Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hiking to the Bottom of the Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon is one of the seven natural wonders of the world
The date is 11/1/11.   There are 4 dates this year that have all the same digits and this is an unusual phenomena.     We have just arrived at the South rim of the Grand Canyon.  If you think that Arizona is all just one big hot desert, think again.  The overnight low in Grand Canyon Village, tonight, is 30 degrees and they are predicting snow showers in two days.  But we are planning to leave tomorrow morning to hike 7 miles to the bottom of the Grand Canyon.   We will be descending almost a mile in elevation, through 5 different climate zones to stay at Phantom Ranch on the banks of the Colorado River.
There are several places to stay here in Grand Canyon Village; we are staying in Maswick Lodge, just a couple hundred yards from the rim of the Canyon.  The accommodations are rustic but all we need.  Very clean, plenty of heat--  newly remodeled and just right....  

The next morning
We descended the Kaibab trail where we are passing through a goelogic timetable of almost 2 billion years (the bottom layers of the canyon are almost 2 billion years old and the top layers are a mere 270 million years old).  Every step up or down the trail, we are stepping through 60,000 years of geologic history. Imagine that!   Every turn of the trail and every hour of the day--the view keeps changing, the beauty more awsome, until in the last hour we finally see the Colorado River.
We arrived at Phantom Ranch around 3:00, to find bunk houses (male and female)   with showers and ranger talks and even a few cabins that sleep 4 on bunk beds.  There are 2 dinner seatings, ours is at 5:00 with a very welcome family style steak dinner.  “You can eat as much as you want except only 1 steak per person,” the head cook informs us.
 The hike in and out of the canyon is very challenging and I wondered weather this is a good family activity. But if you are an active family, this could be for you.  We met the Chapman family, from Minnesota;  3 generations, from 10 years old and up, who were there hiking on Grandpas 80th birthday.  This was grandpas 15th hike to the bottom
We also met a family from San Diego. Every year their kids have to take a hike: 1 mile for every year, their 10 year old had done a 10 mile hike this year.
 The next day is was a hike up Bright Angel trail. 9 miles, less steep, both beautiful and exhausting-especially as the top which is the steepest part and we are at over 6000 feet of elevation.  Rain was predicted on the day of the hike out--  that made me nervous.  But we got lucky-- we arrived at the Rim at 2:00 in the afternoon.  It started raining at 5:00 and the next morning there was 3” of snow on the ground!!  whew!!!
 If this all sounds too exhausting you can ride to Phantom Ranch on a mule.
The demand for lodging at Phantom Ranch is very high--  they open reservations on the first of the month for 13 months later.  Call them for more information.
Even if hiking down to the bottom isn’t your thing the Grand Canyon may be, because of all the visitors that visit the Grand Canyon every year only 1% stay overnight in the canyon.  The rest stay at the rim.  There are plenty of rim hikes, day hikes into and around the canyon ranger programs. For example there is Trail of Time, a 1.3 mile stroll that shows you how the canyon was formed.
There is also the Hopi house, where you learn about the lifestyle of the Hopi Indians who inhabited parts of the canyon in the 1500s.
Most people think the Grand Canyon is named for its grand size, but The Colorado River was originally called the Grand River, till the state of Colorado came along and changed its name to plenty of opposition.    However prevailing wisdom says the Grand CAnyon was named by John Wesley Powell, the man who discovered it.
You can drive to the Grand Canyon or take the Grand Canyon Express train from Williams.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Grand Golf in Grand Junction CO

Golf in Colorado can be wonderful. Of course, golf anywhere can be wonderful, but it’s hard for other places to compete with Colorado at its best. When you combine golf with the state’s spectacular geography, such as the Colorado National Monument, there’s a thrill that you just can’t get anywhere else. A visit to the National Monument in far western Colorado can be almost as spectacular as a visit to the Grand Canyon, and playing golf along its base is simply breathtaking. That’s the irresistible appeal of golf in and around Grand Junction, a city of 59,000 that nestles right up to the National Monument.  
Tiara Rado Golf Course
Grand Junction’s Tiara Rado Golf Course sits at the foot of the red cliffs of the Colorado National Monument. The locals translate Tiara Rado as Red Crown. Framed by the red rock cliffs of the National Monument, Tiara Rado has an awesome location. It began in 1971 as a six- hole course, and is now a full 18 owned and operated by the city of Grand Junction. It plays 6400 yards and is a real “walk in the park” as you enjoy the surrounding red bookcliffs and experience the wide variety of bird species as this course  is certified in the Audubon cooperative sanctuary program. We even had an encounter with the resident kitty, who greeted us on the third hole by batting my ball across the green and then bumping up against my leg and putter. After we moved on, he gave the foursome behind us the same treatment.
This course is in wonderful condition.  The homes on the front 9 are pretty average homes, and this section of the course is a non threatening way to open your round.  The course changes dramatically on the back where there is water on several holes  much more elevation change and more contemporary homes lining the course.  The views of Grand Mesa,the worlds largest flat top mountain, are spectacular.
The sign over the desk in the pro shop says  “No work boots and no cowboy boots,” which tells you all you need to know about the neighborhood.
Green fee: $43.75 weekdays and $50.75 weekends, including cart. Tiara Rado is open ten months a year. Phone: 970-254-3830
Golf Club at Redlands Mesa
"Positioned beneath the slopes of jagged buttes south of Grand Junction, Colorado, in the shadow of the towering pink and red sandstone face of the Colorado National Monument, Redlands Mesa is like playing golf along the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with a couple of sojourns to the Garden of the Gods thrown in." –Golf Digest 
Redlands Mesa, a few miles down the road from Tiara Rado, also sits at the base of the Colorado National Monument. This mountain masterpiece by architect Jim Engh has won many accolades, including Top 30 Public from Golf Digest five years running. It was also voted #1 Best New Affordable Public Golf Course in America. It deserves all this and more. 
Engh, who has three courses on the Top 100 list, may be the king of mountain golf course architects. He has an incredible ability to take dramatic mountain terrain and place golf holes on it that look like they belong there. When I asked Engh about his design philosophy, he said, “I am in the entertainment business. I want to delight, entertain, fully engage and inspire golfers who play my courses. I hope they have gone on an emotional ride from frustration to complete intrigue when they play Redlands Mesa.”
The mounding on Redlands Mesa echoes the surrounding mountain terrain, and hidden among those mounds are some bunkers—a modest 41 in all—that you just don’t want to get in. In this mountainous environment, almost every hole plays down hill, some dramatically, as in tee boxes that are 100-150 feet above the fairway. It’s just a spectacular golf course. I did learn from Engh that, as much as golfers love down hill tee shots, they are more likely to drift off line than uphill tee shots because of the extended time the ball is in the air. That may be the one respect in which uphill tee shots are easier.
The views are dramatic enough that you may forget you came here to play golf. The greens have more movement in them than a bowl of jelly and are almost all uniquely shaped. The good news is many of them are actually bowls, so if you hit around the edges, you will probably get a favorable roll. But miss the edges by a few yards and you have a very challenging chip shot, down hill from a down hill lie, one of the toughest shots in golf. “Golf is a gathering game,” said Engh, “The question is, ‘Is your ball gathered onto the quadrant of the green where the pin is placed that day?’” 
Here are a few examples of the kinds of holes that will launch you on the “emotional ride” Jim Engh wants you to take at Redlands Mesa. Number 2 has a breathtaking tee shot as you look out at the Grand Mesa, Number 8 is a spectacular par 3 across a lake that will certainly test your nerves. Number 17 may be the most memorable tee shot on the course—218 yards from the back tees with a 150-foot plus drop from tee to green which is framed by a rock amphitheatre. Water, rock outcroppings, and endless views make this a wonderful day
Redlands Mesa is a par 72 playing from tees ranging from 4890 to 7007 yards. At 6000 feet of elevation these yardages will play shorter. This example of wonderful golf is easily the centerpiece of a golf trip to Grand Junction. 
Green fee: $89.00
Devil’s Thumb Golf Course 
Devil’s Thumb is 40 miles down the road in Delta, Colorado, and it’s another must-play on your Grand Junction golf trip. The course is surrounded by foothills which are basically volcanic mud.  Rick Phelps, the course designer, describes it as a Prairie style course. This landscape has an almost lunar look and in some cases comes right down next to the fairways. Grand Mesa, the largest mesa in the U.S., looms large in the background. There are five holes, all featuring dramatic downhill elevation changes, which could serve as signature holes at Devil’s Thumb: 3, 4, 5, 13 and 14.  One is a drivable par 4  with a split fairway, the second fairway going around the rock cliff is by far the safer way to go. A few of the holes on the back nine even have streams and ponds running through them. This is a very good golf course in a stunning setting and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Green fee: $25 weekdays and $31 weekends, plus cart.
Cedaredge Lodge
Forty miles east of Grand Junction and just below the Grand Mesa, Cedaredge Lodge is an old 1950s style motel that proprietors Donna and Gary have turned into a small piece of heaven. It has quaint little rooms, all with tiny kitchenettes, and sits by a stream—open the window and let the rushing water lull you to sleep. There’s more—a clever little game room, putt-putt course, hot tub, fire pit and outdoor barbecue.  Donna, in her prior life, was a massage therapist at a body building gym. She offers fantastic bodywork. This unusual motel is completely worth the stay. There is not a restaurant on the property, but Donna and Gary will gladly barbeque dinner for their guests. It is very convient to Devils Thumb but could be a good central point for most of the golf courses in the area.
The Links at Cobble Creek
A river (more a stream, perhaps) runs through almost every hole of The Links at Cobble Creek in Montrose, Colorado. We are half way between Telluride and Grand Junction in the western part of the state. Cobble Creek actually runs through 15 of the 18 holes, developing into ponds and ten different lakes along the way and bringing beauty and intrigue to this wonderful layout. The course, which runs through an attractive housing development, has four sets of tees ranging from 6970 yards down to 5177. There’s a game for every player.  
The front nine is three par threes, three par fours, and three par fives. Par fives and par threes are usually the most interesting holes in golf architecture, and that certainly is the case here. The opening par five is a sweeping dog leg right followed two holes later by another par five that sweeps left. The third par five on the front is relatively straight. Numbers two and four bring you straight on to the breathtaking views of Mt. Sneffels, one of Colorado’s towering 14,000 foot peaks  You get the same view from the seventh tee, if you turn around (maybe this hole should play the other direction).  There are two wonderful, short (some would say drivable) par fours that are superbly designed with plenty of trouble.  ANYTHING TO SAY ABOUT THE BACK?
This is an almost level golf course, which is unusual in a mountain setting. It has half private play and half public play, and is beautifully maintained. What I found most intriguing about Cobble Creek is that it was designed by Craig Cherry. He got the job because his father-in-law was the property developer. This was the first, last and only golf course he ever designed. Creating a golf course requires skill and art, and for someone to create one this good with no training is remarkable.
Green fee: $38.00 on weekdays and $41.00 on weekends. Carts are an additional $13.00 per player. 
The Bridges Golf Club  
The Bridges, in Montrose, Colorado, is a wonderful Nicklaus design that was included in the Top 10 new courses by Golf Magazine in 2005. The Bent grass fairways are generous and in terrific condition. There are too many wetlands, streams, and ponds to count, crossed by many bridges (guess how it got its name).
Number three boasts a challenging double fairway. Number five brings the San Juan Mountains into view, including Mount Buckhorn.  Number six is a double dogleg, so hit your tee shot carefully. Number 13 is a devilishly designed drivable par four. Number 15 is a long par five with two different greens, which make the hole dramatically different from day to day.  Number 16 is a mid-iron par three with a very shallow, well protected green. Club selection is key here. The greens have lots of undulation, making the putting very challenging.  
The Bridges is private, but nearly two-thirds of its play is public and you will be warmly welcomed and feel like a member for a day. The clubhouse is 23,000 square feet, but more importantly there are four sleeping rooms (suites) upstairs that are wonderfully appointed. The rates vary from $125 per night to $175 per night. If you are headed this way, this would make a wonderful base for playing and touring. 
Green fee: $72.00 plus $13.00 cart.

Black Canyon National Park
Black Canyon is just a few minutes drive from the Bridges and has some views that are as spectacular as the Grand Canyon. No other canyon in North America combines the narrow opening, sheer walls, and startling depths offered by the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. Views from Painted Wall, Chasm Point and Sunset View are as good as it gets. If you are in the area, don’t miss this.
The Colorado National Monument is also well worth a few hours to visit.  The redrocks are spectacualar, especially near sunrise or sunset.  It has towering monoliths and  extensive plateau and canyon panoramas.  As your eyes drink in all this spectacular scenery, don’t forget to keep an eye out for soaring eagles and Big horn sheep who call the area home.  You can hike it some or all of it-- or just gather it all in from the comfort of your car on the 23 mile Rim-Rock Drive