Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Curtis and Jessica : 2014 in Review

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

From our family to yours!

click to enlarge!

Our year began with us back in Iowa with our families, celebrating Christmas in 7 different homes, traveling with Curtis' family to Michigan to see family, traveling with my family to Missouri to some basketball tournaments, and surviving the -30 wind chills that came across the Midwest. That last part made having to leave family just a bit easier when it came time to return to sunny Arizona! I heard that Tucson had the "warmest winter on record" this year, and I can truly say that we relished every moment of it. Every weekend found us outdoors and going new places, as well as small hikes during the week with our letterboxing friends, Mitch, Kathy, and Alex. Curtis was also taking 17 credits that semester, finishing out his junior year.

On our first weekend home after the holidays, we went on our very first peak hike together with Curtis' hiking buddies. It was undoubtedly the hardest thing I've ever done physically, and I didn't think that it could ever be something that I enjoyed. (To be fair, they did throw a 14 mile hike at me to begin with!) Curtis was very understanding though, and after that we cut back on long hikes and focused on taking short letterboxing trips. We went to places around us like Southern Phoenix, Madera Canyon, and Globe, AZ. During the week, we would go on short hikes with friends in Tucson Mountain Park, or on jogs in Sabino Canyon.

For our first Spring Break, we planned a week long adventure that took us to many sites in Northern Arizona and Southern Utah. My brother Grant was able to join us, and together we visited places like the London Bridge, Hoover Dam, Zion National Park, Buckskin Gulch, Escalante, Gooseneck State Park, Monument Valley, and Payson, Arizona. We really caught the travel bug after this - we love planning such big and detailed vacations, all we need is to have more time to travel! To finish out the school year, we went to Flagstaff, Jerome, Cottonwood, Tombstone, Contention, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument with friends. In May, I had a change of heart and decided to give hiking another chance. After hiking Mt. Wrightson with Curtis, I realized how fun it really was, and we began planning and training for more long hikes. 

In the last week of May, we traveled back to Iowa to spend a week with family. We made a spur of the moment decision to leave early and surprise them, and that ended up being a highlight of the year.  We spent a fun-filled week with them, taking short trips to Sperry, IA, Pike's Peak State Park, and Effigy Mounds National Monument. It was a blast being able to explore Iowa together, but it made the week go by so fast and before we knew it, we were back in Arizona and the temps were above 100 every day!

This summer, Curtis had a research position at the University. He would be there 4 days a week, then we would either be outside braving the heat or indoors putting together puzzles. We started hiking again right away, and we set our goals high - to Mt. Humphreys, the highest point in Arizona! We took a 4 day weekend toward the end of June, where we went North to Flagstaff to enjoy the cooler temps and every National Monument around the area. (Trust me, you need a long weekend - there's a lot up there!) And we were able to reach our goal - the peak of Mt. Humphrey's! In July, we found creative ways to stay cool and still have adventures - whether that meant being underground in a cave, or driving up to the top of a mountain, we were there! We also accomplished our goal of visiting and letterboxing in all 15 counties in Arizona.

July 27 was our first anniversary, and that called for another long weekend trip! This time, we headed West to Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree National Park. We learned that unless you're at the ocean, California is just as hot as Arizona, you're just paying way more for gas. Ha. We had a great weekend though, despite some car troubles, and are enjoying married life together more and more each day!

Curtis began his senior year at the University of Arizona in August. I'm so proud of all that he's accomplished there and how he's excelled. This fall, he only had 12 credits, and is set to graduate in May of 2015 with a double major and a minor. He's pretty amazing! Right now, all he has to do for the Navy is PRT every 6 months and keep his grades up. We still have some time together before our adventure with the Navy begins, and we're doing whatever we can to relish it! 

We'll never forget that one fateful Friday in September, when we went to the mall to get BOGO pumpkin spice lattes, and ended up falling in love with a puppy. We'd visited a local puppy store for the past year on a weekly basis, but never fell for any dog as much as we did for this basset hound. We went home, feeling completely torn about the whole situation. As an adult, we are blessed with the freedom to get all the puppies we want, but cursed with the knowledge of how much responsibility it would take. We spent a weekend thinking over it, and even when we decided to not get her, we couldn't stop talking about her. And so, 2 days later, we brought home our very first pet - Charlotte Antebellum, aka Charlie!

Charlotte has been both a source of immense happiness and extreme frustration as we learn to deal with having a toddler. As difficult as she might be some days, we really do appreciate the fact that she loves and is good at 2 of the things we do the most: hiking and road trips! She impressed everyone when at 13 weeks, she hiked all the way up to the top of the tallest peak in Tucson, walking about 6.5 miles that day. No matter what she gets herself into, she is our first child and we'll always love her. While we are appreciating how cute she is during this puppy stage, we're looking forward to when she's matured a bit more, and I know she'll be a great companion for me when Curtis is at sea.

This fall, we were so excited to finally have some of our family come see us in our home! Curtis' dad came to visit in September during the biggest monsoon, and we saw our first desert tortoise while hiking with him. Curtis' mom and sister came to visit in October, and on top of having some adventures in Cochise county, they were the first to meet Charlotte. And finally, my mom came down in November for a week and we enjoyed showing her around Tucson, and even fit in a weekend trip to Sedona. We don't know how much time we have left in Arizona, but there's still time for you to come visit! Book your vacation now! ;)

All of our hiking this fall was considered training for our big hiking trip over Thanksgiving weekend. We, along with our friend Mitch, hiked down the Grand Canyon to the Supai village, where we enjoyed the beautiful blue waterfalls of the Havasu Creek. We hiked a total of 44 miles over 3 days on a trail that was way out of our comfort zone at the time, but now makes for some great stories! When I look back at 2014, I will always remember it as the year I learned to love hiking. I went from miserably hating every step of my first hike to hiking 20 miles in a day, climbing down a muddy canyon wall, and loving it!

And now, here we are again - at the end of another year, looking back on how God blessed us and protected us over 2014. As I see His faithfulness toward us and our marriage, I know that every day we have together is truly a gift, and I am trying to be content and enjoy each moment as it comes. Right now, 2015 is a big uncertainty as we wait for orders to come from the Navy. We're not sure where we'll be living this time next year. But we know that God is sovereign, and He has everything planned out. All we can do for now is trust in Him!

I lift my eyes up to the hills,
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
The maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip,
He who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, He who watches over Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you,
He is the shade at your right hand.
The sun will not harm you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm,
He will watch over your life.
The Lord will watch over your coming and going
Both now, and forever more.

Psalm 121

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our Week in Pies

It's beginning to *feel* a lot like Christmas! 

Here in Arizona, you can't go by looks, because it always looks the same in the desert. So I guess you could say it always looks like Christmas... ;)

Anyway, it is becoming quite chilly down here. It's only 60 degrees right now, and I'm sitting here all bundled up and drinking a nice hot cup of tea. It's about time for a reality check though, as we are heading North for the holidays. I keep saying that I'm worried about how Charlotte will deal with the cold, but I think in reality, I'll be the bigger wimp about it!

Sadly, the weather kept us from getting another hike in last weekend. On Saturday, it was dreary and raining all morning. It was disappointing, but we know it would have been miserable hiking weather. I keep thinking about how much has changed since the beginning of 2014, and how during our first peak hike all I was thinking was that there was no part of me that would ever enjoy hiking...then fast forward to now, and I'm genuinely sad to miss out on an 18 mile hike that doesn't have any letterboxes. Who would have thought?! :)

But I don't want to look back on last week and think of it as not adventurous. Last week was an exciting time of new adventures, learning new things, and having new experiences. 

New adventures... in the kitchen.
 Learning... new recipes. 
New experiences... in the form of 3 different, new-to-us pies.

How could you look back on a week that included 3 different pies and think that "nothing exciting happened?!?!?"

Oh, and then there were the churro waffles. Churro Waffles! We were hungry for churros and I wanted to make some, but I quickly called off that operation when I discovered that I could make churro waffles. They are just as delicious as they sound! All I did was make my favorite waffle recipe, left the waffles in the waffle iron until it was golden and almost crispy, dipped them in melted butter then covered them in cinnamon sugar.

Churro Waffle making station!

Churro Waffle - finished product!

On Tuesday night, we went over to Mitchell's house for dinner. Mitchell is an amazing chef and made a delicious roast beef. I always like to bring a dessert along because I think that being the one who brings dessert to a party is my calling in life.

Strawberry/Blueberry/Peach Pie!

I made my strawberry pie with Curtis' favorite homemade butter crust, but this time I added blueberries and peaches to the mix. It was delicious and completely devoured after the meal.

On Wednesday, Curtis had his last day of classes. I can't believe how fast this semester has gone! (He can) :) I'm so proud of his hard work and perseverance throughout this fall.

On Friday, I decided that we needed to celebrate the end of school and the beginning of finals with a new pie. I made this Chocolate Chip pie that I had been saving for a special occasion, and it was incredible! I used Curtis' favorite crust again (it works so well with everything!) and somehow, between the two of us, it was gone by the end of the day... Weird! ;)

On Saturday, we chose to skip the hike and went for plan B, which was have friends over. Mitch, Austin, and Seneca came over in the afternoon, and while the guys played Axis and Allies, Seneca and I decided to try another new pie recipe. Baking with friends is so much fun!

We're kind of in this awkward stage at home right now where I don't want to buy groceries because we're going to be away, so I am trying to be creative with using up whatever I already have. Thankfully, we had most of the ingredients to make this Chocolate Cream Pie though!

Chocolate Cream Pie - aka S'more pie!

I altered the recipe by making a graham cracker crust instead of the butter one. Also, we didn't have any Cool Whip, so we covered the top with marshmallows and put it in a warm oven to soften them before refrigerating. So maybe we'll call it a S'mores pie, but whatever it was, it was a hit with all the guys!

We wrapped up the day with meeting up with Alex and Kathy for dinner and to celebrate both of their birthdays. We're so blessed by all our friends down here! They all make our life so exciting. :)

And that is the story of our week, told through pies. I hereby declare that from now on, every week should be remembered by the dessert that we ate!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Hiking in the Tortolita Mountains

Saturday, December 6, 2014
Hiking in the Tortolita Mountain range

We planned to do this hike the week before leaving for Supai - we needed something else to look forward to once that adventure was over! Even though we were planning on hiking 12+ miles, we still let ourselves sleep in and took our time getting ready. Only 12 miles? Last Saturday we did 20. Ha!

Facing South/Southwest. The mountain range in the distance on the left is the Santa Ritas; the closer one on the right is Tucson Mountain park.

The Tortolita Mountains are in Marana, Northwest of Tucson. We had never done any hiking in this area, but we had been warned to not attempt in the warmer months. Out here, if the sun is shining, it will beat down on you wherever you are - there is no shade! As you can see from all my pictures, it was very overcast most of the day. Thankfully it never rained, but it was quite chilly when we left. Once we started hiking, we were able to stay quite warm though, even without jackets!

Facing North, halfway to our destination
The trails all begin around the same area on the Wild Burro Trail, which follows a wash through a canyon for 1 ½ miles then branches off in all directions. We chose which trails we'd be taking by where the letterboxes were, and set off on the Upper Javelina trail. This one took us up a hill and over some ridges for about a mile. The hardest parts on this trail were these large rocks that we had to climb over or get around. Sometimes we had to stop and look for where the trail was going. I wondered if they actually made the trails around the boulders, or if there was a large rockfall recently! 

We would say that this wasn't strenuous at all - but now I have to wonder how difficult it would be if we hadn't just done Havasupai last week. It's hard for me to accurately describe these trails when comparing them to the more difficult things I've done. Throughout this whole hike, we had less than 1000 feet in elevation change, so I think it's okay to say it's one of the easier areas to hike in the area.

Oh, and we especially appreciated that these trails are dog-friendly! Charlotte did so good and walked almost the entire way. I think she enjoys hopping up and over rocks. If she had the choice to walk on the flat trail or on top of the rocks that lined the trails, she always chose the rocks. Always. Then she would decide to stop on one and just stare out at the view, taking it all in. While it was a tad annoying because we wanted to keep walking, we couldn't help but let her have her moment - it was just adorable. :)

Near the end - the white thing on the right is the second bathtub we've come across while hiking.

After the Upper Javelina Trail, we followed the Wild Mustang Trail for ½ a mile before getting on the Cochie Spring Trail for the last 3 miles. It really didn't feel too long because for most of that, we were walking along a mostly-flat ridge. We ended up hiking 6 miles in less than 3 hours. We probably could have gone much faster if it weren't for Charlie...but where's the fun in that? ;)

Curtis and Charlie, letterboxing!

We had a chilly lunch sitting on the dam, being creeped out by the old windmill creeeeaakingg as the wind blew. The only one not afraid of it was Charlie...once we reached the end, she started smelling around and checking out the area. The only way we could get her back was with peanut butter.

Charlie with the creepy windmill!

Just the two of us...

...And now with our small dog!

She makes taking selfies fun :)

Facing Northeast, somewhere in the Tortolitas

After having a quick lunch and practically freezing to death, we began hiking back. Curtis helped Charlie down or over a few rocky spots, and carried her when she was being stubborn, but she did well with keeping up with us. We only saw 3 groups of people all day, which Charlie loved, and the only wildlife spotted was a stink bug, which we did not let Charlie meet.

On the way back, we took some different side trails to get another box. At this point, I knew Charlie was getting tired, so I thought it'd be best if she stayed with me while Curtis went after the box, but Charlie decided that she wanted to show how loyal she was by following Curtis at his quick pace. She would go chasing after him, whimpering the whole way, while I tried to keep up with her. When Curtis stopped to take a break and appreciate her efforts to keep up, she laid down and fell asleep almost right away. I then decided to sit with her and make sure she got some rest while Curtis went on to grab the box, and then came back to meet us. 

After this, Curtis carried Charlie until we reached the wash and the Wild Burro trail. She really seems to enjoy walking through sand or loose dirt and kicking it up as she goes. We made it back to our truck around 4 - making our total for today 14 miles in 6.5 hours. Not too bad, but not as impressive as last week. :)

One example of the large rocky bits that the trail went...around? through? Who knows!

We finished by grabbing one more box and going to Culvers for dinner. Once we got home, I carried our exhausted Charlie into our apartment and laid her down on our bed, where she stayed from 6 that night... until 8 the next morning. :)

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Havasu Hiking: What We Ate

One major thing was on our minds while we prepared for hiking to the Supai Village: What were we going to eat? Obviously, when you're hiking 10+ miles a day, you're going to need a lot of food to keep you going, so how could we bring down the most food in our 3 collective backpacks?

I was their "water mule." I carried down 6 liters of water in my pack. (Which, as Mitchell pointed out, is like 13 pounds.) Curtis' pack held all our food, cook stove, utensils, clothing, first aid, and any other necessary supplies. Oh, that's all in the orange bag, the black bag on top was called the "community bag" (which Curtis carried the entire time though nothing inside was his) and it held lots of other food and other things like Mitchell's toothbrush. ;)

Anyway, food! In the Supai village, there is a cafe and a General store. I did not go into either so I cannot vouch for them, but from what I've heard there is never a guarantee that they will be open when you need them. Mitchell said that the store has fruits, sandwiches, and other processed and packaged goods, but rather expensive. 

Besides the uncertainty of buying food down in the canyon, Curtis and I really had the desire to plan and carry down all the food we could so that we could have a real "backpacking" experience in that regard. Curtis did a lot of research and started dehydrating things weeks in advance, and planned it so that all we needed to do was to add water and cook over his small camping stove!

Here's what we dehydrated:
Green beans
Sweet Potatoes
Ham jerky
Apple chips
Grapes (homemade raisins!)

Along with that, we had a Hamburger Helper with packaged tuna, tortillas, PB, Cliff bars, fruit snacks, oatmeal, poptarts, and MnM's. Oh, and Scum Tea too. But that's another story.

We didn't end up eating a lot, but that's ok - better safe than sorry, and we can still use them anytime! (In fact, the dehydrated canned corn was so good, I still want some now!)

The site Curtis did most of his research on was called and it proved quite helpful! I was able to make my Nana's amazing Chili recipe with only one alteration, which we dehydrated then rehydrated for dinner, and it was amazing!

To make the chili, we needed bread crumbs because they help the meat to rehydrate better. We ran to Jimmy John's and picked up a day-old loaf for fifty cents, cut it up and dehydrated it. Once it was done, we threw it in my Vitamix to break it down into the crumbs. Then we took the meat, added 1 cup of breadcrumbs to the 1 lb of ground beef, then browned it together.

After that, I was able to add all the normal ingredients I would to the chili - as long as there isn't any fat in the ingredients, it will all rehydrate just fine!

Yum! Thankfully, we made plenty so we could eat some that night, then dehydrate the rest. :)

We use a Nesco food dehydrator - all it is is 6 trays and the fan, but it's made some delicious trail food in the year we've had it! We just recently purchased some trays to use with it, so that we could make the chili, applesauce, and other fruit leathers. All we had to do was spread the chili across then let the dehydrator do its thing for several hours! Our dehydrator is simple and doesn't have any temperature settings, so Curtis kept an eye on it to make sure it wouldn't get too burnt.

Tada! Once we were ready to cook it, we added 1 cup of water for every cup of chili, and after careful stirring and waiting it was finally ready - and even better than before, because we had hiked 14 miles for it! :) We also found an awesome 2 person cook set that has everything we need - 2 cups, 2 plates, a frying pan and a pot. Curtis was able to cook both the chili and the corn in decent time so we didn't have to wait to eat!

For breakfast on Saturday, we also prepared oatmeal on his stove, served with our own homemade raisins. Both delicious and satisfying, right before our 20 mile hike!

I don't have pictures of the rest of our meals, but everything we did eat that we had prepared turned out great - and I'm not just saying that because we were starving and desperate for food after hiking!

But I have to say, those MnM's that I enjoyed right after finishing the hike up the canyon on Sunday were the best I'd ever tasted. They tasted like victory! Undoubtedly the most well-deserved chocolate I've ever had. ;)

As for water, we drank what we had brought down, and also drank the tap water at the lodge. Maybe not the cleanest water around, but hey, you NEED water and it's not like you can just easily carry around enough for hiking 40+ miles plus some for cooking! It's been over 24 hours and we survived. :)

Friday, December 5, 2014

Hiking Havasu, Day 3: From Village to Hilltop and Home!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Let me just say - staying in the lodge may be pricier than camping, but it is SO worth it! I'm not sure we could have finished out this trip strong without a great night's sleep in the very comfy beds! Not to mention, some of us may have been too cold to camp on these brisk November nights... :)

We slept in a bit later and took it easy this morning. Curtis and Mitch went and enjoyed breakfast at the cafe. I think we were all initially very sore when we woke up, but once we got moving it wasn't too bad. We packed up our belongings and left at 9:30.

We talked about what was motivating us to finish the hike. For me, it was seeing my precious puppy Charlie again. I hadn't been away from her like this before, and it showed me how much I really do enjoy being around her! (Though while we were gone, I definitely idealized her and may have set my expectations too high. Oh well, it got me out of that canyon!) Mitch's motivation was the rock fish in his freezer back home (oh and maybe the pumpkin cheesecake I made for Thanksgiving!) and Curtis' was seeing his wife happily reunited with her puppy. And getting letterboxes. :)

I do believe my motivation was the strongest, and it led me to starting us at a very quick pace. I started wearing myself out fast and Curtis took the lead, but we kept a quick pace the whole way out. I was very thankful that the majority of the hike was flat! We took our first fruit snack break at 10:30, and were shocked to find that according to a step counter on my phone, we had already gone 3.3 miles! 3.3 miles in one hour?! Yes! We never cease to amaze ourselves! :)

We actually were able to keep up with this pace too. After 2 hours, we were 6.5 miles of the way done, and at 12:30, exactly 3 hours after we left, we arrived at the hilltop. No joke. We cut off a whole hour from our time hiking down to the village! (To be fair, we didn't have to stop for pictures, but still!)

One last break before the trail started going uphill. 2 more miles!

Today, we only came across one other couple heading up the canyon. Instead of hiking out, most people were taking the helicopter from the village to the parking lot. Every 20 minutes or so, we would hear the buzz of the helicopter flying over us. Maybe when we're old and less in shape, we'll return and use the helicopter's services, but not today! I heard it does cost a bit to fly out, and it isn't always a for sure thing. On Friday (when we hiked down) the helicopter simply didn't show up, and those who were planning on flying out were stuck having to hike. Just be aware!

The last 1 ½ to 2 miles is of course the steepest and most difficult. The best thing to do is not look up at how far you have left, but focus on each step. All morning, it had been cloudy as we hiked through the canyon, but once we reached this challenging part, the sun decided to start beating down on us. Thankfully, the canyon wall provided shade for a bit, and we pushed on and made it! I sat down at the end and had celebratory MnM's. And let me tell you, that was the most delicious and well-deserved chocolate I have ever had. That moment is definitely one of the highlights of my year. :)

We changed out of our hiking clothes and took off from there - Tucson or bust! Actually, we decided to do a little letterboxing to break up the drive. Hiking 10 miles then driving 6 hours can really wear a guy out!

Quick stop at the Grand Canyon Caverns

We stopped for some along the I-40 and the historic Route 66 before making our way down to Prescott for dinner at Culvers, and then home. Driving through Phoenix was undoubtedly the most stressful part of today, but by 8:30 that night, baby Charlie and I were reunited. :) Shoutout to our dear friend Kathy for being the best dogsitter ever!

At the Grand Canyon Caverns

Driving down historic Route 66

One last thing...I recorded Mitchell reading the Burma Shave signs out loud for us. Enjoy the above clip. :)

End day 3: hiked 10 miles, for a grand total of 44 miles this weekend!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hiking Havasu, Day 2: Village to Colorado River and Back

November 29, 2014

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, "Do something every day that scares you." Now let's say, hypothetically, if you do like 20 scary somethings in one day, can you save them up and not do anything scary for the next 19 days? I think I need a break after today's adventure. :)

Breakfast of champions!

We awoke before dawn on Saturday morning and enjoyed scum tea and oatmeal with homemade raisins. We packed 2 bags full with food and water, bundled up for a chilly morning, and were off!

Okay, so we goofed around a bit before we left. I was kind of stalling because I knew some of the things that we'd have to do today, and I wasn't really looking forward to it. I knew that there would be river crossings and sketchy ways of getting down the canyon walls, and even if it weren't for those things, I knew we'd still have 20 miles to hike today. I wanted to make it the whole way, but didn't know if I was ready for the challenge. Well, ready or not, we set off at 7:30!

As we walked, we only ran into people going the opposite way. We love hiking when we're on our own, so that was a good sign for us! Oh yes, and there is a letterbox somewhere down there...and as the clues state, "Don't do this hike just for the letterbox. Let the box be the bonus for doing this amazing hike!"

Mooney Falls

Mooney falls was about 2-2.5 miles from the village, a little ways down the trail from Havasu falls, where we had stopped the day before. We stood on the top of this ledge and took in the beauty below.

Now, here is where the trail got interesting. To get down the the base of the falls, you have to go down basically the side of the canyon wall. And we're not talking about switchbacking - this is going down through tunnels and using chains, ladders, and crevices in the rock face to slowly and carefully reach the bottom. Mitchell had warned us about it - this is as far as he had made it last time - and I was definitely dreading it.

Descend at your own risk is right! There is only one recorded death though - in 1882, a miner, D.W. "James" Mooney was climbing up the falls and he fell to his death. A year later, a friend of his came here to bury the body, and he brought with him stakes and chains to help make the descent easier...and I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't use the exact same chains that he did. Trust me, this was terrifying!

Into the tunnels we go... It doesn't help that all you can hear is the roar of the waterfall. The lower you get, the more muddy and slippery it is from the waterfall's spray. Curtis went down first, with me right behind him, and when it came to the part where there are only chains and the rock face going straight down, he helped show me where to put my feet with every step. I was so nervous, I thought I would hyperventilate or be sick. Instead, I listened for his instructions and pushed everything else out of my mind. There's no quitting now!

Mitchell, descending the last ladder!

Spoiler alert: we made it alive! It was a huge relief to finally set my feet on the ground, but there was the tiny stress of "we're going to have to do this again tonight!" Of course, it's way easier going up than down, but I knew it'd be a push to make it back here by dark. For anyone reading this and planning to do this hike, make sure you bring gloves - they helped out so much, especially when holding on to the muddy chains for dear life! ;)

Of course the views from the bottom are breathtaking. Mooney is the biggest of the falls, and here you can see the size comparison between us and the great waterfall. We spent as much time here as we could - even back where Mitch is standing while taking the picture, it's hard to face the falls because the spray of the water is cold and heavy! It made taking pictures tricky as well.

The above picture gives you an idea of the canyon wall that we just came straight down. As you can see, there's a set of 3 ladders at the bottom, then a long stretch of just chains and rock face before entering the tunnels. Considering that I'm not even a big fan of using ladders, this could be like my worst nightmare... but not anymore! :)

After we were finished with Mooney, we continued on - I now knew that since I made it down Mooney, I HAD to make it the entire 20 miles. There was no way I'd make myself have to come back here later to do it all again. The trail gets difficult to follow after this because there aren't many people who will go farther than Mooney. 

The first of about 9 river crossings! Thankfully, we all knew about these in advance and planned accordingly. Both Mitch and Curtis brought old hiking boots that they planned to throw away after today's hike. I didn't have old hiking boots (I've only been hiking like this for less than a year, and I'm not ready to give up my wonderful boots I've used since January!) so I went and found water shoes at a consignment store. I'm pretty sure my shoes kept my feet the most comfortable throughout the rest of the hike! 

This was another huge accomplishment for me. Both Curtis and my brother had to put up with me last March being unwilling to get my feet wet, and that was with like 5 inch standing water at the most. Okay, so I would only cross holding Curtis' hand, and I had my hiking pole in the other, but we're talking about crossing a flowing river that got to be chest deep. It wasn't easy, but after doing it a few times, we all got the hang of it and I even looked forward to it because it meant getting a chance to cool off.

After the first 2 crossings, there was a long stretch of walking through this green area that was thick with vines. We were interested to know what it'd look like in the spring and summer, and if they happened to have grapes, berries, or flowers in other parts of the year. For today, we got to enjoy seeing everything in fall colors.

Another crossing! You can see on my pant legs how deep it's been. I was concerned that I'd be freezing the whole time because of the cold water and colder weather than I'm used to, but it really wasn't that bad. I had a comfy coat that stayed dry, and hiking just naturally warms you up!

Red rocks, blue water, green trees, yellow leaves...This has to be the most beautiful and colorful hike we've ever done!

While this trail proved to be very challenging, there were long stretches of trail that were very easy. It would have its small ups and downs, but we were able to cover a lot of ground quickly, which made up for some of the technically tricky parts that took some more thought.

Like this...This took a while for me to wrap my mind around. I'm supposed to walk across this board where I could easily lose my balance and fall 20 feet down? I went right behind Curtis and held on to his backpack, like that would help anything. The guys both instructed me to not look down... but I went across staring at my feet the entire time. No wonder I have these problems. :)

Here we have come to another river crossing, except here, the creek is moving far too quick to walk through it... so they put a board on top. A board that was split down the middle. *shudder*

As Mitchell put it, "Sketch level is like 100." The part toward the end is the worst, as you have the loud roars of the rushing river right beneath you. Once again, I went right behind Curtis and held his hand...I seriously couldn't have done anything here without him. Haha.

Mitchell snapped this photo of my pathetic-ness. Whenever I came to anything like this on the trail, I didn't just have to gather the strength and courage to do it... I also had to do it, knowing full well that I would have to do it again later, possibly in the dark!

After the sketchy bridges, the trail started going up the side of the canyon. The trail was sandier and it  would have random big steps, sometimes with ladders, other times without, and once with this vertical log with a few slots on it. This trail is not for the weak!

This palm tree was awesome. It was the only one we came across all day, and it was huge!

In the above picture, you can see there is this random ladder just standing there. We came across this a lot. I had to wonder every time we were going up or down if the thing was really secure. You really don't have any other choice but to trust in it though! We referred to the area right before Beaver Falls as the "adult jungle gym." Maybe just a tad bit more risky than the kind for kids. :p

Finally, we came to Beaver Falls! It's about 6 miles from the village, and is basically a series of small, cascading falls. Again, truly unique and beautiful, and it would have been worth the hike to see just this! (But of course, once you're this far, why not go to the Colorado? It's only 4 more miles away!)

Beaver Falls at ground level.

We've all made it this far!

Another sketch ladder. You never know how much space will be between each rung as you go down!

The trail after Beaver is probably the most terrifying. The trail ascends a bit more along the canyon wall, and becomes more narrow and steep. What makes this possibly even more challenging than Mooney is that there is nothing to help you - no chains, no ladders, just rock face. Slippery rock face with loose rocks. I have no pictures to show of this because documenting the memories was furthest from my mind at this point. Curtis kept looking at me nervously, just knowing I was doubting everything. "Do you hate me?" He asked, and let's just say it was the wrong time to ask me that. I hated everything. ;)

So we walked along this narrow trail, then it started switchbacking downhill. It was steep, it was frightening, and the rapids below made it seem even more terrifying. It was so steep that there were only like 2 switchbacks to get to the same level as the creek, and from there, the ledge disappeared. We had no choice but to cross through these roaring rapids to get to the trail, which was clearly marked on the other side.

Thankfully, only the first bit was fast and deep. Both of the guys helped me across, all 3 of us taking one step at a time, and making sure that foot was secure before thinking of lifting the other. Fighting the water was a struggle, but after the middle part (which you can see above was above ground, then much more shallow) we were safe to make it the rest of the way. Once we were standing at the other side, looking at the trail we had just came down, it was literally impossible to tell that there was a trail there. It was only by a small cairn that we would be able to know that it was where we were supposed to go up later.

After this, the trail was much easier. It was either flat ground along the creek, or through more shallow crossings. It was around 11:30-12 at this point, but none of us felt like we were exerting ourselves too much physically. Adrenaline was running high, and we were proud of all we had overcome and were excited to press on to the end. 

Suddenly, we saw something moving to the side of the trail. Was it a deer?

No! It's a bighorn sheep! The first time Curtis and I had ever seen any in the wild! And they were close... really close! And not afraid of us...

There were 6 ewes and 1 ram. They just stood there and either ate or stared back at us. I was really nervous and was feeling both excited to see them, but incredibly nervous about what they might do. There wasn't really anywhere we could hide from them, it was just this small area of land, then the river and the other canyon wall. This land was all theirs.

Our faces are not at all showing how we really felt. It'd be more accurate if they were swapped. When I'm nervous like this, all I can do is smile and try to be calm. Curtis is just plain silly. :)

There's the ram! He was pretty chill here. It was that one ewe that I was more worried about.

We made it past our new bighorn friends, and continued moving at a fast pace. It was still breathtakingly gorgeous all around!

Stopping in the middle of the creek for a selfie :)

We could compare the last couple miles to the last mile of Mt. Humphrey's. When hiking Humphrey's, we had to walk along a ridge, past many false peaks until we finally reached the end. Here, we kept looking up at the canyon walls and wondering when we'd finally see the North Rim. We were so excited and had so much anticipation for finally seeing the Confluence at the Colorado river, but with each corner turned, it seemed like there would be many more to go. And even when you feel like you're close to the next canyon wall, you still have a ways to go. This part is more mentally challenging than anything else!

Finally, we came to this narrow point in the above picture, and we knew that the Colorado river was just on the other side. However, here is where we made a tiny mistake: We missed the last river crossing, which would have taken us up the rock face on the left and given us a great overview of the Confluence and the Colorado. Somehow, we had it in our minds that the only way to get to the Colorado was the same way Havasu Creek does: through the canyon. Oh yes, it was deep... chest high on the guys, so probably neck high on me. :p 

However, our mistake led to some unforgettable memories. We decided to leave things that we didn't want to get wet on what we thought was the end of the trail. This included our coats, the guys' shirts, flashlights, cameras, letterbox logbooks, and a few other things. Then, both guys went in through the water, carrying their backpacks over their heads. Curtis had promised to carry me through the deepest parts, and Mitch was going to hold him to that. So after he left the backpack, he turned around and started walking upstream to me. Both Mitch and I will never forget his struggle as he fought the current. It was awesome. :)

Here's the kicker: While we were struggling, we looked up and saw another hiker, walking up on the canyon wall. He yelled some things at us, but we couldn't hear what he was saying...we guessed that he was telling us we were crazy and that we should use the real trail like him, but we had made it this far, we couldn't stop now! Not after seeing how much of a struggle it was for Curtis!

WE MADE IT! Above is the Confluence, where the blue water of Havasu Creek meets the green/brown water of the Colorado. 

We were so excited, but extremely cold! I'm disappointed that we weren't able to enjoy our time here as much. We got some pictures (Both Mitch and I had 2 cameras, we each left one with our "dry things" and brought another, just in case!) then decided to find where our "trail" went without us. Thankfully, there were these naturally formed steps that helped us get up the side and finally meet up with our trail. We followed it down, back to where we were supposed to cross. Mitch ran to grab our dry things, and we had a quick lunch there before beginning our long trek back!

The confluence: where Havasu Creek meets the Colorado river and the Grand Canyon!
It was around 3:00 when we began to hike back. Since we had gotten so many pictures on the way to the Colorado, we didn't feel the need to take any more on the way back. We were starting to warm up again after our cold "swim," thanks to our fast paced hiking. My main motivation at this point was reaching Mooney before sunset...but it wasn't seeming likely, because that was about 8 miles away, and since we were in a canyon it would get darker faster.

Hey look, our bighorn sheep friends again! We saw 7 ewes once again, just a little ways before we had seen them before. We made it past them... only to have the ram waiting for us a ways up the trail. He was standing on the trail and wouldn't move as we got closer. Mitch started yelling at him and clapping his hands. The ram didn't get scared - instead, he took a step toward us. "This is the end! We're done for!" Curtis and Mitch both grabbed the biggest sticks they could find, and I looked around for any place to hide. Nope, we were doomed. Thankfully, with the guys yelling and threatening him, he took off across the river. Whew.

We continued on, going quickly as we could when the trail was easy, taking it slow and carefully when we came to the challenging parts. It started to get dark after we had crossed Sketch Bridge over the rapids. Crossing the creek in the dark just wasn't as fun as it was in the daylight. As frightening as it was when we reached Mooney, knowing we'd have to climb up in the dark, it was still absolutely gorgeous in the moonlight. God blessed us with a beautiful, clear night, with the moon lighting our path and the stars shining bright in the sky. It was truly beautiful and worth seeing.

Going up Mooney was way easier than going down - being able to see where you can put your feet it always a blessing, and not having to look down helps tremendously. Thanks to the flashlights, we were able to make it up quickly and safely, and finally take a truly relaxing break as we sat at the top, admiring Mooney by moonlight. We still had 2 miles to go, but we weren't worried about it because we knew those were easy miles, not life-threatening ones. The man who we had seen just before reaching the Colorado came over to talk with us - he had made it back just a half hour before us and was still enjoying the beauty of the falls. It was fun knowing that we were the only 4 people in the world who had gotten to enjoy the beauty of the entire Havasu Creek on this day. On our way back, we also ran into the night ranger and had a good time talking with him. Besides these 2 men, there was only 1 other couple that we had seen all day. We truly had this entire hike all to ourselves!

We finally made it back to the lodge around 7:30 - which means it took us less than 5 hours to walk the 10 miles from the Colorado to the lodge! We were greatly satisfied with what we had done, and were all able to get some wonderful, much-needed rest after today.

End day 2: Hiked 20 miles
Number of things I did that scared me: 13, but double that if you count having to do them again on the way back. Mooney should definitely be counted twice.