Big Bend Country, Part 2

Just to remind you where we left off after the Emory Peak Trail! In Part 1, that is…

For our last hike in the National Park, we decided to do the Lost Mine Trail. Many people say that this is the one to do if you only have time for one hike in Big Bend. I might agree that it’s the best short (just over 4 miles) hike we did, and the view from the top is almost as spectacular as you get from Emory Peak. But make sure you get there early, there are only 11 parking spaces at the trailhead!

Again, a lot of snow and ice at the beginning of the trail. After the first mile or so the snow faded away and the trail was mostly dirt with occasional icy stretches. This continued until the last little rise up to the top, where there was some pretty deep snow, as some people found out. I loved the morning sun on Casa Grande.

Sadly, my family suffered a loss on this hike:

If you look really closely at the bottom of this cliff, you may be able to see my wife’s cell phone. I’ve circled it for your convenience. It didn’t look good, but there was really not a convenient way to actually get down and retrieve it. So make sure you zip (or velcro) your pockets! Around cliffs, anyway…

That was our last hike in Big Bend National Park. We had left our hotel in Terlingua and were moving over to a place in Lajitas. But we did stop by the Inn & RV park so I could get one picture of the landmark we used to find it:

We left Terlingua heading west, and drove all the way to…Lajitas! Okay, it’s not far, less than 15 miles. We were staying at the Lajitas Golf Resort for a couple of nights in order to be a little closer to Big Bend Ranch State Park. I didn’t bring my golf clubs, so we just had to go hiking! I had never been to the state park before and I was looking forward to checking it out. Here are a few shots from that journey:

You really don’t expect to see a submarine conning tower in the middle of the desert. Or a two-masted sailing ship, even with the sails furled!

The next morning we went over to the Barton Warnock Visitors Center for the state park, got our day pass, and drove up to our first stop – Closed Canyon. As you pull up to the parking area, you see one of those delightful long cliffs they keep around there. That little gap you can see in picture is the canyon. If the skies look a little odd, there was a little operator error involved, so I’ve played a little bit…

It was an easy walk, mostly (again!) down a dry streambed. A short walk to the gap in the cliff, then into the canyon! The walls are about 150 feet high, and in some places the canyon narrows down to 15 or 20 feet. Some of the walls looked pretty climbable, but we decided against on this trip. And before we got to the Rio Grande, we passed…I mean ran across a sign that said “End of Trail – Do not proceed past this point.” So we didn’t get to the river.

I had also never heard of the Far West Texas Wildlife Trial. It turns out, there are wildlife trails all over Texas! They are subdivided into “loops,” which are groups of loosely connected sites in a particular region. It turns out that I live close to the Prairies and Pineywoods West Wildlife Trail, and I regularly stroll in one of the sites! Who knew?

From there we went up the road to The Hoodoos. We like hoodoos, having spent a lot of time with them in Bryce Canyon. These weren’t quite the same, but it was a nice little spot. It appeared at least one of the local felines agreed, there were a lot of tracks down by the river! On the other side of the river was another of those cliffs. Of course, Leigh got busy climbing on top of one of the hoodoos.

In spite of a route marked on Alltrails, it’s not exactly a trail across the rock. We wandered and climbed and scrambled around for a while. The Rio Grande splits in two just northwest of the site, surrounds an island, then rejoins itself to run along the base of the cliff.

Our last stop of the day was Rancherias Canyon. Instead of going to the Rio Grande, this trail goes north into the park. Most of the trail seemed to be along (surprise!) a dry streambed. The rainy season is May-September, I may have to come back and check out these trails! It was mostly flat, though we crossed a low ridge or two.

The canyon wound through some low rocky terrain, with higher peaks farther in the distance. Lots of ocotillo and cacti around along with the grasses and brush we sometimes had to wade through. It was getting late, so we didn’t plan to do the full 11-mile out & back. Then we ran into Bob from Montana and had a nice chat standing around in the canyon. We got back to the trailhead as the sun was setting. This was from a somewhat higher point on the way back to the hotel:

Alas, that was our last hike for this trip. Here are a few shots from the journey home. We had some lovely clouds and sunshine when we started out, but as we got farther north the clouds got serious. It was grey and rainy by the time we got to Fort Stockton to pay a visit to my old buddy Pecos Pete (that’s the big roadrunner, for those who don’t know). Last time I saw Pete he was wearing a mask! Then as we got farther east, the rain turned into snow. The roads were wet but clear and we got home with no trouble at all. Except a little fatigue…

Now that I’ve reached the end of the trip, I’m sure many of you are asking, “Hey, where’s the night sky?” Okay, maybe a few of you. Or maybe just my wife, who knows? Anyway, we did go out several times to do night sky photography. Results are somewhat limited by experimentation I was doing and a rented camera I was trying out – along with a little operator error! But here are some shots I thought were worth sharing:

Orion shows up nicely in the January sky, doesn’t he?

All-in-all, it was a fabulous trip. I can’t wait to go back, there’s so much more to do. We didn’t even get over to Rio Grande Village and the hot springs! And the South Rim still awaits. And thousands of acres of the State Park to be explored as well!

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to growing my skill with an educational outing out to a little place in California you may have heard of – Death Valley!

If you haven’t seen the episode of the PBS series Nature about Big Bend, you should check it out. I don’t think they were there in January… 🙂

– ESS

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Big Bend Country – Part 1

A trip to West Texas is always a joy for me and I was really looking forward to hiking in Big Bend National Park. We hadn’t been there for over a decade and that trip had included a recalcitrant youngster so we didn’t do as much hiking as we might have liked. We were excited!

On the way down (it’s a long way from Dallas!) we spent the night in Sanderson at my favorite classic motel -the Desert Air Motel! We got up early the next day and drove down U.S. highway 385 to the park. It’s a fairly large park (800,000 acres), so when we passed the sign, we could only see the mountains off in the distance. But as we got closer, we saw this:

A snow-covered mountain range in the middle of the desert! Cool, eh?

We took a quick swing by the Panther Junction Visitor’s Center. They weren’t letting people inside, but they had brought a selection of souvenirs & such outside, including the all-important stamp for our passport! Well, pre-stamped pieces of paper without a date on them. You take what you can get in these hard times…

Then we drove on up to the Chisos Basin, where the main lodge is, along with another visitor’s center and a general store. It’s also the starting point for a dozen or more trails that are listed on Alltrails. We strolled around a little bit, chatted with the Park Rangers about trail conditions (answer: icy). But the Window Trail was in pretty good shape, ice & snow on the early part, then clear. So we went thataway!

The Window Trail is unusual for a mountain trail – you go downhill on the way out and uphill on the way back! Most trails it’s the other way around.

The beginning of the trail is a long staircase, covered with snow and ice but the individual steps were flat enough that it wasn’t too difficult. There was a lot of snow still on the trail early on, then we got to a stretch where it looked like we were walking between winter and spring, with snow only on one side! After a while we found ourselves walking along what seemed to be a dry streambed (not for the last time). It was a fairly easy trail most of the way, but toward the end we found ourselves scrambling around boulders. There were also Mexican Jays here and there in the trees. Rather noisy creatures. When you get to the end, there’s a…well, a window. Surprise! In the gallery above, you see a shot of my wife sitting on the slippery rock right at the end of the chute where the water runs out in the rainy season. The panorama in the gallery is the view out the window from slightly higher up.

Instead of hiking straight back to the trailhead, we took a turn up the trail toward Cattail Falls. We went far enough to look down on the Window, see the great view that was behind us, and find a nice precipice for Leigh…

So we retraced our steps back (up!) to the Chisos Basin. Going back up the steps did remind us that we were more than a mile high in the Basin, but we stay in pretty good shape…mostly.

We did have a little visitor outside the Visitor’s Center (of course!). I’m not sure what he was looking for and he would have needed a mask to get into the General Store…

From there we went in the general direction of Terlingua. On the way, we took a left turn onto the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. This is a beautiful drive through the (western) desert part of the park. There are great views of the mountains, like this:

The drive takes you past Burro Mesa (more on that later) and a number of other interesting peaks and sights as you slowly descend down to the Rio Grande. We stopped at Castolon, but both the Visitor’s Center and the store were closed by then. It was getting a bit late, but we went on up to Santa Elena Canyon.

At this point along the river, there’s about a 1000 -1500 foot cliff that runs southeast from around Lajitas in the U.S., across the river, and down into Mexico. Right in the middle of this, the Rio Grande has carved a narrow canyon with walls as high as 1500 feet. The trail starts out at a parking area and is flat until you cross Terlingua Creek (sometimes a muddy crossing, I’m told – not this time). A series of switchbacks take you up maybe a hundred feet, giving you a nice view downriver (as you can see in the gallery). They also give you a glimpse of the geologic history of the region (note the seashells embedded in the cliff face!).

After that, the trail and the river come together and you pass by a variety of cacti and river plants, including what looked to me like bamboo. There’s also a plant that shows up around Big Bend called a “resurrection plant” or “flower of stone” (see the photo above). In hot, dry weather it curls up tightly into a ball, looking brown, leathery, and dead. Then when it gets exposed to moisture, it opens back up! There were many along this trail, and we saw them elsewhere in the park as well.

After we got back from this trail, we drove on to the Paisano Village RV Park & Inn in Terlingua. Or is it Study Butte? And why is Study pronounced “stoody?” I am uncertain of the geography down there. The route we took was the Old Maverick Road, unpaved but in pretty good shape. Alas, it was dark so we really couldn’t enjoy much scenery!

So, the next morning we were planning to hike Emory Peak, the highest point in the Chisos Mountains. We drove in to the park, and turned up the road to the Basin… and stopped! Due to road construction, the road is closed from 8-11 (and 1-3pm). It was about 8:10. Oops! Check that before you go in the next few months!

So we went back down to the Scenic Drive. Checking Alltrails (of course!) for the best trails off the Scenic Drive, we decided to start with The Chimneys Trail. It’s only (only!) rated 4 stars on Alltrails, but it has petroglyphs!

The walk out to the Chimneys is not all that exciting, unless you trip on the rocky trail. Watch your step! You walk past a lot of desert plants, like my favorite Ocotillo (see the one in the gallery that towers over Leigh) and the Purple Prickly Pear. We heard occasional birds, but only saw a few. And there’s no shade, which is less of a problem in January than at other times of the year.

The Chimneys themselves were pretty cool. We clambered around the base of the lonely one, where the petroglyphs are, and then climbed up on top of some others (see the picture of Leigh taking a picture of me!). It wasn’t crowded (on a weekday in January) but we did pass a few hikers on the way back to the road.

A little farther down the road is (are?) The Mule’s Ears. We only stopped at the overlook, though there is a trail going out to a spring near the base of the formation.

Leaving the Mule’s Ears, we went back north a ways, up to the Upper Burro Mesa Pouroff trail. Burro Mesa is a large formation west of the Scenic Drive and this trail leads from the road down a dry (when we did it) streambed and finally…well, as the guy we passed who was coming back said, “When you get to the 100-foot dropoff, stop!”

As we were walking down the streambed from the road, the walls got higher and higher. Then we started hearing rocks fall down, so we looked up! And there were a bunch of Bighorn Sheep roaming around the sides of the canyon. And knocking down rocks. I asked them to be more careful but they just kind of looked at me, then went back to eating the grasses or the prickly pear cactus they had been chomping. We watched for a while and saw that there were a couple of dozen wandering around up there.

Eventually we started moving again, finally coming to a narrow crack through the mesa with a slick rock ramp going down into a chamber (you can see Leigh at the top or me at the bottom of it in the gallery). It was a bit slippery, but not too hard to get down safely. A little more difficult to get back up, but everybody we saw made it pretty well. At the other end of the chamber was the aforementioned 100-foot (or more!) drop. If you look closely at the picture that looks down over a rock ledge, you can see two people standing at the bottom.

And on the walk back, I finally got one of the Bighorns to pose where I wanted them – profiled against the beautiful blue sky!

The next day we got up a little bit earlier. This time we made it to the road in time to get up into the mountains! As we parked in Chisos Basin the sun was making a silhouette of Casa Grande on a nearby mountain. You can see them both here – Casa Grande and its shadow:

As the day before, our plan was to hike Emory Peak. It’s about 5 miles from the trailhead up to the peak – and 2500 feet of uphill! You start above a mile in elevation and climb up to 7825 feet, according to the US Geological Survey. Our friends at Alltrails rate the trail as “Hard,” and they’re not entirely wrong! It’s pretty much 5 miles of uphill and if you’re not in good shape you might find it tough going – especially in all the ice and snow!

The trail started pretty icy and snowy (and it was pretty chilly that morning!), and it continued that way off & on all the way up. Much of the time we were either walking on ice or on frozen mud. Fortunately we had our trusty trekking poles. If we hadn’t I’d have ended up on my backside a lot more than I did! Periodically we’d break out into an area that got a little more sun and the trail would be mud or packed dirt. Sometimes we got a nice view out toward the next mountains over, as you can see.

Finally we got to the place where you turn off of the main loop trail to head up to the peak. The relatively dense woods we’d been traversing gave way to rocky ground, more succulents, and fewer trees. Then we came around a corner and finally saw our destination – with the moon guiding our way!

The last bit of climb to get atop Emory Peak is described in many reviews as “scary” or “vertigo-inducing” so I was a little nervous. Until we got there – this picture makes it look steeper than it really is, and the rocks were quite solid so I never felt at risk. Of course, some people might not like to turn around and see a long drop from the 3-foot-wide ledge they’re standing on…

So we scrambled up to the top, and there was only one other person there when we arrived – a young lady who was taking lots of selfies! I took a picture of her (with her phone) after she had walked out to a particularly scary-looking spot. Then Leigh went out there! Of course she did… 🙂 It’s not the one where you can see the solar panels, it’s the other one – the one showing how windy it was. And she forced me (against my will!) to pose for her…

Getting back down off the peak was a little bit more of an adventure than going up, but we made it. On the way back down to the main trail we ran across some white-tailed deer. Alas, they were less cooperative than the bighorns & wouldn’t come out to pose!

When we got back to the main trail we decided not to take the short route retracing our steps to the trailhead. We knew how much ice was waiting there for us! Instead, we turned south toward the South Rim. We took a shortcut across the loop, though, instead of doing the full South Rim trail. It had taken a surprisingly long time to get up top and I did not relish the thought of finishing an icy trail in the dark.

It turned out there was a fair amount of ice on the southern route as well! But once we got to the south side of the mountain we had a long stretch that was actually on a packed dirt trail! It made for a nice change. The views south & southwest, down into Mexico, were fabulous! Then we went around to the north side of the mountain again and found ourselves back in snow and ice.

When we got back to the car, the sun was almost gone!

I thought this post was getting a bit long, so I’ll pick it up in Part 2 in a few days.

Catch you later

– ESS

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The Great Smoky Mountains – And More

It’s January now (and we’re back from our January trip), so here’s the November trip! We drove out to Atlanta to see the folks, and we went on from there to some of the nearby parks.

On the way to Georgia we stopped in Tuscaloosa so Leigh could show me around the places she used to go when she spent a summer semester at Alabama (the university, that is). This is a spot on Lake Nicol where they used to go. We got lost in the dark on the way back to the car…

After spending some time with the parents, we went north. Our first stop was a Georgia state park called Tallulah Gorge. There’s a loop trail that follows the North and South rims – and the suspension bridge betwixt them. It’s a beautiful area, though we were too late for the good north Georgia color.

Tallulah Falls used to be a fashionable resort and honeymoon destination, and sometimes people would name their daughters after it. Those of us who favor old movies will remember the actress Tallulah Bankhead, whose grandparents are said to have honeymooned there! If you haven’t seen Hitchcock’s Lifeboat, check it out!

We did a loop that included both rims and a trip down into the gorge. You start near the Visitors Center on the North Rim and head along a well-trodden trail to the top of the stairs. And then you go down the stairs! And there are a lot of stairs. To get down to the bridge there are (I’m told) 310 steps. I didn’t count. It’s a nice suspension bridge across the gorge (as you can see from the pix below).

After you cross the bridge you have two options – up the other (south) side or down to the river. Naturally, we went down 200+ more stairs! The actual bottom of the gorge is closed, so we stopped at the platform at the bottom of the stairs and enjoyed “Hurricane Falls” (see the pic above – the one that’s not coming from the dam).

Then we climbed up the 500 steps to the top. We turned left instead of right at the top and went to see one of the towers used by Karl Wallenda when he tightrope walked across the gorge (I’ve put a couple of old newspaper photos in the gallery above). That’s the metal structure with Leigh perched on top. The tower on the other side is the one lying on its side amidst the trees, also in the pix.

After that we strolled back along the rim, stopping at several overlooks along the way. A couple of the pix are in the gallery above. The trail takes you up to the road and across the dam (see the pic) back to the North Rim. Then you go through the woods and back to the Visitor’s Center. We kept going along the rim up to Inspiration Point and the Wallenda tower. And then we left.

We drove from there up to Cherokee, North Carolina, where we would be staying while visiting Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We stayed in the Great Smokies Inn about a mile outside the park entrance. It was comfortable, clean and quiet, I’d stay there again! Quiet because there were few other guests. It seems a lot more people were over in Gatlinburg…

Our first trail was…the Appalachian Trail! Okay, a little over 4 miles of it out to Charlie’s Bunion. The AT runs right through the middle of the park and a number of the featured hikes run along various bits. This bit takes you out past Mount Ambler, Mount Kephart, and Masa Knob on the way to the Bunion. Charlie’s, that is. A lot of the trail is through the woods but there are also a number of overlooks just off the trail.

We actually got a bit confused on the trail. We passed a rock outcropping right on the trail that had a beautiful view and we thought, “is that the Bunion?” We knew we weren’t that close to the end of the trail, so we decided it wasn’t. Then we got to the place where the AT goes one way and the Dry Sluice Trail goes another, and we knew we were past it! We turned back and bumped (not literally, mind you!) into a guy who said “I think there’s a side trail up the side of the mountain a little ways back.” So we went back and found what looked like a drainage path up the mountain.

We tried it, following up a not-heavily trafficked trail through re-growing brush and under low branches. It was a bit of a scramble, but at the top we found a large rock outcropping with a great view. We took a rest there, and I did get a shot of Leigh hanging off of a precipice! So we went back the way we came.

Then we drove up to Clingman’s Dome to watch the sunset with 100 or 150 close friends…

After that we took a quick run over to Gatlingburg to see where all the action was. Also to find a Wal-Mart, we were running out of vital supplies (a.k.a. protein bars)! Definitely a lot more people, lights, and traffic on that side of the park.

The next morning, well-stocked, we went for a more difficult trail. “Myrtle Point and Mount LeConte via Alum Cave Trail.” This trail is 13 miles (out & back) and rated “hard” on Alltrails. It’s also pretty popular, we were lucky to get a space in the parking lot! Many were parked along the street.

The trail seems flat at the beginning, following and repeatedly crossing a stream, but you’re really going steadily uphill the whole way! There’s about 3000 feet of climb along six miles of trail out to Myrtle Point. It runs mostly through woods, which is great if you like trees. It was a fun hike and the view from Myrtle Point is fantastic! This gallery has a few shots from along the way:

After we got back to the trailhead, we went back toward Cherokee. As we passed the Visitor’s Center, we noticed a considerable number of elk hanging around in the large field next door. Two of them got into a slow-motion antler-wrestling match – the one with the bigger… rack won. The other walked away.

Then we met up with another 150 or 200 close friends for sunset! Back up to Clingman’s Dome. This time there were a few clouds so we got some nice color – as you can see:

We were a little tired, it didn’t look like a good night for the sky, so we went back to the hotel to prepare for the long trip home.

We had gone east through Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, so we decided to go home through Tennessee and Arkansas. That gave us a chance to visit one historical location and to stop and see Leigh’s brother.

After one last drive through the park we got on the interstate and went to Nashville. 2020 was the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th amendment. We had been listening to Elaine Weiss’s “The Woman’s Hour,” about the events surrounding Tennessee’s ratification of that amendment (quite entertaining, I might add), so we thought we’d stop by where the action was: The Hermitage Hotel, not far from the state capitol. Tennessee was the 36th state to ratify, making the amendment official.

Many of the events described occurred in the lobby, which probably looked much like it does now. A couple of miles away, there is a newly opened monument to women’s suffrage in Centennial Park. The monument features five women who were involved in the final ratification battle in Nashville in 1920: Anne Dallas Dudley of Nashville; J. Frankie Pierce of Nashville; Sue Shelton White of Jackson; Abby Crawford Milton of Chattanooga; and national suffrage leader Carrie Chapman Catt who came to Tennessee to direct the pro-suffrage forces from The Hermitage Hotel. It’ll probably look nicer when they’re done with the construction around it.

And then we came home. And almost immediately began planning our trip down to Big Bend! Pictures and stories coming soon…

Elsewhere in Utah

Since it’s December I thought it might be time to finish telling you about our September trip. Perhaps in January I’ll get to our (very careful) November travels! November was a busy month, I have to say, with a gallery show, a little travel, and I heard there was a holiday mixed in there.

Anyway, back to Utah! You may have already read about our visits to Zion and Bryce, so now I’ll be telling you about the other places we went on that trip. We stopped a few places around and between the National Parks we visited. For example, as we were driving from the airport in Vegas to Tropic (Utah) we stopped by a little place called the Dixie National Forest and did a little hiking!

This was back during the smoky days with wildfires across the west, so the sun was a bit dim. But the rocks were very cool.

After we spent a couple of days in Bryce Canyon, we decided to take a day down toward (and in!) Kodachrome Basin State Park. We were in southern Utah, so there’s a lot to see and we went looking around a bit.

As you drive to Kodachrome Basin, when you come to the entrance you can just keep going straight instead of turning in to the park. After about 10 miles of dirt road (4wd and high clearance are advisable!) you reach the Grosvenor Arch Day Use Site. This is a pretty cool formation in the middle of some beautiful scenery. Not exactly a hiking area, we just strolled over to and around the formation.

And then we left!

We did stop more than once along that dirt road to enjoy the view!

We drove back to Kodachrome Basin and this time we turned in to the park. And this is what we saw:

The first trail we hiked was called the Panorama Trail and Long Loop (on Alltrails, anyway). It takes you past many of the highlights of the park, like the Ballerina Spire and the Indian Cave. It was a fairly pleasant hike, though there was not a lot of shade. The (literally) coolest place on the hike was the Cool Cave – you can see a couple of photos in this gallery.

After that loop we headed a little farther into the park to find the Angel’s Palace trail. This was a fun little loop around the top of a rock formation. As it’s mostly on rock, the trail isn’t exactly clear, but there are signs that point the way. And, of course, Alltrails…

There weren’t any good precipices for Leigh to hang off of this time, but there were some very narrow ridgelines that we crossed on the way to the overlooks. At any rate, it was a good hike and a good day in the park. On the way back to Tropic, we stopped along the side of the road for this view:

After a couple more days in Bryce, we took the scenic route over to Springdale, our bedroom for Zion. We made a couple of stops along the way.

We met a well-protected couple on the side of the highway. 🙂

Then, just south of Mt. Carmel Junction, we stopped to see The Belly of the Dragon. This (man-made) tunnel runs under the highway and enters a wash on the other side. It’s a fun tunnel to clamber/walk through and if you keep going up the wash, there’s a waterfall – if there’s water. No water this September so we stopped at the end of the tunnel.

We then went a little farther down 89 toward Kanab and found the Sand Cave. This is a neat little feature that sits up in the side of a rock face just off the highway. It’s a fun (and somewhat adventurous) climb up the rock face before you get to a relatively flat path to the cave – wear good shoes! And the cave, as you can see, is full of sand.

Next time I’m in the area I may try to get there for sunset, I’ll bet that golden light really gives it a glow! Of course, then you get to climb down in the dark…

Just about 1/4 mile up the highway is a little tourist trap called Moqui Cave that looked like it might be fun, but we had places to go and things to do!

Our last official stop on the way to Zion was at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. This is a state park a few miles off the highway that consists primarily of – get this – coral pink sand dunes! Well, it’s not really what I would’ve called “coral pink,” but it’s not exactly White Sands either.

The primary activities in the park appear to be ATVs (of which I only saw one, in the distance) and sledding/skiing (which we saw from a little closer). We arrived late in the afternoon, and many of the people we saw were leaving. We walked to the top of the dune you see here, which was a lot of work, the sand being quite soft and powdery. I looked around for a ski or a sled but there were none left behind. We had to walk back down too! Our feet didn’t dig in like that on every step, but it was enough.

So we left and aimed our chariot at Zion! When we got there, a welcoming committee was waiting for us…


Thanks for joining us in Utah one more time, I hope you enjoyed it. Next time you hear from me I’ll be in Georgia or Tennessee or North Carolina. Or all three, if the mood strikes me! Have a great one!

-Eric

Zion National Park

After three glorious days hiking in Bryce Canyon, we took a long day and drove down to Zion (with a few stops along the way – next blog post!). Southern Utah is a beautiful place, in some places reminiscent of West Texas and in some places reminiscent of my planet of origin… 🙂

Planning ahead, we had cleverly acquired tickets on the Zion shuttle for a reasonable time, so we walked from our hotel up to the Visitor’s Center (less than a mile) and got in line for the shuttle bus (running at half-capacity, they actually pulled every other seat out of the buses!). The line moved pretty quickly though, and we got on the bus to ride up into the valley.

Zion is a different kind of animal from Bryce Canyon. Bryce was all about the hoodoos. Zion is more about the cliffs! I don’t think a day went by that my wife didn’t dangle her feet over some thousand-foot sheer cliff – just because it was there! Now, if I started to get close to the edge, that was a different story! She seemed that I’d be looking through the camera and not where my feet were…

We rode the shuttle up to the Grotto stop and crossed the Virgin river to the Angel’s Landing Trail. It starts out as a well-maintained paved trail, not unlike walking a nature trail in the suburbs. Well, except for the stunning beauty of the sheer cliffs all around you! 🙂

After a flat stretch, you start a little uphill until you come a series of switchbacks, as you can see in the gallery above. Farther on you come to Walter’s Wiggles (named for Walter Ruesch, Zion National Park’s first superintendent)- a series of 21 very tight switchbacks going up a steep incline. It’s a fun climb, and it gets steeper and steeper! Unfortunately, as we knew before we got there, the chains were closed – and there was a park ranger standing (well, sitting!) guard at the “Trail Closed” sign. Not that we would have gone past it…

Since Angel’s Landing was closed to us (we’ll be back!), we decided to go on along the West Rim Trail. The views are great and there are plenty of places that need climbing, as you see below!

Since we didn’t want to go 28 miles to Lava Point, we turned around after a while and went back the way we came. The walk down Walter’s Wiggles was almost as much fun as the walk up, and a fitting way to close the day.

The next morning we thought we’d do the Emerald Pools Trail. This is a relatively short trail (only 3 miles) with a bit of up and down, our friends at Alltrails rate it as “moderate.” The trail starts at the Zion Lodge, crossing the river on a footbridge not unlike the one to Angel’s Landing the day before. Hmmm…I didn’t put that picture up, I’ll put one in this gallery.

The Lower Emerald Pool has a nice waterfall (which you can almost see in one of these pictures). As often happens, when we travel at the end of summer the flow is fairly low! The trail to the Lower Pool is fairly flat, but you start going uphill as you head to the trail over to the Middle Emerald Pool, which was so low as to be barely a pool!

From there, we retraced our steps a bit to the trail that leads to the Upper Emerald Pool. This is a rocky trail up the slope so you have to watch your step, and it climbs about 400 feet in a quarter-mile. But the effort is worth it! The Upper Pool is a nice oasis-like area, surrounded by trees and large rocks that make for good seats.

I do have to say that the pools were not, in fact, emerald green. As you can see above, the water was extremely clear! They tell me that the name comes from algae growing in the pools during the warmer months, but it was pretty warm while we were there and I didn’t see any! Maybe it was because the water was so low.

We left the pool after a brief respite and went back down toward the Lower Pool, but before we got there we took a left turn and headed down the Kayenta Trail. That trail takes us down to the West Rim Trail that we took toward (alas, not to!) Angel’s Landing. We crossed the river there and walked back to the Lodge on the Grotto Trail.

It was early when we got back to the Lodge, so we looked around the Lodge a bit, stuck our heads into the store, grabbed a drink, then caught the bus. We went up to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava. This is where you go toward the Narrows. For various reasons I wasn’t prepared to go wading in the river on that particular day, so we just did the Riverside Walk.

This was one of my reasons

This was other people’s reaction to the warning.

But it’s a pleasant walk along the river. We walked to the end of the (wide, paved, accessible) trail and back. At the beginning of the trail there’s a lot of green space between the trail and the river, some of which is occupied by the local fauna.

When we reached the end of the trail, we turned around and walked back. When we reached the trailhead, we kept going! We walked along the river all the way down to the Grotto, as the sun sank slowly below the canyon walls.

On Tuesday we had decided to go to a different part of the park, so we didn’t get shuttle tickets. Instead, we drove through the park, past the entrance to Zion Canyon (where private vehicles dare not tread) and out east on Highway 9. There are a lot of trails out that way, we’ll have to do more of them when we come back! This time we were going to take the Petroglyph Trail to Slot Canyon.

On the Petroglyph Trail, you start walking along a dry (at least when we were there!) creekbed that goes under the highway. A little way in, there’s a break in the brush to your left and you follow that up to the base of the cliff. And there you find…petroglyphs! Pretty cool…probably over a thousand years old.

After you pass the petroglyphs you come to a place where you climb out of the creek up onto the rock. Alltrails shows the way to the slot canyon. But…

My wife said, “We can climb that!”

So we did. If you see that pointy little hoodoo up there, that was our goal. At first. Turned out, that wasn’t the top!

This was the view when we got there, that little hoodoo standing behind us. So, being us, we kept going.

In the gallery below are some other pix from the climb and the view we got from the top! The cell phone has an altimeter that’s showing 6075 feet (based on the GPS), only about 700 feet above where we started, but a fun climb! Then, of course, we had to go back down…

That was just a small side trip, we still hadn’t made it to the slot canyon that was our goal. So we followed Alltrails across the rock and down another dry streambed until we found the canyon. It wasn’t as tall as “Wall Street” back in Bryce Canyon, but the light was good and there were some neat formations, as you can see!

Then back down the road. Heading west on highway 9, just before you get to the long tunnel, you come to the trailhead for the Zion Canyon Overlook trail. This was a fun little trail, only about half a mile out (and the same back, surprisingly) but it takes you through some interesting terrain. If you’re going to sidle across a narrow ledge, I recommend doing it over the 5-foot dropoff here rather than the things those other crazy people do! And there’s a beautiful view at the end, along with a precipice for my wife to dangle on. You’re actually looking down one of the side canyons (Pine Creek? I can’t recall) into Zion Canyon.

That was the end of our hiking day, but it wasn’t the end of our day! Back to the hotel for a snack and a rest, then off into the night…

As you see in the photo above, there is a road going through the canyon over which we are looking, That’s Highway 9, a road on which we did many miles, several of which covered a bunch of switchbacks leading from the entrance to Zion Canyon up to the tunnel. Around those hairpin turns there are several parking areas where you can stop and check out the views. One of them looks rather like this at night:

Have I mentioned the sheer rock walls in Zion? 🙂 That’s the northern part of the Milky Way, not quite so dramatic as the view toward the core, but lovely nevertheless. And as an added bonus, you get the Andromeda Galaxy there on the right edge!

Our last day in the park we again skipped the main canyon, starting our day on the Watchman Trail which starts near the Visitor’s Center. It’s about 3 miles, out and back, and not too difficult. The photo below is from the trail, about as high above the canyon floor as we got. Our destination is there in the foreground.

After that pleasant hike, we did a road trip, this time heading up to the northwest part of the park. The Kolob Canyons are a series of “finger canyons” entering the valley along the western edge of the park. This is yet another area we need to revisit, because I really want to hike out to Kolob Arch! But not this time. Instead, we just drove out to the end of Kolob Canyon road (where there is, again, a fantastic view) and did the short hike out on the Timber Creek Overlook Trail.

When I edited this, the view of the Kolob Canyons was on top. On the bottom is the view looking south from the end of the trail. In the distance on the right is the plateau containing the Grand Canyon. If you can see that far! After a stroll back to the trailhead, we returned to the hotel – with a couple of interesting stops along the way (next blog post, I promise!).

And once more into the darkness! We had rather a busy night that last night. First we stopped at the bridge over the river by the entrance to Zion Canyon. We moved on the the area around the Petroglyph trailhead, then we went up to the Overlook again. That trail is a completely different experience in the dark!

Zion was an amazing place and we’re definitely going to have to go back there, even if everything had been open we’d have missed so much! I’d recommend everyone go there. Just not on the days we go back… 🙂

Bryce Canyon National Park

When we started planning this trip, we looked at the average conditions for Bryce Canyon in September. Average high around 70 (about 21 for you metric types) sounds great! Lows around 40-42? (yes, 5-ish in metric) Not a problem, layer up a little and take it off as the temperature climbs. Easy, yes? Then, as the time approached, we could look at the 10-day forecast. And that showed a cold front moving in. So we packed a little bit differently than we originally thought. And it was a good thing!

When we flew into Vegas and drove up to Tropic (Utah), it was a lovely day. We stopped along the way and did a bit of hiking (in the Dixie National Forest) as the sun was going down. The sky was showing some haze, perhaps from the California fires. But it was starting to cool down.

We checked in at the Bryce Country Cabins, at the north end of Tropic (cute little cabins, clean & comfy!). Next morning off on our first adventure. We had (as usual) scouted out the area on Alltrails and picked out a few. Our first morning hike was Mossy Cave, conveniently located between the Cabins and the main entrance to the park. It’s a short hike with only a bit of elevation gain so it seemed like a good warmup!

The hike is pretty flat going along the stream in the “Tropic Ditch,” essentially a canal dug over 100 years ago. They tell me it’s only run dry once since then. Well, it has a lovely waterfall, behind which my wife can hide! If you look closely, you can see her. There are a lot of cool rock formations, one of which framed the moon at just the right time! You can see the wind whipping at my jacket, making it hard to hold still. Oh, there’s also a cave with moss growing…

After our visit to the cave and waterfall, we headed for the park. We stopped at the Visitor’s Center to get our park passport stamps and then headed for the Fairyland Loop trail. We started where it goes down into the canyon close to Sunrise Point and this is where we got our first view of the strange beauty of Bryce Canyon!

Did I mention a cold front? As we were going to the trail, the temperature was dropping and the wind was rising! Here we see what the well-equipped hiker was wearing. We saw a lot of people who hadn’t read the forecast apparently – many Bryce Canyon sweatshirts were being sold to many cold-looking people!

But the trail was marvelous. Once we got down in the canyon we were (slightly) shielded from the wind, which was good, since it was about 40 degrees! As we went along the trail, at first we saw more large formations, walls and proto-hoodoos. We went on a bit of a side trip to see the Tower Bridge (as you see in the adjacent gallery). We got a great view of the Sinking Ship (also in the gallery), though we saw it several other times from different trails while we were there.

At some point you come around a curve (or over a ridge, I really can’t remember!) and you begin to see more and more hoodoos. We stopped and took a “boot” picture with some of them. And then more in the next picture. It’s just amazing and unearthly! Finally, you get to Fairyland Point, back up on the rim. You look down on what looks like a grand gathering of hoodoos and you can see why they called it “Fairyland!”

As we strolled along the Rim Trail back to our starting point, we got snowed on! See we have evidence – not one, but TWO snowflakes on my wife’s glove! 🙂 We strolled back to the car and went to check out a few of the overlooks in the park, the Natural Bridge for example. Beautiful views as the sun went down!

We’d trained up for this trip so we were ready for the ups and downs but it was still pretty tiring. So we went back to the cabin and got a good night’s sleep! Tomorrow is going to be even more up & down – we planned to do the Navajo Loop and the Peekaboo Loop. And so we did!

In the morning we headed to Sunset Point, where the Navajo Loop starts with a descent to Wall Street. If it looks like a long way down, that’s because it is! But it’s a good trail and it takes you down to the high walls of, well, Wall Street! It’s a neat little, very tall, slot canyon.

After Wall Street, you hit a level part of the loop until you branch off for the Peekaboo Loop, then you start going up and down. This loop takes you through some of the most fabulous stretches of rock-based scenery I’ve ever seen! In the gallery below, you can see the Two Bridges, the Wall of Windows, some very cool hoodoos and more. Even the horses that passed us by after dropping off a gift…

After we had finished the loops and gotten back up to the rim, I wanted to go back down through Wall Street again because I had discovered that my camera had underexposed several shots I had taken there. Silly camera! 🙂 We decided to do the Navajo Loop – Queen’s Garden trail, staring back down through Wall Street. After I had retaken a few pix we turned left toward Queen’s Garden instead of going straight toward the Peekaboo Loop. This trail took us by the Queen Victoria Hoodoo and some other nice formations, as seen in this gallery:

That was sufficient hiking for us for the day. After all, in two days hiking in Bryce Canyon we had hiked about 27 miles – and climbed the equivalent of about 500 flights of stairs! So we took the next day off from Bryce and went to Kodachrome Basin State Park – but that’s for another blog post! We came back to Bryce that night, though…

We went back to Sunset Point just to see what we could see. This is what we could see!

The next morning we wanted to do the Hat Shop via the Rim Trail. This is a fun out & back trail that leaves from Bryce Point. There’s a fabulous view from Bryce Point, it’s like you’re looking out on a vast sea of hoodoos! And you can see Earth, off in the distance…

So we gaped at it for a little while and then we headed down the trail. You start out walking along the side of the canyon through the trees. After a little while you come to a point where you have a view looking out east. A bunch of hoodoos and one little spot in the distance…

I looked out and said “Hey, look at that little bunch of hoodoos way out over there! ” That spot there on the right, in the hills. Eventually I figured it out. That’s where we were going!

It looks pretty far away. And pretty far down. It’s really only two miles of hiking, And about a thousand feet down. It’s easy going down, a nice walk and cool scenery. The problem with that is that there’s no shuttle going back up! But the Hat Shop was pretty neat, there are a fair number of hats to be seen! As you can see in the gallery…

We went a ways past the Hat Shop, down into the woods, for no really good reason except maybe momentum. Then we walked all the way back up. Adding an extra 200 feet of climbing for walking through the woods! It took a little while, but we got back to Bryce Point.

After we finished the Hat Shop we went down to Rainbow Point to do the Bristlecone Loop Trail. That’s a nice easy 1-mile loop through the woods. But the best views were at Rainbow Point, as you see here!

After we went back to the cabin and had a cup of tea and some dinner, we went back to Bryce Point for some evening photography. The sky is a little darker there than at Sunset Point. But if you’re looking north, you see the lights of Bryce Canyon City. As you can see in the photo below, looking over the hoodoos at the Big Dipper!

So we spent three wonderful (albeit a tad windy and chilly!) days hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park. About 40 miles of hiking, along with almost 700 floor-equivalents of climbing, through some of the weirdest rocks I’ve ever seen. We had a blast, and I would recommend it to anyone!

Stay tuned for Zion and more!

-Eric

Welcome to The Grand Canyon … of Texas

“…a burning, seething cauldron, filled with dramatic light and color.”

-Georgia O’Keeffe.

In our last days of freedom, before the Enclosed Times, we took a trip up to Palo Duro Canyon, up Amarillo way. Unfortunately, we came back… But it was a great trip while it lasted! I hadn’t been there for more than 30 years and now I have no idea why, what a marvelous place!

Palo Duro Canyon is, as I said, up in the Panhandle, close to Amarillo, about 6 hours of driving from home. It’s not a bad drive, past Wichita Falls and then the smaller towns along highway 287, Chillicothe, Quanah, Childress, Memphis…Memphis? Are we lost again? 🙂 And on to Canyon, TX, where we were staying. We arrived late in the afternoon and we didn’t have a day pass but we couldn’t resist driving over to the park and checking things out.

Wind Turbine and classic windmill on a ranch in the Texas Panhandle

On the road to the park we saw this sign of the changing times in Texas. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook you’ve seen plenty of both kinds of windmills, but rarely this close together. Equally rare is that this wind turbine was all by itself, most of the time it’s a whole farm!

At 120 miles long and up to 20 miles wide, Palo Duro is the second largest canyon in the US, behind that other Grand Canyon! 🙂 It was formed by the Prairie Dog Town branch of the Red River as it flows off the Caprock of the Llano Estacado. The base rock was laid down by a Permian Ocean 250 million years ago, covered by a Triassic Swamp about 225 Million years ago, and then capped off by Rocky Mountain sediment around 10 million years ago. For some reason there’s a 200-million year “discontinuity” in the rocks.

Saturday morning we heard The Lighthouse calling our name. The Lighthouse is perhaps the most recognizable feature in Palo Duro (except maybe the arena where they perform “Texas !”) and it’s a popular hike. Being us, did we head right for the Lighthouse Trail? Don’t be silly! We decided on the Givens, Spicer, Lowry Trail which meets the Lighthouse Trail part way, and up to the Lighthouse. On the way back we’d follow the Lighthouse Trail back to its trailhead and then the Paseo del Rio Trail back to where we parked, to minimize retracing of steps. Simple! 🙂

A defunct windmill at the trailhead

The parking lot for the GSL Trail is watched over by a defunct windmill and an empty water tank. Only a few vehicles preceded us (the park was already restricting entry) and the trail was also sparsely populated, at least until we reached the Lighthouse Trail.

The trail is a pretty flat but rather fun trail, through and around much beautiful geology.

These red rocks at the bottom of the canyon are part of the Quartermaster formation, laid down in the Permian period (fitting for a canyon this close to the Permian Basin I guess). Those white stripes are gypsum layers in the sandstone.

There’s a type of formation known as a “hoodoo” around here (also as a “pedestal rock,” but that’s awfully boring, don’t you think?) , I think they called them “fairy chimneys” in Cappadocia. We only saw a few of them in Palo Duro, but one of the biggies is the aforementioned Lighthouse. The hard cap cracks and the softer material below erodes away.

This isn’t the Lighthouse, but it is a hoodoo along the GSL trail.

The GSL trail runs into the Lighthouse trail about a mile from the Lighthouse itself. Along the way we were passed by several cyclists. Many of the trails are bike-friendly and there are some trails that are just for bicycles. Why didn’t we bring the bikes? Next time… Oh, and in the picture with the cyclist you can really see the distinct layers of the rock formations on the right!

It was just after that junction that we got our first glimpse of the Lighthouse in the distance…

When we got to the base of the formation, we took a non-standard route up to it. It was perhaps a bit steeper than the recommended route, but it was fun and it got us where we wanted to be. A little more scrambling up the red rocks and we were standing next to the Lighthouse!

The Lighthouse is a good example of much of the geology in Palo Duro. Over 300 feet high, it contains the older geology of the park, with the Triassic sandstone on top!

And the views are spectacular!

We left the Lighthouse by way of the Lighthouse Trail and followed it back to the trailhead. From there we went up the Paseo del Rio Trail, a flat, rather pleasant walk, mostly through woods. In about a mile we were passed by at least a half-dozen cyclists, definitely need to take the bikes next time!

There was still plenty of daylight, so we went to the short-but-interesting Caves Trail.

We explored a couple of caves, and Leigh went up the side of a cliff and a good time was had by all!

On the way back we passed this “No bicycles beyond this point” sign. Since I don’t see a trail back there, I think I can live with that – although my brother-in-law might be tempted!

After the Caves we went on to the CCC Trail that starts near the Visitors Center (which was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934). In the early 1930’s, this trail was the only way that the CCC workers could get from the rim of the canyon to the bottom. I don’t envy them the commute, especially during the summer! And the winter up in the Panhandle is no picnic either! They built the road, bridges, and trails as well as the “El Coronado Lodge,” which is now the visitors center.

The trail is only about 1.5 miles, going from the Visitors Center to the Pioneer Amphitheater, with about 500 feet of elevation. You go down a little from the Visitor’s Center, then along a ridge for a while. Then you pop over the ridge and head down into the central valley and the Pioneer Amphitheater

Of course, the downside to this trail is that once you get to the end, you turn around and go back. The descent to ( and ascent from) the amphitheater is fairly steep, so it was a good workout getting back up top! We weren’t passed by any bikes on that trail. When we got back to the Visitors Center, the sun was getting low, so I took one last panorama that you can see above.

And so we returned to the hotel for a good nights rest and concocting plans for our next day’s adventure!

Pinnacles: California part 3

Part 3 of our adventure begins in a lovely Airbnb in Soledad, California. For part 1 go here, for part 2 go here. The location was great, just 15 minutes or so from the western entrance to Pinnacles National Park.

Of course, our first day hiking in Pinnacles, we decided to go in the eastern entrance, which is a bit farther, an hour or so. We did that because we wanted to do the highly-rated Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail, and that starts at Bear Gulch over on the east side. It was top-ranked on Alltrails and it is rated “hard,” and it deserves both.

We pulled in to the Visitor’s Center on the east side and I was looking for condors!

I never saw this guy spread his wings, but I’m pretty sure this isn’t a condor… 🙂

We stopped in at the Center, looked around in the store, got a stamp for our National Park Passport, and then went back to the Bear Gulch Day Use Area to park. From there up to the Bear Caves Trail. These caves aren’t quite like Carlsbad (or Sonora). Pinnacles is a 20+ million-years-old volcanic formation that has taken a bumpy ride up the San Andreas Fault for almost 200 miles since it was born. Between earthquakes and erosion, boulders and pillars collapsed and formed interesting cave formations. Like these:

It was fun going through the caves, and there was only one place where I had to go on hands-and-knees. Once you get out of the caves, a little farther down the trail you come to a lovely reservoir.

I like the reflection . Also the little rubber duckie on the lower left…

From there the trail gets a little steeper as you head up toward the High Peaks. There were a lot of switchbacks and a little scrambling, but it was a great trail. Here are a few shots from along the way.

Once we got up to the first peak (where, if you look really closely, you can see Paul and his sister Dana, who we met earlier on the trail), we looked over at the other peak and saw condors! We realized that the other peak was where all the action was so we hightailed it down from that peak and sped toward the peak where the condors were. And…

They left before we got there!

Admittedly, there was a little operator error involved, so we took a non-optimum path. We chatted with a couple of other people who were there and I got a snack and drank some water and we relaxed for a few minutes. And then…

Whoosh! Around the peak and past me before I could aim a camera! Of course, having a protein bar in my hand didn’t help… Anyway, several condors came and tooled around the peaks for a few minutes. Did you get the license number on that beast?

Some of them even went to gang up on this poor airplane…

That was the literal and figurative high point of that hike. We completed the loop, past the Condor Gulch Overlook, where we saw no condors (maybe one or two in the far distance) but impressive and ancient rock formations.

We finished the trail and got back to the car. Since we had taken the southern route to get to the entrance, we took the northern route home,only partly because that was the closest gas station! Fair warning, there’s no gas within about 25 miles of the park entrance, so maybe fill up on the way in! We had plenty – the car said we had another 15 miles worth or so when we got to the gas station! A forgettable fish dinner in Salinas and back to the room.

Saturday we took the short way into the park, just up the road from where we were staying. We went past the ” West Pinnacles Visitor Contact Station” and parked at the Chaparral Picnic Area. The plan was to hike the Juniper Canyon Trail up to the High Peaks and the Balconies Trail, and maybe a couple of side trips. Have I mentioned our hikes always seem longer than the trails? 🙂

It was a a rather grey morning, and the flat light did not show off the terrain to its best advantage, but it was a nice trail, relatively easy until you approach the High Peaks Trail. There you get back to the steep part, switchbacks, a little scrambling, and so on. We went back up to the plateau where we had seen the condors on Friday. And there they were!

I like the one where you can see the antenna on the radio tracking device, a fashion accessory worn by all the chic condors (for the Condor Recovery Program). If you’re on your phone, you may have to use the “view full size” option after you click on the gallery! There, I added a crop so everyone can see it. These shots are all of our friend 692, he was out showing off for me!

Photographing the Condors (I almost said “shooting the condors…) was certainly a lesson in contrast, with dark birds against a bright sky! Not to mention that I’m more accustomed to shooting landscapes and buildings – which tend to sit still (we hope!).

When we left the condors, we made a side trip down the Tunnel Trail, which would have been the other way up to the High Peaks from the west side. It’s called the Tunnel Trail because…well, you know. Had I realized at the time that to see the tunnel we’d be going almost all the way down the mountain, I might have requested a different itinerary.

We went down the mountain, went through the tunnel, came back through the tunnel, and walked back up the side of the mountain. I hope you like the picture! 🙂

I should put in a plug for those Trailbuddy trekking poles Leigh is carrying, but they’re not paying me so I won’t mention them. Oh, wait…

After re-climbing the peak, we followed the High Peak Trail down to the Bench Trail and up to the Old Pinnacles Trail, and finally to the Balconies Trail. The Balconies Trail offers two possibilities: you can go through the caves or you can bypass the caves. Us being us, we did both…

First we bypassed the caves. From the above-ground trail (well, really above-rock) you look down into the valley into which the Balconies hillside collapsed, creating the caves.

We reached the point where the Bypass Trail meets the cave trail, so we turned back for the caves. Like the Bear Gulch caves, these caves are really a path through a very large boulder pile. It’s bigger than the Bear Gulch caves, and in some places much darker. It was fun going through the caves, I had my headlamp and flashlights, so we were well illuminated when we needed it. Two of these pictures are long exposures lit by our lights. It’s good that we enjoyed it, since, of course we had to go back through it (or the long way up the hill) to get to the end of the trail!

After the caves, it was an easy walk back to the picnic area. On the way out we passed some interesting sights. The repeating pattern of the out-of-season winery caught my eye.

And this rather dilapidated structure earned me Honorable Mention in a competition at the New York Center for the Photographic Arts.

Well, we’re back in Texas, safe and sound, all things considered. I guess we won’t be flying anywhere for a little while. But West Texas is driving distance. Maybe Langtry, to visit Judge Roy Bean! My feet are getting itchy…

Yosemite – California Part 2

Welcome back to California! For those who missed Part 1, it is here. We begin this part in Merced, California, where Leigh and I get to sleep in a bit because we’re close to the bus station and it doesn’t leave until 9. Unfortunately, I am a bit paranoid about missing planes and buses, especially in a situation where I’ve never been! We were there in plenty of time… 🙂

The bus ride on this Monday morning in March was uncrowded and uneventful (the way we like them) and it was nice to be able to watch the scenery rather than the road. We arrived around 11:30 at what is now called the Yosemite Valley Lodge. We checked in, dumped our luggage, and went outside.

Out in the parking lot, we look up and (wow!) see Upper Yosemite Falls.

Leigh says “Let’s go to the top!”

“But that’s like a 3-1/2 or 4-hour hike! It’ll be dark before we get down!”

“Then we’d better get started…”

Who can argue with that logic? 🙂

We loaded up with water and snacks, did a quick loop past the Lower Falls, and headed up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail (thanks, Alltrails!). This is a fun trail, but it can be challenging (rated 5 stars and hard!). Much of the trail is over stone, some laid by the NPS and some by nature. That stone is mostly covered with sand, making it often quite slippery – but I managed up & down with only 1 spill… 🙂 Much credit goes to the Trailbuddy trekking poles we now have! Bring some along if you’re hiking the trails in Yosemite…

Yosemite falls from the top

We made it to the top! And it felt good!

And Leigh says “Let’s keep going!”

After all, Yosemite Point is just another mile or so…

Just as an aside, this is what the same view of the falls looked like last time we were in Yosemite, in September 2015! If you look really closely you can see the trickle of water in the center.

And we kept on going. Sure enough, after just another mile or so, we came to Yosemite Point. Of course, some of that was through snow and ice!

We didn’t carry the crampons with us, but the snowy part of the trail wasn’t that long and when we got to the Point…

The view was rather amazing as sunset approached. The color changes on Half Dome were fabulous and we really enjoyed the show! Having failed to learn my lesson from previous experience, I was reminded that there is a drawback to watching sunset from the top of a mountain: you walk down in the dark! The walk down was even more of an adventure than the climb up!

The trail between Yosemite point and the top of Yosemite falls crosses a lot of rock so it’s not easy to follow, and the twilight was fading. Fortunately, we had Alltrails! (Have I mentioned Alltrails? 🙂 ) It kept us going in the right direction. Also fortunately, I had a headlamp and two flashlights! (I have learned some lessons! 🙂 )Once we reached the bridge, the path was much clearer. And of course, the view on the way down was just a little bit different! And Leigh just barely got frostbite while she was waiting for me to take this one:

I’m afraid that you’ll have to come to my next show (Urban Artist Market, May 8-9, Addison, TX) (assuming it doesn’t get cancelled! 😦 ) to get the full effect when I have it printed… 🙂

We got down to the bottom of the mountain and back to the room a little before 10:00 and aimed for a good night’s rest. After almost 20 miles and the equivalent of 444 flights of stairs (according to my wife’s fitbit) it wasn’t hard to get to sleep!

Tuesday morning I suggested we stay closer to the valley floor. In fact, I rather wanted to go scout the area around Mirror Lake and see if there was anything interesting going on there. We over to the Swinging Bridge, then to check out Yosemite Village to the facilities , and on up Tenaya Creek.

The bridge itself wasn’t looking too exciting, but from the bridge we had this view up the Merced river. There was a breeze, so the water was rippling a bit. I rather liked the effect on the reflections in this shot.

As we crossed a meadow on the way toward Yosemite Village, I picked up a passenger…

The moon was rising over Half Dome as we walked toward the Lake.

I checked out a few locations for possible shots, we made a new feline friend, and we walked all the way around the lake.


After we went for a meal we returned to Mirror Lake for some nighttime reflections. And one Half Dome shot with no reflection at all.

We got to our room before anybody got frostbite!


Having barely exercised on Tuesday (a mere 15 miles, 59 stair-flight-equivalents), we got more ambitious Wednesday, setting our sights on Vernal and Nevada Falls. Alltrails (have I mentioned Alltrails? 🙂 ) lists that at 8.8 miles. Our hikes always seem longer than they say…

Anyway, we shuttled over to stop 16 and headed up the Mist Trail. The trail’s an up-and back, so we passed by the falls twice. These shots of vernal falls are from the return journey, because there was a rainbow…

Note the strategically placed trekking poles… 🙂


After topping Vernal Falls, we were in the small minority that continued on toward Nevada Falls. The scenery was spectacular!


Not much over a mile past Vernal Falls, you reach Nevada Falls. Here’s a shot from below and above:

We thought we might try coming back by the John Muir Trail, but for various reasons (like ice on the trail!) we went back the way we came…

We got down not too long after dark, and went to eat. Then we went out in the cold! Again! The moon wasn’t even full, but it was astonishingly bright, the landscape stood out clearly against the night sky. I hope freezing my wife all these nights was worth it!

For that day we did just under 16 miles and almost 200 flights of stairs (equivalent). Good thing we train up on actual stairs!

That was our last night in Yosemite, the next day we bussed back to Merced, jumped in the car and drove down to Soledad. My next post will be our Pinnacles National Park adventures. Stay Tuned!