Hiking to the Baisse de Peluna and Vallon du Ru Sec

I parked near the tourist office in La Brigue and found the beginning of the hike at Balise 44.  The path was easy and relatively shady with good views.

 

After Balise 46, the path got slightly steeper and rockier but still was great views over the valley.

View from Baisse de Peluna

 

Balise to Baisse de Peluna

It’s important to go left at this balise, not right.

 

View from Baisse de Peluna

It took about 1 1/2 hours to reach this balise, at which point I followed the arrow down to Vallon du Ru Sec. It was an easy descent along a pine-shaded path that ended at a country road that I followed back to the starting point. It was a comparatively easy three-hour hike.

Baisse de Peluna is quite a bit more for an ascent. Will try it when I have more time!

 

 

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Mont Gros via Baisse de Levens

I started out at Balise 124 and followed the Route de L’Armee des Alpes which was a wide, sunny track.

 

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Along the way are casernes from WWII.

Then I entered the Parc de Mercantour for the climb to Baisse de Levens which passed through a shady forest of pines and firs.It’s particular to the region and called l’Ostryaie

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It took about 45 minutes to get to the Baisse de Levens. I followed the balises pointing to Mont Gros but shortly after this point, the trail seemed to peter out.

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June 2012

 

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June 17, 2012

Instead of following the trail along the ridge, I probably should have climbed straight up the steep hill to get to Mont Gros but it was poorly indicated.

Anyway it was a beautiful spot to eat my sandwich.

I then followed the balises down a very gentle path that wound round and round ending up at balise 136 (?) which was under the Col de Brouis on the road.

It was a kilometre or two up the road to get back to my starting point. All in all it was a beautiful, shady hike, perfect for warm weather. In springtime, the snowy Mercantour in the distance and the spring flowers budding everywhere made it special.

All in all, it was a little over 4 hours with a denivilé of about 350m. Since it was mostly shady, it’s a great hike for warm weather.

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Canyon de Chelly: The Long Walk

No, I did not take a long walk. The Long Walk is the seminal event in Navajo history and refers to Kit Carson’s forced death march from the Canyon de Chelly to the Bosque Redondo reservation in 1864. Having failed to starve the Navajo out of the canyon, the US Army came up with another plan.

Soon, 8,500 men, women and children were marched almost 300 miles from northeastern Arizona and northwestern New Mexico to Bosque Redondo, a desolate tract on the Pecos River in eastern New Mexico. Traveling in harsh winter conditions for almost two months, about 200 Navajo died of cold and starvation. More died after they arrived at the barren reservation. http://www.legendsofamerica.com/na-navajolongwalk.html

For me, it was a relatively short drive from Monument Valley to Spider Rock Campground on the canyon’s south rim.The light was beautiful when I arrived in late afternoon.

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The campground is named after the striking Spider Rock, a sacred place for the Navajo.

Canyon de Chelly

As in Monument Valley, it wasn’t easy to find fully Navajo-owned accommodation in the Canyon de Chelly which is why I chose the Spider Rock Campground. Fortunately, the campground also offered typically Navajo structures, called hogans, used for ceremonies and to house guests. Mine had a kerosene lamp and a wood-burning stove for warmth, plus a mattress on a platform, little wood tables and ample bedding.

Hogan in the Canyon de Chelly

The campground also had flush toilets, a sink and a “sweat lodge”. I learned later that the owner is in contact with a local medicine man who will occasionally treat ailing guests in this traditional sweat lodge.

The owner had set out my bedding, lit the lamp and got my log fire ready to me ignited with one match. (If you can’t count on a Navajo to build a good fire, what can you count on?) I was snug and cozy as night fell, watching the fire, listening to music and dashing outside from time to time to gaze at the incredible, starry sky.

In the morning, I arranged for a jeep tour of the canyon with the owner’s nephew, Benjamin. Like many Navajo, he had a dwelling on the rim and one on the floor of the canyon which he used mainly in the summer when it offered a respite from the heat.

The cottonwood trees were in full autumn color which created little spots of brilliant yellow light.

Floor of the Canyon de Chelly

Benjamin was not impressed by the cottonwood trees. In fact, he was irritated. It turns out that the government planted the trees decades ago to curb erosion. The problem is that cottonwood trees are thirsty and absorbed the groundwater, leaving nothing for the residents. Water had to be brought in by tank as there was no connection to city water mains. What should have been done about the erosion? “We would have taken care of it” he answered.

Undoubtedly they would have as the canyon has been inhabited for around 2000 years. The Navajo drifted in during the 15th century. Before them were the Pueblo who lived there from the 8th to 15th century.

One of the highlights of the canyon are the ruins of the Pueblo, visible in several places.

Ruins in the Canyon de Chelly

They also drew on the canyon walls, mostly pictures of antelopes.

Drawings in the Canyon de Chelly

There were no animals in the canyon at this particular time but Benjamin assured me that in winter the animals return from the further reaches of the canyon (not all of it is accessible to the public). Mountain lions, coyotes and even bears can be glimpsed. “Bears? Wow. Scary”. “Not to us,” said Benjamin. “They’re like our pets. They never attack us. They understand our language.”

I wish I had more time to spend in the canyon but I was shocked to learn that I was a full 3 1/2-hour drive to Flagstaff. Time for the long trip home by car, bus and plane.

October 26, 2016

 

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Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

After a day of rest and making arrangements for the rest of the trip, I picked up my rental car at Budget and headed north to Monument Valley. The plan was to visit the site in the afternoon and then head to my AirBnB nearby.

The Navajo Nation

By the way, there is surprisingly little accommodation near the park. There are a few big hotels such as the famous Gouldings but very, very few guesthouses, inns or B&Bs. I was determined to put money in the hands of the Navajos and so chose an AirBnB.

I knew that the Navajo Nation was dry and thought I would pick up a flask before entering but there were no stores whatsoever on the barren two-land stretch of road between Flagstaff and the entrance to the reservation.

And where was the entrance anyway? I must have missed the sign because I abruptly found myself in the reservation, picking up granola bars and pumpkin seeds at a Trading Post. It was around then when I noticed that I couldn’t seem to lock the back trunk.

I drove on to Tuba City which, like most Navajo towns, is not a place where people actually live but a place to grab fast food, shop for groceries or do laundry at a vast laundromat. It was then that I became extremely aggravated by the unlockable trunk and called Budget. After allegedly “consulting the manual” they said that the latch must be broken and they would send me a new car. But where? I gave them the address of the B&B.

I put the luggage in the back seat, locked the car and sat down for lunch which turned out to be the first of several “Navajo tacos”. Puffy fried bread, a local specialty, was topped with refried beans, salad, cheese, salsa and mayonnaise. At least it was filling.

After lunch I headed up to the park passing Kayenta which is where I thought my B&B was. As the afternoon wore on, the sky clouded over and it began to drizzle. I drove to the park anyway, realizing that the visit would have to wait till tomorrow. Even under overcast skies, my first view from the Visitor Center, made me gasp.

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Now it was time to check into the B&B and wait for the car. But where? I realized, to my alarm, that the the GPS was not detailed enough to locate it and the cell signal was too weak to hunt for information on the internet.

Tip: Expect weak to non-existent cell service on the Navajo reservation

I had the address though and headed back to Kayenta thinking I would ask someone for help. No one knew where it was. I tried calling and texting the owner but apparently her cell signal was spotty as well. This is life on the reservation. After a half-hour or so, she finally responded with directions which turned out to be halfway back to the park. I didn’t mind the drive as the road to the park was punctuated with the striking red clay towers.

It was nightfall by the time I finally got settled in her home which, like every Navajo structure I saw was basically a pre-fab, like a mobile home. It was large and comfortable though so I didn’t mind a bit. The new car finally chugged up in early evening. It turned out that in order for the trunk to lock you have to walk away from the car with the key. Why I hate renting cars on holiday.

After the car business was sorted out, I settled into bed with a copy of The Navajo Times, the extremely informative local paper.

The information was sad though. First, there were the plans to develop the eastern rim of the Grand Canyon by putting an elevator to the bottom of the canyon (what?) where there would be a luxury hotel development. The Navajos were to get a percentage of the revenue but hadn’t decided whether to sign on as it involves sacred ground. Then, another article bemoaned the fact that a new school principal held an open house for the parents but practically no one showed up. The article noted that many students were being raised by their grandparents. Not a good sign.

The article that really typified the powerlessness of the Navajo in their own “country” was the one about Kit Carson, the man that subjugated the Navajo by driving them from their land to Canyon de Chelly where many starved and then out to Fort Sumner on “the long walk” which was essentially a death march. They froze, starved and were shot before eventually being resettled back in Arizona. So, the article was about the efforts of the local population to rename “Kit Carson Street”.

Kit Carson Street? How about Eichmann Boulevard on the Lower East Side? Almost 200 years later and the subjugated Navajo have to live with the name of the man who destroyed them?

The article enumerated all the many bureaucratic problems with changing a street name: has to go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs, conform with other names, approved by the Post Office. Blah, blah, blah.

I found this infuriating.

Monument Valley

I awoke to a glorious sunrise which I could even appreciate from my bedroom window.

The sky was clear and blue, perfect for a visit.

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The site stretches as far as the eye can see in any direction over a flat reddish landscape dotted with these looming, majestic rock towers. The effect is weepingly beautiful.

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I couldn’t tear myself away from contemplating these natural sculptures from every angle and in different lights.

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I was glad I hadn’t signed up for a tour and it wasn’t terribly crowded as this eerie panorama is steeped in spirituality. The Navajo believe that spirits reside in the rocks which is why they were never carved or hollowed out for dwellings.

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The largest rest stop was at “John Ford Point” which the legendary director made his headquarters while he filmed his famous westerns. Here’s a setting that was used in many of them:

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The recommended 1 1/2 hour drive turned into 3 as I revisited stops to see the changing light. Finally I came to the end of the portion that can be visited without a special permit and looped slowly back, still in a state of wonder and awe at the indescribable beauty.

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Grand Canyon from Flagstaff

Flagstaff, Arizona is the perfect base for visiting the Grand Canyon and the Grand Canyon International Hostel is the perfect base in Flagstaff because of its excellent, central location. I was hoping to take one of their tours to the Grand Canyon but I was lucky enough to hook up with the delightful Vanessa in the morning who had a car.

We headed out around 9, stopped to pick up lunch snacks and arrived at the south rim of the Grand Canyon around 11.

It’s important to have a plan when visiting the Canyon because it’s, well, big. We did not have a plan. Thank gods for off-season travel though. We found parking right away and headed to the Visitor’s Center for advice. There were no lines and we got the undivided attention of one of the many friendly park rangers on duty. He sorted us out right quickly with an itinerary that included a short hike into the canyon along the South Kaibab Trail to the Ooh-aah point and then a return to the shuttle buses to various lookout points, ending up at Hopi point for the sunset.

The shuttle system was complex. Neither of us exactly understood the ranger’s instructions on which buses to take to avoid having to hike eight miles back to the center. “I don’t seem to understand human talking anymore”, said Vanessa sadly. I had to agree as we pored over the maps.

First stop was the lookout point closest to the Visitor Center, Mather Point. Nothing and no one can prepare you for the waves of red rock that stretch to the horizon..

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Eager for a closer view, we hopped the shuttle to the popular South Kaibab Trail which winds down to the Columbia River. A plethora of signs warn visitors against trekking down and up to the river in one day which it never occurred to me to do anyway. The trail was gentle and sandy which was good because I was unused to starting a hike by going downhill. The views?

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Left to my own devices, I probably would have hiked down to the next lookout but I realized later it would have messed up the afternoon’s sightseeing. There were so many vantage points from which to soak up the canyon’s majesty!

We hopped the shuttle bus, getting off at each stop up to Mojave Point.

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And then finished up the day with a view of the sunset from Hopi Point.

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October 22, 2016