Saturday, April 8, 2017

This Blog

As our About Me section states at the right, In 2014 we sold everything we owned and hit the road as full-time house/pet sitters. Since then, Charli and I have been traveling all over the United States and journaling our adventures on our house sitting blog, The Tails of Jeff and Charli.

During this time we have hiked hundreds of trails, east to west, from the famous Appalachian Trail in Connecticut to St. Mark's summit on Cyprus Mountain in North Vancouver, BC. Without question, hiking is our favorite pastime.


One of the things that makes hiking a great experience is having all the information and tools you need to enjoy the day. In most cases, it's easy to find on web sites such as http://www.alltrails.com, but even those have limited details about what is really going on once you embark. The user comments can be very helpful in revealing clues about what each trail is like, and many times is the deciding factor on whether we try the trail or not.

The reason we started this blog was simply because a few weeks ago while hiking to the McCauley Warm Springs near Los Alamos National Laboratories in NM, we became very frustrated at how poorly the trail was marked. Or, more accurately, not marked. It never ceases to amaze us how easy (and cheap) it would be for a park or trail administration to put up a few small signs every few miles that tells you how far the major destination points are ahead. For example "Hot Springs - 2 miles." Another idea?... blazers on the trees. You know, the simple things.

So we decided, why not journal our own hikes and provide that extra information everyone can use? Which is exactly what we're doing here. And you know what? Watching out for all the little things like markers, hazards and "must see" features has actually made our hikes more enjoyable for us as well, because now we're paying closer attention to everything and making sure we notice and capture as much of the beauty as possible. It's a win-win for you and us!

A couple of good tips we've learned over the last few years: 
AllTrails.com is a great source to reference for your hike. It does a pretty good job of providing the information you need to determine what kind of hike you want to do, such as total distance, elevation gain and comments from the people who have actually done the hike. But the best feature is the interactive map. If you download the app to your smartphone, your GPS will show you exactly where you are on the hike in real time. This has saved our butts more than once when taking a wrong trail at an intersection. After only a few steps you can see that you've wandered off in the wrong direction. However, there is one caveat... YOU MUST BRING UP THE TRAIL MAP WHILE YOU HAVE AN INTERNET CONNECTION. This is important because if you think you're going to find the map after you're lost in the middle of a forest you're probably too late. Therefore, I always call up the map from home and leave it on my screen while we drive to the hike. After that it won't matter if you lose your internet connection because your GPS will still work and follow the map that's already loaded to your phone. Boom!

Another tool we like to use is MapMyRun.com. This is another GPS tool that records your hike as you walk. This comes in very handy for keeping track of your miles and time. It also leaves a nice red trail that you can use to follow back within a few feet of your actual steps if needed. In one case, Charli dropped her phone and didn't realize it until we had hiked about a half mile. After turning around and retracing our GPS trail, we walked right back to the exact spot where her phone was sitting on the ground. Boom again!

So while AllTrails will help keep you on target, MapMyRun will show you what you did, which is nice if you want to take a little detour from the main trail and do a little exploring without worrying about getting lost. Just make sure of one thing... ALWAYS KEEP YOUR DEVICE FULLY CHARGED! And... bring a back-up rechargeable power supply as well in case you're out so long your battery does die. These are now relatively small and cheap and can literally save your life.

So... we hope you enjoy our adventures and take these posts for what they are... just 2 people writing about what they see. We are not professional rangers or trail keepers, so if you spot something we misstated please let us know in the comments and we'll correct it right away. Also, please note that when I reference miles or hours or minutes on a post, it is only an approximation. No two GPS units will capture actual trail miles the same way, especially when various elevations are in play. So if I say something like, "In 2.5 miles you will see this sign," it only means that somewhere around 2.5 miles you will see the sign. I tell you this now so you don't curse my name later :-)

I hope you enjoy this blog. We put a lot of work into capturing the details of our hikes - so you don't have to! Now, quit reading this post and get out there and hike!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Garden Valley Trail - Tortilla Flat, AZ

Statistics: The Garden Valley Trail is a loop hike of 5.5 miles total with an elevation rise of about 400 feet from the river bed to the highest point of the hike.


We do a lot of "butt-buster" hikes when we travel, but sometimes it's nice to mix things up a bit and just take a nice scenic walk through a beautiful valley... a garden valley to be precise. There's not a lot of running water in this part of Arizona but this hike spends about half its time following the First Water Creek, which is fed by Canyon Lake to the north... so I assume it is flowing most of the year, but I can't be certain.

That being said, this is a very pretty and peaceful hike (we only saw 2 other people for the first 4 miles), unlike a lot of the more popular routes in the area that are much busier. I suppose one of the reasons this hike might have less traffic is because it's kind of hard to find, and the signage on this loop is terrible. And that's where this post comes in!

Before I start with the hike itself, you may be interested in knowing that you have to take a somewhat washboardy gravel road for about 2.5 miles from the main road to get to the trailhead. But it's not too bad, you just have to take it slow if you drive a passenger car like we do. The trailhead itself has a nice large parking lot with an outhouse. There's a standard map that doesn't even outline this hike, so it will be useless to reference. I highlighted the loop here with a yellow line (at the left) so you can see where this hike is in comparison.


Ok, now on to the hike. As I mentioned above, there were hardly any people here on a gorgeous weekend afternoon, so I assume it's because of two things... 1, the map doesn't show it and 2, you'll walk right past the start of the trail if you don't know what to look for.

Starting at the trailhead you will head up the First Water Trail until you get to the fork at .36 miles with this sign. Here you want to stay to the left.


Next you have to watch carefully because at the half mile point there is a nondescript wooden post, just sticking out of the ground to the left of the main trail. It has no sign or words but there is a sandy narrow trail that starts behind it. Follow that to the left to begin your hike down the Garden Valley Trail.

At the half mile mark - don't miss this post
Follow the little trail behind it
Once you head down this trail the beauty of First Water Creek begins to emerge. Within just a few minutes you will be greeted by beautiful, refreshing pools like this.


Then for the next 1.8 miles you will literally follow the First Water River to the north. You will have many options on how to traverse this trail. You can walk on the paths on either side of the water, hop on the boulders that make up the river bed, or walk right in the water if you want. The choice is all yours, but one thing is for certain... you can't get lost because you're literally walking up a river in a canyon.

Ok, with one little exception... and again, this is what we're here for. At the 2 mile mark there's a fairly significant trail that branches off to your left and heads up the side of the hill. It looks like the right way to go but don't take it because it leads to nowhere. Trust us on this one. You won't actually leave the river for the first time until you get to the 2.25 mile mark, and then it will head up the hill to the RIGHT. That is the first time you will begin to ascend from the river bed, and the fork is pretty obvious.

In the meantime, here is a little preview of what you can expect on your gorgeous hike up the river (click pictures to enlarge).


And again, at the 2.25 mile mark you will take a right and head up the trail to begin your loop back home.


Continuing on from here, the next time you will encounter a fork in the trail is at around the 2.75 mark (Note: Don't take my mileage markers literally... GPS readings fluctuate and are not 100% accurate). Here you will find a confusing fork right or left. Stay to the left.

Stay to the left here
At around 3 miles you will take a right. This is where you join up to the Second Water Trail for the first time.

Stay to the right
And finally, the last official fork will be at the Grand Enchantment Trail where you will again stay to the right to hop on the final leg back to the trailhead.

Stay to the right again
Summary: This was a very nice, easy and gorgeous hike that took us about 3 hours at a relaxed pace. Trails like this are what make the Phoenix valley such a great hiking area. We would highly recommend this hike for a beautiful and relaxing Sunday activity.

No really, it's true! And here's a little photo album from our day to prove it.

 
 
Happy hiking!

Friday, February 10, 2017

Trail Fail

The single most important rule in hiking is to BE PREPARED.  Unless you're hiking through a city park with lots of people around and options for transportation, you need to always bring the minimum essentials on every hike. We learned this lesson the hard way.

Two nights ago we decided we would take the dog on a quick, 4.5 mile loop hike after I got off work at 4 p.m. It was a beautiful day in the 50s in Santa Fe so we hopped in the car and drove up to the Chamisa Trail, about 20 minutes away. Here is the route we planned on taking.


However... when we got to the top of the loop where the trail became a straight out and back leg there was an intersection there, and we thought we were taking the trial straight ahead as shown but our GPS soon showed us that we were instead heading to the left. THIS IS THE POINT WHERE WE FAILED!

Instead of turning around and trying to find the right trail, we convinced ourselves that we were actually on a different loop of the Chamisa that would just be a little wider but still take us down to the parking lot. We assumed this because we thought the sign at the trailhead suggested there was more than one loop for this hike... BUT WE WERE WRONG.

For about the next 1/2 hour our GPS indicated we were doing exactly as we imagined... heading back toward the parking lot, but up on the ridge instead of down in the valley. Everything was going perfectly. The sun was starting to set and the horizon was gorgeous.

5:30 pm
But now it was time to hustle. The sun was sinking quickly and it looked like we still had a mile or so to go, so we stepped up our pace and kept moving. Plus we were starting to get cold. When we started the hike it was in the mid 40s due to the elevation gain from Santa Fe, and now it was getting close to 40 and we were only wearing tee-shirts. Still, we were moving at a good clip and keeping ourselves fairly warm.

And then about 15 minutes later I noticed the trail starting to work it's way to the west for several minutes, away from the direction of parking lot. But we just thought this was a temporary switchback kind of thing and didn't worry about it too much. Still, it was making us uncomfortable because now it was getting dark.

By 6:00 it was dark and Charli was guiding us by iPhone light. The trail continued to travel west and we were getting nervous. At this point we had no choice but to continue to forge ahead because going back would have taken another 3.5 miles in pitch black along some pretty steep and icy trail spots... not an option. At least here we were continuing to head downhill from the 1100 foot gain where we branched off to this trail.

Finally at the 4.5 mile mark the trail turned south and was heading toward the road. This was a huge relief because we literally had no map, no internet connection to find one, and no idea where the trail was going. At 4.75 miles we were back on the road.

Whew! At least now we knew we would not die in the woods. So how far west did we travel away from the parking lot? Exactly 1.3 miles. Yes, now we had to walk back to our car, uphill for over a mile with ice cold elbows (seriously, this was a thing). Not fun. But we made it and learned some very valuable lessons along the way.

Here's the actual trail we took with the times. The black dotted line shows the route we should have taken back to the parking lot at 5:00 as a reference.


Lessons Learned
So what did we do wrong? A LOT! Here's the short list:

1. We left too late. We knew we would get there around 4:30 and we knew we would be finishing up at sunset, but this left no buffer room for any issues.

2. We weren't prepared at all. We had no map, no jackets, no flashlight, no boot spikes, no first aid, no matches and no food.  This was a major fail all the way around.

3. We didn't know the trails. We thought we remembered what the map at the trailhead showed, but we were wrong. We should have never deviated from our original plan without fully understanding where we were going and what lay ahead.

4. We didn't tell anyone where we were going AND neither of us had ID on us. Had we perished, authorities the next day would only have found an "unidentified couple" in the woods.

It's so easy to think you're just going to take a "quick hike" on a nice day, and not worry about bringing all your crap. But as we learned, this is a huge mistake. Fortunately we weren't in grave danger as we still had a working GPS and enough phone battery to keep the lights working, but we still didn't like the spot we found ourselves in.

The bottom line is, don't skimp. ALWAYS bring your stuff, because you just never know when something will go wrong. It doesn't take long to go from a "quick hike after work" to "oh crap... are we going to die of hypothermia?"

Anyway, at a minimum... make sure you bring some....uh... elbow warmers?

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Hermit Peak - Las Vegas, NM

This post is dedicated to my father William Lee who passed away on this same day, as Charli and I hiked to the summit of Hermit Peak... February 5, 2017.

Statistics: The Hermit Peak trail is an out and back hike of 8 miles total with an elevation rise of 2939 feet to the summit.


This is a great hike for many reasons... it's a challenging and fun day hike, it has two major viewing areas that are breathtaking, and it has a really cool history you can read about here.

To get to the trailhead, you need to head northwest out of Las Vegas, NM on State Rte 65 for about 11.5 miles until it splits off to the right.


After the split, the road becomes very narrow and winding for the next 5 miles or so but eventually you will get to the National Forest sign at the parking lot, about a block before the El Porvenir Christian Camp. Normally you could start the hike right there at the sign, but the bridge over the creek to the trail is washed out so you need to walk down the road a few hundred yards where you'll see this driveway to the right.


From here you can see the trailhead sign to the left.


At 1/3 of a mile you will come to the first trail intersection sign. Here you will stay to the left.

About 1/4 mile later you will come to the next intersection.


Here again you want to stay to the left and head down the hill a few hundred feet until you get to this sign.


And THIS is where your uphill journey begins!


And in only about 10 minutes you get to see the first sneak "peak" of your destination. See what I did there?


 For about the next hour you will be hiking on a fairly loose, rocky trail like this.


At some point you may begin to wonder if you're actually on the official trail or just a water runoff, but then at 1.75 miles you'll see this sign...

... complete with official Pecos Wilderness graffiti... which I'm assuming was carved by bunnies and squirrels.

About a mile later, the trail starts to become a little "un-maintained" if you will, with several fallen trees across the path. But that may just be because we hiked it in February and the trail gnomes had not had a chance to clean it up for the season yet.


 But don't despair, because no sooner do you pass all of this mess when out of nowhere you begin to see the magic ahead of you!


Finally, after a grueling 2 hours, 3.25 miles and 2400 feet of elevation later, we reached this stunning overlook of the New Mexico valley below.



After taking a little rest break here we got back on the trail and headed for the summit. Only a mile to go!

But wait! We seriously have to slog through this the rest of the way?


No worries... the work was worth every step. Especially when presented with this...





Summary: This was a big bucket list item for us while we were in Santa Fe. We really wanted to tackle the nearly 3000 ft climb but were a bit nervous about how hard it would be, especially since it starts at 7500 ft. But we took it slow and we were fine. Round trip it took us 5 hours... 3 to get up and 2 to get down. It was a very steady incline with no crazy ledges or steep rocks to navigate, just a good old fashioned butt burner on the way up. Don't go too fast on the way down though, because most of the hike is on loose rock, and it would be easy to roll your ankle if you weren't careful.

The bottom line... the overlook and summit are BEAUTIFUL and more than worth the effort to get to them. We recommend this trail highly.

Final Note:
As I mentioned at the top of this post, my father passed away back in MN while Charli and I were on this hike, and we were notified by family members. In his memory we held a private memorial at the summit, at what we called the New Mexico Church of Enchantment. We couldn't have been in a more beautiful place to celebrate his life and reflect on how much we will miss him.

February 5, 2017


William Lee (1927-2017)