Western Trip – Part 3: Grand Canyon River Trip

After the Salmon River trip we remained in Boise for two and a half weeks. The highlight of that time for me was a visit from our Seattle friends Phyllis and Mike. It was short, but we had a great time. We saw a good 70’s band, Mike and Dave got to ride their unicycles together on the Boise River Greenbelt while Phyllis & I explored downtown, we all visited the old Idaho Penitentiary and of course we found a new microbrewery.

 

 

The focus for Bill Sedivy, Dave White & I was our upcoming raft trip on the Colorado River in Grand Canyon. Twenty one days on a private river trip with a group of 16 people would be a lot different than our eight day trips with friends in Idaho. Bill would row an 18-foot fully loaded raft with me as his passenger and Dave would kayak. Preparing, packing, shopping and endless discussions occupied much of our time.  Dave got to boat with the three other kayakers from the group. We met with trip coordinators David Crais and Jean Spurgeon. Thanks go to them for the invitation and spending months working with PRO Outfitters and coordinating logistics for the trip.

October 3 was the date we set off in the Dirigible on our driving-off-the-interstate route to Flagstaff, Arizona. It was a great scenic route. October turned out to have record rainfall for the state of Arizona. For us it started raining in Nevada, continuing off and on through our time in Flagstaff. We thought we were in Ohio. We made stops at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon (so we could look down on where we would be), Navaho Bridge in Marble Canyon under which we would float in three days, and stood on the corner in Winslow, Arizona.

 

In Flagstaff we enjoyed the Flagstaff Brewing Company and met up with our group for dinner. It was good to meet the people with whom we would travel 225 miles down river. The next morning, October 7, was cold & rainy, with snow on the mountain behind our KOA campsite. We met PRO Outfitters at the Motel Du Beau to load gear on their huge truck, shuttle vehicles to storage and drive 3 hours to the put-in at Lee’s Ferry. There, in a drizzle, under the guidance of the PRO staff the truck was unloaded, rafts inflated and rigged, gear sorted and packed. We set up camp for the night at the put-in and had dinner at Lee’s Ferry Lodge.

 

 

Put-in day, October 9 – our adventure began with an orientation by the PRO staff and National Park Rangers. Some examples of what felt like information overload: Leave no trace. Food storage and organization. The menu-recipe-food list BIG BOOK. Safety priorities: the National Park Service will not evacuate anyone by helicopter for much less than a potential life-threatening emergency. Hygiene procedures: hand washing, dish washing, water purification, toileting. Critters: scorpions & rattle snakes. Use the satellite phone to call PRO 5 days prior to take-out to make sure the road is not washed out like it had a week earlier. Otherwise it is an additional 3 river days to the next take-out down stream.

When we began, the clear water at the put-in soon became the chocolate brown it would remain for the duration with the silty contribution of the Paris River. Even with dark skies and some rain, it was nothing short of awe inspiring. That first day we saw “chocolate waterfalls” that few get to experience, because it hardly rains in the Grand Canyon. Ha! we had sporadic rain the first week and a couple showers after that. Fortunately, most of our weather was moderate, with plenty of sun.

 

 

The Canyon

I bought a tshirt  that says “Grand Canyon – It’s all about layers”. Being geologically illiterate, that about sums it up for me. The river map and guide goes into great detail identifying the different rock formations and their age. Take the vishnu schist, the oldest. It was formed 1,750 million years ago. I can’t even comprehend that. Layer after layer,  spectacular soaring cliffs and imaginary castle walls reaching for the sky. Every turn of the river revealed a new vista. You really feel small and insignificant. For me, the canyon is other-worldly beautiful, like no place else I have ever seen. When you are at the bottom, there is no perspective that the average depth of the canyon is one mile and the average width 10 miles. For 21 days, this was our reality. Pictures do not do it justice, but here are some of my favorites. Click on a photo to enlarge it.

 

 

The Group

David Crais was our permit holder/trip leader and the center of our web. Everyone was within two degrees of separation from David. i.e. he invited someone who recommended inviting someone else. Our group of 16 included five women and 11 men, ranging in age from 22 to 74. We came from Idaho, Wyoming, Ohio, California, Texas, Tennessee and Colorado.  Four people kayaked and the rest of us were in 18 foot rafts. All the oarsmen had previous Grand Canyon experience and I admired their stamina. Most people had experience with multi-day river trips.

 

On the River

Our on the water time began around 10:30 am with the goal of being off by 4:00 pm. Some days were longer and some were shorter. My role on the raft was navigator. This meant closely following the topo river map/guide to know where we were,  be aware of what rapid was coming up and where our campsite was. The bigger rapids are described in detail with recommended routes and the biggest ones include diagrams. On the Grand Canyon, some of what are called riffles would be class 2 -3 on other rivers. The water was low 50’s degrees F ( read that as COLD). CFS (cubic feet per second) ranged from 7500 to 13,000 (this is big water). It was dependent on the water release from Glen Canyon Dam in response to hydroelectric power needs in the west. This created a high ‘tide’ and low ‘tide’ every day.  The water ranged from gentle pools to really challenging rapids. My preference was the gentle runs because I stayed dry. I didn’t take photos while in a rapid because my priority was to enjoy the ride and/or hang on. Dave White took this video of Bill’s route through Lava Falls rapid, the largest on the river. He and two other kayakers wisely chose to carry their boats around so he videoed all the rafts. Ironically, the map described the run as about 20 seconds. That could mean good 20 seconds or bad ones. Ours were good. None of our rafts flipped and we all made it through Lava unscathed.

 

In Camp and Off the Water

Campsites were designated, but not reserved. Most of the time we were lucky and no other group occupied our destination campsite before we got there. Daylight disappeared by 6:00 pm so cooking, dining & clean-up often happened in the dark. We were able to build in two layover days, which meant two nights at one site. Both times we had great weather and were able to relax, do laundry and bathe (sort of). We had several hiking enthusiasts who enjoyed hiking trails and exploring canyons. I really liked Elves Chasm. The wildlife we most often saw were big horn sheep, ravens, and one tarantula on the path to the groover (portable toilet). Oh, not to forget scorpions. While the only ones we actually saw were on rocks and in bushes courtesy of Eric’s blacklight scorpion tours, you shook off anything that had been on the ground or hung to dry on a bush. Thanks to Bill, Camille and Molly for providing music in the evenings. Even when I was already in the tent by 8:30 pm, it was fun listening.

 

This post is long enough, so I will wrap it up. No injuries, no illnesses & no raft flips. Intense, exciting, fun & exhausting. 21 days/24 hours a day outdoors. Wow. I was grateful for the opportunity and happy I had the experience. Also was not sorry when it was over. Re-entry to the real world took me a good two weeks.  Thanks to Dave and Bill who did the heavy lifting for me because I developed a bum shoulder.

I hope you got a taste of what the trip was like and enjoyed the photos. My posts serve as  online trip diaries. When I stop doing stuff like this, I’ll have them to look back on and remember.

 

 

 

Salmon River, September 9 – 16 (a different kind of trip post)

Eight days on the Main Salmon river in Idaho provided the rejuvenation I look forward to at this time of year. Eight days of total trip immersion, focusing on the moment and not thinking of the real world stuff that occupies normal everyday thoughts. We got lucky with the weather and had no rain. Our group numbered 11, a larger number than previous years which presents challenges, but the group worked beautifully.  Another great trip in the books.

First, I’ll post some trip pictures, mostly people.

 

Now to focus on some history. People who lived on the river had to be tough to survive. I will share two stories of unique Salmon residents of the past: Buckskin Bill and Polly Bemis.

Buckskin Bill

Sylvan Ambrose “Buckskin Bill” Hart (1906 – 1980) was among the last of the mountain men in the western USA. From 1932 until his death, he lived on the Five Mile Bar of the Salmon River in the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

He purchased fifty acres  of land for one dollar where he built a compound that included a two-story house, blacksmith shop, a blockhouse with a stone turret, and a bomb shelter. The defensive structures reflected his sense of continual threat from the federal government, which peaked in 1956 when  the Wilderness Act threatened to designate the Five Mile Bar as a non-habitable Primitive Area and he was in danger of being evicted.

Hart volunteered to serve in World War II, and was assigned to a Boeing plant in Kansas. Following the war, he returned to his compound and was employed by the National Forest Service. He farmed, hunted and fished for survival, and made his own guns, weapons, clothing and tools.

A lifelong bachelor, Hart died of natural causes at age 73 at his home in 1980. His compound is preserved as The Buckskin Bill Museum.

 

Polly Bemis

Polly Bemis (1853) was born in rural northern China.  At the age of 18, she was sold by her father for two much needed bags of seed.  She was smuggled into the United States in 1872 and sold again, most likely as a concubine,  for $2,500. She was taken to Idaho Territory, where her buyer, a wealthy Chinese man, ran a saloon in a mining camp. Polly was a feisty 53 inches tall.

How she gained her freedom from her Chinese owner is uncertain. According to academic Priscilla Wegars, her Chinese owner helped her. In mid-1880, the census listed her as living with saloon owner and fiddler Charlie Bemis (1848-1922), who befriended her when she first arrived in Idaho. Bemis served as his housekeeper and ran his popular boarding house in Warren. Charlie was almost killed during a gambling dispute when he was shot in the face. Polly cleaned out the wound with her crochet hook and nursed him back to health.

In 1894, she married Charlie Bemis, and the couple moved from Warren to a site 17 miles north by trail at a spot that came to be called both Bemis Point and Polly Place.  Polly’s struggle for legal permanent residency went to the courts and her residency was finally granted on 1896. Together, Charlie and Polly Bemis filed a mining claim, becoming among the first pioneers to settle along the Salmon River.  Even today this house is not accessible by road. Although the couple had no children, Polly was 40 when they married, she was noted for her concern for children. They gardened and cared for many  animals, including horses and a cougar. Polly was known for her nursing skills, fishing, friendliness, and sense of humor.

Polly saved Charlie’s life twice. In 1922, a fire gutted their home on the Salmon River, possibly caused by an untended or overheated wood stove.  Charlie Bemis died soon afterwards. Neighbors rebuilt a new home for Polly in the same spot as the one that burned down, with the understanding that they would inherit this from her in exchange for their labor and for looking after her in her old age. She died on November 6 of myocarditis at the age of 80.

The cabin, known as Polly Bemis House, became a museum and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.

 

 

 

Western Trip 2018 – Part I

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We hit the road August 23rd in The Dirigible on our western road trip. The ultimate destination  was Boise, Idaho, but we had a mini-vacation on the way.

Our route lead through Iowa and north to Mitchell, South Dakota where we made a stop at that icon of Americana, the Corn Palace. Built in 1892 to attract tourists, the outside of this public auditorium/arena is solid corn & natural materials. New design every year.

Next we visited the Badlands National Park. The Badlands is a world unto itself outside of Rapid City. We also did a quick pass through of Wall Drug, a crazy tourist trap, but fun.

 

The Black Hills area is a delight. Dramatic canyons, rock formations, green forests. winding roads and canyons.  Mount Rushmore, Crazy Horse Memorial, Keystone, Deadwood. A brewery trail. Highly recommend Sick and Twisted in Hill City and Mount Rushmore in Custer. We always enjoy the local people we run into in these places.

One of my favorite spots was Wind Cave National Park – a definite return destination. Great camping on wide open grassland, noisy buffalo over the ridge, fascinating cave tour.  One of the biggest, most intricate cave system in the world.

Heading west through Wyoming a stop at Devil’s Tower for a cool hike around the base. The tower’s height is 5, 112 feet.

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An awesome drive through Big Horn National Forest got us to Cody, Wyoming outside the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

Three days and camping in the park provided a good overview. Waterfalls, geysers, hot pots, fumaroles, rivers, mountains. Names like Old Faithful, Prismatic Spring, Mamouth Hot Springs, Artist’s Point, Artists’ Paint Pots, Lewis Falls, Norris Geyser Basin… We saw Joe the Buffalo (in the road with friends EVERYWHERE), Ernie the Elk (next to the road), but no Melvin the Moose. We missed the Lamar Valley, but that is for the next visit.

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From Yellowstone we drove south through Grand Teton National Park to Jackson, Wyoming. Our friend Bill worked the summer for the Forest Service and we joined him for Labor Day Weekend at his work camp south of Jackson. We paddled the Snake River Canyon and hiked next to Jenny Lake in the Park, enjoyed Melvin’s Brewery in Alpine and Thai Me Up Restaurant & Brewery in Jackson.

From there we drove to Boise to prep for an eight day river trip on the Salmon River. Part I complete!

Washington state trip, May 2018

It’s time for another trip, so I’m finally getting around to writing a post about the last one! In May I flew to Seattle to visit friends Phyllis & Mike in their stomping grounds. We had planned to meet in Europe, but circumstances prevented both of our trips, so we decided that we did not have to leave the country to see each other. We combined local fun near their home Lynwood, WA with two short trips.

For our first trip, the three of us went to the Olympic Peninsula for a three night stay at the cabins of Beaver Creek. It was a great choice for a home base.

Rialto, La Push and Second Beaches provided hours of exploration for discovering tidal pools and enjoying the spectacular views of rock formations and the Pacific Ocean. We were in the area near Forks and La Push where the Twilight movies  were filmed. So we binge watched all the Twilight movies.

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We got a great tip from a local on a glass beach in Port Townsend, which was on our way back to the ferry. The town dump was located on top of a cliff 2.5 miles down the beach from a city park. Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about hunting beach glass. It was fabulous!

Field trip number two was a girls’ trip to Victoria, British Columbia via a ferry from Seattle. Our first stop was Butchart Gardens, a private garden created by a woman whose family operated a quarry on the property and donated to the city. It was garden heaven. And Phyllis treated me to high tea that was so high, we took half back to the hotel.

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Victoria is the perfect mix of small walkable city on a harbor, history, museums, shops and restaurants. As the capital of British Columbia, it has a wonderful Parliament building designed by the same architect as the Empress Hotel. Francis Rattenbury had a scandalous life story that you could not imagine for a movie plot.

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A highlight of our visit was my first whale watching tour. We took a small open boat 35 miles to find a pod of orcas. The water was not calm and we got sprayed a lot. But we were dry in the heavy foul weather gear they provided. There were several whales and we got to see them lunching on something. When I told the guide that I felt like I was watching dolphins, he told me I was. They are the largest member of the dolphin family.

Back in Lynwood, we enjoyed hanging out, a Memorial Day cookout with the Kaufman family, visiting Snoqualmie Falls, Mukliiteo lighthouse and doing some local hiking. We didn’t spend time in Seattle, but that leaves more to do for the next visit!

Middle Fork of the Salmon River, Idaho – September 7-14, 2017

Another great trip on the Middle Fork! Located in the Frank Church Wilderness in central Idaho, this 100 mile, eight day journey from Boundary Creek to Cache Bar is challenging, fun and geologically diverse. Our “”Sedivy Expeditions” crew of eight came from Idaho, Ohio, North Carolina and Quebec. Bill Sedivy, Btuce Johnstone, Donna Hiller, Mike Keas, Slick (Mike) Hottinger and first-timer Pierre Carrier, our friend from Quebec (not from ROC – Rest of Canada). We were a team from the very beginning.

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Our put-in is near Stanley, Idaho at around 5500 feet elevation. The first 25 miles are shallow and technical. I paddled an inflatable kayak (aka I.K. or duckie) for the first 50 miles with my kayak pack Dave and Pierre. Then I joined Mike on the raft for the rest of the trip. Bill’s fishing raft and two catarafts completed the flotilla.

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Several hot springs are unique features of this river. They are a real treat since the river water temperature is COLD and a real bath is an intimidating option.

The difficulty of the rapids ranges from class 2 to 4. The pools are glossy with underwater canyons. Slick caught 78 fish. The river gains water and the rapids get more powerful as we travel downstream to the confluence of the Main Salmon River.

Campsites are reserved at the put-in. Daily destinations ranged from 7 to 18 miles because you have to make it to camp. Our usual arrival time was about 4:30 pm. Time to set up camp, cook dinner and get in some relaxation. The next day we would get up and do it again. Sites were usually wooded, rocky and sandy.

Along with the kitchen spot, the next vital location is the “groover”: near the water, private and preferably a good view. Sedivy Expeditions has high standards.

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Vibrant colors are everywhere to be discovered.

But the best part of a river trip is sharing it with friends.

Post European Trip Blog (written July 14)

On June 21, I returned home from five weeks in Europe. Everyday life quickly hijacked my time and only now am I sitting down to write my final blog.

I flew to Prague from London on June 1. A little tired from traveling, not a surprise. I had been in two countries with different monetary systems and languages, traveling with friends and on my own, and stayed in four different locations. Navigated multiple methods of transportation: buses, two planes, 5 trains, 3 taxis and the London Tube.  And I walked an average of 6 miles a day. A trip within a trip. It was good to be back. There were a few days when I felt like I needed a vacation from my vacation and some down time. Malvina appreciated the down time.

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The Svobodnik family and I spent the weekend in Tchorovice and Cimelice. I stayed on two days to work in the garden. The sense of accomplishment, nice weather, a couple of walks and the solitude made it a special interlude.

 

 

 

Traveling back to Prague was a little adventure in itself: one car train to Blatna, then two trains to Prague’s main train station and metro back to the flat in Smichov.

In Prague again, it was nice to know that there was still plenty of time to explore new places and not feel like I needed to race around every day being a tourist. One unusual evening I went with Ivo to a tennis club to meet his friends and then go out for a drink. This is in a Prague neighborhood, very urban. If you listen to the video, you will hear the pet COUGAR that someone kept outside the apartment building next to the court. Strange. I wondered if they reduce rents for the noise disturbance? LOL

The three tourist experiences I chose, I would highly recommend. 1. A boat trip on the Vltava River – a totally different view of Prague. 2. A tour of the Obecny Dum (Municipal House), an art deco masterpiece. 3. A World War 2 walking tour that included underground and focused partly on Operation Anthropoid, the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, the Nazi official in charge of Czechoslovakia and the Final Solution (Holocaust). Most of the time it was great to do the little everyday things – some wandering, hanging out, shopping, realizing I was comfortable with the metro and could find my way around a city that I love. And there is still more to see and do on my list!

Another weekend in the village, we took a day trip in the Barkas campervan with the Bolinov family to Orlik. This is a large reservoir on the Vltava River. We started at Orlik Castle, then took a very enjoyable boat trip down to Zvikov Castle. I toured Zvikov, which was built in the 1200’s and was the seat of the Bohemian kings. A beautiful enchanting location. The kids had fun playing in the water and on the boat.

Back in Prague, I had a chance to go to Oto and Eda’s kindergarten (pre-school) end of the year program. The school is a very impressive place, with good energetic teachers, curriculum and ambitious field trips for the kids. The program  was really fun. Oto’s class did an Indian circle dance and Eda was a dancing ladybug to Czech folk music.

I enjoyed a nice visit with cousins Jana & Wilda Drnek in Celakovice. Their fantastic walled garden is a private special refuge where you could spend all your time.

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My last weekend was very busy. Friday I took the metro back into Prague and caught a bus to Blatna, where Ivo picked me up to go to the village. Our family gathering was Saturday. It’s always nice to see people enjoy each other’s company.

The teenagers avoided the group photo and more people came after we took it, but all in all it was a really nice party. Complete with karaoke entertainment provided by Eda.

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Sunday I took the train to Plzen, for a barbeque with Jarda Drnek’s family.  Martin Drnek picked me up, our first in-person meeting other than Facebook. We went to his sister Svatka’s lovely home outside of the city and had a pleasant afternoon. Jonathan, Martin’s 18 month old, stole the show. I am so lucky to meet family who are fluent in English!

Monday was supposed to be my last day, so Lenka and I went to Letna Park, another beautiful green space in Prague. I’m continually impressed with number of parks in the city, all well-used. This one is high on a hill above the Vltava and I had never been there. We enjoyed a nice lunch in its’ large beer garden with a restaurant. It was in the 80’s and very humid, but we walked back to Andel, close to the flat in Smichov.  I didn’t go back, but metroed to Florenc and wandered around Karlin, where I discovered a beautiful basilika. My mission was to meet Martin, who gave me “Ferda the Frog”, created by his business, for the boys. It’s a great learning toy with a story book that helps kids to identify and manage their emotions. The boy s loved it, especially the flies whose names were feelings. They were done for the day by the time we took the photo.

I did not leave on Tuesday as planned. First my flight was delayed, then canceled. The upside was spending time at Zlute Lazne, a beach area on the Vltava with children’s pools.  It was really fun and a reprieve from the 94 degree heat. Another plus was that my three flights  home were upgraded to business class for free.

Another great trip to my “home away from home”. That’s right – I pretend that I live there. Part of the “do it while you can” philosophy that works for me. As you can see from my photos, the highlight of these visits are the people I spend them with. It’s always good to be home, but I’m soon ready to return.

Onward to the UK

I left Phyllis and Mike Saturday, May 27 in Munich and took an EasyJet flight to London. Before I get into this part of the trip, a few words about transportation. We’ve used intercity buses, metro, funicula, ubahn, local trains and taxis. Always a challenge when the local language is not English, but all have been user-friendly and part of the travel adventures. The European public transportation systems are amazing, especially the trains. And inexpensive. It’s really to bad we must rely so much on cars at home.


Cousins Mark and Ursula Hrabak live outside Reading, UK and hosted me for 3 days. Thank you for a great first visit to the UK, that was very relaxing. Mostly because I didn’t have to figure out anything or how to get anywhere on my own!  

We spent a day in Bourton on the Water, in the Cotswolds. A small stream with multiple bridges was the focal point of this quaint village with beautiful stone buildings and gardens.


The next day we took the train to Oxford and enjoyed a “Morse, Inspector Lewis and Endeavor” tour. A fun spin on the highlights of this university city. As I watch repeat shows, this is what I’ll remember. 😎


Tuesday morning Mark took me to the train  and I was off on my 3 day London solo experience. I found my hostel on the Strand near Waterloo Bridge with no problem and figured out my itinerary from there. I knew I wouldn’t be able to see everything so I chose strategic highlights. A bus tour, Churchill’s war rooms, Westminster Abbey, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, British Museum, Covent Garden and the City of London Museum. London is easy to explore on foot and by the underground/tube. Overdoing the 🚶 part led to a lower back 😖 after 10 days of it, the majority on pavement. 

While I enjoyed London, it was a little overwhelming with it’s hordes of tourists and iphone-focused pedestrians hurrying along. I focused on the Thames and the flowers.