Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Brins Mesa Trail

During our 3-day visit to the Flagstaff area we made the short drive down to Sedona. Based on a little bit of research I did beforehand, we settled on hiking the Brins Mesa Trail. This spectacular trail passes through magnificent red rock country as it makes its way to the top of Brins Mesa. With two trailheads, hikers have the option of starting from either end of the trail, or doing a one-way hike if you have multiple cars. We chose to begin our hike from the Jim Thompson Trailhead, which is accessed from Jordan Road in the heart of the town of Sedona.

The first mile travels over some fairly easy terrain that includes sweeping views of Mormon Canyon, The Mitten and several other red rock formations. Over the next four-tenths of a mile, however, the trail climbs roughly 320 feet as it marches to the top of Brins Mesa. Although we started the hike relatively early in the morning, it was already scorching hot by the time we reached the top. I definitely recommend starting early and bringing lots of water as you will be exposed to the sun for most of the route.

In addition to beautiful red rock country, the trail features a wide variety of desert plant life, including agave, banana yucca, prickly pear, juniper and pinyon pines.

Expecting a desert landscape at the top of the mesa, we were both surprised to see more of a prairie environment. Either way, the views were quite stunning.

Once you arrive at the top of the mesa look for an unmarked side trail that leads to the right. After an easy walk of about one-third of a mile on flat terrain you’ll reach a spectacular overlook of Mormon Canyon. Beyond the overlook the side trail continues for another half-mile or so to a view overlooking Angel Falls.

Back on the main trail, look almost straight ahead and you should notice what looks like a small cream colored butte off in the distance. After walking a short distance the trail will pass-by this rock out-cropping. As you approach it, look for a side trail that leads towards the eastern end of the rock. Don’t pass this up! A short easy climb to the top of the butte provides the best views along the entire trail. You’ll have panoramic, 360-degree views of the entire canyon from this vantage point.

From this out-cropping the trail begins to descend a little more rapidly. Roughly 2.1 miles from the trailhead you’ll reach the Soldier Pass Trail junction. This trail can be used in conjunction with the Jordan Trail to create a loop back to the trailhead. Your total mileage for this loop hike would be roughly 5.2 miles.

From the junction the trail continues its descent past the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness boundary, roughly 2.4 miles from the trailhead. As it continues the trail passes through a forested area of large pine trees, before ending at its northern terminus off FR 152.

Back in Sedona we paid a visit to the Oak Creek Brewing Company where we had a chance to try some fairly exotic beers, including a banana and clove beer, a combo Belgian Abby Ale/Oktoberfest, and a dessert beer made with vanilla and mandarin orange – one of the smoothest tasting beers I’ve ever had. Afterwards we had some great enchiladas from the Oaxaca Restaurant.

Trail: Brins Mesa Trail #119
Roundtrip Distance: 7.2 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 980 feet
Max Elevation: 5080 Feet
Red Tape: A fee is required to enter the Red Rock-Secret Mountain Wilderness.

Great Sedona Hikes contains detailed information on 55 of Sedona's greatest hikes. It includes updated trail descriptions, detailed maps, specific directions to the trailheads, GPS waypoints, and several trails not found in any other hiking guides.

Trails in Glacier National Park

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Devil Creek Trailhead Area Closed of the Flathead National Forest

To provide for public safety the Devil Creek Trailhead Road #10185A of the Flathead National Forest will be closed to all vehicle traffic from now until November 25, 2012.

Logging equipment and trucks are operating on this stretch of road during those days as part of the Nyack-Fielding Stewardship project.

The section of road affected is Forest Road #10185A (Devil Creek Trailhead).

For more information about area road access, contact the Hungry Horse/Glacier View Ranger District at 406/387-3800.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Monday, October 29, 2012

The American Camper Report

The Outdoor Foundation recently published the American Camper Report, a detailed analysis on camping trends throughout the United States. The report presents information on overall participation, preferences, buying behavior and the future of camping.

The chief takeaway, if we are to believe the headline intro, is that camping participation is growing: "Camping is a true American tradition, and it is gaining in popularity.". The Outdoor Foundation cites that 42.5 million Americans — or 14.9% of the US population over age six — went camping in 2011. This participation rate is up from 39.9 million, or 14.1% of the population, in 2010. However, when viewing participation data over the last several years, based on a graph included with the report, participation has clearly flat-lined since 2006 (the first year data is available). By insinuating a growing trend, I think the Outdoor Foundation has jumped the gun with their overall conclusion. As an indication that the flat-line trend will likely remain in place, the report cites that the average camper went on 4.97 camping trips last year. However, campers are planning an average of only 4.33 camping trips next year, an indication that participation rates may show a decline in the next report.

The American Camper Report does show some pretty interesting trends, however. While conventional tents are still available to traditional campers, many campsites are evolving to more modern tastes, providing amenities such as indoor bathrooms, washers and driers and free Wi-Fi. Others have gone a step further by offering heated pools, waterslides, zip lines, golf carts and a calendar full of activities. KOA Campgrounds provides deluxe cabin rentals with flat screen TVs and air conditioning for customers who want to experience the outdoors with all the conveniences of home.

But is this really camping?

Some of the other key findings from the report that I found interesting, include:

• In 2011, campers spent an impressive 534.9 million days camping, an average of 12.6 days per person.

• Almost all age brackets added participants, except the adolescent group.

• The Mountain Region has the highest camping participation rate, while the South has the lowest.

• State parks are by far the most popular camping destinations.

• Hiking is the most popular activity to participate in while camping.

To read the entire report, please click here.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Cape Final

The other day I posted a trip report that highlighted our visit to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. I mentioned that Kathy and I hiked a couple of short trails that day, including Bright Angel Point and Cape Royal. Not mentioned in that post was our hike out to Cape Final on the Walhalla Plateau.

The Cape Final Trail is an easy 4-mile round trip hike to a limestone outcropping that provides stunning views into the eastern portions of the Grand Canyon. The trailhead is located just off Cape Royal Road, roughly 2.5 miles north of Cape Royal. If you’re seeking a little bit of solitude in the Grand Canyon, this is a great opportunity to get away from the crowds.

Most of the trail travels through an open forest of large Ponderosa Pine, with many wildflowers along the way. Expecting the entire area to be desert, I found this aspect of the Grand Canyon to be quite surprising. Another surprise were the large aspen groves in the North Rim area. Also, as you drive into the park, there’s a very long stretch of road, several miles long, that passes through an incredibly beautiful meadow. It reminded me of South Park in Colorado.

There is a little bit of elevation gain on this hike, mostly during the first three-quarters of a mile, but nothing that would be considered strenuous. Prior to reaching Cape Final you’ll pass two short side trails that lead to additional vantage points. If you have the time you should stop and check them out.

Just before arriving at your destination you’ll notice an abrupt change in the vegetation. Much of the route passes through a montane forest zone, but just yards from the canyon rim you’ll notice a stark transition to the Sonoran desert environment.

At Cape Final you’ll have outstanding views of the eastern side of the Grand Canyon, as well as Marble Canyon and the Painted Desert in the far off distance. Look closely and you’ll see two short sections of the Colorado River, as well as Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona. I would have to say that the views from Cape Final are far more scenic than those found at Bright Angel Point and the area around the Grand Canyon Lodge.

Since the best views look towards the east, I highly recommend hiking this trail during the mid-to-late afternoon so that you won’t be looking into the sun. Since most of the trail travels under the canopy of a pine forest you’ll have a fair amount of shade along the way, which will help keep the temperatures down.

After the hike we drove out of the park and on towards our next destination in Flagstaff. Along the way we stopped at the Jacob Lake Inn for dinner. The historic lodge/restaurant/bakery is located roughly 44 miles north of the Grand Canyon Lodge. Both Kathy and I had their signature sandwich, known as the Grand Bull, a burger with green chilies, caramelized onions and bacon. It was quite tasty! For dessert we tried a couple of German chocolate cake cookies. All in all, well worth the stop!

Trail: Cape Final
Roundtrip Distance: 4.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 400 feet
Max Elevation: 8050 Feet

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park provides firsthand descriptions and detailed maps for all of the developed trails in the park—from easy day hikes suitable for novices and children to extended backpack trips geared for intrepid wilderness travelers. The guide covers 15 hikes on the South Rim and 13 hikes on the North Rim. Also included are tips on safety, hiking with children, access, and services, as well as indispensable information about backcountry regulations, permits, and water sources.

Trails in Glacier National Park

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Sperry Chalet to begin accepting 2013 reservations on Monday, October 29

Earlier this week the Sperry Chalet announced on their website that they will begin accepting reservations for the 2013 season on Monday, October 29th.

The best ways to make chalet reservations will be through their website, or by telephone at 1-888-345-2649.

From past experience they are expecting hundreds of people trying to contact them on Monday. You should be prepared for busy signals on the phone line, and be patient with any online communication.

Sperry recommends using the online reservation request form. Online requests will wait in queue for them to review, so you can send it in and get on with your day. They handle all requests in the order submitted, and we will E-mail you back as soon as possible. They can also handle online requests more quickly than phoned requests, so they tend to make more reservations online than any other way.

Phoning for a reservation is suggested for people with large or complicated reservations. The phone does have the advantage of a friendly voice and instant feedback on your questions. The disadvantage is that our phone line gets overwhelmed with a large volume of calls. Be prepared for busy signals and to spend some time hitting the re-dial button. The phone will be staffed from 8:00 to 2:00, Monday through Friday. They will not be able to take messages or return your call.

The chalet asks that you don't call the Park Service or other area hotels. There is nothing they can do to help you with chalet reservations.

For more information on the hike up to the Sperry Chalet, please click here.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Grand Canyon: Views from the North Rim

I don’t know if it was due to the proximity to Los Angeles or not, but Kathy and I saw a lot of strange stuff during our short visit to the Grand Canyon. At the Grand Canyon Lodge we saw a guy walk out onto the porch wearing a black Japanese kimono donning a large red dragon on the back. We saw another guy on the Cape Royal Trail walking with a stuffed poodle in his arms. Then on the way back from Bright Angel Point we passed a young gentleman, presumably Dutch (tall and blonde hair), walking down the trail in traditional Dutch wooden shoes. Oh well….

On the flip side we did meet some very interesting people. One person in particular was an older gentleman who served in the Army Air Force during WWII. During his tour of duty he flew the hump, that is, he flew over the Himalayan Mountains between India and China to resupply the Chinese war effort against the Japanese. After the war he became a NASA engineer and helped build the Apollo program, and was very involved in helping to bring back Apollo 13. I asked him about the Tom Hanks movie. He told us they got the story just about right.

During our visit we did several short hikes, including Bright Angel Point, which is a quarter-mile walk along the peninsula that juts out from the historic Grand Canyon Lodge. From this vantage point you can “see” Grand Canyon Village on the edge of the South Rim - roughly 11 miles away in the hazy distance. You can also see 12,633-foot Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona roughly 64 miles away! You may be able to see the peak in the first photo below - rising above the "horizon line" through the haze:

While soaking in the views we noticed a helicopter fly into the canyon. We assumed it was a tour ride, however, after a few minutes it flew back in our direction with a rescue basket hanging from it. It then made another run, this time coming back with two large cargo loads tethered to the bird. We never found out if this was a rescue or not. Coincidentally, there actually was a search and rescue operation carried out that same day, but it was in another part of the park.

Although we didn’t get an opportunity to see one, you should definitely keep an eye out for California Condors riding the thermals over the canyons along the North Rim. Extremely close to extinction in the late 1980s, condors were reintroduced into the wild in 1991, and have been making a steady comeback ever since. As of May 2012 the population count of known condors was 405, including 226 living in the wild, mostly in northern Arizona and southern Utah. These rare birds have wingspans that exceed 9 feet, and can live up to 60 years! Although we weren’t lucky enough to see one, we did see a golden eagle floating on the breeze.

Our next stop took us out to Cape Royal, a place with a reputation for great sunsets. This easy 0.6-mile roundtrip hike offers a few peeks at the Colorado River flowing through the bottom of the canyon. The view while standing atop Angels Window was quite stunning.

You might consider this to be a bit of national park heresy, but I thought Zion National Park was far more impressive than the Grand Canyon. However, I should say, we never ventured into the canyon itself, so that opinion could possibly be changed.

Hiking Grand Canyon National Park provides firsthand descriptions and detailed maps for all of the developed trails in the park—from easy day hikes suitable for novices and children to extended backpack trips geared for intrepid wilderness travelers. The guide covers 15 hikes on the South Rim and 13 hikes on the North Rim. Also included are tips on safety, hiking with children, access, and services, as well as indispensable information about backcountry regulations, permits, and water sources.

Trails in Glacier National Park

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

US Forest Service waives fees during Veterans Day weekend

The U.S. Forest Service has announced that it will be waiving fees at most of its day-use recreation sites over the Veterans Day holiday weekend, Nov. 10-12.

The fee waivers – the fourth this year -- are offered in cooperation with other federal agencies under the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act. Day-use fees will be waived at all standard amenity fee sites operated by the Forest Service. Concessionaire operated day-use sites may be included in the waiver if the permit holder wishes to participate.

“This is our way of saying thanks to the brave men and women – past and present – who put their lives on the line every day to keep us safe at home,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We encourage veterans, their families and all visitors to take time out over the holiday weekend to enjoy the benefits that nature provides at forests and grasslands throughout the country.”

Traditionally, fees are not charged on 98 percent of national forests and grasslands, and approximately two-thirds of developed recreation sites in national forests and grasslands can be used for free. Many recreation opportunities such as camping, sightseeing and hiking can be enjoyed throughout the year at no cost.

The Forest Service operates approximately 17,000 developed recreation sites nationwide. Of those, approximately 6,000 require recreation fees, which are used to provide visitor services, repairs and replacements, and facilities maintenance.

Hiking in Glacier National Park

Comments sought on proposal to install new telecommunications tower in St. Mary area

Glacier National Park is requesting public comments on a proposal from CenturyLink to install a new telecommunications tower in the St. Mary administrative area inside the park. An environmental assessment financed by the project proponent has been completed and public comments are due by November 23.

CenturyLink requested permission from the National Park Service to install a new microwave radio antenna tower in the St. Mary developed area on the east side of Glacier National Park. The purpose of the project is to provide digital subscriber line (DSL) service to the greater St. Mary area and improve the reliability and speed of internet access. The project is part of a larger statewide Montana Public Service Commission requirement mandating CenturyLink to upgrade communications capabilities at its rural exchanges in Montana. The upgrade would also benefit National Park Service radio communication capabilities.

Two alternatives were analyzed in the environmental assessment: 1) Alternative A (No Action), and 2) Alternative B (Preferred). Under Alternative A (no action), a new microwave radio antenna tower would not be built in St. Mary, and existing internet and National Park Service radio communication systems in the area would not be upgraded. Under Alternative B, the new tower would be built in St. Mary and internet and National Park Service radio communications systems would be upgraded.

The environmental assessment is available through the park's planning web site: Public comments may be posted online at this web site, or through the mail to: Superintendent, Glacier National Park, Attention: St. Mary Tower EA, PO Box 128, West Glacier, Montana 59936.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Monday, October 22, 2012

Montana Wild To Host Avalanche Awareness Seminar

Montana Wild and The Base Camp will team up December 3rd to offer a free avalanche awareness seminar in Helena.

The popular two-hour long seminar will include presentations and discussions to illustrate terrain, snowpack, weather and the human factors that influence common decisions made during wintertime travel in the backcountry.

The event will begin at 6 p.m. on December 3rd at Montana Wild, 2668 Broadwater Ave., next to Spring Meadow Lake State Park off Highway 12 West. For more information call Montana Wild at 406-444-9944.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Zion National Park: Exploring The Lesser Known Areas

Down through the millennia the North Fork of the Virgin River has cut a swathe of Navajo Sandstone, nearly 15 miles long and a half-mile deep, to create what is now known as Zion Canyon. Before it became a national park the Anasazi and the Southern Paiutes lived among the mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths and natural arches of Zion. Spanish priests first visited the present-day park in 1776. Eventually Mormons came to the area in 1858, and would settle there by the early 1860s.

In 1909 President William Howard Taft signed legislation that made Zion a national monument, which was known at that time as Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918 the name was changed to Zion National Monument, and in the following year was upgraded to a national park.

One of Zion’s most famous features is the death-defying hike up to Angels Landing. The trail climbs 1200 feet in roughly 2.4 miles. To reach the top hikers have to ascend Walter's Wiggles, a series of 21 steep switchbacks up to Scout Lookout. The last half-mile features sharp drop-offs along a narrow path, which includes chains for hikers to grip. The chains are there for a very good reason. In the past eight years alone six people have plunged to their deaths after losing their footing along this trail.

Although Zion Canyon is the main attraction, I highly recommend spending at least 2 or 3 hours exploring the area east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. In addition to hiking the easy half-mile trail out to Zion Canyon Overlook, there are several interesting rock formations to check out. Here are a few random photos from this strange and beautiful area of the park:

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Friday, October 19, 2012

Wildlife Program at Grand Teton National Park

Superintendent Mary Gibson Scott invites wildlife enthusiasts to an evening presentation about park wildlife on Thursday, October 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the Craig Thomas Discovery and Visitor Center auditorium at Moose. Steve Cain, senior wildlife biologist, will provide a recap and overview of the current status of several wildlife species that occupy home ranges in Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway.

Cain's audio/visual program offers an excellent opportunity to learn about the fascinating creatures that populate the Jackson Hole landscape: animals that fascinate and delight park visitors and local residents alike. This public program is free and seating in the 155-seat auditorium will be on a first-come, first-serve basis.

As the senior wildlife biologist for Grand Teton National Park and the John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Memorial Parkway, Cain has directed wildlife conservation, research, and management programs since 1989. Cain's work in Jackson Hole has included detailed studies of elk, bison, bighorn sheep, black and grizzly bears, wolves, and birds of prey. He has also collaborated on dozens of projects in the private sector, academia and other government organizations, including international assignments in Mexico and Mongolia. In previous positions Steve coordinated peregrine falcon reintroduction programs for the National Park Service's Rocky Mountain Region, studied bald eagles, peregrine falcons, and other birds throughout Alaska for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, worked as a bear biologist in Yosemite National Park, and researched native salmon and steelhead populations for the State of Oregon. He has received numerous awards for his work in wildlife conservation, has authored or coauthored dozens of scientific publications on wildlife ecology, is professionally certified as a wildlife biologist by The Wildlife Society, and has been featured in a variety of internationally distributed media.

Come enjoy an evening of wildlife education and inspiration and discover the latest news about the remarkable animals that grace the Teton landscape.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Grizzly Bear Incidents Investigated in Northwest Montana

Earlier in the week the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks announced that they are investigating several grizzly bear incidents in Northwest Montana.

According to FWP Warden Captain Lee Anderson, the remains of a female grizzly bear were found last week near Brosten Lane east of Kalispell. Anderson said that he is looking for any information the public may have about this bear.

In the second case, an individual shot and killed a male grizzly bear in his chicken coop outside his residence Sunday evening near Ferndale.

In the third incident, an individual shot and killed a female grizzly bear that was next to a chicken coop on his property last week just north of Columbia Falls.

All of these cases are under active investigation by FWP and U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials.

Finally, a bird hunter shot at a female grizzly bear in what was described as a surprise encounter near Bigfork. The hunter was unharmed and reported the incident immediately to FWP. The sow grizzly had a cub, and both were later found alive by officials. The female grizzly did not appear to have life-threatening injuries.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Thursday, October 18, 2012

2012 National Natural Landmarks Photo Contest Winners Announced

The votes have been counted and the winners have been selected in the ninth annual National Natural Landmarks photo contest.

Thanks goes to all the NPS employees who assisted in selecting the winners of this year’s contest. Photographs were submitted of 69 different NNL sites from 28 states and Puerto Rico, each one representing the beauty and diversity of the nation’s natural heritage. The top 14 photographs will appear in the 2013 NNL calendar.

To view the contest winners, and see some pretty awesome and inspiring photos, please visit the NNL website.

Hikes in Glacier National Park

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Zion Canyon from Observation Point

Observation Point in Zion National Park is an absolute gem. Although there are more popular hikes in the park, such as Angels Landing, two park rangers told us that this hike was their favorite. Simply put, the trail starts off with grand views, and only gets better the higher you climb.

I highly recommend starting as early in the morning as possible in order to take advantage of the shade from the towering cliffs for a large portion of your climb.

The hike begins from the Weeping Rock Trailhead, and immediately begins climbing a series of long switchbacks up Cable Mountain. Much of this trail was blasted out of the canyon walls in the 1920s. As the trail climbs higher you’ll have stunning views of Angels Landing, The Organ, and Big Bend in the Virgin River:

At roughly 1.5 miles the trail leaves the cliff side and enters into the incredibly beautiful Echo Canyon. For the next half-mile you’ll have a nice break from the relentless climbing.

In some ways Echo Canyon was even more impressive than the views from Observation Point. This narrow canyon, sitting roughly 1100 feet above the trailhead, would make a wonderful destination by itself. The trail follows along a shelf above the canyon floor, with an extremely narrow slot canyon sitting just below it.

To get an idea of the immensity of this canyon, see if you can spot my wife at the very bottom of this photo:

Looking over the side of the trail I spotted this interesting looking hole, roughly 200 feet below:

Once out of the canyon the trail begins to climb again, and will gain roughly 900 feet over the next mile. Roughly 60% of this hike has some exposure that leads to long drop-offs. However, most of the trail is at least 4-5 feet in width, with some places narrowing down to maybe three. Obviously if you have a fear of heights you’re going to feel very uncomfortable on this trail. For the most part I was able to do my normal pace, and didn’t feel any intimidation. There was one section, about a tenth-of-a-mile long near the final push to the rim that did make me a little nervous. This section of the hike stands-out prominently from Observation Point. In the photo below you can see a “Z” etched into the side of the white cliff face. This is another part of the path that has been blasted out of the rock:

Other than this one short section, if you’re used to hiking in the mountains, you likely won’t have any other problems with vertigo-inducing drop-offs.

Beyond the “Z” the trail levels out for the most part, and begins to hug the forested cliffside over the course of the last mile to Observation Point.

From Observation Point you’ll have one of the great iconic images of Zion National Park. The views are just awesome. From this vantage point Angels Landing, The Organ and Big Bend will be the most prominent landmarks almost directly below you. On the west side of the canyon you’ll see Cathedral Mountain and the Three Patriarchs. On the left is the East Rim, Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne. Running down the middle of the valley is the Virgin River as it flows towards Springdale and beyond.

Afterwards we drove into Springdale and had a great burger and an oven fired pizza from the Flying Monkey.

Trail: Observation Point
Roundtrip Distance: 8.0 Miles
Total Elevation Gain: 2150 feet
Max Elevation: 6507 Feet

Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks covers 56 hikes in the two parks, as well as the surrounding areas, such as Cedar Breaks National Monument.

Hikes in Glacier National Park