Friday, May 29, 2009

Moab Mountain Biking: Slickrock Trail

Biking the Slickrock Trail was the main thing I was looking forward to on my first Mountain Biking Roadtrip to Moab. Soon after checking in, Big Ed and I got the bikes out and pedaled to downtown Moab to seek info as to how to find the Slickrock Trail. This info was very easy to come by. Apparently it is the most frequent question asked of locals. You can also easily get directions and all sorts of other information at the Moab Visitors Center.

We learned it was possible to bike up to the Slickrock Trail, but that wasn't recommended. Better to drive up the steep, heavily trafficked road to the Sand Flats Recreation Area where the Slickrock Trail is located. We decided to wait til the next day to hit the trail. Instead we biked all over Moab.

By the time we got back to the Super 8 some of the others in our biking group had arrived. The rest of the Mudsluts were staying at a campground south of Moab. I explain who the Mudsluts are and why they are called that in the story of the Porcupine Rim Ride.

The next day Jack, the self-appointed Mudsluts Leader, had scheduled an early morning ride up the Poison Spider Mesa Trail. The early morning thing had me opting out. So, Big Ed and I headed up to the Slickrock Trail after breakfast. It was easy to find the road that takes you up to Sand Flats. It's a paved switchbacking road going up the canyon's walls. Part way up you go by a very steep rock formation called the Lion's Back. There were a lot of Jeef Safari Week Jeepers doing their jeep thing on the Lion's Back.

You come to a paybooth where you pay $5 per vehicle, good for 3 days. In a couple more miles you come to the Slickrock parking lot and trailhead. It's a big parking lot with a lot of vehicles. Not surprising, since the Slickrock Trail may be the most famous mountain bike trail in the whole mountain bike world.

We got out the bikes. I got out my camera. My camera's battery was dead. Big Ed got on his bike. Both tires were completely flat. Loaded back up and headed back to Moab. Found a bikeshop, not a difficult task in Moab, left Ed's bike to get fixed, then went to find a battery. Half hour later back at the bikeshop, with Ed's bike having 2 new tubes. We learned he'd ridden over something called goatheads, that had punctured his tubes. Later on this trip, in Torrey, Utah, I was to have the same thing happen. Goatheads are a curse in the mountain biking world.

Got back to the Slickrock Trail, again, unloaded, again, and took off towards the trail. The trail is indicated by markings painted on the slickrock. White dashes point the way. Yellow indicates you need to be careful. Trail intersections are clearly marked.

I was not liking it at first. I somehow thought it would be real smooth. It wasn't. And it was hard work. A short distance in you come to the first intersection. The Slickrock Trail goes one direction, the Practice Loop goes another to make about a 2 mile loop.

I figured the Practice Loop was the way to go. I figured it'd be easier and a good way to get used to biking on this type terrain. I was really hating it at first. It was being way too steep, both up and down. I thought if this is the easy trail what sort of living hell is the real deal?

And then, about a quarter mile in, I suddenly got how it worked. The sandstone 'slickrock' gives you incredible traction and control. The tires don't slip easily on steep parts, you keep applying pressure and you keep moving. A half mile in, or so, I was going like a maniac, fast down the steep parts, fast up the steep parts.

It took around 2 hours to do the 2 mile Practice Loop. Then it was back to the Super 8 and lunch. After Jack and the Mudsluts got back from Poison Spider Mesa we all went out to Rio's for an early dinner. Then everyone, but Lulu, went back to the Slickrock Trail to ride the real deal.

Soon after we passed the Practice Loop turnoff the trail got way tougher than anything on the Practice Loop. You come to a point with yellow markings indicating trouble, made even clearer with "Caution" and "Danger" written on the slickrock. When I saw what the danger was I was not pleased.

The "Danger" came from a very narrow section with a very steep dropoff, traversing a slickrock dune. You have to make 3 tight turns on the descent. At one point it is so scary bikers usually let out a yell or scream. A photographer sits at the panic point and snaps your picture, available for viewing later. You don't see the photographer when you begin this section. I don't think I screamed. I never saw the picture. The danger section actually turned out to be fun. Scary, but fun. I can see where if you panicked there could be trouble.

The Slickrock Trail is one surprise after another, some are good surprises, some not so good. The trail gradually gains altitude til you are at the top of the cliff looking down on Moab.

We were only 5 miles into the Slickrock Trail. Sunset was an hour away. We needed to head back, no time to complete the entire trail.

All of us got scraped up. Everyone had at least one wreck. I had two. Big Ed had a good one that had his knee all bloody. I somehow had scraped the entire backside of my lower left leg and didn't know it til later. Slickrock is quite abrasive.

I've been back to the Slickrock Trail one more time. That time I didn't ride the trail. Instead I had fun just sort of going off trail, riding on the Slickrock Dunes, like you see in the picture at the top.

Of the 3 trails I biked my first Mountian Biking Trip to Moab I'd say I enjoyed them all, Gemini Bridges was the easist, Porcupine Rim was the most exhausting and the Slickrock Trail was the most difficult. The Slickrock Trail is the only one of the 3 I had wrecks on.

Go here to watch a YouTube video of biking the Slickrock Trail.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Moab Mountain Biking: Porcupine Rim Trail

On my first Mountain Biking Roadtrip to Moab I biked, for the most part with the Mudsluts, so-named due to a mountain biking website named Mudsluts.

Mudsluts was a Cool Site of the Day back when that meant something. The author of Mudsluts was a guy named Jack.

I was on another group trip, this time Las Vegas over Thanksgiving, with Jack and others. We pigged out at buffets over and over again, when there was one epic pigout at the Luxor buffet where one member of the party, Wally, started popping out sweat bubbles on his forehead. At that point in time Jack made a remark along the line of saying we were all nothing but buffet sluts.

As short time after that Jack made a website about mountain biking, primarily Pacific Northwest mountain biking, where you do a lot of biking in mud. And so he called his website Mudsluts. I've got a Mudsluts t-shirt and baseball cap. But, the Mudsluts website is now gone.

So, back to Porcupine Rim. I'd already survived the Gemini Bridges Trail. I'd also survived the Slickrock Trail, I'll get to that one later. My plan had been for just Big Ed and me to ride down the Shafer Trail in Canyonlands and bike the White Rim Trail back to Moab. I guess I figured I could get someone to drive me back to my van. Well, Jack and his very opinionated first wife, Lulu, were convinced this was too dangerous to do without a support team. In hindsight I believe they were probably right.

I then agreed to ride the Porcupine Rim Trail with the Mudsluts. This ride involved logistics more complicated than the Gemini Bridges logistics. I was not involved in logistics planning. In the morning Jack and Big Ed took my van up to where the Porcupine Rim Trail ended, on the Colorado River.

Fewer were going on this ride than did Gemini Bridges. Lulu, Leo and Daniel opted out. The other Mudsluts were staying in a campground south of town. We headed there to join up with them, me, Jack, Lulu and Big Ed in one vehicle, Annette, Brian, Craig and Jim in the other. Once we got everyone and every bike loaded we headed up the Slickrock Trail Road to Sand Flats, heading up the La Salle Mountains looking for the Porcupine Rim Trailhead at about the 11 mile mark. It was a very slow, very rough road.

Lulu took the group picture you see above and then she drove back to Moab, to spend the day in solitude, having been told by Jack that driving the vehicle back to Moab would need be her only contribution to the logistics. However, later we were to learn Jack had a flaw in his plan.

Now, I need to interject here, prior to that morning I really knew nothing about the Porcupine Rim Trail. On the way to the trailhead I was informed it is widely believed to be one of the most difficult in the world. That people come from all over the world just to ride this trail. And that people regularly get killed on this trail, as recently as a couple months prior when 2 teenagers from Iowa went off a cliff to their deaths.

Here is how the Porcupine Rim Trail is described on another website...

The Porcupine Rim Trail is the "other" famous ride at Moab. At 15.6 miles, requiring expert technical skills, this ride is for advanced bikers who are in good shape. It's one-way with a shuttle car, or a 34-mile loop for the truly insane (10 uphill miles from Moab to the trailhead, 8 flat miles from Jackass Canyon back to the middle of Moab).

The real ride begins at the Rim. This is primo downhill advanced technical stuff, dropping off a gazillion small rocky ledges, with the last 3 miles a hairy single-track on the edge of deadly cliffs. From the Rim, you'll drop 2,700 vertical feet to the Colorado River over 11 unforgettable miles.

I'd only been riding a mountain bike for a couple years, my skill level was definitely not expert, I definitely was not an advanced rider. The only thing I had going for me is I was in good shape. All I had had for breakfast was a muffin and orange juice, I was not well-fueled for the amount of calories I would be burning.

The trail started at around 8,000 feet elevation. The trail would eventually take us thousands of feet downhill, back to the Colorado River. But, before you could begin that fast descent, you had to climb another 700 feet of elevation. The first 2 miles were fairly easy, then a short, fast descent, which was fun, followed by a very taxing climb. Ahead I could see a lot of bikers, stopped. Soon I saw why.

We were at the summit. High Anxiety Point, on the edge of Porcupine Rim, which is a 2,000 feet high cliff looking down on the Castle Valley, a valley that sort of looks like Monument Valley.

At High Anxiety Point there is a famous Utah photo op. A rock sticks about 10 feet out from the cliff. Bikers go out on that rock, some holding their bikes, and get their picture taken. I did not get near that rock. Jack has a way worse case of acrophobia than I do, as in he pretty much went into high anxiety on High Anxiety Point.

From High Anxiety Point is when many say the real Porcupine Rim Trail begins. I had no idea what I was in for, I assumed I would be riding my brakes a lot. I was right. So, we began the descent, with me and Annette in the rear position.

The trail changed character several times, it'd be real rocky and jarring and then soft sand that was hard to pedal through. You had to stay totally focused, never letting your attention be diverted. After a lot of terrain change and seeing the Slick Rock Trail and the cliffs of Moab in the distance we came to a canyon edge. The trail followed the edge. It was narrow, steep and scary. I was sure this was the dangerous fall off the cliff and die part I'd been told about.

And then the Colorado River appeared, way below, in the distance, but at least seeing it gave me hope, even though it seemed a long ways away. Then it got worse. I thought the previous cliff was the dangerous part, then we came to very narrow single track that sort of followed a very narrow ledge, with steep cliffs rising on the left and a steep long drop off on the right. I could not believe I was riding a bike on such a thing. Jack had to take a couple time outs to calm down.

When we left the danger zone the Colorado seemed way closer. But it was a trick. The trail entered one more canyon that had to be traversed, with a narrow stream crossed, having to carry the bike at times. I was nearing total exhaustion, was horribly hungry and had a splitting headache. Yet, at the same time I was having a great time.

Finally the trail turned into an easy descent to the end. Once there I could not get Jack or Big Ed to focus and tell me where my van was. All I wanted to do was sit in that van and turn on the A/C and drink water. It took 10 minutes for me to learn where'd they put the van, because they could not remember. All of us were suffering from a lack of cerebral bloodflow by then.

By the end Jack had realized his logistics mistake. He knew he had to have Lulu drive to our current location, to haul the others from the end of the trail. The bikes and everyone could not fit in my van. But, Jack's cell phone had no service. So, I headed back to Moab, found Lulu reading a book by the pool, told her she had to drive the Isuzu to the end of the trail, so the others could be rescued. Lulu got real mad, ranting about Jack always screwing up like this. Eventually she calmed down and followed me back to the others. Lulu then came with me, as did Brian and Jim and their bikes. I took them back to their campground, then Lulu and I went back to Moab to get ready for going to dinner again at Rio's. But not before I soaked for awhile in the hottub.

The next morning I was a bit sore, everyone else headed back north, Big Ed and I headed towards Bryce Canyon.

Go here to see a YouTube video of mountain biking the Porcupine Rim Trail.

Moab Mountain Biking: Gemini Bridges Trail

On my first Mountain Biking Roadtrip to Moab, Utah I pedaled 3 of the Moab area's best known trails, Gemini Bridges, Slickrock and Porcupine Rim. Each was different, each was way harder than I thought it would be.

A bike ride like Gemini Bridges requires some logistical planning due to the trailhead and trailend being at two different locations. The Gemini Bridges Trailhead is on the same road you take to get to Canyonlands National Park, with the trailhead location near the turnoff to Deadhorse Point State Park.

There were 10 of us doing this ride. We left one vehicle at the end of the trail parking lot. 10 people with 10 bikes had to fit in the other 2 vehicles, one of which was my van.

The Gemini Bridges Trail started out as a very bumpy descent down a rocky, dusty, sandy jeep road. Everyone, but me and Big Ed and Lulu had shock absorbers. I was going fast, it was jarring, it was cold, the wind made it even colder.

Then we came to what is called the 'Whoops' section, due, I guess, to the ride getting even bumpier causing you to think, Whoops, I've made a mistake going on this ride.

After what seemed a mile or more the jeep trail comes to a point where there are several trail options. We were confused about which route took us to the Gemini Bridges. At this point in time I thought these were manmade bridges, not the natural rock bridges I was soon to see.

A Jeeper with an electronic device arrived, also searching for the Gemini Bridges. Soon we were going down a steep, bumpy, short descent. And then we were there. Dozens of bikers were all over the rocks. I didn't understand where the Gemini Bridges were. Turns out I was standing on one.

The Gemini Bridges are two natural rock bridges that span Gemini Canyon. There is a narrow gap between the two arches.

Not realizing I was on one of the bridges I sat down. Then Lulu started screaming at me, "Do you realize what you are sitting on?" I rolled my bike over to where Lulu was and looked back to see that I had been sitting on a very thin piece of rock that was cantilevered way out over the chasm. I'm a bit acrophobic, my knees got queasy.

And then Daniel came careening down the trail, not realizing there was a gap between the bridges, only a loud scream to stop, from the hyper-vigilant Craig, saved Daniel from going over the edge, repeating the death of a teenager earlier in the year. I was so glad at that point that Nephew Joey had opted out of this trip. I've put my nephews in danger before, but never anything this bad.

Eventually the Jeeper showed up. Apparently there are all these Jeeper Feats that Jeepers do in the Moab zone, with one of them driving across one of the Gemini Bridges. The Jeeper's wife got out to watch, while he slowly inched the jeep to the middle of the bridge, then got out so his wife could get the picture.

By now there were dozens of bikers. And then almost like being in a herd people starting leaving the Gemini Bridges to hit the rest of the trail. The next section was another bumpy descent, this time into Goony Bird Canyon. In the canyon the temperature went way up. Goony Bird Canyon looked like Glen Canyon/Lake Powell scenery.

We were once more sharing the trails with noisy jeeps and other motorized vehicles. After awhile the canyon ended and a fairly steep ascent began. I was getting a bit worn out, but I kept on pedaling. At the summit, to the west, you could see arches in Arches National Park. And I could see the road to Moab way below me.

From that point it was a long, bumpy, fast, windy coast to the bottom. I was happy to be in a vehicle heading back to my van and then heading to Moab to go to Rio's for dinner.

If you watched the Amazing Race: Family Edition, it was from the Gemini Bridges that racers had to rappel down to the canyon floor. When that happened was when I realized the extent to which you don't see everything the racers do, as in how they got back to their RV's once they hit the canyon floor. The RV's were parked in the Gemini Bridges Trail End Parking Lot, miles away from Gemini Bridges.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Moab Utah: Mountain Biking Capital Of The World

I don't know how many times I have been to and through the Mountain Biking Capital of the World, Moab, Utah.

I do remember when the last time was. I was on a Roadtrip from Washington to Texas. The route went through Moab. The intention had been to make a short stop for lunch and then continue on to Gallup, New Mexico.

But, one of the vehicle's keys had been locked inside. This was discovered after the lunch at Eddie McStiff's. Eddie McStiff's is a restaurant and microbrewery. On nighttime visits, of the past, the microbrewery has been visited. Eddie McStiff's makes real good pizza, among many other good things. We had the Sante Fe Pizza, green chile sauce, grilled chicken, olives, jalapenos, tomatoes and cheese.

Four hours after the Santa Fe Pizza a locksmith finally freed the trapped keys so the Roadtrip could continue, making it to Gallup as planned, but much later.

Due to being the Mountain Biking Capital of the World, Moab has a lot of lodging options. I've opted for the Super 8 more often than not, actually staying there every time but the first overnight stay in Moab, which was a New Year's Eve in the Moab Ramada Inn.

In addition to being the World's Biking Capital, Moab may also be the Jeeping Capital of the World. The last time I was in Moab mountain biking, an event called Jeep Safari was taking place. I have never seen so many jeeps. The jeepers jeep all over. You share parts of the Slickrock Trail with jeeps. What those jeepers do with their jeeps is surprising. I had no idea such an activity existed.

The nightlife in Moab is fun, due to all the mountain bikers, it's a healthy mix of humanity. The shops and restaurants stay open late. I've never been in a tourist town with so many souvenir stores stocked with so much good stuff. Eddie McStiff's is a microbrewery, but another one opened in the south end of Moab calling itself Moab's only microbrewery. Why? I do not know. I preferred Eddie McStiff's. Like I already said, really good pizza.

There are a lot of good eating opportunities in Moab. My favorite is a place called The Rio Sports Bar & Grill. It's a block west off the main drag. Real good Mexican food. The place can get real busy, but in a fun way. The Jailhouse Cafe only does breakfast. They do it real well. Plus they have an outdoor patio, which I always like.

If you've never been to Moab and the surrounding attractions before, you should stop in the Moab Visitors Center. It's right in the heart of downtown, you can't miss it. There are good exhibits in there and a huge variety of information brochures, that will help you find things like the Slickrock Trail or Landscape Arch. That is the Moab Visitors Center in the picture at the top.

Most visitors to this part of Utah use Moab as their homebase for biking the area mountain bike trails, for visiting Canyonland and Arches National Parks and Deadhorse Point State Park and all there is to see that isn't in the big parks, like Gemini Bridges. It's a good thing to have a nice motel room waiting for you when you get done with something like the Fiery Furnace Hike.

I'll tell the tale of biking the Gemini Bridges Trail tomorrow, if I get around to it. I'll also be telling the tale of biking the Slickrock Trail and biking what's considered to be the most difficult trail in the area, Porcupine Rim Trail. I thought it was going to kill me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Canyonlands National Park & Island In The Sky

That is the view from Grand View Point Overlook at Island in the Sky in Canyonland National Park, behind me. I am looking at my now antique, first digital camera, a Casio product that did not take very good pictures.

That picture was taken on my first visit to Canyonlands. I'd driven by both Canyonlands and Arches National Parks, while passing through Moab, many times, never bothering to visit either until a very cold New Years Day a few years ago.

It was near the end of a Christmas Roadtrip to Disneyland, then on to Las Vegas, Grand Canyon, the Painted Desert and Monument Valley. This was the Roadtrip where I first saw the San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat that I vowed to return to some day. The day that saw Mexican Hat ended in Moab, New Year's Eve.

The first time I saw the view from Island in the Sky I saw mountain bike riders far below me. At that point in time I did not have a mountain bike. I decided right then I was going to get one and return to Moab, which was already a world-wide mountain biking mecca, and ride the trails.

Within a year I was back in Moab, with a mountain bike, biking the Slickrock Trail, Gemini Bridges Trail and the infamous Porcupine Rim Trail.

There is a trail you reach soon after you enter Canyonlands National Park called the Shafer Trail. It's a steep series of switchbacks that take you down into Shafer Canyon. I've seen a jeep on this trail, but no bikes. It would be a bit scary to ride your bike down this trail. A broken brake cable could have you flying off the edge. This "road" looks way more challenging than the Going to the Sun Road in Glacier NP in Montana.

I believe there is a campground somewhere in Shafer Canyon. There are a number of campgrounds in Canyonlands National Park.

Island in the Sky is a broad mesa between the Colorado and Green Rivers at the north end of Canyonlands NP. There are many overlooks along the White Rim of Islands in the Sky, where you can see the rivers 2,200 feet below. The view from Island in the Sky is sort of similar to Grand Canyon. It has become an iconic image of the Southwest canyon country.

Canyonlands National Park is divided into distinct districts, with Island in the Sky being one. Then there is the Maze and the Needles. The Maze district is the hardest to get to area of the park, it being one of the most remote areas of the United States. People get lost and die in the Maze.

The Needles gets its name due to rock pinnacles that can be seen all over the district. There is a lot of sculpted rock here, similar to that in Arches National Park. It's a lot harder to see the arches in the Needle district than the arches in Arches NP.

The 4 pictures in this blogging were all taken at Island in the Sky. I mention that lest someone think a couple of these pictures were taken at the Maze or Needles areas.

The exit that takes you to Canyonlands NP's Island in the Sky is only about 10 miles north of Moab. If you are heading north from Moab on Highway 191 you take a left on to 313. It'd be hard to miss the turnoff. It's about another 20 miles before you enter Canyonlands. Before you get to Canyonlands you'll see signs pointing you towards Dead Horse Point State Park. It's worth the detour to check it out and learn why it is called Dead Horse Point.

The most recent time I've been at Island in the Sky was during a very long Roadtrip, the first destination of which was Moab, to go to Arches National Park and the Fiery Furnace Hike and Canyonlands, then on to Houseboating, again, on Lake Powell, then Mexican Hat and the San Juan Inn and Monument Valley, then on to Durango and Silverton, then Taos, Alamogordo, White Sands National Monument, Tombstone, Yuma, then stopping in Vegas for 4 days at the Luxor before heading home.

That was one very good Roadtrip.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has been, for me, a highlight of 2 Roadtripping experiences. The first visit came about during a Roadtrip that originally was simply going to Yellowstone National Park. At Yellowstone, after seeing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone we thought, wow, this Grand Canyon is pretty grand, let's go see the other Grand Canyon.

The route south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon goes by Bryce and Zion National Parks. The first detour was to Bryce Canyon. I had no idea what to expect as I knew nothing about Bryce Canyon. I can still remember my feeling of amazement at my first look at Bryce Canyon. I'd never seen anything like it.

The second visit to Bryce Canyon was part of a Roadtrip to go mountain biking in the Moab zone and hiking in Arches National Park, including the Fiery Furnace Hike. After Moab we went through Capitol Reef National Park. It was the day before Easter, making it a bit difficult to find a motel room, but one was found at the Aquarian Inn in Bicknell. The intention had been to say in Torrey, right outside of Capitol Reef and going biking in the park the next day. That plan went out the window when I got a flat tire, with no way to repair it, biking around Bicknell.

The route from Bicknell to Bryce Canyon is Highway 12, considered by some to be the most scenic drive in America. The highest point on Highway 12 is at 9,400 feet, with a view through clear air over 200 miles in the distance, all the way to Navajo Mountain in Arizona. Highway 12 goes over a section called "The Hog's Back." Basically a narrow crest with multi-thousand feet drop-offs on either side. With no guard rails. The road twists and turns, up and down like a roller coaster descending along steep cliffs til you get to the bottom of Calf Creek Canyon. I found this road much more challenging to drive than Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road.

Eventually we got to Bryce Canyon, after a few sidetrips, like hiking in to see Calf Creek Falls and viewing Powell Point (a desolate white rock escarpment named after explorer John Wesley Powell, that was the furthest north he got in his explorations) finally reaching Bryce Canyon after driving through Kodachrome Basin State Park.

I'd made reservations at Ruby's Inn, which is just outside the entry to Bryce Canyon. Ruby's Inn has a cozy relationship with the National Park, due to Ruby Syrett having run a touring services business prior to Bryce Canyon becoming a National Park in 1923. Ruby Syrett also built a lodge, hence the name Ruby's Inn. It is now a sprawling complex of lodging, restaurants, campgrounds and a mall-like store.

The next morning was Easter. Ruby's Inn had an All You Can Eat Breakfast served by cowboys and cowgirls. It seemed we were the only non-German English speakers. Germans were all over the place. I don't know what it is with me and Germans, they sort of somehow make my skin crawl. It must be something to do with being half Dutch.

After breakfast we drove into Bryce to the Sunrise Point overlook. From there it was a hike down the Navajo Loop Trail that I'd also hiked my first visit. Hiking at a high elevation is way harder than at sea level, it's very easy to get winded. The Navajo Loop begins with a series of switchbacks dropping you down about 480 feet to a very narrow canyon, maybe 10 feet wide. The canyon is shades of pink, red and orange and sort of glows. The trail seems to draw you along as if you're entering another world.

After a mile or so we came to the Peekaboo Loop Trail junction, which is a half mile connector trial to the start of the Peekaboo Loop. Peekaboo Loop is my all time favorite trail I have ever hiked. It is a maze of ups and downs, dropoffs, tunnels and spectacular views. We did not realize we were going to get so drawn into the hiking. The hike started around 9, we carried no food or water. It was a bit past noon before we made it up the Navajo Loop switchbacks and back to Sunrise Point and water.

We then drove to the end of the road where at almost 10,000 feet there was a lot of snow. On the way back we stopped at every overlook, including Thor's Hammer. Back at Ruby's Inn it was time for lunch and a nap. After the nap we went to Inspiration Point and hiked the Queen's Garden, then walked the Bryce Rim Trail for 2 miles to Bryce Point. Bryce Point was closed due to a landslide, but we went out to the overlook anyway. By then the sun was setting which made for an amazing light show. The way back along Bryce Rim in dark was a bit unsettling.

Back at Ruby's Inn we did the All You Can Eat, again, this time dinner, with it being Easter that included ham. All in all it was the best day of hiking and site seeing I had ever done. Which made this the best Easter ever.

Go here for information about Bryce Canyon National Park's Free Shuttle Tour.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Lake Powell Houseboating Fish Tale

This morning Big Ed in Tex sent me a very long-winded tale about catching a fish during a Lake Powell House-boating trip.

I'll try to tell the tale in abridged form. Apparently Big Ed and his brother Wally had done a lot of research into Lake Powell fishing. They came to the lake with all the gear needed to land a lot of fish.

When the brothers got to Bullfrog Basin they went in the Marina store to seek more information. There they bought a map that pointed out all the hot fishing spots. And they got a copy of the Lake Powell Gazette, in which they learned about fish boils, where there are so many fish in a feeding frenzy that the water appears to be boiling. If you see a lot of seagulls hovering about, that could indicate a fish boil.

They were barely an hour out from Bullfrog Basin when Wally started screaming "Fish Boil!" Big Ed stopped the boat. False alarm. There was no fish boil. But they decided to fish anyway, til the others onboard insisted they get moving again.

The first night on the houseboat they stayed in an inlet they came to call Bobcat Cove due to an incident that night when a bobcat came onboard the boat. Big Ed and Wally went to bed before the sun set. Others stayed up and reported that in the moonlight they saw huge fish swimming around the boat. And that when the moon set, behind the canyon walls, it created a spectacular purple light show.

In the morning Bid Ed was skeptical about the big fish reports. His skepticism was re-enforced when he fished for hours with nary a bite. The next day, new location, still no bite. By then Wally gave up on fishing. On day 3 Big Ed still had not caught a fish. When ever the houseboat stopped or docked, Big Ed would get out his fishing pole, even at Rainbow Bridge.

Then on the 4th day they were deep up a side canyon, east of Bullfrog Basin, called Moki Canyon.

At their Moki Canyon anchorage Big Ed could see a big school of carp circling through the water. A pair of trouble-making females tossed bread in the water, trying to cause a fish boil. When he saw the fish liking people food, Big Ed gave up on using conventional lures. He tried a hot dog on a hook with no luck, then bread, still no luck, then he tossed some chili beans in the water. The carp loved the chili beans.

So, Big Ed put a chili bean on his hook, threw several decoy beans in the water, then slowly lowered the hook. Soon a big carp took the bait. Eventually the carp gave up, the picture you see above was taken and then Big Ed released the carp to go back playing with his friends. Big Ed says this was the best catching a fish experience he has ever had.

There you have it, the abridged version of Big Ed in Tex's Lake Powell Fish Story.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Hanalei Bay Beach, Kauai, Hawaii vs. Lake Powell, Utah Beach

For two years in a row some guy known as Dr. Beach has picked Hanalei Bay, on Kauai in Hawaii, as #1 on his list of America's Top 10 Beaches.

I imagine swimability is a factor, as in warm water. But two New York beaches are on the list. How warm is the north Atlantic? Only one California beach is on the list. California has a lot of nice beaches. No Oregon or Washington beaches are on the list. Both states have some real nice beaches, but I think the north Pacific is not as warm as the north Atlantic. I have been in the saltwater of a Washington Pacific beach in summer. The water is cold. Real cold.

I'm sure that Hanalei Bay is a really fine beach. It appears to be a nice beach in the picture, but there don't seem to be any people at the beach.

I'd likely love Hanalei Bay and it'd become my all time favorite if I got to swim there. But, currently, my all time favorite beach is the one you see in the picture at the top. Found on a side canyon off Lake Powell. This would make it a freshwater beach.

I'm guessing no freshwater beach is considered by Dr. Beach. Apparently he is some sort of beach bigot.

The Black Hills of South Dakota

Any first time Roadtrip to South Dakota likely includes 2 sure things. A visit to Wall Drug and Mount Rushmore.

On my Roadtrip to South Dakota a snowstorm started chasing me the morning I left Sheridan, Wyoming. I got ahead of the cold and snow by the time I got to Devils Tower, but by the next morning, in Rapid City, the snow had caught up again, in large volume.

I don't quite understand why, but Devils Tower is considered part of the Black Hills. But it's not hilly there. Leaving Devils Tower and heading east into the hilly Black Hills the first town that caught my eye was Lead.

Lead is an old mining town, with a big open pit right in town, just like Bisbee, Arizona. The main street through Lead is straight and fairly flat, but the rest of the town is built on steep hills, with some steep climbs.

The next town, just a short distance from Lead, is the iconic Wild West town of Deadwood, the place where Wild Bill Hickok met his end, where both he and Calamity Jane are buried at Mount Moriah Cemetery. Deadwood was a sleepy ghost town when I visited it. Since then the town has come back to life due to 80 some casinos.

Deadwood is a National Historic Landmark District. I guess I don't mind the casinos, as long as they don't ruin the historic nature of the town. Actually, though they didn't have video poker and electronic slot machines, back in Wild Bill's day, they did play poker. Wild Bill was playing poker when he was shot, giving a poker hand he was holding at the time, two black aces and two black 8's, the name "Dead Man's Hand."

After Deadwood it was on to Rapid City to find a motel. By morning, like I already said, the snow had caught up again. We had one day to do Mount Rushmore, Wind Cave National Park, Custer State Park, Crazy Horse Memorial and whatever else we found Roadtripping the Black Hills.

The roads were not icy, that was good, but it was snowing and visibility was not good. Mount Rushmore is not far from Rapid City, as you can see on the map. It was snowing quite hard. The snow let up a little bit for about a half a minute, which is when the snowy picture of me pointing at the presidents was taken.

The Mount Rushmore Visitor Center is very well done. Even though the weather was bad there were a lot of visitors. I imagine it is very crowded in summer. When I was there a movie, narrated by Tom Brokaw, had a lot of the viewers in tears. For some reason I was immune. Mount Rushmore is like some sort of American Patriotic Epicenter.

There are several scenic byways twisting and turning and climbing the Black Hills. I don't know the name of the scenic byway that I drove from Mount Rushmore to Custer State Park and Wind Cave National Park, but I have never been on such a road before. In places, to gain elevation it would loop over itself, twisting and turning, going through tunnels. I know if it weren't snowing the views would have been amazing. The view in the picture tries to capture one of the looping parts of the highway.

Driving through Custer State Park we saw a lot of snow-covered buffalo. Then it was on to Wind Cave. I've been in a lot of caves, Lewis & Clark in Montana, the caves at Lava Bed National Monument, Carlsbad Caverns, the cave at Great Basin National Park and others I'm likely forgetting right now. There were only 4 people on the tour. It was not a long walk through the cave and there was nothing strenuous about it.

After Wind Cave we headed north on 385 and then to 16 to drive by the Crazy Horse Memorial. Through the snow you could make out Crazy Horse's head. From Crazy Horse it was time to try to get back to Rapid City before dark and icy roads materialized. At the outskirts of Rapid City, being quite hungry, I was very pleased to find an all you can eat pizza buffet at a place called Shakey's.

I ate too much pizza, made it back to the motel for a good night's sleep, before heading to Badlands National Park and Wall Drug in the morning. And Wounded Knee.

I want to return to the Black Hills when snow is not a possibility and bike the new George S. Mickelson Trail. Why would they give this trail such a name? Why not Crazy Horse Trail or Wild Bill Trail or Deadwood Trail? Anyway the trail uses the abandoned railbed the Burlington Northern used to supply the miners in Deadwood and other towns along its route. It is 108.8 miles long, running from Edgemont to Deadwood. The trail goes through 4 tunnels and over more than a 100 bridges. Nine miles of branch trails give access to places like Custer State Park and Lead.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Wall Drug Store In South Dakota

If you go on a Roadtrip to South Dakota, at some point you are going to start seeing signs about Wall Drug. After you've seen a couple dozen you'll start to wonder what Wall Drug is. At least that is what I did.

By the time you are heading east from Rapid City, heading towards Badlands National Park, when you reach the exit that takes you to Wall Drug, there is no way you can resist seeing what it is. And getting some of that free ice water and 5 cent coffee.

When your eyes first spy Wall Drug Store you quickly make note that this seems to be quite a conglomeration of all sorts of things. With a lot of parking. And people. It costs you nothing to enter this Theme Park on the Prairie, a 76,000 square foot theme park.

Exploring Wall Drug is a bit like wandering around a maze. You walk wide "streets" with various shops and attractions along the way. It is all very Western, prime Americana. There is a coffee shop where you can get that nickel coffee and stuff to eat and a pizza parlor.

My purchases at Wall Drug were odd. A pair of jeans, a clay rattlesnake and an old time whiskey bottle. Much of Wall Drug has the feeling of being in a museum.

The history of how Wall Drug came to be is a classic American story. It was 1931, the Great Depression had depressed a lot of people. A guy named Ted Hustead was looking for a small town that needed a pharmacist. He and his wife, Dorothy, found an isolated town in South Dakota, named Wall and saw an opportunity. So, he bought Wall Drug.

Business was slow in the depressed little town of 231 people. Mount Rushmore had just opened and those who could afford to were driving past Wall on their way to see the presidents, sixty miles away. Then Dorothy got the brilliant idea to offer free ice water to thirsty trekkers. Signs were posted with the offer. From that point on one of America's best known tourist attractions was born.

Nowadays, in addition to free ice water and nickel coffee, Wall Drug is also giving visitors free bumper stickers that help spread the "Get Free Ice Water" message. If you are a honeymooner, veteran, priest, hunter or truck driver, Wall Drug will give you a free cup of coffee. And a donut. I don't know if it is as good as Krispy Kreme.

Wall Drug is the town of Wall's main industry, employing almost a third of the town's people. More than a million people visit the Wall Drug Store every year. On a busy summer day more than 20,000 people may arrive. Back before Mr. Hustead came to Wall, locals referred to their town as "the geographical center of nowhere." Now there are way more motel rooms in Wall than there are Wallites. Or whatever one calls a citizen of Wall.

If I haven't been clear enough, let me just say this, if you are in South Dakota, driving across the state on Interstate 90 and you drive by the Wall exit, without exiting, well, you have a fool for a driver and need to get someone else behind the wheel.

Devils Tower National Monument

Visiting Devils Tower National Monument was part of a Roadtrip that ran from Glacier National Park to the Black Hills and Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument to Badlands to Yellowstone to homebase.

The day that we made it to Devils Tower had begun in Sheridan, Wyoming with freezing temperatures and snow arriving overnight. By mid-morning we got ahead of the storm, but it would catch up again by the next morning in Rapid City, South Dakota, with about 6 inches of snow.

Devils Tower was made a National Monument by Teddy Roosevelt on September 24, 1906. I imagine Teddy likely visited Devils Tower during his time of working a ranch in the Dakotas.

There are a lot of theories as to what made Devils Tower, most involving some sort of volcanic action. But I like the Sioux theory best. Six Sioux girls were picking flowers when big bad bears started chasing them. The Great Spirit was looking after the girls, so he raised the ground beneath them. The bears tried to climb the rock, scratching to climb, then falling off the ever higher tower, leaving giant scratch marks visible to this day.

I had never seen a Prairie Dog Town til I saw the one near the entry to Devils Tower. Prairie Dogs are cute. They look like they'd make a fun pet, but, apparently that is not doable.

You can walk all around the perimeter of Devils Tower on 1.3 mile long Tower Trail. There use to be a ladder you could climb to the top, you still see signs of the ladder, but there is no ladder to the top anymore. Had there been, I believe my acrophobia would have made climbing it a no go for me.

The way to the top of Devils Tower in these ladder-free days is to climb it. Nowadays 1% of Devils Tower's 400,000 annual visitors are climbers. Many of them free climb the tower. That means no pitons, just your hands and feet. I can't imagine wanting to do this. I was equally perplexed watching climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite.

Devils Tower is sacred ground to many of the Plains Tribes, like the Kiowa, Cheyenne and Lakota Sioux. Because Indian Chiefs objected to the climbing, a voluntary ban takes place in June, when the tribes conduct annual rites at Devils Tower. Most climbers respect the ban.

After Devils Tower it's time to hit the road again and head towards South Dakota.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Turner Falls Park in Oklahoma

A couple days ago a young lady from Midland, Texas asked me if I knew of any waterfalls within a couple hour roadtrip of the Dallas/Fort Worth area. This Texan told me she had never seen a waterfall.

To me, having grown up in an area abundant with big waterfalls, the idea that someone had never seen one seemed impossible.

Fortunately I was able to point the waterfall seeker in the direction of Turner Falls Park in Oklahoma.

From the Dallas/Fort Worth area you drive I-35 north about 100 miles. A bit north of Ardmore you'll come to the Arbuckle Mountains. To people who have seen other mountains these may look more like the Arbuckle Hills. However, when you take the exit to Turner Falls Park on to Highway 77, you will quickly be in mountain scenery, unlike the view from the freeway. I'd driven by this exit many a time, heading north, and did not realize there was something to see just a couple miles off the Interstate.

If you have never done mountain driving before the road that leads to Turner Falls Park might make you a bit nervous. It does some twisting and turning as it descends to the park entry.

Turner Falls Park is not a state or federal park. It is owned and operated by the city of Davis, Oklahoma. There is an entry fee of $9.99 per person 13 and older, kids 6-12 and seniors over 62 get in for $6.00. The entry fees are reduced in winter. Go here for more fee details.

There is plenty to do in Turner Falls Park. Caves to spelunk in, trails to hike, a castle to explore, swimming holes to swim in crystal clear water, due to the Honey Creek aquifer that is the source of the water that flows over Turner Falls. There are campsites and cabins for rent. And several vendors selling a variety of goods, including food.

Go here for more info and pictures of Turner Falls Park.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

I've Roadtripped to Monument Valley three times, with 2 of those roadtrippings entering Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park. Both times the weather was stormy. So, my pictures of Monument Valley do not have that turquoise sky contrasting with redrock look that most Monument Valley pictures have.

There are a lot of pictures of Monument Valley. It's one of the most photographed locations on the planet with some of the most iconic images, made famous in movies, like Stagecoach and in a lot of commercials.

Both visits to the Navajo Tribal Park were during roadtrips that included Houseboating on Lake Powell. The San Juan Inn in Mexican Hat was where we stayed the night before both visits. On the first visit, after Monument Valley, the roadtrip went on to Grand Canyon, Zion National Park, Las Vegas, Death Valley, Yosemite, then home. The direction was different after the second visit to Monument Valley, we went north to Moab and Arches National Park, then to Colorado and a night in Silverton, then on to Taos, eventually ending up in Vegas, again.

The Monument Valley scenery is good as you drive Highway 163. It was on my first roadtrip through Monument Valley that I did not exit 163 to enter Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, which is sort of a Navajo Nation National Park, to visit the visitors center and drive the scenic drive and see the iconic images up close.

At the Monument Valley exit from Highway 163 you'll find both sides of the road lined with Navajo selling some pretty interesting stuff, much of it handmade. The Navajo Trading Posts are a fun stop all over this zone.

To enter Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park there is an entry fee of $5 per person, kids under 9 free. You pay an additional fee for a camping or hiking permit. If you are a Native American you get in for free.
You can drive yourself on the scenic drive through the park. The drive is a slow 17 miles over some rough dirt road. If you don't want to drive there are several tour options available. The drive yourself option seems funner to me. As you drive the drive you come upon hogans occupied by Navajo, living as they always have.

The Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park's Visitor Center is very well done, part museum, part viewing platform, part snack bar, part souvenir stand.

The Navajo Nation has built a new lodging option, called The View Hotel. The view from The View Hotel is the classic iconic Monument Valley scene.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Rainbow Bridge National Monument

Even though I grew up in the West, in Washington, I never thought of Washington as Western, as in the Western of the days of the Wild West, where Cowboys roamed and Indians tried to stop the roaming, places associated with names like Navajo and Apache, states like Arizona and New Mexico and Utah, that had places like the Grand Canyon and the Mojave Desert.

I knew of Rainbow Bridge at an early age. It was to be decades later I saw it with my own eyes. When I first learned of Rainbow Bridge, the only way to get to it was to take a boat on the Colorado River and then take a 7 mile hike up the Rainbow Bridge Canyon. Or take a long hike in from the Navajo Mountain side, after getting a permit from the Navajos in Window Rock, Arizona.

Rainbow Bridge was not known to the non-Indian world til 1909 when 2 search parties searched for and found the rumored rock bridge. A year later, on May 30, 1910, President William Howard Taft made it Rainbow Bridge National Monument. Soon after that, Taft's predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt made the journey, by horse and foot, to see the new National Monument.

With the Glen Canyon damming of the Colorado River making Lake Powell, it made it much easier to get to Rainbow Bridge. So, a few years ago I was able to do what Teddy Roosevelt had done many years before and see Rainbow Bridge.

Lake Powell flooded the canyon you used to have to hike to get to Rainbow Bridge. You have to keep an eye out for marking buoys as you boat the main channel. For Rainbow Bridge you are looking for a buoy with the words "Rainbow Bridge" on it. When you find that buoy you float your boat up the canyon where a long dock waits. There are restroom facilities, very poorly maintained when I was there. I thought if they can't be kept in good condition it'd be better to lose the restrooms.

It's a short hike from the restrooms to Rainbow Bridge. We hiked to see it from both sides. Pictures do not do justice to how big it is. It spans 275 feet, is 42 feet thick at the top, 33 feet wide. The highest part of Rainbow Bridge is 290 feet above the ground. There are longer arches, but none taller. Landscape Arch in Arches National Park is slightly longer, but it looks puny compared to Rainbow Arch.

That's Captain Big Ed walking the dock after securing the houseboat. Click here to read another blogging about my Lake Powell Houseboat Road Trip.

The boat ride in and out of the canyon is a lot of fun. Be sure you have a good boat captain, like we did, as the navigating can get a bit dicey, like when you meet another boat going the opposite direction. In our case a big tour boat, way bigger than our puny houseboat, was motoring along at a good speed. I think I remember the speed limit in the canyon was 5 mph. When we carefully passed the tour boat its wake rocked us like a bad carnival ride. And then a huge wave, like a tsunami, quickly overtook our boat, crashing a big wave on board that got the entire cabin very wet.

That tsunami wave in Rainbow Bridge Canyon is one of my favorite memories of Lake Powell.

The Loneliest Road In America

A couple decades ago Life magazine had an article that gave a section of U.S. Highway 50, in Nevada the nickname, "The Loneliest Road in America." The article described a road with few travelers, with long distances between the few small towns along the road.

The article generated a lot of publicity and soon Nevada tourism officials saw an opportunity to market the Loneliest Road. The Nevada Department of Transportation played along and changed the name of the highway with new Highway 50 markers.

Nevada issues a passport that Loneliest Road travelers can get stamped at locations along the route, which you then mail in to receive a certificate, signed by the governor, proving you survived "The Loneliest Road in America."

As a consequence of all the publicity, America's Loneliest Road is not quite so lonely anymore. But it was plenty lonely when I drove it as part of a long road trip, the first destination of which was Reno. From the west, the Loneliest Road begins in Fernley, that's where you'd get your first passport stamp if you were wanting that certificate. The next town you come to is Fallon.

After Fallon is when the road starts getting lonely. Soon you come to Sand Mountain, the biggest sand dune I've ever seen. It is over 600 feet tall. We tried to make it all the way to the top, but it was hot and exhausting. It would seem like you were almost at the summit, and then there'd be more climbing. The run back down was fun.

The Loneliest Road in America crosses several valleys, going up and down mountain ranges. You see way into the distance, at times the line of telephone poles has an almost hypnotic effect. Every half hour or so we met an incoming vehicle. After Fallon the next inkling of civilization is the single building town of Middlegate. The one building is a roadhouse that has been a restaurant, bar, hotel and refueling station dating all the way back to the 1880s and the Pony Express. There are a couple Pony Express stations along the Loneliest Road in America.

The next town you come to is Austin. This used to be a mining town with a booming population of over 10,000. Now Austin calls itself a living ghost town with about 300 people. Leaving Austin the Loneliest Road turns twisty turny with hairpin curves and steep climbs as you head to Austin Summit at the top of the Toiyabe Mountains.

After Austin you come to Eureka. This also is an old mining town that has seen less lonely days, but some mining still takes place in Eureka. Eureka calls itself "The Friendliest Town on the Loneliest Road in America."

The last town on the Loneliest Road in America is Ely. Just before you get to Ely there is a little town called Ruth. In Ruth is a humongous copper mine. I'd never seen anything like it. An enormous hole in the ground with big trucks driving down into the hole. It was getting dark, so I couldn't get a good picture. There's a viewing area where you stare through a chainlink fence at the copper mining operation. The Ruth copper mine has been shut down since I saw it. I imagine one can still look in the hole.

We stayed the night in Ely. Ely's population is over 4,000. With many motels, restaurants and fast food joints to choose from. And casinos. We got a room and then walked Ely's main street til we found Tio Juan's Margaritas Mexican Restaurant & Watering Hole. We saw this place as we drove into town, were in the mood for Mexican, so that's what we had. It was good. The Loneliest Road in America is not so lonely that it doesn't have the Internet. Tio Juan's Margaritas Restaurant has a website.

This Roadtrip originally had Reno as its only destination. Before Reno we explored caves in Lava Beds National Monument. After Reno driving the Loneliest Road in America seemed like a good idea. By the time we got to the end of the Loneliest Road, staying the night in Ely, we had decided to continue on to Zion and Grand Canyon National Parks, then on to Las Vegas, then a very hot Death Valley and then heading back north, passing through Reno again on the way to hike around Mount Lassen National Park where there were Yellowstone-like hotsprings bubbling and steaming.