Added 21 February 2010
Sunday, 22 March 2009, Grand Gulch, Utah
I woke up with pretty severe pain in my stomach but muddled through the hike out. We were packed up and on the trail by 7:15 this morning, motivated by the long drives necessary to get us home. It was below freezing when I woke up, so I started hiking out at a pretty fast pace, in part to warm up, since I had opted for light clothing for the day. After a while I had to slow it down because Mindy was having a hard time keeping up, but we were still moving fairly quickly. At least until we came to a major boulder choke and we had to choose which direction to go to get around it. We chose to go around it to the right. We chose poorly. It took us probably 20 minutes or so to get around the dang thing. It was a slow several hundred yards. Once past though, we made good time again. On the other side, we saw the cairns directing people to the best way around. While we were hiking, we saw a spotted towhee digging around in the leaves under a bush. He was so absorbed in the task that he didn't seem to even notice us. Below is a 3 megabyte video of him scratching around.
We encountered a half dozen day hikers between the pour-off and Kane Gulch Ranger Station, and all but one convinced me that government agencies should post trail etiquette signs at all major trailheads. Only one person yielded to us despite the fact that we were traveling uphill and carrying heavier loads than them. The next time I'm backpacking I think I'll play a little game of chicken with any rude day hiker I encounter.
We reached the ranger station by 9:15 and rearranged the car to fit three people and 3 backpacks in it. Then we went to return Steve to his car at Bullet Canyon trailhead, crossing our fingers that no one had broken into it. Whether my signs helped or not, I don't know, but Steve's car was safe and sound.
We went our separate ways and started our drive home at around 10 a.m. Mindy and I decided to stop for pizza in Mexican Hat. Mindy and I hoped it would be a quick stop, but while the service was extremely friendly, it was far from fast. I think we were there for over an hour. Even so, I wasn't worried about it, as I was content and we had gotten out of the canyon ahead of schedule. Later, I wouldn't be so content.
Before leaving town, Mindy wanted to dip her hands into the San Juan River so we took a quick detour, then started heading home in earnest, at around 11:30 I believe. Once we climbed out of the canyon of the San Juan River, we drove into a rather ferocious wind. This wind would plague me for the duration of the drive. It blew like all the hounds of hell had been released, driving sand and tumbleweed before them. Visibility sometimes dropped to ten meters or less. Tumbleweeds crossed the highway so fast many didn't even touch the pavement. Many of them piled up on my grill as they were often too numerous or too fast to avoid. In places, sand dunes 4-5 inches high even started forming in the middle of the road. I’m convinced that the top ten feet of northern Arizona blue into neighboring states that day. My poor car was getting sandblasted and fighting the wind was tiring. On top of that, whole thing slowed us down considerably, as a lot of people were driving very slowly and it was hard to find a safe place to pass due to the low visibility. Below is a 9 megabyte video compilation of part of the journey through the dust storm.
We finally left the sand behind as we approached Flagstaff, but the wind stayed with us. It actually became more gusty, which was more tiring to deal with. When we reached the outskirts of Phoenix, the wind had slowed down to a dull roar at least. I was unable to rejoice too much, however, because we hit a traffic jam coming in to town. Then we hit another traffic jam on the way out of town. Then we hit another traffic jam near Picacho. By this point (actually before this point), I really just wanted to be home. Mindy took mercy on me and volunteered to have her son pick her up at my house so I wouldn’t have to take her home then backtrack to my place. A much appreciated gesture.
Finally, at around 7:30, I pulled up in front of my house, feeling far more tired after 9.5 hours of driving than I did after 3 days of backpacking.