for a trifecta of National Parks in Utah (Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce Canyon).

But!  Days before our departure in late May, our travel and hiking plans are in jeopardy.   It all comes under the heading of “It’s a Bitch to Get Old;” who knew after nearly 70 years of daily (read: compulsive) physical activity that I would have tendinitis in my joints!   My wild tennis swinging ways when playing pickleball has led to a nasty case of tendinitis of the elbow.

Intro patellar tendinitis

But that’s not why our trip is in doubt.   The pain of patellar tendinitis (just below my knee cap) in my left leg has me walking haltingly.   The week before we leave, simple walks in the neighborhood have been painful; and what is the point of hiking in the West if I can’t, well, hike in the West?

With our departure for Utah just five days away, I wake by first light wanting to test out my left knee.  Walking our neighborhood, I find within a third of a mile that my left knee is pissed off, aching, and whines to turn back.  Meekly, I obey.

Intro YH physical therapy

Able to score a late morning appointment with my long time physical therapist Stephane, I learn my knee is structurally sound, but what is causing the inflammation and pain is perplexing.  Could it have something to do with his observation that my right leg is stronger, slightly bigger, and more solid than the left?

When he asks me to touch my toes, it is apparent that my hamstrings are very tight; when reaching for the floor I am still 10” away.   I have the flexibility of a log cabin chair.   He explains that the more the hamstrings are flexible, the better the quads have a chance to strengthen, helping the patella track along the femur more efficiently.

After 40 minutes, Stephane says if you were my brother, father, or son, I’d encourage you to go on your trip.  I’m all in now, for I have a plan to deal with my cranky knee.

One, to keep stretching for 25 minutes before any activity (hardly a sacrifice if it gets me back in the game).  Two, take Tylenol an hour before exercise to reduce the pain.  Stephane says, a slight amount of pain sometimes creates a reflex inhibition, thus preventing efficient contraction of the quads … this puts you at risk of injury.

intro compression sleeve

My compression sleeve from Rite-Aid

Three, and this is new and exciting, use a compression sleeve from the local Rite-Aid Drugstore for my left knee during walking and hiking; the sleeve gives bio-feedback to engage the quadriceps muscle more efficiently and gives you a joint position sense that helps you be aware of protecting the knee.

And finally, always ice after activity.  Icing will be a part of my active life forever.  And so, Hannah and I will leave for Utah and explore her national parks the Tuesday after Memorial Day.

Intro La La Land tv

My personal TV.  Thank you, Delta

Arriving at Boston’s Logan Airport for our 645A Delta non-stop flight to Salt Lake City, we have a gift from the universe.  Delta offers me two hours of uninterrupted joy in the viewing of La La Land and its message of the power of being encouraging.

Intro La La Land

The Ryan Gosling character Seb is so relentlessly positive and supportive with Emma Stone’s Mia; reassuring her that her playwriting and performing are fantastic.  He is her brass band and Hallejuah Chorus.  His encouragement and faith in her are just the push she needs to give it her all to succeed.  We can all use a Seb or two in our lives!

However encouraging, or not, that I have been with Hannah, our kids, and my students is a story for them to tell.  At this time, what I do have control over, is being Seb to our grandsons, our five kids, my friends, and especially Hannah over my next 20+ good years.

Intro Owen and Max

Owen and Max, giving them all the encouragement they need

Arriving in Salt Lake City at 10A, within the hour, we are on the road to Moab, four hours away.  As I drive southeast, I think about the presents I do and don’t give Hannah.

I give Hannah no flowers, no chocolates.  She picks out her own jewelry and clothes.  I plan the trips we take, but they are, in fact, gifts she gives me.  At home, I wash the dishes whenever I see them pile up, and wash and hang the laundry.

Intro map of moab

But today on route 6 on the backroads south of Price, Utah heading south to I-70 and Moab, I give her what I can – I let her sleep when it’s her turn to drive.   After 45 years together (July 1 is our anniversary), I have learned that the little things are not such little things.

Intro map of 5 nps in utah

 

 

 

*The four national parks we will visit are, in order, from east to west, Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Bryce.  By the way, we only go to the fifth, Zion, in the off-season, say late February, early March.  71,000 people visited Zion National Park days ago, this past Memorial Day Weekend!

Mother and Son

Twenty-four years ago our son Will and Hannah had a moment, among many moments they’ve had.  It was the summer of his ninth year when we as a family were in the midst of six week cross country camping and hiking trip to the American West.

Angel's Landing

Angel’s Landing

Arriving at the Visitor Center at Zion National Park looking for a family hiking recommendation, we talked to a young ranger who immediately suggested Angel’s Landing.  What did we know?  We certainly didn’t know that hikers held on to chains on a mountainside 1500’ above the Virgin River Valley.

While our daughter Robyn had enough of the hike, completing 80% of it, Hannah, and I naively continued on along the mountainside with Molly and Will.  Soon our daughter Molly and I were in the lead while Hannah held back with Will.  Angel’s Landing is a daunting climb at any age, and certainly for an eight year old.

AL 3A chains behind us

At that time and in those circumstances, Will was cautious, similar to what I imagine his nephew Owen might be like.  But Will pressed on with Hannah at his side.

Stung by a cactus needle, Will now added pain to his trepidation.  Still Hannah hung with him, fully planning to sacrifice reaching the 25’x25’ perch of Angel’s Landing herself to be with him.  But those of you who know Hannah know that it would be no sacrifice for Hannah to miss the summit.  Her focus was Will and any choices of hers were made in love.

Hannah and Will Ithaca College

Eventually, together Will and Hannah joined Molly and me on that Zion promontory.  But today thinking back to that mountaintop in Utah, I believe Will felt it then and feels it often Hannah’s unspoken commitment to him and faith in him born from many such moments.

Dan and Hannah Hike Mt. Frary on Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake, Utah

Just north of Salt Lake City, Utah lies Antelope Island (in orange in the inset Great Salt Lake map).  Having been through Salt Lake City maybe ten times, Hannah and I have missed this hiking jewel time and again.  With water five times as salty as the ocean, the Great Salt Lake is nearly 60 miles long and 30 miles wide.  Traveling a seven mile causeway from the mainland, we pay a mere $9 for this easy-access adventure.

MF  GSL map image

Taking the meandering park road to the top of a small rise in the desert landscape to the visitor center, we find a spry elderly volunteer who suggests Mt. Frary if we want a challenging hike.  It is the macho hike of the island and it has Dan and Hannah written all over it.

The road along the west side of the island winds along the salty shoreline to a paved access road to the Mt. Frary trailhead.  Though there is a 2100 foot elevation gain on this climb, it’s only three miles to the top or so we are told.  Promises of big horn sheep and buffalo lure day hikers to 6,600 foot Mt. Frary.

Causeway from the mainland to Antelope Island

Causeway from the mainland (in the distance) to Antelope Island

Immediately we are breathing heavily, thinking, Whoa! This is no walk in the park.  Strewn with sharp rocks, the trail has us stepping carefully.

MF Antelope Island State Park map

Busting our butts, we take the first half mile in 13 minutes as the trail now becomes mostly dirt through fields of grasses.  Dressed in tee shirts and shorts we have packed long sleeve tee shirts for the possibly windy, chilly summit.  Far in the distance we see a buffalo or technically bison.  Bison, despite weighing over 2,000 pounds, are able to jump over a six foot fence from a stand-still!  Plus, they can run as fast as 40 mph.  No lie.

The trail winds through fields and is challenging but not exhausting.  We soon see the radio tower at the promised three mile turn around point.  But alas dear reader, we have been deceived.  I know that is an inflammatory verb, but what we have is a faux peak.  It’s not the top.  The actually mountain top is in the distance, maybe a half mile away.

MF  trail to Mt Frary

From here, the trail descends quickly along the mountainside, and then climbs precipitously.  We soon spot two twenty-something’s 25 feet above us with expressions on their faces of how the hell are we are going to do to get down this steep slope.  I crack, You must be the mountain goats we were promised.  They smile and then start inching their way down feet first on what seems to be a 70% incline.

I reach for the girl’s hand and she extends hers to mine.  She’s made it.  Then I reach for her boyfriend’s hand to get him to level ground.  The human touch!  What a connection can be made by skin on skin, even when so brief.  Without words, it says, We’re not alone.  Someone is there for us.  Our climb up is just as perilous up, as we grab rocks and dirt and skirt the edge of the cliff (knowing all the time we have to go back this way).

MF island image

Atop, we have the classic 360 degree view of the Great Salt Lake.  With surprisingly little wind and pleasantly warm, it is only the no-see ‘ems that are a problem.  Knowing the inevitable hike down awaits, we begin our descent after ten minutes with Hannah in the lead.  Part billy she-goat, Hannah soon is sliding on her butt to negotiate the steep slope.  Inspired, I do the same.  And then she turns to go backwards on the 80 degree pitch.  I sidesaddle it and at times go backwards myself to descend this treacherous cliff mountainside.

MF Mt Frary from the base

Just having been unceremoniously dumped from our group health insurance when I retired from the University of New England, I again wonder why there is no national health insurance and what is in the fine print of our private pay health insurance that we just signed up for days ago.  A $10,000 deductible for each of us is not comforting.  I hope we never break a leg.

 

MF buffalo

We survive to hike on.  Once back at the radio tower of the faux peak, we descend as if strolling in the park.  On the way down we see two hikers in the distance covered with what it turns out to be are motel towels.   Once we meet them, we learn that this father and son had no idea how little shade they would encounter on this basically treeless mountain.   Unprepared, they willingly accept our trail mix and water.

At the trailhead again and not wanting to leave the island before we dip our feet in the Great Salt Lake itself, we drive to the lake shoreline.  The parking area is just 400 yards from the water’s edge.

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Beach to Great Salt Lake

Wading in water that never rises above our knees, we walk carefully on the pebbly lake floor as sand fleas swarm at our feet.  Sampling the water, I find it triple the strength of salt water I would drink for a really bad sore throat.

The hike to Mt. Frary is challenging, even perilous near the top, but most satisfying.   More than 20 people were on the trail this Saturday in June.  As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.