Michael Meets Machu Picchu – Grand Junction, CO and Moab, UT Training Hikes (Nov 2018)

My third mountain training hike took me back to western Colorado and for the first time in Utah on November 4 – 12, 2018.  I first met up with one of my Colorado guides, Janice Koppang, in Denver to catch the Texans vs. Broncos football game for which she had season tickets.

It was a fun flight into Denver from Houston that Sunday morning with about a third of the passengers being Houston fans heading to the game.  I was sitting on a row with two other guys dressed in Texans football jerseys and one said that he spends his vacation time going to all the Texans away games – what fun that would be!

When we got to Broncos Stadium, Janice mentioned that there seemed to be a lot of Houston fans walking around the outside the stadium.  We then came to a small group of six Houston fans taking a photo op by the Broncos statues with the stadium sign in the background.

I promptly asked and jumped in and had Janice take the photo.  Then,the next thing I knew, Houston fans kept walking up and joining the group.

Within a couple of minutes there were over 100 fans crowded together in an impromptu flash mob!  One half of the group began chanting, “Houston,” and the other half replying back, “Texans”!

By the way, the Texans beat the Broncos and Janice and Bud were not very happy campers.

The next morning, we left Denver and headed for Grand Junction where Janice lives in western Colorado.  The mountains had gotten a couple of feet of snow overnight, so we were expecting to encounter some new powder as we approached the Continental Divide.  We stopped along the way to play in the snow, of course, and even had an impromptu snow ball fight.

As we passed the central Colorado mountains, the snow ended and we knew we would be encountering good hiking conditions when we reach Grand Junction.  We stopped at a quaint little rest stop along a river about an hour and a half before reaching Grand Junction called No Name, CO.

We got into Grand Junction later than anticipated, so only had time to go halfway up Serpents Trail. However, Janice and I did get to see a couple of big horn sheep feeding along the trail.

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For our Day 2 hike, my original Colorado friend and guide, Linda Lynch, and Janice took me to Old Gordon Trail in the Colorado National Monument area.  It was such a gorgeous day with azure skies.  The trail was an intermediate to difficult 6 1/2-mile out and back trail with an elevation change of about 1700 feet.

We encountered numerous hoodoos all along the trail.  A hoodoo is a spire of rock that has an easily eroded column and a more resistant cap.

Sometimes they look like mushrooms. They are kind of eerie, so they’re called, “hoodoos” and also have other names, from “fairy chimneys” to “goblins.” It’s a function of weathering and erosion in desert climates.

After we got back from hiking Old Gordon, we cleaned up and rested a bit.  Then, that evening Janice and Bud took me to a cooking class on South Atlantic cuisine.  A blind man cooking is not a pretty sight, but most of the dishes came out edible.

The next morning, Janice and I met up with another Colorado friend and guide, Karla Shrittter, and drove over to Moab, Utah.  We spent the next three days hiking several of the trails in the area which had the most unique rock formations I have ever encountered.

My Day 3 hike was on the incredible Fisher Towers Trail, which was about 4.5 miles out and back with an elevation gain of 2000 feet. It was one of the most technical and unique hikes I’ve done. We saw rock climbers scaling a pinnacle of 1000 feet. The area is a maze of soaring fins, pinnacles, minarets, gargoyles, spires, and strangely shaped rock formations.

For dinner that evening, we opted to eat at the famous Moab Diner on Main Street (the only street in town).  It’s an old-school digs with vinyl booths and serves breakfast all day.  They’re also famous for their signature green-chili dishes which I opted for.

After getting a good night’s rest and free breakfast in the motel, we headed off to Corona Arch Trail for our Day 4 hike.  Prior to the hike, we stopped off to watch some rock climbers on the cliffs literally lining the roadway.  We also checked out some of the petraglyphs carved into the cliffs.

It was another beautiful day with deep blue skies. The hike was fairly easy, 3 miles out and back with only a 450-foot elevation gain. The rock formations along the trail were fabulous and of course ended at the famous Corona Arch where we took our lunch break.

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After the hike, we drove over to Arches National Park to check out Balance Rock, Delicate Arch and the North Windows Arch.  You could spend years coming here and not see the myriad of rock formations.  Just incredible!

That night, everyone was in the mood for some Mexican food.  There were a couple of choices in town and we decided to hit the Fiesta Mexicana, your basic Southwest Mexican fare.  I did notice that Thai food seemed popular in Moab with about four Thai places in town.

We slept in a little later the next morning (approx. 7:30 AM) since we were planning to head back to western Colorado after breakfast.  We said, “Goodbye,” to Karla since she was planning to stay on to visit some friends in the Moab area.

On the road just outside of town is the Moab Museum of Film and Western Heritage, where we stopped off and spent a couple of hours learning about some of the very interesting film history of this place.

In the late 1940s, the legendary John Ford discovered the rugged beauty of Moab’s Canyonlands and filmed the first of many movies here. The first major motion pictures filmed in the Moab area were set on Red Cliffs Ranch. Wagon Master, Rio Grande, Son of Cochise, Warlock, The Commancheros, Cheyenne Autumn, and many others used the ranch and its magnificent scenery as a backdrop.

John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara, Ben Johnson, Rock Hudson, Henry Fonda, Anthony Quinn, Lee Marvin, Richard Widmark, James Stewart, and Richard Boone have all worked on location here at Red Cliffs Ranch.

More recently Geronimo, City Slickers, Thelma and Louise, along with other movies and more than 100 commercials, have all used the Moab area as a film location.

After the museum, we were back on the road and reached the Utah/Colorado border a little after noon.  We decided there was still plenty of time to make it to some of the trails on the western side of Grand Junction.  We spent a relaxing afternoon of hiking as Janice guided me through Devils Canyon with several interconnected sandy trails (my Day 5 hike).

We got in about 4.2 miles looping around the canyon, but only about 200 feet of elevation gain.  It was a nice break after the trails in Moab.

When we got back to Janice’s place, we cleaned up and rested a bit.  Then we got dressed to hit the night out at the Grand Junction Symphony Gala and Dance.  It was a semi-formal dinner and got to enjoy some great jazz and big band swing music and dancing.

The next day was a rest day – I really needed it.  I did attend my first Sons of Norway meeting. Apparently, there are a number of people of Norwegian descent here in Grand Junction.  The Sons of Norway is a non-profit organization that promote Norwegian traditions through cultural and social activities.

My Colorado hiking sighted guides (Linda, Janice and Marlys) who are members of thee Sons of Norway – Grand junction Chapter, invited me to the meeting.  We had a turkey dinner and silent auction and tribute to Veterans. Also, this group holds various outdoor activities for children and also supports our Ski for Light organization for the visually and mobility impaired.  More on Ski for Light to come in a later blog post.

That night, Linda invited us over to her place for a wonderful pot roast dinner and some kind of special Norwegian dessert that I can’t remember the name of?  It’s kind of like a waffle cone filled with sweet cream – very yummy!

The next day was my last hike (Day 6 Hike) for this trip.  All three of my Colorado sighted guides were on hand for this final hike – Janice, Linda and Marlys and friend Peggy. I am so blessed to have the best guides in Colorado. They have freely given their time, resources and hiking knowledge to help train me for my trek to Machu Picchu.

Wildcat Trail is a moderate trail with some very steep sections. We hiked a total distance of just under 4 miles, but with an elevation gain of 1400 feet. The day started out cold and sunny and got cloudy with some snow flurries later in the hike.

At times, I caught myself thinking, “What the hell I am I doing this for?”  But once we reached the summit and took our lunch break, it was all well worth it.  It was a really good workout for my last hike on this Colorado/Utah trip.

Ultimately, I want to document the larger story of my journey in the film “One Step at a Time.”  The goal of this documentary is to bring hope, inspiration and the joy of achievement to all through an impressive chronicle of determination and resiliency.

I have had several personal blind friends die much too early in their lives due to a complication of factors, including poor exercise and diet choices.

My hope is that this documentary will be seen by tens of thousands for years to come to empower the blind and others to live a healthier lifestyle through physical activities.

If you are interested in being a part of this film, you may make a donation on my personal fundraising page: http://bit.ly/2uzITej

My three guides and I are paying all of our own expenses for this trek (travel, tour package, equipment, etc.).

Funds received will go exclusively towards capturing, creating and distributing this film. All funds for sponsoring this documentary are tax-deductible to Achilles International Houston, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization.

Thank you for your consideration for what promises to be a life-altering experience for me and all those who join me on this journey, in person or by film.

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