Monday, January 15, 2018 – The Battle of Bartlett Flatts

Today was different.  Along with Angela, who left at 7am for Phoenix for a dog agility competition, the rest of the beach seemingly vacated.  I’d like to think they all knew what was coming, but in reality, it was due to the end of the long weekend.  Angela took Rubix and Gus with her.  That left me and Jake alone for the day for some dude bonding which would include some fetch to start our lazy morning around 10am.  It was windier this day than the last six, so instead of relaxing outside in the sun, we headed back inside.  With our recently repaired and functioning water system I opted to wash off the 6 days stink with a hot shower, followed by coffee and bailey’s keeping me hydrated for the next 2 hours while I read a book.  The window next to the bed I sat on was buzzing with small bees.  I didn’t think much of it at first as the window had a screen on it keeping them at bay.  Until one buzzed by my head – inside.  My weapon of choice for this first intruder is a hardcover copy of Wayne Gretzky’s 99 – Stories of the Game.  Being that I was mid-read in this book and roughly half way through, each open side offered a nice balance of mass to which I snapped shut on my attacker, rendering him quite dead.

As this day goes on, I’m beginning to blame the rest of the campers whose mass exodus left me the lone warrior on the miles long beach to fight off all the enemies they’d attracted with BBQ and the sweet smell of beer.  Now the only fresh beer was here.  I’d have not cracked one if I knew this was the fate it would bring.  Whether or not it’s fact, I’ve heard it said that killing a bee draws the attention of his comrades in effort to eliminate the threat.  As far as I’m concerned, it is fact.  The attack started at 1pm.  That’s roughly the time I extinguished the first intruder of my aluminium bunker.  By 3pm I’d closed the pages on at least 30 more, gone through the entire trailer and plugged any pinholes of light with tissue paper around our awning windows that the enemy could tunnel into.  While I fortified our base, Jake stood guard with a watchful eye alerting me to any new intruders.  I’m pretty sure he took down a few himself, thankfully without being stung.  Whoever reads “99” after I’m through it will likely wonder what all the stained pages are from.  Maybe I’ll leave a few notes for them, or one victim pressed between the later pages to close out a mystery spotted with evidence in previous chapters.

With numbers so stacked against us, the wise choice would have been to retreat, but Angela having fled early in the morning left us stranded.  It’s just after 4pm now as I write this, holed up, distracted every few words by a buzz that may be real, or at this point, I’m finding is in my head half the time.  I’ve taped our door shut from the inside, closed all but one window and one ceiling fan (both of which I’ve ensured have no holes).  It’s hot in here without the airflow.  I struggle to get a full sentence typed out without interruption of a real or imagined threat that has me out of my seat and scanning my limited surroundings.  Jake is sleeping in his kennel, the open side covered by a towel to prevent enemy infiltration.  Each time I jump though, so does he.  Every time an enemy combatant draws near the book becomes my weapon again, and as I yield it my page is lost, again.  No sooner do I find it after and get a few paragraphs in does the next wave of attack come.  I’ve given up on reading “99” anymore today.  But it will stay within reach.  When not used as a squashing trap, the book was a plank with which to bat them out of the air, first stunning, then squishing.  A few times my dry hands lost grip and the book flew across the trailer.  I was fortunate not to break a window and open the floodgates.

With a beautiful lake just steps away, calm from the absence of boats that chopped up the water just yesterday, I’d love to go for a paddle with Jake.  But I also want to sleep tonight, free from intruders.  So here I sit defending and documenting the battle, in case I should not survive.  I think tomorrow we’ll find somewhere else to explore.

 

Paddling with Dogs

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Having rented paddleboards in the past, and last year buying one for ourselves, we often get the dogs out with us for a paddle if the water is calm enough.  They are fairly well behaved on the board for the most part, understanding from past experiences that setting things off balance can result in them going for a swim.  Our board is covered front to back with yoga mat material, giving them pretty good grip to hang on through a bit of chop.  Jake wanders a bit on the board, forcing constant adjustments on our behalf to keep dry.  Rubix has a habit of standing at the very nose, sometimes paddling herself, but often biting at the larger waves as they pass.  Occasionally reaching too far to bite a wave, she ends up swimming at least once each time out.

The kayak is a bit different.  One has a large enough seat opening in the hull to allow one dog to sit right in front of you, between your legs.  Ang and I both took Rubix for a few short paddles, and once sure she could handle it, Rubix and I loaded in and started the 3km long journey to the north end of the lake where it is fed by the North Verde River, a stretch of river that winds 8km or so from Horseshoe reservoir into Bartlett Lake (also a dammed reservoir).  Boating activity was at a minimum by this late in the afternoon, so the chop wasn’t too bad, however, we were fighting the current the whole way.  After about 1km she was getting brave, opting to stand, with her front legs out of the kayak and on top of it.  This was to allow her to reach the water with her mouth.  I imagine it was really getting to her, seeing all these waves splashing up the side and not being able to bite them!  The next kilometer was spent with me paddling hard to get through the flow.  Every slowdown or stop meant a loss of momentum and more effort to get it back.  By kilometer two Rubix was getting quite aggressive with the wave biting, barely letting a lone wave pass by without sinking her teeth into it.  Eventually, the waves bit back.  One particular wave rocked the boat enough just as she stretched out to get it.  A mad scramble of claws on plastic briefly ensued, without much luck gaining a grip.  And in she went.  Fortunately for me, the kayak is fairly stable, or I’d have been swimming with her.  She panicked and tried to get back in the boat with no luck of course.  I had to reach over, grab her harness and hoist her in.  Once in the boat again she immediately climbed up to lay on my lap, hugging me with claws gripping my skin like little needles full of gratitude.  I think it scared her a bit.  Her memory obviously short, 10 minutes later she was back to the same wave biting antics, perched precariously out of the kayak once again like nothing happened.  We made the mouth of the Verde, got out for a shoreline bathroom break and stretch and headed back.  It seemed the current had changed, and we were paddling against it on the way back too.  Go figure.

 

Phoenix and Bartlett Lake

We’ve had enough of cold mornings and not using our water system for fear of freezing our holding tanks over night.  This was supposed to be a warm retreat for the winter months after all.  With that in mind, we left Flagstaff, which was still dipping below zero for a few hours each night, for Phoenix.  The forecast was overnight lows of 7-8 Celsius there.  We followed highway 98 South from our campsite to Sedona.  That drive is a real unexpected treat.  After a quick descent of 1000 feet or so, we found ourselves following a snaky canyon floor, lush with green and the first flowing river we’d seen in weeks.  Oak Creek Canyon was beautiful.  Still covered in green growth, the brown canyon walls began to brighten until they became a rich red, littered now with cacti and sparse leafy growth of almost a neon green color.  The contrast is stunning.  Along the hour or so drive through this canyon we spotted numerous campsites and parks we took note of to visit upon our return.  I’m beginning to think 6 months is nowhere near enough time to see all we want to, as everyday our list of places grows.

We stopped briefly in Sedona for wireless service to figure out where we were going next.  A highway side RV campground provided a spot to stop and rest for the night, as well as a nice long hot shower in their facilities, unburdened by limited water supply.  Arriving in Phoenix late in the morning gave us time to do some shopping and errands, empty our tanks, fill up with fresh water, and consult some locals we met while doing so on where to go next.  Bartlett Lake was tagged as a maybe, but after a keen suggestion from another camper at the dump station we opted to give it a go.  It was evening by the time we were getting out of Phoenix, driving through a town called Carefree.  What a fitting name it was as a last greet before entering Tonto National Forest.  Just outside of Carefree we were forced to stop and take in a stunning sunset.  From high over Phoenix area we witnessed a lively orange and pink sky drape the mountains in the distance in layers like you’d see in a painting.

bartlett_flats_web-2

It was dark when we arrived at Bartlett Flats dispersed campsite.  We stopped on high beach and slept, waking early as the sun rose to explore the nearly vacant beach and pick our spot to set up for the next week.  The miles-long beach had only 3 other campers scattered around it, leaving us with choices galore.  We opted for a sandy little peninsula at the water’s edge that offered a 200-degree view of water out our door with cactus-covered mountains all around.  The first day it rained, as forecasted.  That allowed for some maintenance work on the trailer to get done without feeling like we were missing out on the outdoors.  The second day is when we felt we’d made it to the warm vacation we were in pursuit of.  The near vacant peace of the lake and the endless beach was soon interrupted by a low growl in the air, quickly followed by a roaring flyby directly above us of a fighter jet.  This repeated every couple hours, Monday to Thursday.  The air force training base just outside of Phoenix seemed to take advantage of the lake and river valleys for swooping, high-speed training exercises.

bartlett_flats_web-14

The next couple of days the beach slowly began to line with campers.  When I say campers, I mean rv’s.  It was the start of a long weekend.

We basked in 25 degree afternoons with Margaritas and Coronas, periodically getting out for a paddle in the kayak or on the board.  One thing we didn’t buy (and I never will) is firewood as I’ll happily collect it from the surrounding dead-fall and keep my $6 in pocket.  However, a cactus covered desert doesn’t provide much for burnable dead-fall.  The opposite side of lake didn’t seem too far away, so I took one of recently acquired, used kayaks out for it’s inaugural paddle to go explore.  I found on the other side, in one of the runoff valleys feeding the lake, a pile of dead-fall hardwood branches and logs that had washed down from higher elevation.  With dreams of an evening fire I loaded up the kayak with enough wood for a couple nights, cautiously climbed in and planted my feet firmly on my find and began to paddle back.  Sound travels quite well across water, so as much as I could hear the comments from nearby boaters as to what the hell I was doing, I’m sure they could hear my expletives as I almost lost my load a few times breaking through the wake of other boats.  Maybe if I put a Canada flag sticker on the kayak next time they’ll understand, or at least not question my actions so much and just acknowledging me as yet another crazy Canuck.  What wood I had gathered would later that evening fuel one of the stinkiest bonfires I’ve ever sat around.  I’m still not sure what it was we were burning, but despite the odor, we burned the rest the following night.  No way was that hard earned haul going to waste.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pumphouse Wash campsite, South of Flagstaff

About a 15-minute drive South of Flagstaff, on the highway to Sedona, we found our site for the next couple nights.  Deserted but for us, the squirrels, 1 coyote, and 2 other campers that showed up late and departed early the next day, we had our own private forest it seemed.  This was another great National Forest Service campsite, well laid out with lots of room and privacy.  These were a real kick back and do-nothing couple of days, with a few exceptions…

My previously sore neck felt a bit better.  There are few better ways I can think of to explore an area than by bike, terrain permitting of course.  One thing a lot of the places we’ve gone seem to have in common in horse/hiking trails.  Too rough and narrow for any motorized vehicles, these are often the trails I find myself riding, with a few areas requiring walking through.  This was no different.  The rolling hills full of lodgepole pine we’re hiding secrets.  Behind and between, dry creek beds snaked around.  If one wasn’t careful hiking or biking above you could quickly find yourself tumbling down 80-foot cliffs of stone, washed smooth high above the current day water line, giving a glimpse into the history of what the landscape may have been.

Mine wasn’t the only excitement there.  While Angela had Jake for an off-leash walk a coyote wandered near.  Jake has been experiencing a bit of stimulation overload lately with all the new scenery and wildlife.  And the coyotes here seem much healthier than the scraggly bunch back home.  I’m guessing the fact they don’t have to survive on scraps through a chilly winter contributes.  Fortunately, Angela spotted the wild dog first and was able to quickly grab the attention, and collar of Jake before he spotted it.  I don’t think that would have ended too well had she not.

All this stimulation has more than just Jake on high alert all the time.  Gus was secured to the site post with a 30-foot line made of standard leash material when he spotted something.  I happened across the doorway of the trailer when I noticed a white blur moving quickly away.  I cringed anticipating the violent snap back he was about to experience when he ran out of slack, but only for a brief moment.  I quickly recognized the weathered maroon colored streamer flapping behind him, now at least 50 feet away!  The old line was no match for an 80 lbs Gus, bent on catching – a pine bow, that had fallen from a gust of wind.

Grand Canyon!!!

grand_canyon_web-6

The word Grand isn’t enough.  Using 5 letters to describe and name this place, this world within our world, just doesn’t do it justice.  I guess The Greatest Most Massive Ever Upside-Down Mountain Range You Could Never Imagine National Park doesn’t fit on a map very well.  That name doesn’t do it justice either.  In fact, without being there to witness a part of it in person you can never truly understand, and even then, you still won’t be able to describe it accurately.  It simply isn’t possible.  All one can do to describe the Grand Canyon is relate their experiences being there and the emotions experienced when standing on the edge.  And we stood on edges (mostly Angela).  In some cases, I lied down at edges because looking down so far gave me a sensation I hadn’t felt before.  I’m pretty comfortable when it comes to heights, or so I thought.  I love cliff jumping into lakes and rivers and have spent a fair bit of my time working on ladders without fear.  I’ve stood on glass floors of skyscrapers in Asia and looked down without worry.  This was different.

grand_canyon_web-9

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When I stood on the edge of a point and looked straight down to my left, right, and ahead, I felt my balance was off.  After gingerly stepping back and heading further on the trail one gets the opportunity to look back at where they once stood from another perspective.  What we stood on is no more than a small landing surrounded by 300-500 foot cliffs all around, straight down.  These are proper cliffs.  My lack of wings gives me assurance that these feelings of vertigo are warranted.  Man isn’t meant to be here.  At least not this man.

grand_canyon_web-3

Angela, however, seemed unconcerned about the imminent death that lay below if one took a minor misstep.  I noped out of many perilous viewpoints while Angela, who normally questions my behaviour, is the one who needed a sanity check here.  She confidently strode up to each point, surefooted to the edge.  And she made sure to mention I was a chicken.  A few times.

 

grand_canyon_web-16

That was the experience.  As for the emotions, small and insignificant are words that come to mind.  Looking down to the canyon floor below, occasionally catching a glimpse of the Colorado River, some 2 miles away makes on feel almost absent.  Seeing the layers upon layers of rock dating back millions of years will do that.  Between the history and the size, over 15km across in points, I can’t help but compare us to two flies buzzing over the truck windshield once at some point on our trip.  And even then, the time of our presence still doesn’t compare.

grand_canyon_web-8

We camped 2 nights here, at another free site, just outside of the Nation Park, but only accessed from within the park.  We were alone but for 1 other camper we passed on the way in.  Speaking of passing on the way in, the wood worker in me spotted something incredibly strange.  A towering pine at least 2 feet wide had a low branch coming off with the remnants of a large root mass growing out the end of it.  I still don’t know what could cause this anomaly, but here’s a picture and maybe someone else does?

This site was another gem of the US Forest Service.  Most of these sites are on National Forest land, are user maintained (as in no services, haul out what you bring in) and are free!   The sites we’ve visited are generally quite large with ample room to maneuver and park our home on wheels, seldom having to uncouple the truck.  This particular site sat next to a forest service fire watchtower.  The tower was open for us to climb even!  This was my chance to reclaim my manliness “grunting”.  Many flights of steep metal stairs open to below and we made it as high as we could go.  The trap door into the lookout perch was locked shut.  From there we could see for miles in every direction, including a glimpse of the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Well, we couldn’t actually see the edge.  What we saw was a void where the land we were on disappeared, and never did come back into sight through the hazy air above.  Short of a few odd vehicles driving through we spent an uninterrupted 2 days out there and did a whole lot of nothing.  It was great!

We spent one more day exploring the Grand Canyon, vowing to return on our way back up and explore the North Rim.  There are a couple great campsites along the North Rim but the road to them is seasonal and closed in the winter.  They say the South Rim gives an idea of the depth of the canyon, with the North highlighting the width.  We can’t wait!  On the way out of the park we stopped at the Imax theatre to watch the 1984 National Geographic film on the history and adventures of the canyon.  I had seen this film once before years ago as a child but vividly remembered scenes from it.  I highly recommend anyone who has the chance to view it.  And view it at an Imax theatre.