2021-04-22 Arizona Adventure Day 4: Doing Sedona Take 2

Day 4. Thursday. Thirsty Thursday. 

Thursday is what happens when something doesn’t go according to plan. Sometimes, it’s all wrong, but sometimes it turns out alright.

My big plan for the day was a hot air balloon ride over Sedona. It was one of the things that Jim and I talked about after the big reveal about the destination for our vacation, which remained a surprise to him until about 1 or 2 days before our departure. Neither one of us had done a balloon ride before and I wanted to, but recalled a conversation we had early in our relationship where he said he would never do it. 

My friend Rebecca went on one with her then boyfriend Jeremy when they had their first big vacation together which just happened to be in Arizona. She recommended it and said it was an incredible experience. So I asked Jim about it again. He did a few google searches to see how safe it was and gave me the green light to book it. 

The catch with this sort of thing is that there are no guarantees and the best time of day for calm winds and weather is early am. They kick off around sunrise and since it was in Sedona, we had an hour to drive to make it to our pick-up spot. With a 5:20am pick up, we had to wake up at 4am to make it. Somehow with the anticipation of it.. that was not a problem. 

The unpredictability of the weather means things can also go awry. We rode out to the launch spot with a bunch of other folks. It looked like about 6 balloons going up based on the trucks and trailers pulling gear. When we arrived we got out and proceeded to stand around with these other folks in 40 degree temps, shivering and waiting for something to happen. 

All the dudes working for the company huddled around as well, periodically sending up little black balloons and watching their lift and direction. We could hear them talking and laughing and pointing. After about 25 minutes the guy who drove 6 of us walked over to deliver the bad news. The winds were not favorable and they were scrubbing the launch. 

The driver told us it was less about safety and more about quality of experience. He said that because of the winds, we couldn’t get very far before coming back down or be at risk for going way off course and end up hiking half a day back to civilization. Good to know. 

Well… you win some and you lose some but sometimes when you lose, you actually win. 

He dropped us back off at about 6:15am and gave us a few recommendations for places to get coffee, breakfast, and find good hiking. We went to the breakfast place he recommended, had a lovely meal, and talked about alternate plans for the day. 

After breakfast we drove to a popular trailhead and found the parking lot completely full already. Damn.. these people are serious about their hiking. I then navigated us to an alternate trail close by and found a virtually empty lot. Perfect.

The trail was called the “Airport Trail” which sounds very unappealing. The Sedona airport is situated on top of a large hill and the trail runs along the outside on the side of the hill. But, for 90% of the trail, you can’t even see the fence that surrounds the airport property. And since the trail goes all the way around, you get incredible views of the area the entire 365 degrees.

At the start of the hike we went to the right and headed to a place called “The Summit” first. It was a short hike to get to an area with steps up to the top of a large rock formation. You know when you see pics of people sitting or laying on top of a giant rock at the top of a mountain? That’s exactly what it was like. A great way to start.

After climbing back down, we continued on the main trail which was a lot longer than I thought it would be. I thought I read that the hike was a 1.5 mile loop but that just has to be wrong considering how large the airport has to be for planes to take off and land. Still, we were committed to doing the whole loop so as it got long, we pressed on.

The other great thing about the hike is that we were already up on the side of a sizable hill so the trail did not have a lot of elevation change. You could basically walk the trail and not get too winded. Great for those of us who live in the flatlands and are not acclimated to the elevation.

Noteworthy is that when we arrived back at the parking lot, it was practically full and there were tons of people everywhere. I guess that’s the bonus of going super early.

When the hike was over, we were sweaty, kind of jazzed up, and not sure what to do with the rest of our day. I had been dressed in long pants and layers for the balloon ride and quickly peeled everything off to try and cool down. Jim drove as we talked about where to go.

Renting ATVs was an option folks had been talking about at the balloon launch site so we went to one of the places on 89A and did just that.

There was an area just outside of town called Red Rock State Park and I had wanted to visit. What better way to get up close and personal with the rock formations without another long hike?!

The trail we opted for was a pretty tame one as were just beginners. Actually, after riding the terrain for about 5 minutes, I had no desire to drive at all. Riding was stressful enough. And bumpy as hell.

The scenery was amazing… again… and we rode to some cliffside ruins; dwellings constructed by native peoples hundreds of years ago. That was pretty cool. The ATV was a 4 hour rental but we were done after just that one trail. As it turns out, Jim didn’t think it was that fun either.

By the time that little adventure was over, we were exhausted, filthy, hungry, and seriously parched. It was also reaching the time of day when all the spots to eat got super busy in Sedona and we weren’t really in any shape for finding parking, waiting, or sitting down for a nice meal. We decided just to drive back to flagstaff and cook our own late day lunch. 

It feels like the day ended there. I suppose, in a way, it did. That’s the other thing that happens when you wake up at 4am… you’re ready for bed by like 7pm. 😜

What day am I writing about again? Oh yeah… thirsty Thursday. It was a very thirsty day indeed. 

Rolling Dice and Taking Chances,

~Miss SugarCookie

2020-10-11 Winter Park Getaway Day 2: Aclimation and Viewpoint

I woke before the sun again today. 5AM I think. I’m afflicted with the inability to sleep.. in. I mean, I’ve been able to, in the early days of my life and in more recent years if I’ve taken something to help me sleep. But not now. And certainly not here, in a bed that is far away from my own. It’s ok though. It gives me quiet time, with my own thoughts and time to write and wonder about things.

The difference between waking up early yesterday and today is that today I don’t have a headache to contend with. It means my body is acclimating to the altitude here. I mean, I certainly indulged in the same evening activities as the night before (and perhaps more so) and I feel great!

Our air-b-and-b is on the side of a steep hill. To make the most of the space the town has to offer, buildings are constructed more vertically. This one is 3 stories. A basement that walks out the back of the condo to a covered patio where the hot tub is. A main floor that has a garage at street level in the front and living and dining areas with lots of windows in the back that have a great view of the surrounding foothills. Are they foothills here or mountains? I am not sure.

The master bedroom and bath are up another flight of stairs on the second story. With this setup, a person starts to pay attention to where they leave something and when they might need it next. Going up those two flights of stairs reminds me I’m in Colorado. Which is to say, I can’t make it all with one go. I’ve got to stop in the middle to catch my breath. How sad is that?

It’s probably partially due to my age and partially due to the fact that I’m just not acclimated to the altitude here. We went on another hike yesterday and opted to go on one tagged as “easy.” Easy for a flatlander translates to moderate. Moderate translates to difficult. Difficult translates to, “you gonna die if you go on this hike yo.” So one has to do the conversion before making a decision.

The hike we chose yesterday was called “Viewpoint.” It was about a 40 minute drive north from Winter Park to the trailhead. The opposite direction of the hike we went the day before. We drove the now somewhat familiar road of highway 40 to highway 34 which leads through Rocky Mountain National Park to Estes Park. The turnout for the road that leads to the trailhead was just shy of the entrance to RMNP. Which, in case you did not know, you have to have a reservation to visit these days. Crazy times!

Highway 34 on this side of the park hugs Grand Lake which I had not been to before. It’s massive (compared to lakes I’m used to). The hike was on a trail that was well established but, like the one the day before, there was not another human in sight. It was all walking and no climbing and we wound our way gently through a young grove of pine trees that had sprung up to replace what appeared to be a burned out section of forest.

This is kind of what I was talking about yesterday. This is evidence that nature just takes care of itself. There is no way humans planted the hundreds of adolescent pine trees we walked through. It’s just a part of the cycle of forest life. The aspens were pretty sparse on the trail and most were about done for the season, but every once and awhile there were pops of yellow and gold that looked incredible against a backdrop of green and brown.

The undergrowth in the area were fine shades of yellow and gold and red as well. We were just in awe of the colors. And the top of the trail was like a little mini-peak with a 360 view of the area. RMNP to the north/northeast and the valley of Grand Lake/Grand County to the west and south, with mountains rising up in every direction.

There were a few fallen logs situated just so at the top of the trail which made a lovely spot for sitting and looking out (and maybe having a puff or two of Colorado’s finest, if you are into that sort of thing). We spied on a red tail hawk in a nearby tree (whose presence was made known to us because of the screech he issued forth). We watched him until he took flight and soared away in quite a majestic fashion.

The hike back down was lovely too. The sun was kind of getting low in the sky and the way it hit the trees and the adjacent hillside caused the colors to pop. The shadows cast by the trees across the path felt like we were getting to witness something special. A rare treat.

Just about the time we were back at the trailhead and getting in our car, we were reminded we had not eaten since breakfast. I’d already professed that it would be a good day for cheeseburgers. The only renaming question was where.

Though truth be told.. I’d already researched where and my mind was made up. I had our call in order for Randy’s Irish Pub ready to go as soon as we were closer to home base. But then my call could not be completed as the receiver was busy.

I called a second time and then a third from Jim’s phone. No dice. We decided to just get back to the condo and decide from there what to do. Passing by Randy’s, the parking lot was empty. Go figure.

Would I be denied a cheeseburger on vacation? Would we get that hot tub working? Would round 2 with the perfect margaritas land me in bed again by 9pm?

Answers to all this and more in part two of day two… coming to a SugarCookie blog near you soon (gotta get rolling on the road).

Until then, peace and love,
~Miss SugarCookie

2020-10-10 Winter Park Getaway Day 1: It Can Be Whatever You Want

I’m waking up on my second day here in Winter Park Colorado— before the sun and with a fairly healthy headache. It might be a hangover, you know, because at this altitude it only takes a few cocktails to affect a person. Despite reminding each other numerous times last night, we still did not alter our intake of perfect margaritas. But wait, there’s a lot more to the story of our day than just that. Rewind.

After a lovely breakfast yesterday I took my sweet time showering and getting ready for a day out exploring while Jim did research on good hiking trails nearby. That was our first objective of the day, to get the body moving and get lost a little bit in the wilderness. He picked a great little spot that was at a turn-off on mile marker 241 on highway 40, about 10 miles back the way we came in.

It was perfect for several reasons. First, there was a larger turn-off on mile marker 240, just one mile before the one we wanted which had a ton of cars. The perfect carrot for all the wanna-be hikers in the area. So I think most people stopped there. But we went the extra mile to the other turn-off that only had two other cars. The description of the hike in the book that Jim found on the ottoman in the living room of our air-b-n-b (Hiking Grand County Colorado), describes the hike as moderate. The name of it is “Current Creek Loop.”

There’s a description in the book too, on which way to go and where on the trail, but good luck with that. We followed the creek up the hill, on the right side as instructed but with no markings, and no discernible trail, completely lost it near the first junction where we were to “take a right at the ’t’.” We were not sure we were at a T but went right anyhow. It sort of felt like just traipsing off into the wilderness with no clue where to go. But that was OK. We were not really there to follow directions, we just wanted to get the heart pumping and enjoy the sights and sounds.

Lemme tell you, after less than 24 hours, the lung of the Nebraska traveler is no where near ready for the lack of oxygen that hiking causes. That was OK too, though, as we were in no hurry to get anywhere. I mean, the hike promised an aqueduct and a pond at various points, but we had all day and nowhere else to be. That’s the best part of being out here. Freedom.

So we kept going right up the side of the mountain— due north, past a boulder field and through the trees (where the supposed pond would be), but all we found was more slope, boulders, and trees. Each time we went further up, it looked as though we were on the right track but then we would get to the top to find more of the same. We climbed pretty high and I daresay we turned the moderate hike into a more difficult one, but we’re pretty inexperienced so we don’t even know the difference. At a few points it was pretty steep, but for the most part, not really that treacherous.

Finally we declared a final time, “get to the top of this ridge and then that’s it. If there’s no pond, it will be time to turn back.” Surprise, surprise, there was no pond, but the view was pretty badass. And somehow it felt as though we were in the right spot because the top of that ridge line had a trail that looked as though it had been blazed by human beings. We had traveled almost due north to get to that spot so I was sure all we had to do was go due south to get back. But Jim had other ideas. He wanted to walk the ridgline for a bit.

We did that for a while, until I started getting antsy about having gone too far in the “wrong” direction. At that point we began gradually to descent on a path of least resistance. The way we descended was completely different and there were large clearings with only grasses. That looked like a nice flat area to walk across, but the ground was mush. My guess is that perhaps that was the pond at one point and it had grown over with grass since that book was printed. In any case, there was no crossing that so we went around it.

Down and down, meeting up again with the stream and following that back to the trailhead. I’m not sure how long we were out there, but we never saw another person the entire time, which was glorious. The same two other cars were there at the turnout when we arrived back. I took a ton of snaps and coaxed Jim into taking a few couples selfies along the way. It was a good hike.

It was also good to get back in the car and head back toward Winter Park. By then, I had worked up quite an appetite. Neither of us were in the mood to cook so we hunted for takeout instead. I wanted a cheeseburger and Jim wanted tacos. There’s lots of options here which is nice. The place we got take out from was in Fraser and it was called “Azteca” (you can guess who got their way on that one). Doesn’t matter, food cooked by someone else is always delicious.

It was actually the perfect compliment to the margaritas we were planning to have. That has kind of been our thing lately. The margs. We’ve perfected our recipe and brought all the necessary supplies with us— glasses, marg salt, limes, a jigger, simply lime, and of course, the tequila (Patron Silver).

So we nommed on our Mexican food and sipped our drinks and chatted about what else might be in store for our day. With the goal being R and R, we had no plans to leave anywhere else that afternoon/evening. And the less we were exposed to other people and potential virus, the better. Our options were hot tub or Netflix. I brought a deck of cards hoping to entice Jim into playing something with me. I miss playing cards, but I don’t know too many two person games.

We ended up watching one show, which was terrible. And so sipped some more. Then we tried warming the hot tub up, but were unsuccessful, so we sipped some more. I showed Jim a game of solitaire I played when I was a kid and he said it looked like I was making the rules up as I went along. Then we sipped some more until we sauntered up to the bedroom to crash hard.

Which brings me back to the beginning and the lovely hangover I’ve tried very hard to type my way out of this morning. I did pause briefly to take a picture of the sunrise. I imagine with all the fires in the area, the smoke has made for some neat sunrises. Sometimes I think that the main problem with fires isn’t the fires themselves, but the human beings that feel inclined to stop them. Yes, lives are at stake, so they have to try, but forest fires are natures way of cleansing the land. Right? I dunno, perhaps I just heard that somewhere and want to use that to profess that we should just leave it alone and let nature takes its course.

I digress.

Not sure what today has in store for us. We’re for sure going to fiddle with the hot tub some more to see if we can get that working. Soaking in 99 degree water sounds very relaxing. Maybe we’ll go for another hike. Maybe I’ll try reading one of the many books I brought with me. Maybe we’ll just lay around all day doing nothing but chat. For sure I’ll insist on finding a place that serves cheeseburgers.

It’s nice— the fact that it can be whatever we want. We just need to decide what that is.

Cheers to All That (and a bag of chips),
~Miss SugarCookie