18 May 2009

winter bicycling escape

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found was really going in." -John Muir, 1913.

Driving into Arizona is breathtaking in that you feel to be but a tiny spec on a very large desolate land and your views take you far away looking at only cactus and distant mountains.

The large single pillar cactus that often has arms reaching out from it, is the most interesting. I had only seen photos of such cactus before and was puzzled when I started to see them supported as if a newly planted deciduous tree along the highway. Later I learn that this Saguaro has an incredibly shallow root system and are easy to topple over. They only grow once inch per year but like the trees of the great Pacific Northwest, they grow quite old.

I drove my bicycle out to Tucson as it was the warmest place I could think of where I would find empty roads, hot sunny days, and low chance of rain in the middle of winter. I was not disappointed. I watched a few cyclists start the long journey up Mt. Lemmon, however with my Jeep struggling at most turns and signs insisting I have snow chains even though it was sunny and 70 degrees, I kept my cycling on more relatively level ground to the south and west parts of town.

Every day I rode a few times around a small eight mile loop in Saguaro National Park where I would spy many different variety of cactus and 200 year old Saguaro cacti. The loop is one way which makes it a popular place for cyclists and runners alike trying to best their time at each turn. This story could be much more interesting of course if I had experienced the many anticipated flats to my skinny bicycle tires had the rumors of sharp cactus needles on the roads bore any fruit. Of course peddaling by the many wash outs and warning signs of impending doom should it start raining 100 miles away I was surely grateful that the weather was so nice.

04 May 2009

Grand Cayon

Growing up, the Grand Canyon to me was always a place for a family vacation we would take at some later date. As I got older it became more of a joke as well as something I might do later in life with my own little family.

Then there I was driving through Arizona with a plan to ride my bicycle all over Tucson when I saw a sign that read, “Grand Canyon 40 miles”. Within a week I had picked up a friend from the Phoenix airport and we were driving north to the South Rim.

When I saw the canyon for the first time, my breath got caught in my throat. The vast distance of canyon in my view was more than my mind could compute, the colors warm with a hue of green, and an enormity that minimized my life.

John Wesley Powell, the first known explorer of the Colorado River who got through the canyon described succinctly in 1869, that “each canyon is a composite structure, a wall composed of many walls, but never a repetition. Every one of these almost innumerable gorges is a world of beauty in itself.”

Our days started out at 23 degrees with snow and we’d find ourselves basking in sunshine and 70 degrees deep within the canyon at lunch time. It was also a great reminder of choices we make in regard to food and waste. Policy or personal decision, we packed out what we brought in and thus chose to leave the canned salmon for our return snack.

This is certainly a place I yearn to return again and again during the cold months when so few people are there to be in awe of the silence, to be overwhelmed with the beauty, and to have the joy of meeting great people along the trail and having the luxury of companionship for that day. One can't help share this wondrous place, though likely we all keep its secrets hoping that in our next visit, it remains unchanged.

This last photo gives you a glimpse of how hard it is to go back.. up.