December 31st, 2011

What I Did For My Christmas Vacation

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Warning – contains no technical content …
My GF and I both love to drive (I own an Evo which I love, I drive really hard, and it’s been a rock-solid car, now with over 120K miles).  The kids were with their mom for a week-and-a-half, so GF & I took off for Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.  She did most of the driving on the way out – both because she loves to drive my toy! – and because I was stuck doing PLDI reviews (sign up now!).  I did half my reviews from the road, uploading reviews at passing Starbucks.  Along the way we passed through Casa de Fruita, a 100-yr-old over sized farm stand, classic California at its best – complete with toy riding trains, carousel, restaurant, hotel, and of course plenty of fruits & nuts (not referring to myself at all here).  I basically run on chocolate and coffee, so this was a fuel-stop for my brain.  GF stopped to feed the pet peacocks.   Since this vacation is being done “on the cheap” we stayed at a smaller hotel outside Bryce.  It was fine (if a bit plain) and the price was right.  No WiFi in theory – but it was available in the lobby, and we finagled a room just behind the lobby area which DID have WiFi… so I finished off my PLDI review uploading from our hotel room after all.
Typical Bryce Canyon weather prevailed for several days: snow flurries with lows down to 9!  After a day recovering from driving (we had put a LOT of miles under our belts!), we checked out Bryce Canyon.  Fantastical views (and GF found a raven to feed)… but obscured by snow flurries and low slung clouds.  Next day dawned with crystal clear-blue skies and winter wonderland style snow everywhere; red red rock, “hoodoos” and dark evergreens.  The colors still sparkle in my minds eye… pictures here.  We took a 4 mile hike along the rim, then down in and around the “hoodoos” and back out the other side.  Being the brilliant person I am, I forgot the camera battery charger (and none for sale in any of the local shops)… so the digital camera died at the bottom of the hike (we bought a throw-away camera for the next hike, but the photos aren’t back yet).
Next we headed for the Grand Canyon.  We’ve been planning on hiking it for a couple of months now, and we lucked into a cancellation in the Phantom Ranch barracks (typically you need to reserve space a year in advance!).  Along the way there we made good time… except for the one dreaded moment when that SUV on your bumper suddenly spouts red & blue lights, and the sheriff wants to talk about safe driving speeds in the mountains of Utah (warning only: maybe 2nd time in my entire life I’ve been pulled over and only received a warning).  We got in very late (got stuck behind a SUV doing between 15 and 25mph on clear roads labeled at 45mph, but it was night, on national park roads w/double yellow strip; very frustrating that the person would not pull over!) and so collapsed on the hotel bed without seeing the canyon that night.  Next day we walked over and ogled the canyon.  It’s still beyond my words to describe, even if I’ve seen it (hiked it!) before.  Its one of those things you just got to experience in person.  GF’s never hiked it before, so we took our time…
Day One.  After checking out the trail heads and talking with the rangers we decided to buy crampons.  BEST DECISION EVER.  Hiking in Bryce on the snow taught us that there’s ice under all that pretty snow… dang slick ice.  We hiked down a full mile of ice from the South Kaibab trail, then the trail dried up and opened up into the amazing views.  Only place I know of you can stand with a 1000+ foot dropoff to one side, and yet be looking at a 1000+ cliff towering above you on the other hand…  and both be yet another 1000+ further down from the rim and yet ANOTHER 1000+ feet above the river!  It’s a real-life 3-d eye candy mind bender.  We hiked it down in 5 hrs.  Not bad for this 50yr old pile-o-bones.  Sore and triumphant we walked into the Phantom Ranch main room.  Our (segregated) bunk beds awaited… but they had had another cancellation.  For a mere $30 more, we got a spacious 10-sleeper cabin to ourselves!  We rushed over to the cabin, and sat down on a bed to “rest a bit”.  Two hours later, we awoken from a deep nap and realized that dinner was fast approaching…  Dinner was delicious (as only a hearty steak dinner can be after a day of hiking).  After dinner we took a star-light stroll in the pleasantly cool evening, laid down besides the rushing creek and star-gazed awhile.
Day Two.  Day One, of course, is the day you act like an idiot and climb down this great big hole.  It’s on Day Two that you have to fix the situation by climbing out.  The first hour of waking we spent discovering all those muscles (and joints!) that got overworked yesterday… and being ravenously hungry despite the giant meal of the day before.  So after a big breakfast we started back up, the Bright Angel trail this time.  Other than the amazingly scary river crossing on the swinging suspension bridge (the Colorado is wide and fast there, and the bridge very clearly was swinging more than 5ft side to side), the upward hike was … upward.  Hard work undoing all those steps yesterday, although the uphill is MUCH easier on the joints.  The crampons came out again for the three miles of snow and ice near the rim… and we made it up in 7.5 hours.
Next day we drove back home, 750 miles in one day (again).  Next day we cleaned up, picked up, packed up… and the kids arrived here for Christmas!  We had a wonderful family Christmas; GF made a fantastic dinner and there was much regaling of tales and playing of video games for all…

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