Tuesday, June 26, 2012

They Call It Dolly

Now that I'm back from my trip to Arizona for the year, I can tell you of a new and fun thing that I found to do.  This one is a little off the beaten path.
Just east of Apache Junction on the east side of Phoenix, there is a road that goes to a place called Canyon Lake.  This road is more than a little off the beaten path around the Superstition Mountains in full view of Weaver's Needle where all the the treasure junkies are still looking for the Lost Dutchman Mine.  Never mind the mine which will never be found.  With enough patience, you will find Canyon Lake.  Canyon Lake is one in a series of beautiful lakes on the damned up section of the Salt River.  Canyon Lake is not the biggest and may not even be the prettiest, but it is the only one with the Dolly.
What's a Dolly?  Dolly is a paddle wheeler boat that takes people on a lovely 1 1/2 hour cruise, or a dinner cruise if you'd like all around the lake.  The scenery is beautiful.  The narrator tells wonderful tales as he points out the formations and caves around the lake.  The mountain goats are plentiful.  The views are amazing.  The boat itself is a two story boat with an air conditioned lower level with a snack bar, an upper level with no air conditioning, but great views and two outside decks for the sun lovers that don't mind the heat.
The day we visited, it was 110 degrees outside and we were slathered in layers of sun screen, but the Dolly was comfortable and the trip was worth every penny of the $20 price of the tickets.  I mean, what's a little heat when your views are like this?

We had a lovely afternoon.  We were 2800 miles from home, and we even managed to run into one of my son's friends from school.  What are the odds?  The media calls the Dolly a diamond in the rough.  I think that it may be more of a hidden gem.  It's right to the east of Phoenix, but it's well hidden in the hills.  The locals know, and that's how I found it.  It's worth the trouble of the drive there.  It's worth every minute of your time.  I highly recommend that if you're in the area you take a cruise on the Dolly, no matter what time of year it is.  You'll also enjoy the drive in if you like a little adventure!


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Oldest Thing in the Grand Canyon

As I ready myself for yet another visit to Arizona, I'm reminded of one of my favorite places in all the world.  The Havasupai Indian Reservation down in the western part of the Grand Canyon.  That's right, there's about 600 people living down there in Supai Village.  This place is older than the Grand Canyon Village, it's older than Phantom Ranch, It's older than the lodge on the North Rim.  It's a town and it's down in a canyon connecting to the main canyon.
There are a few ways to get to Supai Village.  The most obvious is to walk, but remember, this walk is not for the feint of heart.  It's about eight miles through a canyon in the desert.  It is beautiful, however.  When you reach Supai Village, you'll feel like you've entered the Garden of Eden.  It's lush and beautiful with streams and waterfalls and lush greenery, unlike the trip there through the harsh desert.  The village contains everything necessary; a store, a restaurant, a school, a clinic, a museum, a lodge, and a campground in addition to the houses of the locals.  It really is a fully functioning town.
There are other ways to reach the village.  You can ride a horse with a guide by reservation.  You can go by helicopter for a reasonable price.  Most often the helicopter ride costs only about $85 per person each way.  That's really not bad.  I do think that there is just something special about the walk.
The Havasupai are wonderful hosts.  When I was there, they were the friendliest people I'd ever met.  Remember, they've opened their lives as a tourist attraction.  They're a special bunch.  They have demonstrations of their traditions for visitors.  You can go in a sweat lodge if you like.  You get a great dose of their culture while in their village.
Most people come for the view however.  The Havasupai Reservation is home to some of the most famous and most amazing waterfalls in the world.  Even if you think you haven't seen them, I bet you have.
 Havasu Falls is one of those waterfalls that we've all seen on calendars and posters.  It's one of the most photographed items in the area.
Mooney Falls is at the epicenter of the canyon that most of the visitors hike in.  The only way past it is to climb down the cliff that it falls over.
The hiking alone at the reservation is worth the visit.  The waterfalls alone are worth the visit.  The people that live in the village alone are worth the visit.  The village alone is worth the visit.  Put it all together and you would should be ashamed of yourself if you go the traditional route and visit the south rim.  If you only go to the south rim, you're missing it.  There's so much to the Grand Canyon that people don't know about.  The main park is just the beginning.
Just remember, there's only one way to enjoy this adventure.  Make a reservation through the tribe that lives there.  They enjoy visitors, but they don't much care for drop in guests.  Do this one.  You'll never regret it.  It's the trip of a lifetime in a big hole in Arizona.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Oregon Road Trip

Nature is not for everyone, but the North Umpqua Highway, Route 138 in Oregon could quite possibly change some minds.  I love this place.  This is the place that made me not sleep while I was working in Oregon years ago.  I had to work nights while on a business trip in Roseburg at the Ingram Book Warehouse, so during the days, I had no obligations.  I went out and saw the sights, and the best of them was this road.
There are around 25 massively beautiful waterfalls along this road, and it ends only a few miles from Crater Lake National Park on the high end.  As you go along the road, which twists and winds it way through the gorges and forests along the way, you see trailhead after trailhead with barely any markings identifying them.  All of these lead to waterfalls. Toketee, pictured above is one of the best known along the way and one of the most unusual.  There are many others worth seeing though.  Deadline Falls, Susan Creek Falls, Fall Creek Falls, Watson Falls, Whitehorse Falls, Clearwater Falls, Lemolo Falls, Steamboat Falls, shadow Falls, Wolf Creek Falls, Cathedral Falls, Grotto Falls, Warm Spring Falls, Yakso Falls, Hemlock Falls, Campbell Falls, South Umpqua Falls, Deer lick Falls, Brice Creek, Trestle Creek Falls, Parker Falls, Spirit Falls, and Moon Falls are all along the way.
When I was running around the area, I bought a book called "A Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" by Gregory A. Plumb to help me along the way.  It comes with maps and tells the distances to the waterfalls.  None of the distances are long, by the way.  It even tells you which waterfalls and which trips in general are worth the trouble.  I had this book for the one week I spent in Oregon, and I wore it out.  I had to tape the pages back in.
Most of Oregon is littered with areas that are more rainforest than regular forest, and the North Umpqua area is a great example.  The trails that lead to the wonderful waterfalls are full of moss covered trees and giant ferns.  It's green and beautiful.  By the time you get all the way up to Crater Lake, however, don't be surprised if you find snow, and lots of it.  I was up there in the middle of July, and there were still parts of the lake road that were blocked with snow.  In some places it was still over five feet deep.  That didn't mean it wasn't 80 plus degrees outside, sunny and wonderful.  How many places can you really build a snowman in shorts and a tank top in July?

The sights are fabulous as you can see.  The people along the way are wonderful as well.  It was one of the most relaxing and peaceful days I every spent as an explorer.  The whole trip only took me about six hours.  I didn't spend much time at Crater Lake, and believe me, I could have spent a massive amount of time up there, but I had to go to work.
At any rate, this day trip in Oregon from Roseburg to Crater Lake National Park is worth it.  I hope that everyone gets the chance to spend a day as wonderful as mine in the Cascades along the North Umpqua Highway, route 138 in Oregon. 
Enjoy the sights!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Drakensburgs

My hero of adventure travel, Charley Boorman, is starting a new adventure that he is filming for Channel 5 in Britain tomorrow.  In honor of the trip which is called Extreme Frontiers South Africa, I would like to make today's post about a wonderful place in that country.
This one is for the nature lover's out there.  One of my dreams was always to go hiking in the Drakensburg Mountains of South Africa.  One of the most dramatic sights is Tugela Falls in Kwazulu Natal or Kwazulu National Park.  Tugela Falls or Thukela Waterfal as the locals call it is the second highest waterfall in the world.  The only higher is Angell Falls in Venuzuela.
I write about this area, because unless you are a waterfall hunter in America anyway, you've never heard of it.  The Drakensburg Mountains rise just inland from the coast on the north east edge of Lesotho.  They are dramatic mountains with flat tops like the tepuis in South America.  They have virtually sheer cliffs on most of the sides and the scenery is dramatic.  The walk to Tugela Falls is a long one.  It's 4 miles or so to the falls if you go from the parking area to Mont Aux Sources.  This leads to the top of the falls and has a dramatic change in elevation.  The other route to go, and personally always my favorite, is to follow the river up to the bottom of the falls where the views and the photos are always the best.
Now, if you love waterfalls and you've gone all the way to South Africa, there is another spot that you should see.  It's the Mpumalanga Waterfalls.  There are several in this area.  Unlike the Tugela Falls which is in Kwazulu National Park, south of Johannesburg, the Mpumalanga Escarpment is northeast of Johannesburg just north of Swaziland.  There are several dramatic waterfalls in the park and they are only a couple hundred feet from the driving roads on average.  They are much easier to reach than Tugela.
So, hopefully we'll get some waterfall footage from the latest Extreme Frontiers.  I know Charley likes waterfalls, so maybe he'll stop by.  For anyone else who loves waterfalls, Tugela is one of the world's highest and the Mpumalanga grouping is beautiful and dramatic.  So, if you've ever wondered what there was to do in South Africa besides see the residuals of Apartheid and find out where diamonds come from, here you go.  Nature, not just animal viewing, is at it's finest in the eastern part of South Africa in the Drakensburg Mountains and the Mpumalanga Escarpment.
Happy hunting!