Weekend Sunshine, Old Lady Climbs Red Butte, More Snow (Really??)

We’re still camped on Forest Road 320 about 20 miles south of the entrance to the South Rim of Grand Canyon. After all the rainy and snowy weather we had last week, we finally caught a break. This past Saturday and Sunday were absolutely beautiful! The skies were clear and blue, and while it was a little cool and windy, it was still so nice to be able to spend some time outdoors for a change.

Finally able to catch a glimpse of the snow-cap on Humprey’s Peak

We were finally able to get a clear view of the San Francisco Peaks without them having a blanket of clouds over the top. We could clearly see the additional snowfall that the peaks received over the past week–the view was really stunning! We hope to get an even closer view of the peaks next week when we move closer to Flagstaff (spoiler alert!).

I was able to talk Andy into taking a walk with me along the Forest Road to see the retention pond that I had found earlier. It was an enjoyable walk in the sunshine to where the pond rests at the base of Red Butte. I was hoping for a good photograph of the reflection of the butte in the water, but the surface of the pond was so choppy due to the wind that the photo idea didn’t pan out. It was still a lovely scene!

Andy checks out the retention pond at the base of Red Butte

That evening the winds died down so we were able to once again have a campfire after dinner. There is an abundance of dry, dead wood lying around to use as fuel. It burns quickly, and it’s mostly cedar so it has a wonderful smell as it burns. We had the marshmallows, graham crackers and chocolate bars for s’mores, but we got lazy and just toasted the marshmallows instead. That’s the best part anyway! 🙂

Andy gets the fire going for some toasted marshmallows

On Sunday morning I woke up feeling especially energetic for some reason, even though I had not slept well the night before. I decided it was time to tackle the Red Butte Trail.

Trailhead for Red Butte Trail

The trail is an out-and-back climb up the west slope of Red Butte, a distance of about 2.4 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 890 feet. The average time to complete the hike is 1.5-2 hours, and it’s rated as “Moderate” with steep switchbacks during the last 0.5 miles.

The prize for the climb, other than the amazing views, is reaching the Forest Service fire lookout station at the top of the butte. If you remember from one of my previous posts, I met Bruce, the lookout ranger, when he had hiked down from the station to deliver his pet goats to a lady from Williams who was adopting them. I was hoping to see Bruce at the top of the butte so I could find out more about how he handles life as a hermit in a station with no access other than by foot or helicopter.

I started the hike about 9:00 AM, climbing steadily along a well-marked path that was mostly open but which also passed plenty of trees that offered occasional shade. By about 30 minutes into the hike, I was really starting to feel the burn in my quads, but surprisingly I wasn’t as short of breath as I thought I might be. Fortunately we’ve been camping in this higher altitude long enough that I’ve become acclimated to the thinner air, so I wasn’t too bothered by oxygen deficiency. But I definitely felt challenged as I climbed higher and higher, and began to stop more often to enjoy the views, take a few photos and rest for a moment.

About halfway up, gorgeous view of the San Francisco Peaks from Red Butte

Just before 10:00 AM, I finished the last switchback and emerged at the very top of Red Butte–SUCCESS!! The trail continued across the level ground past some trees to the fire lookout station and the associated structures. As I approached the station, I shouted “Hello” several times to announce my presence, but it soon became apparent that no one was home.

Red Butte fire lookout station

Fortunately, the metal deck on the second floor of the station was unlocked, so I was able to climb the stairs and get a look at the view that Bruce gets when he’s on duty. The station is on the north side of the butte, so he has a direct view of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. From the southeast corner, he can also see those beautiful San Francisco Peaks. And he can see for miles and miles in every direction, especially on a clear day such as it was on that day.

View of the top of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon from the lookout station

The second floor of the station has big glass windows facing in every direction, and although I didn’t get to talk to the ranger, I was able to snap a photo of the inside of the station:

Inside the fire lookout station (photo taken through the window)

I spent almost a half hour at the top of the butte, just enjoying the scenery while re-energizing myself with a Clif Bar and some water. I also took a little time to look for a geocache that is supposedly hidden in the area, but according to the navigation on my app, it was located on a rocky ledge, and I just wasn’t comfortable getting that close to the edge when I was up there by myself. Oh, well, you win some, you lose some.

View of the San Francisco Peaks from the lookout station deck

It took me about 35 minutes to make the descent from the top of the butte to the trailhead. Going down was definitely easier on my lungs, but it took a toll on my left knee and my right foot, which have always bothered me on tougher hikes. Regardless of the discomfort, I had an immense sense of accomplishment and satisfaction after completing this hike–it’s the toughest one I’ve attempted in some time, and at the age of 60, it’s good to know that I can still complete challenges like this to see sights that most people will never experience. Besides, that’s what ibuprofen is for, right??

So that was Sunday. A beautiful, clear day in the outdoors.

Monday morning — different story.

As usual, I woke up early in the morning while Andy slept late. It was partly cloudy as the sun rose, but in the west I could see some dark clouds building. I knew the forecast called for some off-and-on light rain for the day, so I wasn’t surprised.

I fed the cats, and settled in at the dinette to enjoy my coffee and my breakfast while Andy snored away. The only sound was the occasional hum of the furnace fan as the heater kicked on.

All of a sudden, it sounded like a dump truck was depositing a load of gravel on our roof. Andy shot straight up in bed, the cats scattered, and I nearly spit out my coffee. A sudden hailstorm had started without warning, and when you live in an RV with plastic vent covers on your roof, it can scare the bejesus out of you. Fortunately the hailstones weren’t too large, but there were a lot of them, and we held our breath that they wouldn’t get any larger before the hail turned to rain.

That was Round 1.

Round 2 of the weird weather started about 30 minutes later after Andy had gone back to sleep. I started hearing little tapping noises on the roof again, and noticed that the rain was now mixed with sleet. What the heck?? It wasn’t supposed to be that cold! But sure enough, I could see it starting to accumulate under the trees and bushes.

“Well, that’s interesting!”, I thought.

Another half hour or so went by, and by then Andy had gotten up and was in the bathroom when I noticed another change.

Round 3 – Snow! Big, fluffy, wet flakes of snow were falling, and it was getting heavier by the minute. With the winds blowing about 25 MPH, it was quite impressive. And even though the temperatures were slightly above freezing, the snow had no problem sticking to all the vegetation and anything elevated off the ground. Before long we had another Winter Wonderland, the second one in a week.

The second snowfall in a week–this one totally unexpected

And just in case you’re reading this at some time in the future, please note the date that this happened: May 27, 2019, on Memorial Day, the unofficial start of summer. That’s just wrong!

Anyway, just like the previous snowfall, this one didn’t last long. It was completely melted away an hour after it had appeared, and all that was left was mud. By the middle of the afternoon, the clouds broke up enough to let the sun shine through a little bit to start drying things up. Today (Tuesday) it’s going to be cloudy for most of the day, though, so we still have a little drying to do.

So right now, we’re sitting in Starbucks in Tusayan, enjoying some free wi-fi with our coffee (the cellular service at our campsite is poor, so I come here to take care of our online life, doing the bookkeeping, and downloading books to our Kindles). Earlier we drove into the National Park to refill our drinking water jugs. We get free entrance to the Park with Andy’s senior pass, and once inside, the drinking water is free. We enjoyed lunch in Tusayan at a local pizza place we’ve visited before. In fact, they gave us the “local’s discount” of 20% since we were return customers–score!!

Pizza and Peroni in Tusayan – nice break from cabin fever

We’re winding down our stay in this area now. At this point we’re just waiting for a day with great weather so we can do a full day inside the Grand Canyon National Park, and after that we’ll be moving on, most likely to the Flagstaff area. The weather forecast is calling for temperatures to start moving into the more normal, warmer range over the next week, so we’re starting to think a little further into the future when temps start rising into the 80° and 90° range in this area. Our two most likely options are:

  • Go to New Mexico for awhile, using our annual pass to stay in state parks where we can get electrical hookups and run our air conditioner, or
  • Head to Colorado to higher elevations where the temperatures are cooler even in the summertime, assuming that we don’t run into problems with altitude sickness

We’ll probably do some combination of those two things, or maybe something totally different, who knows??

Anyway, this has been a lot of fun staying in this area, and we’ll definitely return here at some point. The boondocking options are plentiful, and being close to the National Park offers a lot of things to see and do, even if it means that we have to drive further to shop for groceries or do laundry (which is really starting to pile up now!!). 🙂

Red Butte. Yeah. I climbed to the top of that!!

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Safe travels!

2 thoughts on “Weekend Sunshine, Old Lady Climbs Red Butte, More Snow (Really??)

    • Yeah, I was hoping Bruce would be on duty so he could show me around and explain what he does. When I met him earlier he told me he is a landscape artist, and he uses his free time up there to paint. Says it really suits him. His wife is a professional singer and travels a lot, but he said she loves staying up there when she’s in town. 😊

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