This Hiking Life Blog
This Hiking Life is a mix of my hiking trips in the Southern Appalachians, the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, and recently, Le Chemin de St. Jacques. It also discusses outdoor and conservation issues. I hope these blog notes will inspire you to go and explore the mountains of North and South Carolina and beyond. Hope to meet on the trail! Danny
The day started wet and foggy as I drove to Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I was there to scout a hike to Charlies Bunion on the Appalachian Trail for Friends of the Smokies. I've done this hike so many times. The first time was when I hiked the A.T. this section in 1997 but it's always different.
Yesterday, I was on the trail with Brent, who is finishing his sting with Americorps and will become Marketing Director for Friends. Anna Lee Z. will be working full-time with Holly D. in the North Carolina office. So she'll be co-leading the monthly hikes.
The A.T. heading north toward Charlies Bunion is green and dark. The few views we could have had on the way were socked in by fog. We passed and were passed by hikers going up to the Bunion, to Mt. Le Conte and coming down from Le Conte. For the first section, until the Boulevard Trail, it was the same trail that I did last week for the Margaret Stevenson hike.
We stopped at Icewater Springs Shelter. The park has put in a new compostable privy, which is also wheel-chair accessible. This beauty of a privy was funded by Friends of the Smokies. After passing the piped spring for which the shelter is named, we went down, down, down and finally to the intersection: Charlies Bunion to the left, the A.T. to the right. The new sign for the Bunion had an apostrophe, i.e. Charlie's Bunion. Who put that apostrophe in? I worry about things like that.
The Bunion area was busy with a teenage group, a church group and several families. But we didn't have to wait our turn to climb the Bunion. See the picture above.
On the way back, we turned right to see the Jump-Off. A new sign directs hikers to the short trail to Mt. Kephart (no view) and the Jump-Off. On better viewing days, you can see Charlies Bunion from here.
A great hike. Friends of the Smokies will be leading this hike on Tuesday August 12. Call the Friends Office at 828-452-0720 to register and come on out.
Walking Distance: Extraordinary hikes for ordinary people is my dream book. Written by Robert Manning, a professor at the University of Vermont, and Martha Manning, a working artist, the book offers 30 long distance walks that anyone can do.
I first turned to the Cotswold Way, a 100 miles through southern England. As the Mannings describe, the trail is quintessential England - thatched roof cottages, prosperous villages, historic churches, and pastoral valleys. They walked from Bath, a major historic town, and headed north while I walked from Chipping Campden south. This way, I could spend a couple of days exploring Bath after the hike. You stay in bed and breakfasts or small hotels, never needing to camp. Beyond you dayhiking gear, you just bring your toothbrush and couple of changes of underwear.
The book is meant to wet your appetite for the walks. There's enough detail so you can figure out if you must backpack, stay in huts or in town. It's not a guidebook. How could you write a guidebook for 30 long distance hikes? Each long distance hike includes a map to orient youself and a box on further reading.
The authors did the Overland Track, in Tasmania, Australia, differently than we did. They went with a group that planned on staying in huts. We went independently and carried a tent since there was no guarantee that we would find a place in a hut. But we all experienced the same Cradle Mountain and glacier lakes. Wallabies greeted us at every hut. Yellow-tailed black cockatoos and honeyeaters were distinctively Australians, as Australian as most of the hikers we met.
I next looked at Cinque Terre on the West coast of Italy. Lenny and I are planning to go next year but I had yet to do any research. I learned that the main trail linking the five towns is a dayhike of 11 miles. There's a network of trails that wander up and down with good bus service to trailheads. You can even take a bus uphill and walk downhill, which really got Lenny's attention.
It's amazing how many of these hikes I've done. But Walking Distance is a dream book, so I flipped to my dream hikes. The Superior Hiking Trail in the North Woods of Minnesota has always intrigued me. Just because the trail borders Lake Superior doesn't mean it's flat; most of the trail in the Sawtooth Mountains overlooking the lake. The area has a reputation for biting insects but otherwise sounds great.
One quibble. The book should have said when the authors did the hikes. Obviously, these hikes were done over a number of years, and facilities change.
Forget the Sears catalog. Walking Distance (University of Oregon Press, $35) is the real dream book.
Margaret Stevenson was a legend to Smokies hikers. She and her husband retired to Maryville, TN. She started hiking in the park; some say she had a hiking group for every day of the week, except Sunday. By many accounts, she hiked up to Mt. Le Conte 718 times, the last when she was in her 80s. She was the first woman to finish all the trails in the Smokies in 1976.
Her Wednesday group turned into the Margaret Stevenson hiking club, an informal group that offer several hikes every Wednesday. On some days, they hike over 20 miles; they move.
On her birthday celebration, hikers get up to the lodge on their own; they just have to be at the lodge by noon. Beth and I chose to walk up Boulevard Trail and come down Alum Cave.
Beth took an incredible picture of me in the rays of fog and sun. She said that I looked like a ghost on the trail.
We were on the trail by 7 am; we had stayed in Gatlinburg, a great luxury. On the Boulevard Trail, we saw a bunch of Rugel's Ragwort. It's an ugly but rare flower, found mostly in the higher elevations in the Smokies.
Beth and I arrived about 11:30 and we got our picture taken in front of the dining room.
At precisely noon, we all gathered around Ellie D., who spoke affectionally about Margaret. She was always cheerful and remembered everyone's name.
Margaret passed on her hiking passion to others. Pieces of birthday cake were passed around. Then we gathered for a group picture. See the top photo.
"I love to see all those fit people," Beth said.
We had come up the mountain on one of five different trails. And we went back down, "like water down the mountain", to quote Lori.
Thanks to Lori and Ellen for organizing this event. See you on the trail soon.
Hannah, my granddaughter, is finally starting three weeks of overnight camp at Eagle's Nest.
She and I spent a week ironing on name labels. With the first wearing, it was obvious that iron-on labels don't work. We then relabeled all her clothes with a black laundry marker. In between, we took several trips to Target for toilet articles, Malaprop's for books and a sporting goods store for a bathing suit.
She helped me hunt down a new sign on the Mountains-to-Sea Trail. Only a few feet into the trail, she found a whole colony of butterflies.
Finally, we packed everything in a huge footlocker that had been sitting in the car trunk from before our Western trip. Why, you may ask? Because an empty foot locker weighs 26 lbs. There was no way she and I were going to lift a full or even empty footlocker into the car.
We also worked on her camp schedule. Unlike most camps where the whole bunk goes to the same activity -- first period is art, second period is swimming.... Here the camper chooses what she's going to do during the day. I encouraged Hannah to pick out activities that she wasn't going to be able to do otherwise. She chose backpacking at my suggestion. Metalworking and horse riding were also on her list.
I tossed and turned all night, worrying about how I was going to get Hannah's footlocker to her bunk. I don't want you to think that she was super excited but she woke up early and was dressed by 6:30 am. After popping her toothbrush and toothpaste into the trunk, we were on our way to camp in Brevard.
We weren't the only eager family. When we got there, we idled in a line of cars waiting to get in and park. Older campers and staff members wearing gray T-shirts were everywhere, greeting campers and directing us to check in. Best of all, strong, enthusiastic young women and men unloaded Hannah's footlocker and moved it to her bunk.
We started the check-in process. It reminded me of Arlo Guthrie's Alice's Restaurant. When Arlo goes off to the induction station, he says that
Where you walk in, you get injected, inspected, detected, infected, neglected, and selected.
Well, she wasn't injected or infected. First, she got her bunk number. The next line was for me to put money into her canteen fund. I told her clearly that it was for emergency supplies like toothpaste, not for souvenirs.
The health check-up took the longest time. I thought that they would take her temperature to make sure that she wasn't sick and infecting anyone. Instead, they were most concerned about lice. I took a picture of her being checked but she made me promise not to publish it.
More health concerns as they asked yet again about medication, this on top of a multi page form that her parents and pediatrician had to fill out. She placed her trumpet into the air-conditioned music room. We were now ready to go to her bunk and meet her counselors.
The literature told the families to let go.
To quote the latest email from the camp, "... know that it can be difficult for both of you." One of the mothers told her daughter "I don't know if I can let you stay. I'm going to miss you so much."
I took a couple of pictures of Hannah with her counselors. Then she told me to go. My last words to her were "write home."
Before I left her cabin, I peeked at the bathroom - two showers, two toilets, and two sinks. Yep, same as my camp cabin, years and years ago.
Second day of the Friends of the Smokies Greenbriar Trip.
Some Friends members had never been on the Tennessee side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I'm thrilled that this overnight got them "over the mountain".
We split into two groups. Brent, of the North Carolina Friends office, led hikers to Albright Grove, a moderate hike. I took nine strong people up to Cove Mountain.
We started on the trail to Laurel Falls, a classic destination. In the middle of the day, it's packed because the trail is short, easy and paved. We got there at about 8:30 am and there were people already.
After the falls, we continued up the Laurel Falls Trail to its intersection with Little Greenbriar Gap Trail and up to Cove Mountain. The fire tower is now an air quality monitering station; there's not much view from its base. I asked the hikers to pose in a funky pose. See the top photo for the results.
There was no sign for Cove Mountain Trail and I led the group back to the intersection - wrong!
We did almost two extra miles to go back to the top. No one really complained; no one had been so exhausted by the climb that they were spent. We passed that huge mushroom twice.
We took a smooth unmarked trail that turned out to be Cove Mountain Trail. This boundary trail had a few signs of civilization including a road to a housing development and a huge house right on the left side of the trail. They talk about boundary buffers but the park has to end someplace. Here it ends on the left side, going down, of the trail.
We reached Cataract Falls at about 3:30 pm. The falls are thin and drippy at this time of the year. After I drove the drivers back to Laurel Falls, we scattered and promised to get back together soon.
The next Friends of the Smokies hike will be on August 12. We'll be hiking to Charlies Bunion. Call 828.452.0720 to sign up.
This week, Friends of the Smokies organized an overnight trip to the Greenbriar area of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This was the July program for the Classic Hikes of the Smokies. Though the hike series focuses on the North Carolina side of the park, it's important to show Friends members the other side of the mountain.
On Tuesday, we walked to the Walker Sisters Home, the last people to live in the park. Of the seven sisters, only one married and another died early in life.
Five sisters lived together in the log cabin, farming and making their own clothes. The women lived without electricity or running water. For cash, they baked and sold fruit pies to visitors. They made rag dolls and wooden toys. No, they were not a concession. The last sister died in 1964.
I told the group a little about the site. But where were the sisters buried?
We walked down to the Little Greenbriar school to hear the "teacher", interpreted by Robin Goddard, a volunteer. See the picture above.
Visitors sit at the real wooden desks and learn how to read and spell the way it was done in the early 1900s. The school closed in 1935.
"Do you know where the Walker sisters were buried?" I asked.
"Know?,"Robin said. "I was at their funerals."
It turns out the Robin was one of the people who helped the Walker sisters as they got older. She also worked with Ms. Elsie, the last "teacher" volunteer before Robin. For all her volunteer years, Robin received a prestigious award from the National Park Service.
In the evening, Friends of the Smokies put on a great dinner at the Buckhorn Inn.
We had a chance to meet the new acting Superintendent, Cynthia MacLeod on the left and Dana Soehn, the public affairs officer.
Yes, that's Hannah in the middle. We need to inspire the next generation of outdoor activists.
Oh yeah! The Walker sisters are buried in the Mattox cemetery in Wears Valley.
Family Nature Summits is over for this year. Summitters have scattered to all parts of the country from Oregon to Asheville, North Carolina, my fair city.
It was a different summit for me; the biggest difference because my husband came. Though Hannah and I graduated to blue scarfs (5 years), Lenny was a yellow scarfer (first year).
I was a little nervous and hoped that he would get the Summit experience. We've both gone on a lot of group trips, slept in hostels and hiked with others in many locales. But Summits are different. You can choose to stay with your own gang if you want to or spread out to people with other interests.
Lenny found his gang, the birders. He went on several long birding trips led by Jeff. We did hike together one day - see above - where he saw his first redwood of the week.
I hiked most days and spent my time in the hills instead of the coast. The hikes were well-run; even though they were destination hikes, the leaders made sure we had a little understanding of where we were.
I wished I had spent a little more time on the coast. Maybe I should have done some tidepooling or seen seals in their natural habitat and not just at the Monterey Aquarium.
This brings up a question that I'll address in another post. How much do Summitters want to know about the place that they'll be in for six days?
But for now, Ive unpacked and done the laundry. I gotten some food in the house. And I've repacked again for an overnight trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I'll be leading two hikes for Friends of the Smokies.
Next year, the Summit is coming to the Smokies, my park--June 27 to July 3, 2015. You all come down, you hear?
Yesterday was the last day at Family Nature Summits in Pacific Grove, California.
Some were winding down a little. Even the Blank brothers found time to play a little chess on their phone. See the picture below.
And like any good camp, the last evening was skit night.
Every group performed a song, a skit, or a little of satire. Of course, since Hannah is in the Naturalist group, the oldest group before the teens, I took a lot of pictures of her group. They wrote a song "At the Summit" using the tune from "In Summer" from Frozen.
After every one had performed, they showed a slide show of people and activities from the week. If you recognized the person, you clapped. There was lots of clapping for Hannah.
One more picture: me on a horizontal redwood tree. This was taken on the photo hike.
But all good things must come to an end. This morning, after breakfast, we all said good bye for the last time and packed our car.
We stopped at Moss Landing for one more look at sea otters and sea lions. We heard about Santa Cruz as a haven for aging hippies and headed there. What we didn't remember is that it was July 4th and we were going to hit crowds.
We parked about a mile from the beach and walked to the boardwalk. It was an old-fashioned boardwalk with amusement rides and junk food.
Happy 4th of July everyone.
Tomorrow we fly home. My big trip is over.
Is Family Nature Summits winding down? It's the fifth day, the last day of activities but everyone is going along strongly. You can keep going from 6 am till 10:30pm and still only do a percentage of the activities.
Yesterday, I went on a hike in Big Basin State Park. We started on the beach and climbed up to the top -- about 10.5 miles and 1,750 feet. We hiked through giant redwoods and even saw a waterfall, my first since I left Tennessee on this trip. In general we're in a desert with succulents and little running water.
Trails in California state parks are well maintained. You can find a bench every now and then.
The trails are all hard-packed. Not a stone out of place. This is probably because it doesn't rain that much and they don't have to contend with a lot of slippery slopes. At least, that's the impression I get, based on a few hikes.
Every evening, Lenny, Hannah and I share what we've done that day. Hannah's group went tide pooling yesterday. They looked at crabs, sponges, snails and more. Hannah comes back every day more excited about her activities. The kids had to do a little research on an beach animal. And even a Vann diagram?? Great program!
Most summitteers didn't spend all that much time on the trails. They birded, looked at tide pools, biked and even painted. Lenny and I went to the famous Monterey aquarium.
The jelly fish were mersmerizing as they floated down the exhibit glass. It looked like a movie or a lava lamp but they were real.
Big skit night this evening. And then they announce where and when the next summit will be. After all this is summer camp.
Family Nature Summits is not all about the children, but they're a big part of it. Notice that I am using the word "children" as Steve Hauser, the educator and head of the Junior Naturalists, refers to them, not "kids".
Every child from age three to young adults till age 25 has her own program at the Summit. I started coming to the Summit because I wanted an outdoor experience with Hannah; she was then six years old.
At that age, she was in the youngest of the all-day program, this year from 8:15 to 3:45 pm. I'd pick her up after her program and we'd do something together liking swimming or debriefing about the day. If I was still away on my program, she'd go to childcare. As she got older, some other mom or dad might watch her along with their kids.
Now at eleven, she's in the oldest Junior Naturalist program, for kids who have finished the 5th and 6th grade. See the picture above. None of them need childcare. They can leave the program at 3:45 pm and stick around as a group.
Hannah has her own gang. She checks in our room, drops her pack and then tells us what her plans are before dinner. The group plays volleyball or pool if they can get a table. Children who can't cross the street in their neighborhood can disappear for a while away from adult eyes. They run around Asilomar and create drama within the group.
Today her group went to the Monterey Aquarium in the morning and kayaking in the afternoon. A big day!
Adults also have their own drama. Today Lenny and I went on a hike in Andrew Molera State Park. We did a ridge-beach walk of about 8.2 miles and over a 1,000 feet of elevation gain.
The trail went up in the morning, where the view might have been if we didn't have fog. No one was bothered. Fog is part of nature.
After lunch, we went down and around to the beach. On the east coast, we're not used to mountains coming right down to the sea. What an impressive sight!
A tapestry of flowers covered the hillsides. I recognized asters and Queen Anne's lace but what is this flower? If I went on an interpretive flower hike, I might learn something. Instead I keep going on destination hikes, where the leaders know the trails but not necessarily the flowers and history.
We ended up on the beach, but it was much too cold to swim. One brave soul put her feet in the water. The rest admired the waves, looking like birds on a wire.
The drama was in the World Cup. Several guys were trying to follow today's games while hiking. Don't ask me who played whom. I'm not a spectator.
First day at Family Nature Summits.
Each day is precious since there are only five days of activities. You want to do everything.
I went on a hike in the Mitteldorf Preserve, a beautiful old growth redwood forest on the Monterey Peninsula. The lollipop hike - 12.5 miles and 2,200 feet of ascent -- started in redwoods.
Even though these are not champion trees, the redwoods were huge. Everyone wanted to have their picture taken with a redwood tree sticking out of their heads. Dave, our hike leader, had counted the rings on the cut logs and had stopped at about 750 rings.
As we climbed, the trail changed to open grasslands, the kind of grasses that stick to your socks and boots. From the ridge, you could see the world -- a patchwork of green trees, dry woods and even the Pacific Ocean. The trails here are steep but smooth. No rocks or roots stick out of the ground.
I learned what poison oak looks like. Same ditty – Leaves of three, let it be. The vine looks like poison ivy, generally. Instead of shining leaves, poison oak has dull green leaves shaped like oak leaves. The poisonous oils are the same as the eastern pest and so are the symptoms. So I let it be and stayed away from the plant.
The area was preserved by the Big Sur Land Trust with money donated by the Mitteldorf family. A modest lodge is at the heart of the property, which is now rented out to honeymooners and vacationers. While I was climbing, huffing and puffing, Lenny was birding and adding to his life list.
Today, second day, I went on a photography hike, starting at 6 am. We climbed over and under tree roots and didn’t stay on an official trail. Meanwhile, Hannah had seen seals and sea lions and could tell the difference between the two of them.
Here she is with her girlfriends.
We’re at Family Nature Summits.
We arrived at Pacific Grove, California yesterday and checked in at Asilomar State Beach and Conference Grounds. What a place. Pacific Grove is on the northern tip of the Monterey Peninsula. The Conference Grounds, in a California state park, is right on the beach.
Today, we explored the beach a couple of miles from the conference center. We checked out the tidal pools. Among the sea weeds and barnacles attached to rocks, we found snails, crabs, sea anemones and even an octopus - the picture of the octopus taken by Hannah. Snails and crabs climbed up and down the rocks. Cormorants, gulls, and pelicans patrolled the skies.
The seals were the highlights. We saw them sunning themselves on rocks, swimming with just their half their heads above water and jumping in at random.
A couple walked in the water and prepared to scuba dive. Maybe one was a teacher giving private scuba lessons. They approached the seal, closer and closer. I kept staring at it. Still it stayed on the rock. When I looked away for a second, the seal chose that time to jump in. I don’t think the divers even noticed the seal.
The grounds are extensive, with sleeping rooms, a couple of dining rooms and lots of meeting rooms. It’s run by the state park so the rooms are modest. We have a huge room with three single beds and a double bed. The bathroom is really three separate rooms, one for two sinks, one for the shower, and one for the sink. So we can plan our ablutions with efficiency.
We’re going to eat in the same dining room for six days. But this is California and the food is fresh and varied. Of course, they offer a vegetarian option. The dessert tonight was strawberry shortcake. But I skipped the cake and just had deep red California strawberries with a little whipped cream.
Aramark manages the rooms and food service. So why is the food so good here and so lousy in so many of their other places? The park stresses that the Conference grounds breaks even; no tax money subsidizes the operation.
Obviously good, healthy food is important to the state park system. They charge the full cost to its customers and feel that their clientele will be willing to pay. Their breakfast is $14.95 – one price, which includes tax and gratuities.
We then drove into Monterey and walked up and down Cannery Row. This is John Steinbeck country; he’s the author of the book Cannery Row; his most famous might be Grapes of Wrath. Do high school students even read him anymore? Until the 1950s, the area was famous for its sardine canning business and its flophouses and whore houses. Now the buildings have been restored and rented to T-shirt and souvenir shops. Tourists flock here to eat, shop, and walk around. I guess that was the only way to save the historic area.
We couldn't get to the west coast and not visit San Francisco. It's not our first time in SF but our first time in a long, long time. Here are some impressions and doings you won't find in the tourist brochures.
We walked across the Golden Gate bridge - which is touted in visitor information. It's 1.7 mile there (and 1.7 mile back). The bridge itself was an engineering marvel when it was opened in 1937. The view on the walk goes out to Alcatraz and the SF skyline. On a good day, you can see forever.
One of the signs I saw was the suicide prevention plaques. I was stunned enough to take a picture. As soon as I clicked, a police officer came up to me and asked what I was doing. I told him that I was surprised and took a picture.
"Are you all right?" He asked.
"What?? I'm just taking a picture."
"Well, sometimes people take pictures and send them to friends before they jump," he said.
Was he going to arrest me? Confiscate my phone?
"This is the second most frequent place for jumping," the cop added.
OK. I couldn't resist. "Where's the first place?" I asked.
"Somewhere in China."
We moved along. Instead of walking back, we walked into Sausalito in Marin County on a well-marked walking trail into the downtown area. After lunch and some sightseeing, we took a bus back to the city.
SF is very Asian, beyond the great Asian restaurants. You can see couples getting their photographs taken in various city locations a few days before they get married.
I don't know what the custom is called. The couple might spend a whole day in different places, followed by a photographer. Here's a couple getting the full photographic treatment at the Ferry Market.
Buses are sporting ads to visit Taiwan. The country has not traditionally been courting visitors but they seem to be doing it now.
We're leaving San Francisco - yeah I know and leaving our hearts there. Family Nature Summit is next. Yippee!
We spent last night in Independence, California in the Owens Valley. The arid valley is bordered by the Sierras to the east and the White Mountains to the west. We felt like the mountains were pressing on us.
Independence is a trail town for the Pacific Crest Trail. The town is a few miles north of Manzanar National Historic Site, where Japanese Americans were interned during World War II. The area was desolate, dry, and forgotten.
Here’s a bit of history, which you may legitimately have never learned in school. Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in December 1941. In February 1942, President Roosevelt signed an executive order, which forced Americans of Japanese ancestry living on the West Coast into internment camps. They were moved to one of ten relocation centers; Manzanar was one of them.
The site shows how the Japanese American families lived in barracks and tried to make a life surrounded by barbed wire. They had little privacy and ate in mess halls. But in the three years they were there, the internees created schools and play areas for their children. They built gardens, organized baseball teams and social clubs, and published a newspaper.
The park service created a 3.5-mile loop, which took us to a couple of barracks, rock gardens, and the cemetery. Most of the other facilities are long gone. All that’s left are signs for the baseball fields, hospital, and temple. Unfortunately, the adults in the camp felt shame for being interned. It took the next generation to bring this period of history out in the open and to eventually save the land. It became a national park site in 1992.
The visitor center explains Manzanar much better than the outdoor site. My big question is how the families regained their lives after they were free to leave. It wasn't easy because they had only a couple of weeks to dispose of their farms, houses, and businesses. They lost everything and had to start over again. Groups like the Quakers and Japanese American groups outside the west coast helped families relocate and rebuild their lives.
When we told people, both tourists and locals, that we were visiting Manzanar, they praised us. I thought that was weird. Maybe the historic site is not as appreciated as it should be.
All good things must come to an end.
Our national park travels are over. We’re now heading for San Francisco for a couple of days. I probably won’t blog about going to Chinatown or Fisherman’s Wharf or visiting relatives - fun but tourist stuff. Then our granddaughter will join us for our yearly Family Nature Summit adventures. Stay tuned for that.
It was 115 degrees at the Death Valley National Park Visitor Center when we arrived yesterday at 4 pm. I cannot comprehend this temperature but we’re in it.
Death Valley is a park of superlatives. It’s had the highest recorded temperature in the world; 134 degrees was the record. It also has the lowest altitude in the Western Hemisphere, 282 feet below sea level at Badwater, called that because the water, so precious here, is salty.
The park is huge and encompasses mountains but the attractions most want to see at low altitude. We headed to Zabriskie Point (picture on right) at about 6:30 am but the sun was already up and shining. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because it was the title of a movie in 1970. You climb up to a viewpoint, to a vista of fanciful rocks.
The desert is full of colors and textures. Artist’s Palette is a one-way drive, which shows off the various colors of the rock and sand. It’s been described as an ice cream truck that’s been overturned: turquoise, pink, light green, brown, and black.
By 9 am, we travel with the car air conditioner on full blast. We’ve been taking short walks to vistas and into canyons, always with water and Gatorade within reach. The heat is exhausting, yet we’re not getting much exercise. In fact, the park discourages any hiking and doesn’t give out information on hikes during the summer.
The park was part of the gold rush. But it’s Borax that seems to have been the most successful. Remember 20-mule Borax? The mules were needed to get the borax out of Death Valley and to market.
But the commercial success within Death Valley was short-lived. The Borax people realized that the “gold” was in tourism. They built and expanded tourist facilities and pushed for the area to become a park.
In 1933, Death Valley National Monument was established. It expanded and became a national park in 1994.
We’re staying in Furnace Creek Ranch, in the middle of the park. The land is an inholding, which means that it’s private land surrounded by the park. In the middle of the desert, they have a golf course, tennis courts, and a huge swimming pool. The park attracts lots of international visitors. I’ve heard French, Italian, German, and British accents around the pool and at park vistas.
In the 1920s, the area also attracted a millionaire couple who built Death Valley Ranch as a vacation home. Think of it as Biltmore estate in the desert. They were friends with “Death Valley Scotty”, a con man who ended up living out his life at the opulent ranch. The park service now owns the home and gives tours.
I’m climbing up to Navajo Knobs in Capitol Reef National Park and I can hear – nothing. There’s no sound other than the sounds that I’m making with my breath, footsteps, and the clatter of my hiking poles on rocks. The few birds that might be flying haven’t woken up yet. I stop to listen to - nothing.
This morning, Lenny decided to take a zero day, an expression used by Appalachian Trail hikers for staying put for the day. I took the opportunity to hike to what I thought would be a challenging destination - 9 miles, 2,000 feet of ascent and rocky footing.
I got to the trailhead at about 7 am to find three young men putting a tent away. They had camped illegally in the parking area. A park maintenance man came to fix a bathroom lock. The first thing he did was to put his park radio on the back of his truck in full view of the young men. What a cool move. The concrete campers moved off in a hurry.
I was on my own. The climb was gentle and most importantly for me, the trail was well marked. Cairns were spaced out so I could see the next cairn before I left the previous one. The views of the multi-colored rocks formations and the canyons below were mesmerizing. After about two miles, I reached Rim Overlook, a destination of its own for many. But it was only 8:30 am and no one was there.
I expected stronger hikes to overtake me long before now. The trail continued by alternating between dirt and rocks. Unlike my previous experiences, only my feet were involved. I didn’t need to grab a bush or slide on my behind. The next section to Navajo Knob wasn’t any harder, but it had some downhill sections. It killed me to give up the altitude.
I reached Navajo Knobs at 10 am and scrambled on the knobs. The view seemed so limitless that it seemed pointless to take picture after picture of the scenery. But see the top picture.
I tried to take a “selfie” which in my exuberance I posted on Facebook. I looked terrible with my hair all knotted up and more wrinkles than the proverbial prune. But OK, I also felt proud as well.
It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a long hike by myself in an area I know nothing about. I figured that with a map, a compass, and a maintained trail in a National Park, I’d be fine. But I did think that more people would be on this trail. It wasn’t until I was almost down back to Rim Overlook that I saw a young couple climbing up. “The trail is perfect,” I said.
When I got back to my car, the parking lot was full of cars. Presumably, these hikers had all gone to Hickman Bridge, the one-miler I did yesterday. I went to the visitor center to let the ranger know about their perfect trail. It’s important to let know that people walk these trails. And I dropped some money into the park collection box. That’s important as well.
If Capitol Reef National Park is the distant relative. Though it's just a couple of hours away from Moab, it could be across the country. Only 663,670 visitors came in 2013 as compared to 1,082,866 in Arches but more than Canyonlands (462,242 visitors).was the country cousin to , then
The park is defined by a “waterpocket fold,” basically a long warp of rocks. It’s as if the earth buckled and created canyons, spires, domes and a jumble of rocks. Somewhere in there, a river runs through all this stone. Look at the picture above. It's like they forgot to paint the rest of the rock.
Explorers and outlaws, including supposedly Butch Cassidy, came through here. The first settlers were a small group of Mormons who called their community Fruita for the fruit orchards. The orchards are still here and the park service maintains the fruit trees. You can buy pies made from the Capitol Reef fruit but they aren’t baked here.
Capitol Reef became a national monument in 1937 and a national park in 1971. By then, the last Fruita residents had left the canyon.
Today, Lenny and I put together three hikes for a total of 10 miles. Three separate hikes, with some driving in between, gets me a lot more tired than one hike of the same distance. But we’re trying to see the “top of the pops,” which in this park means short trail.
Chimney Rock Trail, a 3.5 miles lollipop, took us up to see the Rock. Unlike Chimney Rock State Park in North Carolina, no one was offering an elevator with a gift shop on top.
Hickman Bridge Trail, a two-mile out and back, is probably the most popular trail. The bridge, as I’m ashamed to say I found out only when I got there, was a natural bridge, an arch. We had our picture taken, probably the last time we’ll have our photo taken on a trail this trip.
Last but definitely not least, we walked into a canyon. The trail, Grand Wash, went through part of the pocket fold with sheer cliffs on each side.
By the early afternoon, it was hot and windy. The wind seems to pick up about 2 pm and you really have to hold on to your hat. Sand blows hard; everything I own is now gritty. It’s just part of living here, I guess.
We’ve hiked our last trail in Arches National Park. How can I describe Arches in a way that hasn’t been said before? Overwhelming, awesome, amazing. I think I’ve used these adjectives over and over again.
From Moab, we drove into the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands National Park. The two parks, Arches and Canyonlands, are always mentioned together.
But where Arches is easy, accessible, sometimes crowded, and has lots of short hikes to destinations that are easy to appreciate, Canyonlands is rugged.
Yes, this is a national park but I think of Canyonlands as the country cousin to Arches: big with many rough trails and few amenities. You even need to bring your own water since there’s none in the visitor center.
Canyonlands is divided into four sections. We visited the Needles area on our way to Moab. Island in the Sky, the main section, offers views into the Green and Colorado River. We hiked down into a canyon on the Neck Spring loop. This part of Island in the Sky attracted ranchers in the 19th century because it has several springs. Water is always the issue here.
On a Sunday morning, we didn't see another person on the Neck Spring Loop trail.
Hiking in Arches and Canyonlands is difficult. We’ve yet to do a hike of more than eight miles. The challenge isn’t the elevation gain; it’s the rocky terrain. Lenny and I have been spoiled by Smokies trails for so long that we’re finding the hiking tough.
The barren rock called slick makes up a sizeable part of any trail here. Sometimes, if it’s a tourist trail, the park will have installed a few rock steps. When it’s not rock, it’s sand, almost like on a beach. Couple all those challenges with the sun and heat and you have two slow hikers.
But the views are like nothing else I’ve seen. We’ve walked into canyons and on the rim, looking down onto rocky structures that can’t be explained.
But it’s not all distant views. Right now, prickly pear cactus, both yellow and pink, is in bloom. There’s Indian paintbrush, blue, pink and lavender asters and a whole slew of flowers that I can only admire but not identify. Lizards that scurry to get out from under our feet are as colorful as the flowers.
Goodbye as well to Moab, Utah. It’s time to move on.
Arches National Park is not the Smokies.
Well, that’s obvious, you might say. Arches protects the incredible arches and sandstone sculptures unique to this park. It offers 20 to 25 miles of hiking trail as compared to over 800 miles of trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, all its trails are described in the free pamphlet they give out at the fee station. There’s no need to buy Hiking Trails of the Smokies for this park.
Did I say, Fee? Of course. The Smokies is the only major national park without an entrance fee. To get into Arches, you pay $10 a car unless you have a pass. Not much diversity either. I already know all the common trees in the Southwest--juniper, pinion pines, and gambel oak.
Today, we hiked Devils Garden Trail, 7.2 miles, the longest trail in the park, with only 750 feet of altitude gain. But it took us five and a half hours because of the challenging terrain. The first short section to Landscape Arch was easy. Most visitors must stop here.
We continued on what the park describes as a “semi-primitive trail” but the 50 cents map didn’t explain was that meant. All of the sudden the nice, wide trail turned into a rock climb. At every step, I had to decide where to put my feet, my hands, my butt, and my hiking poles. We followed the crowd and got to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch. I was upset to see that a group of teenagers led by a disinterested leader tried to climb the walls of the arch to get better pictures.
The trail got worse. People wandered all over the rocks since there were no cairns. A young family convinced us that we had to slide down or jump down to get over the folds in the rock. Lenny decided that it wasn’t for him and I followed. As I turned around, I noted Double O arch and a nice trail to reach it. Where was the sign? Every other arch has a sign. We quickly followed the trail to Double O arch.
There we found a sign to Dark Angel on a trail designated Primitive. I don’t understand their trail categories. The trail was perfectly defined with cairns. On the way back, we had a choice to go back the same way and fight the ups and downs of the rocks or take a loop on a primitive trail of unknown quality. In this case, the devil we didn’t know was a better choice. Again, the cairns were well placed and easy to follow.
By midday, the sun was brutal. The wind picked up and I just couldn’t keep my hat on. I walked without any protection on my head. It’s a good thing I had plenty of water.
Lots more arches to discover in this park.
The town is like Taos, NM on steroids or Gatlinburg, TN with more pretense and more parking spaces.
For 5,100 people, Moab is jumping. So is Arches NP. This is the first place on our trip that felt crowded. Though Arches get just over a million visitors, they’re concentrated in a few months out of the year. In contrast, the Smokies gets almost ten million visitors, but they come almost all year round.
We walked up Delicate Arch this morning. Nature sculpted the red sandstone into arches, windows, turrets, giants and monsters. I didn’t know where to look first and how much to photograph. It was overwhelming. Over 2,000 arches have been documented. I don’t know if they all have names.
This three-mile round trip hike might be the most popular in Arches. Delicate Arch is on the Utah license place.Though we got to the trailhead at 8:15 am, we were hardly the first people there. The signs warned visitors that the climb was steep and rocky and to take at least a quart of water.
I don’t know if there’s such a thing as hiking studies but I’ve noted a phenomenon which I could graph. On short, popular hikes such as on Delicate Arch, I’ve noticed how adults prepare for a hike, based on their ages.
20 year old – no water, no pack, no hat much of the time. “Go light, go fast,” one fellow told me. But they all have good walking shoes
30 year old – a bottle of water in one hand, a camera in the other
40 year old – The man carries a small pack. The woman carries just a camera in her hand.
50 year old – Everyone carries their own packs.
60 ++ - pack, hiking poles, good boots. We’re prepared.
Of course, there are exceptions. In statistics, they’re called outliers.
I also noticed shoes. Most visitors wear sneakers. Some attempted the hike to Delicate Arch in sandals or flip-flops. That’s their prerogative. But when I see families where the parents and son have sneakers and daughter has sandals, I see red. That’s hiking child abuse.
We also climbed to Double Arch and several other formations. You could spend days here finding different arches and photographing them.