From the beginning, planning for the 2015 Havasupai trip was challenging. The list of challenges included (but was not limited to):
- The daughter of the dad who volunteered to pull the trailer that would transport all the backpacks broke her ankle which pulled the daughter, the dad, and the trailer off the participant list.
- Results of background checks from four parents required a reallocation of resources.
- A last minute suggestion to include a tour of the Hoover Dam resulted in a flurry of faxes and a schedule rearrangement.
- A student whose name was not on the passenger list showed up for the backpack check
- A death in the Rose family the day before we left created questions about their participation
- Questions about whether Sam (science teacher and trip co-founder) was in or out (out)
- Questions about whether Amie (principal, OPA) was in or out (in)
To aid the drivers of the cars in our 15 vehicle caravan I created an 8 page guide that outlined the plan for the week and included detailed MapQuest instructions to all of our destinations. The plan called for a group gathering in the parking lot of the Hacienda Hotel and Casino, just south of Boulder, NV. The Hacienda no longer exists. Thankfully the parking lot still exists—it is now adjacent to the Hoover Dam Lodge—and, eventually, all the cars found their way there.
We caravanned to Hoover Dam where a dam guide gave us a dam talk about the dam construction, the dam water, and the dam operations. (Dam jokes never get old!) After seeing a dam movie (really, dam jokes never get old!), we took a dam elevator (okay, maybe they do get old…..) down 530 feet into the edifice’s innards where we saw a tube, 30 foot in diameter, that can carry 90,000 gallons of water/second to the turbine and a room, 660 yards long, that housed 8 of the dam’s 17 generators. Amazing.
Also amazing, though it was an altogether different kind of amazement, were our sleeping accommodations that night. The printed plan called for a campout on North Kingman High School’s football field. It was the last time we referred to the printed plan. Recent rains had turned the football field into a marsh and the current forecast indicated a continuation of marsh-making weather. The revised plan called for a sleepover in North Kingman High School gym, girls inside the three point line of one basket, boys inside the three point line of the other. It is truly amazing how much a gym echoes when even one person turns over during the night. Also amazing was how bright the overhead, emergency light was (that could not be turned off….). We were warm and dry and INCREDIBLY grateful for the generosity of Amie’s Kingman friends who allowed to us to use the gym, the bathrooms, and (the second night) the showers however the number of people who could honestly say they got a great night’s sleep was not amazingly large.
Tuesday’s weather forecast was not amazingly positive. Internet weather sites predicted 60-80% chance of rain and posted severe weather/flash flood warnings. Even the most optimistic among us could not justify a trip into the Canyon that morning. [We held fast to our hopes that the weather would clear on the morrow……] Time for another change in plans…...
A 4:00 a.m. call to my darling sister (who lives in Las Vegas) helped us decide to spend the day hiking to Mt. Charleston’s Raintree, a 3,000 year old pinon pine living 10,200 feet above sea level. The six mile hike gave us an unplanned encounter with an alpine area, some super scenery and healthy, heavy breathing; we felt the burn in our buttocks and the wind in our faces.
Eager to ease the angst about not being able to enter Havasupai as planned and planning to use the money we would have spent on campground fees for Havasupai had we been able to enter, we planned dinner Las Vegas style. “We’ll eat at the buffet at Hoover Dam Lodge,” we told everyone. “Meet us there.”
A buffet dinner must not have been in the Master Plan. We learned, after arriving there, that there is no buffet at Hoover Dam Lodge. “We got rid of the buffet two years ago,” we were told. So we ate in their café, all 75 of us. Accustomed to feeding 5-10 people on a typical Tuesday night, we stretched their resources. Bus boys morphed into waiters and wine glasses were converted to sundae cups. We were patient, they were ingenious, and it was all good.
It was another night in the gym for the girls. Hoping that halving the number of bodies would half the noise, we sent the boys to the wrestling room. It was hot and stinky (wrestling rooms are like that….) night for them but it wasn’t as noisy.
Havasupai was a do-or-die decision the next morning and, unanimously, we decided to kill it. The fact was 100% humidity in the canyon and the forecast 60% for rain showers. Even more condemning were the temperatures—predicted highs in the mid 50’s and lows in the high 30’s. No one was prepared for those kinds of temperatures, hypothermia would be a real threat, and we really did not want our names to be in the headlines of the local paper.
So……….plans changed again. Seventy-four of us headed to Gold Strike Hot Springs; one (Amie) of us headed to Valley of Fire State Park. Things went as planned for 74 of us; things did not go as planned for Amie.
The 4 mile Gold Strike Hot Springs Trail (8 miles round trip) took us to two rock cliffs, three pools, and one river; cool, hot, and cold! The cliffs were cool. Too steep to climb, too tall to jump, their “class 3 scrambling” slowed but did not stop us. We had enough people to create our own ladder, which we did. The pools were hot, ranging from 120 degrees F to 85. And the Colorado River, only miles from exiting the dam, was cold. We soaked in the pools after sunning on the trail and shivered in the sun after swimming in the Colorado.
We planned to have a good time on the hike, which we did. Amie planned to secure camping spots for us in Valley of Fire, which she did not. Camping sites there are first come, first serve. Amie arrived early, found 8 adjoining sites, paid the $20 camping fee (cash only, $160 total) for each spot, and set two cases of Gatorade on each picnic table. She spent the morning chasing RV’s from the sites she had secured. Later in the afternoon an uptight park person unequivocally informed Amie that she was not playing by the rules. Bodies must be in the sites to secure them; Gatorade would not work. The facts that Amie had paid for the sites and that 75 bodies were on their way were irrelevant. “In fact,” Amie was informed, “I could fine you $75 per site for trying to reserve them illegally.” The irate official kept the money and the Gatorade and sent Amie packing. Amie is not a timid lady, not even close, but this ranger was not to be intimidated. Apparently sleeping in Valley of Fire was not in the Master Plan…..
It was about 6 p.m. when we learned that our first camping option for the night was down and that we would have to punt. Fortunately Lake Mead Recreation Area was within field goal distance, so to speak, and had available group sites. We set up tents there and planned to stay two nights. “What are we doing tomorrow?” kids and parents asked. Good question! We were not sure what the Master Plan had in store at that point.
How about a hike along the Historic Railroad Trail (3.7 miles, 5 tunnels, along the railroad bed used to transport the materials used to build the dam)? Fabulous! A stroll across the Mike O’Callagahan/Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge overlooking Hoover Dam? Amazing! And an afternoon swimming in Lake Mead at Boulder Beach? Fantastic! The hike was flat and fast, the view from the bridge big and bold, the swim in the lake fun and fresh, and the fact that we did not have to figure out where we were going to sleep that night, absolutely awesome.
The next morning we broke camp and drove to Echo Bay where we planned to camp and, amazing but true, we set up camp there as planned. Our plan’s next phase was to find a trail in Valley of Fire. “How long is the hike?” students asked. “About four miles,” we told them, hoping the Park had a four mile trail.
The map at the Park’s entrance indicated that Prospect Trail was 4.5 miles long and branched off the White Dome trail. We chose it and, 15 vehicles strong, drove to the White Dome trailhead. Not unsurprisingly, the map at White Dome did not show the Prospect Trail. Hiking Prospect Trail must have been in the Master Plan though because, against the odds, we found it even though it was not on the map. The trail was not marked or maintained but it was marvelous. We traversed stream beds, squeezed through slot canyons and scrambled over sandstone to arrive at an incredible vista, overlooking reams of ridges of rigid rock. (Say that fast!) The view was truly stunning and I was truly stunned that, once again, we’d happened upon a fabulous activity option. Three cheers for the Master Plan!
That night, our final night, several students asked what time we’d be leaving in the morning. “That depends,” I told them. “I am taking bribes. Some people want to leave quite early and some want to stay and hang out. What I decide depends on who gives me the best bribes.” Two sets of girls brought me six sets of cakes, accompanied by the request that we leave early. “I will be singing at 5:00 a.m.,” I announced at the evening’s awards assembly.
And I did. (Truth be known, I would have sung early regardless…..) At 5:00 a.m., local time, horribly loud and very off key, I screeched “In the leafy treetops…..” Up we got and on the road, Ogden bound.
It was a great trip. Really. Though it had all the makings of an epic disaster, it was a truly great trip. To the best of my knowledge, everyone enjoyed themselves. “It was a great trip,” the parents said. “It was a great trip,” the students said. “I want to come and do this exact same trip with my husband,” a teacher said.
Clearly there was a Master Plan. Just as clearly, we were not the Master Planners; most of our plans had be changed, some of them several times. And all of the changes worked out well. So, who was the Master Planner?
I choose to believe it was the Master, a kind and loving Friend who kept us out of the headlines and bonus-ed us with a wonderful experience. “It was a great trip,” I say, “Thank you.”