Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Eight hours at the Grand Canyon’s south rim

The Grand Canyon has been named one of the seven natural wonders of the world and, while I enjoyed the views at Bryce Canyon more, walking around and into this massive gorge carved out by the Colorado River was still incredible.

I began my visit at Desert View, which is the highest point on the south rim and provides a good look at the river. There’s a watchtower with Aboriginal decor that was built early in the 20th century that offered some different focal perspectives.

From there it was on to Mather Point, which was quite crowded because of its close proximity to the visitor centre. I walked west along the Rim Trail to Yavapai Point and then got off the trail and climbed out on to a rock overhanging the canyon to try and get a few more dramatic photos. It was probably stupid, since I learned later that a young man plunged to his death near Mather Point doing something similar that same afternoon, and it was the only time I did that while at the canyon. So kids, let this be a lesson to you: Stay on marked trails.

After dropping off my luggage in my room at Yavapai Lodge, three friends joined me on a free shuttle bus to Bright Angel Trailhead, which takes you down more than 1,300 metres to the canyon floor. It’s a two-day journey if you plan to hike the 30.6-kilometre round trip to the Bright Angel Campground and back, and I only had an afternoon and early evening to spare, so we ventured about two kilometres down before returning.

We passed through the upper and lower tunnels and stopped short of the first resthouse. With breaks to take photos of the stunning vistas, it took 40 minutes to hike down and 25 to get back up.

The next goal was to walk to Hopi Point to see the sunset, and the 3.2-kilometre route along the Rim Trail took us past Trailview Overlook, Maricopa Point and Powell Point. The rocks seemed to change colour as the sun dropped before it went down for good at 8:49 p.m.

The immensity of the canyon (446 kilometres long and an average of 16 kilometres wide) is jaw-dropping, considering the part I could see only comprised a small part of it.

The shuttle bus returned us to where we had picked it up earlier in the day, and a restaurant near the lodge served me a salad, garlic bread and a heaping portion of penne with meat sauce along with a pint of very good locally brewed wheat beer for $21.95. It was a clear night, which made for some great star-watching considering the relative remoteness of the area.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Steve McLean's favourite music of 2018

I thought a lot of good albums came out this year but, for my tastes, not many great ones. However, I’ve compiled this list of those albums that made the cut and I considered good.

My favourite 10 albums

1. The Interrupters - Fight The Good Fight
2. Dan P and The Bricks - When We Were Fearless
3. The Longshot - Love Is For Losers
4. Bodega - Endless Scroll
5. The Whips - City Wide Special
6. Reel Big Fish - Life Sucks … Let’s Dance
7. The Nude Party - The Nude Party
8. Hicksville Bombers - Danger Road
9. Shannon and The Clams - Onion
10. Mark Sultan - Let Me Out

 The next 10 albums

11. Ike Reilly - Crooked Love
12. Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Hope Downs
13. Subsonic - Flesh Colored Paint
14. Old 97s - Love The Holidays
15. Jeen - Gift Shop
16. Superchunk - What A Time To Be Alive
17. 6 String Drag - Top Of The World
18. Barrence Whitfield and The Savages - Soul Flowers Of Titan
19. Brian Fallon - Sleepwalkers
20. The Mountain Flowers - Bye And Bye

 The next 10 albums after that

21. Pete Astor - One For The Ghost
22. J.D. McPherson - Socks
23. The Mavericks - Hey! Merry Christmas!
24. Table Scraps - Autonomy
25. Frank Turner - Be More Kind
26. The Reverend Horton Heat - Whole New Life
27. Sunflower Bean - Twentytwo In Blue
28. Bad Sports - Constant Stimulation
29. Born Ruffians - Uncle, Duke And The Chief
30. The Mercenaries - Mark My Territory

The next 11 albums after that

31. Unlikely Friends - Crooked Numbers
32. The Essex Green - Hardly Electronic
33. Sloan - 12
34. Ethers - Ethers
35. Black Uhuru - As The World Turns
36. The Discarded - Manifesto
37. Low Cut Connie - Dirty Pictures (Part 2)
38. Sarah Shook and The Disarmers - Years
39. Jim James - Uniform Distortion
40. The James Hunter Six - Whatever It Takes
41. Miesha and The Spanks - Girls Girls Girls

 My favourite EPs

1. The Pandoras - Hey! It’s The Pandoras
2. The Beths - Warm Blood

 My favourite compilations, reissues and live albums

1. Joe Strummer - 001
2. R.E.M. - At The BBC

My favourite concerts (chronological order)

I generally try to stick to live performances I know I’m going to like. While some don’t live up to expectations, I came home satisfied after these shows:

The Holy Gasp - Jan. 14, Horseshoe, Toronto
Frankie Foo and the Yo-Yo Smugglers - Jan. 26, Grossman’s Tavern, Toronto
Frankie Foo and the Yo-Yo Smugglers - Feb. 2, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Memberz, Mob Barley & The Railers - Feb. 9, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Ferraro - Feb. 23, The Cameron House, Toronto
Dwayne Gretzky - Feb. 23, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Discarded - Feb. 24, Duggan’s Underground, Toronto
Bloodshot Bill & The Hiccups - Feb. 24, Monarch Tavern, Toronto
The Real McKenzies - March 9, Horseshoe, Toronto

The Real McKenzies
Sam Cash - March 14, The Cameron House, Toronto
The ARC Sound - March 17, Trinity Common, Toronto
George Westerholm, Luau or Die, The King Beez, Senores Calavera, The Cliff Divers - April 5, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
The Slackers - April 6, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Harmonauts, The Slackers - April 7, Horseshoe, Toronto
KMan and The Radicals, Mustard Plug, The Planet Smashers - April 20, Horseshoe, Toronto
Stuart Joliffe memorial with Stuart Cameron, Tom Wilson, Ron Hawkins, Kim Stockwood, The Trews, Leah Fay and Peter Dreimanis from July Talk, Matt Mays, The ARC Sound  - April 22, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Cactus Blossoms - April 26, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Rizdales and guests - April 28, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
The ARC Sound - April 28, The Artful Dodger, Toronto
Dream Wife, Sunflower Bean - May 5, Horseshoe, Toronto
Mad Caddies - May 8, Mod Club, Toronto

Mad Caddies
Peeling - May 8, The Baby G, Toronto
Thomas Thomas - May 9, The Cavern Bar, Toronto
Brett Newski - May 10, The Cameron House, Toronto
July Talk, Omni - May 10, Horseshoe, Toronto
Pony, Pkew Pkew Pkew, The Dreamboats - May 11, Horseshoe, Toronto
AntiSocial Surf Club, Miesha & The Spanks, Starcrawler - May 11, Bovine Sex Club, Toronto
Ferraro - May 11, The Cameron House
Starcrawler, Sloan - May 12, Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto
Northern Pikes - May 12, Horseshoe, Toronto
Hinds - May 13, Horseshoe, Toronto
Skating Polly, Charly Bliss - May 19, Horseshoe, Toronto
Atomic Beliveaus, The Calrizians, Luau or Die, The Cliff Divers, Mark Malibu and The Wasagas - June 1, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
The Royal Crowns - June 2, Dundas West Fest, Toronto
The Hard Toms - June 2, Duggan’s Underground, Toronto
The Mighty Swells, The Surfrajettes, Reverb Syndicate, Tsunamibots - June 2, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
Street Dogs - June 10, Horseshoe, Toronto
Danielle Duval, Ferraro, Hutch - July 20, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Arsenals - July 21, Woodbine Park, Toronto

The Arsenals
The Discarded - July 28, Lazy Daisy Cafe, Toronto
Ferraro, C+C Surf Factory - Aug. 16, The Cameron House, Toronto
The ARC Sound - Aug. 17, 419 Brunswick, Toronto
Sarah Shook and The Disarmers - Aug. 25, Horseshoe, Toronto
Frankie Foo and the Yo-Yo Smugglers – Aug. 31, Grossman’s Tavern, Toronto
TUNS – Aug. 31, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Nude Party, Craig Brown Band – Sept. 7, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Black Pearls - Sept. 7, Cameron House, Toronto
The Greasemarks, The Surfrajettes, The Dreamboats - Sept. 8, Horseshoe, Toronto
Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever - Sept. 11, Horseshoe, Toronto
Ramblin’ Deano – Sept. 13, 419 Brunswick, Toronto
The Hold Steady - Sept. 15, Horseshoe, Toronto
U.I.C., MC50 - Sept. 19, The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto

Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls
Sam Coffey and The Iron Lungs, Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls - Sept. 20, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
Frank Turner and The Sleeping Souls - Sept. 21, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
The Hard Toms, Mark Malibu and The Wasagas – Oct. 12, The Linsmore Tavern, Toronto
Sarah Borges with Eric Ambel, The Bottle Rockets – Oct. 14, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Public Image Limited - Oct. 19, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
Jeen - Nov. 1, Horseshoe, Toronto

They Might Be Giants
They Might Be Giants – Nov. 2, The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto
The Black Pearls – Nov. 2, Cameron House, Toronto
The ARC Sound – Nov. 3, The Artful Dodger, Toronto
The Mahones, Stiff Little Fingers - Nov. 7, Horseshoe, Toronto
Stiff Little Fingers – Nov. 9, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Alarm - Nov. 15, Horseshoe, Toronto
The Dreadnoughts - Nov. 22, Horseshoe, Toronto
Luau Or Die - Nov. 22, Bovine Sex Club Toronto
The Green Wasagas – Nov. 24, Cadillac Lounge, Toronto
Pony, Charly Bliss - Nov. 28, Horseshoe, Toronto
Eddie Angel’s Guitar Party, JD McPherson - Dec. 2, Lee’s Palace, Toronto
The ARC Sound – Dec. 15, The Artful Dodger, Toronto
Joel Plaskett Emergency – Dec. 21, The Danforth Music Hall, Toronto

Joel Plaskett Emergency
The Skydiggers – Dec. 22, Horseshoe, Toronto

Friday, December 21, 2018

Tackling five trails at Zion National Park

Zion National Park, the middle step in the 525-million-year-old “Grand Staircase” of sedimentary rocks connecting Bryce Canyon at the top and the Grand Canyon at the bottom, offers hiking trails suitable for a variety of fitness levels and height tolerances.

My time was limited at the 99-year-old southwestern Utah park, so I chose to go with five easy and moderate trails while beginning and ending at Zion Lodge. The first was the 1.9-kilometre Lower Emerald Pools Trail that climbs 20 metres to a small water pool and three tepid waterfalls.

That was followed by the steeper and rockier 1.6-kilometre climb to Upper Emerald Pool, which was larger but hardly emerald. The most notable thing about the pool was the abundance of voracious squirrels, some of which I observed chewing through backpacks left on rocks to try and get at food inside.

After coming back the same way, I veered off on to the Kayenta Trail, which connected with The Grotto after 3.2 kilometres of fine views of mountains above and the Virgin River below.

A free shuttle connects various points of interest within the park, and I took one a short distance to the Weeping Rock Trail. This 0.6-kilometre paved trail is a little bit steep as it ascends 30 metres and ends at a rock alcove where you can walk under the slowly dripping springs that give the trail its name.

After the walk back down and another short shuttle ride back to The Grotto, I got out and walked along a flat path that roughly followed the nearby road and river. After 135 minutes, I was back at Zion Lodge for lunch.

Given more time, I would have liked to have attempted Zion’s best known and most challenging trail, an 8.7-kilometre, 453-metre ascent to Angels Landing that features long drop-offs and a steep and narrow ledge where climbers are advised to hang on to chains fastened to the rocks to avoid falling. Eight people have fallen to their deaths on the trail. Surprisingly, seven have done the same on the much gentler Emerald Pools trails.

My Cosmos tour bus left the park in the early afternoon and headed further south, with the the Vermillion mountain range on my right and the Grand Staircase range on my left, with Monument Valley further off in the distance. We continued on to Lake Powell for a brief stop and, although there was a sandy beach and the water was reasonably warm, I was surprised to see nobody in it.

We drove over the Glen Canyon Dam in the Colorado River and into Page, Ariz., where the Quality Inn would be my resting spot for the night and my embarkation point for the next day’s visit to the last two canyons of my two-week trip.


Thursday, December 20, 2018

Navigating Bryce Canyon National Park

A July 1 hike through southern Utah’s Bryce Canyon was one of the most rewarding I’ve experienced, and the trails you can traverse in its amphitheatre in hours will leave you with memories for a lifetime.

You can follow the 90-year-old Bryce Canyon National Park's Rim Trail from Bryce Point, at 2,529 metres above sea level, for 4.4 kilometres to Sunrise Point. The relatively flat route will give you great panoramic views of the unique limestone rock formations that have been formed over more than 60 million years through weathering, frost-wedging and erosion.

It took me less than two hours, with numerous stops along the way for photos and inspiration. I was particularly fascinated by the windows, which are formed when parts of  rock walls break away, and the columns (called hoodoos) that emerge from those when the tops eventually collapse. If you use your imagination, the hoodoos start to look like familiar objects.

I walked less than a kilometre back to Sunset Point, on a paved portion of the Rim Trail, before descending more than 160 metres down the steep Wall Street Trail to the bottom of the canyon. The views are just as spectacular from below, but from a different perspective, and you can get closer to the hoodoos.

I followed the Navajo Loop Trail before making a brief detour to see a formation called The Two Bridges. I returned and continued my journey on the Queen’s Garden Trail, which included a few more trees. It culminated in a rock formation that looks like a statue of Queen Victoria. The trail continued upward until I reached the canyon rim again at Sunrise Point.

The Two Bridges
The 4.6-kilometre Navajo/Queen's Garden loop took me 2.5 hours to hike, with breaks factored in to stand back and soak in the incredible scenery, which reminded me somewhat of the fairy chimneys I’d encountered in Turkey’s Cappadocia region — though without the extensive cave systems -- a year earlier.

Though the temperature was above 30 degrees Celsius and the afternoon sun was blazing, I didn’t feel overly hot. However, I was covered in fine red dirt and was thankful for a free shuttle bus that took me through the park’s forests and meadows — in which I spotted three deer, several prairie dogs and a few small lizards — to just outside its entrance and dropped me off across the road from my Bryce accommodations at Ruby’s Inn. 

The complex offers hotel lodging, a campground, a variety of activities, stores and restaurants. After a long shower, I figured my rewarding day had earned me a large dinner, and the amount and variety of food (salad bar, salmon, chicken, pork, beef, roasted and mashed potatoes, ice cream and fruit) I consumed for $24.99 at the inn’s Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room was just what I needed.