With Mary’s fourth birthday fast approaching, it was time for me to start thinking about getting her birthday portraits done. It had been an annual tradition for me to take Mary to someplace like Kiddie Kandids or Sears to have a portrait sitting done, and I would then purchase the pictures in order to send them out to our friends and family.
I wanted to do her portraits during the weekend before her birthday – either on July 31 or on August 1 – in order to have them done before her birthday party. We had nothing going on that weekend, so I figured that I would send John off to the Drop Zone in order to have the day to spend at the photography studio.
John, on the other hand, was completely opposed to the idea. “No, no, no!” he said. “We have a perfectly good digital camera. Why don’t we take her camping and do the pictures ourselves?”
The more I thought about the idea, the more excited I became about it. It was true that we had a really good digital camera and that we could get some awesome pictures of Mary on it. And there were so many places for us to go to get beautiful – natural – backgrounds. The best part of all is that it would be cheaper, too! We would not have to pay a sitting fee, and we could have the pictures printed through Shutterfly.com, in any size that we wanted, for a very small fee.
So, it was settled: during the weekend of July 31, we would take Mary camping and do her birthday portraits out in the wild. John selected Flagstaff as the destination for our camping trip, as he had fallen in love with the area east of US 180, north of town. We had camped there during our anniversary weekend only a few weeks before, and we were impressed by the vast groves of aspens and the gigantic meadows that covered the area at the base of Humphreys. It would be the perfect place for us to take Mary’s pictures.
We decided to leave on Friday night, rather than Saturday morning, to maximize our time up north. That meant, of course, that I had to have everything ready on Thursday night, while John was in school. In addition to packing the normal stuff, I also had to select and pack several outfits for Mary to wear during her photo shoot, including her birthday dress and a couple of other nice ensembles. I put these all into a garment bag in order to keep them clean and unwrinkled.
Friday evening, John and I both left work at 3:30 p.m. John picked Mary up from pre-school and met up with me at home. We still had a few last minutes details to take care of (for example, I had to change clothes!), so we weren’t able to leave until about 4:30 p.m.
Traffic was terrible on the way out of town. We tried to take SR 51 to the Loop 101 to the I-17 north, but a roll-over accident on the westbound 101 had that freeway backed up all the way to Union Hills on the SR 51. Needless to say, we weren’t willing to stick around for it, so we bailed onto the eastbound 101, took the Tatum exit, and followed that all the way to the Carefree Highway. Although it was a much longer way to go, I’ll bet that we probably made better time getting to the I-17 that way!
We made our usual stop in Camp Verde to use the facilities and to get dinner as well. Dinner consisted of Subway sandwiches, which we ate on the road, so as not to arrive at camp too late.
We arrived in Flagstaff around 6:30 p.m. and drove straight through town without stopping – the sun was getting lower in the sky, meaning that we were losing precious daylight hours. (We didn’t want to set up camp in the dark!) We made good time going through town, despite the evening rush hour, and we made even better time on US 180 going north out of Flagstaff.
We chose FR 794 as our destination, as that was where we had camped during our anniversary trip. FR 794, located on the east side of US 180, wound through beautiful, aspen-lined forest land and eventually intersected with FR 151, better known as Hart Prairie Road.
There were many, many beautiful campsites to choose from along FR 794; during our anniversary trip, we camped along FR 9624L (or something like that…). This time, we found a very nice campsite off of an unmarked forest road, only about a quarter of a mile down the road. The site was not only grassy, meaning that there wouldn’t be a whole lot of mud, but someone had also left us plenty of firewood, enough for both nights and both mornings.
We set up camp quickly and finished just in time for sunset, at which time John started up the campfire. We let Mary stay up a little bit to play, but at 8:30, it was time for her to go to bed. John put her to sleep in her own tent, right next to ours, and she fell asleep almost immediately. The two of us sat up for another hour before we, too, crawled into our tent and said good night.
John awoke bright and early the next morning and went on an early morning walk through the forest. He returned at the same time that I decided to get out of bed and start the day. The two of us sat down and had breakfast next to the campfire, while we let Mary continue to sleep.
We woke her up around 7:00 a.m., after we decided that she had slept long enough. Once she had had her breakfast – and once it was warm enough outside – we put Mary into our tent and dressed her up in the first of the two dresses that we had brought along for her photo shoot. Then, we brought her out of the tent and set her down on a tree trunk.
And what did Mary do? She did something that she had never done before during any of her photo sittings: she cried. She just did not feel like being photographed that day. Although we did manage to get a few pictures of her in the Easter dress, it was obvious from the pictures that we took that she was just not in the mood.
Her attitude changed a bit when we put her into her Birthday dress – a blue gingham dress with tulle ruffles on the front. This time, we put her onto a fallen log, in front of a backdrop of aspen trees, and we let her hold her Dorothy the Dinosaur doll. We snapped about ten pictures of her, from which there were two pictures that we would select for our portrait package.
We let Mary run around camp for a little while, and during that time, John snapped a few more random pictures of Mary. One of those pictures was so nice that we chose that one as well for the package.
At that point, Mary was done taking pictures, and she wanted to do something else. “Okay, let’s go hiking,” John suggested, so I took her into the tent and put her into clean hiking clothes and hiking boots, too. Then, we put her into the Jeep and drove away.
John had already chosen a hike for us to do that day: he wanted to hike to Lew’s Meadow, along the Lew’s Tank Trail. He had read about this hike in a book called Flagstaff Hikes (by Richard and Sherry Magnum), and it sounded like a nice adventure. John had become enamored by the area during our last visit, when we had hiked the Bismark Lake Trail, and he wanted to explore more of it.
The Lew’s Tank Trail begins at the Bismark Lake Elk Preserve Trailhead, located off of FR 627, which is off of FR 151, Hart Prairie Road. The first mile of the trail follows along the Bismark Lake Trail then forks off to the right at the trail junction, a quarter of a mile from Bismark Lake. The trail description that John read stated that the trail would end up in a meadow, just within the boundaries of the Kachina Wilderness Area.
To get to the trailhead from our campsite, we took FR 794 east until it ended at FR 151. There, we turned left and continued north until we came to the turn-off for the trailhead (FR 627), on the right hand side of the road, just below Hart Prairie. The road was marked with trail signs, so we knew that was the right place. From the turn-off, it was only about eight-tenths of a mile to the trailhead.
We parked the Jeep at the trailhead parking, next to the wooden fence that bordered on the Elk Preserve. There were already a couple of vehicles parked there, too, which meant that we would not have the trail to ourselves as we had a few weeks before. Fortunately, it was only a couple of vehicles, and not a whole throng of them, so it wasn’t as though the trail was going to be insanely crowded.
We got our gear together then began hiking the trail. For the first half-mile, we hiked together as a family, although Mary lagged behind several times to pick flowers for her Dorothy the Dinosaur. During the next half-mile, John took off and hiked by himself through the forest, off of the trail, while Mary and I stayed on the trail and started the climb up to the meadow at the trail junction. Mary, however, was very upset that Daddy had left us and refused to hike any longer. I kept hiking, and seconds later, she chased after me, screaming, “Wait for me!”
She was joyous when we met up with him again, at the top of the hill, just shy of the trail junction. We found John sitting on a rock, waiting for us. Mary jumped into his lap and clung to him, so while she was distracted, it was my turn to hike ahead.
I got to the trail junction and began to hike along the right fork, the Lews Tank Trail. Mary and John followed about a hundred yards behind me – she could still see me, and that motivated her to keep hiking. Then she fell down, probably after stepping in one of the animal holes along the side of the trail, and that made her cry. At that point, it was time for us to take a break.
Mary sat down on a rock, her Dorothy the Dinosaur next to her, and within minutes her mood improved. She was soon smiling again, and I couldn’t help but notice what a beautiful picture that would make: a laughing, happy girl, dressed in hiking clothes, against the meadow at Bismark Lake, with Kendrick Peak in the background. I took just one picture, and it turned out to be my favorite picture of the bunch – another nice portrait to add to the package.
We hiked on along the Lew’s Tank Trail, as it twisted through small meadows and through the pines and aspens. At one point, we got off of the trail and followed a game trail for about a hundred feet until it dead-ended, so we had to hike cross-country until we found our way back to the correct path.
The trail went on for another mile like that, all the while climbing gradually towards the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area. Just before coming into the wilderness area, the trail became steep and rocky, eventually coming out onto a huge mountain meadow – Lew’s Meadow, our destination.
This was one of those times when John said to me, “I try to take you to pretty places!” Lew’s Meadow was truly one of those places. Located at an elevation of about 9,000 feet, on the flanks of the San Francisco Peaks, this vast meadow was a nice treasure for us to find.
We sat down under a tree, next to the meadow, and ate our snacks while we enjoyed the serenity of our surroundings. John also spent a few minutes hiking to the edge of the meadow, to see what was on the other side. Then, after he returned, we decided that it was time to head back to the trailhead.
The hike back was an interesting one, as John and Mary and I had a race to see who could make it back to the trail junction first. With Mary on his shoulders, John took off through the trees, announcing that he would be taking a shortcut back to the Jeep. I, on the other hand, stuck to the trail, hiking at a fast clip, hoping to beat him there.
And the winner was…me, of course! As I came onto the final stretch, I couldn’t see them anywhere, so I hiked as fast as I could through the meadow to the trail junction. Suddenly, I could hear laughter coming from the trees at the edge of the meadow, so I knew that they weren’t far behind. Just about 100 feet from the trail junction, I saw John, with Mary still on his shoulders, break out of the trees and start across the meadow towards the trail. He made it to the junction only minutes after me – that must have been some shortcut!
We hiked together from that point, all the way back to the trailhead. Mary insisted on being the line-leader, as she wanted to be the first one back at the Jeep – that would make her the winner. It was a fierce battle between John and Mary, but she was the first one to touch the Jeep, and that meant that she was the winner.
Having completed the four-mile trail (round trip), John and Mary and I got back into the Jeep and left the trailhead. Before returning to camp, though, we took a short drive along FR 151, because John was looking for another trail that he had read about in the Flagstaff Hikes book. Although we did find the trailhead, we would have the save that hike for another day, because Mary just was not in the mood for another hike. It was getting awfully close to her naptime.
We returned to camp a while later and prepared sandwiches and fruit for lunch. While we ate our lunch, we turned on the radio in the Jeep so that we could hear the latest sports news; we were curious if Randy Johnson was going to be traded to the New York Yankees, or if he would remain a Diamondback for the season. We also tried to get Mary to take a nap in her tent, but we were unsuccessful at that.
Around 1:30 p.m., we decided that it was time to head into town to restock our supply of ice and to get gas in the Jeep. (We were also hoping that Mary would fall asleep if we gave her a ride in the Jeep – it doesn’t work like it used to, but we were hopeful!) Unfortunately, we hit a little snag: the Jeep wouldn’t start!
Now, it was true that we had been listening to the radio for a while, but John had turned on the Jeep right after that to make sure that he had not drained the battery. Oddly, we had dome lights, and the alarm was working each time we tried to start the Jeep. It also did not sound like the battery was dying; instead, it made a lovely clicking noise that made us think that something else was wrong with it. We could not figure out what was wrong, but we did know that we were stuck there until we could either get the Jeep running again, or we could get someone to help us.
After trying unsuccessfully for about thirty minutes to get the Jeep started, John finally decided to walk down to the main road (FR 794) to see if he could flag someone down. It only took him a few minutes to catch the attention of a couple of people riding an ATC down the road. They took John back to camp and told him that they would be back in a few minutes with their truck to help give us a jump-start. With that, they left us there and rode back to their campsite, about a quarter of a mile away.
And wouldn’t you know it? Right after they left, the Jeep started up again!
It didn’t start right up, but after a couple of attempts, we got the engine to turn over. John jumped right into the driver’s seat and got the Jeep rolling, because if it was the battery, he needed to get it charged again.
We met up with our would-be helpers on our way down FR 794, going towards US 180. They were surprised to see that we had gotten our Jeep running again, and they wished us luck as we left them to finish up their day of riding.
The Jeep did stall out on us once along FR 794, about a mile from US 180, but John managed to get it started again before it stopped rolling. It never stalled out again after that. As soon as we were back on the pavement, the Jeep was back to normal once again.
We stopped at the Love’s Country Store, on the outskirts of Flagstaff, where we bought supplies and filled up our gas tank. We also grabbed an adult beverage to consume that evening with dinner, because after that ordeal, we felt that we deserved it.
It was raining heavily when we left Flagstaff again. Rather than return to camp, where we would be soaked and muddy, we decided that we would take a drive instead – something to kill the time before dinner. We drove all the way up to the Humphreys Trailhead, along the Snowbowl Highway, and stopped to take in the views beyond the San Francisco Peaks. (We also watched the wet and soggy people coming off of the Humphreys Trail – I don’t think that I would want to be up there during a storm!)
After that, we headed back to camp. It was still drizzling a little bit when we got there, so we set up a tarp between the Jeep and the trees so that we would have a dry place to cook dinner. While John cooked our dinner under the tarp, the rain finally stopped, and we were able to eat our dinner out in the open, next to the campfire.
We spent the rest of the evening at camp, watching the campfire burn and playing games with Mary. Around 8:00 p.m., we put Mary to bed in her tent, where she fell asleep quickly, tired from the long, active day. We followed her about an hour later, once we could no longer keep our eyes open.
The next morning, John woke up early again, so that he could go on his early morning hike. Mary and I slept in until he returned. When he did, he told us all about his walk and the things that he had seen, and we listened as we ate our breakfast next to the warm campfire.
Once the sun was up and it was warm enough outside, we all got dressed, and then John suggested that we go for a walk along the forest road - a little something to get our blood circulating and our limbs warmed up for the day hike that we would take later. Mary needed a little bit of motivating to get her to hike, but John came up with a plan: he brought along a Frisbee, and we made a game of tossing it about and fetching it. Mary loved playing that game, and we got her to hike a whole three quarters of a mile.
Our walk brought us all the way over to FR 9624L, where we had camped only two weeks ago. As we approached, we noticed that there were other people camped there. To keep from disturbing them, we decided to hike cross-country through the forest back to our campsite, to complete the loop.
As soon as we returned our campsite, we proceeded to tear down camp. The plan was to break camp early, so that we would have time to hike the Veit Springs Trail before going home. And since we are so efficient now, we had everything packed and ready to go by 8:00 a.m., giving us plenty of time for our hike.
We left our campsite shortly after 8:00 a.m. and drove back to Snowbowl Road, where we would find the Veit Springs Trailhead, 4.5 miles up the road. There was a small parking area there that was almost full. We were fortunate to arrive just as someone else was leaving, so we took his parking space.
The Veit Springs Trail is a 1.5 mile long trail that goes to an old cabin site, then loops back around to the trailhead. The cabin was built by Ludwig Veit, who lived there in 1892. According to the Flagstaff Hikes book, we would find the remains of Veit’s cabin, as well as a pond and an old stone shed. We would also find a tribute to Lamar Haines, a Flagstaff outdoorsman, as well as some petroglyphs. This trail was rated as a good trail to do with children by the book entitled Best Hikes with Children in Arizona, so we thought that it would be something that Mary would enjoy hiking.
After gearing up for our hike, we went through the gate at the trailhead and stepped onto the Veit Springs Trail. The trail began with a slight climb uphill that Mary accomplished by playing catch with a Frisbee. (It took her mind off of the uphill grade.) It then quickly descended into a small meadow, at the end of which, we found the trail junction. We didn’t know which way was the best way to go, so we took the left fork, knowing that it really didn’t matter anyway, as both routes ended up in the same place.
The trail traipsed through the beautiful forest for a while, but soon, it began to follow the power lines – something we don’t really like to see during our hikes. We continued playing Frisbee during that part of the hike, and that sort of took our mind off of them.
At the three-quarter mile mark, we finally came to the destination of our hike: the cabin at Veit Springs. There, next to a gigantic boulder, into which the name Ludwig Veit was carved, were the remains of Veit’s cabin. The cabin had been cut down so that it was roughly five feet tall; the doorway was only three feet tall, barely big enough for Mary to enter it. It was certainly not safe for her to go inside of the cabin, but I took a picture of her in front of it, for perspective.
About fifty feet away, we found the pond that had been described in the book. It was, in fact, more like a well, stored inside of a small stone house. Nearby, we found the shed, where it had been built into the wall of the cliff, where it was surrounded by gigantic boulders that hid it from view.
A few hundred yards from the homestead of Ludwig Veit, we found the plaque dedicated to Lamar Haines (1927-86), a conservationist who studied the wildlife in and around Flagstaff. We did not, however, find the petroglyphs, so we gave up and continued hiking down the trail.
The last .75 miles of the trail followed along a fence line that was the border to the Kachina Peaks Wilderness Area – I did not realize that the wilderness reached that far down the mountain, but John explained that Snow Bowl Road cherry-stemmed the wilderness area. We followed that fence line all the way back to the trail junction, two-tenths of a mile from the trailhead.
We arrived back at the trailhead around 10:30 a.m., completing the 1.5 mile long trail in just over an hour. And we finished just in time, too, for the trailhead was now full of cars. There were several families, most of them with small children and jogging strollers, getting ready to hike the trail. It was going to get very crowded there, so we were glad to be leaving the area.
We headed back into Flagstaff, where we stopped at the Popular on Milton Avenue to price camp chairs. Our old blue folding chairs were on their last legs and needed to be replaced - after all, we had had them for six years now, and they had been used a lot. Our intention was that we would only price the chairs, but when we found that the chairs that we wanted - the directors style chairs, with cup holders built into the arms - were only $10, we bought three.
After loading our new chairs into the Jeep, we stopped for lunch at one very crowded Quizno’s. Then, taking our lunch to go, we merged onto I-17 and drove south, towards Phoenix.
When we got home, we downloaded the pictures that we had taken and selected the four best shots to have printed. Those pictures were the best birthday portraits ever taken of Mary, and I think that, from now on, that is how we will do all of Mary’s portraits! After all, we had real backgrounds (something we could never get at a photo studio), and we got to have an adventure, too! What more could we ask for?
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