arizona

Havasu-pie for the eye!

It took 1,250 phone calls to get through, but I finally nailed a reservation on the third day. Then we just had to wait 5 months. The big day finally came and we all headed up. 4 guys in one car 4 girls in the other, probably wondering what the other group was talking about the whole time. Or maybe that was just me.

We had lunch in Flagstaff and drove through an apocalyptic swarm of beetles in the dark before reaching the trailhead. Setting camp was awkward, but we managed to MacGyvered hammocks between SUV roof rails and a hitching post. I woke before sunrise and gently roused the other sleepy heads. We made it to the village 7 miles later and confirmed our reservation. After half the group used the wifi to catch up on their snapchat game, we continued our trek to the campsites still 3 miles away.

Havasupai Falls poured into view on the way down, introducing us to the kind of beauty we were about to enjoy during the next 4 days.

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It was a weekday, July 4th and we arrived pretty early so we had a several great options to set up camp. We found one then I scouted ahead for a better one - which ended up being an incredible location with plenty of room for all our hammocks right on the river. Matt and I suspended our hammocks over the river - which was cool for the first night, but ultimately more of a nuisance.

The first day was just a lot of hanging out and exploring nearby Mooney Falls. On day two, we hiked down to Beaver Falls and I found a great place to do some cliff jumping! We explored more on day three by visiting 4 waterfalls. We spent some time at Havasu, Secret, Little Navajo and New Navajo jumping and swimming at each. Despite being the hottest time of the year, the weather was actually perfect for such cold water. It wasn't too hot at night and the canyon walls protected us from being in the sun all day.

During our stay, squirrels ate through several backpacks and meals. The fuckers even chewed through a string to drop two packs on the ground so they could get into them. Brilliant bastards.

We hiked out early on the final day to beat the heat, stopping at the village again for a select few... Despite the gravelly sandy terrain, we made it up much faster than we made it down. I still can't believe how much fun we had on that trip. We'll definitely be going again next year...

Going Out With A Bang

I couldn't live in the Grand Canyon State without hiking to the bottom for a night at Bright Angel Campground. I've had this trip and the last two planned before I decided to move so it feels a little bittersweet checking them off the list. If you're going to make that trek yourself, avoid camping near the summer solstice. The campground gets hot as fuck -- even at night.

We drove up a day early so we could sleep in, but an officer found us car camping around midnight and kicked us out. We relocated to a legal place just outside the park that he was nice enough to tell us about.

Morning on the forested rim was a chilly 45, but it was going to reach 110+ at the bottom that day. Alex, Liz, Jon and I started down South Kaibab Trail around 5:30am and had to ditch the jackets within an hour. The hike down is pretty ugly, but in a majestic sort of way. The canyon is massive and your view changes constantly as you weave through passes, switchbacks, people, mules and horses. After reaching Bright Angel Campground around 10am, we spent most of the day relaxing in the eponymous creek that runs through the campground. We explored Phantom Ranch a little, played cards and then jumped in the creek one last time before heading to bed wet so we could stay cool through the night.

The hike out was much prettier. Bright Angel Trail is gorgeous, mostly for being a lot less dead than South Kaibab Trail. I wasn't expecting a hike through wooded areas and creeks on the way up, but it was a pleasant and welcome surprise. The canyon walls protected us for most of the day and we soaked our clothes at every water station to keep cool. The trail gets pretty steep near the rim and the sun was doing its thing by that time so I started to sweat a little, but we made it to the top by 10:30am! I found some shade and waited for the others to catch up. We laughed and groaned about our sore muscles while enjoying the moment and our accomplishment. 18.4 miles and over 5,000 feet of gain/loss in two days. Not bad, baby!

I'd do it again in a heartbeat! What a great time and a great crew. Thanks for coming Alex, Liz, and Jon! You were a blast!

Returning to Chiricahua National Monument!

I went back to Chiricahua National Monument to see what it looked like without snow. It's definitely less magical, but still beautiful and unique. We ran into some angry forest rangers, but the trip was still super fun and I got to hang out with 4 new people and 1 that returned from the previous trip! All for about $15!

We hiked to a natural bridge the first day, swapped stories around the campfire and hiked a gorgeous and geologically diverse trail the next day. Despite the rude forest rangers a fire that burned down many of the trees, it's still a beautiful park and I would suggest it to anyone! Not many people know about it, so it isn't very crowded.

As the move to Oregon gets closer, I'll be looking to fill the remaining weekends with places I've have not yet been to here. Keep an eye for those last few events to fill in the current gaps!

Moving to Oregon

I've explored a lot of beautiful places in Arizona during the last 15 months, but I've felt the call to greener lands, or even grass at all, for a while now. Oregon seems like it would be perfect for my lifestyle and it's close to a lot of amazing places: Northern California, Washington, British Columbia and Alberta.

I haven't allowed a ton of time to find a new roommate which is easily the scariest part - not finding one, but replacing the one I have. I brag all the time about my living situation; my rent and place are amazing, but Nick is the real reason I love my home; he's my brother from another mother and I'll miss the hell out of him.

I'm not too worried about the job situation. I'm hoping for a transfer through my current employer or finding work as a waiter again, but that shouldn't be too difficult; I'm a good worker and have plenty of references.

My last posted adventure in Arizona is Havasu Falls from July 4th - 7th, so I'll be ready to move shortly after that.

Return to Fossil Creek Spring

I know I say this every time, but it's always true! This event has to be one of my favorites. We crammed 9 people into two cars and met up with 3 more at the trailhead. The hike down was filled with the usual mingling and sharing stories until we reached the waterfall almost two hours later.

To my relief, the water was much warmer than it was at Wet Beaver Creek last weekend. We jumped from the waterfall, swam into caves and through underwater tunnels. Joval, who has been to the last three events, brought a 90-foot slackline with him. He had the genius idea to set it up across the stream and hang our hammocks from it. Yeah... :D

I ran into a friend down there and met another guy who does what I do; we swapped info to combine forces on a future event! Even though I forgot my chest harness, goggles and scratched the shit out of my knuckles swimming out of the toilet bowl, the trip was still a total success! Until next time!!!

An Accidental Birthday Celebration

I didn't realize that I had planned this event on my birthday until it was too late - which was fine because I don't think I would have wanted to do anything else. Nearly 20 people showed up before it was all done, one whose birthday was the day after mine! Once again, they were all amazingly cheerful and interesting: real adventurers; they are the kind of people I've spent the last year searching for. Many of them will be leaving Arizona within the next few months, while others have only just arrived.

Rock climbers, outdoor enthusiasts, college students, world travelers and more gathered bright and early. Most of us had never met, but it's hard to NOT along with these kinds of people. The group condensed into fewer cars, then left the heat and population of Phoenix for cooler air and adventure. I spent the 2+ hour drive getting to know the 4 others in my car, then the 3+ mile hike doing the same as a group.

We spent most of the day jumping in, freezing, warming up, and repeating the process. I led a short little hike up the canopied stream, we relaxed, ate snacks and eventually hiked back. I'm pretty sure everyone left with a little sunburn and a great memory. :)

Our lives intersect in such curious ways. I don't believe in destiny or fate, but that doesn't make the process any less magical; if anything, it is only more fascinating.

I'm super excited for this week's trip to Fossil Springs and even more cliff jumping! Until next time, cheers.

Wave Cave: Get Pitted, So Pitted!

When a friend invites me for a day outside, well, I can hardly turn him down - can I? Wave Cave immediately came to mind; Aidan had never been and I wanted photos for a guide. We agreed and met up with Micah at the trailhead.

Unfortunately, Xaley is still getting used to bumpy car rides so I spent a few minutes cleaning up a large pile of partially digested dog food before we began the modest ascent to the cave. While we enjoyed the view and our snacks, Xaley played in the thick fluffy layer of dust just like Allarah did when I went last year.

Although the clouds weren't ideal for photography, they offered shade and perfect temperature so I'm not going to complain. Thanks for inviting me, Aidan!
 

P.S. Don't forget about this weekend! We're cliff jumping on Sunday at Wet Beaver Creek and it's my birthday! It's also someone else's birthday!!! Also, I'm going backpacking Friday and Saturday if anyone is free; I'll post the details tomorrow!

Happy Adventures,

Max

I Need Suggestions!

Calling all adventurers: I want to go backpacking this Friday and Saturday before the cliff jumping trip on Sunday (my birthday - and you're all invited!). I did a through-hike in the Superstitions two months ago; I'm considering an overnighter on Flat Iron, but I'd love to hear some suggestions from the locals! I'm actually still pretty new to the area; does anyone know some good 10-20 mile backpacking trails in Arizona?! :D

Fossil Creek: Biggest Meetup Yet!

The Meetup group is becoming more successful than I expected. Seven people attended the second event I posted there - which is about the number of new people I met after posting events on the Facebook page for an entire year. I think we can call that a success. I don't have a clue what this means for the future, but I'm ready to enjoy the ride!

Fossil Creek Waterfall (Trail) was the second event posted on Meetup; eleven people (and three dogs) showed up for a gorgeous day of cliff diving in great company. It was awesome to meet so many cool new people. Driving home, I told Andrew, "I don't think there was a single person that wasn't just cool as fuck." That group set the bar pretty high for future events, but I'm excited to see where things go from here.

I'll probably go to Fossil Creek again this year - despite the permit system that goes live in May, but if you would like to plan your own trip, check out my guide.

Montrose Pools and Meetup

I created the Meetup group on a whim - not stopping to think until I reached the payment screen. I had been there before, a year ago, when Max Level Adventures was just beginning. I was afraid again, afraid it would be a waste of money, energy and time, but I've learned to consume fear since then, instead of letting it consume me. So I signed up.

The truth is that I don't really know why I do any of this. I genuinely enjoy doing things alone or with few people. It's a lot less stress: I can modify plans, cancel, reschedule, take my time or pick up the pace. I do enjoy meeting new people, but I think the real reason I do anything is because I have a natural desire to create. Before Max Level Adventures, I played video games that required or allowed for creative play. I'm currently writing a fantasy novel. I went to school for art and game design. Life just feels empty when I'm not creating.

As usual, my fear was unfounded. I copied over events from the facebook group and watched as the RSVP's rolled in. I had 200 members within a week! As the first event on Meetup, the hike to Montrose Pools was fairly short notice. Only one person signed up, but even that was more than I was expecting. My friend, Eric, came too and we met Rebecca at the trailhead.

The trail itself wasn't too long or difficult; it rose steadily along the valley slope, occasionally managing the elevation change with switchbacks. Various cloud types broke up the blue sky, casting shadows on rolling hills of muted green scattered with several blooming species of desert plant. It was a beautiful day to meet someone new and share experiences while making a new one.

Until next time, happy adventures!

-Max-

Fossil Creek, Here We Come!

This is shaping up to be the first big event of the year! Paying to start a group on MeetUp brought 19 people to sign up that wouldn't have otherwise! That's probably more than any group I've ever had before - even before including the 7 people that signed up on facebook. I'm sure some people will bail before the final date, but I'm just excited to meet some new people!

I'm going to focus cinematic shots with the GoPro and some pictures for content production. I have some cool ideas for another video and the guide for this trip could use some better photos.

I'm not excited about the temperature of the water, but what can you do except enjoy the adrenaline and scenery! :D

An Unintentional 1st Anniversary Celebration!

I was already home from hiking Flat Iron with an awesome group before I realized it was the 1st Anniversary of Max Level Adventures. Hiking Flat Iron was also the very first event I hosted. It was a perfect accident. The hike was challenging and beautiful, but my favorite moment was being dared to strip down at the top and pose for Mother Nature - and I'm not one to shy from such a challenge...

From the Peak of Flat Iron

It was fun returning to one of my favorite places while leading several people up for their first time! The turnout was great; 10 people showed up to help kick off another year of amazing adventures that will be even bigger, better and more frequent than the last! I will absolutely be returning here so don't miss out next time if you couldn't make this trip! There are also a bunch of new events posted on the facebook page so be sure to check those out.

Interested in planning your own trip there? Check out my guide.

Chiricahua: Arizona's Secret Beauty

As drives go, it wasn't a bad one: Chiricahua National monument is just three and a half hours southeast of Phoenix - 40 miles from the border. It was a bit bland on the approach; there are no major towns, just fields with softly rolling hills that blanket everything west of the mountains. A winding road leads you from the park entrance at the foot of the range into the steep slopes and tall alien-like spires. I was fortunate to arrive the day after a nice snowfall. I left Xaley in the car to get a map from the visitor center. The nice lady at the desk suggested a 3.6 mile loop based on the daylight left. It was a good suggestion... Xaley kept up without issue, despite the snow. In fact, she loved it! The hike became more beautiful as we hiked. A stunning view from one of the higher points in the park turned into a well-maintained path on the side of a steep slope with killer views of the countless unusual rock formations. The path wound slowly downward, providing views of itself beyond the switchbacks ahead. Then I entered "Echo Canyon". The echos weren't that great.

After ascending the switchbacks out of the canyon, we reached my favorite section of trail. The tall spires we had been admiring from a distance became obstacles. The carefully planned path wound through the amazing formations with grace. Remember, it had snowed the day before. Everything in shadow was freshly blanketed in snow and ice while the sun had already melted anything it could touch. This created a truly beautiful contrast that can't be fully appreciated in photographs.

Xaley and I finished the hike as the sun set behind us. It was a perfect end to another perfect day.

Happy adventures!

Grand Canyon, indeed.

I've lived in Arizona nearly 5 years before visiting the state's geological claim to fame. I generally avoid popular destinations as I find crowds distracting. However, like many other popular national parks I've visited, it is popular for a reason. We only had an afternoon to spend, but those few hours were enough to convince me I should get an overnight pass and return asap. We snapped a few pictures from the South Rim before hiking a mile down the South Kaibab trail. It was a beautifully maintained path with incomparable views and, despite my initial reservations, I could only wish I had more time.

As soon as I get my pass, I'll be hiking the 20 miles in and out of the world-famous canyon! I plan to descend the South Kaibab trail and ascend the Bright Angel trail.

If you haven't been, go! It's incredible! There are also some really cool places within a few hours if you have some extra time to spare. Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly are all fairly close and definitely worth checking out.

Happy adventures!

 

Camping at Elephant Arch

I guess, in a way, I'm spreading the word about another amazing place to check out! It's a wonderful side-effect of my tales and explorations. I found about this little hidden gem of the Superstition Mountains on Instagram. I wish I could recall the name of the account; I would give them credit for the inspiration. I was looking to increase my experience with my camera, so I planned an overnight stay to practice my night, sunrise and basic captures. I was joined by two good friends for the trip.

I didn't return from photographing in Sedona until 4, so it we had no daylight by the time we reached the coordinates I had for the arch. It was on a dirt road in the middle of nowhere with no trail to the arch. After navigating various cacti species and steep rocky terrain, I spotted the arch 50 meters away.

We found a spot to set up the tent, so we went back to the car, grabbed our packs and hiked back up. There were so many cacti, that I had to carry Xaley in my jacket until we reached the arch. Eventually, we got everything set up, ate and spent the next hour or two just taking photos and enjoying nature.

Night Photography at Elephant Arch, Superstition Mountains, Arizona

We woke before sunrise and took photos until well after sunrise. We ate breakfast before packing up and heading back home. Overall, this has to be one of my favorite trips. I feel like I say that about every adventure, but I guess that just means I've having a good time.

Tomorrow I leave for 5 days. We're bringing the bikes and climbing gear to hit Joshua Tree NP, Death Valley and Red Rock Canyon! So pumped! I still have another batch of photos I took at Chiricahuah the day after Elephant Arch. I'll get those up when I return!

Happy adventures!

Doing Touristy Things in Sedona

I met up with a new face through the facebook page and headed north into Sedona. My goal this trip was to check two places off my list. They're pretty touristy, but Devil's Bridge and Red Rock Crossing still deserved a visit. First stop: Devil's Bridge. It was a nice day, despite being early December. When we arrived around 10AM, the main parking lot was already near capacity. You can take a dirt road to the trailhead, but I didn't risk it in my 2WD SUV. From the main parking lot, it was a 3.6 mile round-trip hike over mostly flat/easy terrain. My 3-month old puppy made it there and back without an issue! Despite the crowd, the bridge was quite pretty with some fascination rock formations around it.

Second stop: Red Rock Crossing. It cost $10 to enter the park and, like the rock bridge, it was also fairly crowded without too much to do. We walked along the footpath running parallel Oak Creek. The park has a great view of Cathedral Rock and some interesting rock cairn gardens. I will probably go back in the Spring just for some better pictures.

Afterwards, we returned home and I packed up for an overnight camp with some friends at Elephant Arch. That post is coming soon!

Happy Adventures!

Rock Climbing at Camelback

It's 8 am on Sunday morning; I'm searching for a harness and climbing shoes when I send a text my friend who gets a discount on this stuff. He calls me 10 seconds later and says, "we're about to go rock climbing; I'm coming to pick you up." Not a bad way to start a day. It has taken nearly a year, but I've managed to surround myself with others who truly love adventure - almost as much as I do. That's an amazing feeling. After the three of us stopped at REI for a few things, including a map of routes, we met up with a fourth for a beautiful winter day at Camelback Mountain. We headed for the Praying Monk based on a few tips and set to it! It was my first time sport climbing, so I was a little nervous about untying my rope 30 meters up to thread it through the bolt, but I didn't drop the rope and made it back down alive!

The last part especially opened me up to the excitement of rock climbing and I can't wait to climb some more this weekend!

Happy Adventures!

Touring the Apache Trail

Not every adventure needs to wear you out or empty your pocket. Sometimes it's nice to just fold the Jeep's top back and spend the day exploring dirt roads. I joined a couple friends for a tour of the Apache Trail (aka SR 88) that runs along the Salt River lakes. The initial plan was to turn back at Tortilla Flats, but we decided to keep going all the way to Roosevelt Dam. As usual, it was much cooler than expected. We happened upon a couple sights we did not expect... 4x4 is not required for this trip, but the pavement does turn to loose dirt a few miles east of Tortilla Flats, so it helps. Happy adventures!

Photoshop Workflow

I am by no means a professional (yet). I've only had my camera for 2 months, but I've learned a lot in that time and it's all credit to passion and consistency. Unfortunately, I don't edit most of my photos to the level they deserve. Most just get blanket adjustments because I'm editing 50+ photos at a time, but practice has made me more efficient, so I can do more in less time. Test

This example is why you should always shoot in RAW. The files are huge, but you get some much more to work with. I gave the details a little more attention here, but it still didn't take that long to edit. I've also stitched a few panoramas now and will be experimenting with HDR when I start on the most recent shoot from Elephant Arch in the Superstitions.

For this image, I imported the photo using Photoshop Camera RAW, applying auto adjustments, then slightly tweaking each one. Then I add levels, brightness/contrast and vibrance layers. I tweak each one, sometimes adding layer masks to target specific areas. I will usually add a color balance layer as well. Then I duplicate the background and apply shadows/highlights, auto color and/or auto tone to the copy(ies) so that the base layer is untouched. Finally, I play around with the opacity of each layer until I get a look that I like - adding layer masks if needed.

I learn something new with almost every batch of photos, so my workflow constantly evolves! Experiment and don't be afraid to use google if you get stumped! There's a tutorial for everything these days!