Rocky Mountain National Park

Longs Peak

We can’t make a checkmark on our Bucket List with our visit to Rocky Mountain National Park in late July since we have visited this park before. As it had been ten years since our last visit, we decided to take a bit longer route on our way to a reunion in Nebraska and spend a couple of days in the park.


Rocky Mountain National Park is celebrating its 100th Anniversary in 2015. Rocky Mountain National Park was the tenth national park to be established, and prior to having a unified park service, it was administered by the Department of the Interior.

On this trip we came into the park from the west so our first stop was in the Kawuneeche Valley where we took several short hikes near the headwaters of the mighty Colorado River. Here it’s hard to imagine that this nice little meandering stream further down its course becomes the river carving the Grand Canyon.

Kawuneeche Valley Kawuneeche Valley2                                       Colorado River

Trail Ridge Road climbs, twists and turns its way eastward to cross the Continental Divide at Milner Pass (10758 ft.), continuing to snake its way to the Alpine Visitor Center (11796 ft.) at Fall River Pass, then to the highest point on the road (12,183 ft.) and beyond and downward to the east entrance of the park – Beaver Meadows Visitor Center at a “mere” 7840 ft. The views on the road are amazing and at many points it seems like you can see forever. The Never Summer Mountain Range to the west, the Mummy Range to the north, and Long’s Peak (14259 ft.) to the south provide 360° mountain viewing and great opportunities for beautiful landscape photos. “Purple mountain majesties” very well could apply here even though Katherine Lee Bates wrote those words inspired by Pikes Peak further to the south.

Alpine visitor center view2              IMG_0340

This park is nearly all fairly high so hiking can be quite strenuous if one is not used to altitude. By watching the elevation gains given on the trail guides, it’s possible to choose hikes of varying activity levels – elevation gain often being more important than total distance.

trail           calypso cascade

We hiked to the Pool and then went back to the visitor’s center to ask a couple of questions. We were curious about the fenced areas erected along the stream in Moraine Park. We were told they were elk exclusion fences. These were areas where the vegetation had basically been decimated by overgrazing of elk and they were trying to revive the plant life there by keeping the elk out. Gates for people were provided so they could continue to fish the stream. We also talked to rangers about the Russian thistles we had seen along the roadsides – coming from Nebraska we know how invasive those plants are!

falls  sign

We decided to explore the Old Fall River Road which was the original road to cross the park by way of Fall River Valley and Milner Pass. Following construction of Trail Ridge Road, Old Fall River Road was designated as a one-way route to the Alpine Visitors Center. The day we drove it, even though it is unpaved, there was a steady stream of traffic. It reminded us of why we like to visit national parks in the off-season. Of course, the fact that Trail Ridge Road is closed from mid-October to Memorial Day because of weather, does limit the season.

Marmot           Bluebird2

After having scoured the mountainsides with binoculars in search of bighorn sheep to no avail, we came across a sheep perfectly posed not far off the road near Rock Cut. We also managed to spot pika, and marmots among the rocks.

Mountain sheep4

pica     marmot2 (2)

The trail past Copeland Falls to Calypso Cascade was a pleasant hike and not quite as crowded as some others. Not so, the trailhead for Long’s Peak when we went there. We were totally amazed at the size of the parking lot and the fact that it was packed with vehicles. Long’s is not an easy mountain but, as the season is short, and many climbers want to add it to the list of fourteeners they have climbed, a ranger told us it is always very crowded there.

calypso    hiking

Rocky Mountain National Park is certainly a jewel in the national park system and well worth the return visit.


Posted in Colorado, hiking, National Park, National Park Travels, Rocky Mountain National Park, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Channel Islands National Park

Scorpion Bay.2jpg

  • Bucket List National Park #41- only 18 parks remaining.

Channel Islands National Park lies off the coast of southern California and encompasses eight islands. In our national park book, it said if you have very limited time, the Visitor’s Center in Ventura will give you a good overview of the park. I beg to differ. I’m not sure how you could actually get a feel for the park without visiting at least one island which is what we did.

Cormorants - Copy     Channel Islands seals - Copy

We booked passage with Island Packers to Santa Cruz Island for an all-day excursion. There are no concessions on the island, with only limited primitive camping for those so inclined, so we packed water, lunches, camera, batteries, etc. and set out for our day trip.

Santa Cruz is the largest island in the national park, 61,972 acres, and is 22 miles long and from 2 to 6 miles wide. In its variety of flora and fauna, Santa Cruz resembles a miniature southern California of a hundred plus years ago. Rich in cultural history with over 10,000 years of native habitation and over 150 years of European exploration and ranching, remnants of these eras can be seen throughout the landscape of the island.

Santa Cruz Island

We landed at Scorpion Anchorage and set out to do some exploring. Since Santa Cruz contains two mountain ranges with the highest peaks rising above 2000 feet, most trails led upward. These mountains, a large central valley/fault system as well as coastline cliffs, and beaches combine to support more than 600 plant species in 10 different plant communities, from marshes and grasslands to chaparral and pine forests.

Santa Cruz4    Santa Cruz flora - Copy

Owing to millions of years of isolation, many distinctive plant and animal species have adapted to the islands’ unique environments. As a result, there are 150 plant and animal species on Channel Islands that are found nowhere else in the world. We’re not good enough botanists to be able to identify any of the plants or even know which ones are rare in the world or just rare to us.

Santa Cruz flora5 - Copy    Santa Cruz flora6 - Copy

Three Island Fox species are specific to Channel Islands only and, after declining populations, were placed on the endangered species list in 2004. A captive breeding program succeeded in bringing the island fox back from the brink of extinction and the last of the captive foxes were released back into the wild in 2008.

Channel Island Fox - Copy

We chose to set out on the Cavern Point trail which promised “magnificent coastal vistas and whale viewing.” We didn’t see any whales but we did have some pretty terrific views. We were glad we had worn jackets, however, as it was quite windy and chilly.

Santa Cruz flora4 - Copy    Santa Cruz flora3 - Copy

At the far point of the trail, rather than continuing the loop back, we decided to take the North Bluffs trail and proceed to Potato Harbor for “spectacular coastal views. No beach access.” In other words, a nice walk along the cliffs above the coast.

Santa Cruz flora2 - Copy

The trails were well maintained and easy to follow. We were surprised that much of the island is basically hilly grassland. While it was chilly up on top in the wind, back at Smuggler’s Cove it was very warm.

Santa Cruz - Copy

We found ourselves back at Smuggler’s Cove with time to spare before the boat trip back to the mainland. It was a pleasant day but I think more knowledge and involvement with the marine environment would make it much more interesting.

Santa Cruz

Posted in California, Channel Islands National Park, National Park, National Park Travels, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pinnacles National Park

This spring we continued to work on our national park bucket list.

Pinnacles sign

Pinnacles National Park became the 40th national park we have visited. It is the newest park unit to attain National Park status, making it the 59th. Pinnacles was established as a 2500-acre national monument by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908 primarily because of the work of Schuyler Hain, an 1891 homesteader, who was fascinated with the area. He led tours up through Bear Valley and into the caves. He spoke to groups and wrote articles urging preservation. Since that time, Pinnacles has grown to about 26,000 acres and on January 10, 2013, was re-designated as a National Park.

Pinnacles, located in central California in the southern portion of the Gabilan Mountains, is in proximity to millions of people but has quite low visitation.

pinnacles pinnacles4

Highway 146 is the access road to both the Westside and the Eastside of the Pinnacles. However, highway 146 is not a through road and does not connect the two sides of the park together, Lodging, food and gas are not available in the park. The road to west Pinnacles is steep and narrow ( at times one lane and at best about one and a half lanes) and RVs, trailers and large vehicles should avoid this entrance. The only campground is located on the east side of the park.

trail2 trail

The main draws for Pinnacles are over thirty miles of hiking trails, numerous rock-climbing routes and the caves, which are not really caves in the common sense. They are talus caves created by fault action and earthquakes. Deep, narrow gorges or shear fractures were transformed into caves when huge boulders toppled from above and wedged in the fractures before reaching the ground. These boulders became the ceilings of the talus caves that now entice not only people but also several kinds of bats. The caves are sometimes closed because of bat roosting or because of storms or high water.

cave entrance cave hike3

The first day we visited the park, we arrived in early afternoon and entered the west side. We parked at the Chaparral parking lot and hiked the 2.4 mile Balconies Cave Trail.

cave hike cave hike3

A hike through these talus caves is more of a rock scramble or bouldering experience than a cave hike.

Pinnacles National Park, located near the San Andreas Fault along the boundary of the Pacific Plate and the North American Plate, is a prime example of tectonic plate movement. The Pinnacles Rocks are believed to have been part of the Neenach Volcano which was split by the giant San Andreas Fault. As the Pacific Plate crept north, the Pinnacles were carried along. The work of water and wind on these erodible volcanic rocks has formed the unusual rock structures seen today.

pinnacles2 stream

Pinnacles has a Mediterranean climate of hot, dry summers and cool winters with moderate rainfall. As warm as it was hiking when we were there in late April, I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t enjoy hiking there in summer. California has been suffering a prolonged drought so everything was already pretty dry.

Our second day, in order to visit the east part of the park, we had to drive around the southern end and then back north to the east entrance. We hiked the 5.4 mile Old Pinnacles Trail to Balconies Cave, explored a bit more and decided it was time to head on. Pinnacles is a rather interesting place but lacks the “wow” factor of many of our national parks.


Posted in California, National Monuments, National Park, National Park Travels | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lybrook Badlands

Lybrook Badlands2    Tom read an article about the Lybrook Badlands and it piqued our interest. One of the San Juan Basin badlands areas, the presence of hoodoos and distinct stratification in the rock sounded like a great place to hike and take photos. The biggest obstacle seemed to be finding a way into the area close enough to hike in fairly readily. The only roads leading into the area are dirt gas and oil roads which are not marked nor on any maps. You simply choose a road and see where you end up. These roads require a high clearance vehicle and you also need to be aware of the weather as a rain can cause the roads to become impassable very quickly.

Lybrook Badlands from Overlook14           Hoodoos in Lybrook Badlands4

We did some research online and found some directions but they left quite a lot to be desired. It appeared that the closest to good directions came from some German tourists which also meant that they had to be translated since neither of us speaks German. The computer did a pretty good job of translating but at times it was a bit funky.

Hoodoo in Lybrook Badlands   Hoodoos from Overlook

So with some of the translated pages and trusty GPS in hand, we set out. The short version of our adventure is that it took us three tries each comprised of about a fifty mile loop which basically skirted the whole area and ended up back on the highway. I guess the positive of that was that we did not end up lost out there.

Lybrook Badlands from Overlook10    Lybrook Badlands from Overlook11

Each time we tried a different route I wrote down GPS coordinates whenever we turned onto another little road so hopefully, if it turned out to be a good choice, we could possibly find it again another time. Between the second and third tries, we followed directions to an overlook which provided a spectacular view of the badlands, and of course, just made us more determined to find a way to hike there.  It’s truly an amazing landscape.

Hoodoos from Overlook4    Hoodoo from overlook


Stone Teepees from overlook2    Hoodoos in Lybrook Badlands9

Our third try was successful in that we found a road that got us close enough to hike in and view some of the hoodoos and other formations. So we had a good hike, took lots of photos, and generally enjoyed ourselves. However, we are determined to go back another time as we know from what we saw at the overlook, that we barely scratched the surface. We may have to do some rather strenuous hiking but there has to be a way to get to more of those formations!

Odin at Lybrook Over;look     Horses in Lybrook Badlands

Posted in hiking, New Mexico, Travel, wilderness | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Olympic National Park

EdAt LaPushOlympic National Park is a vast and diverse park, boasting three distinct ecosystems – temperate rainforest, coastal, and mountainous. Of the approximately 366,000 acres of the park, over 95% is designated as wilderness and is very nearly inaccessible.  Much of it can be reached only on foot via the six hundred miles of trails or, for the very adventurous, cross-country. It becomes readily apparent why the Olympic peninsula remained unexplored for so long.

EdAt LaPush (8)

Olympic National Park’s 73-mile long wilderness coast is a rare treasure. Rocky headlands, tidepools, sea stacks and wind-twisted trees are a remnant of a wilder America. Much of this narrow coastal strip of park is designated wilderness.

EdAt LaPush (3)  EdAt LaPush (6)

Sea stacks, impressive rock formations rising up offshore, were once part of the shore but have been isolated by the sea. The small town of La Push is near First Beach, Second Beach, and Third Beach which are littered with driftwood and huge logs that wash up. Whales are often seen and the tide pools teem with life in miniature.

At LaPush (11)

A mild coastal climate with prevailing rain and fog provides the ingredients for a temperate rainforest. The Hoh Rainforest is pretty incredible. There are more colors of green than you can name, so vibrant they very nearly shimmer.  It’s surprising to find that the colors are much more intense when it is overcast and even lightly raining than when the sun is shining.  For photography, this proves to be a boon as it is nearly always lightly raining. The vast number of mosses draping the trees and the myriad ferns create an “other-worldly” feel.  With a light rain jacket always present, we hiked a number of interesting trails and thoroughly enjoyed the rainforest.

Hall of Mosses (12)    Hall of Mosses (9)

The banana slugs we encountered are somewhat other-worldly as well, creatures ranging from pale yellow to black to a black and yellow combination, slowly moving like a worm with a snail’s feelers bobbing on its elongated head.

Banana Slug   Banana Slug (3)

Because of the abundant moisture, the trees do not develop deep root systems. As a result, they are prone to fall in strong winds. As these fallen giants begin to decay, they are ideal for seed germination and often become nurse logs enabling the growth of colonnades of trees. As the nurse logs further decay and crumble, the new trees appear as though they are on stilts. Red cedar, hemlock, and Douglas fir grow to immense size in this environment.

Big Cedar (3)  Hall of Mosses (10)

Forks, Washington, is a small town which has become famous as the home of Bella and Edward of the Twilight series. In Forks, there are “Twilight” events and tours and all sorts of “Twilight” souvenirs, even including ice cream flavors. Although I was a middle school teacher and the Twilight series was extremely popular with that age group, prior to our travel there, I had not read any of the books. Vampires just don’t really appeal to me. After visiting Forks, I had to read at least one and did gain an appreciation for the area as a backdrop for the books. The foggy grey of the air, and the fantastic shapes created by mosses, lichens and other epiphytes draping the massive trees certainly set an appropriate mood for the books.

Hall of Mosses (2)

In addition to the obsession with Twilight, Forks is also home to several quite good places to eat and numerous lodging options, including the Huckleberry Lodge, which offers cabins as well as several RV spaces. We stayed in one of the cabins there. The hospitality was magnificent and while we were there, even included an impromptu dinner in the gazebo hosted by the owners.

Huckleberry Lodge Cabin (3)

We visited Olympic at a time when an unusual historical project was in progress and later continued to follow it. Elwha River Restoration is a National Park Service project that includes the largest dam removal in history, restoration of the Elwha River watershed, its native anadromous fish, and the natural downstream transport of sediment and debris.

Elwha Dam was built in 1911 and, in1927, the Glines Canyon Dam was built 7 miles upriver. These dams were constructed to provide hydroelectric power and were effective in that respect but blocked passage for migrating fish and limited them to the lower 4.9 miles of river below the dam. When we visited, the draining of the lakes behind the dams had begun.  Today, both dams are gone, the two reservoirs have drained and the Elwha River flows freely from its headwaters in the Olympic Mountains to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Native habitats and vegetation are being restored and the anadromous salmon and trout are naturally migrating past the former dams for the first time in over a hundred years.

Hurricane Ridge (14)  Hurricane Ridge (10)

Hurricane Ridge reportedly offers some magnificent mountain views. I say reportedly as the day we drove to the visitor center there, it was so foggy you could see absolutely nothing. I guess those magnificent views will have to be another trip.

Lake Crescent (2)




Posted in National Park, National Park Travels, Travels in the U.S., Washington, Western U.S. National Parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Arches National Park

Double Arch - Arches National Park - Utah   Double Arch

We’ve visited Arches National Park near Moab, Utah, twice and found it fascinating. Both our visits occurred in March and, even though it was chilly, that seems preferable to summer heat in the Utah desert. We thoroughly enjoyed many short hikes and the amazing scenery.

Park Avenue  Courthouse Towers

Park Avenue                                                   Courthouse Towers

Arches National Park is a park that can be enjoyed from a vehicle or explored more thoroughly on foot and can accommodate whatever length of time a person has for a visit. If you have only a day, one can drive the park road, stop at the various waysides, take photos and, in general, be awestruck. Of course more time is better and, unless you are going into the backcountry or are an overly enthusiastic hiker, two days works pretty well.

South Arch   Partition Arch

Turret Arch                                                     Partition Arch

Arches have a life cycle. Beginning as a small hole in a cliff or narrow rock fin, the opening is enlarged by weathering and rockfall. Then arises the question: When is an arch an arch and not a window or just a hole? Over decades, it has been debated as to how large an opening must be in order to be considered an arch and also whether an opening high in the face of a fin is a window while one closer to the ground is an arch. In addition to vertical arches formed in the walls of fins, there are also horizontal arches which are pothole arches, formed where rainwater has run and pooled. Sometimes the deepening of the pothole will result in joining an alcove below and form a horizontal arch. Arches National Park recognizes an arch as an opening that measures at least three feet in any one direction. In the park, there are over 2000 arches.

Skyline Arch   Skyline Arch

The arches are primarily the result of shaping by water, frost, and the release of tensions in the rock itself. Sedimentary Entrada Sandstone is the primary rock which has eroded into arches and other fantastic shapes in the park. Entrada Sandstone is composed of three members – Dewey Bridge member, a muddy sandstone; Slick Rock member, a fine-grained sandstone; and Moab member, a white layer of sandstone that caps the Slick Rock. From various combinations of these three members, the arches are carved.

Landscape Arch   Landscape Arch

Spanning 306 feet, Landscape Arch is one of the longest natural arches in the world. 92 feet above the ground and only 12 feet thick at its center, it continues to enlarge. In 1991, a 60-foot-long slab of rock fell from its underside and rockfalls from 1991 to 1995 estimated to total 268 tons of rock, led the park service to close the trail underneath the arch.  Seems like a good idea to stay out from under it.

Windows   Broken Arch

North and South Windows                             Broken Arch

On our hikes to view various arches, we discovered that at least one of the arches on our map – Wall Arch – no longer existed. A huge pile of rubble marked where it had fallen. Fortunately no one was in the vicinity when it crashed to the ground below. Even though, the rock formations seem timeless, they are actually constantly changing, usually slowly but sometimes very dramatically.

Delicate arch 2  Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch is perhaps the best-known arch in the park. This freestanding arch perches at the edge of a slickrock bowl and is the iconic symbol of Arches National Park.

Balanced Rock   Ham Rock

Balanced Rock                                                                   Ham Rock

In the park, in addition to the 2000 plus arches, a variety of unusual shaped and fancifully named rocks catch the attention. Balanced Rock, Ham Rock, the Three Gossips, Courthouse Towers, Sheep Rock and Park Avenue beg a photo.

The Three Gossips  Sheep Rock

The Three Gossips                                      Sheep Rock

A very short hike off the highway, where Courthouse Wash joins the Colorado River, is a rock art site. This panel displays evidence of people’s passage for hundreds of years both in pictographs and petroglyphs. It is thought that Archaic Indians first painted the long, tapered figures and later, ancestral Puebloans or Utes added bright white circular forms that resemble shields. Petroglyphs by Utes appear elsewhere on the wall and adjacent boulder. Vandalized in 1980, cleaning and restoration by the National Park Service revealed older pictographs beneath the white shields.

Courthouse Panel 2  Courthouse Wash Panel

Over two thousand namesake arches, petrified sand dunes, impressive rock formations, ancient rock art and the beauty of the Utah desert combine to make Arches National Park a real treasure.

Arches - Delicate Arch in the snow (2)  Delicate Arch in Snow

Posted in National Park, National Park Travels, Travels in the U.S., Utah, Western U.S. National Parks | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Japanese Friendship Garden of Phoenix

In January, Tom and I traveled to the Phoenix, Arizona, area to visit family. Snow on the Mogollan Rim made it feel as if we had made a wrong turn somewhere and inadvertently headed north instead of south but as we dropped into the “Valley of the Sun” it became apparent that wasn’t the case.

Mogollan Rim2  Mogollan Rim

Snow, sunshine, saguaros and palm trees, all in the same day. During our visit, we had a great time and thought the weather was incredibly nice but those who live there were not very happy with the low night-time temperatures and cool days. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective.

Palm trees

A rather-hidden gem in Phoenix is the Japanese Friendship Garden. This garden is a direct result of the sister-city relationship between Phoenix and Himeji, Japan. Himeji became a Phoenix Sister City in November 1976 and is one of ten Phoenix Sister Cities around the globe. This global network is anchored in formal city-to-city agreements which translate into long-term relationships. Phoenix and Himeji participate in business, governmental, cultural and educational exchanges to promote international goodwill and understanding.

Japanese Garden

The Japanese Friendship Garden is the shared cultural vision of the cities of Phoenix and Himeji. The devoted and friendly relationship between the cities is reflected in the name chosen by its creators: Ro Ho En.

鷺 RO: Japanese word for Heron, a bird symbol of Himeji Castle, White Heron Castle, Shirasagijo stands watching over Himeji

鳳 HO: Japanese word for the Phoenix bird

園 EN: Japanese word for garden

The garden was designed to be viewed from within, a style known as “hide and reveal” as visitors discover new visual composition as they proceed along the path. The garden is divided into four main sections symbolic of the major types of terrain found in Japan: low-lying grasslands, forested mountains, stone beaches and woodlands.

Japanese Garden3   Japanese Garden14

Himeji Mayor, Matsuji Totani proposed the garden in 1987 to cement the bonds of friendship between Japan and the United States and particularly between the peoples of Himeji and Phoenix.  The Himeji Gardening and Construction Contractors Association was formed for the specific purpose of designing and constructing the Garden. Many visits ensued to select the site, investigate soil and climactic conditions, determine suitable plantings, select rock, and oversee construction details. The teahouse and surrounding tea garden were completed in November 1996, the 20th anniversary of the Sister City relationship.

Intended for strolling through slowly and simply enjoying nature, the Garden has an overlying sense of calm and peace. Each of the decorative and physical features of the Garden is symbolic. The various features work in harmony with each other.

Japanese Garden6

The Kasuga-Doro is ten feet tall. Kasuga stone lanterns are the style of lantern most frequently used in Japanese gardens, originating at the Kasuga Shrine in Nara, Japan’s ninth century capital.

Japanese Garden2

The Koi Pond holds 50,000 gallons of water in a closed recirculating system and is home to approximately 500 koi and a large number of western mosquito fish.

Japanese Garden12

The waterfall is a highlight of the garden bringing to mind a natural mountain waterfall surrounded by boulders. Cascading from a height of fourteen feet, it divides into two falls.

Japanese Garden15

Yukimi-Doro is the style of stone lantern placed near the water’s edge to appear floating above the surface of the water.

Japanese Garden11        Japanese Garden7

The thirteen levels of Tasoutou are representative of a pagoda. Such stone towers are traditionally placed in a garden for artistic effect.

Japanese Garden9

Crossing the curved bridge (Taiko Bashi), you reach the Middle Island (Nakajima) which represents a mythical place inhabited by cranes and tortoises, associated with long life and prosperity.

Japanese Garden13

As beautiful as the Japanese Friendship Garden was in winter, it’s easy to imagine how incredible it would be with spring blossoms.

Posted in Arizona, Parks, Travel, Travels in the U.S., Western U.S. | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments