Saturday, March 28, 2020

Outdoor Gear Retailers Offering Steep Discounts

Several outdoor gear retailers that we have affiliate relationships with are currently offering fairly steep off-season discounts on their inventory. By clicking/shopping from any of the banner ads below (including Amazon) you help to support our 4 hiking trail websites. As always, thank you very much!


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

Friday, March 27, 2020

Glacier National Park is closed to all park visitors until further notice

Glacier National Park is announcing additional modifications to operations in response to guidance from Flathead County, MT, Glacier County, MT, Blackfeet Nation, and the State of Montana. The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working servicewide with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective at 5 pm on March 27, 2020, Glacier National Park will be closed to all park visitors until further notice. There will be no visitor access permitted to the park. US Highway 2 inside the park boundary will remain open. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our state, county, and tribal partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the park,” said Glacier Superintendent Jeff Mow. “We will continue to work with our state, county, and tribal partners as this crisis continues and we will coordinate with them on when it will be safe to reopen the park.”

Updates about NPS operations will be posted on Please check with for specific details about park operations.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Are Air Horns Effective as Bear Deterrents?

Almost ten years ago I posted a blog that explored the question as to whether air horns are effective as bear deterrents. My thoughts were that the high-decibel noise coming from an air horn might be more effective than bear spray for three reasons:

1) You don't have to worry about the direction of the wind (or rain)

2) You don't have to wait for the bear to get close enough before sounding the horn

3) Bears have much better hearing than humans, thus the noise would potentially bother them even more than humans

That posting has generated quite a bit of interest over the years - in fact, it's the most popular post on this blog of all time - generating almost 50,000 views. As a result, I decided to revisit the subject to see if there was anything new to report. Specifically, are there any new studies that provide hard evidence as to whether or not air horns actually work?

It seems that the idea of using air horns has actually gained some traction since the last time I visited this topic. However, I still couldn’t find any hard evidence on the effectiveness of them as a deterrent against black bears or grizzly bears.

Here’s what I did find:

In an “Ask A Bear” column (updated in 2017), Backpacker Magazine cited a test conducted on polar bears in the 1970s that found that "ultrasonic frequencies fine-tuned and blasted over large speakers repelled bears roughly 69% of the time from a testing perimeter that contained food. Of the testing pool of 74 bears, 51 were strongly repelled, but eight bears exhibited no response, and 15 polar bears actually chose to investigate the source of the sound." The article concluded that loud noise may act as a deterrent, but it can also act as an attractant. This conclusion is also essentially being communicated on several government websites, as we shall see further below.

The study cited by Backpacker was effectively the only research that I could find that was related to my question, but it really didn’t answer it. One, the test was conducted on polar bears, and two, air horns weren’t used in the test. I should point out that the column also states that bear guru Stephen Herrero believes that an ultrasonic bear repellent is worthy of further study and testing. There is one other study that I found that I should mention here. It was conducted by Gary D. Miller from the Zoology Department at the University of Montana. The study tested several potential bear repellents on 2 male grizzly bears and 2 female polar bears at the Churchill Bear Laboratory in Churchill, Manitoba. The study found that air horns did not repel either of the two bears tested. I have to take this result with a large grain of salt, however, given the extremely small sample size and the fact that the bears tested were not in the wild.

The Get Bear Smart Society, a Canadian organization that works to educate the general public as well as government agencies across North America, believes that air horns can be effective when used in conjunction with human dominance techniques to move a bear off (A guide to non-lethal management techniques). On their website they also state:
Noise deterrents work by making a loud, unpleasant sound that causes the bear to be uneasy and move away. Noise deterrents are advantageous if you are a long distance away from the bear. Furthermore, they cause neither harm nor injury to the bear when correctly used.

In some cases, noise deterrents do not work either because the bear has habituated to human noise or because it has no natural fear of the noise.
I found several governmental websites in the United States and Canada that offered similar advice. For example, the Kenai Fjords National Park website states that “It is a good idea to carry a non-lethal deterrent such as an air horn or pepper spray in case of a surprise encounter…”

As a result of the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published Deterrence Guidelines in the Federal Register, which states that:
These guidelines…are appropriate for safely and nonlethally deterring polar bears from damaging private and public property and endangering the public. The use of commercially available air horns and other similar devices designed to deter wild animals…may be effective in deterring bears while causing no lasting or permanent harm to individual animals.
The Kluane National Park and Reserve in northwestern Canada recommends bear spray as your best deterrent, but also mentions that "Other tools can help you deter a bear: noisemakers such as air horns" can be used as well.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game links to information from several websites and brochures. This includes one from the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge which states that you should "Consider the range of actions you could take. Start with the least aggressive options, such as using noise makers, grouping together, yelling or clapping, or deploying air horns". Another links to a brochure from Park Canada that states that air horns may be effective in deterring a polar bear. Interestingly, the Fish and Game website also mentions using air horns as a defense against an aggressive wolf.

A brochure published by the British Columbia Forest Safety Council states that "Noises that cannot be reproduced in the wild, (e.g. a metallic noise), will let a bear know that you are approaching and give them advanced notice to move out of the area. However, noisemakers that startle a bear, such as an air horn, can provoke an attack. If you release an air horn too close to a bear hiding in the bush and it startles them, they may charge."

The Manitoba Wildlife and Fisheries Branch asserts that "When hiking, carry bear deterrent spray and also consider taking a walking stick and an air horn as further deterrents."

The Government of Alberta's website provides this guidance:
The two most effective bear deterrents are bear spray and noisemakers. Carry both when in bear country.

The most effective noisemaker in bear country is you. Talking or singing loudly can help prevent surprise encounters with wildlife. With enough warning of your approach, wildlife typically remove themselves and their young from the area.

When I see a bear, should I use a noisemaker or bear spray?

* Noisemakers are best used to deter a bear that is at a distance – one that sees you and continues to approach or one that's heading to your camp or settlement.

* Before using noisemakers, be sure to assess the situation. Make sure the surroundings are clear of people and the bear has an obvious way out. A bear that's been startled by a noisemaker may not be able to avoid groups of people as it flees the area.

* Remember, the noisemaker may not immediately deter the bear, especially if the bear has had previously experience with noise deterrents. Also, noisemakers may not prevent the bear from returning to the area.

* Bear spray is best used when you need to deter a bear at close range.
Finally, a brochure from the Nunavut Department of Environment states that "Noisemakers are a simple, first level deterrent. However, bears quickly become accustomed to sounds when no other negative effect is present. Have other deterrents or a lethal firearm present and ready in case the noisemakers are ineffective."

I think the bottom line is that there’s no 100% safe and reliable way to deter a bear. Each bear has a different personality, and each encounter is essentially a unique situation. Your best bet is to make sure that you make a lot of noise while hiking in bear country, and to practice bear awareness and avoidance techniques. If you do encounter an aggressive bear, and wish to use an air horn, my advice would be to have bear spray as a back-up in case the air horn doesn't work as intended. You can certainly make the argument that its probably best to have both in case one of the products fail for one reason or another.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks are closed to all visitors until further notice

Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are announcing modifications to operations at the request of local county health officers from Park County, WY, Park County, MT, Teton County, WY, and Gallatin County, MT. The health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, and partners is our number one priority. The National Park Service (NPS) is working servicewide with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor the COVID-19 pandemic.

Effective immediately, Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks are closed to all park visitors until further notice. There will be no visitor access permitted to either park. State highways and/or roads that transcend park/state boundaries and facilities that support life safety and commerce will remain open. Both parks will cooperate on the implementation of the closures. We will notify the public when we resume full operations and provide updates on our website and social media channels.

“The National Park Service listened to the concerns from our local partners and, based on current health guidance, temporarily closed the parks,” said Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly and Grand Teton Acting Superintendent Gopaul Noojibail. “We are committed to continued close coordination with our state and local partners as we progress through this closure period and are prepared when the timing is right to reopen as quickly and safely as possible.”

The parks encourage people to take advantage of various digital tools available to learn about Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park Closes to Support Regional COVID-19 Prevention Efforts

Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that all park areas, except the Foothills Parkway and the Spur, will close at noon on Tuesday, March 24 through Monday, April 6, in a continuing effort to support federal, state, and local efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The park will continue to assess changing conditions in our region and work with local communities to extend or terminate closures, as appropriate to ensure the health and safety of our visitors, employees, volunteers, partners, and local residents.

All access to the park, including trails and roads, will temporarily close in alignment with efforts to control the spread of COVID-19 across the region. This includes Executive Order 117 issued by NC Governor Roy Cooper, Executive Order 17 issued by TN Governor Bill Lee, Executive Order 6 issued by Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, Graham County travel restrictions, Pigeon Forge, TN Safe-at-Home Advisory, and requests to close or partially close the park received from Swain County, Sevier County, and Bryson City, NC.

Despite park efforts over the last week to comply with the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidance for social distancing, approximately 30,000 people entered the park daily resulting in congested conditions at popular locations such as Laurel Falls, Newfound Gap, and Cades Cove. Visitors from across the country have flocked to the area due to Spring Break, wildflowers, and warm weather conditions. This two-week park closure allows the park to support local efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During the closure period, visitors can experience the park using digital tools including our social media platforms and website where near real-time views can be seen via park webcams at Park rangers can still help answer questions via email or phone during business hours at (865) 436-1291, (828) 506-8620, or The NPS is working with federal, state, and local authorities to closely monitor COVID-19 and adjusting measures to control its spread. We will notify the public as we are able to resume operations and will provide updates on our website at and social media.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

The Fire Lookouts of Glacier National Park

1910 was one of the worst forest fire years in the history of the Pacific Northwest. Wildfires torched more than three million acres of virgin forest in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, and in the process, destroyed enough timber to fill a freight train 2,400-miles long! 1910 also happened to be the year that Glacier National Park was established. It would literally be a baptism of fire for our eighth national park. More than 100,000 acres burned in Glacier, including a 23,000-acre blaze near Kintla Creek. The situation in the park that year would be exacerbated by the lack of an organized firefighting infrastructure, very little equipment, few trails, and practically no roads.

As a result of that infamous year, Glacier Park would find itself on the leading edge of fire management throughout the first half of the 20th Century. According to Mitch Burgard's Fire Blog, which was once published on the park website, Glacier achieved several firsts:

• Glacier was the first National Park to have a dedicated fire crew (prior to this time the Army/Calvary and, later, the National Forest Service were solely in charge of fighting forest fires).

• In the early 1920’s Glacier was the first National Park to bring the new technology of ‘portable’ (horse drawn) pumps into the United States from Canada.

• Glacier established the first fire management plan in the National Park Service. In 1929 a newly appointed “fire control expert” at the national office used Glacier’s plan as a benchmark. It would become the model in which other plans were measured against for the next decade.

• In 1946, Glacier became the first National Park to utilize Smokejumpers.

The park was also quick to build fire lookout towers. Although most of Glacier’s lookouts were built in the 1930s, two were already constructed by 1923, both of which had phone line connections.

Most of the lookouts in the park had the same basic design; a two story wooden structure with a windowless dirt floor storage area, topped by a 14 x 14 foot ‘cab’ in which the fire lookouts worked and lived.

There were two notable exceptions to this basic design, however. One was the Red Eagle Lookout, a 60-foot steel tower that was built in 1960, but destroyed in 1986. The other, Swiftcurrent Lookout, which still stands today atop Swiftcurrent Mountain, has a stone foundation, and a gable roof made with heavy timber framing and a flagstone and mortar roof surface. The park opted for a much sturdier design in order to protect the lookout from the harsh weather and strong winds that buffet the 8436-foot peak.

I would assume this to be true for all the towers in Glacier, but according to Fire Lookouts of the Northwest, by Ray Kresek, the Numa Ridge Lookout has a heavy wooden panel with 200 spikes driven through it. With its sharp points sticking out three inches, the panel is dropped in place on the stairway each night as a security measure against grizzly bears!

Glacier still staffs four fire lookouts each season. Traditionally these have been Huckleberry Mountain, Numa Ridge, Scalplock Mountain and Swiftcurrent Mountain. However, in 2009, and for the first time in more than 30 years, the park also staffed Loneman Lookout in the Middle Fork area.

Lookout work is mostly a solitary job with limited amenities and long shifts where firewatchers work at least 10 straight days during the summer fire season.

In his book, Kresek published several journal entries from lookouts that worked at Numa Ridge over the years. There were many complaints about having to do chores. They seemed to come out of boredom, rather than the physical work itself. Apparently there were other hazards that lookouts had to deal with that weren’t in the job description. On September 12, 1950, firewatcher Scotty Beaton made this entry:

“Found mud in water barrel; put there by kid from McFarland’s dude ranch; same kid busted crosshairs on firefinder, bent nails on bear board, and ruined my binoculars on the hot stove.”

Speaking of Numa Ridge, Edward Abbey, author of the Monkey Wrench Gang, once spent a summer in 1975 manning this lookout. In A Lookout’s Journal, Abbey summed-up his experience with this quote: “Bears, beans, bores and bugs: Numa Ridge Lookout.”

As we move forward into the 21st Century it will be interesting to see if Glacier continues to stay on the cutting edge with the latest technologies in fire management. For example, unmanned drones are now being used to detect and monitor wildfires, and may even be used to suppress fires in the future.

Of the 17 fire lookouts that once stood in the park, 9 still remain, all of which can be reached by trail. Here’s a list of lookouts in Glacier, present and past:

Apgar Lookout / Built: 1929
Access: 3.6 mile hike on the Apgar Lookout Trail near Apgar

Huckleberry Lookout / Built: Original in 1923, rebuilt in 1933
Access: 6 mile hike Huckleberry Lookout Trail near Apgar

Loneman Lookout / Built: 1930 and rehabed in 2003
Access: 7 mile hike on Loneman Lookout Trail off Highway 2 near Middle Fork

Mount Brown Lookout / Built: 1928
Access: 5.4 mile hike from Lake McDonald Lodge

The Mt. Brown Lookout was threatened by the Sprague Fire in 2017. In order to protect the historic building firefighters wrapped it in fire-resistant foil (see photo).

Numa Ridge Lookout / Built: 1934
Access: 5.6 mile hike on the Numa Ridge Lookout Trail at Bowman Lake

Porcupine Ridge Lookout / Built: 1939
Access: Porcupine Lookout Trail via Waterton Valley Trail out of Goat Haunt

Scalplock Lookout / Built: 1931
Access: 4.7 mile hike on Scalplock Trail in Walton

Swiftcurrent Lookout / Built: 1936
Access: 6.2 mile hike from The Loop, 7.8 miles from Many Glacier, or 9.9 miles from Logan Pass

Bear Mountain Point Lookout / Built: 1935 / Destroyed: 1965

Curly Bear Lookout / Built: 1934 / Destroyed: 1963

Elk Mountain Lookout / Built: 1930 / Destroyed: 1963

Heaven's Peak Lookout / Built: 1945 / Building is still standing after being abandoned in 1953, and was scheduled to be stabilized in 2012 in order to preserve it.

Heaven's Peak South Lookout / Built: 1943 / Destroyed: 1963

Red Eagle Lookout / Built: 1960 / Destroyed: 1986

Reynolds Ridge Lookout / Built: 1931 / Destroyed: 1963

Riverview Mountain Lookout / Built: 1923 / Abandoned: 1930s

Waterton Lake Lookout / Built: 1930s / Abandoned 1940s

For more information on the lookouts you can visit the Fire Lookout website and the National Park Service’s List of Classified Structures.

I’ll sign-off today with this lookout journal entry from September 3, 1980:

“Autumn is in the air. A pair of golden eagles are hovering in the thermals around the station. The western sky is gorgeous, pink with crimson ruffles. CFCN Radio is playing the Hugo Winterhalter Orchestra’s Canadian Sunset. It’s time to bring in the flag. God Bless America!”


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Wonderland Hotel

Below is a short video from the Dan Traveling Series showing possibly some of the last footage ever shot of the historic Wonderland Hotel. Located in the Elkmont community in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the hotel served as a retreat for members of the Wonderland Club for 80 years before the National Park Service forced its closure, and ultimately having it razed in 2005.

The hotel was built on land formerly owned by the Little River Railroad Company, and was located just north of Elkmont. As the area became "logged out", Little River Railroad Company President Colonel W.B. Townsend began to recognize the benefits of tourism to the area. To capitalize on this budding industry, Townsend sold a 50-acre tract of cut-over land to Charles B. Carter in 1911, with the stipulation that he had to build on the land within a year. Carter immediately formed the Wonderland Club Company, and on June 11, 1912 opened the doors to the Wonderland Hotel. The hotel would remain open to the public for seven years before closing it to club members and their guests only.

The Wonderland Hotel was constructed as a two-story wood frame structure with boards cut from local chestnut trees. It featured a wrap around porch, and contained 26 rooms, none of which were the same. The hotel became a hub of outdoor activities during the daytime, which included fishing, horseback riding, swimming and hiking, while bands from Knoxville entertained guests on weekend nights.

Due to the popularity of the hotel, the club decided to construct an annex in 1920 to provide their members with more privacy. This building contained another 24 guest rooms, a common area, and a screened porch.

In 1923 the Wonderland Club and the Appalachian Club combined to form the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association. Led by Colonel David Chapman, this highly influential organization led the campaign for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

On November 15, 1992 the Wonderland Hotel closed its doors for good. Three years later it was partially burned under suspicious circumstances. Some people suspect the fire was set by National Park Service employees as a means to remove the building. In 2005 the remnants of the hotel began to collapse, thus forcing the National Park Service to award a contract to begin the careful demolition of the standing portions of the building. Historically significant artifacts such as doors, windows and bathtubs were set aside for permanent preservation. In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, the annex hotel also burned down 11 years later.

Hikers can still see many of the vacation homes and cottages that remain and have been included as part of the preservation of the Elkmont historic district. Trails such as the Little River Trail and the Jakes Creek Trail feature several homes from this bygone era in the Smokies.

Here's the Dan Traveling video:

For more information on the efforts to preserve and restore the historic Elkmont community in the Great Smoky Mountains, please click here.


Ramble On: A History of Hiking
Exploring Glacier National Park
Exploring Grand Teton National Park