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 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! 🙂

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.

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. 🙁

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 helpful  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