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                                                 Day 04  - June 29 - Chania, Crete

                                                Helm's Deep
                                                Today was one of the highlights:  The Samaria Gorge.  This "cut" into the southwest Crete is known as one of the longest gorges
                                                in Europe, if not the longest.  Though not as grandiose as the Grand Canyon, it has it's own beauty and features.  Following the 
                                                trail is sepia tone upright walls of boulders and layers of stone from many ages.  Shots of color come everywhere with light red
                                                and white oleanders intermixed with low level purple scrub.
                                                This is a fun hike - one way from the starting point of 4,000+ feet above sea level to the actual sea level beach.  Total length is
                                                about 12 miles through the main national park area and another 2 miles to the beach and assortment of small hotels and travernas.
                                                Planning is required due to the logistics - Starting point is at the dead end of a main road with no roads coming the end of the trail.
                                                So, bus into the start and boat out at the end.   There are only 3 scheduled bus routes in the morning.  So, we selected our Chaina
                                                city hotel based on proximity of the main regional bus station - just 2 blocks away.  Purchased round trip tickets and departed from
                                                station at 08:30 AM.  Buses are modern, comfortable, and have sizable windows.
                                                After an hour and half, the bus completed the task of leaving north side sea level Chania and traversing the White Mountains to arrive
                                                at the trailhead.  A small warden station collects the entry fee (5 Euros) which includes a second receipt to be handed to the warden
                                                station at the end of the trail.  "And so it begins" the descent into this resemblance of Helm's Deep.
                                                Clambering through pine woods at the beginning, we started to arrive at dry river beds.  Somewhat of a "hop scotch" approach to 
                                                uses the larger boulders versus sinking in the smaller pebbles.   Rest areas (with WCs) are well laid out with most having natural 
                                                spring water spigots to refill water bottles.   
                                                Signs of previous dwellers started to appear - the very small St. Nicolas church located in a small cypress forest and then the actual
                                                town of Samaria.  When the Gorge became a National Park in 1962, all residents were relocated.  So, the town Samaria is mostly
                                                a ghostly remnant of it's past.  One or two buildings are maintained for the park wardens.  Ancient olive trees with gnarled bark
                                                showing it's years surrounded the town.
                                                One of the largest challenges with so much pine and cypress with endless dry periods is fire.  The majority of the trail has a main
                                                water line escorting it with hose connections at strategic locations.  Bright red fire extinguisher boxes were tossed along the trail.
                                                Additional back up included stone huts with bags of sand.  
                                                The end was near was when we reached the "Iron Gates" - the trail proceeds through a 9 foot wide opening flanked by 2,000 feet high
                                                walls.  Next 4 mile hike was end of the Park, through some snack shops, and finishing at a small beach side town.  We purchased our
                                                boat tickets and filled the 3 hour wait with a much appreciated lunch overlooking the beach.
                                                We arrived to Chora Sfakion - 1 1/2 hour long boat ride - in time for the return bus ride.  Our driver did not waste any time and an
                                                hour later, we were walking to the hotel.  Dinner was at another Harbor side restaurant .  The next two days was the infamous 
                                                "downhill hiking" leg soreness.  And so it ends.
                                                  Samaria Gorge Trail    Samaria Gorge Trail    Samaria Gorge Trail   Samaria Gorge Trail  
                                                      Samaria Gorge Trail        Samaria Gorge Trail - St. Nichols Church    Samaria Gorge Trail - St. Nichols Church
                                                Samaria Gorge Trail - Iron Gates    Samaria Gorge Trail    Samaria Gorge Trail     Samaria Gorge Trail    Samaria Gorge Trail

                                                            Samaria Gorge Trail - Samaria Village    Samaria Gorge Trail - Samaria Village    Samaria Gorge Trail

                                                                            Samaria Gorge Trail     Samaria Gorge Trail  - End of the Trail    Samaria Gorge Trail  - End of the Trail        



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