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HIKING NORTHERN ARIZONA
By Jane Cassie
For Travel Writers' Tales

You know the saying, what goes up must come down? When hiking Bright Angel Trail in Arizona's Grand Canyon, it's a good one to follow -except in reverse. The popular pathway zigzags 1 355 meters (4,446 feet) downward and spans 12 km (7.7 miles), from the top of this world-renowned chasm to the Colorado River. Although getting there may seem like a walk in the park, the uphill trek can be a killer. Literally! Around two hundred and fifty people are rescued from the canyon every year.

"We can stay on this 13 mile-long Rim Trail and hardly work up a sweat," I suggest to my husband, Brent. The flat paved walkway traces the top of this natural wonder from the village area to Hermits Rest and offers panoramas along the way.

"After all the recent hiking we've done we can get to the first rest stop and back," he coaxes. Although I'm not totally confident that my boomer-aged quads will pass this three-mile trek test, he's probably right.

We had started out this hiking holiday with a bang -Humphreys Peak -the highest summit in the state. Who would think that Arizona, the place of flat deserts and famous canyons would be home to a 12,000 foot high mountain? This crowning jewel, a short drive from Flagstaff, rises out of Coconino National Forest in the Kachina Peaks Wilderness area.

Although the easier Aspen Loop would have warmed up my under-used hiking legs, we had decided to go for the gusto. "We'll take it slow," Brent had promised when traversing Snowbowl. As well as luring hikers, when winter arrives, this recreation hub becomes a magnet for powder hounds. Thirty two ski trails, five lifts and an average of twenty feet of the white stuff -are you sure we're in Arizona, Toto?!

The further up this pathway we plodded, the harder it was to believe. Age old spruce, stately fir and prickly ponderosa flanked the way. I was just about convinced that we'd done a Dorothy move, clicked our heels, and been transported back to our west coast homeland when our route became cloaked in snow.

Tricky traverses, sketchy hairpins and 3,000 vertical feet later, we finished this jaunt at the saddle, Arizona's only alpine tundra region that offers a wide pan vista. Another hour or so and we would have seen more: The White Mountains to the east, Desert Mountains to the south, and this amazing Grand Canyon to the north. But once again, we were challenged by the return. After all, 'what goes up, must come down.'

Two hours after making our slippery descent to civilization we had exchanged Flagstaff's snowy summit for Sedona's sun-drenched hills. Many of the red rock monoliths that hug up to this popular tourist haunt are coined after their amazing formation; Snoopy Rock, Coffee Pot Rock, Slide Rock. Over the next few days while traipsing their trails, we can attest -they all rock!

It's believed that many of these land forms are surrounded by vortexes that emanate a spiritual energy. Airport Mesa was just one of the perches where we experienced a little ying and yang and from its enlightened height I was content to chant my Namaste greeting to the gods.

I find myself doing a similar plea from this Grand Canyon trailhead today. And in spite of the warnings, every man, woman and child seems to be passing us by-teenage girls in flip flops, kids with short legs, seniors who carry canes.

But after a couple of traverses, and glimpsing into this abyss, many turn back. Not us. Joining the intrepid, we plod on: through sandstone tunnels, past sheer drop offs, alongside craggy rock faces. And at every heart-thumping curve and overhang, we're privy to a collage of colour -vibrant reds, bursts of ochre, deep sea greens. Mother Nature has put every hue into this wondrous work of art.

Over three or so days, true trekkers backpack a grueling 38 km (23.8 miles) to the North Rim. Others are bound for Plateau Point where they'll do an overnighter. We, on the other hand, are proud to get to the first rest stop. And at this 2.4 km (1.5 mile) mark, we drink in the canyon's natural beauty, feel its two billion year old history and still make the uphill journey back home.

IF YOU GO:

Where to stay:
For lodging and RV camps in the South Rim of Grand Canyon:
www.grandcanyonlodges.com/Lodging-Overview-411.html or call (303) 297-2757

There are 2 campgrounds for non hook ups. Reservations for Mather Campground:1-877-444-6777 or www.recreation.gov/. Desert View Campground, 41 km/ 25 miles to the east, is first-come, first-served.

Flagstaff:
A range of accommodation can be viewed at http://www.flagstaff.com/lodging and lots of RV parks are within the city limits. For the more outdoorsy, try Hart's Prairie area, just past Snowbowl Road. Although there are no established sites, the camping is free.

Sedona:
Lots of accommodations and price ranges to choose from. Our favourite is the Matterhorn Inn -centrally located, great views, nice pool. www.matterhorninn.com/

For RV sites, camping, cabins - Lo Lo Mai Springs is a short drive from Sedona http://lolomai.com/

Photos by Brent Cassie:

# 1 Brent and pup, Kalli, on the Rim Trail
#2 Slip sliding along the snowy trail of Humphreys Peak
#3 Jane Brent and Kalli reach the Saddle of Humphreys Peak
#4 Taking in the sunset from Sedona's Airport Mesa
#5 Our Bright Angel Trail cleaves through sandstone tunnels
#6 Jane and Brent pose at first rest stop on Bright Angel Trail

Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com

 


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