Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Grand Canyon Skywalk

UPDATE: Grand Canyon West (location of the Skywalk) has moved up to #10 ranking for New 7 Wonders of Nature contest. Click the link to find Grand Canyon Skywalk special offers.

I want to return to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon to stay in the Grand Canyon Lodge's log cabins for several days and do some serious hiking and then drive the 220 miles to the South Rim via Navajo Bridge to do the 8 mile hike to Supai, Arizona to see Havasu Falls.

Havasu Falls has been a longtime Hualapai Indian natural Grand Canyon attraction. On March 20, 2007 the Hualapai unveiled an unnatural attraction known as the Grand Canyon Skywalk.

The Skywalk cost the Hualapai tribe $31 million. It is considered an engineering marvel. Shaped like a horseshoe the Skywalk sticks out 66 feet from the edge of the canyon, 3,600 feet above the canyon floor.

The walls and floor of the horseshoe are built of 2 inch thick glass. The Skywalk can support 70 tons of weight, or 800 176 pound people. However, only 200 people at a time are allowed on the Skywalk. The structure is built to handle 100 mph winds and an 8.0 earthquake.

The Hualapai plan to add a museum, theater, gift shop, lounge, a gourmet restaurant called the Skywalk Cafe and several other restaurants. The development is called Grand Canyon West, with hotels, a golf course and a cable tram to take visitors down to the Colorado River.

Building the Skywalk was, and continues to be, controversial, both in the tribe and outside the tribe. Some tribe members considered the Skywalk to be desecrating sacred ground. The tribe's Skywalk supporters argued that the tribe needed the money the Skywalk hopefully would generate. Environmental groups and National Park officials have voiced concerns regarding the project. To me this would seem a bit hypocritical, considering all the unnatural development that is part of the National Park on both rims of the Grand Canyon.

It is not an easy task to get to the Grand Canyon Skywalk. From Interstate-10 take exit 48. Head north on US 93 for 29 miles. Turn east at the Dolan Springs/Meadview City sign (near mile marker 42) onto Pierce Ferry Rd/Hwy 25. Follow Pierce Ferry Rd for 29 miles, then make a hard right onto Diamond Bar Rd/Hwy 261 for 21 miles. The first 14 miles are very bad. Do not attempt to drive it if thunderstorms are in the area.

You can drive to the Skywalk, but to walk onto the Skywalk you have to arrive on a Skywalk Shuttle Bus that you board by making a reservation at 702-260-6506. The Skywalk Park & Ride is a mile east after you turn on to Pierce Ferry Rd/Hwy 25 in Dolan Springs.

The cost of the shuttle bus ride is $30. That gets you to the Skywalk and 2 other viewpoints. To walk the Skywalk will cost you another $30. Special shoe covering booties are provided to keep you from slipping and to protect the glass. You are not allowed to bring any personal items on the Skywalk. Including your camera. There are 3 photo stations on the Skywalk. You can buy a photo of yourself on the Skywalk in the gift shop. For $29 each.

Methinks the Hualapai are doing a bit of gouging here. I've no information as to how successful the Grand Canyon Skywalk is. I suspect it may not be attracting the number of visitors that the Hualapai hoped for.

Below is a YouTube video of the media event when the Grand Canyon Skywalk opened...

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Mount Rainier & Mount Rainier National Park

UPDATE: Picnic, Campground, Lodging, Visitor Center Operating Hours & Seasonal Status at bottom below video...

In all my trips to go to Mount Rainier National Park to see The Mountain, in all the years I lived in Washington, I never saw The Mountain up close. It was always covered by clouds, thus invisible.

I must digress and explain that when you live in Washington and use the phrase "The Mountain," it is known that you are talking about Mount Rainier, even though there are many other big mountains in the state, only one is The Mountain. That's why The Mountain is on the Washington State license plate.

As I was saying, I'd never seen The Mountain, up close, then, last summer, on August 11, I drove from Tacoma to Mount Rainier, again. When we got to Paradise, that being the most popular destination in the park, where the historic Paradise Inn is located, and where trails lead to The Mountain, I was disappointed that, once more, The Mountain was shrouded in clouds.

I'd been seeing The Mountain over and over again during my stay in the northwest, I had good reason to expect to finally see The Mountain up close for the first time. The picture on the right is looking at Mount Rainier from the marina at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, near the Vashon Island Ferry Dock.

Other than no mountain to see, it was a beautiful day at Mount Rainier, so me and my hiking group started up the trail that starts by Paradise Inn. Even though the big mountain was not currently available for viewing, there was plenty of other mountain scenery to look at, heather covered meadows, blooming lupines, waterfalls.

We got to one particular waterfall, I believe Myrtle Falls was the name. There was quite a crowd looking at the falls. And then, a miracle started to happen. The clouds began to melt away. Bit by bit Mount Rainier began to appear. People started shouting, "The Mountain is coming out." It actually managed to be an exciting moment.

I was shocked at how big Mount Rainier is up close. I've been on Mount Baker. It looks big, but totally different than Mount Rainier. Rainier just looks mammoth.

A couple days ago I blogged about being surprised at some of the choices on a Travel Channel show listing the Top 10 Wonders of the West. Mount Rainier was not on the list, but Mount Hood, in Oregon was. At #5. That really made no sense to me.

Mount Rainier is one of the oldest National Parks, becoming the 5th National Park on March 2, 1899, not long after Washington became a state. Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Cascade range at 14,411 feet. It is the most glaciated mountain in the lower 48 states, with 26 major glaciers. The Carbon, Cowlitz, White, Nisqually and Puyallup Rivers all begin on Mount Rainier.

The summit of Mount Rainier has two volcanic craters. The last eruption of Rainier was 5 years before it became a National Park, in 1894. In the Tacoma/Puyallup zone there are signs pointing out Volcano Eruption Escape Routes.

Calling the mountain Rainier is controversial to some, like the Native American population. The local tribes called The Mountain "Tahoma" and sometimes "Tacoma." "Tahoma" means bigger than "Koma Kulshan." "Koma Kulshan" is the Indian name for Mount Baker. I don't know if "Koma Kulshan" means bigger than Mount Hood, or what.

The picture at the top is the view of Mount Rainier, early one October morning, from my sister's house on Lake Meridian in Kent. On a clear day Mount Rainier can be seen from as far south as Portland, Oregon and as far north as Victoria, British Columbia.

The YouTube video below was taken that day last August when I finally got to see The Mountain up close.


Call the park at 1-360-569-2211 to confirm road and facility status or check the website for current information.

Longmire Museum
(360)569-2211 ext. 3314
Open year-round.

Open year-round.

October 13 through winter
9:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. daily

Henry M Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise (360)569-6036
The new visitor center is now open.

October 13 through winter
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. weekends and holidays only

Ohanapecosh Visitor Center
Generally open late May through early October.

Closed for the season.

Sunrise Visitor Center
Generally open July through early September.

Closed for the season.

Sunrise Road is open weekends only (weather permitting) through October 25. Restrooms are available, however no water will be available on weekdays. All facilities (including Sunrise Road) will be closed for the season by the evening of October 25.



Longmire Wilderness Information Center
(360) 569-HIKE

Closed for the season.

White River Wilderness Information Center
(360)569-2211 x6030

Closed for the season.

Carbon River Ranger Station
(360) 829-9639

Call for hours.

The road is open to the park entrance. The road is closed to vehicles beyond the entrance. Bicycle and pedestrian traffic is permitted beyond the entrance.

Paradise Guide House (Climbing Information Center)
360-569-2211 x6009

Closed for the season.

After Labor Day, climbers may register for climbs at the Paradise Jackson Visitor Center information desk, or self-register at the Old Paradise Ranger Station.



Cougar Rock

Closed for the season.


Closed for the season.

White River

Closed for the season.

Ipsut Creek

The road to the campground is closed to vehicle traffic just inside the park boundary. The campground is open for backcountry use. A wilderness camping permit is required for overnight stay. No pets or fires allowed. No potable water.



National Park Inn at Longmire

Lodging, dining, post office.
Generally open: all year

Open Year Round

Hotel Front Desk
7:00 a.m. - 10:00 p.m. daily

Longmire General Store
Adjacent to National Park Inn.
Gifts & basic groceries. Firewood sales (summer only). Snowshoe rentals (winter only).
Generally open: all year

Open Year Round

September - October
9:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. daily

November through winter
10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. daily

Paradise Camp Deli
and Gift Shop
in the Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise

October 13 through winter
11:00 a.m. – 4:45 p.m. weekends and holidays only

Paradise Inn
Lodging, dining, post office, & gifts.
Generally open: May through September

Closed for the season.

Sunrise Day Lodge
No overnight facilities.
Food & gifts.
Generally open: early July to early September

Closed for the season.



Cougar Rock

Closed for the season.


Closed for the season.

Box Canyon

Closed for the season.

Ohanapecosh Campground

Closed for the season.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Yosemite National Park and Curry Village

Update: Seasonal Yosemite Information Below...

I've been to Yosemite National Park 3 times. The most recent visit was towards the end of a Lake Powell Houseboat Roadtrip, which also found its way down the Moki Dugway, to Mexican Hat's San Juan Inn, Monument Valley, a blizzard in a log cabin on the north rim of the Grand Canyon, hiking in Zion National Park, getting a flat tire in Death Valley, overnighting in Mammoth, then crossing Logan Pass the next morning for a side trip into Yosemite.

That last trip to Yosemite was in October, which had Yosemite having the same problem as my first Roadtrip to Yosemite, as in the waterfalls were not falling a lot of water.

My first time to Yosemite I was not as impressed as I had expected to be. But it was towards the end of the longest Roadtrip of my life and I was having scenic wonder overload. This was the Roadtrip that took me up Pikes Peak, across Royal Gorge and down into the Carlsbad Caverns, into Texas for the first time, hiking into the Grand Canyon, swimming in Lake Havasu, going to Los Angeles and Disneyland and Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm, the San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park and Sea World. And if memory serves me correctly, Tijuana for a little taste of Mexico. Then back across the mountains to Kings Canyon, Sequoia and Yosemite National Parks.

Yosemite was running a bit dry for my first and third visit. Fall is not the time to see Yosemite in all its glory. That would be spring when the snowmelt has the rivers, creeks and waterfalls moving a lot of water.

My springtime visit to Yosemite took place in the 1990s. It was the only time I stayed overnight. Three other guys and myself rented a big gas guzzling Cadillac. The Goober Twins, Big Ed and Wally, Dale and me. The first destination of this Roadtrip was Reno, taking the route through eastern Oregon that has you entering Nevada via Winnemucca. After a day or two in Reno we headed up to Lake Tahoe, then on to Highway 49 with its fun Miner 49 towns like Placerville, Angels Camp, Sonora and Nevada City.

I had made reservations for two nights at Curry Village, also known as Camp Curry. I knew we were staying in something called a tent cabin. I had no idea what it would be til I saw it. I'd tried to move the boys along so we could arrive before dark, but they dawdled. It was not too difficult to find Curry Village. On the way we saw lights at various elevations on El Capitan. Climbers strapped in for the night.

Curry Village has a large parking lot. It was easy to find the office and check in. We were given wool blankets and directions to the tent cabin. I was not being too pleased. When I saw the tent cabins I was less pleased. Found the cabin, unlocked the padlock, opened the door, found the one bare light, turned it on to see 4 cots and not much else. The cabin was wood framed with a wood floor with everything else made of canvas.

I told everyone I thought I'd make it through one night, but I might be in the mood to bail in the morning. It was a noisy night. And there was this constant roar. When the sun lit up the place I opened the door to see what was making the roar. A huge waterfall was crashing down the valley wall a short distance away. My spirits lifted.

With daylight helping, unlike the night before, I could see that Curry Village was quite large. It sits in the shadow of Half Dome and Glacier Point. There are several eateries and one big cafeteria. Huge restroom facilities to handle the large crowd. I found it all a bit too developed. But Yosemite has had a strange mix of private development and preserving nature from its start.

There is plenty of outdoor patio area at Curry Village. This makes for some pleasant beer drinking and snack munching in the evenings. A bar was overfilled with viewers watching the final episode of Cheers.

Yosemite Village is another unnatural thing on the valley floor. It's like a mall. With big parking lots. Traffic at Yosemite is a bit congested. There is a free shuttle bus to zip you to the various attractions that is very easy to use. Since my last visit I believe the park service has implemented multiple methods of cutting down on the traffic. There are paved trails for biking all over the valley floor. The tent campsites look fun. I want to return with a tent and a bike.

Yosemite Valley is only about 1% of the actual park area. It is easy to get away from the valley crowds by taking a hike. The hike to the top of Yosemite Falls was fairly easy. Yosemite Falls is the highest in North America. The famous falls you see from the Wawona Tunnel, that being the classic Yosemite view (picture at the top), is Bridal Veil Falls. So much water was falling over the veil that you could only make it so far up the trail before being overwhelmed by the pounding mist.

You can also walk among the 3 groves of Giant Sequoia in Yosemite.

The springtime trip to Yosemite turned it from one of my least favorite National Parks, to one of my favorites.

Seasonal Yosemite Information
  • Rivers & Waterfalls: Vernal, Nevada, and Bridalveil Falls are flowing with typical autumn (low) flows.
  • Yosemite Falls has water once again.
  • Bears: Bears continue to be very active in campgrounds and parking lots in search of food: be sure to store your food properly!
Lodging & Other Concessions
  • In Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village, and The Ahwahnee are open.
  • The Wawona Hotel is open.
  • Housekeeping Camp, Tuolumne Meadows, and White Wolf Lodges are closed for the season.
Reservations are available up to 366 days in advance. Visit DNC Parks & Resorts' website for more information.

  • Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines and Lower, Pines Campgrounds are open; reservations are required.
  • Camp 4 is open on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • North Pines Campground is closed for the season.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park

October 18, 2009 Road Report Update:
Currently 29.0 miles of the Going-to-the-Sun Road are open for travel.

Visitors can drive 15.5 miles from the West Entrance to Avalanche, and 13.5 miles from the St. Mary Entrance to Jackson Glacier Overlook.

The section of the road between Avalanche and Jackson Glacier Overlook is closed due to road construction and weather. Hiker/biker access is available to the Loop, approximately 9 miles past the vehicle closure.

The Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park was built in 1921. It is such a feat of Civil Engineering that the road is both a National Historic Landmark and a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. It is also what may be the most nerve-wracking road I've ever driven, on any of the Roadtrips I've been on.

I drove the Going-to-the-Sun Road on a Roadtrip that started by heading across the North Cascades on Highway 20, continuing east on 20 til it became Highway 2 heading into Glacier National Park.

Highway 2 becomes Going-to-the-Sun Road and then turns into Highway 89 when it leaves the park. After the Going-to-the-Sun Road this Roadtrip went on to cross Montana, stopping at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument, the site of Custer's Last Stand, then on to Wyoming and Devils Tower, then South Dakota and Mount Rushmore, Deadwood, Wall Drug Store, Badlands National Park and Wounded Knee, then back to Wyoming through Casper and Yellowstone, then back to Washington.

Glacier National Park and the Going-to-the-Sun Road were definitely one of the highlights of this Roadtrip. The Going-to-the-Sun Road is very narrow and twists and turns, with the portion of the road west of Logan Pass being the most challenging.

Part of what makes the Going-to-the-Sun Road nerve wracking is the lack of guardrails. Due to the amount of snow that piles up, as high as 80 feet at the Logan Pass summit, and numerous rock slides and avalanches, guardrails get wiped out. It takes about 10 weeks to plow the Going-to-the-Sun Road free of snow every year, with the road usually able to be opened by early June with the snow closing it again by mid October.

My drive on the Going-to-the-Sun Road occurred in early October. Fall had Glacier National Park's deciduous trees, like aspens, being a brilliant color of yellow.

Due to the narrow winding nature of the Going-to-the-Sun Road there are points on either side of Logan Pass where no vehicles longer than 21 feet are permitted to continue. I imagine that can be a bit upsetting if you are driving an RV and did not know this. That could make for a long detour. I vaguely remember my sister complaining of this when she took her RV to Glacier National Park en route to South Dakota.

For those who are unnerved by the idea of driving a road like this, the park has a fleet of tour buses that will take you over Logan Pass.

Going-to-the-Sun Road is named for Going to the Sun Mountain, which dominates your view as you cross Logan Pass from the west. Going to the Sun Mountain is the peak you see in the picture directly above.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Get A Water Car For Extra Roadtrip Options

I saw a Water Car dive into Lake Grapevine, in Texas, a few years ago. I'd never seen such a thing before. In the water that Water Car did not move too fast. The Water Car in the above video is able to keep up with a speed boat speeding on Lake Havasu in Arizona.

I can see where a Water Car would expand ones Roadtrip options. Just drive to Lake Powell and then drive into the lake. No need for a houseboat.

I'm thinking the novelty of a Water Car might quickly wear off. A Water Car is a rather expensive carboat at $200,000. You could get yourself a nice big boat and car for $200,000. Then again you'd save on the expense of renting a marina space, because you could just park your carboat in your garage.

I wonder what sort of mileage the Water Car gets? 20 mph on land? 5 mph at sea?