Archive for the ‘Outdoors’ Category

Labor Day Weekend Biking on the Katy Trail in Missouri

8 September 2010

September was designated as patrol camping month for Troop 15, and Ian’s patrol decided to have their patrol camp by riding part of the Katy Trail in Missouri.

A bit of diversion. When I was a Scout, I think that we had about a 30/70 split of patrol camping to troop camping. The patrols would decide where to go and buy food and find a way out to a camp. Most of the time one or more parents would drop us off, we would do our thing, and then get picked up a couple days later.

Since I have been a Scout leader, there have been NO patrol camps until now. So this was kind of cool, even with the adults doing most of the planning. The long Labor Day weekend was the perfect choice. Out target was the Katy Trail, a “Rails to Trails” project that runs through the majority of north-central Missouri.

We headed out from the church that the Troop meets at around 0900 Saturday. We stopped for lunch at the Glass House McDonald’s near Vinita, and then made a stop at Springfield, MO.

We got to Hohn Scout Reservation about 1600. Hohn is on one of the north sides of an arm of Lake of the Ozarks. The camp is mostly about 100 feet above the lake. We got there, and immediately saw about 15 deer, including four bucks!

The guys got to work getting camp set up. I have to say that I was pretty impressed, the patrol was really good about getting set up, striking camp, and getting ready to leave for the bike ride in the morning.

That’s Ian doing a bit of bike riding.

My Kelty is the second tent from the left. I didn’t put the rain fly up the first night, and got a LOT of condensation on the tent the next morning.

It’s hard to see through the trees, but the lake was below us, and was very pretty.

We were on the west end of the biggest open area in the camp, with the climbing tower and the volleyball court across the way.

Each camp has concrete platforms (for Baker wall tents, I guess), and several shelters for food prep and eating. One thing I thought was cool – each shelter has a fixed patrol box for food storage. Raccoons tried to get into ours. We also saw a muskrat, I think.

After a nice dinner of hamburger and noodle casserole, I stood on the big field for a while and watched the stars. We all talked for a bit, and adjusted bikes, and then racked out. We were all up at 0630, had breakfast, loaded up, and headed out. We got to Boonville, MO, unloaded the bikes, did some last-minute checks, and headed out.

We started out across the big Missouri River bridge, and we were off!

Just to the south of this bridge was an old railroad bridge with a center section that could be raised up. Very cool.

Most of the trail, being former railroad bed, is flat and gravel covered. Most of the gravel is smaller than pea sized, and is on a hardpacked dirt surface, and so it very easy to ride on.

The trail goes over rivers and along bluffs and swamps, and fields of various things.

There is not much shade on the trail. Every once in a while you find it, but there wasn’t much.

The objective for the ride was 50 miles in less than eight hours (this is a requirement of the Cycling Merit Badge). All but two of us made 25 miles. One other Scout and I made it 15.8 miles. He was tired, and I got a very painful thigh muscle cramp – the first muscle cramp I have ever had. He and I met the trailing van at Rocheport, which was our lunch stop. The rest of the crew went on to McBaine, and so racked up 25 miles. Since we had a long drive back to camp (on top of the long drive from camp to the trailhead), and the boys wanted to go swimming, they elected to stop there.

This is the part of the biking trip that I made, overlaid on Google Maps:

This is the altitude plot:

What you see here is a couple trips over the big Missouri River bridge to start, then the rest of the trail is fairly flat (if I pulled the X-axis out it doesn’t look high at all).

A couple observations. These will seem obvious.

Trying to do 50 miles on a bike when you are trained up as a hiker does not work very well. I routinely can do a 2000 ft altitude gain with little strain, but a bike uses several other muscles. My cramp was probably due to lack of exercise of that muscle.

My bike was not able to get into the highest gear. I should have realized that and adjusted for it before the trip.

I drank both of my Nalgene bottles on the trail. Lots of water is important.

Riding east into a moderate wind blowing west is hard!

There were tons of people on the trail! It always makes me proud when I go out and see lots of people walking or biking or what have you.

We headed back to camp and the fire was built quickly and the cooks started in cooking. A couple of the boys and leaders went down to swim. The lake was pretty from the shore.

We had hamburger stew for dinner (Ian was one of the cooks) and it was excellent. I was in the tent by 2130, but awoke to this:

We were up and out of camp by 0830, and made it back to Oklahoma City around 1540. A nice way to spend the long Labor Day weekend. I didn’t get to hike any of the trails at Hohn, but if I am ever back, that will be my priority.

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Kings Canyon National Park, CA

29 August 2010

I saw some really amazing sights on the drive into Kings Canyon. I’m just going to dump the photos here for viewing.

One comment. There was a tremendous amount of smoke in the air! Turns out that there was an active fire in the canyon just north of the Cedar Grove area, and on top of that, the fire crews were along Cedar Grove setting backfires (you can see some of these in the photos).

This is a wonderful drive to take. Do it even if you don’t hike.

This drive starts at just under 300 ft in Fresno, gets up to around 6600 ft, drops back to 3400 ft, and ends at about 5000 ft.

Hiking Kings Canyon National Park, CA

29 August 2010

I took a day of leave and drove from Sacramento to Fresno last week to hike Kings Canyon. It was a beautiful park to walk in.

I checked in with the rangers at the Cedar Grove Visitor Center, and decided to start at Roaring River Falls. I had arrived around 1100, and thought to get some lunch first at the cafe there, but it only serves lunch Saturday and Sunday. As a fallback, I bought some snacks at the attached grocery. As an aside, the lodge there has wifi, it’s open, and my Blackberry locked onto it and went into VoIP mode, so I got a download of email and voice mail before I went off to hike. You can get water here (don’t get it in the bathroom, it’s HOT, use the water fountain).

I drove about three miles to the parking area for Roaring River Falls. There is a short trail there, and it’s paved. About halfway up, I said the heck with it, walked to the bank, and did a boulder scramble the rest of the way.

After the Falls, I headed east on the trail to Zumwalt Meadow. The view of the granite rising above the valley was amazing.

Now the hiking is on real trail. You alternate between somewhat open areas and woods. Sometimes the ground vegetation was quick thick.

In just a bit, the trail gets pretty close to the South Fork Kings River. It’s a beautiful stream, clear and fast moving in places.

I usually walk fairly quietly. At some point, I saw about four birds slightly uphill from me (I looked them up just now, they were mountain quail). As the birds walked towards some underbrush, I realized there were four deer in there (two does and two fawns) looking at me! In the first photo, you can see the outline of a mountain quail between the deer and the trunk of the tree.

Soon I got to Zumwalt Meadow. It’s a marshy area. I took the north loop around it. There is a boardwalk for part of it, and trail for the rest. Notice the granite walls in the background?

Bears are common in the area. They go potty in the woods. This was fresh-looking, so a bear had been in the area shortly before.

The trail along here is fairly flat. You do some uphill, but no more than about 30 or 50 ft at a time.

There were several area where small streams flowed down the rock faces. As always, I am amazed that these are still running so far into summer.

I got to the Roads End area after about an hour. It’s about 3.5 miles from the Roaring River area. There is a staffed permit station there for backcountry camping, and some picnic areas, but most importantly, there is water. I refilled the half bottle I had consumed to this point (I carried two Nalgenes).

The trail continues for two miles to an intersection with a bridge over the river. There is a five-mile loop to the southeast, or a three-mile out and back to the north along the river up Paradise Valley to Mist Falls.

The trail along here is a mix. There is some sandy crud along part of it (when you are not in trees) that’s like walking along beach. It was not fun. I tried to stay on the edge of the trail. It got better a little higher, back into forest.

When I got to the bridge, I stopped and had a snack. This is looking back downstream from on the bridge.

I started up the Paradise trail. You start getting some real stairstepping here, and the trail is quite rocky in places. I was passing through a really rocky outcropping at one point, and I heard a buzz! It sounded like a rattlesnake, but I didn’t think rattlesnakes were in the Sierra. I looked around (carefully!) and here is what I saw.

I saw part of the body on the other side of the rock. I didn’t poke at the darn thing or anything stupid like that (I’ve grabbed a live diamondback by the tail!). I did some Googling, and that snake is a Northern Pacific Rattlesnake. Here is a photo from that Google search for comparison.

I climbed steadily up the canyon. This is looking back down from where I came.

You walk right along the river for most of this. There are numerous cataracts and some pools of water.

I got to within a mile of Mist Falls. I was meeting my friend James back in Fresno for dinner, and so had set a time of about 1630 to leave the park for the two-hour drive back to Fresno. I sat on a huge rock over a falls and had a snack, and then turned and headed back down. Those Falls will still be there some other trip.

When I got to the intersection with the bridge, there were a couple people looking at another snake! I was impressed that no one was trying to beat the thing to death or anything like that. It was quite pretty. I believe it is a Sierra Mountain Kingsnake.

The trees along the trail bear mentioning. There were some sequoia that were amazing.



That river was really pretty.

I’m going to end with some more canyon wall.

This was a really great day. The only thing I did wrong was not getting an early enough start. I had to do some phone calls and answer some emails, and instead of leaving the hotel in Fresno at 0700, I left at 0900. When you add the two-hour drive to get to the trails, half the day is over. But at least I got the opportunity to visit.

Kings Canyon is sort of a little Yosemite. The walls are 500 ft high instead of 3000 ft, and the waterfalls are not 1000 ft, but it is pretty! While on the trails, I saw a total of maybe 30 people, and 20 of them were on the valley floor. I ran into a total of five people coming in from backpacking (lucky them!). I want to come back and visit again.

Here is the GPS data layered over Google Maps. I just needed another half hour to get to Mist Falls! The total mileage was 12.98 miles.

And here is the altitude graph of the hike.

Recommended!

Hiking Eisenhower Park, San Antonio, TX

28 August 2010

I was in San Antonio for a meeting at the beginning of this week. When I got there Monday, I drove out to a big state park to try hiking, but the place was closed. So after the meeting Tuesday, there was not enough time to drive out that far, so I picked Eisenhower Park. It was about a 10-min drive from my hotel. Tuesday was unique in that San Antonio set a record high of 103F for that day. There was an occasional breeze, but the humidity was in the 90%+ range, so by the end of the day I was soaked! Shorts, socks, shirt, pretty sweaty. The good news: there was an Academy at the turnoff for the park, and they had boots on sale! So I bought a new pair and broke them in on this hike. I hope they last as long as the Cherokees I bought in 1992.

There were water fountains in the park, but I didn’t see any faucets, so you might want to fill up your water bottle before coming out.

I got there around 1400 and hiked until 1700. There were thunderstorms brewing the entire time I was there, but I didn’t get any rain. The clouds did block some of the sun, making it slightly less relentless. There were maybe three cars in the parking area when I got there. There are a lot of pavilions and picnic tables around the parking area.

First of all, this is pretty much desert.

A significant part of the trails are paved, so part of it is accessible. I chose to take the Hillview trail, which essentially goes around the perimeter of the park. It starts off as a road, but then quickly changes to a path.

Note the little thunderstorm in the distance. That puppy kept the park shaded for the first part of the hike, very nice.

In several places, they have this sign.

I looked the entire hike, but no cougars (darn it). In fact, there was little wildlife. Some birds and a couple squirrels was about it.

This is typical of the trails. Nice and wide.

The first part of the trail (the southeast part) is next to a quarry. There are several signs on the fence that say “Quarry, Danger, Keep Out”. One of the signs is next to a park with kids toys to play on, on the quarry grounds, so I thought that kind of amusing.

While I have always thought of San Antonio as flat, it is in close proximity to the Texas Hill Country, and as such Eisenhower Park has some elevation changes. You can see the trail is uphill a bit farther on from where this picture was taken.

On the west side of the park, but not on the highest point, is a nice observation tower. You can see a quarry and downtown from there pretty well.

A little later, a thunderstorm that had brewed up north of San Antonio moved into view. There was some wind damage from the storm, and I think it came from a microburst. In this picture, you can see the characteristic “backsplash” of the microburst downdraft.

I took a detour off the Hillview trail on to the Red Oak trail. It goes a bit down and back up, and is a lot rockier. You get to do some stairstepping along here was well.

Coming down the northeast part of the Hillview trail, I started seeing more thunderstorms to the northwest of me, headed generally my direction. I had intended to take another trail, but decided against it since I was hearing more and more thunder.

This was a nice park, and a nice way to spend a couple San Antonio hours not in a hotel room. I logged 3.9 miles per the GPS. The sweating part was not so much fun, but it was a pretty area, you couldn’t hear much in the way of traffic or machinery, and it was close to the metro area.

This is the GPS track map overlayed on Google Maps.

And this is the altitude plot. It looks seriously hilly until you look at the scale – about 200 feet total.

Fun hike, recommended. One thing I noticed was there there have been a number of Eagle Scout service projects at the park, including some of the trail signs, the maps, etc. I think that is great!

Sequoia National Park, CA

27 August 2010

Last Wednesday, 18 August, I drove from the Sacramento area down to Fresno, checked into my hotel, and then headed out to check out Sequoia National Park. You have to go through Kings Canyon National Park to get there.

My plan was to do a driving tour through the park, exiting out to the south, and then swinging back to Fresno and the hotel.

I left Fresno around 1730, and got back around 2130. The drive was spectacular. Sequoia has the largest stands of Giant Sequoias that remain. There are views of mountains and valleys and trees and trees and trees.

The drive in is pretty.

After climbing up into the foothills, I started seeing trees, and the road was doing the usual slalom. I was watching for deer. I didn’t see any of them, but I did see this next to the road…

The trees got bigger and bigger.

I also started seeing sequoias.

The views were pretty.

Moon was up. The picture doesn’t really do the view justice.

I know that this picture is blurred, but I just had to post it. Every once in a while a meadow would show up, and this one was really pretty. It’s clear in my mind, anyway.

And finally, the road goes through a huge grove of sequoias. The road is cut right between two of them. It was staring to get dark about this point.

From past this area, the road leading south out of the park is very narrow. It goes down several thousand feed in about 10 miles distance, and curves and curves and curves. At the time I was there, part of the road had one lane closed, and you had to wait an hour to pass.

This was a very nice drive. There are trails all along the road, and I’d like to go and hike some of them in the future.

Hiking Lassen Peak In Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

26 August 2010

The main event for me while at Lassen Volcanic National Park was a chance to do some hiking. After I hit the Visitor Center, I decided that the best hike was up Lassen Peak itself.

The main road through the Park takes you right by the trailhead. It’s a roughly 8500 ft, and the peak is at roughly 10500 ft, so you have 2000ft in about 2.5 miles.

I started up the trail at about 1530. There is NO water at the trailhead, although there are toilets. Make sure you fill up your bottles at the Visitor Center.

This is the view up the trail from the parking lot. You can see the trail running up from the lower left of the picture. It takes a sharp right to make a switchback into the trees in the center right of the photo. You end up walking up the ridge on the upper right, behind the rocks in the upper center of the photo. Note the trail worn into the slide area – it’s not the official trail, and it’s supposed to be slowing wearing away.

This is at the first switchback, looking west. The big slide area is to the right. That is a big pile of snow, still there in August.

The third switchback is through a nice forested area, some of the only cover on the trail. This is nice walking surface. Higher up there is a lot of dust and gravel that makes for hard walking.

The views from up there get spectacular fairly quickly. The first photo is looking to the southeast. I think that the big lake is Almanor. The next is to the southwest.

This is Lake Helen down on the main road.

This is looking west. I think this is Brokeoff Peak (really!).

There were a surprising number of flowering plants up there. I guess they need less oxygen to survive. They didn’t have any smell to them, but some had small bees and bumblebees attending them!

This is along the long ridge that you can see from the first photo. This is a second slide area that goes off to the ESE. The snow is 6-8ft deep along here. I would not walk on this for anything. The peak off to the right is the target. There is an antenna of some sort up there.

This is an example of the trail higher up. Lots of dust and sand on the trail. If you are not careful, you end up taking a step up, and a half step sliding back.

There were a couple chipmunks that showed up out of the rocks when I stopped for a water break. One of them came pretty close to me and found something to nom.

Finally! I reached the summit. I *thought*. Now, this is a former (current?) caldera. When you get to the “top” it’s a false summit. You have to go east, and it’s a bit down. There was a path worn through the snow here, but I was a little nervous walking through it since for all I knew, it would take that time to go sliding down.

You have to scramble up to get to the real summit. There are any number of look-like trails, and boot prints leading up there, but there was no trail I could find.

This is looking back at the caldera.

The view from up there is amazing. You can see Shasta off to the north.

This is looking down and to the northeast.

This is looking to the southwest and down at Lake Helen.

And this is the two ridges that you just walked up!

As I came back down the false summit, I had a major boot failure. The sole separated completely from the upper on the left boot. I bought those boots (Cherokees) in 1991, and they have hundreds of hiking and walking miles on them. I will miss them.

The total time to the top was about 2.5 hours. Total time down was 45 min. Lots easier losing altitude than gaining it! I do not have my GPS data from this hike – I managed to delete it while at Kings Canyon. Dumb mistake on my part. The summit is
10462 ft. I seem to recall that the round-trip mileage on the GPS was 4.98 miles.

Lassen Volcanic National Park, CA

25 August 2010

I visited Lassen Volcanic National Park Monday, 16 Aug 2010. I got into Sacramento at 1120, was out of the airport and rolling north on I-5 at 1140, and arrived at Lassen around 1400 after a lunch stop. There are basically two things to do at Lassen – drive the loop drive through some of the volcanic remnants of the park, and hike. I did both.

The drive into the park is pretty nice. Lassen is in a remote area in northeast California. The first views of the mountains come shortly after you leave Red Bluff, which is the exit for I-5.

A little farther on, you get a view of Shasta Peak, a bit farther north. It was really hazy so the Peak is hard to see.

The view of the mountains improves as you get closer. I noticed that the view got much better as I passed through the 1000 ft mark.

There were interesting and obviously volcanic formations on both sides of the road. This was at an overlook of a small canyon about 30 miles out of Red Bluff.

As I got into the Park proper, there were some stunning views. It was obvious there had been fires here in the past years. This was a small waterfall.

This view up the hillside really needed a bear!

Driving into the Park, there is a ruler stood on end, to measure snowfall. The ruler is 36 ft tall. There is a photo in the Visitor Center that shows snow up to the 30 ft mark! Lassen is largely closed in Winter, BTW. There is still snow up there in quantity in mid-August.

The Visitor Center (I was at the southwest center) has a lot of solar powered devices. I approve of this.

As you drive into the park, the views just get more spectacular.

There are a number of small and beautiful lakes up there. No dams in evidence, these are all glacier-carved.

The last eruption of Lassen Volcano was back around 1915. It looms large from several parts of the Park.

There is still volcanic activity going on in terms of steam vents. There are a number of places where minerals and sulphurs have left their mark.

I didn’t see a lot of wildlife. There were some chipmunks on Lassen Peak, and maybe five kinds of birds ranging from very tiny to Stellars Jays to some hawks. There were some deer in a meadow just up from the Visitor Center, and I almost hit one of the things when it ran in front me me exiting the Park.

Lassen is great if you want solitude. I saw few people there. The views are amazing, and if you are into mountains as I am, you will get a good fix here.

I hiked to the top of Lassen Peak while there. That’s in another blog post.

GS-West Closing Campsites

25 August 2010

It will come as a surprise to some that I am a Girl Scout. I am also a Boy Scout. More specifically, I am a registered leader in both organizations. I am also a strong supporter of the aims of both organizations, if not always how the organizations perform their mission.

And so it is now. The Girl Scouts of Western Oklahoma (GS-West) is apparently going to close, and presumably sell, the camps of Red Rock and Kate.

I have several issues with this. While I have never been to Camp Kate (it used to be part of the Sooner Council before GS-West ate it and our Redlands Council in a merger that was apparently messy), I have been to Red Rock numerous times. It is a lovely camp, has a wilderness camp area, platforms, a corral, hiking, and a nice building. It is an ideal Scout camp, for girls or boys. It is fairly close to the OKC metro area.

There is also the issue of how this decision was taken. My wife and Troop Leader participates in Service Unit meetings (and never misses them), and there has never been mention of camp closings. The Council commented a couple days ago about feedback received during some evaluation process, but no news of that ever reached the Service Unit. I think that the “process” must have been very secretive.

Why sell the camps? A Council-wide camp was held at Red Rock last year, to great success. Were there problems that were not reported?

Are the camps underused? This might be an issue. Girl Scouts has experienced a decline in outdoors activities over the years. The obvious solution is for the Council(s) to ramp up outdoors program. One question I have asked: how many Girl Scout Troops actually own tents and other gear, in contrast to Boy Scout Troops?

I wonder if money is too involved. The Council is moving to a larger building soon, and I wonder if the closures(and sales?) of the camps is the funding stream to support this. I understand that the Council(s) already make each Troop justify having more than some small amount of money in Troop checking accounts at the end of each accounting year, with the Council taking funds it considers “unjustified”. It could be that GS-West (and National?) is focusing on money rather than the girls.

All of this is very disturbing to us. We want our daughter, and our other Troop girls, to have every opportunity to experience the full range of outdoor activities that are available. Closing camps limits those opportunities, and degrades the mission of the Girl Scouts overall. The Council needs to think through why they are trying to do, and should perhaps be a great deal more open in their dealings with the volunteers, and the girls we are all trying to serve.

Shenandoah National Park, VA

11 July 2010

Yesterday after we left DC, we headed west on I-66. After the usual random stops along the interestate, we made our way to Port Royal and hit the park.

This is a pure scenery park. There are three things to do – visit the Visitor Center(s), drive the Skyline Drive, and hike. We managed two out of three.

The views along the Skyline drive are pretty. They are not Yosemite, and don’t rival the drives through the Rockies, but are still breathtaking.

We saw two bears (one a cub) and a number of deer right along the road. The trees are beautiful.

If you only have a couple hours, drive the Skyline Drive. Otherwise, try to do some hiking – there are trails everywhere.

It’s a nice National Park to visit.

Hiking A Lava Tube, El Malpais National Monument, NM

15 June 2010

Driving from Albuquerque to Phoenix, we stopped at El Malpais NM. We drove out to the lava tubes area for a short hike.

The road out there was dusty! Our car got quite dirty.

The trail is not overly marked. It’s marked with rock cairns every once in a while, so you have to be looking ahead for the rock piles while you are watching your footing.

There are huge piles of lava rock everywhere.

There are cactus everywhere. They were flowering while we were there.

There was a pine tree across the trail at one point, so we took a group picture.

After a bit, you get to the lava tubes. Some of the tops are collapsed. There is one bridge as well.

We walked back, again on the piles of lava rock.

Unfortunately, I left the GPS in the car, so I don’t have any track information.

The nearest water is back at the visitor center. You should wear boots or good shoes, you are walking on volcanic rock a lot, it’s sharp.

The roundtrip we took was 0.8 miles. You can go a lot farther, including climbing down into the lava tubes. If we’d had some more time, I think we would have. Our total time for the hike was about 1.25 hours.

3 Days, 3 Hikes: Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, CO

15 June 2010

Last week, we hiked to an overlook trail at Black Canyon. It’s at the end of the south rim drive.

The trail is pretty good. It’s a mix of packed dirt with occasional rocks.

The views from up there are stunning. You are walking a ridge to the west. The canyon is on the north. Trees and mountain are to the south.

We made it out to the point fairly quickly – it’s only about 0.8 miles one way. There are some rocks up there to sit on, and a bit of shade. There are no guardrails!

A nice couple took a picture of the kids and I.

The view west down the canyon is spectacular.

This is the north rim from the point.

There is not a lot of cover up there. Sunscreen is a must during the middle of the day.

This is the town of Montrose to the SW.

This mountain is a ridge or two over to the SSE of Montrose. I did some map checking, and I think that this is the mountain where Telluride Ski Area is located.

The trail is usually wide and smooth.

This was a quartize rock. I was trying to capture how well it reflected the sun at a certain angle.

There were a surprising number of wildflowers up there, and no cactus that I saw.

Here is the GPS trail overlaid on a Google Earth map.

And here is the altitude track for the hike.

As a bit of perspective, I flew over Black Canyon a couple months ago. Here is a photo I took from 30Kft, with the area we hiked highlighted.

Make darn sure you carry water on this hike. It’s hot and dry even in the first week of June. The nearest water is the park visitor center. The total length for this hike is 1.6 miles out and back. Not long, but exhilarating!

3 Days, 3 Hikes: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

15 June 2010

On Saturday, 05 June, the kids and I went for a hike down into Bryce Canyon National Park. After some research, I chose a combination of the Queens Garden Trail and the Navajo Loop. The western end of the Navajo Loop was closed due to a rockslide, so we lost a bit of that trail. It was a wonderful choice regardless.

We started off at Sunrise Point, after walking down the general store to fill our water bottles and get some snacks (I had two teenagers with me). The view from Sunrise Point is amazing. This first picture is looking back towards the canyon wall, and then looking down towards the floor of the canyon, where we are headed.

We stopped at the trailhead and looked down on the first parts of the trail.

One last look to the northeast. This is the area that the Fairyland Loop Trail traverses. That’s an 8 mile strenuous trip that I will take the next time I’m in Bryce.

This trail down (and up, obviously) is steep, dusty, and slick at spots. There are some deep dropoffs.

The hoodoos and other terrain features are amazing.

It’s kind of hard to tell, but this is one of several small passages cut through the hoodoos to allow the trail to pass.

This next shot, and several other are not color enhanced. The blue of the sky is so intense and in contrast to the reds and oranges of the hoodoos that these look faked or enhanced, but they are not. They are just beautiful.

I loved the “window” in this formation.

These have ex-hoodoos (the piles of dirt) at the bottom. That’s Ian admiring them.

Erin found a little washout.

At the bottom of the canyon, you get a little shade from the trees and the larger rock formations. The trail is packed ash/dust/dirt.

That’s the Moon over this tree, in that beautiful blue sky.

We thought a couple of these formations looked like critter heads.

This was one of the few critters of any kind that we saw.

At a couple places, there were benches made from fallen trees. This was a nice one under a huge boulder. We had a water and snack break.

There were a number of dry watercourses running through the park. There is clearly water there at least every once in a while.

I guess this area is for people to build their own hoodoos… And of course, my creative Erin had to get in on the action.

This was an unusual hoodoo – it was made of several different layers of material. The dot over it is a jet.

This was a “mushroom hoodoo” for Erin.

I thought these looked like round peg and square peg hoodoos.

These trees were kind of precariously growing in this narrow area.

This was the “Two Bridges” formation. It’s not really a bridge, but rather a connection between two walls.

This was a neat chimney formation.

We were on the way up by now, and steadily climbing. This was one of my favorite hoodoos. Again, that brilliant blue sky.

It’s hard to see due to good camouflage, but there is a little bird that was eating seeds on the plant.

Another chimney formation.

This is looking back down a series of switchbacks we came up.

Another set of amazing hoodoos.

We got almost to the top of the trail when we ran into the upper intersection with the Navajo Loop. These are looking back down that trail.

These are looking north from below Sunset Point.

One thing about this shot – you can see Sunrise Point (where we started from) on the far left, near where the trees stop.

This is looking out from Sunset Point. You can see some of the trail we walked down on.

And this is looking down at the trail we came up to Sunset Point on.

Here is an overlay of the GPS points onto a Google Earth map.

Here is an altitude map of the hike.

The GPS reported that this hike was 3.9 miles. The trail brochure claims that it is the most fun 3 mile (really, 2.8 mile) hike on the planet. I don’t know about that, but is was a lot of fun. The hoodoos and other rock formations were amazing. I was also continuously overwhelmed by how blue the sky was, and how the deep blue of the sky was set off against the orange of the hoodoos.

I think that the best time to take this hike is the morning, as the sun is able to light up the east-facing rocks, and it’s a bit softer. Be sure to take water! It’s hot down in the canyon, even at 0900.

We had the only injury of the trip on this hike. Erin slipped on some dust, and then gravel, and barked her shin a bit. Some good soles on your boots or sneakers are a must. I saw two or three people walking down there with flip=flops. Those are OK for the flatter parts of the trail down below, but not on the climbs/descents.

3 Days, 3 Hikes: Capulin Volcano National Monument, Capulin, NM

14 June 2010

As we drove from Colorado Springs to Oklahoma City 07 June, our route took us past Capulin Volcano National Monument. We stopped to visit it and do some hiking.

Raegan and I last visited Capulin around 1991 or so. We had been at Red River skiing, and were headed home being chased by a winter storm. Out in New Mexico, we passed the NPS sign for the National Monument, said “what the heck is that?”, and drove over to to visit. The staff was shutting the place down, so we had a short tour of the visitors center, and then we headed out, putting it on the list for a more detailed visit. in the intervening years, we either have come back via different direction, or it was early or late, or we were with people. So we waited more then fifteen years for a visit.

We arrived at the Monument about 1330, after lunch in Raton. We looked through the Visitor Center again, with kids this time. You need to fill your water bottles in the visitor center. There isn’t any water on the rim, although there is a potty.

Then we drove up and around the volcano to a parking lot at the lowest point of the caldera rim. Capulin has a trail around the rim, and another down to the bottom of the caldera. After a bit of looking around, Raegan and Erin headed down into the crater while Ian and I headed up the rim.

We went counter-clockwise on the rim. The trail starts out going UP in both directions. The trail is generally hard cement, but it’s rough in areas.

This is a view to the top of the rim from just starting on the trail. It’s a bit of a climb. That’s a nice thunderstorm that was east of Capulin.

This is looking out to the west of Capulin. The darker areas are old volcanic lava flows.

We climbed a bit more, and were on the south rim. This is looking across the caldera.

From the southeast part of the rim, this is looking down into the caldera. The dark rocks are old lava flow from the volcano vent. The white square is an interpretive sign.

A little farther on, we looked down and saw R2 and Erin at the sign! The next shot is a wide angle for perspective.

Up on the rim, there are an amazing number of ladybugs and small black flies. The flies don’t bite, but they like to land on you. Ian and I were constantly brushing the darn things off of our shirts – there were times where we had 20 of the darn thing on us. Ladybugs were everywhere also – they landed on my glasses several times. And my head, and my face and arms and back. Cute, but annoying in quantity.

There are benches to sit on every once in a while. Ian and I sat on one from the east edge of the rim. The thunderstorm I was keeping an eye on was beautiful off in the distance. When we left Capulin and drove to Clayton, we drove around this storm, it had really nice and frequent cloud-to-ground lightning.

One interesting thing about this storm. It didn’t show up on any radar I tried. The WSR-88Ds in range are Dodge City, Albuquerque, and Pueblo. So this part of New Mexico is in a radar dead zone.

Looking back to the west, you get a good view of the trail down into the caldera.

There are two “summits”, one that is on the east rim, and the other, taller one on the northeast rim. This is where the steepest part of the trail is.

Looking out to the northeast, there is a mining operation. It looks from the dark color that they are mining pumice/lava rock, or “ash” as it’s called. I learned that at the Arizona Mineral and Mining Museum in Phoenix!

This is Sierra Grande off to the southeast. That’s US 64 running in front. Sierra Grande is an extinct shield volcano. There is another shot of it from the air.

We finished the hike back at the parking area. Then we headed down into the caldera.

This is looking back up to the rim from the bottom of the caldera, looking to the southeast, and then to the northeast. All of the dark stuff is lava rock.

Finally, here is a closeup of the lava rock from the vent at the bottom of the caldera.

We headed back up out of the caldera, rested a minute, helped Erin check out a tree for her Junior Ranger activity, and then drove back down the Visitor Center, and headed for home.

This is a Google Maps overlay of the hike path:

Here is an altitude plot of the hike:

This was a really fun hike, short but stimulating. The GPS showed the total mileage as 1.4 miles. It was hot and dry on the hike, so make sure you take water. Capulin is also pretty isolated, so I imagine it attracts lightning on stormy days.

Bryce Canyon, UT 63

14 June 2010

Last Friday we left Las Vegas and made our way to Bryce Canyon. We got there in the late afternoon. The primary form of entertainment in the park is the amazing hoodoos, which are soft rock formations sculpted by wind (mainly) and water into fantastic shapes, mainly towers.

Utah 63 works down the length of the park. To the east, the Canyon. From the lodge area to the end of UT 63 is about 13 miles, every bit of it lined with fantastic shapes.

We got started about 1830, and got back about 2100. These are the best images of what we saw.

First, there were a LOT of pronghorn on the way, and a few mule deer.

Since we got such a late entry to the Park, we had a lot of situations where we had bright sun on higher formations, and less-lighted areas deeper in the Canyon. This is a good example. I’ve put both exposures up to contrast the natural colors.

A close-up on the lower part.

This is looking off to the south-southeast from the rim of the Canyon.

The variety in the hoodoos was striking. Here you see one (on the left) that is fairly solid, and the one on the right has a lot of red dirt flowing down that is a hoodoo in the process of disintegrating.

There is a lot of green growing in all that red dirt. Most of the green you see off in the distance is 50-60 ft pine trees. To the far left, you can see the big ridge that we took a photo of during the drive in. There is a small down called Tropic way down in the valley, at least 15 miles away.

This is a shot down one of the many mini-valleys of the canyon. The tree to the left would make a perfect, if huge, decorated holiday tree.

This shows an amazing canyon. The canyon opens up at Tropic.

The center of the photo here is the area around the Lodge and the Visitor Center, and is called, appropriately enough, Sunset Point.

UT 63 ends at Rainbow Point. This is where some of the most spectacular hoodoos are.

Here you can see some more ex-hoodoos.

This is looking back at the wall of the Canyon that we drove along to get to Rainbow Point.

This shows some of the hoodoos in their natural colors.

This reminded me of a castle and battlements.

This is from another part of Rainbow Point, looking off to the Southeast.

It’s a long ways down. Rainbow Point is around 9060 ft, and the bottom there is around 7700 ft. There was still snow laying on the ground up there.

We headed back with the Sun dropping. We stopped at several other overlooks on the way back. This looks south along the Canyon wall.

This natural arch will become separate hoodoos one day, if the whole thing doesn’t collapse.

This is one of the most amazing drives I have been on. There is a trail that follows under the rim of the canyon the entire length, and I would bet a lot of people get neck problems walking it, with all the head-turning to eyeball all the rock formations. It’s a recommended drive. I would suggest that it is best done in the morning, with the sun low, and especially from Rainbow Point.

We took a hike the next morning, and the hoodoos took on an entirely different color character with the sun coming form the east. Check out the Bryce Canyon hike post for those.

Hiking Up to Catamount Lakes, CO

14 June 2010

Last Wednesday, I flew into Colorado Springs for a meeting the next day. After a couple telecons, I headed up to Green Mountain Falls for a hike. I got there about 1345. You HAVE to park in one of the parking lots next to the small lake (with a gazebo in the middle). The roads that lead to the trails are signed with all manner of dreadful threats to tow your car if you park there.

I parked on the east side of the lake, got my pack ready, and headed out. There are trail maps in a mailbox on the sign in front of the west parking lot. I walked most of the length of the town on the main road (Ute Pass Avenue), all the way to the swimming pool. It was pretty hot, and I realized as I approached the pool, I hadn’t filled up my water bottle. There is no place to fill the bottle that I could find around the pool (there is a pump handle in the park the north of the pool, but it was locked). I ended up walking back to the lake. There is a nice little trail on the north side of the creek that runs along Ute Pass, that takes you back to the lake.

There is a water fountain in the northeast corner of the lake park. I took a long drink, and then filled both my Nalgene and a smaller disposable bottle (which came back all the way to OKC and is in recycling here at the house). Then I headed BACK along Ute to find Belvidere.

The trail map shows that you can get on the main trail from either Belvidere or Hondo Avenues. I picked Belvidere to start on, at random, planning on coming back down via Hondo. It’s a long walk on either road, but Hondo is a lot steeper. So if you want to take it easier, I would recommend going up Belvidere and down either Hondo.

Once you get off the road part, the trail starts as a gravel road. It goes up fairly steeply.

As you climb, the view gets better and better. The big road in the distance is US 24.

The Belvidere and Hondo roads come together at the bottom of the Catamount Falls. There is a large structure there was is a water storage tank for the town. One thing I found funny – the structure is a water tank, it’s made of stone and concrete, and there is nothing flammable about it, but there is a fire plug in front of it.

One neat thing, right here I met two guys who had been backpacking for five days around Pikes Peak. We talked for a bit, and I talked to one of them about Scouts, and how to choose a troop for his 10-year-old son.

The “gentle” road now gives way to rocks – you have to do some serious stairstepping up this trail.

The first part of the trail follows Catamount Falls up a couple hundred feet. The waterfalls are a set of tumbles over rocks. I stopped a number of times on the way up to just watch the water a bit.

One thing I noticed a lot on the hike was growth on the cedar trees. Big or small, most of the trees had an inch or so of new twig growth, and it was really pretty. This picture is from a small, perfect holiday tree.

After am initial steep rock stair, the trail became a bit more of a combination of packed dirt, rocks, and tree roots. A number of places, there are tree trunks that have fallen over the trail.

A couple hundred feet up, a side trail runs out to an overlook.

There is not much chance of getting lost on this trail ūüôā

After a significant amount of “up”, with a number of switchbacks, you go over a ridge, down just a bit, and you enter a grove that is named “Garden of Eden”. I looked but did not see any snakes or apple trees.

This part of the hikes follows the stream again, and there are more tumbling small waterfalls. I heard a couple rumbles of thunder to the north as I walked here, and was looking for rocks to hide under of lightning in my area became evident.

Eventually, you reach another road. Doing research later, I found that this road is a loop of the main road that goes up Pikes Peak. There was a water measurement gauge at the place the trail meets the road. The small pond had some trout in it, and this small water snake, so maybe there was an apple tree around there somewhere.

After walking a while along the road, you come to the dam for South Lake Catamount. I climbed right up the dam backside, and found myself on a dam road. Right in front of me, across the lake – Pikes Peak.

I really liked the thunderstorm to the east of the Peak.

This is looking from the dam road back down the road I had walked in on.

I walked along the dam road, and up a bit more, and found the road to North Lake Catamount. Turns out this had a dam road to walk on also.

The thunderstorm east of Pikes had matured a little bit.

The peak to the west of Pikes looks to be volcanic to me. I really liked the snow bridges that were still there.

The lakes had one surprise to me. There were probably 20 vehicles up there at the two lakes, and people from those vehicles were fishing.

I headed back down after spending a half hour or so at the lakes. I made good progress down, and stopped for about 20 minutes in the “saddle” area right before the trail became switchbacks again.

I saw little wildlife. I number of birds, a couple squirrels and chipmunks. I saw deer scat. The area was warned for mountain lions.

One thing I liked about walking through the houses in town – a lot of the properties are named by the residents (things like “Aspen Glen”). I saw a disturbing number of OU flags and placards outside houses, but also one orange OSU flag.

As I left town after the hike, I drove up US 24 to get some dinner in Woodland Park. I got a good view of the area I just hiked. I don’t know the area well enough to know exactly what the path is, but I know it was UP.

Here is an overlay of the GPS track data onto Google Maps.

Here is a plot of the altitude for the hike.

I felt GREAT after this hike. It was a long distance, and went up pretty high, at a high altitude to begin with. It was absolutely beautiful. A wonderful way to spend the afternoon. The GPS reports that the hike was 8.7 miles round trip. You can see from the track overlay that a significant portion of that was from the center of town to the trailhead. You can also see a smaller loop at the end that is my walk on the south dam road, then up to the end at the north dam road.

In the summer, take extra water. I went through my big Nalgene and half of the smaller bottle.

Why I Hike

10 June 2010

I am standing on the dam for North Lake Catamount, CO. I can turn my head different directions and see the canyon I just walked up, a lake, Pikes Peak, or a thunderstorm or three. There are bird songs, the lapping of the waves, the blowing of the wind through the aspen nearby.

I am tired but very content. Nature all around me keeps me charged up in a most relaxing way.

A couple amusing things. I am making a blog post in real time because… I can. There is good EDGE coverage here. There are a number of people up here; they are fishing in the lake, having drove up here.

Nonetheless, this area is just beautiful. I’m glad I am able to be here.

Billy Goat Trail A, C&O Canal NHP, MD

25 May 2010

After my day of meetings in the DC area last Thursday, I headed over to the hotel and changed, and headed east along the Dulles Tollway. I had a fast cruise right up to the point I was about a mile from the Capitol Beltway, I-495. My Facebook post while sitting still:

Bill Hensley: There are approximately 1 billion cars trying to get on the Capitol Beltway. There are *4* lanes for them to funnel into. In short, this sux.

It took an hour and a half to drive about 20 miles. Eventually I found the Anglers Inn and parked. The parking area was full of kayakers.

The Billy Goat Trail is located on the north (Maryland) bank of the Potomac River. Things like Google Maps show it to be part of the Great Falls of the Potomac National Park, but that’s on the other side of the river, in Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park. I headed down to one of the canal towpaths that serve as a backbone trail, and immediately turned left towards the Billy Goat Trail – “B”. Not so good, since I was looking for segment “A”.

The towpath is a lot like a road, and it parallels what is left of the C&O Canal.

Eventually, I found the Billy Goat “A” segment. The trail starts out as a wide, hardpacked dirt trail.

I’m going to review the trail and then put up some pictures. 10% of this trail is relatively flat. The rest of it reminded me a hike through Robbers Cave State Park in eastern Oklahoma. There were a couple places where you needed to pull yourself up 3-4 ft (or let yourself down), there was some large rock scrambling, or walking along a knife or narrow edge.

It was warmish (85F) when I hiked, and fairly humid, and I got significantly sweaty quickly. I put on my Croakies glasses holder immediately.

There were a lot of people walking this trail in sneakers, but I was darn glad I had my boots.

This last photo shows the hardest part of the hike. It took some real balance to go down that far on the rock face.

Every once in a while you would see some really nice views of the water.

There were some dynamite views of the Potomac also.

Saw some birds, but no small mammals. Did run across this nice deer.

Eventually I ran across this trail marker.

Eventually I got to the end of the Billy Goat “A” trail, back on the towpath. I walked a hundred yards or so to find a bridge over the canal, and picked up an upper trail back to the Anglers Inn.

This was an amazing hike, to find this rough terrain so close to a major metropolitan area. I saw tons of people out, singles, doubles, threes, and fours. I got off the trail about 2000, for about a two-hour hike,. Fighting to get their through the traffic wasn’t fun, but it was worth it.

Here is my GPS trail superimposed on a Google Earth image of the area.

I am already looking forward to hiking the remaining “B” and “C” segments, and some of the rest of the trails in the Historical Park.

One thing I really wish were available – a bridge over the Potomac from the Great Falls NP side. That would allow a peaceful drive to the south side, and a quick walk over to the north side, avoiding the Traffic From Hell on I-495. Or maybe I could go NW and drive down the north side to the east. Hmmm….

Cedarville State Forest, Waldorf, MD

24 May 2010

On a trip to the DC area last week, I stayed overnight in Waldorf, MD, a very nice bedroom community. The hotels were at least $100/night less then the DC area, and it was only a 15 mile drive to my target, Andrews Air Force Base.

On the way to Waldorf, I drove past Andrews, and saw one of the VC-25 aircraft on approach. I checked the President’s Daily Schedule for Tuesday, and it turns out that it was Air Force 1! The President was returning from a meeting in Ohio. So, very, very cool!

This is a not-so-good photo I captured with my Blackberry camera.

After I got to Waldorf and checked into the hotel, I changed and filled my water bottle and headed towards the Cedarville State Forest. It’s about five miles east of Waldorf, and was easy to find.

I found the main visitor center just fine at 1615. Right after the center closed at 1600. There is the usual Maryland fee station – $3 for residents, $4 for non-residents, and $5 for Bill, who doesn’t usually go around with a lot of dollar bills.

There are a number of trails at Cedarville. The longest is the Orange Trail, which shares some trail with the White and Blue trails. The Orange trailhead is in the parking lot of the Visitor Center.

You walk a couple hundred yards down the trail to a T that forms the loop. I went right (east).

The majority of the trail is hard packed dirt, but there are places where it has sand or small river rock underfoot. It had been raining on and off for a couple days before I arrived, but thee were not any areas with extensive mud.

This is an example of the denseness of the forest.

There are a number of stream crossings. All but one of them had bridges built. The only one that didn’t have a bridge had big rocks in the shallow water.

Most of the streams were pretty cloudy due to runoff.

This was truly a beautiful forest, and a work in progress. I wonder if it was a replanted area since a lot of the trees seemed a bit young.

Cedarville has a big camping area that is spread out over a bit of the south-center part of the forest. It included a campfire area with benches.

I completed the hike about 1900 local. I saw one deer on the trail (and several others on the way out of the park), a couple squirrels, and a fair number of birds.

I didn’t see a single person on the trail the entire time I was there. I was pleasantly surprised that pretty much the only human sounds I heard were airplanes, and once a train.

I kept the GPS on while I was there, and downloaded the course to Google Earth. Here is the result:

There were a couple places where the GPS had a dropout of signal.

This was a really enjoyable hike. My total mileage was about 7 miles. The largest altitude change was about 30 ft. The trail was in good shape. Highly recommended.

Smoke-Created Clouds

18 April 2010

Week before last, a couple of us were driving back to Oklahoma City after working the week in Omaha. We were on the Kansas Turnpike, south of Emporia and north of El Dorado, KS, in the Flint Hills region. The old grass is periodically burned off, to make biochar and enhance the fertility of the fields.

The rising smoke in several cases got high enough to cool and condense and make some small convective clouds. I thought it was neat and took some photos.

That’s it!

Hiking Mount Olympus, Salt Lake City, UT

1 April 2010

I flew into SLC Tuesday, and had enough time to go for a hike. I had done some research, and found out about Mount Olympus, which overlooks the city. After I checked into the hotel and packed my pack, I headed out.

The trailhead is on Wasatch Boulevard off of I-215. There is a parking lot with room for maybe 20 cars, and there isn’t any gate (I note this, since in a lot of places in California, they close the gates to the parking lots at ridiculous early times like 1730).

I started hiking about 1250.

First, of all, a common theme: this trail is steep! There was one place where the trail swooped down and then back up to the same starting altitude, but otherwise it was pretty much relentlessly up!

There are some big boulders on the lower parts.

This is looking back down the trail from the boulder above. You can see how steep it is, and how much loose stuff is on the trail.

This is looking towards downtown Salt Lake City. The white cloud is the dust plume that I saw from the air flying in.

There are a couple places where there are trail branches. I followed one (it was FLAT), and found this little hollow. The wind was blowing fiercely out of the SW; the news reported that the winds were 35 mph gusting to 50+. I would believe it. This hollow was out of the wind, and was a great resting place.

After a while, you get up into an area where it’s not quite so barren. These scrub trees went up quite a ways, and also protected from the relentless wind.

This was from a nice resting place. The snowy area across the way has part of the trail. I ended up near the top of it before I headed back down. Note the trail on the lower left, this is the only downhill part of the hike up; the trail dips down, then back up.

There is a small stream on the trail. The sign at the trailhead says it is 1.5 miles up, but my GPS said it was 1.9.

This was at the bottom of the snowfield. The going got pretty slow here due to the snow, and the fact that a lot of the trail had sand and dust, and was steep and wet.

Along here, my camera batteries started to expire, so I have a couple Blackberry photos also.

This is over at the snowfield you see in the previous photo. Every other switchback was progressively more snow covered. A couple guys I met around here (they were coming down) were carrying crampons, but had not used them.

Topwards the top of the snowfield I noticed these clouds moving in over the valley. The wind had been screaming in from the southwest, but these clouds were moving along the surface to from North to South.

At this point I decided to head down. As the cloud swept over me, it turned out to be just a fog, and the wind largely died off. But it started to get really cold, and the light was starting to fade. I added my sweatshirt, and I put on a pair of cotton gloves since my hands were getting cold.

The following pictures didn’t turn out as well as I hoped. There is an amazing amount of variety of rocks here, color and texture is amazingly variable.

I really like the veining in this one.

This is a shale rock. I saw shale jutting out at several points along the trail.

These two rocks were in close proximity, and had such different colors.

I got off the trail about 1700. The GPS round trip mileage was 4.77 miles. The altitude gain was about 2400 feet. I was absolutely beat. This was a very hard hike. It was beautiful both directions. I ended up getting about one mile from the peak. If I had another hour (and stronger thighs!) I would have made the summit.

I saw four people coming down as I was going up. There was at least one person who stopped at the creek and headed back. I also say another three people going up as I was headed down. A lot of the people had dogs, very cool.

This was a really nice hike, and fairly strenuous. Very enjoyable.

One thing I was surprised at – the lack of wildlife. I saw not a single squirrel. I heard a couple birds on the way up. On the way down, I saw several jays (they would almost have to be Stellar’s Jays), a couple small perching birds, and two – quail. These last two were about 30 feet off the trail.

23 May 2010 Update

I downloaded my GPS yesterday and figured out how to get the track exported onto Google Earth. It is presented here. You can see where I stopped on the way up, and how much farther it was to the peak of Mt. Olympus.

An Excellent Walk – St. Mary’s River Watershed Park

13 March 2010

Oh, this was nice!

I had intended to walk this trail when I flew in Wednesday, but a five-minute delay in pushing back from the gate at DFW turned into a 3.5 hour delay due to storms, then fuel, then more storms, then a weird routing that added 45 min of flight time. Supposed to get in at 1400, instead got in at 1630. So no hiking on Wednesday.

My meeting today finished early, so I had lunch (see post for Lexington Restaurant), and then headed over to the park.

There is a fee to walk here. It’s $3 for Marylanders, and $4 for the out of staters like me. I only had a fiver, so it was $5 for me. There was no water here, and the restrooms were closed. A portapotty was set up outside instead.

They have a nice, large map up in the parking lot.

I arrived around 1330. The trailhead is just in back of the restroom. You can see the brown sign for the trailhead to the left of my rental car.

The lake has one boat ramp, if that’s what floats you.

The trail is really nice. This is representative. There are places where the trail was covered in pine needles, which was really nice underfoot. There were a LOT of places where the trail was a muddy bog, due to a lot of rain lately, including today. My newly waterproofed boots were not a lot of good since I put my foot into a trail-based river more than once.

There are two places where a little point juts out into the lake. Notice that it’s starting to look a little gray?

Driving to get to the park, and then in park, I noticed a lot of these light or golden leaved trees. The leaves were dried and withered, but were quite stunning against the darker background.

There are a lot of streams flowing from the area around the park down into the lake. Some are very pretty. The trail has bridges at some of the stream crossings, but you have to jump over others, or walk on roots or rocks.

At one point about a mile into the hike, I walked through this boggy area. It was here the water started working its way through the boots and into the socks.

After this I walked across the top of the dam. It was a plain old road. On the other side, about 200 yards along, the road, I came up to a pond that was absolutely full of what I think were frogs, LOUDLY creaking. At this point, it also started to rain pretty heavily. I had the hood of my rain suit up, and was listening to the putative frogs, and just kept walking down the road. Not realizing that the road was no longer the trail… until I ran into a real road (as in highway), more than a mile away.

After I realized I was not on the trail anymore, I turned around and headed back. Several possible trails that branched off from the road just ended up as dead ends, in one case ending up in somebody’s back yard. I backtracked all the way to the frog pond, and there I saw:

I have to say at this point that the trail is really well marked, and that the marking works well when you use you eyes to look for the damn marker.

This part of the hike, on the east side of the lake, was just beautiful.

This is what the lake looks like from the north end.

This marker was planted in the ground around mileage marker 3. It has a “D” on the south side, and no other writing. I do not know why it is there next to the trail.

This was kind of cool. The runoff was not unexpectedly riling up the lake. The streams on the west side had a distinctive tan color. I saw this plume from one of the streams holding somewhat together as it flowed into the lake. It made a neat effect.

This is what it looked like from the other side.

We had what looked like a tree downed by a beaver near the water.

The trail was really wet and boggy and had active water flowing on it on the north and west sides. I was slogging through pure mud in many cases. This isn’t terribly unexpected given the near-constant rain over the past couple days. I experienced at least five steady, pouring rain during this hike. I ended up taking off my rainsuit pants and working them into a pack cover.

I got back to the parking lot around 1700. Given I walked an extra couple miles, a pretty good time.

There is cell coverage over most of the park. Some of the gullies didn’t have signal.

This was an excellent walk overall, really enjoyable in spite of the rain.

The hike clocked in at 9.23 miles per the GPS. The posted trail mileage is 7.8, but my detour by the dam added a bit.

Here is the GPS track overlaid on Google Earth. Note the detour off to the east…

Hmmm, note that you can see a couple areas where the GPS lock satellite lock – the points on the SW corner. I can guarantee I wasn’t walking on water in those places.

A Most Excellent Scout Outing: Tres Ritos, NM

25 January 2010

Ian is a Boy Scout (as I was), and I am a Committee Member of his Troop (http://troop15yea.com/). The Troop sent a contingent of boys and adults to a winter camp at Tres Ritos Scout Camp in the mountains of New Mexico. Tres Ritos is owned by the Council in Lubbock, Texas. That Council has been putting on a Winter Camp for a couple years, and Troop 15 has been to that camp for summer camp for a number of years, and so decided that Winter Camp would be fun. BTW, in answer to the question “Why drive so far for Summer Camp when there are really nice camps in Oklahoma?” (like Slippery Falls, and Tom Hale), the answer was “Why camp out in the heat and humidity when the mountains are so much nicer?”. I like that attitude!

The Winter Camp is over the long MLK weekend. We headed out that chilly Friday afternoon from Oklahoma City in a couple vans. Our first destination was Tucumcari, NM. After stops for dinner, gas, and snacks, we were approaching Tucumcari. We got in there around 2330 local time. We were supposed to sleep inside the local National Guard Armory, but the guy that was supposed to show up and let us in FORGOT we were coming, had left town, and could not apparently find anyone else in Tucumcari that had a key to the building! Not a very good showing for the local Guard unit – I wonder what would have happened if the Governor of the state had needed them?

So being Scouts, we are supposed to be able to camp, so we did, right on the lawn and parking lot of the Armory. Curious – not a single law enforcement guy even gave us a second look. We had some tents, and they got set up, but we had a lot of tarps, so these were pressed into service as dual ground cover and top cover.

Ian got creative with a shovel to make a single-person tent.

I woke up at some point overnight and saw Canis Major through the sleeping bag. Very cool. I woke up around 0700 and had frost on the outside of my sleeping bag where the tarp didn’t cover it up. The temp overnight had dropped to around 20F, but I was warm all night, until I crawled out of the bag.

The guy in the ski mask is Ian.

After we shook everyone out, we got the gear into what feeble Sun there was available to the ice crystals off, then we had a standup breakfast and took off again.

After passing though Santa Rosa, we headed towards Las Vegas, NM. We got a good view of the Sangre de Cristos on the way in.

We stopped in Las Vegas at the local Wal Mart for final supplies, including lunch for the day, which was sandwiches, chips, and milk. North of Las Vegas, we stopped at a roadside marker and pullout to eat the lunch. The mountains were drawing very near!

About 30 miles out of Las Vegas, we got to the turn in for Tres Ritos. At this point, we started seeing serious snow.

We got the gear out of the vans and found our campsite. It was just inside the treeline on the south side of a nice meadow.

That’s my tentmate Dave in back of the tent. We shared a tent the last time on a trip to Philmont Scout Ranch in 1993.

There was a LOT of snow out there, at least to us. We found out later that this year has seen the least amount of snow at Tres Ritos in some time. We were able to drive up to the parking area near the camp headquarters, and in most previous years the snow prevented that. Groups had to haul their stuff up from the lower parking lot near the highway. Most of the boys and the adults had come prepared to essentially backpack from the lower parking area up to the campsite – that would have been about a mile slogging through the deep snow. As it was, we had to haul our stuff about 200 yards from the parking lot to the campsite.

Tres Ritos is at just under 9200 feet altitude. You noticed this as you slogged through the snow with about 30 pounds on your back.

We didn’t have a lot of directed activities. One of the “things” about Winter Camp is building snow caves to sleep in. The idea here is that you pile up a heck of a lot of snow, let it “harden” or “bake” for about six hours to get a crust of ice on the outside, then dig into it, hollow it out, hope it doesn’t collapse, then line the floor inside with a tarp or two to sleep on. I know this sounds crazy, but think on this: ice gets to pretty much no lower than 32F, and is a pretty good insulator. Once you get a couple bodies in the small space in the snow cave, body heat helps to warm it up somewhat. We got two snow caves started for the guys that wanted this.

Ian decided that maybe the work involved with shoveling the driveway at home wasn’t as bad as he thought…

It involves moving a lot of snow. A good way to do this is shovel snow onto a tarp, then drag it to the snow cave location and dump it out.

The camp buildings were where we ate and socialized.

Speaking of eating… the food there was excellent and copious. We had a hamburger beef stew the first night, and either/both chili and beans the second night. Breakfast Sunday morning was pancakes and biscuits and gravy. All tasted excellent. The stew and chili and beans were made in 10-gallon pots, and food was left over every night, surprisingly enough. The chili was especially good; I essentially had three bowls of the stuff, and a bowl of beans. It was spicy enough to leave my lips slightly burning. I said to myself “well, it’s really cold, and I’m burning the calories…”. The adults pretty much stuffed themselves, the boys, not so much. I guess that when I was a Scout, whatever didn’t kill me made me stronger, but kids today are a bit more picky. Even Ian didn’t finish his bowl of beans or stew.

The staff had snacks all over the place free for the scarfing. They also had big jugs of water and bug juice out, hot water for tea and hot chocolate, and coffee pots with both caf and decaf, and kept a fire burning in one building from 0430 – 0100 each day. The whole support structure was really well organized. I was impressed.

I just cannot get enough of the night sky, especially in the mountains. Saturday night after dinner, I walked out to the middle of the meadow and just… stood… there… with my headed looking up, my neck hurting a bit, for a solid hour. It was stunning. I could see the Milky Way, Saturn came up, and the Orion Nebula was visible. I also saw one polar-orbiting satellite, and no less than five meteors, tons of stars, and the occasional airplane. An owl hooted off in the distance. It was just beautiful.

Sunday morning was really pretty. The temp overnight had dropped to around 8F. I was perfectly warm overnight. Ian and I both had a mummy bag rated at 0F. I bought them at Cabella’s in Omaha, for $40 apiece on sale, great value. Both bags were supplemented with a fleece liner. I ended up losing a layer of clothing and leaving the fleece liner unzipped the second night, when it got to 12F.

One thing I was surprised about. I was NOT looking forward to changing clothes in the morning (it’s a good idea to put a dry layer on next to your skin every day). I stuffed the clothes I was going to change into into my sleeping bag so they would not be completely cold, and then stood outside the tent the next morning, stripped down to skin, and changed. I was not terribly cold during this process. It was 8F and was I standing outside on snow, but wasn’t shivering at all. Now, I didn’t spend 15 minutes doing that, more like three, but still, it was not unpleasant at all. I guess you can really get used to the cold.

After breakfast Sunday, we took the day to ski at Sipapu Ski Area, about 10 miles from Tres Ritos.

Some of the guys got skis, some snowboards, but pretty much everybody had a lot of fun. Two of the adults rented snowshoes and went for a backcountry hike. That really sounded fun, and I will be torn in the future on which to do. I love skiing, but snowshoe hiking sounds like a lot of fun also. Several other troops also went to Sipapu. I actually got a coordinate a mini-rescue while there, one new skier had gone right over the edge of a run about 20 feet, and we used one of his buddies and a pair of ski poles to pull him back up onto the piste.

I’ve got to say I was pretty much deliriously happy at Sipapu (I had never even heard of the place before committing to Winter Camp). I never stood in a lift line. There wasn’t enough snow to get all the way to the top of the mountain, but just skiing off the main lift at the bottom got me to enough runs to keep me very happy. Up, down, up, down, I stopped counting at 15 runs, I think I had 20. It was great. A couple of the runs were a little thin on snow cover, but there were blue runs on the east side of the area that I never saw another person on; I had them all to myself time after time. The food there was not unreasonable, and they had free refills for iced tea and Coke! Almost unheard of at a ski area. I skied on a pair of 175s, the longest skies that were rented. I was amazed that most of the beginners (including the adults) were on what I would consider skies for four-year-olds. The boot bindings were darn near as long as the skies.

Back in camp, the non-ski/snowboard/snowshoers had a sled race and several other activities as well.

When we got back, we had dinner, and some of the guys went to the snowcaves that had been finished.

No stargazing Sunday evening, since it was cloudy.

The next (Monday) morning, we all got up, had breakfast, and broke camp. We got out around 1000, and arrived back in OKC at 2130. As always, I was really sad to leave the mountains behind. I’m not really a beach lover.

We had a couple small issues pertaining to sleeping arrangements with the Scouts, but overall we had a good time. A couple of the guys had headaches (we were up very high and doing some exerting), but nothing debilitating.

A couple observations on technology and gear. Ian and I had new sleeping bags rated at 0F, with fleece liners. They were wonderful! I’ve a goose down bag I’ve used for years, and been very cold in the bag in temps north of 30F. This time the temps were south of 10F and I was, if not overly hot, very comfortable.

Footwear. The only way that I was uncomfortable were my feet. I wore my standard boots that have served me well for years. The thing I had forgotten about was that waterproofing wears off. Walking in snow, and in and out of buildings, the snow that accumulates turns back into water and finds it’s way into the boot. I had wool and cotton socks, and they happily absorbed the water. A side effect was that the wet boots then froze overnight, leading to problems getting them back on. At the least, I should have had gaiters with boot covers. Even better, next time, I will go armed (or, footed) with rubberized boots. Most of the people there had them, and very few people had wet feet. I will be looking at Academy and at Cabela’s at Omaha.

Footwear 2: Ian had an older pair of my snow boots to wear. They served me well for many years. Too many years. At some point one of the boot soles completely failed, leaving the bottom of his foot exposed to the snow. Fortunately, one of the other leaders had mentioned he brought some duct tape, so I secured that and built, this…

Duct tape would not adhere to the boot material, but it would adhere to itself, so I went front to back and side to side and around, and it survived until we left Monday morning. The lesson – inspect the gear before departing, ALL of it.

When we struck camp, Dave and I noticed some interesting effects. The tent was on a ground cloth on top of snow. Our body weights and heat had pressed down where our sleeping pads were, leaving an ice dam about 4″ high between our sleeping areas. Also, right underneath his chest area, the snow had melted and refrozen. The area underneath my chest area showed a similar effect, but not as pronounced. I’m heavier than Dave, so I interpret the difference as being that Dave had a thinner closed-cell foam pad, while I had two thicker closed-cell pads, both of which are ridged, to allow a bit of air circulation, meaning less heat to melt the snow. It was pretty cool.

All in all, a wonderful way to spend a long weekend. The temps never got above 33F while we were up in the mountains, but the staff of the camp had the buildings to be in, and the gear kept us warm at night (which is the most important time), and that helped keep everyone’s spirits up. We had some crashed Scouts and Scouters on the way back, and I didn’t really like getting up at 0445 the next morning to head to the airport, but we all stayed safe, and that’s what was most important.

I think I’m already looking forward to next year! I know I’m looking forward to Summer Camp there!

Mission Trails Regional Park, Again

10 December 2009

This has not been a good trip for hiking. First, on Monday, my flight was late, and there was snow at my target, Strawberry Peak, which closed the roads.

Then, at the meeting yesterday, it went a little long-winded, which got me to my target of Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park a little late, only to find that the whole park was closed.

So today, at the end of my meeting in San Diego, which also went long, I didn’t get to Mission Trails until about 1545. My plan was to head west of the Visitor Center, cross the San Diego River, and head up and over Fortuna Peak, returning via Oak Canyon Trail and the Father Junipero trails. Best laid plans…

The rains from the past couple days had filled the San Diego River. The low-water crossing was completely underwater:

San Diego River Over Trail

That measuring stick out in the middle shows that 3.5ft of water is running over the trail.

You can’t tell from the photo, but there was an actual waterfall to the left. I walked a bit up and down the river, but could not get across.

I ended up heading back on the Visitor Loop Trail, completing the half that I had not completed the first time I hiked this part of the trail a couple weeks ago.

This is the same shot of the San Diego River that I took a couple weeks ago, but there is a significant increase in the amount of water:

I ended up at the west end of the climbers loop, then headed down Father Junipero to the north end of the, and hiked a bit on the Oak Canyon Trail.

I deadheaded back on Father Jupinero. I got back under beautiful dark, clear skies around 1800. Total mileage was about 6 miles.

Cowles Mountain – Mission Trails Regional Park

21 November 2009

On Wednesday (18 Nov), the meeting I was at got out earlier than expected, and a work friend and I decided to hike Cowles Mountain (it’s pronounced “coals”). Cowles is a part of San Diego’s Mission Trails Regional Park. We got to the Park about 1515, and headed right up.

Cowle's Mountain Trailhead

Most of the hike is a series of switchbacks. It starts out quite steep. About half way up, you go around a sub-summit and walk a forty yards or so along a saddle. There were a ton of people on the trail, I’ll bet there were a couple hundred on the mountain while we were there. We took a couple breaks on the way up. Some of the breaks were for short rests, but a couple times we managed to miss the trail for a short bit, and we found ourselves in uncharted territory for a minute or so.

Most of the trail looks more like this:

In a fairly short time, we were at the top! The view up there is spectacular. Cowles is the tallest point in the city of San Diego. I took a panorama that I will post when I get it stitched together. This is the view off to the ENE, towards El Capitan:

This is the view to the south. That’s Lake Murray, where a couple of us took a hike last week:

While at the top we read the various signs pointing out the terrain around the area, and went over and checked out the antenna tower (hey, a couple comm guys, we have to check out comm towers or we lose our union card…). Eventually we headed down. There was a breeze blowing and the temperature was pleasantly cool.

We got to the bottom right at 1715. There were still people headed up the trail! So for a two-hour hike, we ended up doing a bit more than 3 miles round trip, and about 933 ft of altitude gain.

This was a fun hike, and a great way to spend a couple hours after work. I am really impressed by Mission Trails park. Congrats to San Diego for creating it.

Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego

20 November 2009

After work today, I headed out to Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) to get some hiking in. I checked out the VERY nice Visitor Center, grabbed a trail map, took a long drink, planned my route, and headed out. Good planning, lasted about a half hour.

Mission Trails Regional Park entrance

I started out on the Visitor Center Loop. My plan was to take the Grinding Rocks Trail to Father Juniper, then the Climbers Loop, then to the NE end, Oak Canyon, and around South Fortuna back to the entrance.

The Grinding Rocks trail, is along the San Diego River, which really isn’t much more than a stream thanks to the old Mission Dam, but there is tree-shade along parts of it.

Along Grinding Rocks Trail

The trail was wide and smooth.

MTRP Trail

There are a couple places where the San Diego River is very pretty.

San Diego River

I got to the Father Juniper Trail right at the west trailhead for the Climbers Loop. There are some nice looking rocks to climb up there, I thought. Too bad I didn’t bring any gear…

The trail up there is narrow and steep. You get an advertised 400 ft elevation gain in less than half a mile. Problem is, when you get up to the base of the climbing rocks, the trail just fades away. The trail is very poorly marked. I tried following boot prints, but they kept leading up and up. I eventually had to boulder my way to the top, with no safety gear. I was never in any danger, but if you can’t get up a four-foot boulder, you have to work your way back down. I really wish the darn trail was marked better.

When I got to the top, I looked back down, said a few bad words, sat down and ate the rest of the Sun Chips I had saved from lunch, and drank one of my water bottles. The view down was spectacular. What was supposed to be a maximum elevation gain for the loop trail, about 400 feet, had turned into 800 feet, most of the extra altitude done via bouldering.

Way Down

I checked the map and made a reroute. I made for the top of Kwaay Peak, since I was standing on it’s shoulders now. There were a lot of small trails going back and forth up there. It was absolutely beautiful, with a nice breeze and the setting Sun. Cowles Mountain was off in the distance. I found the top of Kwaay, and started back down. The trail was better and wider, but it was steep, had few stairs, and was steep in lot of places, and slippery with dust. This is looking back up-trail at one point.

I saw a hawk or owl dropping at one point on the hike from the climbers area to the top of Kwaay, and I saw four of five more on the way down. They were not compact pellets (long), and there was very little bone in them, indicating that the stomach of the critter doing the eating had very strong acid in it.

Somebody's Lunch

When I got to the bottom, I checked out the Old Mission Dam. It had a bit of the San Diego River backed up behind it. Since the dam was built in the days before Caterpillar existed, there was a lot of labor involved.

I walked back to the Visitor Center and my car along the Father Juniper, with a very thin crescent Moon and a bright Jupiter above.

At the end of the hike, this was a fairly uncrowded place. There were a number of people on the Father Juniper, but I didn’t see a single person on the Visitor Center Loop or the Grinding Rocks Trail. On the Climbers (alleged) Loop, I saw three people, and over Kwaay, three people.

I got started around 1415, and ended up back at the car under clear, dark skies at 1650. Total mileage was about 3.8 miles, and total elevation gain was 880 feet (and of course, back down 880 feet). Coming on the heels of the Cowles Mountain hike yesterday, this was a great workout.

I am really impressed by MTRP. To have such a large outdoor area so close to a major city, and to see all the people using it, is a good thing. I have hiked a lot of the western part of the park in years past while visiting San Diego, but only hiked about 20% of the park. There is still a lot to go, and frankly the total mileage of hiking trails I have barely scratched. I’ve also walked the Point Loma trails, the San Diego State Parks trails in La Jolla, and Blacks Mountain. I made a run at El Capitan back in February, but it was too late in the day to get very far. So hooray for San Diego and the state of California for building all these trails, and to the citizens that use them.

Lake Murray, Mission Trails Regional Park, San Diego, CA

12 November 2009

On my last trip out to San Diego, I dragged a couple co-workers along for a walk.

I have been to Mission Trails Regional Park (MTRP) a number of times in the past, always in the western part of the park. It’s a huge park, a couple miles east of I-15 and north of I-8. The western part is dry and desert-like, and fairly hilly, and so is a good workout.

On this trip, we made our way to the southern part of the park, to Lake Murray. This part of MTRP is tenuously attached to the rest of the park. We found out way to the parking lot south of the lake. There are a number of signs that declare that the park is closed at 1730 and cars will be left in with no release!!!! Editorial comment: closing a park at 1730 is stupid. Locking cars in the park at 1730 is even more stupid.

The trail does not go all the way around the lake. It starts at the parking lot and heads counterclockwise to the NE. It’s a wide, paved trail:

Lake Murray Trail

The distance is marked in miles and kilometers. We started off at about 1500, and got back around 1715. We made it around to the 2.5mile point, so our round trip was 5 miles. We had also walked around the top of Point Loma for a while, and also walked around the park near the trailhead, so the total for the day was around 6 miles.

The area around the lake is really pretty. The lake was really down, I think. It looked about 10 feet down.

Lake Murray

There were a lot of birds around. The lake was full of ducks and geese. There were some interesting birds perched on an electric line over the lake.

There was an especially neat tree on the west side. The bark was really smooth, and was very light colored.

Cool Tree At Lake Murray

If you walk this lake, watch out for the 1730 closure. It’s an easy hike, very little slope.

Flint Hills Scenic Byway, Kansas

28 July 2009

I like driving out in the country. I can watch rolling plains, mountains, lakes, or other scenery rolling by for hours without getting bored.

I’ve driven from OKC to Omaha about 100 times. Literally. I’ve been all-the-way on the Interstate (I-35 to KC to I-29 to Omaha), straight up through central KS to York, NE, on US-75 all the way from Okmulgee, OK, on US-169, etc. I’ve seen the signs for the Flint Hills Scenic Byway many times, and last week decided to come down that way.

I had the family with me for a business trip to Omaha, which is one of my favorite cities. After finishing work on Friday morning, I got the rest of the crew from the Embassy Suites La Vista (recommended, BTW), got everyone fed, and headed out.

We drove down to Lincoln, and picked up US 177 for the trip south. At this point, it’s new road for all of us. We went through a number of nice small towns on the way south, like Beatrice.

A note: when we drive through a small town like that, we tend to find the downtown area, or any other interesting area, and cruise by it. You can never tell what diners, museums, and the like you might find. We have returned numerous times to a place we found in a small town to eat or enjoy a park. We enjoy it, YMMV.

South into KS, we hit Marysville. This was a nice town on the Blue River. We stopped for drinks, walked in a park, and checked out a small historical museum and a sod house on display. They also had a pretty cool Union Pacific locomotive, and a huge train yard.

South of Manhattan, KS we finally picked up the Flint Hills Scenic Byway. If you like looking at rolling hills stretching away into the distance (and I do), you will like the drive. It’s a fairly narrow two-lane road just south of I-70. There’s not much traffic, and few towns or gas or restaurants.

We followed the Byway south to Cassoday, the southern terminus of the Byway, and where we hoped to eat. No luck, the only meal would have been had if we went and knocked on a door and asked to be invited to supper.

So instead, we hit the nearby KS Turnpike and flew south to El Dorado.

We drove the Byway in the late afternoon, with a west sun casting a really nice, soft light on the hills. It was also really green, both the hills and the fields, and really pretty. I was really surprised at how green it was for late July.

The northern end of the Byway is at the intersection with I-70 south of Manhatten (between Topeka and Salina, KS).

It was a nice drive.

Ocala National Forest, FL

19 June 2009

I tried to go hiking in the Withlacoochee State Forest (Richloam tract) this afternoon, but a deluge out of a Florida thunderstorm beat me there. So instead, I went to Ocala to dry out, and then went through the Ocala National Forest to the east to go hike there.

I took FL 40 through the National Forest to FL 19, then south. After a while, I saw a sign for Buck Lake, so since no one was behind me I dived off that exit. It was a nice drive over a sandpacked road (I would not recommend driving this in a sedan after a heavy rain). Unfortunately, the road to Buck Lake was gated. I drove for a while more, and found a parking area at Farles Lake. It was a pretty lake:

[Farles Lake photo will go here when I download my camera]

I hiked around the Lake, it was a slow go to find the trail. There were a lot of birds. I forgot to reset my GPS so I do not have the mileage, I would estimate it was about 2.5 miles.

When I got done I walked farther west on the road and picked up the Florida Trail to the south. I walked 1.5 miles down the trail. The trail was narrow and heavily bordered by brush, but not so mush that it hindered the hike.

Part of the Florida Trail in Ocala National Forest

Part of the Florida Trail in Ocala National Forest

I turned around at the 1.5 mile mark since I had a late start. I also was getting seriously BUGGED – there were hundreds of very aggressive biting flies. I killed 10 of them, including two that bit me.

The terrain here was (not surprising for Florida) flat. There was a tremendous amount of sand. The trail had a lot of sandy dirt on it.

I saw one deer on the way in, and narrowly avoided running another over on the way out. This is marked as bear country, but unfortunately, no bears.

I looked online a couple times for trail maps for Ocala NF, but couldn’t find one. I will look harder next time.

Recommendation: bring strong bug-off of some kind.

The Washington and Old Dominion Trail, VA

6 March 2009

This trail used to be a rail line running from DC out to the Northwest. The tracks were pulled and the right-of-way converted to a multiuse trail. I’ve passed by/over/near this trail many times over the past couple years.

My meeting today got out a bit early, so I looked up the nearest access point for the WODT, and happily, it was about 3 miles north of me. I drove up there and parked right next to where the trail crossed a road.

The trail is in two parts for most of the segment that I walked. There is an wide, paved trail with a seperator in the middle. Off to one side or the other is a packed soil trail. I walked it outbound, and on the asphalt on the way back.

I started out a Mile 20, and walked out to Mile 25, then turned around and came back. For the first couple miles, you are walking between neighborhoods, but it is relatively isolated and you rarely hear traffic noise. A couple places are really pretty:

Near Mile Marker 22, looking NW

There were not very many people out, but it was around 45F. There were more bike riders than walkers or runners.

You get into more open country past Mile 23. I saw a skunk, and on the way back in, a herd of about seven deer, two of which crossed the road in frount of me.

Deer

For a major urban area, this was a decent trail. Next time, I’ll go east.

After the walk, I stopped at a place called Rubinos Pizzeria. It was across the parking lot from Ned Devines. I got a calzone, but it had no pizza sauce in it, which is kind of strange to my way of thinking. Ever other calzone I’ve had was fully equipped with pizza sauce internally. It was a tasty calzone, but I had to ask for extra pizza sauce to dump on it (anyone who has eaten pizza-related food with me knows that I LIKE marinara!). I think that the pizza sauce should be in and baked with the rest of the ingredients.

Yosemite in the Spring

4 March 2009

I have been lucky enough to be able to go to Yosemite National Park in all four seasons.  Back in April 2007, a couple buddies and I spent a long day at the park.   Since it was Spring, the waterfalls were really going strong.  As we came into the park, we got a fantastic view of Bridal Veil Falls:

Bridal Veil Falls

We started out with a hike out to the base of Yosemite Falls. Again, there was a tremendous amount of water flying over the cliff. This is an easy walk, maybe a half mile round trip and perfectly flat. There was a lot of mist at the bridge over the stream, and it was really wet from all the flying spray from the lower falls splashing on the rocks.

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls

From Yosemite Falls we walked along the trail to the east. It follows the base of the cliffs and ends up over by the horse corrals.

The next item on the agenda was a walk out Mirror Lake trail. This is a fairly flat trail that heads out a canyon towards the east end of Yosemite Valley. You have to drive past Awahnee Lodge (wow, plush!) and sort of past Curry Village.

From there the trail goes through the canyon with a stream running next to you, and rock walls rising up on both sides, a LONG ways up. Eventually, Half Dome looms above you. It is more massive from below than it looks like from a distance.

Half Dome

The trail continues on for a while, and gets to Mirror Lake. It’s a wide spot in the river that is so slow moving that it mirrors the canyons above it perfectly:

Mirror Lake

The four of us continued walking a bit past Mirror Lake. We ran across a couple that told us that there was a bear and cubs about a half mile ahead. The four of us took off at an increased pace. After a bit, two of the guys elected to hang back, right about the point were there was a sign talking about recent cougar sightings in the area (the cowards!). The two brave ones (and the ones with the longest legs) went on about another two miles, before we decided that the bears were not around anymore. It was also getting dark, and I was the only one with a light.

According to the GPS, it was about a 12 mile total of combined hikes. We got back into Sacramento around 2200.

Great Falls National Park, VA

4 March 2009

Today I finished my meetings a bit early, and drove from near the District to my hotel for the next three nights, near IAD.¬† On the way I made a second visit to Great Falls National Park.¬† The¬†first time I heard about this park, I said “Waterfalls… on the Potomac?”.¬†¬†

Turns out there are a significant number of waterfalls on the River.  This drove luminarys including Washington and Jefferson  to build a set of canals and locks on the riverbanks to get trade barges moving past the Falls.

There is a nice set of biking and hiking trails along the canals on the Maryland side of the river.  On the VA side, there is a National Park.  I visited GFNP last summer with a friend; we walked along the overlooks above the Falls and down some of the former locks, canals, and towpaths, from the main visitor area. 

Today I went a bit farther north, almost to the adjacent park (Riverbend Country Park).   It was cold (27F) and breezy, and there was about 6 in of snow (from yesterday) on the ground.  It occasionally made from some slower going than I am used to, but overall it was a very nice walk.  I was impressed that there were footprints, dog track, and bike tracks already there in quantity in spite of the weather.  Total round trip distance was 7.2 miles by the GPS.

Feather Falls, California

7 February 2009

I go out to Sacramento fairly often on business. The Sacramento Bee is a decent paper (it beats the heck of the The Daily Oklahoman), and it has really nice information on outdoors activities around the Sacramento area. It has pointed me to the trails around Folsom Lake and the Auburn State Recreation Area, and I’ve enjoyed walking both areas. The Bee also had a nice article about Feather Falls. For the record, I do not think I have ever seen an article about area hiking in the Oklahoman.

Feather Falls is in the middle western Sierra west of Oroville, above Oroville Lake. It’s about an hour and a half drive from El Dorado Hills. I drove out there in late Nov 2008 (the same week I went to Yosemite, not a bad pair of weekends). Oroville Lake was really down when I drove past it, I guess since the area is in a perpetual drought, and there had not been any snow to speak of since Spring.

I got to the Feather Falls trailhead around 1400 local. There were no services since back in Oroville. The parking area had a head, but no water. The trail was really nice. The forest was just gorgeous, with pretty leaves on the trail. It was a bit warmer than I had planned on, I should have brought shorts. My jeans were a sweaty, yucky damp when I got done.

There are two trails leading to the Falls. I started out on the longer trail, and came back on the shorter trail.

This is a typical section of the trail:

trail-outbound-2

trail-outbound-2

I saw a total of seven people on the trail both directions – one group of five and a couple. There were a couple birds, but no squirrels, deer, or other animals. I stopped a lot of times just to look. There was a tremendous amount of really nice scenery on the hike.

trail-inbound-11

trail-outbound-41

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trail-outbound-6

The Falls were really pretty cool. Again I wonder, where does all that water come from? There hasn’t been much rain, and no snow. Maybe springs?

There is a bit of rock scrambling to be done to get to the head of the Falls. There is no way to the bottom that I was able to find when planning the trip. There is a fenced in area to stand in to watch the Falls from about 20 feet away, it’s a semi-scary perch which includes a sign about someone dying after falling from up there. The Falls are claimed to be the sixth-tallest waterfall in the United States. It is certainly a long way down:

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After walking around above and around the head of the Falls, I walked back around to a platform that is built out on a point that looks right at the Falls. I was lucky enough to get there when Sun was low enough to make a bit of a rainbow.

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Sun was starting to sink behind the mountains as I started back. I figured it would be an easy walk. I took the shorter trail for a different path. After a while it was getting darker and I was moving more slowly. It took me a lot longer to get back to the trailhead than I thought. I ended up navigating back to the trailhead via GPS. I had a couple flashlights to help illuminate the trail as well, but it was about 1830 when I got back.

Later I downloaded my GPS track data and took a look at it. The outbound trail was a gradual slope from the trailhead, DOWN to the Falls. Yes, it popped up and went back down, but the trailhead was about 600 feet higher than the head of the Falls. The shorter trail started out even lower, and was fairly flat for the first half, but the last half was a fairly steep climb back to the trailhead,over a fairly short distance. I was not expecting that it and wiped me out a bit. I recovered at the top by eating my Quaker Oats bars and drinking the rest of my water, and watching the stars for a while. From 2500ft in the backcountry, with no Moon, it was really stunning.

The total out and back distance per GPS was about 9.5 miles. I probably should have been there about an hour earlier. Great hike, highly recommended. I would like to be able to go down to the bottom of the Falls.

The only downer on the trip was having a flat on my rental car between Oroville and the Sacramento area. I changed it on the side of CA 99. I rounded out the day by eating at Mel’s in Roseville, visiting the Fry’s Electronics there, then back to the hotel for the flight back home the next day. One general question: what’s up with the “headlights required” signs on 99 north of Roseville?

Yosemite National Park

4 February 2009

Yosemite is just about my favorite place on the planet. The views are staggering, the hiking sublime. I’ve been lucky to have been able to visit the park about ten times since 1996. I’ve been there in all seasons. There isn’t much that induces me to get out of bed before 0700, but for a visit to Yosemite, I’ve repeatedly lurched out of bed at times ranging from 0330 to 0600 to get to the park or to go walking in it.

Where else can you can walk out of the room, look up, and see this?

Upper Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Lodge

Upper Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Lodge

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If you can, stay in Yosemite Lodge. I have stayed there, and outside the park, and once even in the platform tents (during the Summer). If you are in the Lodge, you can eat in the food court area. The breakfasts are simply outstanding. I have never had a bad one, all were very, very good. I got over-easy eggs, bacon, hash browns, biscuits and gravy, and a big drink… for free! Breakfast was included in the Lodge cost. Very tasty and filling.

Summer is a difficult time to stay in the park. I have stayed in Mariposa, Fresno, Modesto, and Oakdale while visiting Yosemite, but in each case you add a couple hours driving each way to get from town to the park. It’s worth getting up early and staying out late, believe me.

I got to go on an early Winter walk in late November 2008. After some night hiking up to Lower Yosemite Falls, we went from the Valley up to Vernal and Nevada Falls, returning along the Muir trail.

The walk up to Vernal is really, really wet in the Spring. They don’t call it the Mist Trail for nothing. In November, the water flow is a lot less (where does all that water come from, anyway?). It’s a decent workout to get up there. After breakfast, we arrived at the trailhead on the other side of Curry Village around 0830. It was a nice warm up to get to the bridge below Vernal, then it started getting interesting up the Mist Trail. We got to top of the Falls around 1100.

Trail up to Vernal Falls

Trail up to Vernal Falls

The white dot at the bottom of the photo is Chuck. He wanted to get up close and personal with the bottom of the Falls. He dried off about an hour later.

After lunch at the top of the Falls (I usually subsist on trail bars, but Chuck bought multiple sandwiches at the gift shop, and I’m glad he did, the extra bulk was nice!) sitting at the top of Vernal Falls, we went up the trail towards Nevada Falls. This actually seemed easier than the Vernal part of the hike, I guess we had second wind and were psyched! We talked to a trail crew right before we got to the top of the Falls, and decided that might be a pretty darn good job if there was lottery money in the bank! We got to the top of Nevada around 1330.

Trail up to Nevada Falls

Trail up to Nevada Falls

Stayed there for a bit, then headed back down via the John Muir trail loop back to the bottom of the Mist Trail. While the trail up is almost all in the trees, the Muir Trail back down starts out on the edge of the cliff for quite a ways. You are almost always in view of Nevada Falls all the way, and you can hear the roar of the water all the time.

Nevada Falls from Muir Trail

Nevada Falls from Muir Trail

You get a really great series of views of Glacier Point. At one point, looking across the canyon, I realized that you could see Upper Yosemite Falls across the ridge to the northwest.

Yosemite Falls from Muir Trail

Yosemite Falls from Muir Trail

We got back to the car around 1600. It felt GREAT! The total distance according to the GPS was 8.8 miles.

Trying to walk about Lake Tahoe

1 February 2009

One of my favorite activities is getting out and walking around. I’m not much of a beach lover, but rather forests and mountains.

Given that, my first post in the blog is a bit of a downer. I went out a day early on a trip last week specifically to do some hiking in Lassen Volcanic National Park. I called out there before I left, and the Ranger I talked to said there is basically no hiking in the park right now unless you have snowshoes or cross country skis. I don’t, but was going to make a Ranger-led snowshoe hike at the park. Unfortunately, bad wx at Reno led to my flight being late, then diverted to Sacramento for refueling, so it did not work out.

The next Thursday, I relocated to South Lake Tahoe with the intention of hiking Friday morning, which I have done numerous times in the past. Most of the trails were closed, so I was left with following a jogging path along Highway 89 for a couple miles. It was really pretty.

Looking west from Bear Beach

Looking west from Bear Beach

I had gone to the Echo Lake area, it was in the same boat, too much snow. The area down by Georgetown (the west foothills) had no snow at all. So my recommendation, if you want to hike in the Sierra in January, bring snowshoes or stick to the western side foothiils. The serious snow started around the 3000-4000 foot level.