Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Giant Sequoia Crashes To The Ground In California's Sierra Nevadas

Decades Ago Among Giant Sequoias
I have only walked among the giant Sequoias of Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, once, decades ago. I remember being very impressed over how HUGE the trees were in the General Grant Grove, I think that is what it was called, in Kings Canyon National Park.

This week I got a mailing from the Sierra Club with an urgent plea to act to help stop proposed logging in the Sequoia National Forest.

I was appalled at the idea that California would allow Sequoia forests to be logged.

And then this morning I learned that, almost in protest, a 1,500 year old Giant Sequoia toppled over, crushing a bridge and blocking a trail, creating a 300 foot long roadblock.

The Fallen Giant Sequoia
Now a debate has erupted over what to do with the dead tree. Callous sorts are suggesting it be turned into a massive amount of firewood. Others want to leave it where it lies. Some want to tunnel under it, or bridge over it.

A Sequoia has not fallen in the Sequoia National Forest, previously, where its falling has created such a dilemma.

The fallen tree was part of the Sierra Nevada's Trail of 100 Giants, and was one of the biggest, previously standing in Long Meadow Grove in the Giant Sequoia National Monument.

Giant Sequoias can live 4,000 years, give or take a year, making this newly fallen Sequoia not even middle-aged.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Colorado's Great Sand Dunes National Park

You will find the tallest sand dunes in North America in Colorado in Great Sand Dunes National Park.

Sand too heavy to rise with the wind is blown northeastward across the flat desert floor of the San Luis Valley til it comes to the Sangre de Cristo Range, where sand deposits have piled up for around 15,000 years.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve covers 130 square miles, including the 39 square miles of sand dunes, plus land surrounding the dunes. Great Sand Dunes National Park was originally designated a National Monument. President Bill Clinton signed the Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Act of 2000, with the ultimate goal of National Park status achieved by act of Congress on September 13, 2004.

A National Park visitor center has exhibits explaining the natural and human history of the Great Sand Dunes area. There are self-guided nature trails, plus camping and picnic facilities. Naturalist conducted walks and, in summer, nightly amphitheater programs are presented.

Longtime local legends have told of wagon trains lost in the dunes, along with strange creatures living in the inner reaches of the dunes.

There are several streams flowing on the edges of the dunes. Water is carried downstream, and then when the stream runs dry the wind picks the sand back up and re-deposits it on the dunes.

Of the streams in the park the most notable is Medano Creek, which borders the east side of the dunes, near the Visitor Center. Medano Creek's streambed is constantly meandering. Sand will form dams, which then break, causing mini-floods, which look like waves of water rolling across the sand.

Visitors can play in Medano Creek, as long as no motorized equipment is used. Medano Creek fun includes sand castle building, making sand sculptures, skimboarding, wading and even surfing.

Great Sand Dunes National Park's sand dunes rise as high as 750 feet.

With the help of the National Conservancy, when the National Monument was expanded to a National Park, parts of Baca Ranch were included. The size of Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 3 times bigger than when it was a National Monument. Included in the National Park is Kit Carson Mountain at 14,165 feet in elevation.

Inside Great Sand Dunes National Park you will find 6 peaks over 13,000 feet in elevation, forests of cottonwood and aspen, plus spruce and pine forests, along with grasslands and wetlands providing habitat for diverse plant species and wildlife.

According to a study made by the National Park Service, Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve is the quietest national park in the lower 48 United States.

In addition to being quiet, this national park is also very windy. You can easily witness the dune building process as you hike on the Sand Dunes being pelted by blowing sand and small rocks.

For detailed current information about conditions at Great Sand Dunes National Park, including the water flow of Medano Creek, visit the National Park Service's official Great Sand Dunes National Park website.

Great Sand Dunes National Park is about 38 miles northeast of Alamosa via US 160 and SR 150. The map below will give you an idea of where the National Park is located in Colorado...

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Telluride Colorado for the Film Festival and Bridal Veil Falls Hike

Telluride, Colorado is in a box canyon on the San Miguel River on the west slope of the Uncompahgre Range of the San Juan Mountains.

In 1875 mining claims started being staked in the area around a supply camp called Columbia. Soon the name of the supply camp was changed to Telluride, named after tellurium, the non-metallic matrix in which gold and silver appeared.

By the 1890s Telluride began to try to gain some respectability to counter its reputation for being a bit on the wild side. The luxurious Sheridan Hotel and next door opera house were built in 1891.

Famous people such as Lillian Gish, Sarah Bernhardt and William Jennings Bryan appeared at the Sheridan Opera House.

In 1889 Butch Cassidy impressed Telluride with the unauthorized withdrawal of around $30,000 from the San Miguel Valley Bank in what is believed to be his first bank robbery.

Telluride did not turn into a ghost town when the mining began to slow down. Instead Telluride's main industry became tourism. Hippies started showing up in Telluride in the late 1960s.

Telluride Ski Resort turned Telluride into a major skiing destination. Other outdoor activities turned Telluride into a year round tourist attraction with mountain biking, hiking and river rafting.

The Telluride Film Festival, held over Labor Day Weekend, has become an internationally significant film festival.

About 2 1/2 miles southeast of Telluride, Bridal Veil Creek drops 365 feet over Bridal Veil Falls. On the edge of the cliff above the falls sits a renovated 1907 building which housed one of the oldest Westinghouse generators in existence. The generator has been restored and is providing hydro power to Telluride.

Hikers and mountain bikers can take a mining road built in the late 1800s to the power station and Bridal Veil Falls. Another dramatic hike up the canyon begins on the edge of town and climbs 1,100 feet to Bear Creek Falls.

In the Telluride Historical Museum you will find exhibits that chronicle the history of Telluride from the early mining days to the present.

Telluride is at an elevation of around 8,750 feet. The Roadtrip to Telluride involves some mountain driving. From the west, Colorado Route 145 is the main way into Telluride. There are two passes into Telluride, both of which require 4 x 4 skills. Imogene Pass is the less treacherous of the two. Black Bear Pass is considered by many to be Colorado's most dangerous pass. Black Bear Pass can be driven in only one direction due to a tricky stair step section.

The map below shows you were Telluride is located in the San Juan Mountains....

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Leadville Colorado & Baby Doe's Matchless Mine

Leadville, Colorado, high up in the Rocky Mountains at an elevation of 10,350 feet, is the highest incorporated city in the United States.

Gold was discovered in California Gulch in 1860 bringing a stamped of prospectors to what was then called Oro City.

The gold miners found themselves hampered by heavy black sand that clogged their sluice boxes.

By 1870 only a few people remained in Oro City. One of them was H.A.W. Tabor, who was to become part of a famous American saga of romance and rags to riches, immortalized forever in the opera "The Ballad of Baby Doe."

That heavy black sand turned out to be carbonate of lead and was full of silver. By 1878 Oro City had become Leadville and was again a boom town of over 30,000, with the now wealthy Mr. Tabor the town's mayor. Tabor bought up as many mine claims as he could in the Leadville Mining District, including the Matchless Mine, which brought in around $100,000 a month at its production peak.

Tabor become a money spending machine, thoroughly enjoying his wealth. This annoyed his austere wife, Augusta. Soon Tabor took up with a young beauty named Elizabeth McCourt Doe, more popularly known as Baby Doe. Tabor divorced Augusta and married Baby Doe, then moved to Denver to begin his career as a public servant.

H.A.W. Tabor lost his fortune in the Panic of 1893, but held on to the Matchless Mine. On his deathbed, in 1899 Tabor told Baby Doe to "Hang onto the Matchless." And so she did, til Baby Doe died in abject poverty in 1933.

While visiting Leadville you can get out of your vehicle and take a scenic, narrated railroad trip through Colorado mining country, from Leadville to Climax, on the Leadville, Colorado and Southern Railroad Company train.

If you want to learn more about mining you can visit Leadville's National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum, located in a Victorian style school built during the silver boom. Exhibits trace the history of mining all the way back to the ancient Egyptian forward in time to large scale mechanized modern mining operations.

When it was built in 1879 the Tabor Opera House was billed as the "largest and best, West of the Mississippi!" The Tabor Opera House retains the look of its "last show," when wealthy miners were willing to spend a lot of money to experience the talents of famous performers from New York City.

All the highways in Lake County, of which Leadville is the county seat, are part of the Top of the Rockies Scenic and Historic Byway. You have a couple highway choices to Roadtrip into Leadville. US 24 takes you to Leadville from the Minturn exit from Interstate 70. Colorado State  Highway 91 connects Leadville to Interstate 70 near Copper Mountain. This would be the route you'd take to Leadville if you were coming from the Denver direction.

The map below shows you where Leadville is located, south of Interstate 70....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip to Cripple Creek Colorado's Casinos

Cripple Creek, Colorado was a town that had seen its gold mining days long gone, like Deadwood, South Dakota, with its tourist attraction attribute centering around its historic past and being a sort of ghost town.

And then legalized gambling came to both towns, turning both into tourist attractions for entirely new reasons.

Casinos now occupy many of Cripple Creek's historic buildings, bringing revenue and economic vitality back to this area of Colorado located about 10 miles southwest of Pikes Peak, as a bird flies.

Cripple Creek & Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad
In addition to casinos, in Cripple Creek you will also find the Cripple Creek and Victor Narrow Gauge Railroad, next to the Cripple Creek District Museum.

For a reasonably priced fare you can take a 4-mile, 45-minute train ride behind a coal-burning steam locomotive, taking you past abandoned mines.

You can also go 1,000 feet underground on a tour of the Mollie Kathleen Gold Mine. It gets cold underground, so the mine tour supplies a jacket if you need one.

Cripple Creek's gold boom began in the spring of 1891 when Bob Womack realized the color on the ground at Womack Ranch was gold. Womack took a supply of gold to Colorado City (now Colorado Springs) where he had a fine time going on a binge, spending his gold. Womack then made the mistake of selling his claim for $500. That claim eventually produced more than $350 million in gold. Womack died broke on August 10, 1909.

You can Roadtrip yourself to Cripple Creek by driving from Colorado Springs on US 24 and State Route 67. If you are adventurous and your vehicle can handle it, you can take Gold Camp to Cripple Creek. The Phantom Canyon Road heads south from Cripple Creek to US 50, 7 miles east of Canon City. Only experienced mountain drivers should attempt the Gold Camp and Phantom Canyon routes.

The map below shows Cripple Creek's location in relationship to Colorado Springs and Pikes Peak...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Cedar Breaks National Monument, established in 1933, is located off Utah State Route 14, between Bryce Canyon National Park and Cedar City, is a 3 mile wide natural limestone amphitheater eroded to a depth of almost 2,500 feet. Translated into English, the local Indians called Cedar Breaks the "Circle of Painted Cliffs." The elevation of the rim of the canyon is over 10,000 feet above sea level.

The eroded rock of Cedar Breaks is similar to formations at Bryce Canyon National Park and Kodachrome Basin State Park, with differences which make Cedar Breaks unique. Snow often makes Cedar Breaks National Monument inaccessible to vehicles from October through May. the Monument's visitor center is open only from June through October, although park headquarters is open the rest of the year.

Cedar Breaks National Monument is not as heavily visited as some of nearby Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks. This makes Cedar Breaks National Monument a less crowded place to visit during the heavy touristing time of the year, when Bryce Canyon and Zion can be a bit crowded.

Cedar Breaks National Monument is the location of the headwaters of Mammoth Creek, a tributary of the Sevier River.

Below the Cedar Break's amphitheater's rim the "breaks" slope sharply downward in ragged walls, spires, arches and columns, colored shades of yellow, orange, purple and red. The colors come from the mineral oxides in the rock.

Bristlecone Pines are among the oldest plants on Earth. You will find the pine trees clinging to the windswept ridges above the rim.

You will find hiking trails throughout Cedar Breaks National Monument, including along the rim. Also on the rim you will find camping and picnic facilities near Point Supreme.

In summer the Cedar Breaks meadows and slopes have added color due to wildflowers. There is also wildlife habitat in the form of mule deer, which you may find grazing on the meadows in the early morning. A self-guided trail takes you from the Chessman Meadow parking lot to Alpine Pond, which you will find to be a beautiful spot to take in the view.

If you are Roadtripping through the Utah National Park and Monuments, you will want to add Cedar Breaks National Monument to your list of what you want to visit.

Click on the map below to get a closer look at where Cedar Breaks National Monument is located in relationship to Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Roadtripping Utah's Highway 12 from Torrey to Bryce Canyon's Ruby's Inn

In the picture you are looking at a section of the Hog's Back on Utah's Scenic Highway 12. I drove this highway back in the mid 1990s. On Easter weekend. Part of a Roadtrip that included a week in Moab.

I long ago wrote a very long and detailed description of this particular Roadtrip, webpaging the tale with the title "MOAB, Mountain Bikes...etc...Utah...Road Trip..."

Below is the slightly edited section of what I wrote well over a decade ago regarding the Roadtrip over Utah's Highway 12......

It was time to leave Bicknell to begin the drive toward Bryce Canyon NP on Highway 12, the number one thing I'd been looking forward to on this trip, the highway some consider the most scenic in America if not the world.

So it was back to Torrey to the Highway 12 junction, then south. The first part of the road is all about elevation gain. 7000 feet. 8000 feet. Then the summit at 9400 feet.

There was some snow surviving in places. At the summit the view extended over 200 miles to the LaSalles, to Navajo Mountain in Arizona, to Glen Canyon, to Lake Powell. It was an impressive view.

At the downside of the summit we came to the little town of Boulder, the last settlement in continental America to receive daily postal service. In Boulder is Anasazi Village State Park. It was a nice museum and archaeological dig. No Mesa Verde. But I bought a cool faux petroglyph.

The reason Boulder did not receive regular mail is because of the rather treacherous roads in and out of town. During the Great Depression the Civilian Conservation Corp (CCC) built the new highway, the one we were driving, Highway 12. It was considered a monumental engineering feat in its day and was quite controversial  because of the cost and because locals did not think a road could be built where they proposed building it---over the infamous Hog's Back, along a narrow crest, with multi-thousand foot drop offs on either side.

As you drive along, the Hog's Back pops into view. The road is paved, obviously, but there are no guard rails. The road twists and turns and goes up and down, roller coaster-like for 3 miles. I liked it very much. After the most dramatic part of the roller coaster section you begin a descent along steep cliffs til you reach the bottom of Calf Creek Canyon, site of the number one thing I wanted to do that day on Highway 12, hike to Calf Creek Falls.

The trail head for the Calf Creek Fall hike is right off the highway, beginning in a rather nice campground which I was surprised to find full, as well as an almost full trailhead parking lot. The temperature in the canyon was in the 80's, at least. I was glad I was in shorts and sunscreen. It is a 3 mile plus hike to the falls on an easy sandy trail which meanders along Calf Creek. The canyon is very much like Zion Canyon. The creek was dammed by at least 15 large beaver dams. The water was the sort of clear I didn't know water could be, giving a very amazing view of all the trout avoiding being caught by the guys fishing.

Along the trail there are many points of interest, Anasazi ruins, a couple arches, odd vegetation, lizards, snakes.

About mile 2 the canyon narrows, you begin to hear the  sound of water rushing. I thought it was the falls, but it was a giant beaver dam making a spillway. The canyon continued to narrow, and grow steeper, blocking out the sun. We rounded a bend and the sound of a waterfall became unmistakable. 

And then we saw it.

Falling a couple hundred feet into an emerald pool, Calf Creek Falls was far more than I'd expected, creating a sort of tropical oasis in the Utah desert. A large sandy beach of redrock sand had multiple sun bathers and occasional quick dippers into the cold water. The swamp cooler effect of the falls dropped the temps to a very pleasant breezy warm. A local told me the falls run all summer long, draining a snow melt lake 7 miles further up the creek. In summer the beach and emerald pool become a very popular swimming area. The hike back to the van was much warmer, facing into the sun.

Continuing on, we entered the Escalante zone of Highway 12, following the Escalante river, crossing it a couple times, before the river finally left us and headed down to become Escalante Canyon, the coolest side canyon of Lake Powell. This was a narrow canyon, redrock zone, with a lot of slick rock.

We dropped down into a flat area in the center of which sat the little town of Escalante, a charming slightly Winthropized wild westy town with competing town stores on opposite sides of the street. I gave each store a little business. Ed bought his usual two-fisted ice cream bars and I got a bag of smart corn.

Out of town the road climbs again, entering a different geological zone, white slick rock and then we started seeing the pink hints of Bryce Canyon. At the summit an overlook viewed Powell Point, a white rock desolate escarpment named for Powell because it was the furthest north he got in his explorations and he wrote poetically about the desolate beauty of this monolith.

Now Highway 12 became a drop to a broad valley, the Tropic  Valley, so named because of its lower elevation actually allowing the cultivation of gardens. We drove into Kodachrome Basin State Park and did the scenic loop. A very nice campground, but it seemed like a Bryce wannabe, so I just wanted to get to the real thing, another 20 miles or so.

Continuing on we passed through the little town of Tropic, Bryce Canyon was clearly visible a short distance away, then we entered the Park and then there was Ruby's Inn where I'd called to make a reservation the night before.

Ruby's Inn is now a Best Western, but the Ruby family still owns it. Old man Ruby bought a ranch here in the early 1900's. A neighbor dropped by and took the Ruby family on a Sunday picnic to the edge of Bryce Canyon. Ruby saw the tourist possibilities, began running tours, opened an inn, gave up ranching. When the government decided to make it Bryce Canyon National Park, Ruby was given the park concession, hence the cozy relationship Ruby's Inn has with the park to this very day.

I want to return to Bryce Canyon National Park and stay a week at Ruby's Inn, with day after day of hiking.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Yosemite National Park's Waterfall's Moonbows

Yosemite National Park is well known for its waterfalls, with namesake Yosemite Falls likely being the most recognized.

In addition to being spectacular waterfalls, the waterfalls of Yosemite are also known for their Moonbows.

Of the waterfalls in Yosemite, Yosemite Falls is the site of the best Moonbows.

A Moonbow might more precisely be called a Lunar Rainbow. A Lunar Rainbow occurs when moonlight is reflected in the spray from a waterfall.

To see a Yosemite Moonbow the conditions you need are a clear night sky, bright moonlight and a waterfall falling a lot of water.

Watch the video below to see some Yosemite Moonbows...

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Yosemite's Half Dome Cable Controversy

In the picture you are looking at a line of hikers holding on to a cable to take them to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.

The Half Dome Cables Route hike starts on the Yosemite Valley floor. This is known as the Mist Trail. It is 8.2 miles to the top of Half Dome, with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet.

Two steel cable are used as handholds to take hikers the final 400 feet to the top of Half Dome. The Sierra Club installed the original Half Dome cables in 1916.

Due to the length of the hike and its difficulty, for most of Yosemite's history the hike to the top of Half Dome did not have any overcrowding issues. But, in recent years, as you can see in the picture, a lot of people were hiking to the top of Half Dome and crowding the cables.

The crowd of hikers going up and down the cable made for a bit of jostling treachery on the steep rock wall. Since 1996 four hikers have fallen to their deaths from the cables. Dozens have had to be rescued after falling or getting stuck.

To solve the problem of too many people hiking to the top of Half Dome the Park Service decided to limit the number of hikers by issuing 300 permit a day to hikers and 100 a day to backpackers.

Some Yosemite aficionados were not happy with this solution, finding it nearly impossible to get a permit.

On the 4th of July a citizens group called Save Half Dome started up an online petition asking the National Park Service to stop requiring permits to climb Half Dome and to consider the installation of a third cable.

There are those who would like to see the cables removed, making the claim they deface Half Dome. Under current rules such cables could not be installed. The reason the Half Dome cables are allowed is because their installation, in 1916, pre-dated Half Dome's 1964 designation as a protected wilderness area.

So much of the Yosemite Valley has been so greatly altered from its natural state it seems, to me, a bit ridiculous to make an issue of installing an additional cable to the top of Half Dome.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Zion Canyon Narrows Has Reopened to Hikers & Campers After High Water Closure

An above average snowpack, combined with a prolonged snowmelt caused record breaking levels of water to flow into the Virgin River for a longer than normal period of time this summer, forcing the closure of the extremely popular Zion Canyon Narrows.

The Virgin River has now receded enough to allow the reopening of the Narrows to the hordes of tourists who flock to enjoy this scenic wonder in Zion National Park.

In the early 1990's twelve back country campsites were created in the Narrows. The recent high water was the highest recorded since the campsites were created. Two of the campsites were damaged by the high water and will remain closed for now.

Even though the Narrows are now open, the Virgin River's water levels remain high. One must be ever vigilant when hiking in the Zion Narrows regarding the flash flood danger.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Taking a Roadtrip (or Hiking) to the Top of Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park

This photo, seemingly depicting the end point of a Roadtrip, gives an acrophobe, such as myself, a case of wobbly knees.

The picture is a publicity shot of a Studebaker Roadster, taken in 1916, with the roadster and those onboard on top of Overhanging Rock on Yosemite's Glacier Point.

Glacier Point is a popular viewpoint high above the Yosemite Valley, located on the south side of the valley. The high point of Glacier Point is at an elevation of 7,214 feet, which puts it 3,200 above Curry Village and the Yosemite Valley floor.

Among the Yosemite National Park scenic highlights you will see from the panoramic Glacier Point viewpoint are Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, Clouds Rest and Nevada Falls, with the High Sierra in the distance.

You can reach Glacier Point from the Yosemite Valley floor via Glacier Point Road, during the period of the year when it is open. In summer the Glacier Point Road, and the Point itself, can be a bit overcrowded with tourists.

In addition to Glacier Point Road you can reach Glacier Point on Four Mile Trail, ascending 3,200 feet in 4.6 miles, making this a somewhat strenuous hike.

You can take a 4 hour bus tour to Glacier Point. You can opt to take the bus one-way and hike back to the valley floor. The bus tours run from late Spring til early Fall, departing at 8:30am, 10am and 1:30pm. You can secure a reservation, once you are in the park, at any Tour & Activity Desk or by calling x1240 from any house phone. To make reservations before arriving at Yosemite, call (209) 372-4386.

The Glacier Point Bus Tour Costs (circa 2011) ---

 Round-trip  One-way
 Adults  $41  $25
 Seniors  $35  $23
 Child  $23  $15
 Child under 5  FREE  FREE

I don't believe the final stop on the bus tour is the same final stop the Studebaker Roadster made in 1916.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Water Level at Lake Powell Rose 26 Feet in June

I have been the Captain of a Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" twice. Both times in early October.

On the first Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" no note was made by those in charge regarding the lake level being anything but normal for that time of year.

When we arrived for the second Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" a few years later we were surprised to see Lake Powell in what appeared to be flood mode. And note was made, this time, by those in charge, that Lake Powell was holding extra water.

I did not like Lake Powell as much with the extra water.

Currently Lake Powell is at full pool. The lake has risen 42 feet since its yearly low was reached in April. High water presents challenges to fish anglers.

I do not know if Lake Powell's current lake level is similar to my first visit, or the second.

The first time on Lake Powell, with the water level way lower than the second visit, the water was crystal clear. On the second visit, with all that extra water, the water was not clear.

The first Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" saw nothing by clear skies and warm days. The second Lake Powell Houseboat "Roadtrip" started off in heavy rain and rough water. Which was fun and a bit scary. We knew we were seeing something few get to see, that being waterfalls running down the cliffs surrounding Lake Powell.

If think if I were to float on Lake Powell again, rather than rent a houseboat I would rent a speedboat to go exploring and stay each night in a cabin at Bullfrog.

But, I do not see this happening anytime soon.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Having a Whopper at the Navajo Code Talkers Display & Navajo Culture Center in Kayenta Arizona

Among the many things I love about a Roadtrip is being surprised by something. Seeing something you did not know existed. Or learning about something you had never heard of.

I remember one September in my college years, being in Yellowstone, hiking the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. And then remarking that this canyon is so grand I wonder what it is like to see the world's most famous Grand Canyon.

So, being footloose, with no itinerary, off we headed, south towards Grand Canyon. On the way we came to Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion Canyon National Park. Total surprises. Knew nothing about them at that point in time. Was total scenery overload.

And then there can be the little surprise. Like over Christmas of 1994 I went to Disneyland, then headed east to Las Vegas, then Grand Canyon, then across the Painted Desert for the first time, heading to Monument Valley and Moab.

The Painted Desert is Navajo country, the location of the Navajo Nation. There is a town called Kayenta in Navajo territory. In Kayenta there is a Burger King. And in that Burger King there is a museum.

The museum is dedicated to the Navajo Code Talkers. I had never heard of the Navajo Code Talkers prior to that day in that Burger King.

The museum has some World War II relics, with newspaper articles telling the story of how approximately 400 young Navajo Americans helped win World War II by developing a code based on the Navajo language that was impossible for the wily Japanese or Nazis to crack.

Since I first learned of the Navajo Code Talkers a movie has been made telling the story.

If you are Roadtripping across the Painted Desert it is very easy to find the Kayenta Burger King and the Navajo Code Talker Display and Navajo Culture Center. The Burger King is at the junction of US 160 and US 163.

By the way, this particular Burger King made particularly good Whoppers.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Grizzly Bear Mom & Her Cubs Are Causing Traffic Jams In Grand Teton National Park

I remember back before the bears were removed from Yellowstone National Park getting stuck in a traffic jam, or two, caused by bears.

This summer Grand Teton National Park, the National Park next door neighbor of Yellowstone, is have some traffic jams caused by bears.

To be more precise, traffic jams caused by a Grizzly Bear mom and 5 bear cubs that follow mom around.

The Grizzly Bear mom is known as #399. Her daughter is #610. This year, Grizzly Bear mom #399 had 3 more cubs. While daughter, #610, had 2 cubs.

The Grizzly Bear mom and her brood of cubs travel together, usually not far from the road, which has led to them becoming a very popular roadside attraction in Grand Teton National Park.

Years ago, at a Yellowstone bear traffic jam, I was a bit horrified to see a guy put his arm around the bear causing the jam, so that a picture could be taken. This was a brown bear, not a Grizzly. That same brown bear tried to stick its head in the window of my antique 1965 Ford Mustang.

A Grizzly Bear mom is one of the more dangerous animals you will ever run into. Mom will fiercely protect her cubs.

Grizzly Bear #399 has defended her babies in the past. In 2007 she bit a guy who came upon the mama Grizzly and her cubs while they were having a dinner of fresh elk meat.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Opinions About the Top Ten Best National Park Hikes in America

In the picture you are looking at the switchbacks at the start of the Navajo Loop Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah.

Recently an entity calling itself listed the Top 10 Best National Park Hikes.

The list was a little goofy in that actual hiking trails were not named for some of the National Parks Listed. Such as Mesa Verde National Park, at #8, which is more known for its Anasazi Cliff Dwellings than hiking.

Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, is #5, with no mention of a specific trail. Yellowstone National Park is only a few miles away, and not on the list, but with miles upon miles of some of the most incredible hiking in the world.

Grand Canyon National Park is on the list, with the suggestion to take the South Rim Kaibab Trail rather than the move heavily hiked Bright Angel Trail. I have hiked the Bright Angel Trail to the bottom of Grand Canyon. A better suggestion might be to do your Grand Canyon hiking from the far less crowded North Rim. There are a lot of trails to hike in the Grand Canyon.

Bryce Canyon National Park is #1 on the list of best places to hike. Of all the places I have hiked, I would have to agree Bryce Canyon is the best.

The picture on the right is why Bryce Canyon's Peek-a-Boo Trail is so-named. The aforementioned Navajo Loop Trail connects to the Peek-a-Boo trail, and other trails, beneath the rim of Bryce Canyon.

It seems odd to me that a couple other Utah National Parks are on not on this list, due to the fact that they contain some of the world's best hikes.

Zion National Park has miles of extraordinary, one-of-a-kind hiking trails, including the scary trail to the top of Angel's Landing.

Utah's Arches National Park has miles of hiking trails taking you to the world's biggest collection of natural arches and other scenic wonders. I have hiked the ranger led Fiery Furnace Hike twice. It is among the best hikes I have ever been on.

Not having Arches and Zion National Parks on a list of the Top Ten Best National Park Hikes is very goofy.

Yosemite National Park is at the #10 spot. Yosemite has incredible hiking trails. Of all the Yosemite Hikes the Outer Loop Trail through the Mariposa Grove is specifically mentioned. But not any of the hikes that take you from the valley floor to incredible views of the Yosemite Valley.

Mammoth Cave National Park is #7. With Carlsbad Caverns National Park not on the list.

The 101 miles of Appalachian Trail in Shenadoah National Park is #9. The Appalachian Trail in Shenadoah National Park does not look all that scenic.

Not when compared to the scenery you see when you hike any of the many trails in Washington's Mount Rainier National Park or Olympic National Park or North Cascades National Park in.

#2 on the list is Cumberland Island National Seashore in Georgia, specifically mentioning the Willow Pond Trail which takes you from the Atlantic Coast to a lush forest. I read that and remembered the hike from Lake Ozette to the Pacific Ocean, in Washington, the trail cedar planks through lush, rain forest green of giant trees to Cape Alava in the Washington Islands Wilderness of Olympic National Park.

The last one to mention, on the Sherman's Travel's list of the Top Ten Best National Park Hikes, is Haleakala National Park, Hawaii. No specific trail is cited.

Back to the state of Washington, I have to mention that there are many hiking trails in Mount Saint Helens National Monument. Very scenic hikes.

So, there you have it, my take on Sherman's Travel's list of the Top Ten Best National Park Hikes.

Now hit the road and do some hiking this summer.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Estes Park, Colorado's Big Elk Population Chasing Tourists

The elk bearing down on the man in the picture is doing so in Estes Park, Colorado.

Estes Park is a popular summer resort town and is where Rocky Mountain National Park's headquarters is located.

At last count Estes Park had a population of 5,858. And for much of the year nearly 2,000 elk join the human inhabitants of Estes Park.

Estes Park average elevation is 7,522 feet, located on the eastern front range of the Rocky Mountains at the eastern entry to Rocky Mountain National Park.

Built in 1909 the Stanley Hotel in on the outskirts of Estes Park. Stephen King was a guest of the Stanley Hotel, a visit which inspired him to change the locale of his novel, The Shining, calling the Stanley Hotel the Overlook Hotel.

The highest highway in the United States, Trail Ridge Road, runs from Estes Park west through Rocky Mountain National Park and then on to Grand Lake at the Continental Divide.

Below is a map showing the location of Estes Park. As you can see it is a fairly short distance northwest of Denver.

Below is a BBC YouTube video about the elk in Estes Park. I have seen herds of elk take over the town-like north entry into Yellowstone National Park. It is sort of an unsettling spectacle.

Below are a couple interesting comments about the Estes Park elk video....

I'm a Colorado native and the elk population is in a serious boom cycle because the land is not hunted AND the elk no longer have their natural predators (wolves) around to cull the herd. When I was younger, the elk stayed in the park and were not in town as they are now. Spoke with a park ranger and they've talked of just killing some and letting nature take care of the carcasses. At least with hunters, they could make money from the license revenue, plus the meat would not go to waste.

This is the same situation in Japan where the Shika deer no longer have their natural predators. It's a hunters' paradise since the government allows for a 5 month hunting season with no limit (limit of 1 deer a day per hunter applies). However Japan has far less hunter so the Shika deers are overpopulated and destroys crops and trees.