July 30, 2004

Glacier National Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , at 3:22 pm by diandy2004

Our first view of Glacier National Park, coming in from the west, was not dramatic. We expected lots of “ooohhs” and “aaaahs” upon our first sighting of the park. We saw lots of trees and a lake and in the distance a haze-shrouded mountain range. Don’t let first impressions shadow your last impression, however. Our final impression of Glacier?  Awesome.  This rare haze we saw on entering the park was not from air-pollution as we first suspected, but was smoke from fires somewhere in Canada.

The color of the water from these glacial lakes is an incredible blue-green and its clarity is crystal clear.

Cool Blues of Glacier

Cool Blues of Glacier

The mountains, most reaching 8,000-10,000 feet, are artistically painted with green forests, colorful rocks and white snow fields and are so tightly knitted that you don’t know where one stops and another peak starts.

Sun Rays on the Drive

Sun Rays on Going to the Sun Road

One rim which caught our attention is called the Garden Wall. It has windows carved into its narrow glacier-carved ridgeline. One of our first long hikes was along this Wall on a trail called the Highline Trail. Then we took the Grinnell Glacier Overlook spur trail that put us literally on top of the Garden Wall so we could look down both sides of the ridge. On one side we could see not just the Grinnell Glacier, but Salamander Glacier as well. (One thing we learned here in Glacier is that they have projected that all of the glaciers will have melted away by 2030 – so you better go soon!) Even though this spur trail was only 1.5 miles round-trip, it was a killer. 800’ elevation change in .75 miles on shale. Going down is no easier. The views were worth it, though.

Garden Wall

Garden Wall

At the Top

At the Top

Glaciers

Glaciers

Unfortunately we were minutes away from seeing three wolverines – hikers right in front of us got to see them, but they were gone by the time we reached the summit. What a rare sighting – good for them! Apparently if you are going to see wolverines in the US, it will probably only be in Glacier. We did get to see mountain goats, with some kids who had half-inch long stubs as horns.

Hiking with Mountain Goats

Hiking with Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats on Trail

Mountain Goats on Trail

After passing by the Hikers Chalet (a backcountry lodge), we entered a burnt-out area of the forest from a 2003 fire. What’s interesting in a burn is the patterns fire creates in the trees. You could see distinct lines where the fire burnt black, charred trees then a brief line of red damaged pines, and then green life. In other areas, when looking down from above, you can see swirling patterns of black burned into the green. When close-up, you see how the bark becomes charred into an alligator-skin pattern. Life is slowly coming back. The ferns and wildflowers were starting to come up.

Fire Patterns

Fire Patterns

At the end of this one-way hike, Diane had to hitchhike back to our car at the other end (this was her penalty for picking this hike). Luckily, 5 other hikers were able to fit in the bed of the pick-up truck with her – so no fear of disappearing forever 😉

After two nights on the west side we drove to St Mary on the east side. Now, Glacier is a Wilderness Area, so there is only one road that bisects the park – Going to the Sun Road – which cannot accommodate RVs. Heck, with the construction zones it was hard enough to squeeze the Element through some of these barricades. The Going to the Sun Road is a beautiful drive, but if you’re afraid of heights, be warned. The road is narrow (a Suburban touches both yellow and white lines), it is a drop-off on one side and rocks stick out of the wall on the other which made me nervous our kayaks were going to get a chunk removed while driving the inside lane. The road was crumbling in spots and the low 2’ high guard-wall was missing in sections.  With all of the snow they get in the winter, they have to use dynamite to move snow and re-survey before plowing. No wonder their roads are in the shape they are in.

Going to the Sun Road

Going to the Sun Road

So, for us to get to the east-side, we had to drive Hwy 2 around the southern end of the park. This was a 99-mile drive versus the 52-mile long Going to the Sun Road. But it was worth it. Driving in from the east side had us ooohing and aaahing. The mountains are much closer and at the base are the rolling, open pastures you might picture when thinking “Montana”. East of Glacier is all Blackfeet Reservation, which is probably why it is still so open and natural.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier

Glacier

Glacier

Glacier

Our initial plan was to spend a couple of nights touring the St Mary and Many Glacier areas, and then spending a few nights at Two Medicine before heading out. But the challenge with Glacier is that to really see it, you must hoof it. So we decided to leave Two Medicine for another trip in order to better see St Mary and Many Glacier.

Many Glacier Hotel

Many Glacier Hotel

Many of the recommended hikes were 10+ miles long, and our bodies aren’t used to back-to-back hiking like this. We were still recovering from the 13-mile Highline Trail when we did the 10-mile Iceberg Lake trail. This hike, obviously, takes you to a lake studded with icebergs of varying sizes – from hand-size to car-size. We ate lunch lake-side and watched the icebergs slowly move around the lake. The amphitheater shaped mountain wrapping around the lake cast its reflections onto the water. We had to feel the water which was, of course, ice cold. Even the air temperature had dropped over 10 degrees just being on the edge of the lake. The rest of the trail was just as memorable though for its wildflowers. The wildflowers blooming in Glacier are a mix of three regions: the northwest, the plains, and Canada – each reaching their most extended ranges. They were as varied as they were abundant.

Hiking Glacier

Hike to Iceberg Lake

Icebergs

Icebergs

After a Ranger Talk that evening we walked back to the campground (only ¼ mile from the Visitor’s Center) only to see a Grizzly bear walk out of 12’ high shrubs onto the path about 25’ in front of us. He took one look at us and ran down the path, thankfully away from us. Here we’ve been looking for bears on hikes, clapping our hands, making noises and doing all the right things – and one pops up on us near buildings and people. Well, we started making lots of noise after that. We stayed on the bridge near camp talking with people and had another exciting sighting – a beaver swam under the bridge where we were standing. We were so close and the water so clear that we could see his hind feet pushing off the rocks to propel himself forward – walking more than swimming along the bottom. Our first beaver, and a close-up at that.

Our legs are beat, so we decide to take a day off from “hiking”. So we walked four miles and took a 2 ½ hour horse-back ride. Ok, so that wasn’t much of a day-off for our legs. The horse-back ride was out on Blackfeet land with the Montana Ranch Adventures. We chose them because their motto is “Real Cowboys Don’t Ride Nose-to-Tail”, and of course we are real cowboys (or want to be). What fun! It was Andy, Diane, and Brian our Blackfeet guide. We got to trot and lope (maybe not so gracefully for Diane, but Andy looked great). The backdrop along most of our vistas was Glacier’s mountain range. We rode through Aspen forests and cattle pastures, disturbing a few along the way. Brian talked to us about the trees, plants, cattle, mountains, Blackfeet lore and current issues. We’d highly recommend them.

Horseback Riding Glacier

Horseback Riding Glacier

Horseback Riding Glacier

Horseback Riding Glacier

Andy's Horse Happy to be Home

Andy's Horse Happy to be Home

Our last big hike was up and over Siyeh Pass. About 10 ½ miles starting at Siyeh Creek, up to the Pass, and down to Sunrift Gorge. Elevation change on way up was 2240’, and on the way down it was 3440’. Another beautiful hike. I’m starting to doubt there are any bad ones here in Glacier. We did this one with a park ranger – there were seven of us total on this hike. We ate lunch at the Pass, which made you feel like you were on top of the world – so many mountain peaks at eye level – just awesome. We saw two glaciers, several snow-fields, threw a few snow balls, too many waterfalls to count, glacial lakes and glacier-carved valleys. Learned about the rocks in Glacier, wildflowers, how to identify bear scratchings and diggings, about other animals, and whatever other questions we peppered Ranger Richard with during this seven-hour hike.

Ranger-led Tour

Ranger-led Tour

Hiking Pass

Hiking Siyeh Pass

Reaching the Summit

Reaching the Summit

Glacier is now ranking high on our list of National Parks. We’ll place it on our list of parks to re-visit.

Advertisements

July 2, 2004

Yellowstone National Park

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 2:44 pm by diandy2004

Comparing Grand Teton to Yellowstone… I would have to say that Grand Teton’s primary highlight is the mountain ranges.  Because from almost every point in the valley, you can see the mountains. And Yellowstone is more about animal close-ups, the rivers, the lakes, and (of course) geysers. Even though they are so close geographically, the two parks are very different. Yellowstone is much larger at 2.2 million acres (GT has just under 310,000), therefore requiring a lot of driving to see the different sections of the park. We tackled several areas within the 6 days we were there even with one road being closed for construction and another had delays for repairs.

We saw several geysers spout: Echinus was early; Castle was about 5 hours late (no we weren’t waiting for five hours, we just got lucky); and Old Faithful was right on time. Castle was our favorite though with water spouting and a good steam show lasting over 40 minutes.

Old Faithful

Old Faithful

Castle Geyser

Castle Geyser

The steamy fumaroles and steam vents made belching, hissing, groaning, or crackling sounds.

Doublet Pool

Doublet Pool

Riverside Geyser

Riverside Geyser

Several of the springs were so colorful with different bacteria or minerals they looked like emerald pools surrounded by green, orange, or bright-white rivers.

Imperial Geyser's Bacteria Adds Color

Imperial Geyser's Bacteria Adds Color

One of the rangers who has been there for 33 summers, explained some of the changes that he has seen over the years. Because of tectonic plates shifting, earthquakes, human intervention, etc these geysers and other thermal features die off, are born anew, or move several feet over time. He even joked that someday Yellowstone will be in South Dakota because of how things are shifting.

Another attraction at Yellowstone is the Canyon in the northeast section of the park. We took a hike in the area south of the Canyon. We started through meadows, then woods, then past some thermal features, before we came upon the Canyon just east of Artist Point. Wow. At that moment, I wished I could paint. Pinks, oranges, and a variety of other colors all splashed on yellow stone. Then I got it – “Yellowstone”. Never thought about why they called this park “Yellowstone” until I saw this yellow canyon. Ah, you learn something new everyday. Finishing the hike along the South Rim Trail we passed by both waterfalls along the way. Andy had thought we could kayak Yellowstone River until he saw these powerful falls. Lower Falls is 308 ft high, and Upper Falls is 109 ft high.

Yellstone Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Canyon

Yellowstone Canyon

Lower Falls

Lower Falls of Yellowstone

Over the week, we visited several different geyser basins; Tower/Roosevelt area for a hike; Canyon for the hike described above; and then we got sick of driving. The day before we left, we agreed to stay local to our campground at Fishing Bridge and do some different hikes in that area. One trail was closed for dangerous bear activity (we later found out that there was a carcass on the trail that a bear was feeding on) and another trail nearby had a bear warning. We’ve been practicing the bear-country hiking tactics: talking loudly, clapping, snapping fingers, and carrying bear-spray, so we’ve felt rather comfortable during our hikes, but it is still unnerving. We’ve only seen two bears so far – one in Teton, one in Yellowstone – both from the car. We love seeing wildlife – but a bear is best when seen at a distance! The wildlife viewing was exceptional here in Yellowstone – more bison and bison babies than you can count; elks of all shapes and sizes, two bald eagles, many White American Pelicans, marmots, one badger with a kill, and more. Bison and elk had a tendency to come close to the road, so they were easy photo-ops. No moose though. The fires from 1988 destroyed most of their habitat, so the moose have moved out of Yellowstone. Only about 800 of them are left there.

Bison by the Boardwalk

Bison by the Boardwalk

Bison Grazing Roadside

Bison Grazing Roadside

Elk Grazing

Elk Grazing

Effects of 1988 Fire - Nature's Pick-Up Stix

Effects of 1988 Fire - Nature's Pick-Up Stix

I would like to try and re-visit Yellowstone someday when there is snow on the ground.  What a contrast that would be to see the geysers with snow.  Also, it was pretty crowded during this trip (not unexpected), which caused us to miss many overlooks on the scenic drive along the north rim of the canyon and other areas because the parking lots were full.  Some areas supposedly had you hiking on the roads, too, but we wouldn’t dare do that with the amount of traffic.  Too dangerous since most tourists are too busy looking around then at the road.

Side notes:    On any future visits, I’d consider moving our campsite periodically instead of doing so many long distance daytrips.  It was the driving back and forth that wore us out after a week.  FYI:  it rained almost every day during our week-long visit.

June 27, 2004

Jackson, WY – Grand Tetons

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 2:42 pm by diandy2004

The drive from Manila, UT (Flaming Gorge) to Grand Teton National Park was another long travel day. It was about 285 miles and took about 6 hours. I finally got to show Andy how hard it is to be a passenger during these long rides.

Grand Teton is a beautiful park. The Teton Range lines the west side of the park with its black, jagged, snow-capped mountains. The valley is mostly sagebrush, but there are the Snake River and lodgepole pine forests as well. The animals that you can see in this park are incredible. Most are distant observations (so bring the binos), but occasionally you’ll see one up-close. We’ve seen lots of elk, mule deer, bison, moose, and pronghorn antelope. Then there are the squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, pikas, birds, hawks, and more. We’ve even gotten to see some babies.

View of the Tetons

View of the Tetons

Evidence of the Drought

Evidence of the Drought - Colter Bay

The Grand Tetons

The Grand Tetons

Mist Blankets the Valley

Mist Blankets the Valley

We were lucky enough to spot this bear from our car!

Black Bear in Woods

Black Bear in Woods - Near Signal Mtn

One day we took a long hike, 11 ½ miles up Cascade Canyon and into the South Fork. On this hike we ‘ran into’ one moose that preferred using the trail. When the legs of the animal are as tall as you, you give that animal the right-of-way. This hike took us to the western side of Grand Teton. We looked for climbers since this is supposed to be a popular route, but we couldn’t see them. Even though this mountain is “only” 13,770 ft high, it appears to be a formidable mountain. Can’t explain why. Perhaps it was the jagged peaks, or the black rock, or the clouds that settled on its point, or the snow and scree slopes, or a combination of all of these. We took a break at our turnaround point and just admired the mountains around us. One waterfall was fascinating because you could see it where it melts away the snow in pockets. So it would be visible, then disappear under the snow, then reappear, etc.

Baby Moose on the Trail

Baby Moose on the Trail

Hiking Cascade Trail

Hiking Cascade Trail

Hiking South Cascade Fork

Hiking South Cascade Fork

On another day we went biking. We rode our mountain bikes in the morning on a jeep road to Two Oceans Lake.  A nice rolling terrain through woods and past meadows to the lake for some birdwatching.  Then in the afternoon we went to Jackson, WY and rode our road-bikes on a paved pathway they have through town. The town of Jackson (a.k.a. Jackson Hole) is a neat town with lots of touristy shops, a microbrewery, and an elk refuge. We’re lucky to be here in June because the wildflowers are blooming. The wildflowers are so beautiful with all the colors in the rainbow. The bike path was lined with wildflowers. Unfortunately, it did hail on us that day we rode our bikes. The storms here are powerful. Thunder, lightning, hail, rain, winds, fast-moving…we thought Florida was bad in the summer. During one of these storms a little bird was trying to fly across the road. He was flapping his wings so hard, but he wasn’t moving an inch. Andy had to cross into the other lane to avoid hitting the poor thing! When we passed by, the bird stopped flapping and was blown backwards several yards. (Andy thought that scene reminded him of me kayaking in that terrible storm a couple years ago.)

Checking out the Wildflowers

Checking out the Wildflowers

We also went kayaking on String Lake one day. Actually we put-in at String Lake and then paddled north to a portage point that crosses over to Leigh Lake. The portage was about a quarter-mile in length – we felt sorry for those who were canoe-camping and had tons of gear and several trips to make. It’s amazing to us Floridians to be paddling next to snow-covered mountains. The water was cold, the air was chilly, but the sun was incredibly hot. So as long as the sun wasn’t behind clouds we were comfortable with the temperature. It was very peaceful paddling since no motorboats are permitted on these lakes.

Kayaking

Kayaking Leigh Lake

We’re almost sad to leave Grand Teton, but we were able to see a lot of the park.  We’ll definitely re-visit this park.  Loved it.

March 6, 2004

Texas – Sonora, Big Bend, and Davis Mtns

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 3:54 pm by diandy2004

Caving in Sonora Caverns was fabulous – if you like crawling on your belly, through tight holes, rappelling into pitch-black pits, and just getting dirty.  We spent 5 hours on a personal tour.  Just Andy, myself and Bill the guide.  However, it just strengthened our understanding that our navigation is horrible!  We would never be able to find our way out if it was just us.  Now that we’ve been to several caves (FL, TX, NM, AZ), we still think Sonora was our favorite – it was small and intimate and very pristine.  You could get close to the formations – but no touching allowed of course!  Sections of the cave reminded me of the coral reefs when we’re diving – delicate and beautiful.

Andy Caving in Sonora

Andy Caving in Sonora

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

Diane Rappelling into the Pit

At the End of our Adventure

At the End of our Adventure

Just to note, in Sonora we had a hailstorm and snowstorm in the two nights we were there, but the caves were a wonderful, humid 72 degrees.  We camped right at the Caverns, which was very convenient.  This allowed us to do a general tour of the ‘main’ cave the day we arrived before joining Bill for our private wild cave tour – “Adventure Level III” – the following day.

From Sonora, we drove straight to Big Bend Nat’l Park in southwest Texas.  As far south as you can go without crossing into Mexico.  Most people haven’t heard of it, which is part of it’s beauty.  Plus, it’s not easy to get to.  It’s on the border of Mexico, just on our side of the Rio Grande River.  I have one word to say about Big Bend – “go”.  Visit it!  It’s beautiful – desert, mountains, canyons, and river.  What else could you want?  We hiked and biked and kayaked.  Well, if you can call it kayaking…the Rio Grande isn’t what it used to be due to agricultural usage and damming up north.  It was only several inches deep in spots, even too shallow for our ‘yaks.  Pushing off the bottom with our paddles and portaging over rocky shoals was required, but it was all worth it for the views from within Santa Elena Canyon.

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking the Rio Grande

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

Kayaking Santa Elena Canyon

We’re learning a lot about desert-life: animals, plants, and how much cactus can hurt 🙂 About 10 minutes after Andy complained on a hike about carrying a daypack that had extra clothes, food/water, and a first-aid kit in it while other hikers had nothing, I kicked up a broken branch from a cactus and the barbed spine(s) dug into my calf. So, note-to-self: keep carrying emergency supplies, you never know when you’ll need them.

Javelinas in the park

Javelinas in the park

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

Hiking Big Bend

View of Big Bend and Campground

View of Big Bend and Campground

Biking in the park was also very fun.  We almost went as fast as the cars on this unpaved road.

Biking Big Bend

Biking Big Bend

Exploring during a Bike Ride

Exploring during a Bike Ride

And you can also enjoy the hot spring right next to the Rio Grande.  Just be prepared for solicitors crossing the river to sell you their goods.

Big Bend Hot Springs

Big Bend Hot Springs

Our final stop in Texas was the Davis Mountains State Park and Fort Davis.  We also toured McDonald Observatory. Twenty-forty mph winds kept us from enjoying more of the area, so we’ll just have to re-visit this area another time.

More of our “Firsts”:  awesome animal sightings:  Javelinas, Pronghorns, Canyon Wren, and more; my first tumbleweed; having to rely on payphones to make phone calls due to lack of cell service.