EXPLORE CALIFORNIA – SANTA CRUZ ISLAND

Considered to be the “Galapagos of North America”, the Channel Islands is one of America’s most remote and least visited national parks. Located off the southern California coast, the park’s five islands offer sanctuary and solitude for those willing to forsake some basic creature comforts.

Known for its coastline cliffs, sea caves, and isolated beaches, Santa Cruz Island is a mecca for divers, snorkelers, kayakers, campers, hikers, and nature lovers. After being fortunate enough to obtain a three-day camping permit to the island, I booked my boat ride and headed for Ventura harbor.

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With an 8am departure, I loaded my gear and boarded the Island Packers boat.

Embracing the reality that I would be spending the next hour managing my motion sickness, I headed for a bench seat towards the bow of the boat.

Over the years I have tried medication, acupressure wristbands, and ginger chews in attempts to alleviate my motion sickness symptoms. Nothing has successfully worked! These days my best case scenario is to take Dramamine, keep my food intake to a minimum, sit outside, face the horizon, and suffer through it.

After leaving the harbor, it wasn’t long before we entered the Santa Barbara Channel. Recognized as one of the most diverse and biologically sensitive ecosystems in the world, the Santa Barbara Channel is the seasonal home of blue, fin, and humpback whales.

Sharing their feeding areas with cargo shipping lanes, migrating whales are vulnerable to ship strikes in the channel. In 2007, four blue whales were killed by cargo ship collisions. Their deaths led to moving the shipping lane one nautical mile, increasing the distance between vessels and whales, and hopefully reducing the chances of future ship strikes.

With Santa Cruz Island in the distance, several migrating whales approached our vessel. In spite of my motion sickness, I reached for my camera and staggered over to the port side of the boat.

For the next several minutes, the Baryshnikov’s of the sea captivated passengers with their deep dives and tail flukes. Living in southern California, it’s easy to take whale-watching opportunities for granted. I still remember my first experience whale watching in Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

Arriving in Scorpion Harbor, the Island Packers crew prepared the passengers for a dingy landing.

Once all the passengers were on shore, an assembly line formed to unload everyone’s camping gear. In less than thirty minutes, the unloading process was complete.

Two national park rangers then conducted a brief orientation, covering basic rules and precautions that were specific to the island. As a non-smoker, I smiled when the ranger announced that only two locations on the island permitted smoking. The first spot was the landing beach and the second was four miles away at Smugglers Cove.

After registering with the ranger as a camper, I left the beach and headed inland to the campground.

Greeted by a welcoming party of island foxes, it was hard to imagine that less than a decade ago this species was on the brink of extinction.

With their numbers dropping below a hundred in 2004, a science-based restoration program was initiated. Today, their population has increased to twelve hundred.

Entering the campground, I felt like I was walking in Australia. Surrounded and shaded by massive blue gum eucalyptus trees, I wondered how Australian trees ended up on a remote island off the coast of California.

Who planted these non-native and non-invasive trees? I doubt it was the Chumash Indians; who considered this island home for over 11,000  years. My first guess was colonizers. I learned early in grade school that colonization is a combination of claiming, removing and introducing. Claiming a land that is not yours, removing its inhabitants, and introducing new inhabitants who identify themselves as landowners. Colonization often sees the introduction of non-native flora and fauna. In Santa Cruz island’s case, it appears it was the landowners and European ranchers who planted eucalyptus trees. I’m sure the eucalyptus trees provided shade, windbreaks, fuel, and construction material for the islands new inhabitants.

I set up my camp remembering I was a guest on sacred land. I considered the historical irony that a stolen island could have more federal and environmental protection than its original inhabitants.

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After an early lunch, I hiked out to Smugglers Cove. Just under four miles each way, this hike follows old ranch roads that lead down to a secluded cobble and driftwood covered beach.

After three and half miles of walking across dry hillsides, the trail descended through some olive trees, before spilling out onto the beach.

Having been the only hiker on trail, I was the only human at Smugglers Cove. Seldom have I hiked within a national park and experienced such solitude.

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As the only visitor exploring Smugglers Cove, I wondered about the life of pirates, smugglers, sea otter hunters, and bootleggers that utilized the area as a secret hideaway. Did they stay at the cove for extended periods of time or was the cove more of a secret storage facility? Is it possible that some hidden treasures remain in the area?

DAY TWO

After being awakened by a curious four-pound island fox, I rolled out of my tent and prepared for a mid-morning island paddle.

Exploring giant sea caves and kelp beds was on the day’s agenda and I could barely contain my excitement. Santa Barbara Adventure Company had a last minute kayak spot become available. I didn’t waste any time securing a booking. https://www.sbadventureco.com/

I’m not usually one to partake in group tours; however, having no experience paddling into sea caves, I decided to take my maiden voyage with a guide.

After spending a few hours navigating my kayak through several sea caves, I have a new appreciation for the finesse, timing, and tide awareness needed for cave exploration.

To complete my final full day on Santa Cruz Island, I opted for a late afternoon and sunset hike to Potato Harbor.

Leaving my campsite, I hiked up the chalky ridge and followed the backbone of the cliffs to the potato-shaped cove.

With no trail down to the beach, Potato Cove had to be admired from above.

On my way back to camp, mother nature painted a crimson canvas that exploded across the pacific skyline. The dramatic color changes; from burning orange to bright pinks and purple. I couldn’t think of a better way to end my day.

DAY THREE

With a mid-morning departure, I packed up camp and said goodbye to my island fox friends. Ten years ago, it would have been rare to see this handsome fellow hanging out in the campground.

As I waited for my return boat back to Ventura, I was already planning a return trip in my mind. While day trips are available, consider spending a few days exploring the island on foot and by kayak. Santa Cruz Island’s history is one of sadness, survival, and struggle. Honor it’s past, present and future; by paying it a visit.

 

EXPLORE UTAH – GOOSENECKS STATE PARK

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At the end of Utah’s Highway 316, lies three hundred million years of geological activity and an opportunity to stand on the edge of the world.

Eroded by wind, water, frost, and gravity, the Goosenecks of the San Juan River are a living testament to the earth’s skeleton.

The Goosenecks are a series of tight loops that geologists refer to as entrenched meanders. Weaving back and forth for over five miles, the San Juan’s meanders measure one linear mile.

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Beyond the visible Goosenecks, the San Juan River continues to twist and turn before spilling into Lake Powell.

In my opinion, the Goosenecks are Utah’s answer to Arizona’s Horseshoe Bend, but without the crowds.

After setting up camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I cautiously walked along the canyon’s rim towards the Goosenecks observation point.

The one thousand foot drop of geological madness to the silty San Juan River left me awestruck. Feeling awestruck has as much to do with how we look at the world as it does with the world we are looking at. Could being in love cause mother nature’s metamorphosis to appear more magical? Does sharing awestruck moments reveal a couple’s capacity for wonder and surprise? Can awestruck moments serve as markers to the sacredness of time and life? Sharing awestruck moments with the Perfect Stranger reminded me of our beginning and mother nature’s role in the ever-developing story of us.

MOTHER NATURE

On a personal level, mother nature feels like the family I never had. She has been present for every adult birthday, seasonal holiday, personal milestone, heartaches, heartbreaks, and professional achievements. Mother Nature fills the void of not having family. Having no direct experience of going home for the holidays or sharing holidays with family members leaves me feeling awkward, out-of-place, and downright uncomfortable. Celebrating seasonal holidays in a traditional way feels very foreign. I do not feel the same happiness or joy that others seem to be experiencing. It’s no wonder I have opted to spend holidays backpacking or camping. I’m with family and it’s familiar. For this reason, sharing adventure trips with the Perfect Stranger is sacred to me. I’m taking her home to meet the family!

Under the watchful eye of Shadow, the Perfect Stranger carefully navigated her way down to a rocky outcropping.

Standing guard, Shadow disapprovingly watched as the Perfect Stranger ventured down the canyon wall towards the precipice.

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Standing on the edge of the world, the Perfect Stranger, the love of my life, found herself in an awestruck moment. Captured in her natural habitat, these moments bridged the distance between the remoteness of the landscape and the connection I felt to her.

Awestruck moments require connection with mother nature as opposed to the conquering narrative we have manifested in our minds. Does this sense of conquer originate from within? Mountain climbers frequently describe the physical and mental struggles endured in summit attempts.  Does the internalized sense of struggle and the intense feeling of accomplishment evolve into a conquering state of mind? Is it ignorance or arrogance that fuels our sense of conquer? Perhaps a connection to the planet reveals one’s vulnerability to self and others.

Returning to camp, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I ate a light dinner while patiently waiting for the sun to set. Outside of the gentle breeze, the world felt remarkably still.

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For the next hour,  the Perfect Stranger and I bathed in the pink, orange, and purple hues that painted the Monument Valley skyline. There was no one here, it was the off-season; a time when solitude can be found.

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In the final twilight minutes before darkness, mother nature saturated the sky with brush strokes of pink and purple. Mother nature’s canvas was complete, signaling the end of our day.

After surviving a cold windy night, I was happy to get up and share my morning coffee with the sandstone buttes in the distance.

Twenty-four hours ago, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I were exploring the dirt back roads of Monument Valley. This morning, I had a base camp with a view.

In a few hours, we would be leaving a state park that possesses the greatest example of an entrenched meander in North America. A state park that resides at the end of a highway. A state park that many a road tripper has unknowingly and unwillingly driven by. A state park without hiking trails, shade, or water. A state park that allows you to dance on the edge of the world.

WindMills, Water Tanks, & Walks In Monument Valley

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Monument Valley: Is it a valley? A wide flat plateau? Or a desolate landscape that remains a living testament to the sandstone layers that once covered the region? Known to the Navajo as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii, Monument Valley exemplifies the images that generations of moviegoers identify as the American West.

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The 1969 movie “Easy Rider”, suggested that an unapologetic sense of individualism and dirt covered freedom could be found exploring the southwest on a motorcycle. Twenty-five years later, Forrest Gump’s three-year, coast to coast, cathartic run, found an unexpected finish line in Monument Valley.

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For me, the most poignant film that features and defines Monument Valley is the documentary “The Return Of The Navajo Boy.” This internationally acclaimed documentary reunites a Navajo family and triggered a federal investigation into uranium contamination on Navajo lands.

In the 1940’s, government surveyors discovered large deposits of uranium in Monument Valley. Between 1944 and 1986, nearly four million tons of ore were extracted from Navajo lands, in an attempt to fuel the Cold War nuclear arms race. At the end of the war, the mining companies moved out and the highly toxic contaminated sites remained. Over time, the ore pits filled with water, providing a contaminated community water source to unsuspecting Navajos.

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Twenty-first century Monument Valley remains an overwhelming landscape that offers a master class in surreal geometry, impeccable architecture, and human resilience. As a visitor, it’s a place I wanted to explore in the off-season, away from the crowds, tourists, and the tour buses. It’s a place where I wanted to taste the dirt!

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Just after sunrise, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for GooseNecks State Park, Utah. Our five-hour drive had no set agenda, outside of trying to capture the spirit of Monument Valley.

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After crossing the Navajo Bridge, we followed Highway 89 before heading east on Highway 160. The Arizona section of this highway lies entirely within the Navajo Nation.

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On the outskirts of Tuba City, a roadside water tank and windmill caught our eye. Without hesitation, we pulled over and the Perfect Stranger scaled the Aermotor windmill.

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Climbing and photographing water tanks had become an official past time for us both.

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Leaving Tuba City, we continued along Highway 160 towards Kayenta.

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A few miles south of town, a rock formation stood out in the distance.

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In order to get a closer look, the Perfect Stranger and I impulsively followed a dirt road that branched off the main highway. This is one of the many attributes I appreciate about the Perfect Stranger, her spontaneity and her willingness to explore undeveloped back roads.

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The dusty dirt road was littered with abandoned car tires, mattresses, sheet metal, glass bottles, and household appliances.

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Trash collection is an ongoing problem on tribal lands. The Navajo Nation does not have landfills or recycling plants; instead, they have overflowing waste transfer stations. In theory, the Navajo pay to have their trash picked up and transported to transfer stations, where it’s then hauled away to landfills in bordering towns. In practice, garbage trucks won’t drive on the unmaintained reservation dirt roads, making trash dumping an unsustainable option to an unsolved problem. I think many people would be shocked to know that many tribes still lack the basic services of running water and electricity.

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Despite the trash, we walked across the barren desert floor towards the volcanic rock formation.

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It was during this walk that I noticed Shadow’s bond with the Perfect Stranger. Like his mama, Shadow had fallen for her. Capturing their relationship through my camera lens made it even more magical.The pictures clearly demonstrated his adoration and willingness to follow her direction.

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Realizing that we were still seventy miles from camp, the Perfect Stranger and I made our way back to the car. Seventy miles seems like a minimal distance to cover; however, between our impromptu stops and my pet peeve of setting up camp in the dark, we were mindful of the remaining daylight hours.

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Leaving highway 160, we headed north on Highway 163. Twenty-three miles separated us from Monument Valley and the nation’s fastest growing county, San Juan County.

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Gaining over a thousand residents between 2015 and 2016, this remote southeastern portion of Utah grew 7.6%. What inspired the migration to  San Juan county? With an unemployment rate of almost 10%, it’s safe to say, people are not moving to the county for job opportunities.

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Could tribal members be moving back to the Navajo Nation reservation due to oil field jobs drying up in other states? Is the affordability of the county attracting retirees? Has tourism impacted the county’s growth? Will Bears Ears National Monument create further growth due to tourism and employment opportunities? Only time will tell if the population growth will improve the living conditions and employment opportunities for the residents of the state’s poorest county.

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Crossing the state line, we were greeted by a “Welcome to Utah, Life Elevated” billboard. Upon closer inspection, the sign had been covered in various unrelated stickers.  It made me wonder, how did this sticker phenomenon happen? Who’s idea was it? Are stickers the new form of sign tagging for tourists? With no stickers in our possession, we were content to focus on desert scape that stood before us.

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On the other side of the highway, a hitchhiker heading south caught my attention.

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Being off-season, there was very little traffic; I wondered how many miles he would have to walk before getting a ride. Based on his gear, I could tell he wasn’t a thru- hiker; I regret not crossing the highway and saying “HI”.

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The remaining thirty-two-mile drive from Monument Valley to GooseNecks State Park was eventful as it was scenic.

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On road trips, the Perfect Stranger and I are in a constant search for the ‘the shot’. To us, the shot that captures the personality of the landscape. The shot that elicits a feeling of awestruck. The shot that makes a creative’s empty stomach feel full. The shot that’s a once in a lifetime time, never to be repeated.

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The Perfect Stranger caught a glimpse of ‘the Monument Valley shot’ in our rearview mirror. We immediately pulled over on the outskirts of Halchita, grabbing our cameras, to hike up the gully and along the plateau to our destination.

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Before we could even start taking pictures, miraculously the Perfect Stranger spotted a ravenous pack of rez dogs three plateaus over. Rez dogs are feral dogs that roam tribal lands left to fend for themselves. Rez dogs must compete for food, shelter, and water. Killing livestock and attacking humans occurs with alarming regularity on the reservation.

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We saw them before they smelled us. Were we standing down wind preventing our human scent from traveling to their sensitive noses? A quick mental calculation told the Perfect Stranger we had had three gullies between us and five sets of rez dog teeth. Behind us lay a 200 yard sprint to the safety of the car. Could we make it back the car before the rez dogs fanned out, circling us and cutting off our retreat? Would Shadow follow our direction and sprint to the car? We knew in our heads if Shadow noticed the rez dogs he would instinctively try to protect us from the pack resulting in his death. The Perfect Stranger and I shared a glance in that moment, silently communicating that it was time to run for our lives. Every year, over three thousand dog bites and attacks are treated on Navajo Nation. We had no intention of becoming another statistic!

With a two gully headstart, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I hightailed it to the car. Five rez dogs who looked like Benji but possessed the temperant of Kujo, fanned out in pursuit.  Still recovering from bruised ribs, I was the slowest runner of the group. The Perfect Stranger kept Shadow engaged to prevent him from realizing that a pack of rez dogs was chasing us. With one gully to spare, we reached the safety of our car. For the rez dogs, the pursuit was not over until the last car door slammed shut. With our adrenaline in overdrive, we breathed a sigh of relief, silently acknowledging just how close we had come. We never did get “the shot”!

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Addressing and resolving the plight of rez dogs is a very complex issue. There are no immediate fix-its or long term solutions. How does the Navajo Nation preserve it’s traditional culture while managing the modern realities of dog overpopulation? An estimated 445,000 stray dogs live within the Navajo Nation. Over three thousand people are treated every year for dog bites and attacks. From an animal control perspective: there are only six animal control officers and four active shelters, serving 25,000 square miles within the Navajo Nation. In addition to the lack of animal control enforcement, there is also a lack of veterinary care. Considering the high levels of poverty on the reservation, vaccinating and spay/neutering services are unaffordable. Cultural barriers and government mistrust have impeded efforts by rescue groups to offer spay/neuter programs on tribal lands. The documentary, “Rez Dogs”, takes an honest look at the problem from within. To watch the movie click here –

http://www.ya-native.com/Culture_SouthWest/video/rezdogs.html

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Leaving the eroded mesas of Monument Valley, we crossed the San Juan River and made a brief stop in Mexican Hat, Utah. This small town is named after the rock formation that resembles a sombrero.

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With two hours left before sunset, the Perfect Stranger, Shadow, and I arrived at Goosenecks State Park. Our day had been one of windmills, water tanks, monumental walks, and a near death experience with rez dogs.

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Before setting up camp, the Perfect Stranger and I inhaled three hundred million years of geological activity and caught our breath to one of the most impressive examples of an entrenched river meander.

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For the next two days, this would be our playground. I was confident we would get another chance at the shot!

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Ten Reasons to Visit Marble Canyon, Arizona

As the halfway point between the Grand Canyon’s South and North Rim, Marble Canyon is more than an outpost town. It is a nature lovers gateway to paradise. Considered to be a base camp for Lees Ferry, Marble Canyon is an adventurers thoroughfare. River rafters, backpackers, day hikers, kayakers, and fishermen come from all over the world to experience this jewel of the southwest.

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Tourists utilize Marble Canyon’s facilities to refuel their gas tank and grab a bite on their way to the North Rim; many remain unaware of the attractions and adventures that this outpost town has to offer. Below are ten reasons why you should consider spending a  few days exploring Marble Canyon.

1. NAVAJO BRIDGE TWINS

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The two Navajo bridges, one historic and one new, represent one of only seven land crossings of the Colorado River for seven hundred miles.

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Serving as a pedestrian crossing, the historic bridge provides visitors with an opportunity to observe river rafters floating down the Colorado River and the chance to see the endangered California condor.

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2. CALIFORNIA CONDORS

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Only 225 California condors are living in the wild and 75 reside in Marble Canyon and Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.

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These majestic birds are often seen flying in the thermal currents and roosting on the steel girders underneath the Navajo Bridge.

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3. LOWER CATHEDRAL WASH

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The Lower Cathedral Wash Trail is located in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This 2.5 mile round trip trail ends at Cathedral Rapid on the Colorado River.

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4. PARIA BEACH

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Directly across from Lees Ferry campground is Paria Beach. Known for its white sand and turquoise water, Paria Beach is a great place to watch rafters navigate their first set of rapids down the Grand Canyon.

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5. LONELY DELL RANCH

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This historic ranch, which lies near the mouth of the Paria River, was home to the families who operated Lees Ferry. Living in a such an isolated area demanded a self-sufficient lifestyle. Harvesting their own fruit and vegetables, these pioneers turned a barren desert into a green oasis.

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The main ranch buildings are a short walk from the parking area. Be sure to tour the orchard, log cabins, stone house, and the pioneer cemetery.

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7. PARIA RIVER

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If you visit the ranch cemetery, follow the dirt road all way the until you reach the Paria River Trail. Whether it’s a short nature walk or full-blown day hike, Paria River is a wilderness area begging to be explored.

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For dog owners, this is a great place to take the dog for a hike and swim.

8. LEES FERRY BOAT RAMP

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As the official start of the Grand Canyon, Lees Ferry boat ramp is a great place to watch commercial and private rafting expeditions launch.

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9. KAYAKING

For the price of a kayak rental and backhaul shuttle, you can explore a sixteen mile stretch of the Colorado River. Rated as a Class 1 paddle, I highly recommend spending a few days camping and kayaking your way back to Lees Ferry.

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For a detailed trip report

https://remoteleigh.com/2014/09/17/paddling-through-paradise-for-peanuts/

Backhaul Services

http://www.raftthecanyon.com/raft-the-river/back-hauling-services/

http://kayakthecolorado.com/backhaul-services/

Kayak Rentals

http://kayakthecolorado.com/river-rentals/

http://www.lakepowellhiddencanyonkayak.com/rental/

10. FLY FISHING

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Home to more than 20,000 wild trout per mile, Lees Ferry ranks as one of the nation’s top fishing destinations. Guided excursions, private and rented boats, and walk-in fishing are permitted for fifteen canyon miles upstream from Lees Ferry boat ramp. I highly recommend hiring a local fishing guide to take you upriver to fish the backwaters, gravel bars, and main river channel.

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FISHING GUIDES

http://www.northernazguideservice.com/about.html

http://leesferry.com/our-guides/

ACCOMMODATIONS

http://www.marblecanyoncompany.com/

http://www.vermilioncliffs.com/

http://leesferry.com/cliff-dwellers-lodge/

CAMPING

Lees Ferry Campground is located 1.5 miles from the boat ramp. Wind breaks, flush toilets, and a waste station are available for RV’S. First come, first serve, at $20 a night.

VERMILION CLIFFS NATIONAL MONUMENT – FINDING WIREPASS

Every morning I wake up to the rugged and remote beauty of Vermilion Cliffs.

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The ruggedness serves as a reminder that mother nature is my C.E.O. and the remoteness reinforces my belief that the environment is our entertainment.

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Every day, from sunrise to sunset, mother nature reveals her ever-changing moods and weather patterns.

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In the blink of an eye, a double rainbow can appear as quickly as an afternoon downpour ends.

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A flash flood can quickly transform a dry river bank into temporary natal pools for red-spotted toads.

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A pre-sunset sky transforms into a mosaic of pink, orange, purple, and red mystical hues; like a kaleidoscope of colors dancing across the desert sky.

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Mother nature’s magical moods entertain and energize me on a daily basis; however, there was still something missing, the Perfect Stranger.

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Every other week, the Perfect Stranger honored our romance by driving over a thousand miles (round trip) to Vermilion Cliffs. Even though she was completing her thesis, managing her non-profit foundation, and taking care of her two dogs; she still made time for me.

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How many people would be willing to drive to the middle of nowhere to pursue a romance with someone who could only offer their love and desert landscapes? Would the drive become tedious over time; diminishing the romantic sense of relationship urgency, or would the early morning desert driveway embraces serve as a reminder that this was no ordinary love?

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On a February winter’s morning, the Perfect Stranger and I set out for Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. After a twenty-minute drive to the Kaibab Plateau, we headed north on House Rock Valley Road (also known as B.L.M Road 1065). For twenty two miles, we followed the unmaintained gravel road before reaching our final destination, WirePass trailhead.

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Wirepass is a 1.7-mile trail that spills into the longest continuous slot canyon in the world, Buckskin Gulch.

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Buckskin Gulch holds a special place in my heart. In 2011, I celebrated my 40th birthday with a thirty-eight-mile backpacking trip into the lower intestine of Buckskin Gulch, before following the Paria River all the way to Lees Ferry.

It was during this trip that I fell in love with slot canyons and made a mental note to myself; this is a place you only share with someone special. Four years later, I found myself day hiking Wirepass with my love, the Perfect Stranger.

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In sections, which were less than three feet wide, the Perfect Stranger and I navigated and negotiated our way through the slot canyon. Having bruised several ribs a few weeks prior, rock scrambling was quite a painful endeavor.

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Slot canyons can be treacherous during flash flood season. With higher ground exit points few and far between, the B.L.M. (Bureau Of Land Management) strongly suggests avoiding slot canyons July through September. Rain from fifty miles away can deliver barreling flash floods within minutes.

As we approached the Wire Pass / Buckskin Gulch junction, petroglyphs left by the Anasazi came into view.

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Petroglyphs of humans, bighorn sheep, and a mysterious dotted line followed the entire length of the rock wall.

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Canyons with vertical walls a few hundred feet high and only a few feet wide are considered true slot canyons. True slot canyons are found on the many rivers and tributaries that flow into Lake Powell. Branches of the Paria River, Escalante River, and the numerous creeks that cross Navajo lands south of Lake Powell, are birthing grounds for mother nature’s masterpieces.

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Buckskin Gulch’s curved sunlight sandstone walls screamed the works of Georgia O’Keefe. Perhaps Georgia O’Keefe was speaking on behalf of mother nature when she said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way-things I had no words for.”

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Georgia O’Keefe was right! No words or pictures could accurately convey the beauty of this slot canyon.

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Unfortunately, the Perfect Stranger and I were unable to venture any further into the belly of Buckskin Gulch. Within a half a mile, we hit our first mud puddle; a sign of recent rain in the canyon.

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A few hundred yards later, a deep water trough ended our hike. In thirty degree weather, a cold water swim was not something we had planned for.

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As we made our way back to the trailhead, the Perfect Stranger and I made plans to camp inside Buckskin Gulch for a few days. Due to the lack of water, most backpackers only spend a day or two in the Gulch. In order for us to stay three to four days, we would need to carry in enough water to sustain us.

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Leaving Wirepass trailhead, I realized I had a few weeks until I returned to my seasonal job. Would my work affect our extraordinary love?  Would the Perfect Stranger continue to make the pilgrimage out to the middle of nowhere in a Northern Arizona town? Would the miles that separate us continue to keep us close or would they painfully remind us of our geographically challenged romance?

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Perhaps life is a series of years managing unanswered and answered questions. Do we look for stability and a safety net in the answers? What if the answers only lead to more questions? Was I looking for a lifetime guarantee with love or was I simply fearful of losing something so precious?  For now, I could bank on the Perfect Stranger’s willingness and determination to be with me regardless of life circumstances.