Spelunking in Colossal Cave

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Most of you already know that we are a rock climbing family. We tend to spend a lot of time going up, when we are outside. So, when I told them that I wanted to go under the rocks, I was met with “why?” from the kids and “uh, how deep?” from the hubby.

Our kids would never choose to spend their precious down time exploring caves with mom, when they could be hanging off the side of a mountain instead. And hubby, well he is not super excited about the close quarters that are 80 feet below the surface. To be fair, he is not always happy with how far above the earth we take him either, but he is getting better with the heights!

Colossal Cave is located in Vail, which is about an hour south of our home in Tucson. I was not able to get the kids there, but I did managed to talk my husband into it!

There are three tours to choose from, the regular tour which is an hour, the ladder tour that goes for 1 1/2 hours and the wild cave experience that is 3 1/2 tour. Knowing that I was already pushing the boundaries of my marriage, I stuck to the shorter hike that did not require belly crawling through small openings.

It was a cold day, by Arizona standards, when we decided to visit the park. The site is dedicated to preserving the old mining history of the area. We were greeted by a statue and sluice used for separating the sediment from the desired minerals, mostly crystals at this site.

Additionally there is a map. The regular tour centered around the “sink hole” formation on the left. The more advanced tours head into the middle and right sections of the cave, which is still being developed today.

Although the temperature outside was in the high 50Fs that day, the cave is always around 70F, with fairly high humidity. It was quite comfortable! And there was plenty of room to accommodate the entire group. Perfect conditions for my hubby!

The cave is dark and picture taking was not always easy, but I did mange to get a few shots that show a small fraction of the beauty found here.

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There were plenty of stalactite and stalagmite formations to impress us.

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The guide was great! He was funny and provided a wonderful historical perspective as we moved from one cavern to the next. Along the way we were told about the life of the average cave worker, back in those early days.

One of the corridors contained display cases, which contained clothing and tools utilized by the laborers, hard to believe this was the “state of the art” equipment back then.

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Do you see the “head lamp” above? This cloth cap was attached to an open flame that was used for light and visibility,  in the dark cave. Imagine walking around, in pitch black, with a 6 inch open, blue flame emanating from your forehead. That is a cloth hat!! And, all the rope and clothing were cotton, yikes.

 

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There were no power tools, and no explosives were used to excavate the cave. Just hand tools and muscle.

Two of my favorite features are depicted below.

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This column formed when a stalagmite and stalactite fused together.

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This is a picture of “cave ice”. Remember, its 70F or more in the cave all year long. So, this ice is really a unique structure that forms from a particular combination of minerals, which came into contact with slowly dripping water for an extended period of time (like eons). It is white due to the crystal structure and it is slippery, much like the surrounding limestone found in all the rock climbing areas! I know this from trying to climb in the nearby Cochise Stronghold Area. It is hard to climb a bar of soap🤨!

My hubby was happy that the tour was ending and we went for a short hike, out in the wide open spaces.

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He is definitely happier out here! You can see the stone structure behind him, which is the cave entrance and visitor center.

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So I finally got my cave adventure😊 I will be going back in late April for one of the more extensive tours, and can’t wait to see the other areas of the cave. I will be doing that one solo as hubby has said “NO!” but that’s ok. I totally understand 💕

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Standard Route on Mt. Lemmon

Ryan and I first climbed on Mt. Lemmon near the base, at “the wall of the flying scorpions”. This was a single pitch crag and near 1500ft. elevation. We had fun, even though I did split open a couple fingers in the process.

This time we decided to head up near the 4000ft area to a multi pitch climb named “the standard route“. This climb is located on Chimney rock and is only a 200ft climb, divided into 5 pitches. Perfect for me but pretty lame for Ryan!

It was a gorgeous day when we got to the base of the wall.

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Ryan placed his rope and some gear near the base and we “suited up”.

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There was a party of three ahead of us, so we waiting our turn. I watched the two women ahead of us in the hopes of learning the best way to maneuver the route.

Then Ryan lead up to the first anchor.

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There was a big ledge here to sit and wait for our turn on the second pitch.

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The view just keeps getting better!

This is the start of the second, and my least favorite, pitch. This is the chimney, which is just large enough for your body to squeeze into the gap. You can see the last climber in the group ahead of us as she tries to work her way up the rock face.

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Eventually, Ryan and I got up, through and over this pitch. Below is the top of the chimney and the start of my favorite pitch, number 3.

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We waited here for a bit while the other group made their way up.

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Helmet hair!

 

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Ryan was tired of waiting at this point and was ready to head up.

The view from the top of pitch 3.

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After talking with the group ahead of us, we all decided to combing pitches 4 and 5 and went to the top!

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This rock teetering on the spike, was another 1000ft or so above us. Would love to climb in that area!

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The obligatory Summit Selfie!

 

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We waited for our turn to rappel off the top.

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Ryan goes first and I wait for him to yell clear, then I head down. When we are both on the ground, we pull the rope through the anchor.

But the rope did not cooperate this time. Ryan had to climb back up and retrieve it!

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This happens sometimes! Luckily he knew what to do because that rope is $300.00, Yikes!

After a fun climb there is only one thing left to do!

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Happy Hour at Zona78!

Our next climb will be with the whole family!

The Climbing Adventure Continues on Mount Lemmon

Ryan and I have been climbing in the Southern Arizona area, and have been to the Cochise Stronghold area a couple times. We like that area, but it is a two hour drive from our home in the Catalina foothills and makes for a pretty long day. We decided to head over to Mount Lemmon, in the Coronado National Forest, which is only 40 minutes away.

The day was perfect for climbing with the temperature at 73F and no wind. And, since it was a weekday, we would not have too many other climbers to contend with on the wall.

There are many crags here, mostly single pitch climbing, all well bolted with “lower offs” in place.

We chose the “wall of the flying scorpions” because it had several routes, some low enough for me, and most harder, for Ryan to climb.

This is the view from the parking area and our routes are on the far right rock wall.

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We had a bit of a hike to get through the gully and over to the crag. One thing I have learned about hiking in the desert is that the cactus are not the worst offenders. I used to believe that the cacti, with their sharp spines, were the only foliage to be avoided. But the cactus are not the biggest problem!  The brush and bushes, none of which are the iconic saguaro variety, are the real danger. Look at the spikes on this bush!

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This, and the many large aloe vera plants with their razor sharp leaves, are the real obstacles along the path.

We made our way to the other side of the valley and found the wall.

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These are the easier routes, so just a warm up for Ryan! I made it up this first, 5.8 just fine.

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But, 1/3 of the way up the second wall (5.9) I had a little problem.

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Turns out this rock was a little sharper than I had hoped. As I pulled up on a finger tip hold, I sliced my index finger. It wasn’t too bad, but the blood made the rest of the route a little slippery and I then took a larger piece of my thumb off.

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That was ok because these were the only two routes I was going to attempt on this wall anyway. So I finished off the climb and we moved down the wall to Ryan’s routes, 5.10b, 5.10b/c and a 5.11-.

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Ryan’s routes were longer and obviously harder. At this point I was just belaying him and taking some shots from the base of the wall. A pretty view!

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The view from the base of the wall, looking back on the road leading up Mount Lemmon

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Ryan’s favorite climbing shirt. Last year’s Christmas gift from his sister.

We were not alone at the crag, a few other duos were there working the wall as well. We caught a glimpse of them as we drove away.

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Zooming in on the wall, you can see one of their back packs (circled) where the belayer is standing and the arrow indicates the climber on his way up.

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This must have been how Ryan and I appeared from the other side of the highway.

There are so many other crags to explore on Mount Lemmon and we will be heading back to check them out!

And the Winner is…..

Tucson, Arizona!

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This is the view from our new backyard!

If you have been following me from the beginning, then you know that I have been searching for the answer to the question “what’s next?” The reason I began this blog was to work through this extremely tough question of transition, as we move from full time parenting into our empty nest phase.  This has been a tumultuous year, to say the least. We have been roaming around, renting houses in a variety of states and environments looking for what feels right. We have spent time in Idaho, Eastern Washington, Oregon, Kansas, Nevada and Arizona. In each place we checked out the running paths, yoga studios, golf courses and climbing gyms. We wanted a place that was not too far from our extended family, all of which are in the Seattle area, and provided the activities that we have been enjoying the past few years. There was one more big requirement: SUN!

We love Seattle, especially in the late spring, summer and early fall when the weather is fabulous and the running and climbing are to be enjoyed outside.

But then, somewhere around mid October, it gets dark and the clouds open up and begin to pour and it does not stop until May! No, I am not exaggerating!

In late February we went to Scottsdale to explore the area. Now, we have been to Sedona and Phoenix before, but this time was different. I wrote a post about some of our time there, a few others as well. But when it came time to leave, it hit me. I knew, somehow, that I could be happy in Arizona. I told my husband and we talked about nothing else the entire drive back to Seattle. By the time we got home, we were making plans to look, really look, at the potential of buying  a second home in AZ.

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We got pre approved, found a realtor and went to Tucson for the first time ever. We liked the views, the mountains, and the potential for all our outdoor activities that we have become  accustomed. We arrived in June, when it was 115°F, not exactly the best time for driving around and house hunting! Our first stop was the local indoor climbing gym. Rocks and Ropes which turned out to be perfect for us. The routes are tougher and longer than our home gym, which will keep us challenged while we are in Tucson.

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We also made our way up Mt. Lemmon, which is great for hiking, climbing and has a ski resort in the winter.

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Can’t wait to be these guys!

Near the end of our trip we managed to get in a short run (it was 80°F at 8am) at a bike/run path that runs the entirety of the downtown area.

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This path runs along a dry river bed which is full during the monsoon season

We fell in love with the place. Did I mention the views?

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This is one of the five mountain ranges around us

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Tucson is one of the premier star gazing areas in the country. There are city ordinances governing the lighting in downtown to preserve the star quality. This is another view from Mt. Lemmon

Our home was the third property we viewed on the first day of house hunting. We both knew, as soon as we set foot inside the door, that this was the place for us. It will take several months or so to know for sure if this snowbird lifestyle is right for us. In the meantime I am excited about moving in (we close in August) setting up the house and making it a home! I waited to post about the new place to make sure it would go through (you know, inspections and paperwork). I am sure there will be more posts and pictures to come once we take possession of the house.

Since today is our 27th Wedding Anniversary I decided that this would be the perfect time to talk about our new phase and life direction. Thank you for reading this far and sharing this special moment with me!

 

Half Marathon Training, Week 2 Update

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We finally made it back from Arizona yesterday. It took three days for a couple reasons. First of all, we didn’t want to come back and decided to spend one more night in AZ and went to the Arizona Biltmore Resort. You can check out this earlier post if you want to see why we were so eager to stay there.  We hung by the pool and drank too much, especially for the 3 mile run on Thursday! We spent one night in Las Vegas, Just because we could! Then we drove 11 hours to get to Boise, Idaho to visit some friends that we never see enough and had a great night with them. So, how did this effect our running schedule? Well, we ran the 3 miles Tuesday in Chandler, which was wonderful. It was sunny and warm enough to wear shorts and a tank top. Thursday we ran at the Biltmore which was in Scottsdale where the temperatures are really starting to heat up this time of the year. This was a tough run for me, as I mentioned before I had too much to drink the night prior and did not enjoy the hangover pounding in my head all the way to my feet!   But I still appreciated running in the sun. We were scheduled to run 5 miles on Saturday but had to defer that one until today because we were in the car for 8 hours yesterday, trying to get back to Seattle. So today’s run was colder, and really windy! I had a head wind at the turn around but I did manage to avoid the rain, that started later in the day. Mentally, it is tough to gear up for these colder runs when I was so spoiled for the last three weeks! I already miss Arizona but am determined to keep to the schedule, winter be damned!

Time to go rock climbing at Vertical World Redmond. Climbing at AZ on the Rocks was great, but we are really looking forward to the new routes and seeing old friends at our home gym.

March 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule

This is a blank and printable March Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar.com

February 2017 March 2017 April 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Feb 26

Week 1

  Feb 28

4 miles

1

 

2

3 miles

3

 

4

5 miles

5 week 2

 

6

 

7

3 miles

8

 

9

3 miles

10

 

11

5 miles

12 week 3

 

13

 

14

4 miles

15

 

16

4 miles

17

 

18

6 miles

19 week 4

 

20

 

21

4 miles

22

 

23

4 miles

24

 

25

6 miles

26 week 5

 

27

 

28

5miles

29

 

30

5miles

31

 

 
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I wil leave you with this image from the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas

Viva Las Vegas!

Week One Half Marathon Training, Done!

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Our first week went really well, how could it not? We have beautiful, sunny, warm Arizona weather to thank!

I ran on Tuesday morning for 4 miles here in Chandler. But my husband had to go to a conference in New York, so he ran his 4 in Central Park in the afternoon. He arrived back in AZ late Wednesday night so we were able to run together on Thursday (3miles) and today, Saturday, for the 5 mile, long run of the week. We also managed to get in some putting on the practice greens and rock climbing at AZ on the Rocks again.

Personally I hit a small milestone. I have been using the Nike running app to log my miles and started June  7th, 2016. Todays run put me over the 400 mile mark. Looking forward to 500! Maybe I will get a foot message to celebrate!

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Next week has me worried! The Tuesday run should be fine but we leave Arizona on Wednesday for the road trip back home. We are planning to return via a different route back to Seattle, maybe staying at the Arizona Biltmore one night (if you are wondering why we would stop so close to Chandler, then check out the pics here), then heading to Vegas for a day. I don’t know what weather or running opportunities will present to us, should be interesting!

 

March 2017 Half Marathon Training Schedule
This is a blank and printable March Calendar. Courtesy of WinCalendar.com

February 2017 March 2017 April 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
Feb 26

Week 1

  Feb 28

4 miles

1

 

2

3 miles

3

 

4

5 miles

5

week 2

 

6

 

7

3 miles

8

 

9

3 miles

10

 

11

5 miles

12

week 3

 

13

 

14

4 miles

15

 

16

4 miles

17

 

18

6 miles

19

week 4

 

20

 

21

4 miles

22

 

23

4 miles

24

 

25

6 miles

26

week 5

 

27

 

28

5miles

29

 

30

5miles

31

 

 

Baking Bread on the road with Jen

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I spent many years attempting to teach myself how to cook and bake. I did not come from one of those culinary families where recipes were handed down with care and everyone gathered around the table for special occasions. Ours was more of a “fend for yourself for meals and Pizza Hut is on speed dial” kind of clan. As a result, I didn’t learn my way around a kitchen until I had a family of my own. I read cookbooks, researched various cooking and baking techniques and watched a whole lot of Food Network programs!  Eventually I decided to attend culinary school, a few years ago, and I met some really great friends while honing my few skills. One such friend is Jen, a snowbird from Seattle who spends the first four months of the year in Scottsdale, Arizona. We both share a great love of bread baking and when I knew I’d be in Chandler for two weeks we made plans to spend time at her condo baking something! That something turned out to be hamburger buns she needed to feed a crew of people invading her condo for 10 days during spring training. So, I grabbed my camera and drove 40 minutes to Scottsdale and we dove in!

Just one word about this dough. I have posted bread recipes before and talked about lean doughs. This is the first bread formula that I have shared that is an enriched dough. Meaning that there is more than just flour, water, salt and yeast involved. Butter, eggs, milk power and sugar are included and these additions will make the final product tender and soft, while retaining its structure.  There is also the option to make white, wheat or a combination of both. We opted for 60% bread flour/40% wheat flour to give the rolls a nice texture and a nutty flavor (and slightly more nutritional value).

Another point worth mentioning is that this recipe is from a culinary text book, and they are written differently than standard cookbooks that are meant for home cooking. Times are not listed for fermenting, proofing or baking. As the reader is supposed to be a chef in training they are expected to just know when the dough is done with these processes. So, you will need to use your experience to guide you more than a set time. Additionally, weight is used as opposed to measurements and if you have not been using a scale for your bread baking I would urge you to try it out now, this is a very simple recipe and you will have greater success with that method.

We started by weighing out the bread and wheat flours, salt, milk powder, sugar and instant yeast and mixing to combine. Then we added the eggs, butter and temperature controlled water. This was mixed with a dough hook for 6-8 minutes until the dough was soft, tacky but not sticky.

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We transferred this to an oiled bowl, covered and allowed to double in volume. This took about 80 minutes in a kitchen in Arizona, next to a warm oven.

 

 

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After the dough had doubled it was punched down and portioned into 4.5 oz servings, shaped into rolls and flattened slightly to avoid the dinner roll, round shape. Remember we are looking for hamburger buns.

 

 

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8 rolls per pan, on a non stick silicon liner

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Use flour when flattening the rolls, the dough is a little sticky

The pans are covered and allowed to proof. You will know when they are ready to bake when you press the bun with a finger and it does not spring back. They get a final egg wash (we used 1 egg mixed with a little water to thin it) and sprinkled with sesame seeds.

The pans went into the oven at 350°F until they were the golden brown color we wanted. About 20 minutes in Jen’s oven.

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We had a great time visiting, walking around in the Arizona sun while the dough fermented and eating rolls! I hope you give these a try, they are great for sandwiches, they can hold up to your barbecue fillings and, of course, hamburgers!

Wheat Hamburger Buns               yield: 18   5 1/2 oz rolls

25.8 oz             Bread flour

17.2 oz              Whole Wheat flour

0.76 oz             Salt

2.66 oz             Milk Powder

3.32 oz             Sugar

0.44 oz             Instant Yeast

3.3 oz (two)     Eggs

3.32 oz              Butter, at room temp

26 to 28 oz      Water, 90-100°F

egg wash

sesame seeds, white or black, if using

 

Procedure

  1. Mix together four, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast in a 6-quart stand mixer.
  2. Add eggs, butter, water and mix with a paddle attachment unit the flour absorbes the liquid and the dough forms a ball. If dough looks stiff and dry, add more water until it looks soft and supple.
  3. Switch to the dough hook and mix 6-8 minutes. Dough should look soft and tacky but not sticky. Dough should clean the sides but stick a bit to the bottom of the mixing bowl.
  4. Ferment until double. Punch down and potion into rolls. Shape and push down the top slightly. Proof, then egg wash, sprinkle with seeds if desired.
  5. Bake at 350°F until golden brown. Cool completely before slicing.