Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lake Powell

This last Thursday the young men in our ward left our local church in Tucson, Arizona a little after 6:30 a.m. to head to Lake Powell. Warren Rustand, a member in our ward graciously let us use his house boat, motorboats, and jet skis that he rented.

John Wesley Powell, a Civil War veteran whose right arm had been amputated after one of the battles in which he fought, took the first organized expedition down the Green and Colorado Rivers in 1869. Nearly a century later (1956), construction began on the Glen Canyon Dam, just south of the Utah/Arizona border, to store the water flowing down the river. Seven years later it started storing the water flowing in from the Colorado River, and in 1966 it started producing electricity. It took nearly twenty years after completion to reach its full capacity in the early 1980s, but with the drought spanning several years during the last decade, the water level dropped nearly 140 feet. Since that low point, the water has risen and was only about 70 feet below capacity when we visited it this last weekend.

We had an uneventful drive of almost 400 miles as I worked with Scouts on the Pathfinding merit badge, which is only being offered this year as part of the centennial celebration of Scouting. The last time Scouting offered the merit badge was in 1952, the year it was discontinued.

After taking the house boat, motor boats, and jet skis to a beach several miles from the marina, the Scouts quickly changed into their swim trunks and slid off the slide on the back of the house boat. During the couple days that we spent at Lake Powell, the young men in our ward prepared meals, worked on Lifesaving, Swimming, and Motorboating merit badges, and had a blast going on the jet skis, riding on an inflated floating device behind the ski boat, and jumping off the rocks into the deep water below.

Yep! If one person jumps off a cliff, so does everyone else!

Even me!
Dana Willis and Scott Evans continue their tradition of doing back flips on trips they take.

It wasn't all just play--although I don't think I could convince my wife of that! Here the scouts can be seen working on the Lifesaving merit badge.

On Thursday night I rode on the yellow floating device behind the ski boat with two young men. Warren Rustand takes pride in his ability to make those riding the tube fall off. I managed to stay on for quite a while, but he finally wore me down. After falling off two or three times, I was exhausted from the constant exertion of trying to hold on--one time he even flipped us over. There was no chance to stay on. When I finally went to get on the boat, I could barely pull myself up. Jed Mayfield, one of the leaders jokingly imitated the Tyrannosaurus Rex on Meet the Robinsons, bringing his upper arms close to his body and raising the lower part of his arms into the air while saying, "I've got a big head and little arms!" I couldn't help but laugh because that is exactly how I felt.

Three of the young men who went with us gave it their best shot. The hardest part of the ride is when the boat starts to turn and the outward force begins to pull you in the direction of the turn.

Thanks to the generosity of Warren Rustand and his son, Eric Rustand, we had a great experience on Lake Powell that we otherwise would not have been able to afford, since the houseboat alone would have cost somewhere in the range of $2700 to $4000 just to rent. Thanks to the Rustands, the other leaders, and the great youth that we took up with us, it was a memorable experience for me and, I'm sure, for everyone else.

This evening shot shows the canyon walls to the southeast of where we parked the houseboat.

This panoramic picture taken by James Evans shows where we "camped." We stayed in the houseboat on the right-hand side.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Picacho Peak

A week ago my former bishop kindly took me and three teenage Scouts for a hike up Picacho Peak. For those unfamiliar with the mountain, it is a prominent landmark mentioned in Stephanie Meyers The Host. It is also the location of the westernmost battle between Union and Confederate troops during the Civil War. It is located about 40 miles north of Tucson along Interstate-10. While I had wanted to hike the mountain several times since moving to Tucson, Arizona four years ago, I never got around to doing it. The hike was challenging for some of the youth that came with us, but they persevered and we finished the hike up the switchback trail that skirts the eastern side of the mammoth rock outcropping before going over the saddle between two peaks. It then heads down the west side of the mountain for several hundred yards before rising back up with some steep climbs where hikers cling to cable railings in numerous locations to scamper up crevices, climb steep rocks, and walk along the edge of small drop-offs.

Until a day or two ago, the state park was scheduled to close, meaning the trails would be closed to the public. Thanks to fund-raising efforts by nearby residents, the park will be able to stay open beyond the original closure date of June 3rd. Since hiking the trail last week, I decided to take my family up just in case they don't get the chance to hike it again. I wasn't certain my kids would be able to hike that far, but we decided to give it a try. Gabs (6 yrs old) and Bells (4 yrs old) hiked the trail with Debs and I, and I carried Erik (2 yrs old) in a child carrier. Because of the difficulty of some parts of the climb, very few young kids make the hike. Besides our kids, the youngest person we met on the trail was six. Both Debs and I were amazed at how well Gabs, Bells, and Erik did. Just after going over the saddle to the west side we got stuck for about fifteen minutes behind a group of middle-age people who work at Raytheon. One in their group was clearly scared of heights. When he finally got down the steep stretch, our daughters climbed right down and went right past the group resting at the base in preparation of starting their ascent again. That group would occasionally pass us while we were resting and vice versa, but seeing our daughters go fearlessly up and down the climbs seems to have temporarily cured the person of his fear of heights. After that he seemed to do much better on all the the steep climbs and descents.

Gabs had no problem with the hike and led most the way. Our calling her a mountain goat just seems to have motivated her to prove that the hike was easy for her. Bells needed some help on some of the steeper parts and the latter half of the hike back due to fatigue. Debs and I did just fine until we rationed our water toward the end of the hike so the kids would have enough to drink. With about 4.5 to 5 liters of water, we knew we would be cutting it close, but we didn't really have a way of carrying much more. Gabs carried one liter, Debs carried two, and I carried the rest in the pack with Erik. As a result, both Debra and I started to cramp some toward the end of the hike--me in the shoulders because of the weight of the pack, and Debs in the calves. We probably really disappointed the half dozen vultures that were circling the area.

We saw a common chuckwalla (I think--the one we saw was a large, dark lizard with a tan tale.) We saw one last week too and one of the Scouts called it a push-up lizard because it does push-ups, but if I'm not mistaken, there are a variety of lizards that do push-ups for one reason or another. Elizabeth, if you want to add a chuckwalla to the list of lizards you have caught, come on down!

It ended up being a great hike with excellent scenery, a good workout, and a trip to a Dairy Queen located a mile or so from the trailhead. Our former bishop treated me and the Scouts to some ice cream at the Dairy Queen last week, and I decided to make it a tradition every time we do the hike. If any friends or family are in the area, you'll have to hike the trail with us.

Bells, Debs, and Gabs stop for a picture before starting the last climb to the summit.

Don't worry, she's not scared as this picture seems to imply. Bells actually sat here voluntarily and is several feet away from the cliff edge. This picture makes it look like she is much closer than she really was.

Some other hikers were kind enough to take our family picture.

This is the mischievous trio at the top! Erik had the easiest hike of the three, rocking back and forth time after time in his child carrier just to make sure his pack animal ride was balanced.

Debs grudgingly stops for yet another picture on the west side as we go down the mountain.

Debs and Bells come down a particularly steep part of the mountain.

This panoramic looks south from the summit of Picacho Peak.