Archive for the National Parks Category

Day Trip: Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in Southern Arizona

Posted in Arizona, ILX, National Parks, Road Trip on November 11, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  209,416

Trip Distance:  260 Miles

“Where should we meet up on Saturday?”

“Why?”

“Just so I can do a little mapping on times and distances.”

“So Why?”

That’s how a planning conversation about this trip could have gone.  Because, of all the places our group could have picked to rendezvous before venturing into the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, we picked the town of Why, Arizona.  And the term “town” is used very loosely, since it’s home to only about 100 people.  And, as we discovered, its only restaurant (Granny Mac’s Kitchen) is closed on Saturday – the one day of the week that we’d be visiting.  Guess we’ll have to sample Granny’s culinary creations on a future trip.

I’ve visited Why before – about 5 years ago, actually, and discussed a little about how its name came to be.  The intersection of State Routes 85 and 86 originally created a Y shape, but for safety reasons were later transformed to meet at a T.  It was here in Why, at the Why Not Travel Store where James Lee of Six Speed Blog and I awaited arrival of Jason from Driven for Drives.  In addition to snacks and drinks (though I was disappointed the nacho cheese machine was out of cheese), the Why Not store also sells Mexican automobile insurance policies for travelers who are on their way south of the border.  A liability-only policy runs $35 per day and “full coverage” rates vary.

We didn’t stick around long, because we had turf to cover a little south of Why.  Tucked into the far southern reaches of Arizona – literally, touching the international border with Mexico, is a special place that is remote in geography and picturesque in landscape.  Even now, when Arizona’s weather is at its prime and tourism should be at its peak, we had the park largely to ourselves.  Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument was established 81 years ago in 1937 and sees just over 1/4 million visitors per year.  By comparison, another of Arizona’s parks, the Grand Canyon, sees about 7 million visitors per year.  I much prefer visiting the lesser-traveled park units.

Now with 3 cars in tandem – my ILX, James’ tester Corolla hatchback, and Jason’s Mazda 6, we visited the Kris Eggle Visitor Center.  It was named for a 29-year-old border patrol agent who was killed in the line of duty in 2002 by a Mexican drug smuggler.  The dangers of being so close to the border are very real, and even today, visitors are encouraged to travel in groups and only visit during the day.

A 15-minute overview film taught a little about the terrain and its history.  I noticed that a pair of hikers inquired with the park ranger about getting a token for completing one of the hikes, and later learned that any visitor who hikes 5 or more miles in the monument is eligible.  We also saw a 7 or 8-year-old take a “ranger oath” with his right arm extended.  Traditions like that make visits to the parks memorable.

The Ajo Mountain Trail was the main attraction for us, and despite the fact that it was rugged and unpaved for most of the 21-mile loop, we knew we had to check it out.  Per-car admission was $20 but to me it was worth it to be able to say I’ve “been there, done that.”  I led the way and kicked up a pretty good cloud of dust for my followers while we stayed in touch by walkie-talkies.  The trail extends eastward to the foothills and curves up to a panoramic lookout over the terrain.  The Sonoran Desert, we had learned earlier in the film at the visitor center, is notoriously one of the most “green” types of deserts, and even in summer displays a wide variety of plant life.  One of those plants, the Organ Pipe Cactus for which the monument was named, is native to the area and highly prevalent.

Since amenities immediately near the visitor center were few, we decided to back-track to the town of Ajo for a bite to eat at Agave Grill before splitting ways for the evening.  James gave his hamburger a little more pizzazz by adding avocado, bacon, and a fried egg.  Jason and I couldn’t help but play copy-cat and order the same thing.  The owner of the restaurant later came out to let us know how much the kitchen staff had enjoyed putting together our custom-ordered burger creations.

But the next time I visit, it’ll be on a non-Saturday so I can see if Granny Mac’s food compares.

Signage indicating proximity to Mexico.  Here’s where we headed south from Gila Bend on Highway 85.

Cab of an old pickup truck made into a fountain – with music playing from inside it!

Coyotes on the loose!

Your one-stop shop:

Jason received this text on his phone as we neared the border (though we didn’t cross it!)

Need a place to store your car?  Or your gun?  While in Mexico…

From the Why Not Travel Store:  “If you need a penny, take one.  If you need two, get a job!”

Interior of the OPCNM Visitor Center

Jason making some purchases

Headed out on the Ajo Mountain Road

Not a great place to have low clearance and low-pro tires!

Quick break near a summit on the trail.

Check the size of that saguaro cactus.

“Double arch”

Dinner spot at Agave Grill in Ajo, Arizona

The burger that wasn’t even on the menu.  We’ll call it, “James’ Juicy Creation.”

Hope you enjoyed coming along!

Hiking “Havasupai” Waterfalls: An 18-Miler into the Grand Canyon

Posted in Arizona, Hikes, National Parks on September 24, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  207,567

Trip Distance (Drive):  600 Miles

Trip Distance (Hike):  18 Miles

Imagine living in a place so remote that the cold Dr. Pepper you’re about to swig had to come in on a pack mule or be air lifted there by a helicopter.  Given the logistic challenges of sustaining a town so remote, I was surprised such a luxury was even available – let alone refrigerated.  I even got this one at a discount because the can had been damaged during mule transport.

I’m about to introduce you to a community that has thrived in the heart of northern Arizona for hundreds of years.  If you’re lucky, you’ll pick up a hint of 3G cell signal there.  But otherwise, the inhabitants of the village of Supai are about as “low-tech” as you can get in the year 2018.  (See location in the middle of this Google Maps screen shot).

I’ve lived within a few hours of the Grand Canyon my entire life and only been into the (mile-deep) middle of it one time, three years ago when some friends and I did a crazy, 26-mile, “South Rim to North Rim,” hike.  It was time to put the hiking boots back on (or, just my running shoes, in this case) and trek back into one of Arizona’s wonders of the world.

The Havasupai Indian Reservation is surrounded on all sides by the national park, and it’s one of the most difficult to obtain a hiking permit to access.  In fact, twice in the past (2008, and then again earlier this year), I’ve had a permit that has been cancelled or re-scheduled due to flooding in the canyon.  This time, we crossed fingers that our trip would proceed as planned, and it did – for the most part.

Havasupai is a word that means ‘havasu’ (blue-green waters) and ‘pai’ (people).  So the 639 people who live within the 300-square-mile reservation are the people of the blue-green waters.  They are governed by a constitution that was signed in 1939 and led by a seven-member tribal council.

Our party of nine met up at the crack of dawn – actually, a little before it – on Friday morning, September 21.  Getting there was a straightforward trek up Highway 89 from Phoenix, through the Route 66 towns of Seligman and Peach Springs, and then about 68 miles on a paved two-laner to the trailhead parking lot.

Getting all my gear into a backpack was no small challenge, and I had to carefully prioritize which items were critical for the trek.  The 8-mile initial drop into the town of Supai was easy thanks to cool morning temperatures, well-traveled pathways, and primarily downhill grade.  Amenities there were impressive:  A cafe, general store, schoolhouse, and churches were all all present – staffed by natives and welcoming to the estimated 200 tourists who are camping in the area on any given day.

We found the perfect campsite for our party.  It was two more miles down the dirt pathway and located right on the verge of Mooney Falls, which sent crystal blue waters cascading about 200 feet to the canyon below.  Kyle set up a hammock along the river and that ended up being my favorite place to (literally) hang out.  Best of all, we were disconnected entirely at that point from contact with the outside world.

On Saturday, we scaled the cliffside with assistance of chains & ladders to the pools below Mooney Falls.  It was an unforgettable experience in conquering a fear of heights.  The most unnerving thing about making the descent was the fact that over time, the rocks & ladders had worn smooth so grip was limited.  Besides that, the waterfall’s mist kept all footholds nice and slippery with water.  Yikes.

We enjoyed the sights & sounds of Mooney Falls for a couple of hours before making our ascent to camp again.  That afternoon’s highlight was getting a taste of some of the natives’ frybread.  A $12 taco with beans, cheese, and tomatoes was the ultimate afternoon snack and worth every penny to someone who was sick of eating dehydrated meals from tinfoil bags.  Jack opted for the ‘dessert’ version, drizzled in Nutella and caramel.  In fact, he had two, and made me promise not to tell anyone.  Sorry Jack!

Campfires are explicitly outlawed in the Havasupai region, so we told nighttime stores while huddled around the picnic table before calling it a night.

Already a little sore from two days of trudging around in the sand & water, I wasn’t feeling too keen on a roughly 10-mile (uphill) return hike to the parking lot on Sunday morning, so 3 from our party elected to take a helicopter from Supai instead.  It was my first time riding in a helicopter, and I was glad that I did.  The one-way fare for a 7-minute flight was $85 and because of limited seating (only room for 6) and a high volume of people leaving the canyon that day, it took about 4 hours until we actually got onboard.  The views were spectacular.

By the time we got back to our vehicles, the members of our group who’d opted to hike out had already beat us there and left the area.  I played catch-up in my ILX and reunited with Kyle, Jack, and Justin at Roadkill Cafe in Seligman before continuing the rest of the way into Phoenix.

The next time I crack open a Dr. Pepper, I’ll remember this trip with fond thoughts of sand in my shoes and a babbling brook underneath me in a hammock.  Here is a video and a few more photos from our adventure!

Hiking in

Group photo courtesy of mom’s selfie stick

Checking in at the Tourist Office, where we were issued wristbands with our group name & trip dates

Picture perfect postcard perspectives all around

Overlooking Havasu Falls

Another view of Havasu Falls

Caution sign prior to descending to Mooney Falls

View looking upward from the hammock

Havasu Falls

Frybread vendor

Group around the picnic table at our campsite

Group shot

Some of our gear

View from the helicopter ride out

Southern Utah Weekend: Bryce Canyon National Park & Glen Canyon Dam

Posted in Arizona, Legend, National Parks, Road Trip, Running, Utah on June 5, 2018 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  561,413

Trip Distance:  1,070 Miles

Do you know what a hoodoo is?  The name to me sounds a lot like “voodoo,” and according to the Internet, can be used interchangeably with it.  But there’s an alternate definition you may not have heard of.  A hoodoo can also mean a column of weathered rock.  Check out this view of a vast number of hoodoos that I saw on Friday at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.  Now you know!

This past weekend’s 4-day, 1,000-mile road trip took me through Bryce as well as some of Utah’s other scenic wonders.  It was the perfect escape from the day-to-day grind.  I’ve visited Bryce a few times in the past, including when my friend Peter’s TSX rolled 200,000 miles three years ago and a trip to “Hell’s Backbone” in the ILX five years ago.  Still, I can never get tired of seeing that amazing landscape.  I took for granted that I grew up with so many beautiful national parks virtually in my own backyard in southern Utah.

My tried and trusty Legend coupe was the chariot of choice for this backroads adventure, and it delivered perfect reliability as I knew it would.  The idea for this trip came about because two friends were competing in the Bryce Canyon Ultra Marathon – a “50K” (32-mile) trail run that would subject them to some of the region’s most challenging terrain but also some of the most rewarding views.  I think they’re nuts, but then again my own sanity is a little questionable too.

Bryce is one of five national parks in Utah and perhaps one of the least traveled – just the way I like them.  The way we got there was pretty straightforward, with a night in my hometown of St. George on Thursday, and then northbound to Cedar City.  From Cedar, that’s where things got interesting.  We climbed nearly 5,000 feet in elevation on Highway 14 eastbound over the course of 18 miles – windows down, sunroof open, and soaking in the glorious temperatures.

From there, we hooked north on Highway 148 past Cedar Breaks National Monument.  By that time, we were at 10,000 feet in elevation – high enough that even on June 1, we saw snow on the roadside.  Cedar Breaks was awe-inspiring.  We were also delighted that there was next to no traffic.  The road is closed from November through May so it had just recently opened back up for the season – literally, the visitor center opened the very day we were rolling through.

Our destination for the next two nights was Panguitch, Utah – a tiny (2,000-resident) town on Highway 89 and home to the Blue Pine Motel, which has been there since 1901.  While the accommodations weren’t first class, they were definitely warm and inviting.  It’s a family owned atmosphere and a step back in time.  We loved our stay.  My friend and I visited Bryce Canyon later that first afternoon, some 20 minutes away, and soaked in some of the views from Rainbow Point and Sunset Point.  Cars are $35 but we picked up an $80 annual parks pass for admission into any of the National Park units for an entire year.  Seems like a decent value!

Bryce Canyon National Park was established 90 years ago and covers about 55 square miles.  Navigating it is easy since there’s just one main 18-mile-long, north-south road with a loop at the end.  We hiked 1.3 miles round trip on the Navajo Trail loop at Sunset Point before hitting up the restaurant inside the lodge for a delicious bite to eat.

The runners rocked their event, which started and ended in the foothills east of the small town of Hatch on Saturday.  The level of difficulty was pretty extreme, with a 7,000-foot elevation change over the course of the 32 miles, along with high temperatures, rocky or sandy footing, and windblown dust.  Our friends came in at 9 and 10 hours – exhausted but feeling accomplished.  We treated them to Diet Cokes on ice, just as they’d requested.

The small town vibe continued when we made friends with the owner of Cowboy Smokehouse back in Panguitch, who gave us a free order of bacon-wrapped sweet potatoes for our appetizer.  It tasted better than it sounds.

By Sunday morning, it was time to make the trek back home, so my friend and I headed out southbound on Highway 89 under a bright blue sky.  We stopped just once in Utah – for fuel in Kanab – but decided to lollygag a little at the Arizona/Utah state line in Page.  We happened to arrive at the Glen Canyon Dam at Lake Powell just in time for a 10:30 a.m. tour (and it would only cost us $5 each).  Score!  I’ve always wanted to take a dam tour.  It was a dam good time.

For 45 minutes, we were part of a group of 15 people listening to a tour guide teach us about the dam and its history.  We got to ride in two elevators, down a total of over 700 feet to the base of the canyon where the Colorado River runs below.  The dam was completed in 1966 but the lake behind it, Lake Powell, took 16 years to fill up!  Today there are 8 turbines capable of generating 1.32 gigawatts of power.  When I read that on one of the signs, it made me think of Doc Brown’s quote in Back to the Future about needing “1.21 gigawatts.”  Great Scott!

My favorite part of the tour was learning that for 1 year only, traffic did flow over the dam itself.  I asked our tour guide about it because I could see the the faded remnants of a double-yellow line on top of the concrete.  She told us that for just 1 year (1978) traffic was directed across the dam, because construction was taking place on the adjacent bypass bridge.

For lunch, we hit up Fiesta Mexicana in Page, then worked our way to Flagstaff on Highway 89 and connected with Interstate 17 for the final 2 hours of downhill slide into the Phoenix Valley.  If only we could have brought some of the cooler temperatures back home with us!  The oven has been preheated and we are ready to bake here until October or so.  Gotta love it!

Thanks for coming along!

Glen Canyon Dam Tour

Here’s something new for the blog.  I have 3 readers who are selling cars and who contacted me about listing them here.  Does anyone have interest in these?  Let me know and I’ll put you in touch with the sellers.

Brandon’s 1990 Legend L coupe for sale

  • Automatic
  • 155,000 Miles
  • San Diego, CA
  • $ Make Offer

Matt’s 2003 CL-S for sale

  • 6-Speed Manual
  • 255,000 Miles
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • $4,300

Srikanth’s 1991 Legend L sedan for sale

  • Automatic
  • 151,000 Miles
  • Providence, RI
  • $ Make Offer

More trip pics – snow along Highway 148, in June

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Pond near the starting (and finish) line of the 50K race

Hanging with mom at the finish line

Sandy’s Audi Q5 got dirty while my Legend stayed clean back at the motel

Small town talk:  I had to ask someone what “chicken lights” are.

Blue Pine Motel parking

Hanging at Glen Canyon Dam.  Watch your step!

View looking toward the bridge over the Colorado River

That’s a lot of concrete

The dam’s 8 turbines

Not an elevator button you get to see every day

Have a dam good day!

Road Trippage: Silver City, New Mexico & Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument

Posted in Hikes, Integra, National Parks, New Mexico, Road Trip on November 19, 2017 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Integra):  242,335

Trip Distance:  716 Miles

Imagine how simple life must have been 700 years ago.  Yesterday, I walked in the literal footsteps of the Mogollon (pronounced moga-yon) people – a band of indigenous tribes who lived off the land through subsistence farming during that era, and who left behind a glimpse of what their lives consisted of.  Being without cell signal for 5 hours gave me but a very small taste of what it would have been like to be more in tune with nature.  And I liked it.

The southwestern United States is home to some of the best-preserved historic ruins thanks to predictable weather patterns and remote geography.  Almost exactly 110 years ago, President Theodore Roosevelt set aside about 530 acres in southwestern New Mexico as part of a national monument that today resides about 40 miles north of the town of Silver City.  For us Arizonans, that makes it a pretty accessible overnight road trip destination.  And this weekend, per suggestion of (and in partnership with) Driven for Drives‘ Jason Pawela, I checked it off my list.

I broke free from the Phoenix urban grid a little after 3:00 p.m. on Friday to make my eastward trip toward the New Mexico state line.  As was to be expected, I had to fight my way out on I-10 in commuter traffic but eventually was able to set the cruise on my Integra at 75 miles per hour.  I made just one stop, at Love’s in Benson, for fuel and a stretch of the legs.  The final 50 or so miles from I-10 at Lordsburg into Silver City were lonely and even a little creepy.  My ‘Christmas tree’ of dash lights (ABS, check engine, high beams, and cruise) were the only lights I saw aside from vivid constellations under the night sky – highly visible thanks to the area’s lack of light pollution.

Saturday morning brought us crisp 45 degree temperatures and blue skies.  I met up with Jason, James L, and James Z for a hearty Comfort Inn breakfast (complete with green chili on the side – total New Mexico thing!) and then we rallied our participants for this weekend’s drive:  2018 Alfa Romeo Stelvio, 2004 Mazda 6, and 1992 Acura Integra.  It took only a few minutes to lose cell service as we headed north on twisty Highway 15.  For only a 2-liter motor, the Alfa’s 280-horsepower 4-cylinder motor develops oodles of power and James was right on my tail.  I swapped keys with Jason for a few miles and was impressed at how smoothly his (‘new‘) Mazda 6 handles given its 180k+ miles.

It’s a good thing I was a driver, because I wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes as a passenger with these curves.  For about half that stretch, the road was narrow, with blind corners and no painted center line.  NM DOT basically says “Good luck!” and to allow for plenty of travel time (they said 2 hours) between Silver City and the ruins.

After a brief intro at the Visitor Center which probably looks today about the same as it did in the 1960s, we headed to a parking lot & trailhead 2 miles up the road.  The dwellings in the area were believed to have been occupied around the year 1275 and are still remarkably well preserved.  The Gila River running nearby was the Mogollon peoples’ source of life.  By 1874 when explorer Henry Weatherbee Henshaw discovered and wrote about the ruins, some parts of them had been damaged.  But ever since President Roosevelt’s decision to make it a national monument, the preservation has been vigilant – we weren’t even allowed to take liquids other than water on the hike, and we were asked not to touch any of the walls with our hands.

To access them, we had to hike a one mile loop which crosses several footbridges.  There was a small brook running underneath them and the sound of waterfalls made it a therapeutic experience.  A steep incline further down the trail took us up the cliffside and then we walked through a series of 5 different “rooms,” each one laid out with a unique floor plan. What struck me was the savvy use of space and the distinct feeling of temperature and brightness in each room.  The south-facing openings were optimal because they would allow some summer sunshine to enter and heat up the rooms in the winter time, but kept them shaded during the summer when the sun was higher in the sky.

Much of the Mogollon peoples’ lives remains a mystery, and part of our tour consisted of a Q&A session with ranger Connie.  Connie took the time to point out a few key features and asked us what we thought they were.  They included a grinding stone, pictograph images painted on the walls, and architectural features of the caves.  Today, there are wooden step ladders leaning to the various rooms but some of the original infrastructure – including rooftops over some of the rooms – are now gone.  It took us about an hour to hike the circle.

The return trip to Silver City was once again ‘spirited’ in nature, and we made good time thanks to being a little familiar with the terrain by now.  Lunch was at Nancy’s Silver Cafe right in historic downtown, where the 3-taco plate was just what the doctor ordered to satisfy those hunger cravings.  We parted ways by mid afternoon and I sailed off into the sunset – literally, squinting at it the whole way – returning to Phoenix.  I did make just one stop along the way, in a town called Dragoon, perhaps in hopes I’d see a fire-breathing dragon.  But I did not.  I just saw a sign about some rattlesnakes and some run-down buildings.

Here are the rest of my pics from this trip, as well as a short video.  Thanks for coming along!

Getting ready to roll on out.

Welcome to the Trail of the Mountain Scenic Byway

Whoever picked purple for the lettering on this sign probably made the wrong choice.

We missed fall colors by just a few weeks…

… but in a few areas they are still very vivid.  New Mexico does get 3-4 inches of snow per winter at this elevation, according to Ranger Connie.

Visitor Center.  Entry fee is $5 per person for the hike to the ruins.

Making our way toward the dwellings.

The round hole here is where a wooden pole (supporting a roof) once would have been.

Climbing down the ladder from the largest room.

Some of the blackened ceilings in the caves are due to fires / smoke.

There’s lunch, for you foodies!

Headed home with a stop in Dragoon.

Thanksgiving 2016: Zion National Park in Southern Utah

Posted in ILX, National Parks, Road Trip, Utah on November 27, 2016 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  549,008

549008

Odometer (ILX):  187,248

187248

Trip Distance:  849 Miles

sgu

What are some of the most expensive toll roads you’ve driven?

park_fees

On Thursday morning, I paid $30 to drive 14 miles on State Route 9 in southern Utah.  $2 per mile!  But that’s a small price to pay for this kind of scenery-per-mile, right?

ilx_at_zion

Truth is, that fee was actually the cover charge for Zion National Park, and it just so happened that I needed to pass through Zion in order to get to a Thanksgiving feast that was awaiting me at Aunt Jodi’s house on the other side in Rockville.

Knowing, though, that I wouldn’t need to re-enter the park since I’d be taking a different route home, I decided to “pay it forward.”  It was Thanksgiving Day, after all.  As soon as I got through the park and exited its west end, I hit the brakes, threw the hazards on in the ILX, and rushed out the driver door to hand my park pass to an unsuspecting motorist going the opposite way who was waiting in line at the ranger station to enter.  “Do you want a free park pass?  It’s good for 7 days,” I told the driver of a white SUV.  “Umm, sure!” he said as he took the brochure and receipt.  “Happy Thanksgiving!” I yelled as I ran back to the ILX and drove away.

zion_entrance

Growing up in southern Utah, my family’s home was only 45 minutes from the gates of Zion National Park.  Zion is one of Utah’s 5 colorful national parks, established 97 years ago and covering over 200 square miles in the southwest corner of the state.  There are some key features including waterfalls, gardens, and picturesque sandstone cliffs carved away by the Virgin River at the base.  Holiday tourist traffic was heavy on Thanksgiving but that didn’t stop me from enjoying the scenery and stopping for a few photos on my quick drive through.

tunnel

My favorite feature of the park is 1.1-mile-long tunnel called the Zion – Mount Carmel Tunnel.  It was carved away in 1930 and shortened the distance from Zion to nearby Bryce Canyon by 70 miles.  The tunnel is narrow and requires a special escort for oversize vehicles.  The interior of the tunnel is completely black except for 3 or 4 spots where there are ‘windows’ opening up to the outside canyon.  Unfortunately cars are not allowed to stop at those windows.

We dined heartily on turkey and trimmings at Jodi’s.  It was good to see my brothers and a couple of my cousins.  Here are a few photos and a short video from my Thanksgiving weekend.  Check out my cousin Dillon’s dance moves at 1:46 in.  I hope you and your families had an enjoyable one.

group

Highway 89 northbound just south of Page, Arizona

highway_89

Utah state line near Lake Powell in Page

utah_statel

I liked this Parry Lodge in Kanab, Utah

parry_lodge_kanab

Highway 9 westbound

zion_road

Curvy road after exiting the tunnel

ilx_front

These backdrops never get old

ilx_at_zion_3

Quick jaunt to Salt Lake to visit a family member in the hospital

salt_lake_mountain

Sunset off mom’s back patio on Saturday night

mom_view

Visiting a couple of my favorite little people, nephew Rex and niece Vivienne

rex_viv_tyson

I was shocked on Thursday evening when my friend Chris messaged me about an article that had just been posted on Jalopnik about my garage and Acura collection.  Jalopnik is one of the largest automotive media pages around – with over 300,000 followers on Facebook, 150,000 YouTube subscribers, and a huge presence overall.  A couple of months ago, I had shot a quick email over to editor Andrew Collins who I also knew to be an Acura driver (with a > 200,000-mile TL).  He took enough interest in the story to put together an article about it.

jalop_feature

The level of response was pretty nuts.  My blog had its best view day in its 5-year history, with 2,558 views and over 1,200 visitors the following day.  Both the Facebook post and the article itself got about 300 comments each. I was terrified of reading them but eventually got the nerve.  To my surprise, most were overwhelmingly positive.  I’m glad a few people out there can relate to a my madness or at least consider it a little bit entertaining.

stats

The blog, by the way, is sitting at around 496,000 views overall since I started it in March 2011.  That means we are shortly coming up on a Drive to Five milestone of a completely different nature.  Thanks for being part of it!

Grand Canyon 26-Mile Hike: South Rim to North Rim in One Day

Posted in Arizona, Hikes, ILX, National Parks, Road Trip on June 2, 2015 by tysonhugie

Odometer (Legend):  533,657

533657

Odometer (ILX):  127,082

127082

Trip Distance (Car):  476 Miles

scottsdale_to_south_rim

Trip Distance (Hike):  26 Miles

downward

Last week, I was reviewing a GMC Canyon.  This week, I’m reviewing another Canyon.  The Grand Canyon.

While most of the canyon’s 5 million visitors per year are content to stand at the edge and admire its grandeur from afar, others are not happy until they get down and dirty while trudging across 20+ miles of it.  My mom is one of those people, and I let her talk me (and a few friends) into joining her for this crazy adventure inside one of the “7 natural wonders of the world” last Friday.  And 4 days later, my legs still scream at me for putting them through it.

I last blogged about the Grand Canyon in April 2014 when my friend Brad and I road-tripped to the Skywalk, a glass platform suspended from the canyon walls at the West Rim on the Hualapai Indian Reservation.  But the 1,900-squre-mile national park is vastly different to look at from any of the many different angles, and there are several different hiking paths that lead down into it for those who dare.

Painfully Awesome

My friend Dave was telling me the other day about a bike ride he’d taken that had been especially difficult.  He called it “painfully awesome.”  That sums up in two words exactly how I’d describe Friday’s 14-hour hike.  It was the most physically challenging thing I have ever done.  Joined by 5 ambitious friends as well as my mom & stepdad, we set our sights on a “rim-to-rim” excursion.  In other words, we would start on the south side of the canyon, hike down into into its depths at the Colorado River, then eventually make our way up the north side.  For many months we prepared ourselves physically and mentally for the task, but the actual experience was exponentially more than I was ready for.

tyson_hiking

On Thursday afternoon, I picked up Kyle, Bryce, and Justin in the ILX for our departure from the Phoenix area.  It took us about four hours to arrive at the Maswick Lodge along the South Rim.  Highway 64 is a very quiet place at night.  It’s a two-laner that climbs through the pine forests west of Flagstaff with little traffic, and no significant services or amenities aside from an occasional lonely gas station.  By about 10:00 p.m. we met up with my mom, stepdad, and two other friends and settled in for a somewhat sleepless night.

It’s Go Time

In the blink of an eye it was time for a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call.  Right off the bat, anxiety ran high because we were rushed to get to the train station for a 5:00 a.m. shuttle bus.  We had to make last-minute decisions on what to throw into our packs, how much water to take, and what to wear.  (Some of our gear would be staying in my car rather than making the trip across the canyon on our backs.)  The bus took us to the South Kaibab trailhead (elevation 7,260 feet) about 15 minutes away and we hopped out.  The sight of the canyon at daybreak is something unreal.  Temperatures were cool but not uncomfortable.  And then began our short-lived tradition of taking a group “selfie” at one-mile intervals throughout the course of the hike.  I say short-lived, because by about halfway through the day we cared very little about group pics; we were focused instead on sheer survival.

dawn

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With energy in abundance we made our way down the rocky but well-marked trail toward the base of the canyon.  “We’re going down there?” I thought to myself as I looked in the distance at the vast expanse of rugged terrain.  The trail required a good deal of focus for proper footing, but every once in awhile we had to look up from the ground below and admire the scenery around us.  “OOOH AHH POINT,” one of the first signed viewpoints we came across, was aptly named.  We zig-zagged our way down thousands of feet in elevation.  Right away I discovered an issue with my Camelbak backpack when it started soaking my back and shorts.  Somehow I hadn’t sealed it tightly enough and it was leaking like crazy.  Eventually I dumped the water out of it and resorted to just using 3 refillable bottles.

ooh_aah

Besides having plenty of water, we were adequately prepared with other forms of nutrition.  Rustin and Wade had packed what appeared to be an entire deli counter.  Sliced lunch meats, prosciutto cheese, fresh strawberries and other delicacies were offered up when we made our first rest stop.  Thanks to the downhill grade, our pace was quick at a little over 2 miles per hour.  A short tunnel and pedestrian bridge across the Colorado River (which had a milky green look to it at the time) awaited us when we finally got to the bottom of the canyon.

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Phantom Pit Stop

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By now we were starting to wonder when we’d make it to Phantom Ranch at 2,460 feet.  Notably the most “developed” of any place we’d be seeing throughout the course of the day, the lodge there has been a waypoint for Grand Canyon travelers since it was constructed in 1922.  It was about 7.4 miles into our hike, and as we got closer, I could only think about one thing:  LEMONADE.  Inside the lodge, they sell cups of ice cold lemonade for $3.00 each.  I chugged one so quickly it gave me a headache.  Outside, there was a fresh water spigot for refilling water packs.  The 8 of us sat around a picnic table under a shade tree and laid out some food items to refill our stomachs.  Rustin pulled out a travel size bottle of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing and we all gave him a look of:  “You packed that down here?”

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The sound of Bright Angel Creek running nearby was therapeutic in itself.  Todd took the opportunity to soak his legs in the chilly water.  The rest of us just enjoyed the chance to rest at the picnic area.  After so much downhill, for some reason when standing still, my legs felt wobbly.  I knew already that for every one step downhill we’d taken, we’d be taking closer to two uphill.  And that I dreaded.

Ribbon Falls

The trail ran parallel to the river for many more miles.  It was about this time – probably 10:30 or 11 in the morning – when the heat started cranking up.  Even though I’d lathered up in SPF50 and I was wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses, I could feel the sun cooking the back of my neck.  At times we had to walk single file and at other times we stood two abreast and held conversations.  Several times there were bridge crossings where the trail changed sides in relation to the river.  The steady uphill grade started getting the best of me and I now started drinking more water than ever before.  I could now see why on average 250 people per year are rescued from the canyon.  Dehydration is a very real concern.

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My mom had learned of a detour that was an absolute must-see called Ribbon Falls.  I don’t think any of us were too keen on adding distance to our already-long hike, but multiple sources had recommended we make time for it.  So, when we saw a crudely-carved wooden sign pointing us in its direction, we rallied our energy as best we could and headed toward Ribbon to check it out.  We had to cross a stream and hike up some boulders to get there, but in about 20 minutes we came upon the most beautiful oasis I’ve ever seen.  Misty water came down upon us from dozens of feet above where it spilled through an opening in the red sandstone.  Justin quickly scampered up as high as he could go on the waterfall itself, but all I could think about was ripping my shoes and socks off to dip my feet in the water.

ribbon

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I could have sat at Ribbon Falls for the rest of the day, but sadly we knew we had another 12 or 13 (all uphill) miles to hike before dusk.

Cottonwood Campground

Todd had a great idea for a way to beat the heat when we got a couple of miles into our hike again.  We took our shirts off and soaked them in the creek.  The feeling of putting on a soaking wet T-shirt or tank top is unbelievably refreshing when you’re sweaty and gross – especially if there’s a slight wind to exaggerate the temporary chill factor.  There are, occasionally, water spigots available every few miles on the trail from Phantom Ranch to the North Rim.  Hikers have to be careful and plan ahead, though, because it’s possible sometimes for the water to be out of service.  We lucked out and everything was in operation during our hike.

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The next stop had probably a dozen or so campsites in it.  We again took refuge in a spot of shade and refueled our bodies with food & drink.  I took the opportunity to dump a grape flavored 5 Hour Energy shot into my water bottle in hopes that the caffeine would give me a kick for the next little while.  My legs, feet, and back were screaming at me.  By now, our tradition of taking a group photo at every mile marker had long been thrown out the window.  Sometimes there was a lot of space between each of us, as each hiker settled into his or her own pace.

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The Ascent

It was upon leaving Cottonwood that I really started questioning my ability to go the rest of the way.  I knew from reviewing my mom’s pre-printed trail notes that our location at Cottonwood was still 6.8 miles from the finish line on the North Kaibab Trail.  But it wasn’t that distance that scared me.  It was this:

  • Cottonwood Campground:  4,080 feet
  • North Kaibab Trailhead:  8,241 feet

Okay.  So, I’m no rocket scientist but that’s 4,161 feet.  Vertically.  In other words, after having already hiked about 18 miles, we still had almost 7 to go and we would essentially be climbing 78% of a vertical mile.  Straight up in the air.  My life flashed before my eyes.  Would I send everyone onward without me and potentially stay the night in the canyon?  Was I going to be one of “those people” who had to get helicopter air lifted out of the canyon on the news?  I couldn’t let myself think about failure.  I just had to keep taking it one step at a time.

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And that’s where I found myself setting my own pace.  Kyle, Bryce, and Justin had gone on ahead.  I was kind of in the middle of the pack.  I set my iPhone (in airplane mode all day to conserve battery since cell service is non-existent of course) on shuffle and let it play music from inside my pocket.  That helped steer my mind clear from the task at hand.  I passed a couple who was walking the opposite direction. They could tell that I was “spent” physically by the way that I braced myself with a tree while standing to catch my breath.  “There’s a water stop about a mile and a half up, right after a tunnel,” the man told me.  I thanked him.  But I’m pretty sure he lied to me.

tunnel2

That was probably the longest mile and a half of my life.  I kept looking for a tunnel that never came.  Endless log stairs, rocks to climb over, and switchbacks.  I’d round a corner and they just kept coming.  “Really?!” was the thought that kept crossing my mind.  I’d walk for a couple minutes, then have to catch my breath and keep my heart from coming out of my chest.  When I finally saw that tunnel after an eternity of hiking, it almost seemed like a mirage.  I went through, plopped down on a rock, and just sat there without moving a muscle for at least a few minutes.  The sun had started its descent into the horizon already so I knew daylight was on the way out.

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The fat chipmunks at that small rest area kept me company (and ate some of the peanuts in my trail mix) for about 15 minutes until my mom and Todd arrived, and then Rustin and Wade were just a few minutes behind them.  We talked for a bit and then decided it was best to press on as daylight would soon be closing out.

Final Stretch

The last 1.7 miles of the hike happened at a snail’s pace.  Every so often I would look behind/below me at the huge canyon and get a little dizzy thinking I had just come up from there.  At one point I got insanely hungry and dug into a Nature’s Valley granola bar.  I didn’t care that it had become nothing more than a packet full of crumbs at that point.  I inhaled it, and I downed two more bottles of water that I’d filled up at the rest stop.  Keep in mind, I hadn’t used the bathroom since Cottonwood.  All that water was flowing right through me as sweat.

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I knew I was getting close when I started hearing the sound of automobile traffic overhead.  The trail conditions got notably better, and I passed a man sitting along the side of the trail who was waiting for some family members.  “You’ve only got 100 yards to go,” he told me.  Music to my ears.  I made it.  And it was the biggest rush of relief that I had ever felt.

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Aftermath

It’s miraculous that the 8 of us everyday people made it through such a physically taxing event.  We took one last group photo from the bed of Todd’s pickup truck which was parked there at the North Rim.  After showering up, we made it to our 9:00 p.m. dinner reservation at the historic North Rim Lodge.  I glanced around the table and the look of exhaustion was pretty common.  We slept like rocks at our rented log cabin.

cabin

On Saturday morning, Justin, Bryce, Kyle, and I got on a 7:00 shuttle van that drove us 4.5 hours back to where my ILX was parked at the South Rim.  Each time we stumbled out of the packed van at a rest area, my legs reminded me that they weren’t happy with what I’d put them through the day prior.  It was great to get back to the car and settle in for the rest of the trip home. Here’s a picture from when we exited the park on Saturday morning.

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We dined at a neat little Italian restaurant in historic Williams off Interstate 40 before heading back to the Phoenix area.

Thanks for being a part of this memorable adventure!  The rest of the pictures and a short video follow:

Rest stop near Camp Verde, Arizona on I-17 headed north toward the Grand Canyon

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Setting out on our hike

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Still wearing a smile, just a few miles into the hike.

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One of the group pictures we took for the first 1/2 of the hike

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Switchbacks leading down to the floor of the canyon

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Another group pic

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Rustin and Wade taking a snack break

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A few of the scenic views that surrounded us

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Wade and Rustin had a lot of energy still at about 6 miles into the hike.

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Group shot whilst crossing the bridge

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Tunnel crossing – Todd pictured here

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View of the bridge

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Back on the trail we went

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Refreshing lemonade at Phantom Ranch

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Speaking of Ranch, here’s the man who packed a bottle of it!

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Luckily for us, the pipes were working.

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Mama Tia filling up on water before heading out again

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Taking a break in the shade along the trail (Bryce, Tia, Kyle)

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One of many river crossings

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Arrival at Ribbon Falls

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Rustin savoring every drop of his Diet Dr. Pepper which he’d lugged into the canyon

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On the trail again, just can’t wait to get on the trail again.

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A few pictures from the upward climb.  You can see the trail about halfway up the hillside.

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And another shot of the trail looking back down.

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North Rim Lodge as seen on Saturday morning, the day after our hike

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Our shuttle van for the 4.5-hour trip from North Rim to South Rim

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Arrival back at the ILX which had been parked at Maswick Lodge

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Lunch spot in historic Williams, Arizona

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Finally, a shout-out to one of my most loyal readers, Conor, who sent me a Hot Wheels NSX to match the real deal!

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Thanks buddy!

Acura ILX + TL Drive to Death Valley National Park, California

Posted in California, ILX, National Parks, Nevada, Road Trip on July 20, 2014 by tysonhugie

Odometer (ILX):  89,689

89689

Odometer (Legend):  530,150

530150

Trip Distance:  901 Miles

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“This could be scary,” Sofyan mumbled as we rolled our suitcases up the front walkway to Longstreet Inn & Casino in Amargosa Valley, Nevada. The hotel, visible for miles on Highway 373 in the barren desert, had loomed like an oasis on the horizon while we approached it (photo below). The sound of country music and horribly off-key karaoke filled the air while I and my 3 traveling colleagues checked into our rooms for the night’s stay. We were weary from a full day of adventure in Death Valley National Park, one of the country’s most oft-overlooked and yet most scenic landscapes. And the evening’s agenda was just what we needed to unwind: A dip in the pool, a home-cooked meal topped off by apple pie, and the clearest nighttime sky I’ve seen in a long time – with stars so visible it was as if we’d pulled them closer to earth.

arrival_longstreet

“Death Valley” sounds like such an enticing place to visit in the middle of the summer, doesn’t it?

On July 10, 1913, a record 134 °F (56.7 °C) was measured at the Weather Bureau’s observation station at Greenland Ranch (now the site for the Furnace Creek Inn), the highest temperature ever recorded in the world.  Daily summer temperatures of 120 °F (49 °C) or greater are common, as well as below freezing nightly temperatures in the winter. July is the hottest month, with an average high of 115 °F (46 °C) and an average low of 88 °F (31C (reference).

The area was named a national monument in 1933 and became a national park in 1994.  It receives nearly a million visitors annually.  Death Valley got its name from prospectors who passed through the area in 1849 when the California gold rush took place, though reportedly only one death took place.  My first and only experience with the area was in August 2011 in the Legend coupe when I paid a visit to a close friend and automotive spy photographer Brenda Priddy who spends her summers there.

ilx_driving

Joining me for this trip were a few friends.  Sofyan, host of the 2theRedline YouTube auto review channel, had flown in from Washington, D.C. for the occasion, and my local friend Peter also came along.

Our day started out in Las Vegas, a city that never sleeps. Glassy-eyed and a bit tired from a night out on the town, we made our way to Johnny Rockets for delicious Belgian waffles with strawberries & whipped cream. That sugar rush was enough to bring me to my senses. Jason Pawela from Driven for Drives arrived and we set out with his 2010 Acura TL and my 2013 Acura ILX in search of some adventures. Highway 160 – “Blue Diamond” took us westward toward Pahrump, Nevada. A slow-moving 65 mph limit felt like it should have been 85 mph: The arrow-straight highway made its way through the desert and Sofyan, who’s visiting from Washington, D.C., commented on the landscape. “So what IS a tumbleweed?” he asked. Oh, you city folks!

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A little beyond Pahrump, we took a left on Highway 190 toward Death Valley National Park. A few brave travelers – most from other countries, it seemed – joined us at the entrance sign for pictures. Our first stop was at Furnace Creek. It’s a place with $5.56 premium Chevron gas and a breeze that feels like a blow dryer in your face. We were able to find a saloon/restaurant – “49er” — serving up lunch so we were grateful for the opportunity to refill our bellies. All four of us ordered the exact same meal: Turkey club w/o red onion. It hit the spot. A stop at the national park visitor center was in order, so we could pay our $20/car entry fee and legalize our visit. A sign inside the gift shop announced: Heat-Related Deaths Since April 2014: 2. That’s a sobering thought.

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Peter, Sofyan, Tyson, Jason

Jason and I swapped car keys and headed out toward Badwater Basin, some 17 miles away. Badwater is the lowest elevation point in North America, at 282 feet below sea level. I enjoyed seat-time in the 305-horsepower TL with its 3.7 liter V6. Torque for days! The sound system and level of refinement were clearly superior to the ILX, but I did briefly miss the more nimble feel of my smaller sedan. Regading Badwater: Legend has it that a traveler once got to this point and was severely dehydrated. He could not even get his horse to drink from the shallow pool because the water was so salty. Thus the place was named “bad water” and it stuck. Receiving fewer than 2 inches of rain per year, Badwater is one of the driest places in the world. We hiked out a little and Jason filled a Ziploc bag with sand, then we gratefully sought refuge from the oven inside our nicely air conditioned Acura sedans.

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Just 85 miles from Badwater stands the tallest mountain in the contiguous 48 U.S. states, called Mount Whitney (14,505 feet).  You may recall a trip from last summer when Jason and I drove the highest elevation paved road in North America:  Mount Evans in Colorado, at 14,265 feet.   I would have loved to visit Mount Whitney if time permitted.

We wanted to make sure and take home some Death Valley dust on our cars, and I knew just the place to find it. “20 Mule Team Road,” just a few miles from Furnace Creek, is an amazing one-lane, one-way dirt track that winds for 2.7 miles along some terrain that looks like another planet. Jason and I weren’t afraid of doing a little off-roading. In fact, after our first lap of Mule Team, we switched drivers. Sofyan drove the ILX and Peter drove the TL – and we did it all over again. Kicking up dust in style.

20_mule

The last place I wanted to check out was Stovepipe Wells, a small settlement about 23 miles north of Furnace Creek. It’s nestled in between expansive sand dunes. As we approached, it was evident that the wind activity was high because of the wisps of sand sweeping across the roadway. Because of Death Valley’s notoriety as one of the hottest climates in the world, it is an optimal place for automakers to test out the durability of prototype / pre-production vehicles. Sure enough, as Sofyan pulled my ILX into the parking lot at Stovepipe Wells, we spotted 3 white 2016 model year GMC Canyon Diesels out for evaluation. I picked up 2 Gatorades for $3 – best purchase of the day by far. I was parched.

We made our way out of the park on Highway 127 just as the sun dipped down in the western sky. We got a few photos at the California/Nevada state line and then made our entrance into the Longstreet for the night. A great day with great friends.

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Enjoy this video and the rest of these pictures from our trip!

Peter at the wheel of the ILX; Sofyan in the backseat

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Backseat vantage point:  something I’m not used to seeing!

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Sunset over the Hoover Dam bypass bridge at the AZ/NV state line

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View from our hotel in Las Vegas:  Excalibur

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Catching the water show at Bellagio

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Saturday morning:  A destination in mind

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Ruins in an abandoned Nevada town

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Next stop:  Furnace Creek

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Thanks to Jason for some awesome “rolling shots” of the ILX

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We made it

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Sign reads:  CAUTION!  EXTREME HEAT DANGER

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Elevation:  Sea level as we made our way toward Furnace Creek

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How’s $5.59/gallon for Premium sound?

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Lunch spot

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A brisk 115 degrees Fahrenheit at the National Park Visitor Center

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Although, the ILX only showed 113 degrees at the time

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Shot of the ILX in the TL sideview mirror

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Warning at Badwater Basin.  “Walking after 10 a.m. not recommended.”

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Checking out the sights, 282 feet below sea level.

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Pit stop along the “20 Mule Team Canyon” trail.

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Hitchhiking due to broken down Acuras.  Not.

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Stovepipe Wells

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GMC Canyon Diesel prototype that was out for hot-weather testing near Stovepipe

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Crossing back into Nevada from California for the night

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Sunday morning’s return drive to Phoenix:  Gigantic cow

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And the world’s largest firecracker!

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Thanks for coming along!