Big Sur Trip, Part 2

After backpacking to Sykes Hot Springs my sis and I spent several days exploring the Big Sur area.


We were pretty tired and sore from backpacking so we decided to take it easy on Friday. As it turned out we didn’t have much choice about taking it easy because it started pouring down rain Thursday night. It rained so hard that mud was splattered up the sides of the tent.

Fortunately by the time we woke up the rain had mostly abated, but we still ate our breakfast under two sheltering redwoods at our campsite to avoid the mist/drizzle.

Taking advantage of the break from the downpour we headed down to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, about 30 minutes south. We headed to the viewpoint for McWay Falls, a nice waterfall that drops right down onto a beach.

Until 1983 that waterfall dropped straight into the ocean. But an ENORMOUS landslide that year sent so much debris into the ocean that much of it washed up in this cove and created a beach.

Even now, more than 30 years later, you can still see the scar of that landslide just north of the waterfall viewpoint.

Just a short drive north of there is the trail down to Partington Cove, a nice little beach. We sat there for awhile watching the waves.

A side trail crosses Partington Creek and leads to Partington Landing via a tunnel. The hand-split redwood tunnel was built in the 1870s by John Partington, who harvested the bark of the tanbark oak, transported it down the canyon and through the tunnel by mule, then loaded it onto ships in the cove. Legend says that the cove was also used to smuggle booze during Prohibition.

It started raining pretty hard on our hike back up to the road. It wasn’t far to go, but we tried to wait out the rain under some trees. The rain didn’t let up, so we hurried up the trail as fast as we could. We still got soaked.

Rather than return to our soggy campsite we hung out with our expensive tea at the Big Sur Lodge near our campground. For months I’ve been hearing about the drought in California and here it was pouring down rain as if we were back in the Pacific Northwest.

Eventually we returned to our campsite and our sad soggy chairs.

In the late afternoon the rain let up for awhile and we wandered around the park exploring.

Although there was more rain the forecast the skies seemed to be clearing a big around sunset so we headed down to Pfeiffer Beach to check it out. We arrived just in the nick of time before the sun disappeared behind a whole bunch of clouds.

More rain headed our way.

That night it poured again. This is the sound of a tent getting muddy and filthy:


On Saturday we headed up to Andrew Molera State Park. Right away we had to cross the Big Sur River, which has no bridge, but is easy to wade. (Our guidebook said there was a seasonal bridge here, but we saw no evidence to support that. Someone we talked to at the crossing said he had been there several times before and had never seen a bridge. Just one of many errors we found in that book, which was supposedly updated last year.)

The first part of the hike took us through Creamery Meadow, a former pasture for cows that produced Monterey Jack cheese.

Then our route turned south to follow the Bluff Trail above the ocean. The beach at upper right is where the Big Sur River flows into the ocean.

The ocean views were really lovely.

The landscape is so different from the beaches at home. There are almost no trees here.

After 2.8 miles we took a short side trail down to a little secluded beach. An astonishing amount of driftwood has piled up here!

We sat on this oh-so-lovely beach for awhile, enjoying the gorgeous sunshine, crashing waves, and passing pelicans. (The reddish purple areas on the sand, by the way, are from a rare mineral called almandite.)

We continued on our way, starting to climb up higher. We could see down on our little beach.

The higher we hike, the better the views became (and the windier it got!)

A VERY windy spot on the way up.

The sideways hair doesn’t even begin to convey how windy it was.

We were now at the southern border of the park and just beyond was private property were multi-million dollar homes sit high above the ocean.

Now our route turned north again on the Ridge Trail, which is an old fire road. Up here there were some trees.

Then the landscape opened up again and we were treated to views of the mountains due east of us.

Way down in that canyon is the Big Sur River.

To the west was the BLUE BLUE ocean. So beautiful!

Once we were down off the bluffs we took a side trip to Molera Beach. It’s a little hard to tell from this picture, but the placid Big Sur River is flowing into the ocean at far right.

Back through Creamery Meadow towards the car.

We took a moment to check out the walk-in campground here. It’s pretty nice, if you don’t mind the 0.3mi walk from your car.

We chowed down on dinner….

….then rushed down to Pfeiffer Beach for the sunset. Lovely!


On our last full day in Big Sur we returned to Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park to hike the Ewoldsen Trail. The first part of the hike follows McWay Creek (which splashes down onto the beach in a waterfall just a short ways downstream). It’s absolutely lovely here with the redwood canopy above!

When we got to the loop junction we were surprised to discover that half of the loop was closed. There had been no signs about this at the trailhead.

So we crossed a new-looking footbridge and did the other half of the loop.

Looking out onto that stunningly blue ocean.

We hiked right over the top of the 1983 landslide that we had seen two days earlier from a different vantage point.

The day wasn’t as clear as Saturday and we found ourselves hiking up into the clouds.

We passed through open areas and forests of oak and redwood.


Of course the park ranger had to count the tree rings. About 300 of them!

Whatever California State Parks is spending day use fee money on, it sure ain’t trail maintenance. I lost count of how many trees we climbed over/under.

The acorn woodpeckers have been busy stashing acorns in the trees here.

The other end of the trail closure.

Up on top at the end of the trail was a lovely viewpoint that we had all to ourselves. Unfortunately we were totally in the clouds at this point and there wasn’t much of a view.

BUT, that was okay because we got to see a condor! California condors are a threatened species due to habitat loss, lead poisoning (from eating animals that have been shot with lead bullets), and poaching. It doesn’t help that they only lay one egg a year. Various organizations raise condors in captivity and then release them. Big Sur is one of three release sites in California and condors are spotted frequently on this trail. It was exciting that we actually got to see one! (In November 2012 Oregon Field Guide did a segment on condors, which I highly recommend.

We hiked back down and started back towards the campground. But since the campground is in a dark forested canyon and we wanted to enjoy the sunshine a big longer, we stopped at Big Sur Coast Gallery Cafe, got lemonade and chips, and enjoyed the view.


Time to start driving home today, but before we did we stopped at Point Lobos State Reserve, just south of Carmel.

Sea lions like to hang out on the rocks offshore. We could hear their barking loud and clear, even over the crashing waves.

In one of the little coves we were treated to a view of two sets of harbor seal pup and parents bobbing in the waves!

There were park docents with tripod-mounted scopes and one of them was focused on some sea otters floating in the kelp beds offshore. It was the first time I had ever seen an otter in the wild. I couldn’t photograph, though the scope, obviously, but trust me when I say that it was very cool.

We checked out the cypress grove.

And got a nice view of Monterey Bay.

Then it was time to head home. I’m glad we visited this gorgeous part of California, and we had a great time!

Big Sur Trip, Part 1

My sis and I recently took a 10-day trip down to Big Sur, a very scenic stretch of coastline south of Monterey, CA. We left town on April 20 after Easter dinner and drove as far as Ashland, then drove the rest of the way to Monterey on Monday. After an unexpected detour to Modesto Subaru because the Check Engine light came on, we set up camp at Veteran’s Memorial Park in Monterey Monday evening.

Monterey campsite

On Tuesday we visited the fabulous Monterey Bay Aquarium. When I visited a year and a half ago the otter exhibit was closed for renovations, so I was delighted to see the otters this time!

Sea otter

The jellyfish are utterly mesmerizing.

Jelly fish

Jelly fish

After visiting Cannery Row and Fisherman’s Wharf we headed south on Highway 1. We stopped at one of the many pullouts to check out the VERY windy view north along the coastline. That’s Bixby Bridge in the distance.

Bixby Bridge

We set up camp at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park, which has a huge campground along the Big Sur River.


On Wednesday morning we broke came and prepared for our backpacking excursion into the Ventana Wilderness in the Los Padres National Forest. A little bit of history: The Los Padres National Forest gets its name from the Catholic priests who proselytized in the area during the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s one of those forests that comprises two unconnected areas. There is the smaller northern section in Big Sur and then the much larger section down by Santa Barbara. Our destination was Sykes Camp in the 234,000-acre Ventana Wilderness, which was established in 1969. Ventana is Spanish for “window” which refers to a unique notch on a ridge near Ventana Double Cone. Legend says that an arch once existed over the top of the notch creating a true window, but geologists have found no evidence to support that. (You can see a picture on the Wikipedia page.)

We set out from Big Sur Station along Highway 1 at 10:30am under sunny skies.

For the first few miles we could see across the river canyon to Manuel Peak and the trail that climbs it.

The Pine Ridge Trail does a lot of climbing in the first few miles. Along the whole length it continually passes in and out of different little zones, everything from cool redwood groves to open chaparral with sweeping views.

We saw lots and lots of lizards.

View into the Ventana Wilderness:

After an hour and 45 minutes and 2.3 miles we reached the wilderness boundary.

We saw and heard many acorn woodpeckers and saw their “granaries” in the trees. From Wikipedia: “The woodpeckers create granaries or “acorn trees” by drilling holes in dead trees, dead branches, telephone poles, and wooden buildings. The woodpeckers then collect acorns and find a hole that is just the right size for the acorn. As acorns dry out, they are moved to smaller holes and granary maintenance requires a significant amount of the bird’s time.” Fascinating!

At 2pm after hiking 5.3 miles we reached Terrace Creek Camp, an absolutely lovely spot with lots of big redwoods and a delightful gurgling creek (the first water we had seen thus far). It was so interesting to me to see these lush green forest groves (very reminiscent of what I see when I hike in the Cascades), and then to be hiking through drier open areas just minutes later.

After a long rest here we donned our packs and kept moving.

After a lot more up and down (this trail is the epitome of a roller coaster trail), we descended almost (but not quite) all the way to the Big Sur River where Barlow Flat Camp is located at the 6.7 mile mark. Then the trail climbed up, up, up out of the river canyon, topping out at 8.2 miles before descending all the way back down to the river and Sykes Camp. Sheesh, what were the trail surveyors thinking?

The last two miles downhill to Sykes Camp were tough. I was hurting by this point, being a little out of shape this early in the hiking season and feeling worn out from all the up and down we had done. To top it off there were many stretches of overgrown trail here. I cringed as I passed through these vegetation tunnels, thinking that I would be crawling with ticks by the time I finally got to camp (fortunately that proved not to be true; no ticks whatsoever).

Finally at 5:30pm we reached Sykes Camp. One last hurdle: cross the river. Fortunately we were able to rock-hop across.

We had deliberately timed our visit here to be midweek when we would encounter the least amount of people. Everything we read said that this place was super popular, with as many as 200 people camped there on busy weekends! 😯 There were a few other tents there but we easily found a nice spot. Here’s a photo from the next morning:

After we put up the tent we quickly set about making dinner. We were HUNGRY!

After dinner we set out to find the hot springs. Unfortunately they are a half-mile hike away, downriver. We knew we had to cross the river several times so I wore my Crocs. The “trail” to the springs turned out to be a half-hour obstacle course of fallen trees, rocks, huge boulders, and river crossings, made all the more difficult by my flimsy footwear and the need to avoid the ubiquitous poison oak. Finally we started smelling sulfur. We made it! In the picture below you can see a teeny-tiny pool (no adult could submerge in that) and up ahead a rock-lined pool in the river, which was only lukewarm.

Above that river pool is a pool with much warmer water, but that one was full so we settled in at the upper pool, which we had all to ourselves for the 45 minutes we stayed. Here is a dark and grainy picture of that pool, which is about six or seven feet wide.

I didn’t get a picture of the lower pool because there were people, but there is a picture on this website.

The hot water felt good after the long hard hike, and we both could have stayed longer. But because of the three river crossings and the difficult trail back to camp we wanted to get that out of the way before it was completely dark. Even with our headlamps the way back was challenging since it was well past dusk.

In the morning before hiking out Deb wanted to go back to the hot springs. With a long hard 10-mile hike out that day, I wasn’t up for the hour round-trip hike to the hot springs and back. So while she was soaking I filtered water near a lovely deep green swimming hole…

Enjoyed watching a newt…

And relaxed by the river, enjoying the serene and idyllic setting.

When Deb got back we dawdled a bit, but eventually had to pack up and head out. This is looking down the canyon of the Big Sur River on our hike out.

One big bonus on this hike is that we saw all sorts of wildflowers, including LOTS of paintbrush and iris:

Another thing we saw a whole bunch of: poison oak. I saw more poison oak on this trip than I’ve seen in all my life combined up to this point. It was EVERYWHERE. After a few days it became evident that neither of us seemed to come in contact with it, but we felt like absolutely everything we brought with us on the trek must be contaminated (probably not true, but after you look at millions of poison oak leaves over two days you just feel like it must have touched all your stuff at some point). Despite the warnings about the proliferation of ticks, we never saw a single one.

This hike ended up being a lot harder than I expected, and the constant up-and-down was tiring. Here is the elevation profile from the sign at the trailhead.

The last mile of trail before the car was flat and easy but I was so sore and tired that I wasn’t hiking, I was shuffling. I’m sure I looked rather pitiful. If I had to do it over again I would schedule a layover day to enjoy the hot springs, hang out by the river, and just laze around enjoying the beautiful setting. Hiking 20 miles in about 36 hours was pretty tough this early in the season when I’m not in peak physical condition. That said, I’m glad we went and saw this lovely place!

Timberline Lodge Weekend

Timberline Lodge is a beautiful old lodge high up on Mt. Hood. I’ve always wanted to stay there so last weekend we splurged and spent Saturday night there.

On Saturday we went snowshoeing at White River Sno Park before heading to the lodge to check in. We’ve been having an unusually dry winter this year so there wasn’t nearly as much snow up there as we normally see in January.

Mt. Hood


Mt. Hood

We headed up to the lodge, which was bathed in the golden glow of the setting sun, as was the mountain behind it.

Evening at Timberline Lodge

Mt. Hood sunset

Our cozy room had a south-facing view of Mt. Jefferson. Lovely!

Cozy room

Room with a view

Before dinner we poked around. I’ve been in the building many times over the years, but I’ve never taken the time to look closely at how lovely the artwork and craftsmanship is.

Linoleum art

Dinner in the Cascade Dining Room was absolutely fabulous. We ordered the Columbia River salmon and that night’s special, which was mahi mahi served over risotto. Both dishes were superb!

Cascade Dining Room

Sunrise in the morning was lovely.

Sunrise at Timberline Lodge

We enjoyed the breakfast buffet in the Cascade Dining Room which included an astonishing array of food: waffles, eggs, biscuits and gravy, roasted potatoes, fresh fruit, artisan cheese and much more. After breakfast we checked out, put our stuff in the car, and snowshoed up to Silcox Hut on yet another gorgeous day. It was actually pretty warm out. I felt overdressed and hot in my winter snow clothes.

Backpacking Through Grand Gulch

My sister and I wanted to do some backpacking while in Utah. (See my post from the first half of our Utah trip.) After hours of paging through the hiking books over the winter we settled on Grand Gulch, which is about two hours south of Moab. The canyon was home to prehistoric Indians between 700 and 2,000 years ago. Then they deserted Grand Gulch and the remains of their homes were left in the hot desert sun.

When white men arrived in the late 1800s they plundered and pillaged the old Indian sites, and many of the artifacts they collected ended up in museums. Today it is illegal for visitors to take anything from the sites. But you CAN get up close to many of the ruins if you do this hike, which is why we chose this trail.

After the two-hour drive from Moab we arrived at the Kane Gulch Ranger Station, picked up the $15 permit we had reserved several months earlier, and got ready to hit the trail on what turned out to be a VERY windy day. There were some solar panels at the edge of the parking lot and I was sure they were going to rip loose and fly away!

The first four miles of trail are through Kane Gulch.

We spotted several dozen aspen trees along a stretch of trail about a mile in. According to the BLM glaciers deposited aspen seeds here during the last ice age. The seeds survived and grew into trees. The aspens that are here today are all of the same genetic makeup and they represent trees that have been growing here continuously for 11,000 years! 😯

There are some ENORMOUS boulders at the bottom of Kane Gulch.

There were still some pools of water from the last time it rained, but other than that it was pretty dry.

We spotted our first old Indian ruin way up high.

We saw a snake (not a rattlesnake) slowly crossing our path. He was pretty big, about four feet long. Since I know some people are afraid of snakes I won’t embed the picture here. Click this link if you want to see it.

We followed the twists and turns of the canyon.

Sometimes we were hiking right in the bottom of the dry wash, and sometimes cottonwoods were growing right there in the channel. This one had lots of debris wrapped around its trunk from past flash floods.

A note about the “trail” in Grand Gulch. Sometimes we were on a real trail with dirt or sand. Sometimes we were hiking in the dry wash. And many times we were climbing in and out of the wash. Even though there wasn’t really any elevation gain to speak of it still felt like there was. I lost count of how many times we were descending into a wash and climbing back out of it. Pretty tiring with a heavy pack!

Where Kane Gulch meets up with Grand Gulch is a very cool site called Junction Ruin. The ruins consist of cists, storage rooms, habitation rooms, kivas, and defensive structures.

This smooth depression in the rock is where they would have ground their corn.

This high upper level would have been the defensive level and would have been accessed via a ladder.

Kivas were dug out of the ground and are assumed to have been used for ceremonial activities. Back when they were in use they would have had roof beams and a roof made of bark. An opening in the roof allowed the people to descend into the kiva via a ladder. One of the ruins many miles further along Grand Gulch has a kiva that’s been stabilized enough to allow people to climb the ladder down into it.

Archaeologists think that the Indians abandoned the Cedar Mesa area around AD 1260. Although the reason for abandoning the area is not known, several possibilities include depletion of resources, drought, disease, or warfare. Besides the ruins themselves, all that is left here are pieces of broken pottery and corn cobs.

There were some handprints on the wall.

Pretty nice view from here!

The BLM has an ammo can on site with a logbook (made for some interesting reading) and a packet of info about this site and the people who once lived here.

After spending time poking around the site we continued on. We passed quite a few cottonwoods, which were newly leafed out and lovely.

We passed Stimper Arch, high up on the canyon wall.

We came to Turkey Pen Ruin.

The final push before we reach our stopping place for the night.

Water is scarce around here but we knew there was a spring at Todie Canyon. We hiked up the canyon about a quarter mile, found the spring, and filled up all our containers. (The map showed several other springs we should have passed throughout our trek but we never saw them. They were either dried up already or we just missed them. Good thing we carried plenty of water!)

The only empty campsite we found was a bit exposed, but it would have to do, so we pitched the tent and started making dinner behind a makeshift wall of rocks to protect the stove from the wind.

There were some ruins high above us.

With the sun gone and the wind blowing so hard it was pretty cold, so we went to bed right after dinner. Despite the seven miles of hiking we had done that day neither of us slept very well. The wind pummeled our tent all night long. If we hadn’t been in it I think it would have blown away. The wind also blew dust up underneath the rain fly and through the mesh walls of the tent. In the morning everything was caked in dust: our faces, our hair, our sleeping bags, EVERYTHING.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, the wind was STILL raging. It was hard to relax and enjoy the surroundings with the wind buffeting you and trying to blow your stuff away. After breakfast we moved the tent to a more protected campsite which was fortunately vacant after the previous night’s occupants had packed up and left. Then we headed out for a day hike further along Grand Gulch.

We came to another set of unnamed ruins.

Some areas of Grand Gulch were surprisingly lush and green!

This is called Pour Off Pool, a pond of stagnant water. During flash floods a thundering waterfall would go crashing into this pool.

We came across this enormous old cottonwood tree. The picture, of course, doesn’t convey just how big this thing was.

We spotted some distant ruins high up on the canyon wall.

Then we were approaching Split Level Ruin, which is situated in a big impressive amphitheater of rock.

Same as Junction Ruin the BLM has an ammo can here with a logbook and info about the ruin.

This ruins here are believed to have been occupied during the Pueblo period (AD 750 – AD 1260).

The split level structure for which this ruin is named is believed to have been habitation rooms.

I found it kind of amazing that there are broken pieces of pottery just laying around at the ruins. People are told not to take them for souvenirs, and although I’m sure some people take them anyway, there are enough pieces still laying around that it seems most people are leaving them be.

A cactus in bloom near the ruins.

We rested in the shade for awhile since we had plenty of time. Deb did her best explorer imitation.

This is one of the many birds we heard. There were an astonishing number of them singing throughout the gulch.

The colors here were so vivid. Red rock, blue sky, and green trees. Beautiful!

I loved the look of this cottonwood. (My wide angle lens would have been better for this, but even though I lugged it along for the whole backpacking trip I never dared to use because of all the blowing sand.)

Back at our campsite in Todie Canyon it was too early for dinner so we hung out and relaxed (or tried to, anyway; the wind was STILL blowing).

I forgot to bring my deck of tiny playing cards, so after dinner we played 20 Questions, which somehow ended in a fit of giggles. (That’s the most fun I’ve ever had playing that game!) By the time we turned in for the night the wind had finally FINALLY died down and we were able to sleep soundly through the night.

Nothing eventful on the hike out to the car. We were motivated by good food and drink waiting for us at the end of the day. Our total mileage for the hike was 20.5 miles over the course of three days. Many people do this trek as a 23-mile “loop” instead of an out-and-back. But if you do that the end of the hike has you exiting at the Bullet Canyon trailhead, which is 7.2 miles from the Kane Gulch Ranger Station. We weren’t comfortable hitchiking back to our car, which is why we didn’t do that.

It was a two-hour drive back to Moab and even though we were hot and tired and dirty we had to stop at the Hole In The Rock. There’s a 5,000-square-foot “home” carved out of the rock here. A guy and his wife lived here before it became a tourist attraction.

We set up our tent at Up The Creek Campground (a walk-in campground with showers in the middle of Moab).

Then we headed to the Moab Brewery for some nosh and cold drinks. Excellent!

The next day we drove as far as Twin Falls, Idaho where we stayed at the KOA. From our campsite we had an excellent view of the amazing sunset. What a nice treat for the last night of our trip!

Utah is pretty amazing. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see a little bit of it on this trip!

Adventures in Canyonlands and Arches National Parks

My sis and I recently spent a week in SE Utah. She had been to the area twice before but this was my first time. WOW. What an amazing place!! Here’s a teaser:

Day 1: Driving

I couldn’t get off work until 5:00 because so many of my coworkers were away at a conference that day, so we didn’t hit the road until about 6:30. We made it as far as Hilgard Junction State Park, where we camped for the night. Here we are in Portland ready to get the heck out of dodge! πŸ˜€

Day 2: More Driving

HJSP is at a higher elevation and it got so cold overnight that the tent had frost on it in the morning. BRRRR!

We quickly ate, packed up, and left at 7:15 to begin the LONG LONG drive (750 miles) to Moab, where we hoped to be by bedtime. Not much to note about this drive, except the amusing stop at a gas station that was in the middle of nowhere in Idaho. They even say as much in the sign in their window!

They apparently get a kick out of entertaining the few people who stop here:

When we got to Moab at 9:30 that Friday night we were amazed to find the town absolutely hopping. The sidewalks were full, the streets were full, and all the hotels had “no vacancy” signs. Our plan had been to head to Sand Flats, the largest BLM campground in the area. But we saw a sign on the road to the campground that said it was all full. Crap.

We got out the map and started looking for alternatives. We also got on our phones and discovered that there was a huge hot rod show going on in Moab that weekend, which explained all the crowds. There are quite a few BLM campgrounds around Moab, but most of them are pretty small. We could easily have spent hours visiting all the campgrounds looking for a vacancy. Considering the beautiful weekend forecast and the hot rod show, we had a hunch that our search would be in vain. Fortunately we hit a stroke of luck and the awesome guy at the hostel in town let us pitch our tent outside the hostel. We clearly weren’t the only people who got skunked on camping accommodations. Here was the view the next morning (and there are more tents you can’t see in this photo!):

Day 3: Arches National Park

Our first day in the area was spent at Arches National Park. The park has over 2,000 known arches (and probably more that haven’t yet been documented). They range in size from a three-foot opening to the largest (Landscape Arch) at 306 feet from base to base. In a nutshell, the arches form because of erosion, but there’s a lot more to it than that, which you can read about here.

We decided to do the Devil’s Garden hike, where we ended up seeing quite of the few of the features for which the park is named.

On the drive to the trailhead we were treated to some of the weird and awesome rock formations that fill the park:

We got to the trailhead, snagged a parking spot (the place was really filling up) and hit the trail.

Tunnel Arch:

Pine Tree Arch (can you see tiny Deb standing under the arch?):

Next up was Landscape Arch:

Does that one look a little thin to you? It is. In fact, in 1991 a big slab of the arch fell off. It was caught on video, which we saw at the park visitor center. The only copy of this video I found online is not the best quality, but you get the idea: Scary! Since that time the trail that goes up under the arch has been closed for obvious safety reasons.

After Landscape Arch the trail got more primitive and I had my first taste of slickrock hiking. The section in the picture below doesn’t look hard, but it was steeper than it looks and the afternoon was getting hot!

A side trail took us to Partition Arch:

And Navajo Arch (this was one arch where I couldn’t get a people-free shot; there were HUNDREDS of people doing this hike the same day as we were):

The trail took us up atop a big rock fin where we could see all around us. Cool!

There were many spots along the trail where we could see the nearby snow capped La Sal Mountains. The tallest peak in those mountains is 12,721 feet and the range was visible from MANY places in the Moab area:

This rock formation is called Dark Angel and reminded me of Stein’s Pillar in the Ochoco National Forest:

It’s hard to tell from this picture, but there is a lower arch and a larger upper arch here. Appropriately this one is called Double O Arch:

At this point in the hike you have a choice. You can return the way you came two miles to the trailhead or take a longer route back via a two-mile “primitive loop.” We decided to take this loop. I’m guessing the reason that it’s considered “primitive” is because there is a lot of up-and-down slickrock hiking and long stretches of sand, which – if you’ve ever walked very long on the beach – you know is very tiring to hike through.

Along the way a side trail led to Private Arch:

Locals and rangers told us that they had been having a cool spring and the desert wildflowers were late this year. We did see some paintbrush in bloom, though. That cool-looking plant next to it is yucca.

We were both carrying three liters of water, but Deb ran out about 30 minutes before the trailhead and I ran out about 10 minutes before. Fortunately there’s a water spiggot at the trailhead. Ah, refreshing! The parking lot, by the way, was overflowing with cars. Officially the park staff tell you to “try back later” if the trailhead you need is full, but I wonder how much they enforce that.

The eight-mile hike took 5.5 hours including all the stops and side trails. It ended up being more challenging than I thought it would be. This early in the year my body isn’t used to hiking at high elevations yet, nor was I used to the heat.

On the way back to Moab we stopped to see the most famous landmark in the park (maybe the most famous landmark in the whole state): Delicate Arch. There are three ways to see it: a three-mile round-trip hike to the base, a 1.5-mile round-trip hike to a viewpoint that gets you pretty close but not all the way, and a 30-second walk from the parking lot to a distant viewpoint, which is the one we opted for. I would have liked to get closer to this beautiful icon, but I was just too hot and tired for any more hiking this day.

Day 4: Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky District

After two nights camped out at the hostel we packed up Sunday morning and moved closer to Canyonlands. We were visiting the Island in the Sky District that day, which only has one small campground. We decided to try for nearby Dead Horse Point State Park and even though it was a Sunday morning we grabbed the last available campsite that day. Whew! Campsite reserved we headed into Canyonlands to do the six mile Neck Springs loop hike.

As with the day before, the views began immediately:

Instead of the weird rock formations and arches we saw the day before, this time we were hiking in and out of little canyons:

Red sandstone walls towered above us:

We saw lots and lots of cryptobiotic soil, which is a living crust of algae, fungi, lichens, and other biological material It stabilizes the sand and dirt so it doesn’t blow away. It’s a big no-no to step on it because it can take up to 100 years for it regenerate back to its former state. Here’s a close-up shot:

And a wider shot:

One of many birds we saw while in Utah. My sister is a bird nerd and loves identifying birds with her new iBird Pro app.

About halfway through the loop we reached a viewpoint looking west or northwest (we weren’t quite sure). What an amazing landscape!

We sat at this spot for about 45 minutes eating snacks, enjoying the scenery, and relaxing. We had the place all to ourselves. In fact, we didn’t see any other hikers on this entire trail, which was a welcome change from the day before.

We finally tore ourselves away and continued the hike. A short while later we had a view down into a canyon and an arch. We were startled to noticed that the tumble of rocks inside sort of resembled a sitting person with their arms wrapped around their knees. Weird!

Interesting rock formation. Reminds me of something….

The “trail” out of the canyon was a scramble up the rock. Unused to the heat and the high elevation I found this far more challenging than Deb did!

I made it!

Now we were almost directly above a part of the trail from the first half of the loop and we could see the trail far below.

The last part of the trail back to the TH was alongside the road and we passed an astonishing viewpoint of the Shafer Trail Road dropping 1,400 feet into the canyon. I had to use my wide angle lens to get this all in. This road connects up with the White Rim Road, a 100-mile-long 4WD road through the park. These 4WD roads are SUPER popular in the greater Moab area. There are lots and lots of them from what I hear, but I was surprised to find one in a national park.

After the hike we went exploring a bit before heading back to the campground. We visited beautiful Mesa Arch, which is super popular with photographers at sunrise. I didn’t bother trying to go there for that since there is room for about two and a half tripods to get the good vantage point.

We visited the Green River Overlook, where we could see the distant snaking Green Giver and the appropriately named White Rim:

And we visited Grand View Point Overlook, which is the end of the road for the Island in the Sky District of the park. Although the southern Needles District is quite close as the crow flies, it requires an hour of driving from here, up and out of this section, down through Moab, and around down to the south.

There were other viewpoints to see but it was hot and we were tired so we headed to the campground and found our site. I’ve never camped anywhere where the weather gets so hot and there are no trees for shade so the picnic tables have roofs! πŸ˜†

For sunset we headed to the overlook at the end of the road in Dead Horse Point State Park. (By the way, the park gets its name from a legend about how cowboys would herd wild mustangs out at the point. They fenced off the neck with branches and brush creating a natural corral. They chose the horses they wanted and left the rest out on the waterless point where they died of thirst. Sheesh, what a story!)

Anyway, the viewpoint was stunning! I was really glad we came out here and had good conditions. πŸ˜€

Back at our campsite we hung out at the end of our “driveway” and watched the stars for awhile. The stars out here were AWESOME. There’s something supremely satisfying about stargazing with a good companion after a day spent enjoying the outdoors.

Day 5: Canyonlands National Park – Needles District

In the morning we packed up and headed south to the Needles District. On the long access road into this part of the park we passed Newspaper Rock and stopped to check it out. This cool spot is a State Historic Monument and it is a rock face covered in hundreds of different petroglyphs, some as old as 2,000 years! It is unknown why there is a high concentration of petroglyphs here or what messages the native people were trying to convey, but in any case it’s pretty neat to see.

The Needles District only has one non-reservable campground which we didn’t even try to get a site at. Having been burned on the campground situation once already this trip we had called ahead and made reservations at the Needles Outpost, a private campground just outside the park’s boundaries. They have a little general store, water, and showers. Many of the campsites don’t have shade, but since we had a tent we were given a shady spot. Hooray!

After pitching our tent and weighing it down so it wouldn’t blow away we headed off into the park. Our original plan for this day was to do the long 11-mile Chesler Park trail. But since we were starting a backpacking trip the next day and since it would be a hot difficult hike we decided against it. Plus there is NO water along the hike, which meant we’d have to carry lots with us. Maybe next time!

Our first stop was the Roadside Ruin trail, a 0.3-mile loop that brought us to an old Puebloan granary which the native people used for grain storage. It is thought to have been built sometime between AD 1270 and 1295.

We drove to the end of the road, which is where the trailhead for the Confluence Overlook Trail is located. We didn’t hike that trail but the scenery around the trailhead was very pretty.

Driving back from road’s end we stopped and did the 0.6-mile Pothole Point loop. The name comes from the many depressions that have formed along the surface of the slickrock. You can kind of see them in this photo:

This trail also had very nice views of the surrounding landscape:

To the south are the strange rock formations for which the Needles District is named. You get an up-close view of these if you do the Chesler Park hike.

And there are those snow-capped La Sal Mountains again:

We stopped at a roadside viewpoint for Wooden Shoe Arch. Sure enough it looks like a wooden shoe!

Our last stop was the 0.6-mile Cave Springs loop where we saw an old cowboy camp that was used back in the days when cattle had to be moved from range to range. Cowboys lived in isolated camps like this from the 1890s to 1975, when ranching here ended.

Cave Springs is tucked back in an alcove (nice and cool!) and is barely more than a trickle.

The cave wall here had some old Indian pictographs and handprints:

The trail hopped up onto the plateau above via two separate ladders. Fun!

The views up there were really nice!

Here’s a panorama (click to see a bigger version):

After that little jaunt we headed back to the campground to relax in the shade and enjoy the view from our site.

After dinner we turned and looked the other direction for sunset, which didn’t materialize into much but was still nice.

Soon after that the stars came out. SO. MANY. STARS. πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€

Day 6: Off to go backpacking!

We awoke to another beautiful morning.

Then we packed up the car and headed south for three days and two nights of backpacking through Grand Gulch. (That report will be coming soon!)

I cannot recommend this area highly enough. It is crazy beautiful! Canyonlands has lots of trails that we didn’t have time to explore, and there were even some spots in Arches that we didn’t get to see. I look forward to going back. Also, although Moab was pretty crazy that first weekend, it’s a pretty cool little town. The only downside to this area is getting there. It’s a LONG drive from Portland and unless you’re a really hardy road-tripper you can’t do it all in one day, which means four days of your trip are eaten up with driving there and back. But it’s definitely worth it!

I want to go back to those two parks, but I was also drooling over the photos and descriptions of Capitol Reef, Grand Staircase Escalante, Bryce, and Zion in my guidebook. There is SO much more to explore!

Adventures in California

In October I was lucky enough to attend a library conference in Monterey, California and spend some time exploring the area. Here’s how my trip went.


San Francisco

Tiled Steps
This very cool mosaic on a staircase is known as the 16th Avenue Tiled Steps.

Ghostly trees
A typical foggy morning in San Francisco. Fortunately the fog burned off around lunchtime.

Sutro Baths
The remains of the Sutro Baths.

Fort Mason
Looking down on the Fort Mason Center, an old military fort that has been converted into shops and restaurants.

Wind arrows
This is part of the fabulous Outdoor Exploratorium at Fort Mason. These are wind arrows and demonstrate how even a slight change in altitude can mean a difference in the direction the wind is blowing.

Wave Organ
The Wave Organ, which allows you to hear underwater “music” thanks to submerged pipes.

A Yoda fountain in the Presidio.

The Golden Gate Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge as seen from Fort Point.

San Jose, Santa Cruz, and Mountain View

Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House, which is very cool but very overpriced.

Rocky Dogs
I loved this sculpture in downtown Santa Cruz. It’s called “Rocky Dogs” by Michael Eckerman.

Hollerith Electric Tabulating System replica
Hollerith Electric Tabulating System replica at the Computer History Museum. The 60 million cards punched in the 1890 census were fed manually into machines like this for processing. The dials counted the number of cards with holes in a particular position. The sorter on the right would be activated by certain hold combinations, allowing detailed statistics to be generated. We’ve come a long way since then!

Early calculators
Early calculators from the 1970s at the Computer History Museum.

A RAMAC actuator and disk stack from 1956 at the Computer History Museum. This is the heart of the world’s first disk drive. It has 50 24″ disks that spin at 1,200 RPM and hold 5 million characters of information.

Babbage Difference Engine
Charles Babbage (1791-1871) was an English mathematician who came up with a design for a mechanical calculating engine. He never managed to build one in his lifetime, but this Engine No. 2 was built in 2008 at the Science Museum in London. Every day the Computer History Museum demonstrates how it works.


Monterey, Pacific Grove, and Carmel

The harbor in Monterey, as seen from the public wharf.

Fisherman's Wharf
Fisherman’s Wharf in Monterey.

Custom House
The Custom House, built around 1821 by the Mexican government, is California’s first historic landmark and its oldest public building. It is where the first American Flag was raised on July 7, 1846, declaring California part of the United States. It is now party of the Monterey State Historic Park.

California's First Theare
This building was built by English seaman Jack Swan in 1846-47 as a lodging house and tavern for sailors. He built the wood portion of the building in about 1845. He added the adobe portion in 1847, as the actual theater. It is now part of the Monterey State Historic Park.

Pacific House Museum
The Pacific House Museum is part of the Monterey State Historic Park and has some very nice exhibits inside that tell the history of this area.

Coral reef
The very cool Coral Reef exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Sea nettles
The jellyfish were completely mesmerizing!

Say what??
Hello there!

Peering into the underwater world of the kelp forest.

The anchovies swim in circles over and over and over in this circular tank.

Monterey Public Library
No vacation is complete without visiting the local public library! πŸ™‚

Cute cove
A cute little cove at Fanshell Overlook along 17-Mile Drive.

Lone Cypress
The famous Lone Cypress tree along 17-Mile Drive. This tree is about 250 years old.

Carmel Sunset
Sunset at Carmel River State Beach.

Footprints in the sand at Carmel River State Beach.

Sunset magic
Sunset at the Asilomar State Marine Preserve near Pacific Grove.

Two birds and a sunset
Another beautiful evening at the Asilomar State Marine Preserve near Pacific Grove.

While watching sunset, flocks of pelicans kept gliding overhead. COOL!

Point Pinos Lighthouse
The Point Pinos Lighthouse, the only lighthouse I’ve ever seen that is surrounded by a golf course.

Big Sur

Sea Lion Cove
Sea Lion Cove at Point Lobos State Preserve.

Beautiful little China Cove at Point Lobos State Preserve.

The top of a kelp forest as seen at Point Lobos State Preserve. Doesn’t look like much on the surface, but after seeing what it looks like underwater at the Monterey Bay Aquarium the day before I’ll never look at kelp the same way again.

Bixby Creek Bridge
714-foot-long Bixby Creek Bridge on Highway 1.

Hurricane Point
Looking north up the California coast from the appropriately-named Hurricane Point (it was very windy).

McWay Falls
McWay Falls at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park. The waterfall used to plunge right into the ocean because there never used to be a beach here, but a landslide north of here in 1983 sent lots of dirt into the ocean and much of it washed up here.

Redwood trees at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park.

Force of the ocean
Waves pour through one of the keyholes in the rocks at Pfeiffer Beach.

Sunset at Pfeiffer Beach.

Golden hour
A beautiful evening at Pfeiffer Beach.

Carmel shops
The very touristy town of Carmel looks like something straight out of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

A house in Carmel
A house in Carmel.

Carmel Mission
The chapel at the Carmel Mission, which was established by Padre Junipero Serra in 1770.

Ocean blue
A beautiful morning along the Monterey State Beach.

Eagle Cap Wilderness

Back in mid-August Greg and I spent a week exploring the Eagle Cap Wilderness in the Wallowa Mountains of northeast Oregon. What a beautiful place! We plan to go there again next summer.

Maxwell Lake, the destination of a beautiful day hike we did on our first day

Horseshoe Lake, where we camped the first night of our four-day three-night backpacking trek

Horseshoe Lake at dusk

View from Culper Pass looking down on Moccasin Lake, Mirror Lake (where we camped that night) and Upper Lake

Sunset at Mirror Lake that night

The next morning at Mirror Lake

Sunshine Lake, just down the trail from Mirror Lake

Looking down on Glacier Lake, where we would camp our final night

Greg crossing the outlet of Glacier Lake

Dusk at Glacier Lake

Morning at Glacier Lake

Exploring Mt. Howard, which we summited via a handy tram

Lower Bonny Lake
Lower Bonny Lake, the destination of our last day hike of the trip

Looking west from Dollar Pass

The fire lookout at Point Prominence, which we drove most of the way to before the road got too rough

The fire lookout on Mt. Harris, which has been abandoned by the Forest Service and now serves as support for radio equipment

Admiring the view at Vinny Viewpoint

The cab blew off the top of the fire lookout on Goodman Ridge a few years back

Road Trip: Southeast Oregon

My sis had a week off between her old job and new job so we headed to southeast Oregon for a vacation.

Day 1: Portland to Frenchglen
We left Portland and began the long 7 hour, 330 mile drive down to Frenchglen. We were visiting the wildlife refuge the next day, but the bird-watching began sooner than we thought it would. At a lunch stop along the Deschutes River we watched two woodpeckers mating and then making a nest in the tree. Awesome!

Just before reading Frenchglen we stopped along Highway 205 to admire the view out over the wildlife refuge to snowy Steens Mountain beyond.

We reached Page Springs Campground about 7:30, set up our tent, ate dinner, and headed to bed.

Day 2: Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
While eating breakfast at the campground we noticed a cute little wren making a nest in a tree right in the middle of our campsite. Breakfast entertainment!

Here’s a video of the nest-building:

Our first stop of the day was at the P Ranch Long Barn. In the late 1800s, Peter French established a huge ranch in this area. His practices of adding land to his holdings weren’t always met favorably by the locals, one of whom ended up shooting French dead in 1897. (Read the whole story here.) Anyway, this barn, which is well over 100 years old, was restored in 2008 and you can wander in and look around. There are lots of swallows nesting up in the rafters.

This is also where the River Trail begins. It’s a short and pretty hike along the shores of of the Donner und Blitzen River. In addition to seeing a number of birds we were attacked by mosquitoes. πŸ™

There’s also a long-abandoned lookout tower. I bet the views up there are pretty sweet, but clearly no one has gone up there in quite some time as the lowest flight of stairs is completely overgrown with vegetation.

Our next stop was the Frenchglen Mercantile, where a half tank of gas for my Subaru Outback cost $38. Cash only.

We also took a gander at the historic Frenchglen Hotel, which is now run by Oregon State Parks and where you can stay the night and/or get a hot meal (vegetarians need not apply).

This service station hasn’t been in service for quite some time.

On to the Peter French Round Barn, which Peter French used to train horses back when all this land was part of his ranch. There was a bird’s nest with baby birds in it, way up in the rafters.

The round barn is way out in the middle of nowhere, but definitely worth a visit. The barn is cool, but the visitor’s center is amazing, considering the remote location. They have some historical displays, plus a huge impressive gift shop and book store, and it’s not just a bunch of kitschy crap. They also sell beer, wine, and cold drinks, which you can enjoy in nice cushy chairs in the center of the building or take away with you.

And then on to the headquarters for the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. These buildings were built by the CCC in the 1930s, and one of the buildings contains a small museum with several hundred mounted/stuffed birds. They also have a the tiny gift shop and provid guided bird walks. We sat on a bench with a view towards the lake, watching and listening to the many many birds.

Headquarters buildings below with Malheur Lake off in the distance:

Lookout tower near headquarters, with bottom staircase removed:

Bird feeder at headquarters:

Then we drove around doing some bird-watching, driving on Ruh Red Road and then following the self-guided auto tour down the Center Patrol Road. While paused at the side of the road observing birds, another car drove slowly past and the driver paused to exchange a few words with us. It was his second day of bird-watching and he had noted over 100 different species of birds in two days. He was very relaxed and laid-back, finding his bird zen out here at the refuge.


White egret:

Ducks, I think:

Day 3: Hiking along the Donner und Blitzen River
The hike I really wanted to do this day, along the Little Blitzen River, was inaccessible because the trailhead is 20 miles up the Steens Mountain Loop Road, which is still gated down at the highway. (Which doesn’t make sense to me, because the TH for this hike is 4,000 feet lower than the Steens summit and wouldn’t have had any snow.) The BLM office told us we could start at our campground and hike four miles south along the DB River, so that’s what we did. This turned out to be a TOUGH hike. There wasn’t a lot of elevation change since we were near the river the whole time, but there wasn’t much of a trail. We had to clamber up/over/around rocks, traverse rock slides, and push our way through brush. I couldn’t convert my hiking pants to shorts because of the brush, which caused me to overheat. I had left my poles at the campsite (DUMB), there was virtually no shade for the whole hike, and I went through my three liters of water so fast that I had to ration it for the last half of the hike. But despite all that, the scenery was quite pretty.

(By the way, the river got its name in 1864 when Col. George B. Currey crossed it during a thunderstorm. He gave it the German name for “thunder and lightning.”)

Some of the rare spots where we had a trail:

Campsite (If you’re ever looking for a spring backpacking destination, here you go. We saw a number of campsites scattered along our route.)

See the trail? No? That’s because there isn’t one.

This sure is a pretty river canyon, though:

We saw some scattered balsamroot in bloom:

The “trail” ends at a big flat area where Fish Creek flows into the river. We went down to the shore and soaked our feet to cool off on this very warm day. Oh that felt good!

I struggled along on the hike back, looking forward to our shady campsite and my soft sleeping bag. When we got back, I had Deb fill up our water jug and dump it on my head. AWESOME! (It’s hard to tell here, but I’m drenched.)

That evening after dinner we finished the last part of the auto tour that we hadn’t had time for the day before. It was a beautiful evening, full of birdsong and croaking frogs (and mosquitoes).

Day 4: Fields and the Alvord Desert
We packed up and sadly bid adieu to the lovely campground, then headed south to Fields. It’s famous for it’s milkshakes, so I got a root beer milkshake. And yeah, it was pretty fantastic. While I ate, we watched the activity of people coming and going for gas and milkshakes and thought to ourselves that this tiny little outpost was busier than the whole big town of Burns, which we had driven through on Monday and which had seemed like a ghost town.

Then it was on up the east side of Steens Mountain to the Alvord Desert.

The Alvord Hot Springs are on private land owned by the Alvord Ranch, who used to charge admission, but don’t anymore. There are two side-by-side pools, one of which has walls and the other is completely open. It was an overcast day and the wind had really picked up, so we stayed in the water for two hours, knowing we’d be cold once we got out into the bad weather.

We headed over to check out Mickey Hot Springs too. Mickey has some REALLY hot water, like bubbling boiling water. There is apparently a bathtub-sized pool suitable for soaking, but we never found it.

We set up camp at Mann Lake that evening, a “campground” that’s so primitive it’s free. No water, no picnic tables, no shelter/shade:

Without a table, we had to improvise when we made dinner:

After a VERY windy day with some rain, evening was calm and dry, thankfully, and we built ourselves a campfire. Our neighbors were all in RVs. They had noisy generators and one of them even had a satellite dish! If you need 100 TV channels, why not just stay home?

Notice the position of the car in relation to the tent. This was our attempt at blocking the wind overnight. It didn’t work.

Day 5: Pike Creek Hike
After a long rough night (the wind buffeted the tent from 1am on and at one point two of the four tent stakes came out), morning was beautiful and sunny. (And noisy. The generators were fired up first thing.)

After breaking camp we drove down to the Alvord Desert to walk on the cracked dry earth.

There’s not much in the way of hiking on the east side of Steens, but the trail up Pike Creek, which Sullivan describes in his book, sounded nice. The hike follows an old mining road 1.4 miles up the canyon of Pike Creek and the scenery is quite lovely.

We could see the Alvord Desert behind us:

And we also saw the entrance to the old uranium mine, whose access road we had been hiking on. The entrance has bars across it so people can’t go in.

Deb climbed up there to take a peek through the bars. Spooky.

The road ends at a certain point, but there’s a rough boot path that keeps going further up with more views. My ankle was bothering me, but Deb kept going a little further and said the views up there were indeed nice.

Before leaving the area we returned to the hot springs for one last soak. A group of five men who were cyclists were already there, and listening to them banter back and forth was totally entertaining.

We had debated where to go after leaving the Alvord Desert. Should we go west to the Fort Rock area, or east to the Owhyee River area? Since we were already so far east, we decided to keep going and set our sights on Leslie Gulch. We thought it would take about two hours to get there. It took three. Oh well.

We camped at Succor Creek State Recreation Area. We were astonished at how busy this place was when we showed up. People with tents and RVs had staked out spots all over the place, in an area that wasn’t all that large. Fortunately we found ourselves a spot, and none too soon since people kept showing up as the evening went along.

Succor Creek:

Looking down on the camping area from the road:

Once again we had no picnic table. Good old Subaru to the rescue again.

The ground works too:

That night I took a shot of the stars above us. The stars in this corner of the world are AMAZING.

Day 6: Leslie Gulch
Despite all the people camped around us, it was a surprisingly quiet night. They were mostly families, so I’m sure that helped. In the morning we noticed that a bunch of people from the Canyon Country ATV Club were gathering there and heading out into the hills to pick up trash. Thanks guys!

This is one cool place. A winding road travels the narrow canyon of Leslie Gulch and there are several side gulches that you can hike up and explore, which is what we did.

Our first stop was Dago Gulch, where, despite all the signs forbidding camping, we saw two different parties camped out there. We followed a road up Dago Gulch 0.8 mi until we reached a gate at private property and had to turn around.

Driving to our next stop we saw a trio of bighorn sheep up on the hill:

The trail up Juniper Gulch follows a dry wash for about 0.8mi, ending in a a big amphitheater of rocks. Way cool.

And lastly we visited Timber Gulch, which was a bit more of a challenge since the dry wash we hiked up was a lot more choked with sagebrush and boulders than Juniper Gulch had been. the afternoon was getting warm and there was little shade, so when we did find a bit of shade I had to stop and take a long rest to keep from overheating.

A great day!

After all the hot shadeless hiking we wanted to cool off at the reservoir, which is at the western end of Leslie Gulch. Alas, there is no day use area here, just a boat ramp. So we sat off to the side of the ramp, out of the way, and dabbled our feet in the cool water before heading back.

Back at the campground we found that 75% of our neighbors from the previous night had left. We did some exploring and discovered that the real campsites were actually across the creek. Shade, picnic tables, and proper campfire pits. Nobody was camped over there since the sites were walk-in only.
Succor Creek

Day 7: One last hot springs
Before the LONG drive home on Sunday we made one last stop, at Snively Hot Springs. The hot creek flows into the Owyhee River where a rock-lined pool contains the warm water. The setting was really lovely and it was hard to tear ourselves away to spend the next seven hours in the car.

We had a really fun time on this trip and got to seem cool and different scenery from the usual forests-and-mountains scenery where we spend the majority of our outdoor time. If you can make it to the SE corner of our lovely state, I recommend it!

Amazing: A Week in Glacier National Park

Greg and I had a nine-day vacation scheduled for the end of August, and decided with two weeks left until departure time that we should go to Glacier National Park, with a day to drive there, seven days in the park, and a day to drive back. So our planning and prep was pretty hurried, but the trip went extremely well. Glacier is STUNNING. No pictures can ever do justice to the magnificent and spectacular scenery in this park. We already have a long to-do list for the next trip!

Sunday, August 21: Apgar Lookout (map)
This is at the far western edge of the park, right outside Apgar Village. The trail climbs up Apgar Mountain to the Apgar Lookout, which was constructed in 1929 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places. I don’t think it is staffed much (if ever) these days, but there sure is a lot of equipment up on the summit. Greg posed for the webcam at the top, but we have no way of knowing if anyone was watching at that moment. The trail is 99% shadeless since it passes through forest that was burnt to a crisp in the 2003 Robert Fire. Since it was a hot afternoon, it ended up being a two-hour dusty trudge to the top. Not a lot of people, though. At least not compared to later hikes. We probably saw less than two dozen people the whole hike.

Hiking through the burn, with the mountain in the background:

Apgar Lookout, a nice source of shade on this hot afternoon:

Views to the northeast, which encompass a big swath of the burn:

Views to the southeast, including Lake McDonald:

The next day from the shores of Lake McDonald we could see the lookout site where we had been the day before, that point on the left side of that ridgeline:

Monday, August 22: Snyder Lakes (map)
The hike to Snyder Lakes is a lot less crowded than many of the other lake hikes in the park. This is probably because there is NOTHING to see along the way. It is entirely in the forest, and although we appreciated the shade after the previous day’s non-shade hike, hiking four miles without views was kind of sucky. The destination, though, was quite worth it. My only regret is not being able to spend more time at the lake, which was so peaceful and pretty. We had an hour there, but we had gotten a late start and we didn’t want to get back too late since we wanted to go into town and shower, then make dinner at camp, then catch sunset at Lake McDonald. On our way back to the TH we saw a trio of black bears from about 50 feet away as they crossed the trail. This was too close for comfort if you ask me, but fortunately they were very interested in getting away from us.

Hiking through the forest:

Almost to the lake:

Lower Snyder Lake (there’s an upper lake that you can bushwhack to, but we decided this was scenic enough for us):

Tuesday, August 23: Hidden Lake Overlook (map) and St. Mary & Virginia Falls (map)
We had crummy weather this day: overcast and VERY windy. We broke camp and drove the Going To The Sun Road up to Logan Pass, where we did the 3-mile round-trip hike to the Hidden Lake Overlook. This is a popular trail, so the portion passing through the meadows is all boardwalk. After that we actually had several snow patches to cross! (Keep in mind that we were at about 6,500′ in LATE AUGUST.) Since this trail is pretty short and easy and starts from the Logan Pass visitor’s center (where it seems like every park visitor wants to go), we saw plenty of unprepared people on this trail. Not enough clothing for the cold day, inappropriate footwear, etc. On the way back one desperate young woman asked if she was almost there and we had to break the news that she was only about halfway (meaning she’d hiked 0.75 mi and still had 0.75 mi to go). We were only able to go as far as the overlook. The trail continues past there down to the lake, but that section was closed due to bear activity. No matter, we still had some pretty spectacular scenery from the overlook. I think most of the people there were more interested in the nearby mountain goat than the scenery, though. It was like wildlife paparazzi!

Hiking the boardwalk:

Looking back towards the visitor’s center:

Phenomenal amounts of snow for late August:

A windblown marmot:

Mountain goat:

Hidden Lake in terrible light:

After leaving Logan Pass we snagged a campsite at Rising Sun Campground and then did the St. Mary and Virginia Falls hike.

St. Mary Falls:

Virginia Falls:

Wednesday, August 24: Highline Trail from Logan Pass to The Loop (map)
We got up at dawn on Wednesday to shoot sunrise at St. Mary Lake and Wild Goose Island. It’s a very iconic shot; you’ll see it on postcards all over the place. But it was not to be. The wind from the day before was still hanging around, so the lake had no reflection. And we also had to deal with harsh shadows on the south side of the lake. Oh well.

The Highline Trail heads north from Logan Pass, carved out of a hillside known as The Garden Wall. You know those parts of the Eagle Creek trail where the trail is carved out of the rock? It’s kind of like that on a much bigger scale. This hike was freakin’ SPECTACULAR and we had awesome weather too. We had amazing views of the Lewiston Range, and the views just got better and better the further we went. During the first part we were high above the Going-to-the-Sun Road, so we could hear the traffic and construction, which is annoying. But we eventually left that behind. The wildflowers were pretty amazing too, although I have almost no pictures of them since I was so mesmerized by the scenery. The only wildlife we saw were two bighorn sheep who were coming towards us on the trail and fortunately got off the trail to get around us. After seven flat miles on the Highline Trail we reached the Granite Park Chalet, a backcountry “inn” for backpackers that we’d like to go back to and stay at someday. After a rest break at the chalet we had to tackle the hard of the trail. The trail descends four steep dusty miles down to the Going-to-the-Sun Road where we picked up a park shuttle to take us back to our car at Logan Pass. Those last four miles were horrible, but the scenery from the previous seven miles still made this hike WELL worth the effort.

Carved out of the hillside:

Mt. Oberlin:

View of the Lewiston Range from Haystack Butte, where we had lunch. Be still my heart!

One amazing view after another:

Bighorn sheep, trying to decide how to get around us (while we were trying to get out of their way!):

More views, hee! hee!

Granite Park Chalet:

Hiking down, down, down to the road, through the 2003 Trapper Fire:

Thursday, August 25: Bullhead Lake (map)
Our original plan had been to race over to Many Glacier and do day hikes there on Thursday and Friday, then squeeze in a day hike in Two Medicine on Saturday. But we were pooped, and realized this plan wasn’t going to work. So we reluctantly decided to skip Two Medicine on this trip and spend time there next time. After snagging a campsite at the Many Glacier Campground (which usually fills up before noon in late August), we did the very easy flat hike to Bullhead Lake (6.6 miles, 200′ elevation gain).

Lake Sherburne, which we drove past on our way into the Many Glacier area that morning:

Redrock Lake:

More wildflowers (we saw so many during our week here!)

Bullhead Lake, where we ate a very peaceful lunch and I soaked my feet in the cold lake. Wonderful!

One of two ground squirrels who were begging for handouts:

Redrock Falls, at the head of Redrock Lake, where we stopped for a water refill:

Redrock Lake again, from the other end and under sunnier skies:

Friday, August 26: Grinnell Glacier (map)
This trail had been closed in the weeks leading up to our trip, due to bear activity. It reopened just a few days before we wanted to hike here. Score! There are two options: 1) hike along Swiftcurrent Lake and Lake Josephine and then up to the glacier, which makes for an 11-mile round-trip hike, or 2) take the boat shuttle across both lakes and start from the end of Lake Josephine to hike up to the glacier, which shaves off five hiking miles. After shooting sunrise at Swiftcurrent Lake we went to the boat dock before the 8:30 shuttle to see if they had any space left. We were not crazy about spending 23 bucks each for the shuttle, so we decided that if they had space on the boat it was meant to be and we would splurge. They had space, we splurged, and we were grateful for it later.

The hike climbs up and up above Grinnell Lake, which you can see below. The mountains tower all around you and there is scenery in every direction. It is simply stunning. The trail ends at an overlook of the Grinnell Glacier and Upper Grinnell Lake (still frozen over during our visit). It’s about as close as you can get to a glacier in the park, but for me the real attraction of this hike was the scenery.

Sunrise at Swiftcurrent Lake:

The view of where we’re headed as seen from the boat dock at Lake Josephine:

In-your-face views along this whole hike!

Beargrass and other wildflowers:

A waterfall right on the trail provided a refreshing way to cool off!

View of Grinnell Lake below us (that’s a one-mile hike from the boat dock):

Panorama of Grinnell Glacier (on left) and the still-frozen Upper Grinnell Lake:

One of two bighorn sheep we saw at the overlook:

Insufferably cute!

Saturday, August 27: Iceberg Lake (map)
This was another trail that had been closed due to bear activity and reopened a few days before we wanted to hike here. Great timing! Iceberg Lake sits in a bowl at the base of the Iceberg Ptarmigan Wall, so we could see our destination nearly the entire hike. We saw hundreds of hikers on this hike (it’s one of the most popular trails in the park), but we saw no wildlife, but by now we were pretty well in the habit of at shouting “Hey bear!” every minute or so. We did see some great wildflowers though! The lake gets its name from the numerous icebergs that float around in the lake. Apparently they do melt at some point in late summer, but since everything is late this year they may not have a chance to melt before the snow starts falling again.

The jagged Iceberg Ptarmigan Wall (we were hiking just on the other side of that on the Highline Trail a few days before):

Ptarmigan Falls (no better views than this, unfortunately):

A patch of wildflowers just before the lake:

Iceberg Lake from the shore:

Iceberg Lake from above:

Sad to be winding up our trip, but happy for the awesome week we had:

A note about stars. Woo hoo, were the stars awesome out here! Away from city lights and with no moon, it was pretty amazing. We tried some star photography one night, which I’ve never done before. I will have to experiment with this more. All the shots I took this night were blurry on the right side thanks to a faulty lens I had rented for this trip. Didn’t discover that problem until I got home, though.

A few tips if you go


  • The scenery: The landscape here is nothing short of stunning. Everywhere you turn you’re faced with another postcard scene. Beautiful mountain lakes, sweeping mountain vistas, roaring waterfalls…this park has it all.
  • No clearcuts: Most of my hiking at home, in Washington and Oregon, is on National Forest land. Unfortunately these forests are now peppered with clearcuts that spoil the view in all directions when you get up high. But Glacier has no clearcuts and it is amazingly refreshing to look out over vast swaths of unspoiled forest.
  • No dogs: There are some responsible dog owners out on the trails, but there are also many irresponsible dog owners. I encounter them every time I go hiking at home. But dogs aren’t allowed on the trails in Glacier, which is a huge blessing. The trails are already pretty crowded with people. Dogs would just make the situation worse.
  • Ranger talks: Most of the campgrounds in the parks have ranger talks every night in the summer. They are fun, highly informative, and often interactive. We went to three of them and learned cool and unusual facts about the ecology of the park, the history and function of glaciers, and the lives of bears. Anyone can go the talks, whether you’re staying in the campground or not.


  • Bears: There are hundreds of black bears and hundreds of grizzly bears in Glacier. Fortunately the park staff do a pretty good job about educating visitors about the presence of bears. And they will temporarily close off trails that have had too much bear activity, which may be annoying for hikers but these closures help prevent unpleasant human-bear encounters. Fortunately, the vast majority of human-bear encounters that do occur end peacefully. The best thing is to carry bear spray, which is a strong pepper spray that you can spray in the bear’s face if it charges you. The spray and holster will set you back about $60 or so, but it’s worth it to have a little peace of mind. Bear bells are not recommended. Park Rangers call them “dinner bells” saying that they sound too much like a marmot or ground squirrel to a bear’s ears. Plus they’re annoying as hell. We used them on just one hike and it nearly drove me mad. After that we used our voices to shout or sing. You feel silly at first, but it’s better than surprising a bear. And I saw two different park rangers doing the same thing on the trail, so that made us feel a little less silly.
  • Helicopters: Unfortunately the Park Service allows helicopter tours over the park. You will hear the helicopters overhead AT LEAST once per hike, but usually more than that. It’s a jarring and terrible noise to hear when you’re out trying to enjoy the wilderness. It feels like you’re in a war zone. I’m writing a polite but strongly-worded letter to the park service about this, which will probably result in nothing, but I can’t just let it slide because it was so bad.
  • Crowds and traffic: Glacier is one of the most popular national parks which results in crowded trails and traffic congestion on the Going-to-the-Sun Road. The best way to travel the road is by shuttle or by taking one of the roofless red sightseeing buses. Let someone else do the driving and deal with the traffic so you can enjoy the views! As for trails, if you really want to avoid crowds, it’s best to avoid the more popular trails, but even then you will probably encounter plenty of people in summertime. Unfortunately, many of the hikers you’ll see are inexperienced and unprepared and don’t have any trail manners at all: walking side-by-side so people can’t get around them, not stepping aside when they’re holding up other hikers who want to get around, and listening to iPods so loudly that everyone around can hear. Thank goodness dogs aren’t allowed on park trails or it would be even worse.
  • Camping: The park has a major problem with RVs, namely that there are far too many of them and they usually make terrible neighbors for tent campers. And since none of the campgrounds have electrical hookups for those RVs, there are lots of noisy generators creating an awful racket. On the up side, there are rules about which hours of the day you can run a generator, and some campgrounds have whole loops where generators aren’t allowed. However, I think the Park Service really needs to create separate RV and tent loops so that tenters don’t have to camp next to RVs.

By the way, we found two guidbooks to be immensely helpfulΒ  in the planning of our trip. Moon Glacier National Park and Frommer’s Montana and Wyoming. For hiking, most of the trails in the park are covered in Hiking Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks.

Long Beach Weekend

About a month ago, a photographer friend of mine invited me to a girls’ weekend at her family’s house in Long Beach, Washington. Even though I didn’t know most of the girls – a situation that five years ago would have had be immediately hitting the “not coming” button (I am an introvert by nature, and it’s something I have to constantly fight) – I figured “What the heck, why not. You only live once.” And, as I knew I would, I had a great time. I got to know some previous photographer friends better and I got to meet some fun new girls (and a happy popcorn-loving French Bulldog named Miles). Here are some photos from the weekend. (As you can tell, I was in the mood for B&W this weekend.)

Awaiting spring

Beautiful bridge

North Head Lighthouse


Cape Disappointment Lighthouse

A million little branches

Lone tree

A fine day