if you take the name of your first pet and add a surname of the first street you lived on, you too will have a fictitious (a.k.a. ‘porn star’) name like….
She had told us her name was Mimsy Eldena, under a double rainbow at Dead Horse Point. Her job was to bring our Trek America itinerary to life. Despite the long drives and our sometimes less than lovely English, she was more than game and kept things on point more often than not. She insisted on getting my traveling partner a sleeping bag and pillow, a major upgrade over what she had in tow. Mimsy had even gone surfing for the first time just before she had leave for this 28 day magical mystery tour thru the Southwest United States. We hooked up the trailer after throwing our bags in and were on the road before I could say Jack Kerouac.
Things pretty much went off without a hitch, minus the couple from Down Under whose luggage went lost asunder. We lost some time on day one and ended up commando camping along the Central Coast of California at San Simeon, a fair bit short of our intended destination of the famed Big Sur. No matter as I had the best ever veggie sandwich complete with tomatoes, cucumber, sweet pepper, grated carrots, sprouts, goddess dressing, dijon mustard and red pepper hummus on some nut bread with swiss and provolone cheese. We paid for this out of our food kitty which was a modest nine bucks a day.
The next morning on the way to San Francisco and after strawberry kiwi and apricot mango yogurts, we saw elephant sea lions buttin’ blubber along the shoreline as they battled for their sea cow harems. We made it in time to the City to check out Haight Street and have dinner in Chinatown. The next day we walked over the Golden Gate Bridge and down Lombard Street before meeting up for clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl at Pier 39 on Fisherman’s Wharf. Enroute one of the Brits had lost her wallet in a trashcan, of which Mimsy kindly volunteered to go fetch while we waited in line to ferry over to Alcatraz. Later she took our Korean passengers to a Korean market just below Presidio Park in preparation for our next night’s dinner in Yosemite. Mimsy told us that San Francisco had a large Asian population, from which there were only a handful of Chinese before the Gold Rush, and of which now had five daily newspapers and 15 weeklys to boast of. They also had Champagne at our hotel’s front desk, which was reason enough to visit San Francisco as far as I was concerned. We saw an Oakland A’s baseball game before leaving for Yosemite and whitewater rafting the next day.
Goodwin Canyon is a stretch of the Stanislaus River that has what they call grade four rapids, all named after Disney rides. We went down Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and waited for the rest of our group to navigate the falls. The womanfolk in our group had been stuck with an overinflated lavender raft, but were nevertheless ecstatic when they arrived. However it wasn’t long before their Cheshire Cat grins gave way to eyes the size of ping pong balls, as they had neglected their guides call for them to paddle thru the rapids, and were now air paddling to their demise, of which most all were launched into the whitewater, left to right themselves with feet forward and heads up until they reached calmer waters. We all laughed ourselves silly watching, although our Aussie guide Mick saved my arse with a meathook hoist out of harm’s way a few rapids later, for which I was eternally grateful, as I was distracted looking out for our Koreans.
Our first full day in Yosemite was spent hiking in Mariposa Grove. The sequoias are not unlike humans, in that after they reach their full height they start to grow wider. They only grow in a Central California corridor which is a 15 mile wide and 250 mile long swath running thru the Sierra Nevada mountains, where soil and elements combine well enough to nurture these giants. On the way back we stopped along the Merced River at the Sentinel Bridge for a dip and an amazing view of Half Dome, which was the next day’s destination of choice for some of us.
Mimsy cooked up fajita burritos for us that night with chopped garlic, mushrooms, peppers and onions to go with the usual rice and beans. I think she put cilantro in there somewhere too, and I remember spreading guacamole all over the tortillas first before slopping on all the fixin’s. She had us stock up on cereal granola bars, box raisins and apples along with our sandwiches and minimum two liters of water for our hike. Those of us not going up on the cables were going to meet at Emerald Lake for lunch and a high country swim. Mimsy shared that ‘bad things don’t happen to people unless they are traveling in groups of less than two,’ and reminded us that ‘this wasn’t Disneyland, and that the bears and other assorted wildlife don’t know we’re on vacation.’ Yosemite has 800 miles of hiking trails, although most people were more than happy enough with the eight miles provided by the Panorama Trail, for which Mimsy drove us up to the top of Glacier Point for the trailhead and view. She had pizzas galore waiting for us at Curry Village upon completion of our descent, with pink lemonade and the such for us weary trekkers. She spoiled us with mint chocolate wafer cookies for the ride back to camp.
The next day we left over Tioga Pass, after morning orange juice and bananas. I was glad Mimsy had implored us to take plenty of water and food, and had made sure we all had sunscreen and hats. Half Dome was like nothing I had ever done before. ‘Take only photos, leave only footprints,’ were the anthems for people like naturalist John Muir and photographer Ansel Adams, who had been earlier inspired by Yosemite. It was easy to see why. Yosemite was amazing.
We were like Jiffy Pop popcorn going over the ‘whoopty dews’ approaching the Eastern Sierras, out of Yosemite. Mimsy had warned us that she didn’t ‘hand out helmets,’ and that she would find the incidental bump or two along the way. Well today was the day for us backseat boys. We sailed along the ‘ET Highway’ straight as an arrow and parallel to the infamous ‘Area 51.’ We had Alienburgers at the Ale Inn in Rachel, Nevada, to look forward to today. As for myself, I was beginning to find the incessant British pop near insufferable and wished for a new Ipod shuffle or playlist. Our highlights today were the moon caves at Cathedral Gorge State Park.
Mimsy advised us that our campgrounds would range from dirty and dusty, to grassy and clean; and that showers could cost money, while facilities could include laundry and even a dishwashing station. She had bought biodegradeable dishwashing soap, which was cool. We learned about other things for better or worse, like quiet hours and fire bans too; and that Nevada silver had outgained the gold rush over six to one, reaping near $500 million, while the Gold Rush take was just $80 million, despite the bigger press. Our equipment was decent. We had four person tents for two. We even saw a roadrunner. That night we had the inevitable bangers and mash, and I had van cleaning duty before that, part of our ROTA duties.
‘Most people don’t know that there are angels whose only job it is to make sure you don’t get too comfortable and miss your life.’ Angel’s Landing is a bald, rocky perch with sheer cliff on both sides enroute with nothing but a chain for insurance to hold on to. The precipice has a praying ponderosa arched 180 degrees as final gateway and greeting. We had a close shave with the swooping swallows and swifts as we tried to catch a waft of the butterscotch and vanilla aroma of the ponderosa. For the acrophobes, there was the West Rim, a beautiful hike unto itself; but for us atop Angel’s Landing we sat askew to view the sentinels and citadels which esconsed Zion Canyon. Wow….
That morning we had seen twenty-something wild turkeys asleep in a tree overhead just before Zion Lodge. The day before we listened to cacophonic spring peepers, the frogs of Emerald Pools. And on the way up we caught up with a snake that had a lizard in its grasp. We saw blind arches and a weeping, hanging garden; and perspired thru Refrigerator Canyon, under a waning blue moon. Some good people in our group had volunteered to make blueberry pancakes with bananas the day we left for Bryce, while Mimsy had again leveled us the night before with her ‘everything but the kitchen sink,’ penne fresca pasta, complete with green olives and artichoke hearts.
Again I fell for the brown eyed, front desk clerk at our campground, while others were busy with ATVs and at the rifle and archery ranges. There was another group there and their leader had to get up after midnight to tell us to quiet down. Someone in our group called him ‘no sh*t Sherlock,’ as apparently he ran a tight ship for his trip. It was all good as we were ‘cooperative camping’ and did our best to respect our fellow campers. The day before we had wielded walking sticks and river booties in preparation for the Narrows hike, and had watched the flash flood video first.
The chukar at Kodachrome State Park had black bandit bands across their eyes and took full stock of our supplies upon arrival. Not long after some devil winds had jumped the sandstone berm and sent chips and salsa flying. We had plenty of firewood for a near bonfire that night, and had seen a golden eagle, domestic bison and pronghorn, enroute during the drive up from Zion. We hiked the Fairyland rim trail before lunch, and went out to Bryce Point to hike down the Peekaboo trail afterwards. The photos at Inspiration Point were nothing short of unreal.
Next up was the Harley Highway and a Hell’s Backbone horseback ride at Boulder Mountain Ranch. Enroute we hiked Calf Creek and swam out under a 125 foot waterfall at trail’s end. The morning after we stopped for a cuppa Joe at the Kiva coffeehouse, situated within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We hiked the Grand Wash trail and then out to Hickman Bridge in Capitol Reef while Mimsy snuck off and bought us a mondo apple pie.
My slippahs (Hawaiian slang for sandals or flip flops) busted halfway thru Devil’s Garden so I had to barefoot the last half of the hike and Delicate Arch later that afternoon. That evening for sunset we all went on a near vertical hummer tour thru the Canyonlands, some crazy arse sh*t. The next day I had my boots, which was good because Mimsy had us hike a ten miler thru the Needles District to Druid Arch,where we saw ringtail and a kangaroo rat. Follow up to that was a Friday the 13th picnic dinner overlooking the Dead Horse Point goosenecks and the olive green Colorado River. It was surreal with a sunset in the West over the Islands in the Sky and a raging thunder and lightning desert storm looking back South over the same Needles District.
The last morning we did the ranger led, Fiery Furnace hike, after we had already snuck in a scenery laden jaunt out to Grandview Point after sunrise at Mesa Arch. Day one we had strolled down Park Avenue before watching the alpenglow sunset at the Windows, all after surviving a fairly raging freeway sandstorm on the way into Moab. Mimsy had us pay a visit to the local microbrewery that night where the jalapeno buttered cornbread was nothing short of mouthwatering. Tipping wasn’t quite as exciting, but Mimsy was always one to remind us to add at least 25 percent to our tab, love American style. Mimsy had made us her five bean rainbow chili the second night with onions, peppers and sweet corn to boot. She also busted out some cream cheese and bagels for breakfast. So yeah, we were still happy campers.
Rocky Mountain National Park
We stopped well short of Denver enroute to Rocky Mountain National Park, as Mimsy shared that there was no Colorado Rockies baseball game and that it might be best to shorten our drive and stay a night at the Glenwood Hot Springs. It was the never ending pool, all for fourteen bucks.
The next day we got to Shadowcliff, a beautiful lodge nestled up against the Rockies and overlooking Grand Lake. It was our home base before we set off up over the continental divide to check out the elk rut and views for days. We hiked over Milner Pass with a foot of snow on the ground, wandered around Bear Lake, and were fortunate to see two moose and two bald eagles along the way.
It was another long drive to Ridgway State Park, but Mimsy had got us yurts for an extra five bucks each, and made sure that we had fires every morning. She also gave us the option to go to Orvis Hot Springs, which was a clothing optional resort, of which only the ‘lone Kiwi’ went.
We spent the day at Telluride. Mimsy was hoping to hike the Sneffels Highline trail, but we got a late start and opted for the Bear Creek trail and Internet at the local library. Mimsy left us on the mountain as she had to traverse the Wasatch and See Forever trails to pick up the van up top. She had earlier dropped us off at the top of the mountain at the gondola tram, which took us down into town, which is also where we finished off the day at Brown Dog Pizza.
Willie was our Navajo jeep tour guide thru Mystery and Monument Valley for our overnite stay, under a cascade of stars at Raingod Mesa, where the Big Dipper was virtually parked on top of the horizon just over our campground. We slept on the oversized tables to minimize any chance of scorpion intervention or otherwise. Valentino fed us oversized Navajo tacos as well, made with super fattening fry bread. They were super good. Mystery Valley had petroglyphs and pictographs, and Willie played the flute for us at Big Hogan. He also had us keep our feet flat while walking on the slickrock. Personally I had taken one too many group photos by this time.
‘Walk in beauty. Walk in gratitude.’ …this was the way of the Navajo. They are also known for their silver and turquoise jewelry, of which I am now the proud owner of a green turquoise ring. Mimsy also shared that a Navajo medicine man, Hosteen Tso, was credited with producing snow and a sandstorm for the movie Stagecoach, the John Ford film that helped put Monument Valley on the visitor map. The day before we had lunch at Muley Point and drove by the Mexican Hat, Navajo blanket design ‘woven’ over the red rock alluvial badlands.
Easton, Cathy and their little daughter Emma, are the hosts at Pariah Canyon Guest Ranch. They serve a wicked steak dinner and offer sunset horserides. And best of all they have a converted barn with jukebox and pool table. One of the girls in our group pulled out her rose quartz crystal because it was a full moon and said it was the best time to pray for true love. Well you know what they say… what happens behind barn doors, stays behind barn doors.
We did a float trip down the Colorado River thru Horseshoe Bend the first afternoon, and took photos first thing the next morning while wandering thru the Antelope Corkscrew Canyon. Sunrise and sunset were memorable along with John Wesley Powell, of whom the lake is named after. Apparently he lobbied that state boundaries be drawn by natural watersheds. An idea still not without merit. Mimsy says we missed out on a Waterhole Canyon hike, but it was hardly a concern as I was greatly distracted by a pair of pajama shorts the morning after.
During the 1920s the average visitor to Grand Canyon stayed on for two to three weeks, now the average visit is for two to three hours… hey, at least we stayed for two to three days.
And it was awesome. Most of us hiked down to Plateau Point overlooking the Colorado River. That was the easy part, downhill and mostly in the shade. It was all uphill after that. After lunch at Indian Gardens we still had 4.5 miles straight up, with the sun shining on us, getting hotter and hotter. Again Mimsy had made sure we made our lunches the night before and recommended at least two liters of water with the requisite sunscreen and visors. She even went so far as to ask us to make one ‘good’ sandwich will all the fixin’s, and then suggested that pb&j’s travel better for later in the day. Some chose Vegemite or Marmite, not much different than wood putty as far as I was concerned. We were also instructed that we needed to be hydrated before the hike, and that wasn’t until our urine was clear. On the flipside, Mimsy also shared that there was a danger of hyponytramia, which was drinking too much water and not eating enough food, which washes out all your electrolytes and micro nutrients.
Some of the others took the easier route with a ranger led hike to Cedar Ridge down the South Kaibab Trail. Most all of us made it out to Hermit’s Rest and the West Rim before heading back to camp. Mary Jane Elizabeth Colter had designed many of the buildings here, and was known for her pueblo inspired, organic architecture, designed to be in harmony with nature. Her Bright Angel Lodge overlook served as roost and landing strip for some of the local California Condors that had been reintroduced further up the Colorado River a decade earlier, as well as some mint chocolate chip ice cream that I decided I couldn’t live without. The day had started with sunrise at Mather Point, with sunset the evening before at Yavapai Point.
The trip finished with helicopter rides and an IMAX movie for those of us who chose not to fly. We first flew over the Kaibab forest, of which it turns out, the Hopi are co-stewards of, in partner with the National Park Service. And speaking of the Hopi, I bought another ring at the Hopi House, this time an aqua blue turquoise set in silver again. Mimsy had also bought us some iced oatmeal cookies, after one of the ROTA groups had made some excellent curry the night before. Some of us who hadn’t done the best job securing our tents, had a surprise waiting for us after the hike, as we found our things left undone by the resident red baron ravens and overly snoopy squirrels.
What do you do with vegetarians at a place called ‘Roadkill Cafe?’ Well, per usual Mimsy intervened and got them the foot long veggie at Subway instead. And yet that didn’t stop her from shuttling us up to the In & Out Burger, first thing in Vegas. She was out to please as our van had gone kapootz out in the middle of the desert after climbing hill after hill, and after crossing the Colorado River for the last time. She had to reschedule our limo ride as our van wouldn’t start for a few hours in CalNevAri. We checked out the Fremont Street Experience before landing at the Bellagio for the water show. I kissed Charlie on the toes, in case she didn’t know she slayed me day in, and day out. She had mentioned something about a boyfriend and got on pretty well with another passenger Al, but hey, she was in stilettos and a little black dress that was barely legal…. she looked good as an outlaw. And who was I to put up a fight?
The next day Mimsy offered to take us to the Strip around lunchtime. We ended up at the Bellagio champagne buffet brunch for Timothy’s birthday. I wasn’t so hungry, as I had gone big that morning with the waffles, really just an excuse to have copius amounts of butter and syrup. Everything was copius in Vegas. New Years Eve 1946 gangster Bugsy Siegel had opened the the Flamingo Hotel and Casino for seven million dollars. His art deco Miami themed hotel has most recently given way the the Wynn Hotel and Casino, 60 years later. Pricetag: $ 2 billion. Las Vegas has 14 of the world’s 20 largest hotels. There are over 100,000 marriages here a year and they have a few real good roller coaster rides: NYNY, the Desperado and Nascar. Once upon a time there was no cover, no minimum, no speed limit, no cover for drinks, no laws against brothels, no sales or state income tax, no waiting period for marriages, and no regulations on gambling… no problem.
Mimsy drove out of Vegas with us half comatose and asleep in the van. We arrived in San Diego in time to spend the afternoon and evening at Sea World, and catch the nightly fireworks. Some of us saw the Zoo, others went shopping, making our way to the Gaslamp from Fashion Valley, and all of us met up for our last supper at Fred’s, the local Mexican eatery and watering hole on Garnet, funzone for all Diego beachcombers. Nobody wanted to leave, but we still had Universal Studios ahead of us.
Los Angeles has more palm trees, poodles and Rolls Royces, than anywhere else in America. You’ll also find one of every five swimming pools in America, in Southern California. Go figure. Mimsy had done her job. ‘Deeds, not words.’ We had seen and done it all. We didn’t want it to end. Some cried, most of us hugged good bye, and we all exchanged email addresses. I got an ‘I love you’ good bye from Paris Hilton Jr. and her sister, the next Meg-Ryan-to-be. Johan and Rosa gave Mimsy a wooden shoe from their home country, Holland, with black cow spots on the white shoe, which we all signed good bye to Mimsy. Karli, as she had said all trip, said that this was the ‘best ever’ trip, while Mimsy quickly added that her best moment was still yet to come.
Mimsy mentioned something about leaving for New Zealand after her season ended, but hoped to return to Nebraska for the sandhill crane migration. Apparently she misses her prairie tallgrass and cornfields. I know I’ll miss her and all my new Trek America friends, as I think it’s safe to say that a good time was had by all, and that our trip will not soon be forgotten.