Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Central Texas for Thanksgiving Week

We are visiting relatives in Harper, TX for Thanksgiving, so we planned a central Texas trip to four Texas parks over a nine-day period. We departed on Thursday, Nov 16th and headed to Dinosaur Valley State Park for one night. The first afternoon we waded in the Paluxy River to view some of the many large dinosaur tracks in the park. We saw a baby bobcat hunting a bird near our camp site just before sunset. The next morning, we did a few miles of hiking in the hills above the river and along a small, clear creek - and we were the only hikers out there.

Dinosaur Valley SP

Dinosaur Valley hiking

The second night was spent at Inks Lake State Park. We hiked to the Devil's Waterhole and along the Devil's Backbone Trail in the evening, then we hiked on the Lake Trail the next morning. The pink and gray granite is really striking in some sections, and we even got a little taste of fall color in a few areas.

Devil's Waterhole and Backbone at Inks Lake SP
A touch of fall color at Inks Lake SP

The next two nights were at Garner State Park. We arrived and walked along the Frio River, then hiked up to Crystal Cave, which is a very small cave - but Elena still had to climb in it. The trails here are often steep with loose gravel, so it was often slow-going - and going down with great caution to keep it as a controlled descent. 

The second day started with drizzle and fog, and the clouds didn't lift much during the day. We walked along the river a bit in the late morning. We waited until mid-afternoon and hiked up to Old Baldy. Again, it was a steep trail, and the moisture made it quite slippery. We took a long route back after the summit and visited another small cave.

Hike up to Crystal Cave at Garner SP

Hike along the Frio River in Garner SP

On top of Old Baldy at Garner SP
Our final park was Lost Maples State Natural Area. This park is in a unique microclimate valley with numerous bigtooth maple trees - which is fairly unusual in Texas. The maple leaves are quite small, which is certainly an adaptation to this hotter climate. The many springs and seeps in the shaded valley areas help the trees survive. These are holdover trees from the last ice age, but the current human caused climate change might finish them off. Many had already dropped leaves in September due to the record heat and drought of the summer. Normally, this week would be peak fall color, but there was only minimal color to be seen. 

We hiked two different trails. The East Loop on the first day - about 6 miles and 660 feet of elevation gain. The second day we hiked the west loop for about 6.6 miles and 550 feet of gain. It was a nice hike and some nice limestone terrain, but the maples, and their fall color, might be in long term decline.

At Monkey Rock and Bebop showing a maple leaf.

Views from Lost Maples.

A few colorful maple leaves.

Here are the trip stats:

Trip Duration: 9 days
Miles Driven: 840 miles

Average miles/day: 93
Time Driving: 18 hours
Avg Speed: 47 mph
MPG: 16.5 (vehicle calc); 15.6 (actual)
Gas Used:  54 gallons, average of 6 gallons/day
Gas Cost: $140 ($15/day) - avg of $2.59/gallon

- Paul

Monday, October 23, 2023

Fall 2023 Trip Summary

Wrapping up our fall 2023 road trip. Our 2022KL Winnebago Travato (The Bebopabago) performed well for us again, but we did have one issue this time, which I'll detail below.

The primary impetus for this trip was a return hike to the Havasupai reservation in AZ. My permit was delayed two years when the reservation closed due to COVID. It was so nice to finally get back to, what I consider to be, the most beautiful canyon in the world. That four-day adventure has become my new favorite hiking trip of all time. It was also fun to be on the grounds of the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta for 3 nights. 

I posted a few blogs during the trip, and there are numerous photos in each. And, I added a few favorite photos below as well.

Our blog site:
- Trip Plan and Map
- Caprock Canyons State Park (TX)
- Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta
- Indigenous People and Places
- A Canyon So Grand
- Return to Havasu Falls
- Bebop Blogs About Sedona and Subway Cave

The one issue we had with the van this trip was with the Truma heater. We had 3 nights at the Grand Canyon. The morning after the first night it was a bit cool, so I tried to turn on the space heater using propane. I could hear it click and start, but then it would shut down after about 10 seconds. Fortunately, we were able to change campsites the next two nights to a site with electricity, as the lows were supposed to be near freezing. The heater ran fine off electricity.

We had plenty of propane and I checked the intake/exhaust port for blockages. I found a small wasp nest, but still had the same issue after I removed it. I suspect a bad propane regulator. Night temperatures moderated, or we had electricity at our subsequent campsites, so I'll address it when I return home. Everything else operated as expected. *UPDATE* Turned out to be the simplest fix of all. Fuse #7, which powers the propane detector and the solenoid valve, had blown. Slid in a new 5 amp fuse and all systems are go again.

I do enjoy data, so here are the trip stats:

Trip Duration: 20 days
Miles Driven: 3,007 miles

Average miles/day: 150
Time Driving: 62 hours
Avg Speed: 48 mph
MPG: 17.6 (vehicle calc); 16.8 (actual)
Gas Used:  179 gallons, average of 8.9 gallons/day
Gas Cost: $636 ($32/day) - avg of $3.55/gallon

A few photos from this trip:

From our boondock site at Bosque Redondo Park in NM

Caprock Canyons State Park (TX)

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta - So Many Balloons
Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta - Early Morning
Coal Mine Canyon - Elena kept telling me to take a step back, but I didn't fall for it.
Paul & Elena at Ohh-Ahh Point - Grand Canyon Kaibab Trail

Relaxing at Havasu Falls

Family photo at the Subway Cave in Sedona

- Paul

Friday, October 20, 2023

Bebop Blogging on the Subway Cave

We are near the end of our three-week trip, so it's my turn (it's me Bebop) to write the blog. While dad was at Havasu Falls, mom and I went to Flagstaff. They have a lot of pine trees and sticks there, and the weather was nice.

After we all reunited, we went to a town called Prescott, where we met some friends for dinner. I didn't know them, but my parents did. It was a restaurant with an outdoor patio that allowed dogs. My parents friends fed me some food from the table, so they are now my friends too. We hiked to a lake called Watson Lake. It's in the middle of some granite rocks, which mom really liked. The water was a little low, and it was a bit stinky.

Bebop at Watson Lake in Prescott

The next day we drove to a park called Dead Horse Ranch State Park. I don't know who is in charge of marketing, but I could have come up with a more attractive name - and I'm a dog. Fortunately, we didn't see any dead horses. We didn't see any live ones either, but we did see their horse hoofprints on the trails. We walked along the Verde River and around some lagoons.

Bebop at Dead Horse Ranch State Park

Our final major stop was Sedona, AZ. Our campground backed up to Oak Creek. Dad has hiked here many times. We hiked an old favorite - the Secret Slickrock Trail. On our second day, we decided to do a hike that dad has not done before. It's called the Subway Cave. It was about a 6-mile round trip, with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. We started early in the morning because it's popular and can get crowded. This was not mom's favorite time of day, but she hung with us.

Bebop on the Secret Slickrock Trail in Sedona
Elena in Oak Creek

At one point, we came upon at least six deer just off the trail. One of the deer was a bit aggressive toward me, as there was a baby deer a bit back in the trees. I assured her we meant no harm, but she actually followed us down the trail a bit to make sure we were leaving.

Deer on high alert
We finally got to the base of the cave, and I thought dad was a little nuts with this selection. We had to climb and claw our way up a 45 degree slick rock to reach the cave. I'm very brave, so I took off first up the south edge of the chute. At one point it was so steep that my claws slipped, and I fell down a bit. I caught myself, but I decided I had enough and shot past dad and went the other way. Dad coaxed me back in front of him and gave me a butt boost to get up the slick rock. Then I went over to say hello to a lady coming down the other side while dad tried to scramble up and hold my leash at the same time. We both made it, but mom was still down below. She waited for down traffic to clear and clawed her way up the north edge of the chute.

The steep slot up to the Subway Cave. Elena is climbing in the middle picture.
Bebop keeps an eye on Elena at the Subway Cave

Family photo at the Subway Cave

When we got up there, it was an interesting cave. It had ledges on both sides of the chute and looked like a keyhole. There was already a local cave with that name, so this one was called Subway Cave. After we took a few photos, dad and I crawled around the ledge to some Native American cliff dwelling sites. Mom didn't like the tiny ledge and slid back down the chute on her bottom (in a controlled manner) to wait for us. We made it around the edge to some simple cliff dwelling areas and petroglyph. Dad and I took the alternate route down, which was a little less steep. 

Exploring the Sinagua cliff sites

Overall, it was a fun adventure and an interesting cave. Four paws up. Until next time.

- Bebop

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Return to Havasu Falls

In October 2018 we hiked to the Havasupai village of Supai and the incredible canyon and waterfalls. It's a side canyon located west of the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim boundary that is the traditional home of the Havsupai people (for at least 800 years). They were removed from much of their traditional land when the Grand Canyon became a park, but they were allowed to remain in a small area of Havasu canyon. Eventually they won the rights to a larger area around that canyon.

Havasu Creek emerges from underground springs and is the most incredible milky blue color you'll ever see. The water has moved through limestone and dissolved high quantities of calcium carbonate and magnesium. These minerals reflect certain wavelengths of sunlight, and give the water it's unique color. When the water churns over the falls, it releases CO2 and precipitates out the calcium into travertine deposits.

Havasu Falls with the amazing blue water

Havasu Creek cuts through the red rock canyon and has formed several major waterfalls: Fifty Foot Falls; Little Navajo; Havasu, Mooney, and Beaver.  There are also many other smaller, but still excellent falls. The creek eventually flows into the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. The village of Supai is on the banks of the creek and is home to about 500 members of the Havasupai tribe. They are kind enough to let us tourists visit their amazing home. They give about 100 permits per day to visit, so there are generally only a couple of hundred people visiting on any day.

It is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been - possible the absolute top of the list. We had rain on our second day in 2018 and weren't able to hike to Beaver Falls. I vowed to go back soon, and got a permit in 2020 for October of 2021, but they shut the reservation down for a few years because of COVID. They rolled the permits over and reopened in 2023.

This is not an easy place to get to. First, you drive on old Route 66 to just east of Peach Springs, AZ. This is the middle of nowhere. Then you take a 60-mile road north until you reach a parking lot at the top of a canyon. This is the edge of nowhere. Then you hike 8 miles into the canyon, dropping 2,000 feet, to the village of Supai. There are no roads to the town, so it has remained isolated and protected from overdevelopment. The only way to get there is by foot, mule, or helicopter. You have two choices for accommodations - a campground and a lodge. We chose the lodge, so we wouldn't have to lug as much gear.

Our permit was for 3 nights, and we had two rooms reserved with four people in each. Elena stayed on the rim this time with Bebop in our camper van. My daughter Kendall and six other friends (Beth Michalak, Laureen Kraft, Stephanie Hilbun, Tom Hilbun, Kaycee Morganto, and Travis Rogers) hiked with me. Our group was quite varied in age: 63, 62, 59, 50, 50, 36, 31, and 29. We hiked in on Sat, Oct 14th, which happened to be the morning of the annular eclipse. We viewed it from the trail on our way in, and we had about 88% coverage from where we were.

At the hilltop ready to hike in

On the eight mile hike in
We reached the village and checked in to our lodge. Wisely, we just relaxed and had dinner at the Supai Cafe that evening.  
Lodge with a view

The next morning we set out to visit the three major waterfalls. We made a quick morning detour to fifty foot falls to catch the morning light. Two miles from the lodge, we arrived at the famous Havasu Falls. No one was there, so we took a group photo and hung around a bit. Then it was on to Mooney falls. At about mile 4 we reached Mooney, the tallest fall. The only way to go past is through some hand carved tunnels and down some carved footholds while holding chains. Finally, a couple of hand made wooden vertical ladders get you to the base 200' below. Also, the mist is spraying on you as you climb down.

Havasu Falls

Mooney Falls with the 200 foot vertical climb down

More Mooney Falls climb photos
After Mooney, we had about 3 more miles of trekking to Beaver Falls. We had to cross Havasu Creek 3 times, but the deepest spot was only top of thigh. The water temperature is about 68ºF this time of year, so not bad - actually refreshing on tired legs. This section of the canyon is only about 1/4 mile wide and is lush and green. We saw one bighorn sheep on the way down. After more scrambling over rocks and makeshift ladders, we came out above Beaver Falls. All the waterfalls are unique. They are all beautiful, just in different ways. Beaver is a series of terraces cascading down the canyon.

On the trail to Beaver Falls

Bighorn sheep sightings

Beaver Falls

More Beaver Falls
We hung out, waded, and swam for about 90 minutes, then headed back. We saw two more bighorn sheep on our return hike. After scaling back up the wall at Mooney, we headed back to the lodge for a big meal and some rest.

The next day was an easy day. We hiked a couple of miles down to Havasu and had the place to ourselves for much of the morning. As the sun peaked up, we were joined by some other campers, but we had already claimed the picnic table with the best view. We stopped at Fifty Foot for a little more exploration before returning to the lodge.

Relaxing at Havasu Falls

Tip: Bring your daughter to wheel you up the hills

Fifty Foot Falls

The final day we left before dawn to make the eight-mile-long, and 2,000 foot climb out of the canyon. We made great time and got out in under four hours, which included a few rest stops. The final mile is half the climb, so we all took off at our own pace and would meet at the top. The first three out were the 59, 62, and 63-year-olds.

Back at the hilltop with one addition

An interesting twist on our trip involves the dogs of Supai. Every evening, several dogs came to our lodge area to ask for handouts. At night, they would also raid the garbage cans. One little dog was extremely sweet and friendly, and Travis would roll around on the ground and play with him. He named him Charlie. On our final evening, we didn't see Charlie. Travis asked another group, and they said animal control had rounded up the stray dogs. Travis found animal control, which lets you adopt a dog, but no one was in the office. The next morning, Travis extracted Charlie from the kennel, made a makeshift leash, and Charlie hiked out with us to start a new life with Travis and Kaycee.

Travis and Kaycee with their newly adopted Charlie

Many of you have asked, so I'll give some basic tips here. There are a few decisions you need to make first:

1. Lodge or Campground. The lodge is in the town, so you are near the cafe and market. It's 8 miles from the hilltop, so you have a shorter hike in and out. You need to carry less gear. The lodge has two double beds, shower, toilet, towels, electricity, and air-conditioning. The downside is the lodge is a couple of miles from Havasu Falls. The camping area is scattered along the banks of the creek between Havasu and Mooney Falls, but it's 2 extra miles each way from the hilltop. We chose the lodge with 4 people in each room.

2. Hike, mules, helicopter. We chose to hike and carry all our gear. They do have pack mules that will carry your stuff for a fee, but the trip seems pretty hard on the animals. There is also a helicopter that flies usually on Thu, Fri, Sun, and Mon. It's $100 cash each way, but you miss the experience of the hike - and if the copter is grounded by weather or mechanical issues, you need to be prepared to hike in/out anyway.

The hike is hard, but worth it. You'll need to prepare and be in good shape. We covered about 35 miles and 3,600 feet of elevation gain over the four days. 

3. Time of year to go. I think early to mid-October is a great time - we had perfect weather. Late April and early May are good times as well.

The first official step is to create your account on the Havasupai site. Note there are two tabs - one for the campground and one for the lodge: Accounts are separate for the lodge and campground, so get the correct tab before you create an account.

Then, on Feb 1, 2024 get ready to log in and select your dates, as that's when they open reservations for the 2024 season. There is a transfer list that allows people who can't make their dates, to sell you their reservation. These are posted each morning at 8AM Arizona time, so you could snag a much earlier date just by watching that for a bit.

Campground Transfers Available:

Lodge Transfers Available:

If you go, there are two places to stay the night before. We stayed at the Grand Canyon Caverns Inn, which is the closest hotel to the turnoff from Route 66. There is another hotel (Hualapai Lodge) in Peach Springs, AZ that is not much farther.  

And if you need an experienced tour guide, I might consider going again, but I need to rest up a bit first and bask in the glow of our fabulous trip. 

Our itinerary:
Day before: Rooms at the Grand Canyon Caverns (GCC). This is also where you have to check in and get your wrist bands and paperwork to hike in.

Day One: Hike In. The weather was mild (40's on the rim), so we departed the GCC about 6:30am and arrived at the trailhead at about 8am. We were hiking by 8:30am. We took our time, as the lodge check-in is not until 2pm. We packed our lunch and ate along the way. We arrived at the lodge at 1:30pm (temps were in the 70's) and they opened the door for check in just as we arrived. We just rested and got settled in, before heading to the Supai Cafe for an early dinner (they take the last orders at 4:45pm).

Day Two: Beaver Falls Hike. We departed at about 6:15am to hike to the big three falls. Temperature was around 50ºF. With a few stops, we still arrived at Beaver at 10:30am. We departed there at noon and got back to the hotel by mid afternoon. The high was in the upper 70's.

Day Three: Temp was around 50ºF. We stopped at Fifty Foot for the early morning photos (great light), then were the first to arrive at Havasu Falls. We grabbed the best picnic table and stayed there until early afternoon. We stopped again at Fifty Foot for a little exploration, and returned to the lodge mid-afternoon. High was around 80ºF.

Day Four: It was a warm forecast, so we departed at 5:45am. It was near 60ºF. We drove the pace so we reached the hilltop (final 1.3 miles climbs 1,000 feet) while much of it was still in the shade. We all arrived at the top between 9:50am and 10:15am.

All our unedited photos are being uploaded here:

- Paul