Outdoorsy Mama’s Excellent UTAH Adventure: Postcards From The Edge…. Of the Cliff, of the Kayak, of the Canyon, of the Cinder Cone, of the Dune, of My Bike, of the Red, Red Rocks, of my Belay, of Zion – The End

Late Afternoon Bike, Hike to the Top O' The Volcanic, Red-Rock World in Southern Utah!

Dear Diary,

I’m standing on a 5 mile long, Anasazi ridge next to the Santa Clara River Valley. Saying goodbye to Southern Utah after an unbelievable visit of exhilarating adventure, peace, and reconnection. 

The ridge and the people have a 2,000 year old tradition of greeting and celebrating a Full Moon here. And, tonight, my last night here, as that glowing, orange, giant, full orb creeps up from the horizon, it’s as if I can feel the power of the history of all those footsteps gathering. All those footsteps times 2,000 years. 

Call me crazy, but there is something spine-tingly magical about this place. A center of energy, a grounding that makes even the most adrenaline and Red-Bull filled, psycho-adventure-junkie… Stop. And Breathe. And Hear.

A connection with Ma Nature and her wild, red rocks.

If I could create a million postcards to share the visual feast of it all with you, I would. If I could hand you a vial to drink of the sensation of the place, I would. But you’ll just have to come see for yourself. And maybe, if i can sneak away again, I’ll come back with you!

Namaste & Three Cheers! -OM


Outdoorsy Mama’s Excellent UTAH Adventure: Day 4 – CANYONEERING My Awesome Mommy Arse-Off Near Zion National Park With a Rockin’ Group of Cool, New Friends

Canyoneering Dude & Dad Paul Rappelling Down Yankee Doodle Canyon in Utah

Dear Diary,

Sleepy... I look down heading to breakfast and see rips of blood across my shins and extending onto my calves from the pointed ends of the violent Agave plants that line the trails here – as if a creature with Edward Scissor-hands has slashed at me in my sleep. Nope, just a desperate desert plant struggling to make it in this climate. Stay away from me!!! it screams at my tender, naked, lower legs as I barely brush it by on the path.

This isn’t the country for the soft and tender. On the inside, maybe.

My gloopy oatmeal with a spoonful of brown-sugar and some milk goes down just right this morning. It’ll stick to my ribs today like a good concrete shellacking. And my Decaf Vanilla Soy Coffee (with a twist?) reminds me that I may be kicking-butt and taking names on this trip, but I am also a good old pussy-footed coffee addict like the rest of us FHLOKers. (Full House Lots O’ Kids)

Oh but I digress, dear diary. For today is the day. The reason I booked this trip. One of the few locations in the world that I can scramble, rappel, boulder, and climb walls as if I was spawned from Spiderman’s loins. Saddle up: we’re going Canyoneering today!!!

Woo! We’re driving like bats out of heck in a four wheel piece o’ 1992 Nissan Pathfinder (I think.) Into Dixie National Forest we fly and it’s a tight, neat group. Which means gibberish. But in my-speak it means we all get along, we’re all excited, we’re all competent, and, most importantly, we’re all 100% COMMITTED. 

No whimps, wooses, or weenies allowed…..Ya hear?

Spider Lady Veronica Preparing for the Big Drop
We hike the massive 10 feet from our truck to the first Technical Canyoneering descent into Yankee Doodle Canyon and my breathing gets shallow. Chest tight. Holy fleepin’ muck. What did I get myself into here. (Yup, feeling a bit like a weenie.) But I’m keeping calm for the gang. Luckily, excitement overwhelms fear and the reminder to “Breathe!” and “Smile” calms and comes from our lean, lithe, possibly part-monkey guide from the way he leaps off of sheer walls of rock and bounces through unscathed.

Helmet on. Harness wrangled around our crotches. Carabiner and Rappel Device clanking away until the rope attaches. We are lowered, one by one, into the first PIT OF DOOM….Learning and relearning the necessary weight of our hips. Learning and relearning the trust of the belay and the power of the rope. We’re committed.

The PIT OF DOOM actually ends up being a reasonable 15 (?) foot drop warm-up rappel. Immediately following comes the massive, cavernous, golden-glow 80 foot rappel. A sky-scraper for a first time-er. But no time to think. Once again, we’re in the fate of the leetle tiny rope-gods and a metal clip supporting our entire weight…..

Down… down I descend from 80 feet up… “and now JUMP, JUMP as hard as you can… to your Left!” comes the order when I’m still 60 feet high. To your Left??? My left hand, which I usually make the “L” with so I dyslexically remember which way is which, is grasping the harness in front of me. My other hand, which is behind me, is holding the rope that is stopping me from plunging the rest of the 60 feet down. Crap. JUMP!

Somehow my knees spring and my feet lunge to the side, landing, hopefully, down further and left. Sort of. My body, still spastic from the nerves, like an  uncoordinated Kindergartener on the monkey bars, swings around for a minute in the air and, BANG, I scrape my upper, exposed thigh against the scratchy, sandstone wall. A badge of honor! Not pretty, but I’m doing it and it’s definitely adrenaline, not sweat, that is coming out my pores right now.

As I lower myself to the bottom and the rest of the gang rappels down, we’re high fiving. Fist pumping. Awesome. Our crew is psyched, high on accomplishment and the NOT-sock-sorting, laundry-basketing activity of my usual drill. It’s time for more. We’re deep in the canyon now, but the only way out is still down.

The Guys Working Through a Tight Spot
Now comes the Bouldering. We’re scooching, squeezing, manipulating our bodies into positions I haven’t seen since the last Circe de Soleil that came through SF or on the dance floor in the unfortunate 1980s… it’s all about, literally, walking on walls. Finding the correct angle and weight of all 4 limbs and occasionally my bottom or, lets face it, ANY body part that will help us maneuver through the space without dying a gruesome death from plunging into the rocks below while not bound to a safety rope. Yes, I’m exaggerating….. a little. But, actually, no I’m not.

At one point, to get over a boulder and thorough a tight crevasse, our arms are out straight on one canyon wall and our legs out straight on the opposite wall, completely parallel to the ground. As if we have on a red cape like Superman and and big old “S” on our chest, with a green-screen behind and we’re flying, straight through the sky to rescue Lois Lane.

Sticking to the Walls!
Scooching, scooching. Every core muscle is SCREAMING at me, screeching: “You got this! GO GIRL!!!” Our feet and bare hands stick to the sandstone like a gecko’s, and amazingly hold us prone in this and all the other contorted positions we use to move up and down and through tight, precarious spaces.

It is EXHILERATING. Our group is giddy. Did you see that??? Can you believe it??? We’re high fiving and verbally fist pumping the scope of strength and power and difficulty and contortion our bodies are able to tackle. Amazing.

We’ve winded our way down through twisty and seemingly bottomless chutes - @ 800 feet down - and we’ve now hit bottom. In a good way.

It’s time to get Out.

After Noon
The Steep Ascent - No Ropes, Baby
The scramble UP begins. My feet stick to the near vertical wall ahead and, again, I am reminded of Spiderman and his wall scaling abilities up glass mega-buildings. Apparently the sandstone has a Velcro like fascination with the rubber on the soles of our shoes, but I still prefer to think I have some sort of superhuman superpower.

All focus is on steady, powerful but nimble finger holds, foot holds. Look down if you dare.

We don’t scramble up with ropes. Slipping or falling is for sissies and we’re not going to do it. It’s not an option. I could have scrambled up all day. I am in my element, possibly part-spider, part-monkey? Send me to the zooooo.

Late Lunch
Ahhh! We’re back. Triumph is ours!!!

We’ve finished the full loop and are back at the truck, fairly quickly for a group of newbies. Can we do it again??? …… I talk a big game, but methinks every single muscle on every single part of my body is toast I just don’t know it yet.

We break for our crunchy lunches and the wild ride home through the backcountry.

A hot tub AND a bath later, my thighs are still saying “hello!” But in that good way. And I know tomorrow morn I shall wake with an upper body saying “hello!” as well. Ahhhh, the satisfaction. Ahhh, the joy!

A quick FaceTime with the kids and though they’re happy for my adventure today, the big news for the girls is: What animals did you see??? My older son gets it, but he’s too tired to fully appreciate my rock star-ness and I will Wow! him when I get home with my Mommy Awesomeness as I’m continually trying to break the Mom Rocks at Laundry award I still seem to keep winning annually.

Mom Rocks at Canyoneering, big guy. And I CAN’T WAIT to get him out there with me next time. Bucket list. For the whole family.

Namaste & Three Sandstone Canyons to You -OM

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Outdoorsy Mama’s Excellent UTAH Adventure: Day 3 – Zion National Park, Hikers Paradise & Journey to the Center of the Earth

Zion National Park View from Canyon Overlook Trail

Dear Diary,

Zion! Z-I-O-N!!! ...... Yes, I’m headed to Zion.

Picture me: packing backpack, sunscreen, hair bobble, warm hat, sun hat, 2 water bottles, lip stuff, sunscreen, green apple, half eaten power bar. Picture me: wearing warm layer, cool layer, Smartwool socks (LOVE these things! – no stinky after so many days!) It’s morning-in-the-desert chilly brrrrrr out there right now, but I know the oven will start baking in just a few hours…….

On the road, vanned-up, with 8 of my new BFF hiking buddies. Chitter chatter. Yappity yap. We’re sharing “who are we” stories, and, even better, awesome adventure stores as we make the hour drive. A great guy to my right is possibly the world’s most amazing dad – taking each of his 4 kids, annually once they were teens, on epic, outdoorsy adventures. Including a trip to Hudson Bay in chilly Northern Canada to see polar bears in the wild. Holy wow…… Another gal, behind me, has recently swum with Humpback Whales in the Dominican Republic. She passes around her iPhone to show us the actual whale she was next to and now is her screen-pic.

Massive Bowls of Slick-Rock Above
We have arrived at the Gates of Zion. And somewhere, I believe I hear trumpets playing…. I am a mere mortal.

Giant, towering dunes of Sandstone. Layer upon layer of golden, orange, yellow, red rock. Skyscraper-ing into the bursting blue of the Southwestern sky. I bend my head back, way, way back, to gasp at the size of these walls from our valley floor. Awe-some.

Canyon Rim Trail. Uh, Don't Slip!
The Appetizer Hike: Canyon Overlook Trail: 1.6 miles RT: We zip along the great Zion-Mount Carmel Highway, thru the tiny 1920s built tunnel, and park at Canyon Overlook Trail. A quick but good, appetizer hike for the day ahead, I’m starting to get more of a sense of the scale of this park. Giant drop-downs into narrow, wavy canyons below us. Giant, neck-craning ups at the curiously massive, bee-hive formations and slick-rock bowls above us. We’re still a chattery, giddy group and tho I’m feeling a little like I want to take off and explore on my own, I hang in there. We have good guides, and I want their inside knowledge.

Glowing Rock Face Towering as We Enter Echo Canyon
The Main Course Hike: Echo Canyon (en route to Observation Point): Yippee! Our big group of splits into 3 (going the more challenging way) and 5 (heading off a more gentle route.) I’m thrilled to be in the small group of 3 heading to a destination that makes our very experienced guide’s eyes twinkle. I know he does this 5 times a week, and if he’s excited, then it’s got to be good!

We hop on the park service’s shuttle system and hop off at Weeping Rock. I see switchbacks – hiker’s evil nemesis, damn you switchbacks! – against the almost sheer face of a glowing Orange El Capitan like massive wall. I can’t wait – we’re heading towards the top!

Storybook Entrance
Step, step. We’re churning our way up and stop here and there for our guide, Bob, to make sure we’re not about to keel over. Tho our hike is “only” a 1,000+ vertical, it’s hot and straight, straight up. Pleased at our seemingly alive condition, we continue. Up.

Woo! We’ve made the vertical climb (in record time, according to our flattering friend Bob) and now for the MAGIC……… The trail bends right, into a large crack, a canyon carved out over millions of years by a stream the size of a hummingbird’s rump. As the canyon begins to open up, it’s as if we’ve walked through the magic wardrobe door to a storybook land, as a beguiling, inviting gentle green path tucked into the hard, glowing walls of orange, beckons us forward. Wildflowers bursting. Small, resilient trees budding. Birds chirping. Where are we?

The Center of The Earth in Echo Canyon
The trail bends again, and we enter THE CENTER OF THE EARTH. The orange rock bends and twists in giant yet soft curves, waves of towering walls. I hold my breath. There is something so unbelievably spiritual here. So huge. So magical. I know my wimpy little iPhone camera can’t catch it so I hope my words do some sort of justice. If a dinosaur or a robed goddess or a elfin creature were to come out of the winding narrows we were peering into, I would not only not be surprised, I would probably run away with them. Wherever they were going…

Dessert in the Desert: Emerald Pool Trails, 2 or so miles. For hiking-dessert after our EPIC Echo Canyon main course hike, Bob decides to take us on an easy but feast for the eyes trail to the Lower Emerald Pool. Following the Virgin River, we bend away from it’s roaring spring rage and into a scooped valley.

THIS is where the %$%*^#* battery runs out of my 4SiPhone which makes me want to SCREAM! But, zen Namaste me merely puts my now worthless black brick of a paperweight into the side mesh pocket of my green pack and I use my eyes to devour the sights.

As we enter the giant almost cavern like amphitheater of the lower pool, we are sprayed by gently misting waterfalls cascading from above. The wind shifts and now Bob and my two hiking buddies and I are no longer being gently misted by the wafting drops from above – we are totally drenched!..... Ah, the tickling humor of Ma Nature. She gets one in here and there…. And, according to Bob the all knowing Guide, this happens quite frequently to unprepared tourists wearing their Sunday best…

Bursting Green Valley of Zion Ntnl Park
Heading out of Zion, we stop at an ice cream stand and my pals and I order the local favorite: Huckelberry deliciousness. Licking the spoon with my cooling and sweet treat on it, I know I’ll come back, Zion.

Next time for your Narrows and it’s wet, walking stick adventure. Your Angles Landing for it’s sheer, precarious drop off and prestige. And your overwhelmingly, extraordinary beauty. I CAN’T WAIT to share you with the kids.


Outdoorsy Mama’s Excellent UTAH Adventure: Day 2 – Hanging Out With Wild Mustangs & Sunscreen Application Challenges in Southern Utah!

 Dear Diary,
Mustangs in my Dreams...
Hey, diary! I woke up this morning with a horse’s nose in my face. At least it wasn’t his other side – ha, ha. No seriously, it's a dream about adventure ahead..... Real, live, wild mustangs and me. A human. Meeting. Together…. On a ranch in Southern Utah!

Ohhhh! I’m just not sure it’s going to get much better than this.

The last horses I was around were the scarily-rickety and possibly dead - but still walking somehow - horses from our Yosemite “trail ride” with the kids. The kids still bring it up as a crotch-achingly, agonizing 2 hours. But, hallelujah, I know I’m in for a diff experience today!

Hey again. Brief change o' subject, diary. Here’s the interesting thing about traveling solo. How does a solo person put on sunscreen. In the far back places? That is my profound question for this morn…. Must lengthen arms…. Stretch………..

Got my cowboy hat. Got my polarized sunglasses. Got my leather chaps. Well, not. But feelin’ myself startin’ to think and walk like a Western horse person. Been livin’ out West long enough to feel like I belong…

Ok, so we arrive at the mustang ranch and now I feel like a Billy Crystal, city slicker dork as I step out of the van and a grey/black Australian Shepard cattle dog launches to bite me or, uh, greet me.

I’m warned that he’s a biter. “He’s a biter, that one.” Hmmmm.

Outdoorsy Cowgirl Mama!
But the rest of the pack of cattle dogs are friendly. As are the white, Stetson hatted ladies who run the place and put on today’s adventure: MEET the Mustangs.

MEET: Mustang Educational Experiential Teachings

What will we be doing? I actually have no fleepin’ idea. I just love that I get to hang out with wild horses...... Wild kids, I know. But wild horses? This is a new one for me….

My heart is beating fast and I am exited and a leetle bit intimidated and, well, nervous. Oh, geez, I know horses. I know horses & have ridden them since I was a small thing.

But with these mustangs….. it’s different. Their fear of humans is, well, so clear. So obvious. The horses I’ll be with today have been adopted from the wild. They move and act like scared prey. And each horse at the ranch is at a different level of skittishness. Sorta the way I feel when I get out of my mommy clothes and back in my fancy, high-heeled, out-on-the-town dress and go to my hubby’s work party. Glerb!

The first horse I get to meet is the most nervous of all the horses they’ll let us connect with today. He is so skittery around humans that we can barely get close enough for a neck pat. He backs away as I move to him. And I step away. I’m learning to listen to his cues as to what makes him more comfortable. By stepping away, I allow him his space. So, I realize, profoundly, that there’s actually a bigger reason why I can’t remember his name… Find your space, little buddy.

Next is Sequoia. It’s her first day ever with guests and she’s never allowed a bridle on her. I walk out to her. She lets me near. I pat her neck. She tolerates then steps away. I’m instructed to stand still and breathe. I breathe. Breathe…. All of a sudden, Sequoia lets out the most giant release of breath that makes a giant woosh of sound. We all laugh. Bravo! She’s relaxing! So am I.

Mustangs Free to Run in the Southwest
The ground shakes as the 23 mustangs of all earth-tones and patterns are released to play in the giant pasture. We watch their movement as they frolic and canter about – and I can’t help but think of Old West stories – the corny ones and the heart-tugging ones – from when Tonto helps save the day to the horsey books I grew up reading with the foal who lost her mama. (Sob!)

There’s something about the spirit of their wild looks running in the Southwestern country that is, seriously, about to make me burst into tears. It is awe inspiring.

We're meeting First Star. A super handsome and super responsive mustang-dude – he heeds to an alpha’s slightest direction. As I enter into the ring with him, he senses my energy. With simply the way I hold my body, I guide him to walk, then trot, then walk again. I direct him to the left and right with merely a turn of my shoulder. And, most magically stirring of all, I stand directly in front of him, turn and walk away, and he follows me, all around the ring. Like an obedient little dog. I turn to look, is he still there? He is! First Star lets me scratch his fuzzy neck afterwards while he chews on his lips. A sign of pleasure in a horse. The pleasure’s all mine, buddy.

Topaz, The Horse & Human Hugger
The grand finale of the MEET is Topaz. Because she is a mustang who loves to be hugged. As a tree hugger at times, I’ve also been known to be a horse hugger. So this is right up my alley…. My burst of emotion for all of these horses today is finally satiated as I walk up to Topaz and give her a giant heart-hug and spend time rubbing her painted neck. I say over and over: “Thank you. Thank you,” to Topaz. I don’t know why.

Waving goodbye to the ranching ladies, I bow down to their love and care for these animals. A non-profit organization, they adopt and care for these thousand pound (I think they act like) fuzzy-teenagers. With no social skills, with no preservation skills ‘cept for fright and flight when they first come to the ranch,  these wild mustangs have found a home and someone to care for them. They are the lucky ones.

Vodka rocks with a Turkish Pepper stuffed olive in my hand, I savor the day. SAVOR my hunk of adopted love, First Star. SAVOR my hugging (not-the-car) Pinto, Topaz.... 

The sun sets.

Namaste & Three Cheers –OM

For more on the MEET program, Windhorse Relations, and biographies on the horses (!) go to these links!
Google: "Adopt A Mustang" -- to learn more about the many organizations who help Mustangs find homes