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…just returned from a few days in Charleston. I’m going to throw this post up as a warm-up for finishing  the Living Faith devotions I have due…soon.  Ahem.

Beach days every day.  Just as in Florida, it’s wise to go in the morning, because you can predict that rain is probably going to fall in the afternoon, and indeed, on two of our three days it did. Babysitting for my grandson every afternoon and evening.  A good visit!

But first, on the way down…I had thought we would stop at Mepkin Abbey, but once Friday morning came around (we stayed Thursday night in Santee…cheap Best Western hotel, thanks to our many nights in Best Westerns…out West), I decided that a visit to a swamp would get people up and going with more enthusiasm than a visit to a Trappist monastery.

Next time….

It was the Four Holes Swamp in the Beidler Forest.  It’s just a quick jot off of I-26.  Very easy to get to, and a good walk to see many cypress, birds, lizards (my son caught one and was…er..privileged to have it reach around and bite its own tail off as an escape route while in his hand) and this fellow, whom we watched swim and hunt for quite a while…from a safe distance on a wooden walkway.

Didn’t see any gators this time, although they told me inside there were a couple in the lake.

Two mornings at Isle of Palms.  It’s a pretty crowded beach, but clean, with good showers, changing rooms and so on. Good surf. (That’s it, above)

The third morning, we went to Sullivan’s Island, which is a much nicer beach – a bit more isolated and not as crowded.  It doesn’t have facilities, though, but since the surf was calm that day, no one got super sandy, and the ride back in the car to the hotel was quick enough so no one got uncomfortable and the car didn’t get filthy (-er).

Sullivan’s Island is right across the bay from Charleston.  You can see Fort Sumter and Charleston when you walk to the end of this stretch of beach.  And of course, this is also a regular sight…..

Many deceased jellyfish on this stretch.

Metal-hunter wading in the water behind my son. 

A live sand dollar, burrowing into the sand.

Our other good wildlife sighting was a glass, or legless lizard.  It was in the middle of the road as we walked to Sullivan’s Island, and at first glance, we thought it was a snake, but my Herpetologist took a closer look and pronounced in a legless lizard, and when we returned and compared a photo to our memory of what we’d seen…yup, that’s what it was.

(Edgar Allen Poe spent a little more than a year of his life on Sullivan’s Island.  Read why here.)

Last night, I went out and walked part of the way over the Ravenal Bridge.  I intended to go out this morning and walk the whole thing, but didn’t get up early enough.  Next time, along with the Abbey.

Mass at the Cathedral Sunday morning.  I had wanted to go by the Emanuel AME Church and pay our respects, but of course it would have been impossible to go down there on Friday, and there were funerals through the weekend, so that’s another next time, for certain.

On the way back, we made a quick stop and visited the ever-gracious Rachel Balducci – the boys took a basketball break with her boys and since part of our conversation involved the number that social media has done on our writing brains, it’s appropriate that there’s no Bloggish, Instagrammic, Twitterish or Facebook evidence of the meeting, but trust me…it happened.  Even if the Internet Forest isn’t listening, a tree does fall….

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It’s iconic. Emblematic.

Is it even possible to visit the Grand Canyon non-ironically?

Can you even say “I’m going to the Grand Canyon” non-ironically?

Well, it’s Grand.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

But first, I want to backtrack and talk a bit about my planning for this part of the trip in detail.  Perhaps it will be useful to someone.

When you visit the Grand Canyon, you have two main choices: South Rim or North Rim. (There is also a Grand Canyon West,  where the Haulapai glass walkway is, but it not actually in the National Park. )

The South Rim is the more heavily visited section: about five million people a year visit the South Rim.  It’s closer to Phoenix, obviously, and closer to Las Vegas.  It’s very developed – there are many choices for accommodations and eating, and more nearby communities.

The North Rim gets a tenth of the South Rim’s traffic – about half a million people a year visit.

It’s more challenging to get to, with a tiny fraction of the tourist infrastructure as you find in the South.

But if your visit is oriented to the north – that is, you’re doing some iteration of the “Grand Circle” – it makes no sense to do the South Rim, which may be ten miles across the Canyon, but is a four hour drive from the North Rim.

And since we were doing Zion and Bryce, North Rim It was.

(Also good to note that if you want to see the Grand Canyon at any time other than between May and October, you must do the South Rim.  The North Rim is only open during the summer and early fall because of snow.)

Accommodations are a challenge.  Unless you are camping, there are only three even sort-of nearby choices for the North Rim.

About 45 minutes from the actual Grand Canyon is the Jacob Lake Inn, which also features a café, a small store, a well-known bakery and a gas station.  It would not be a bad choice, if you were just looking to spend one day at the park – and as I learned, while I was glad we spent two days, I think you can get a good sense of the Grand Canyon in one day – if the weather is good, you can actually do all of the driveable and walkable vistas and viewpoints in a day, easily.

Closer in, about 5 miles from the Park entrance (which would then put you still about 17 miles from the Rim), is the Kaibab Lodge.

Finally, in the park itself, is the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, operated by Forever Resorts (which operates several other NPS accommodations, including the Bryce Canyon Lodge.)

It is much larger than the other two, of course, with a variety of types of rooms, including regular motel rooms and cabins with various layouts. Because I didn’t want to drive 45 minutes back and forth, and because I just wanted the experience of being right there at the Grand Canyon, this was my choice.

So of course, given the distance of the other two accommodations from the actual park, you can see what’s most popular.  Which means it has a reputation of being devilishly hard to get – A YEAR IN ADVANCE YOU MUST.

Well…not so sure about that.

No, I wouldn’t wait until the week before I left, having purchased airfare and rented a car to finally get around to trying to get a room at the GCNR Lodge, and if you definitely know when you are going to be there, sure…go ahead and grab the rooms that far in advance.

But if you have flexibility and if you decide, for example, today, that you’re going to try to hit the North Rim next week…yes, you might be able to get a room, and if you’re thinking…maybe next month?  Sure.  You can do it.

Check the availability calendar (screenshot taken today –  6/24)  and see.

gcnp

And here’s the thing: at this point, you can make and cancel reservations at the Lodge with no penalty.  Yes, they charge your card with a deposit when you make the reservation, but I found that after making and cancelling a few times, they reversed the charges very quickly without having to be asked. And this is what people do – you grab something when it comes free, and then if you really would like something different, you wait, check many times a day, and when what you want comes free, you make that reservation and cancel the last one.

Availabilty changes constantly. Part of the reason, I think is that tour companies reserve blocks of rooms many months in advance, and as they change plans and group sizes, rooms become available.

So when I first started planning, I reserved a couple of days in the first rooms that came up, near the end of our trip. But then I started wondering if I really wanted us to do the Grand Canyon at the very end, and then have a fairly long drive back to Vegas, made even longer by everyone’s interest in seeing Death Valley, which is two hours beyond Vegas.  So I started looking at the middle of the trip, which was, unfortunately, Memorial Day.  The type of cabin I wanted finally came available for Monday the 25th, so it was up to me now to watch and wait to see if anything would come open either the 24th or 26th.  A few days later, the 24th came open for the same type of cabin, I booked it online, then called the reservations center to consolidate the bookings – they are super nice, and used to people doing this reserve/cancel/consolidate dance.

What did we finally get?

A “rim-side Pioneer Cabin.”

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

Described here.

Some of the cabins are duplex style, this was not.  There were two bedrooms, one with a double bed, the other with bunks and a futon.  The bathroom was modern and clean, both rooms had space heaters, and there was a small fridge.  Yes it was, “rim-side” but unfortunately, ours didn’t exactly have a view. From the cabin.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

That’s our cabin on the right.   That’s how far I had to walk to get the view in the second photo.  Not bad!

There are “nicer” cabins with front porches, and that are larger, but those are all located closer to the actual Lodge (which might be nice for you if you don’t want to have to walk far to eat)…but that means they are also right in the thick of foot traffic – I mean, you get a front porch, but what you get to see (and hear) from your front porch is mostly other people walking around.

Some points, addressing complaints and comments about the Lodge one finds online:

  • I can’t speak to the non-cabin accommodations – the complaints are that they are small and cheaply done.  But the cabin we stayed in was just fine.  It was very clean, warm and not-buggy.  The linens were clean, the bathroom was modern.  I have no complaints.  Yes, it was a little expensive, but you are paying TO STAY AT THE GRAND CANYON.
  • There is walking involved.  You can’t pull right up to your cabin and unload your luggage at the door.  You may have to walk forty feet.  Oh dear. GRAND CANYON.
  • Noise? We didn’t experience any.  We weren’t, as I said, in a duplex cabin or motel room, so that wasn’t an issue.  I found the park very quiet and peaceful at night. You would hope so, right?
  • Note: NO WI-FI at the Lodge or any of those rooms.   There is a General Store at the campground, about a mile down the road, with Wi-Fi.  There was a part of me that thought they should have Wi-Fi at the Lodge, in the lobby area at least, but then I had a vision of dozens of people sitting there in front of the picture window, Grand Canyon spread out in front of them, their noses up against their phone screens.  So…probably not. We can live without it.
  • Also at the campground is a laundromat, which I used.
  • They don’t sell bottled water at any of these National Parks, which is a good thing, but be prepared – have your own refillable bottle, or be ready to buy one there.
  • The food at the main restaurant is expensive and not very good.  We didn’t do the restaurant for dinner – I had made reservations, but then I looked at the menu and the prices and cancelled.  We did the breakfast buffet one morning, and it was mediocre at best.  Turkey bacon like leather, cold biscuits, that sort of thing. Nice waitress, though.  All of the employees were courteous and friendly. No complaints there.
  • There is a “deli” like place right next to the Lodge which has good sandwiches and pizza at decent prices.  The boys said the pizza was really good.  There’s also a “saloon” that sells alcoholic beverages and has a few food menu items.
  • And that’s it for food.  So really, take as much food as you can in with you (although it would need to be the kind you don’t have to , you know, cook…since the rooms don’t have anything but fridges – sandwiches that will keep for a day, milk, cereal, bars, fruit, carrots, crackers, cheese, bread).  You will probably want to avoid the restaurant, especially if you have a family.
  • (For contrast…the Death Valley accommodations are also isolated and also function as a monopoly, but they are operated by a different vendor –Xanterra (which also operates the South Rim lodge)   – and the food was much better and more fairly priced.)
  • I was curious about the employees. They are seasonal, obviously, since the place is only open a few months a year.  They all live on site, and many, it seems, are foreign students – I heard a lot of Eastern European accents while I was there.

Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge

This is the view of the main Lodge from one of the little hiking trails that goes out from it.  

The Lodge building itself is wonderful – historic and classic “National Park” style, with a fabulous glass-enclosed viewing lounge as well as patios with chairs.  The dining room also has that great view (those are the windows on the left) but again, the food isn’t good, and you can walk ten feet and sit on a couch and enjoy the same view. I thought I had photos of that lounge, but I can’t seem to find them.  You can get a good sense of it just from this search.  

Okay!

Well, I had intended to make this post about our first day at the Grand Canyon, but time is running out, so this will have to do.  But maybe it will help you out if you’re planning a trip…add your own insights if you like!

Tomorrow….

Grand….

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When we last spoke (about this, anyway), it was Saturday evening, and we were snug in our bunkhouses somewhere west of Fredonia,Arizona.

The next day we’d make our way to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but first things first: Mass.

Kanab, Utah was really our only choice in the area. Yes, there would be backtracking from our Saturday night space, but we would have to go almost all the way back to Kanab anyway to get to the road south, and it’s gorgeous country, so I won’t complain.

Mass was at 9.

Now, those of you who are familiar with the area are probably already thinking….uh-oh….

I’ll try to explain to the rest of you. And I may still get it wrong, so feel free to correct the details.  But I’m pretty sure this is what happened:

We were sleeping in Arizona. Arizona, like Utah, is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does not observe Daylight Savings Time, so at the time we were there (late May), when we were in Arizona, we were in the same time zone as we had been in Las Vegas, the origin of our trip, and where the rental car was obtained. Vegas is in the Pacific Time Zone.

We would be going to Mass over the border in Utah, which is in the Mountain Standard Time Zone, but does observe Daylight Savings Time.

So, Mass was at 9am, but that would be 8 am according to where we were sleeping.

No problem.  I mean, going between time zones is a given when you’re traveling, and being that where we live (Alabama) is in a different time zone from places we go often on day trips (Georgia, South Carolina and Florida), this is not rocket science.

So.  Church was about 30 minutes away.  Just to be safe, I said, let’s leave at 7. Which would be 8 Church Standard Time and would get us there, if we drove at a leisurely pace, about 20 minutes early.

Yay.

So, I set my phone – which functions as my alarm clock, as I’m sure it does for many of you – for 6:30 am.

In the morning, it went off, I got up, got myself ready, then awakened the boys.  We packed up, I called the owner to check out, as instructed, we piled in the car, I turned the ignition, the dashboard lit up, and the clock – set to Las Vegas/Arizona time – blinked on.

6 AM.

(Translation: 7 AM Utah time. 2 hours before Mass. We could have slept another hour.)

So…..how did this happen?

It didn’t take me long to figure it out.

The day before, I had not used my phone from the time we drove out of Utah to the time we arrived at the bunkhouses.  Most of that drive was through an sparsely populated Native American reservation, and there, as here at the bunkhouse itself was….NO SERVICE.

My phone had never connected to Arizona cel service, so the clock was still on Utah time.

That time when your Mom apologizes a zillion times for getting us up at 5:30 for no reason? Yeah, that.

There was no sense in unloading and going back in the bunkhouses for just an hour.  I wasn’t tired, so I told them I was just going to drive around and see more of the country around Kanab.  Eating wasn’t an option because by the time we actually got to Kanab, we’d be hitting close to the 1-hour pre-Communion fast, and that cuts it close for me – I prefer the three-hour fast anyway.

So…I drove around.  The 14-year old fell back asleep pretty quickly, but the ten-year old stayed awake, and got to see a huge jackrabbit for his trouble.

Live, as they say, and learn.  Sheesh.

The Catholic church in Kanab is called St. Christopher’s, and I was very impressed with how they welcomed visitors.  Friendly greeters were at the door, and they had this as well:

St. Christopher medals and a prayer card for travelers.  It’s a great idea for any parish in a heavily-touristed area.

They did do the “raise your hand and tell us where you’re from” thing at the beginning of Mass, but I will say that it was actually before Mass started, so I guess I can accept that.  (I didn’t raise my hand, though, and the boys knew better…not that they’d want to enter that fray, either.)  They had donuts, etc., after Mass, but we didn’t go because, hey, I wanted to drive even more before noon.

So… today’s lesson: welcome your travelers. And don’t assume your phone is always telling you the truth. That’s trouble.

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Well, we’re up to Saturday, May 23….at this rate, I might get this trip report finished before the next trip.

Maybe.

As you might recall, we’re finished up our stay at the spindly Bryce Canyon, having survived being taken to the edge by quadrupeds.  Time to move back south…

The destination would be the Grand Canyon, but not until Sunday.  Why? Well, I’ll recap the “planning” process:

Pin down rooms at the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge, which I had believed would be the most difficult to obtain (in retrospect…no. But more on that when we get to Sunday). Then work everything else around that.  The difficult issue was that Memorial Day Weekend falls right in the middle of this, and I had a heck of a time finding rooms that weren’t $300 a night for that Saturday night. (Sunday and Monday were GCNP nights, and I checked many times a day, but nothing ever opened up for Saturday.  It if had, I certainly would have grabbed it).  There are two lodgings not ridiculously far from GCNP North Rim – in Jacob Lake, about 45 minutes out, and then another lodge a big closer. Neither of them had Saturday night vacancies.  I thought I had checked Kanab – just over the border from Arizona in Utah –  out pretty thoroughly, and nothing reasonable ever came up. However, I’ll say now that when I drove around Kanab both Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning…I didn’t see packed parking lots in the hotels.  I’m going to guess that the chains that came up on Kayak were either indeed unavailable or too expensive for me, but there might have been independent motor lodges and such that weren’t listed on those aggregate engines.

It turned out fine, and we had an adventure, but staying in Kanab would have saved me a bit of driving…a trade-off.  But that’s the way it is with [insert Life Lesson and Metaphor here].

SO, where we ended up for Saturday night was this, via AirBnB – two little “bunkhouses” just a bit south of Colorado City (does that ring a bell? Well it just might….). That would be our goal for the end of the day, but in between Bryce and that spot was a lot of space and all day, so…time to set out and find stuff to do!

First stop, very close to Bryce, is Red Canyon – which is certainly red! We only spent about thirty minutes here – a place where Butch Cassidy is supposed to have used for a hideout – but you could certainly spend all day, at least.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Then we’d catch 89, and take it to Kanab.  Every town along the way had at least one historical marking, each telling the tale of yet one more Mormon settlement.  Rock shops are also very common, not surprisingly, and we stopped at one where we learned all about the Septarian Nodule – Geode-like, but not really – and bought a few things, including some small pieces of petrified wood.  The owners gave us restaurant advice, but we didn’t take it, continuing on down to Kanab.

"amy welborn"

Kanab is a small town, but it’s a pretty busy gateway, with several hotels, including the Parry Lodge, famed for the movie stars who stayed there back in the day –  the area was a popular location for shooting movie Westerns.   I actually thought I’d gotten a room there when I was on the search for Saturday Sleeping, but the woman called me back five minutes later and said, oops, she’d made a mistake.   Alas, no spirit melding with Tyrone Power (my mother’s favorite) this time.

There’s a terrible “Little Hollywood Movie Museum.”  I mean – it’s the worst.  You don’t pay to walk around the purported sets collected behind the shop,  but you know things are in a sorry state when you feel ripped off…. by a free attraction.  I hadn’t heard of any of the movies except McCabe and Mrs Miller , and all it was was a collection of shacks and false fronts (which is all it would be, I know).  There seemed to be a small foreign tour group there that was being led through and being invited to dress up and play with fake guns, but I didn’t stick around to see. It was just awkward.

Lunch was good – at this great little pizza buffet called Lotsa Motsa.  Just what everyone needed.  I always tell my kids when we travel that when they have a chance to eat…EAT A LOT.  Because they never know when they’re going to get a chance to eat again.  Sound sad?  Well, that’s just how our days tend to go on the road, and it’s especially how it can go when you veer into “picky eater” territory.  So they’ve learned: eat what’s there, when it’s there.  A pizza buffet was perfect, and the pizza was actually good. It was a popular place, too – crowded with obvious tourists from all over world, although the group of Asian tourists walked in, then walked right out, back across the street to McDonald’s.

It was early afternoon by then, and we had plenty of time to Do Things, so I decided that we should head back up north a little ways to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. 

On the way, we made one stop, however, at the Best Friends Animal Society.  This is a huge no-kill sanctuary spread over thousands of acres. Folks go and spend days or ever weeks volunteering at the facility.  They do offer tours, but they are lengthy, and you have to reserve them ahead of time – we missed the opportunity, but that’s fine.  I respect the work that they do, as well as their decision to be a refuge and a sanctuary and not a zoo, open to drop-in gawkers like us.

We did see these guys, though:

"amy welborn"

"amy welborn"

Such an interesting place.  The red rocks from two more or less parallel mountain ranges blow off into this valley and form enormous dunes of, well, pinkish sand.  What’s unique is that the park is open to both foot traffic and ATV’s (you can see the tracks in the photo), so while you are not going to get a peaceful afternoon in the dunes, ever, probably, everyone seems to respect each other and make way.

We probably spent two hours there  – the boys had a great time wandering and playing their imaginary games, whatever they are about.  I walked a bit, and then just sat and sand dune and people watched.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

There’s a small visitor’s center with super nice folks who talked to me about one of the things that had started to obsess me – finding petroglyphs and dinosaur tracksites.   The woman told me of a couple of near-ish sites and I filed them away for consideration.

Now on to the bunkhouses…finally!

Yes, it was a drive, but it’s what we had to do, and I didn’t mind – I would be driving through places I’d never seen, and they are beautiful places, so why not?

The bulk of the drive took us through the Kaibab Paiute reservation – unfortunately we were too late to go through the Pipe Spring historic site. But we did stop at the convenience store, and very weirdly, saw (as fellow customers) the couple who ran the rock shop we’d been to earlier – which was about fifty miles away…

When I booked these rooms, I hadn’t understood how close they were to Colorado City and Hildale. As we drew near, I saw that it was just a few miles, so I said, “Time for a detour!” and I explained, as best I could, what the FLDS was all about.

(And there’s a restaurant in Hildale – called the Merry Wives Cafe – that I’d hope to get to – but alas, they’re closed on Saturday evening, not surprisingly. I was disappointed.)

Trying not to think of Big Love, we reached the area, and I took a quick drive up and down some main streets, curious, I admit, to see what I would see.   It was early evening, so there weren’t a lot of folks out, but I did see a couple of typically dressed women – in the long dresses and big hair – and the really huge, sprawling, but somewhat ramshackle houses, clearly added onto over time – were quite noticeable, and everywhere.  The place had a shabby, tired, feel about it.

Yup, a quick view was good enough, so it was time to shoot back down the road to our home for the night:

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They’re tiny and immaculate and have absolutely everything you need, including little solar-powered lights (that’s the panel on the roof on the picture directly below- they are good, I think for three hours at a high level and five at a low – I’m pretty sure this was it), bunks inside, a chair, a side table, and a propane space heater.  The toilets were in a separate small outhouse/building and the shower was outdoors (behind a fence!).  The boys had their own pad, and I had mine. It was fun.

"amy welborn" "amy welborn"

Supposedly this bag containing water and pennies repels flies. Hey, I didn’t see any, so maybe. 

This was the cooking/device-charging area.

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The only unfortunate thing was that it was rainy.  If it hadn’t been, the boys would have spent a lot more time outside playing, and we would have been able to sit outside around a fire (the other people in the other bunkhouses tried to build one, but with no success.) But it was fine – very snug and a lovely little respite.

And dinner? Cheese, crackers and fruit. I warned you, didn’t I!

Now, on to Sunday and…WHAT TIME IS MASS ANYWAY?

"amy welborn"

Welcome Committee.

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Friday, May 22….

Time to ride!

At some point on Thursday, I’d booked a horse/mule/general quadruped ride down into Bryce Canyon.

You have two options: a 2-hour, or half-day trip.  The half-day is really just about four hours. We opted for the latter.  It wasn’t cheap, but it really was worth it.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Despite my near-terror at times.

You might already know this, but the thing about these creatures and the trails down into canyons involving switchbacks on ledges and cliffs is that their preferred path…is the edge. As in the outer edge of the path. With you perched on top of their hundreds and hundreds of pounds, looking down, watching them pick their way delicately along (did I mention?) the edge, dislodging gravel that you can hear tumble many feet in a downward direction.

It’s the same at the Grand Canyon, and I read that there are something like 140 switchbacks going down (on the south rim, I’m thinking, since that’s the steeper side), and I know now I wouldn’t be able to handle that.

All right, let’s backtrack.

The ride left very early – we were supposed to be there by 7:45, and we were, gathering first at the Bryce Canyon Lodge, and then heading down to the corral where we’d be matched with our rides.  There was one trail guide for about every 6 or 7 riders, it seemed. I got a mule – I don’t know what that says about me, but I did.  The boys got horses, and they, being the only children in our group, rode right up behind the guide then me, then the other 4 riders.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Various pieces of advice were given, the most important being:

  • Don’t be afraid, nothing will happen, it’s safe, etc., etc.
  • Don’t get too far behind because you don’t want your ride to start running to catch up. Because……?

Better not think about it.  Just keep up with the pack.

The guide was a very nice, super-polite young man, who gave us a few tales about the canyon and what we were seeing, but honestly, not as much as I had expected or hoped – somehow, I thought it would be just a bit more informative regarding the geology and history of the area. Like anything else, it all depends on your specific guide, I suppose.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

And yes, I was a little nervous. It’s just nerve-racking, as the heavy beast plods along on the edge of a cliff. (Did I mention the edge?).  It’s bad enough when the path is straight, but then you get to the switchback where the animal is going to turn, if not on a dime, at most on a half-dollar, and the gravel is rolling around and dropping..

The woman behind me was on a horse named Comanche, and, well, better her than me.  It was fine, of course, but Comanche was just a little more rambunctious than I would have been comfortable with, and there was one point at which he paused and saw something decent to eat right over the edge, and with his weight, there was a little bit of slipping and sliding, and…

…I’m glad I wasn’t on Comanche.

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But of course it was all fine. Every time. But I won’t deny that I was breathing easier when we finally hit the bottom of the canyon.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

And that’s another thing.  Looking at Bryce from the rim, I had thought that the hoodoos represented the whole of it – that the base of the hoodoos reached the base of the canyon.  But no!  Not at all, not even one bit.  The hoodoos actually begin far above the canyon floor, which is lightly forested with some mostly dry creekbeds. (Remember Bryce “Canyon” exists because of a freezing/thawing cycle more than water flowing at the bottom).  It’s where we stopped for a restroom and water break.

Despite my terror, I am really glad we did this.  The boys claimed they weren’t scared at all, so good for them. I mean…good for them. 

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I’ll write more about this later, but after going to the Grand Canyon, I can see a Rim-to-Rim experience somewhere in my future, but…I’ll walk it, thanks. No question.

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After lunch in Tropic (here – the boys really liked the hamburgers), the older boy was wiped out and was ready for a rest, but the ten-year old wasn’t near finished, so he and I headed back to the park to do some more hiking.

First we tackled the Navajo Trail.

(I thought I had photos, but I guess not…)

Then, as we left the park, I saw the turn-off for the Fairyland Loop (which is actually before the pay entrance to the park), so we decided to check that out.

If we ever go back, I would finish this one out.  We just walked a little way out on it, since we needed to get back but the landscape and trail itself (see how it goes out in the middle there?) was distinctive enough, I think it would be quite interesting to follow.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

It’s otherworldly.

"amy welborn" "bryce canyon" "amy welborn" "bryce canyon"

Navajo Trail was quite crowded with all kinds of folks, individuals but most in tour groups (Germans, Japanese & Backroads, I noticed in particular)

Back to the hotel – there might have been swimming that night – it was either then or the night before – in the substantial indoor pool at Ruby’s – but no overpriced buffet for dinner.  There was a Subway a couple of miles away, so that would have to do – with no complaints from anyone.

"amy welborn"

A common sight in public places in Utah.  Everything you need.

Tomorrow…heading south, on our way to the Grand Canyon….

thinking)

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It’s one of those places we’ve passed countless times, and every time, I’ve vaguely thought, “We should check that out.”

And yesterday, we finally did.

It’s a Georgia state park, Sweetwater Creek State Park, about 20 miles west of Atlanta. The entrance is ten minutes off of I-20, so yes, it’s very convenient on that Birmingham-Atlanta run, which we made yesterday.

We arrived at the park at 4, which gave us three good hours to enjoy it. We weren’t super prepared – should have had swimsuits and towels in the car – but we made do.

The heart of the park is a ruined mill. The visitor’s center has an excellent display about the history of the mill, as well as the natural features of the park itself.

The mill was a textile mill built in the 1840’s, and a community of about 300 developed around it. When the war started, it was taken over for the making of fabric for Confederate uniforms, and since the men mostly went to fight, was operated by women.

In 1864, when Sherman’s March pushed through the area, the mill was burned and all the women and children in the area were captured as prisoners of war, taken to Louisville, and told they would be released if they promised not to go south of the Ohio River for the duration of the war.  If not, they were just kept as prisoners.

The mill was never rebuilt and the area never resettled, so today we have a state park with a rapid-filled creek and rather haunting ruins.

We walked the Red Trail, which runs along the creek – it gets very, very rocky at times, so if you are unsteady on your feet at all, don’t take it past the mill.  We took it to the falls, then caught the White Trail and looped back around.

I am not a huge fan of kids playing in rapids with sharp rocks, but it was evidently the thing to do, and my son is very careful, so I let him have at it.  I was more than ready to move on, but he wasn’t, and I was wondering how I was ever going to get him out of there when he returned to me from his island conquest in the middle of the creek with as much hustle in his step as he could muster.

Out there, in a crevice in one of the rocks above a relatively calm spot, he’d seen – he claims, almost stepped on – a cottonmouth (also known as a Water Moccasin.) He was excited about the sighting, but, you know, also really ready to come out of the water.

I guess that’ll do it.

All in all, a great find – so glad we finally stopped, and I hope it won’t be the last time. It was the usual mix (not kidding) of Atlanta-area residents on the trails and in the water – white,  African-American, Hispanic, families with women in saris, families with women in hijab….yes, indeed, this New South is a great-looking bunch.

It looks like they have a very full slate of interesting activities, so we’ll try to hit on of those special hikes, for sure!

(Update:  Thanks to a commenter who mentioned that this is one of the Hunger Games filming sights.)

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Today is his feastday!

First, a General Audience from Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, from 2011:

It is only the prayerful soul that can progress in spiritual life: this is the privileged object of St Anthony’s preaching. He is thoroughly familiar with the shortcomings of human nature, with our tendency to lapse into sin, which is why he continuously urges us to fight the inclination to avidity, pride and impurity; instead of practising the virtues of poverty and generosity, of humility and obedience, of chastity and of purity. At the beginning of the 13th century, in the context of the rebirth of the city and the flourishing of trade, the number of people who were insensitive to the needs of the poor increased. This is why on various occasions Anthony invites the faithful to think of the true riches, those of the heart, which make people good and merciful and permit them to lay up treasure in Heaven. “O rich people”, he urged them, “befriend… the poor, welcome them into your homes: it will subsequently be they who receive you in the eternal tabernacles in which is the beauty of peace, the confidence of security and the opulent tranquillity of eternal satiety” (ibid., p. 29).

Is not this, dear friends, perhaps a very important teaching today too, when the financial crisis and serious economic inequalities impoverish many people and create conditions of poverty? In my Encyclical Caritas in Veritate I recall: “The economy needs ethics in order to function correctly not any ethics whatsoever, but an ethics which is people-centred” (n. 45).

Anthony, in the school of Francis, always put Christ at the centre of his life and thinking, of his action and of his preaching. This is another characteristic feature of Franciscan theology: Christocentrism. Franciscan theology willingly contemplates and invites others to contemplate the mysteries of the Lord’s humanity, the man Jesus, and in a special way the mystery of the Nativity: God who made himself a Child and gave himself into our hands, a mystery that gives rise to sentiments of love and gratitude for divine goodness.

Not only the Nativity, a central point of Christ’s love for humanity, but also the vision of the Crucified One inspired in Anthony thoughts of gratitude to God and esteem for the dignity of the human person, so that all believers and non-believers might find in the Crucified One and in his image a life-enriching meaning. St Anthony writes: “Christ who is your life is hanging before you, so that you may look at the Cross as in a mirror. There you will be able to know how mortal were your wounds, that no medicine other than the Blood of the Son of God could heal. If you look closely, you will be able to realize how great your human dignity and your value are…. Nowhere other than looking at himself in the mirror of the Cross can man better understand how much he is worth” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, pp. 213-214).

In meditating on these words we are better able to understand the importance of the image of the Crucified One for our culture, for our humanity that is born from the Christian faith. Precisely by looking at the Crucified One we see, as St Anthony says, how great are the dignity and worth of the human being. At no other point can we understand how much the human person is worth, precisely because God makes us so important, considers us so important that, in his opinion, we are worthy of his suffering; thus all human dignity appears in the mirror of the Crucified One and our gazing upon him is ever a source of acknowledgement of human dignity.

Dear friends, may Anthony of Padua, so widely venerated by the faithful, intercede for the whole Church and especially for those who are dedicated to preaching; let us pray the Lord that he will help us learn a little of this art from St Anthony. May preachers, drawing inspiration from his example, be effective in their communication by taking pains to combine solid and sound doctrine with sincere and fervent devotion. In this Year for Priests, let us pray that priests and deacons will carry out with concern this ministry of the proclamation of the word of God, making it timely for the faithful, especially through liturgical homilies. May they effectively present the eternal beauty of Christ, just as Anthony recommended: “If you preach Jesus, he will melt hardened hearts; if you invoke him he will soften harsh temptations; if you think of him he will enlighten your mind; if you read of him he will satifsfy your intellect” (Sermones Dominicales et Festivi III, p. 59).

Secondly, for children, an excerpt from my Loyola Kids’ Book of Saints:

Then one day something happened that was almost as strange as the ship wandering off course. There was a large meeting of Franciscans and Dominicans, but oddly enough, the plans for who would give the sermon at the meeting fell through. There were plenty of fine preachers present, but none of them were prepared.

"amy welborn"Those in charge of the meeting went down the line of friars. “Would you care to give the sermon, Brother? No? What about you, Father? No? Well, what about you, Fr. Anthony—is that your name?”

Slowly, Anthony rose, and just as slowly, he began to speak. The other friars sat up to listen. There was something very special about Anthony. He didn’t use complicated language, but his holiness and love for God shone through his words. He was one of the best preachers they had ever heard!

From that point on, Anthony’s quiet life in the hospital kitchen was over. For the rest of his life, he traveled around Italy and France, preaching sermons in churches and town squares to people who came from miles around.

His listeners heard Anthony speak about how important it is for us to live every day in God’s presence. As a result of his words, hundreds of people changed their lives and bad habits, bringing Jesus back into their hearts.

Next, some photos of the huge Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua from our trip in 2012.

(I’m guessing there were no photos allowed inside…since I don’t have any of the interior)

(Sigh. I loved Padua -it is one of those mid-sized Italian cities that I find tremendously appealing – a vibrant, sophisticated interesting buzz around the carefully, but not fussily maintained medieval core. I could live there. Maybe, someday, I will!)

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