Saturday, November 24, 2012

Top 5 National Parks - #2 Zion

Zion National are truly amazing! This post felt a bit daunting to start, because I've visited this park twice and done nearly everything a person could do there. This post could end up being super long with details of each day hike and backpacking trip, but I don't really want to go that route. Instead I'll just give a brief description of the hikes we did, favorite part of the hike, and share some pictures. One disclaimer, my first $90 point and shoot camera was all I had with me on my first trip to Zion, so I could only find a couple pictures I felt comfortable sharing!

First, we went to the less visited Kolob Canyons area of Zion and I highly recommend this (if you are willing to backpack). This area also would be nice to just drive through, if you were up for a little scenic drive. We started a 3-day trip from Lee Pass Trailhead and saw very few people the entire time we were out on La Verkin Creek Trail. We camped very close to Kolob Arch (which was beautiful first thing in the morning with the sun shining on it) and then took a side trip down a slot canyon to a little waterfall (can't remember the name of the canyon and it isn't on the park map). This trip was most difficult at the end, coming back up from the canyon. Once in the canyon, it's pretty flat and gorgeous with the canyon walls all around you. Good spots for swimming too!

Our campsite along La Verkin Creek Trail. Great spot! 

Off the beaten path....down the slot canyon to the little waterfall.

One of the scariest hikes I've ever been on has to be Angel's Landing at Zion. If you google it, you'll find out that 6 people have fallen to their deaths in the last 8 years on this hike. I really can't believe I did it, given my fear of heights. It's not like climbing a mountain. It's walking along a narrow ( wrong step and you could fall straight down) ridge with 1200 foot drop on one side and 800 foot drop on the other. On top of that, way too many people who are not careful or experienced go up there, so you have to worry about them too! It's a challenging and terrifying 5 mile round trip hike, but the views are incredible and it's just unlike anything else you'll ever do. 

For people who want something a little easier and safer, check out the the 3 mile round trip Emerald Pools trail. Make sure you see the lower, middle, and upper pools. You don't get any views from high up on this hike, but it's still beautiful and (depending on the time of year) you'll encounter some waterfalls too. 

Upper Emerald Pool Reflection

Probably the most well known hike at Zion National Park is The Narrows. I didn't do the Narrows on my first visit because I wanted to wait for Allyson to do it with me. I'm glad I did. It was an awesome day exploring the slot canyon. You have to do this if you go to Zion. You don't have to go very far to appreciate it, but you do have to go early in the morning and far out to escape the crowds. Thankfully, we went early in the morning and saw few people, but coming back in the afternoon we battled lots of families towards the beginning of the hike. You walk right through the river, so I recommend a pair of old running shoes that you don't mind ruining and a hiking pole/stick if you have one. 

Another classic hike in Zion National Park is Observation Point. This is a fairly strenuous hike, especially on hot summer days. You are in the sun a lot of the hike so bring plenty of water and sunscreen for the hike. It's 8 miles round trip and you will experience hiking across awesome rocks and through slot canyons while ending up with probably the best view in the park. It's worth the view! 

Echo Canyon on the way to Observation Point

View from the top

This park has a great shuttle that drives everyone from the visitor center all the way through the valley to The Narrows with stops along the way. For people who can't hike, it is still worth taking the shuttle through the park. For those that want to hike, there's a hike here for everyone! 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Top 5 US National Parks - #3 Grand Teton

Before moving down to LA from the Bay Area to begin my Master of Public Health program at UCLA, Allyson and I decided to take a road trip for almost a month (July 16 through August 9, 2009). We traveled through 7 states, including California, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Washington, and Oregon. We visited 4 national parks, including Grand Teton, Yellowstone, Glacier, and Crater Lake. On top of that, we were in multiple national forests and state parks (including Mt. Hood National Forest and Moran State Park). Needless to say, we finished this trip with many road and trail miles under our belts, pint glasses from many breweries we hit up along the way, and many, many wonderful memories (and a few not-so-great memories like our car not starting in Glacier National Park with no cell phone reception). Grand Teton National Park was the first one on our trip, and it might have been my favorite. We saw a lot of this park, but there is so much more to see. I definitely hope we can make another trip back there some day!

We arrived in Grand Teton National Park mid-day and checked into our campsite at Gros Ventre campground. I highly recommend this campground if you don't want super crowded. Also, you can walk a little way through the trees, right from your campsite, to the Gros Ventre River. Yes, it's cold. But it was so fantastic to rinse off after a couple days of driving.

The first of many bison we saw right from the car!

Our original plan had been to do the Cascade Canyon/Paintbrush Divide Loop, but some of the higher elevation parts of the loop were still completely snowed in. Without the proper equipment, we didn't feel prepared to tackle the snow. Instead we planned to hike up Cascade Canyon Trail, first head north to Lake Solitude (9.4 miles), then head back the other way going south to Hurricane Pass (8.3 miles), and eventually head back out Cascade Canyon (12.3 miles). 

On Day 1, we started off at String Lake Trailhead, and worked our way through a burned forest along the shores of Jenny Lake to Hidden Falls (about 2.2 miles) and Inspiration Point. Many tourists take a shuttle boat across the lake, and then it's a very short hike to the falls. Therefore, the falls are busier than most backpackers would like. We got there pretty early in the day, so it wasn't too bad. 

Hidden Falls

Jenny Lake from Inspiration Point

All of Cascade Canyon is breathtaking, with lots of great spots to stop for lunch. Below is where we stopped for lunch. We walked to a little sand bar in the middle of the river to sit and eat lunch. After lunch, we continued up the trail and then headed north on North Fork Cascade Trail. 

Our lunch spot along Cascade Canyon Trail

Lake Solitude (elevation 9035 ft)

 Chillin at our campsite in the North Fork Cascade camping zone

 Pica! We could hear these little guys the whole time we were hiking on the North Fork Trail.

 On Day 2, we took North Fork Cascade Trail back the way we came and then continued onto South Fork Cascade Trail. We got all the way to Hurricane Pass, but then it was pretty snowed in. We found the most incredible campsite that I think I've ever seen at the edge of a cliff at about 10,000 ft elevation and then took our packs off and explored the area a bit.

When we got back to the site, the sky had completely changed and we started hearing thunder. This may have been the most terrifying night of my life. Yes, our campsite was awesome because we were right at the edge of a cliff and could see views in all directions. And yes, our campsite was really not the best place to be during a thunderstorm (there were even a couple of trees on the site that showed evidence of previous lightning strikes.) We hid in our tents for the rest of the night. Me with my eyes closed tight and trying to follow conflicting instructions I'd heard about what to do in a lightning storm. Allyson with her eyes wide open watching the tent light up from every direction and praying that we didn't get struck. I can't really tell you when the storm finally passed because it felt like I was freaking out in the tent for days. However, we made it and the next day was as beautiful as the last.


A storm's a brewin'

Glacier Lily

After the backpacking trip, we ended up getting a campsite at Colter Bay Village. This was basically like Disneyland. It wasn't bad because we were so tired, it was nice to get a shower and eat some real food at the little restaurant there. However, it's always hard to be back around that many people after seeing so few for a few days. 

The next day, we wanted to take it easy but also make the most of our last day in the Grand Tetons. We got up early and hit up a few spots that are considered "must photograph" spots. At the time, I only had my $100 point and shoot camera. Even with that, you can see why these are deemed great photograph locations.

Schwabacher's Landing

Snake River Overlook (If this looks familiar, Ansel Adams took his famous photograph from this exact location!)

Before heading up to Yellowstone later that day, we took the moderate 6.4 mile Two Ocean Lakes hike. It didn't feel that moderate being as tired as we were, but the views were outstanding and the wildflowers were absolutely incredible (as were the bugs). 

Up Next: Zion National Park (#2) and Joshua Tree National Park (#1 because it's where everything started with Allyson and me and there is just something completely unique and special about this place!)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Top 5 US National Parks - #4 Sequoia National Park

I really should not have made this a top 5 list. I keep thinking of additional national parks that I would like to include. Also, there are some parks, like Yosemite, that I haven't taken pictures in for a very long time but still rank up there as possible favorites. However, I do have pictures from the trip Allyson and I recently (well, two years ago now) took to Yosemite's neighbor, Sequoia National Park. It was a short weekend trip, so we planned on just camping and doing some day hikes. We got there on Friday night, and all the campgrounds were full. They directed us to a road way north of the entrance (I think it was the road you take to Big Meadows campground, but I can't be sure) where you can just pull over and camp. Because we got there so late and it was pitch black, we spent the first night just sleeping in the back of my S10 pickup. The second night we got the same "site" and pitched our tent. If you are cool without bathrooms, I highly recommend figuring out where this is. No crowds and super quiet. 

On Saturday, we hiked the 14 mile round trip hike to the top of Alta Peak (elevation 11, 204 ft). The thing I remember most about this hike was the ever-changing weather. I'm currently reading Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, and am reminded of the unpredictability of the weather in the Sierras. It can be hot and sunny one minute, and freezing mist the next. That's exactly what we got this day, but it just made it that much more exciting! We could actually watch the storms coming across the mountain range, as you can see from the pictures below. 

I'm going to be honest. This hike wore us out. But those are the days I love the best. When you are so worn out and maybe didn't eat quite enough on the trail, so what do you do? You find the pizza place in the national park, that's what! Stony Creek Lodge has a pizza restaurant with outdoor seating. Perfect after a long day of hiking, and only a few minutes from the spot we were camping. 

Our "campsite"

The next morning, we did the touristy hikes, like the General Sherman Trail and Moro Rock (amazing views of the area we had hiked the day before). Both are worth getting out of your car and taking a walk. Moro Rock is pretty challenging but short, and the trails around General Sherman and the other big trees are easy to moderate with some paved trails. 

On Sunday afternoon, we headed back to Los Angeles via Highway 198 West and stopped for lunch along a rushing river at the Gateway Restaurant & Lodge. Lunch was decent and it was a great place to finish up a wonderful weekend outdoors.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Top 5 US National Parks - #5 Glacier National Park

Over the course of the next couple weeks, I'm going to take some time going back through some of my old photos from trips Allyson and I have taken to the many beautiful national parks in the US. This won't be in order of my favorites, because I can't possibly pick a favorite. My friend, Garrett, will have a heyday with this post. He teases us that we only ever travel to national parks. It is true that I prefer wilderness to city adventures, but I do appreciate both. But it's in the wild that I feel connected to both nature and people. Like I'm part of something bigger. 

So here we go....#5 is Glacier National Park. It's so far away from where most of us live, which is probably why it's still so incredible. It is definitely worth being on your bucket list though. There are day hikes for those that don't want to backpack. The Going to the Sun Highway through the park might be the most beautiful road in the world. (We'll see...I have a feeling we'll see some pretty spectacular roads in New Zealand.) But it's the more remote places that really blew me away. Here are some of the highlights from the trip we took to Glacier with our friends Jess and Dani:

For our first two nights, we camped at Two Medicine Campground. We took a great hike up Pitamakan Pass. If the weather had cooperated, we would've continued the loop to Dawson Pass. Unfortunately, we got freaked out by some creepy clouds and thunder and thought it was best to turn around. Still an amazing hike though with some of the best views I've ever seen!

Take a swim, if you dare, in Old Man Lake. It took our breath away, but felt so refreshing!

 Bear Grass (Interesting fact: These flowers are closely related to lilies!)

I don't know what this one is called, but he looks straight out of The Lorax to me. (Another interesting fact: I was the Lorax in a middle school play.)

Pitamakan Overlook

Our next adventure started a little late in the day, because Allyson and I decided to re-trace a good portion of our Pitamakan Pass hike the next morning in search of my lost Oakley sunglasses. She had gotten them for me as a gift right before our trip. Unfortunately, after re-tracing to the last place I remember having them, we didn't find them. Then we still had 8.1 miles to hike to our campsite at Red Eagle Lake. 

This hike was incredible, despite the downpour for the second half of it. This whole forest burned down in 2006, and we were there in 2009. As you can see from the pictures, it still looked very much burned. But there was something truly incredible about all the wildflowers coming up beneath these dead trees. 

The storm is coming


We ended up setting up camp in the pouring rain and spending hours in our tents. However, the rain left during the night and left a beautiful day for us the following day. We left our stuff at Red Eagle Lake and hiked to Triple Divide Pass. This was the day we saw a moose and hiked 16 miles in Chacos or Crocs or Keen sandals because or hiking boots were still soaked. 

The morning after


Awesome swimming spot...jump in and let that water take you away. Super fun. 

Fleabane (This was taken with my first point and shoot camera. I'm not sure I've taken a better picture since.)

We hiked out the following morning and planned to spend the next two nights at Fish Lake campground on the other side of the park. This meant a gorgeous drive down the Going to the Sun Highway. The following day we hiked the acclaimed Highline Trail. This is a long day hike (11.6 miles to The Loop from the Visitor Center and then you take a shuttle back), but totally worth it. And get this, you can have a Diet Coke on the top at Granite Park Chalet. Check out what might as well be a Diet Coke advertisement below.  

Under the bridge

Obvious Glacier Action

 Grinnell Glacier can be seen if you take the Garden Wall hike straight up from the Highline Trail

 Psychedelic Paintbrush

That is the Chalet in the right top corner of the photo

Diet Coke Ad

How cute is this deer?

So many more stories could be told about this trip (for example, the fact that our car wouldn't start on the morning we had to leave to get Jess and Dani to the Missoula airport), but we'll save those for another time. We will be back to this amazing place, because we only saw a fraction of what is there to see. Thinking back on it tonight definitely has me wanting to go back. Adventure, anyone?