After taking ten and a half weeks off for maternity leave, I
returned to work on October 11 with the realization that I still had ten
vacation days left to use by the end of the year. During open enrollment last
year, I had purchased an extra five vacation days without knowing that I would
end up on short-term disability for part of the year. Even after using five
days of vacation to extend my maternity leave, I still had ten days left to
schedule. So, what was I to do with all of this time off?
I decided that the best thing to do was to spread the vacation days out and
take some four-day weekends. It worked out that I would have three four-day
weekends in November and another three in December. Then, after I submitted my
vacation schedule, John scheduled the rest of his vacation time to correspond
with mine. Although he didn't take exactly the same days as me, we would still
have lots of time off together to do fun things...like go hiking!
The first of my four-day weekends began on November 3. John also had this day
off, so the two of us decided to go camping. Our plans changed when we decided
to invite Lori Ballard and her daughter Megan to join us. Since Lori couldn't
take Friday off, we would only be able to camp on Saturday and Sunday, so we
had to come up with something else to do on Friday - the obvious answer was to
go hiking, of course. John suggested that we do the
Ballentine Trail that day,
because it would be the perfect day hike...as long as it didn't rain on us!
Unfortunately, our plans changed again when rain was forecasted for the entire
weekend. We canceled our camping trip, which was very disappointing for all of
us, and we nearly canceled our Friday hike, too. Then, Thursday morning we
learned that rain was no longer in the forecast for Friday but that it was
going to rain all weekend and well into the following week. That meant that
our day hike was still on, but we weren't going camping during the weekend.
Although we weren't looking forward to sitting at home on Saturday and Sunday,
we were glad that we would be able to do at least one hike.
Our goal was to hike the Ballentine Trail to Boulder Flat and back, which
would make for an eight or nine mile day, as long as the weather held. Of
course, every time we have ever attempted to hike the Ballentine Trail
together, we would be hit by terrible weather. On Easter Sunday in 1999, while
hiking the Pine Creek Loop (which leaves from the Ballentine Trailhead), we
found ourselves hiking in a freak snowstorm. Then, on January 2, 2000, we only
managed to hike a couple of miles on the Ballentine Trail before the rain
became too much for us to handle - that, and I had terrible morning sickness!
However, in June 2000, John hiked the Ballentine Trail alone during his
vacation and had beautiful, sunny weather! So, with that in mind, the big
question of the day was, would we have rain or sun, clouds or snow?
We awoke at 6:00 a.m. Friday to a cloudy and cool morning...and I awoke with a
sore throat - I was coming down with a cold. Instead of staying home to nurse
my cold, I insisted that we go hiking anyway, so we gathered our hiking gear
and loaded it into the car. By 7:00 a.m., we were all ready to go. After our
obligatory stop at Einstein's for breakfast, John and Mary and I began our
drive to the Ballentine Trailhead.
We arrived at the trailhead just after 8:00 a.m., but we didn't start hiking
until 8:20 - of course, when taking baby along for the hike, it takes a little
longer to gear up because we have to put Mary in the Snugli. Since it was so
cool outside, we also had to bundle her up in a hat and a sweater and mittens
- we didn't want her to catch a cold! Once Mary was ready to go, John and I
put on our day packs and started hiking along the Pine Creek Loop Trail,
stopping first at the gate to share a trail kiss.
The first mile or so of our trip began on the Pine Creek Loop, which is an
easy trail that gently climbs towards the junction with the Ballentine Trail.
The trail parallels Pine Creek, which is usually dry. However, as we hiked
along, we were surprised to hear water running; and as we looked down at the
creek, we saw that it was flowing with water from all of the rain we had
gotten lately. What a wonderful site that was to see the creeks flowing again
after the incredible dry spell we had had!
As we began hiking, I started trying to come up with a title for the journal
entry - with a name like "Ballentine", there was a lot that I could do. I told
John that, if the clouds ever cleared up, I could call it "My Sunny Ballentine"
(a parody of the song "My Funny Valentine"). "Yeah, but it's not going to be
sunny today," he said. (And just moments after he said that, we heard thunder
rumbling in the distance!) After pondering for a while, John suggested that I
call it "Over the Shoulder Boulder Beholders", because we were going to
Boulder Flat, where we would behold many boulders. I laughed at the cleverness
of his pun and considered it.
It took us about a half an hour to reach the trail junction. That was where we
took our first break - not to rest, but to change Mary's diaper, which had
begun to leak. Once we had a dry and happy baby, we began our trek along the
By the time we began hiking along the Ballentine Trail, the threat of rain
seemed to diminish as the thunder stopped rumbling; however, it remained
cloudy all day long, so we remained wary of the weather. It also remained cool
for the entire day; little Mary's cheeks became uncomfortably cold, which made
her fussy for most of the trip to Boulder Flat. It wasn't until John covered
her head with a blanket that she settled down and went to sleep.
Despite those problems, we still had an enjoyable hike, and I found that,
without the rain, the Ballentine Trail is really wonderful after all. The
trail itself is not very difficult, even though there are a lot of uphill
climbs. Instead of one, long, trudging climb, though, there are a lot of
"stair-steps", where you have to step up. Also, after each uphill climb, the
trail would flatten out for a while, which helped me get back up to speed.
What made the hike even more pleasant was the scenery. One word best describes
this mountain range: boulders - and lots of them, in a vast variety of shapes
and sizes. There were huge, twenty-foot tall and five-foot wide rectangular
monoliths standing everywhere you looked, and next to them, there were piles
of round boulders, both large and small. Then, after cresting one of the
passes, we came to an area called "The Boulders", which is a huge mountain
that is literally covered with red boulders. I was completely amazed by its
beauty. As John and I stopped to take pictures, we both wondered what this
range would look like during sunrise, as the first rays of sun hits it in the
morning. It must be spectacular.
But the Ballentine Trail isn't just about boulders. Another interesting thing
that I found was the foliage along the trail - something I had missed the
first time I was there (I blame the rain). Just before we reached The
Boulders, we came to an area that was completely choked with chollas and
saguaros. They were everywhere, standing majestically among the boulders and
rocks. The chollas were lush and bright green, thanks to the recent rains.
Upon noticing it, I had to point it out to John because I thought it was a
very beautiful forest of cactus.
It was here that we began to follow Camp Creek, which, like Pine Creek, was
also flowing with rain water. At one point along the way, we could a
waterfall, and we looked to see water rushing down the hill from the canyon.
It was quite peaceful.
As we came to The Boulders, we began to follow a fence line for a while. On
the other side of the fence, I saw something so interesting that I had to stop
and take a picture. We called it the "four-fingered saguaro" - it was a
saguaro with four arms on top of it, all in a row, like a set of fingers. Not
exactly something you see everyday!
About a half a mile from Boulder Flat, there was a creek crossing - we had to
cross over one of the smaller creeks that dumps into Camp Creek. This, too,
was flowing with crisp, cool water. Soon thereafter, the trail began to climb
again, and after it crested a hill, it dropped into a valley of boulders.
There was a sign at the bottom that read "Boulder Flat". Since it was already
11:00 a.m., we decided to stop there and eat lunch; then, after Mary was fed
and diapered, we would turn around and return to the car.
We didn't linger in Boulder Flat for very long. While we rested, we looked at
the clouds overhead and noticed that there was rain in the distance, both to
the north and to the south. John suggested that, since most of the trail was
downhill on the way back, we should probably try to hike faster and take fewer
breaks, to ensure that we were back at the car before we were hit with any
rain showers that might be coming our way. "I think that's a good idea," I
Although it took us two and a half hours to reach Boulder Flat, it only took
us an hour and a half to return to the car. This is due to the fact that the
Ballentine Trail is not too steep, which makes traveling downhill much easier
- and that made it easier for us to hike at a quick pace. There were maybe two
or three sections of the trail that were steep and slippery enough that I had
to slow down and be careful, but those areas were short, and as soon as I
passed them, I was able to get back up to speed.
Another thing that made the return hike so easy for us was the fact that Mary
was asleep for most of it. Having had a half of a bottle of formula during our
lunch break, she was ready for a nap, so she slept for most of the hike.
Without her fussing, John was able to concentrate more on hiking and less on
It was a good thing that we made such good time on our return hike, because as
soon as we reached the trail junction (about a mile from the car), it started
to rain! Fortunately, it was a light rain, but it was rain
nonetheless! Once again, we had been cursed by bad weather on the Ballentine
Trail. John insisted that it was my fault, because the one time he had hiked
the trail alone, he had had beautiful weather.
With only a mile to go, John hiked quickly back to the car so that he could
get Mary out of the rain - he would meet me at the car (I would only be a few
minutes behind). Halfway back, though, the rain stopped, so John stopped and
waited for me. As soon as I caught up to him, he said, "I've got it - the
title for your journal. How about 'Park on the Shoulder Boulder Beholders'?"
(We had parked on the shoulder of State Route 87, and we beheld boulders.)
And that was when I decided on "My Punny Ballentine" - because John was being
We made it back to the car at 1:00 p.m., and we were home by 2:30; our
adventure for the day was over, and we had had a wonderful time. Although I
shouldn't have been out hiking with my cold (I managed to make it worse), I
was so glad that we had had the chance to hike the Ballentine Trail in better
weather and that I had finally seen The Boulders, which was something that I
As I said, though, it didn't come without a price. I was at home with that
cold all day Saturday. And wouldn't you know it! It didn't rain at all that
weekend! We had canceled the camping trip for nothing. A bit perturbed, John
and I stayed at home anyway and rented movies (including Willy Wonka and the
Chocolate Factory) to pass the time away.