Gonna rise up. Find my direction magnetically.

Tag: national park (Page 1 of 2)

Reflections on the Grand Canyon


I have been listening to wild by Cheryl Strayed while running lately and this book has caused me to reflect on a recent trip that Julie and I took to hike the Grand Canyon. The book is about a woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail to deal with all the struggles in her life triggered by the death of her mother. She details her hike, unpreparedness, people she meets, and lessons learned.

Julie, my Dad, myself, a friend of my Dad’s, and his daughter hiked the Grand Canyon, north rim to south rim, in early October (still need to do a trip report on this someday soon…). Being away from all the activity of daily life: technology, phones, computers, cars, restaurants, etc. is one of the reasons Julie and I enjoy doing things like this. Cheryl Strayed commented on this as well. It’s amazing how quickly you forget the feelings of self-reliance, hunger, and physical struggle when you return to civilization. A warm house, bed to sleep in, an abundance of food, and  water… just clean, easily accessible water get taken for granted very soon after you emerge from a remote location.

So now the longing to be back on the trail has started up again… John Muir Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, somewhere in the Sierras are all thoughts going through my mind. Time to start looking at how I can make that happen…

Utah, Sierras and 360 degrees

Doing some research for our upcoming trip out to CA this summer, I ran across this site that provides 360 degree panoramas of different areas in Utah. I looked around this site for 30 minutes and still can’t get enough. If these don’t convince you to put Canyonlands on your todo list, nothing will. Julie and I haven’t gotten this far East in our exploration of Utah, but it’s on the list and until then I’ll have to simply make due with these virtual attempts to be there.

Here are my favorite:

Mount Whitney part of the Sierra Mountains in California

In regards to the CA trip, an opportunity to possibly climb Mt. Whitney just came up so I did some searching on that as well. Wouldn’t you know it… some 360 degree panoramas of that as well.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E7QtvUF8qso (video panorama)

We are also planning on taking the girls on their first backcountry trek (2 nights) during our visit to Yosemite. It’s turning out that while our first week will be the annual family reunion, the second week will be filled with adventure after adventure in the Sierras. Can’t think of a place I would rather be than in the mountains surrounded by my girls and family. SO PUMPED for this trip.

August 30th – September 1st (Kayaking)

August 30th – September 1st (Kayaking)

See Apostle Islands for the intro to this trip report.

August 30th

The entire week prior to the trip I had been keeping a close eye on the weather forecast. Kayaking up in Lake Superior can be a pretty horrible experience if the weather picks up and you can become stranded on one of the islands pretty easily. So as we were preparing to push off at Meyers Beach, the forecast was for rain that night or possibly the next morning. We would be out of communication (no 3g in these parts) for the next couple of days and would have to rely on our old school ways of reading the clouds and taking an educated guess.

The first leg of the trip took us along sea caves that were actually on the mainland. Once we got north of the caves, we would find our campsite. There is only one mainland campsite and it seemed like it didn’t get very much use. There is a 4 mile trail that leads from this site all the way back to Meyers Beach if one was so inclined to hike it. The guided tours that come out here spend the morning looking at the sea caves, have lunch on the beach just north of the caves, and then paddle back to Meyer’s Beach.

The caves were unlike anything I had seen in the water. They certainly had more of a Utah/west coast feel than northern Wisconsin.

There was a very interesting woosh sound that the waves made as they pushed under the rock formations into the caves. You could also tell that this was not a place you wanted to be when the weather or waves picked up. We lucked out and had great weather with a very low chop.

Once we made camp, we were able to appreciate the view and enjoy the rest of the afternoon. One thing that we didn’t appreciate were the damn black flies. Those things were everywhere and bit hard. It got so bad that we ended up bringing our dinner inside the tent just to find some relief. I wore my long johns (top and bottom) for most of the time we were in camp.

August 31st

We were waiting for the rain to come, but it only drizzled a little and the big rain never hit. The next morning there was a stiff westward wind and it created some pretty good chop. This along with some looming clouds had us breaking camp and heading to Sand Island pretty quick… no point in hanging around and seeing if the weather gets worse!!

We paddled for a few hours and reached the bay on the east side of Sand Island. It’s amazing how close something looks while you are on the lake but spend the next 1-2 hours paddling just to realize you are half way. My back was sore from the previous day’s paddling so it probably felt longer than it actually was. Sand Island has a full time ranger stationed on it and it felt good getting back into some type of civilized environment. It was fun to be out on our own the previous day, but with the weather and kayaking in the open water, it just felt good to see some other folks around.

We made camp and then headed out to view the sea caves. These were AWESOME! Some of the best in all of the Apostles. You can get really far back into the caves and it’s shallow enough that you could get out and walk around if you were into that kind of thing. We had a great time paddling around and made our way to Justice Bay. This place looked like it could have been in the Virgin Islands. The sun was out, the water was clear and there was a sailboat right in the middle of the bay.

We hiked up to the lighthouse and got a tour from the resident ranger. It was pretty interesting to hear about the old lighthouse keeper and some of the stories about the area. Included in these stories was an interesting one regarding if the old keeper had killed his wife and then told everyone that she had ‘left’ him.  No one could figure out where she had left to… mystery and intrigue in the Apostles. We were able to climb all the way up to the top of the lighthouse and were rewarded with a view of several of the other islands. I also learned that the markings for a lighthouse on a map give you a lot of information. Height of the lighthouse, the color of the light and the frequency at which the light will flash.

Oh, and guess who we ran into? The guy who was working at the visitor’s center when I came in looking for my camera bag. So my dad took a picture of us with our cameras. Nice!

We enjoyed a nice sunset and I went to bed hoping that the weather would be agreeable enough in the morning to allow us to cross Sand Bay over to the mainland so we would make our scheduled pickup.

September 1st

We woke up, broke camp and made our way across to the mainland without much incident. I have to admit that crossing the few miles in the open lake did make me a bit nervous. Especially at the half way point when you look around and realize just how far away from land you are and that you are in this little kayak on top of the freezing cold water. It’s a good, healthy kind of fear. The kind that makes you glad to be alive and to be able to enjoy a trip like this with the old man.

This ranks up there with the top 1 or 2 breakfast spots I have even eaten at in my life.

I can easily see coming back up here with the whole family and doing another multi-day, multi-island trip. There is a lot to see in this area and it’s truly amazing how this unknown National Lakeshore is just sitting here in northern Wisconsin.

The old man on the hunt.

Mainland sea caves.

Loved this dock. The campsite on Sand Island is 100 yards back from this doc.

My current favorite picture of my dad and I. It turned out great and captures some of the beauty of the area as well.

August 28th and 29th (Bayfield)

August 28th and 29th (Bayfield)

See Apostle Islands for the intro to this trip report.

We spent the first two nights at a campsite just south of town (Apostle Islands Area Campground). It was a pretty quite place but the owner had a very disturbing resemblance to the owner of the cabins the Griswolds stayed at in the movie Vacation.  We had dinner in Bayfield, which was great but a little crowded. We figured this was due to it being so close to the end of the summer that a lot of families were getting in their last vacation before school started.

Sunday morning we went into town for breakfast and found this GREAT coffee shop,  Big Water Coffee. If you make it to Bayfield, WI at some point, you need to make sure to spend a morning here. Lots of locals and they roast their own coffee. Oh, and free wifi.

Our next stop was at Trek & Trail for our kayaking lesson.  You have to take a 3 hour lesson if you are going to take the kayaks out on your own (no guide). This is required by law, so we didn’t really have an option. As it turned out, it was a good thing that we took it since it built our confidence and improved our technique. There was a middle-aged couple that took the class with us, but they were denied the rental because they failed to do the wet exit in the lake. After they watched my dad and I do it, the female of the couple got…. wait for it… cold feet, and chickened out. The water was pretty darn cold, in the low 50s, so I can’t really blame her for not wanting to flip over her kayak intentionally.

We had originally wanted to get a ferry to see a few of the outer islands, but we couldn’t find any in town. Only some local tour boats that go out in the morning. So instead, we drove out to Little Sand Bay and enjoyed lunch while thinking about what the next couple of days had in store for us. We came back into town and I got a 4 mile run in before we went back to the campsite for a shower and to get ready for dinner.

The Camera Saga

When we came back into Bayfield for dinner, I went to the trunk of the car to get my camera bag and guess what… no bag. I searched the back seat… no bag. I went back to the trunk again, then to the car again, then to the trunk. Uh-oh!!! Before we left for the trip, I had put all of the video/camera gear that I own into that bag. My Nikon D90, a Canon SD1100, a Flip, several lenses and other gear. Not being able to find this was, to say the least, a bit concerning. At times like these, I usually start to freak out a little, but oddly enough, I was pretty calm. After discussing where it could be with my dad, we decided I had probably left it at the visitor’s center up at Little Sand Bay. We immediately drove up there, but since it was a Sunday night the center was closed. We walked around the center, trying to find it sitting in there somewhere, but no luck.

It was also at this point that I decided in my mind that if we couldn’t find the bag, I would wait until I got home to tell Julie. Why ruin my trip even more??? Right??? Love you hun.

The next morning we shot up to the visitor’s center to be there when it opened because we had to be back at Trek & Trail to get our ride over to Meyer’s Beach at 10. The guy working at the center had heard something about a bag being found, but he didn’t have any details. He called into the headquarters (located in Bayfield) and it turns out that once they opened it and saw all the equipment ($$), they decided it had to be put in the safe which they had at the headquarters building. So back to Bayfield we went… and we got my camera back. Lots of smiles all around. As a note of warning to others.

Always always always have something on your camera or in your camera bag that has your contact info on it! Stop reading this now and go do it. A label on the camera, a picture on your SD card that has your contact info (you can mark the pic to not be deleted when you sync), anything so someone who finds it can get it back to you.

Apostile Islands

Apostle Islands – August, 2010

I’ve been meaning to post about this trip that I took with my Dad back in August for a while and I finally found the time to put it together. The trip was a birthday gift to my Dad (he turned 60 this year). We planned to spend a few days camping and kayaking in the Apostle Islands. The trip was to be from August 28th to September 1st.

The Apostles

For those of you not familiar, and who could blame you, people I know who grew up in Wisconsin didn’t even know what they were, I’ll give you a little background.

The Apostle Islands are a group of 22 islands in Lake Superior off the Bayfield Peninsula in northern Wisconsin. The islands are a National Lakeshore (managed by the NPS)

The majority of the islands are located in Ashland County—only Sand, York, Eagle, and Raspberry Islands are located in Bayfield County. All the islands except for Madeline Island are part of the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore.

The islands are the spiritual home for the Lake Superior Chippewa. The islands were named the Apostle Islands by New France historian Pierre François Xavier de Charlevoix, who named them after the 12 apostles (even though there were 22 islands).

For more information about the islands, the Wikipedia entry has a lot of details: Apostle Islands.

The Trip

Saturday, August 28 – Drive to Bayfield

Sunday, August 29 – Take kayaking class, hang out in Bayfield (try to get a ferry trip to outer islands)

Monday, August 30 – Get dropped off at Meyer’s Beach and kayak past sea caves to camp just south of Sand Point.

Tuesday, August 31 – Kayak to Sand Island, explore island and sea caves around the island.

Wednesday, September 1 – Kayak across Sand Bay to Little Sand Bay where we would be picked up and then drive home from Bayfield.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Day 4

August 3rd

It’s 6 am and Julie has to use the bathroom. She gets out of the tent quietly and I drift back to sleep. Suddenly, I hear the zipper pull quickly and I sit up. Julie gives me this crazy look and tells me to get out of the tent quietly.

It turns out there are a couple of Elk right next to our tent… and I mean RIGHT next to it. Here is a shot of one of them walking up to our van. My camera does not do well in this low-light so I had to try to steady it. It was so awesome. We loved the Moraine campground and had been here 13 years ago when we were last in Rocky Mountain NP. You can’t get much closer to nature when you are car-camping than this!

Julie dreams of climbing Long’s Peak someday… but not today… not today.

We woke up and got moving shortly after the Elk incident and made our way back over to the Bear Lake area to do the Alberta Falls hike. This would give the girls a better taste for hiking on a real trail and see a cool river/waterfall at the same time.

When we were leaving the parking lot after the hike we ran into Cowboy Brad. Turns out, he is a park ranger during the day. The girls were so excited and he asked if we were coming back to see him that night since he was playing again. I’ll give you one guess where we were headed that night?? Brooke had a crush on him.

The weather looked questionable and we were not sure about having a 5 yr old go horseback riding for a couple of hours, but we did it anyway. How many times are you going to get a chance to do something like this? The stables that are right next to Moraine campground were very well run and the staff were excellent. We had a great ride and the weather held.

And here we are, ending our awesome trip with Cowboy Brad and dancing the evening away.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Day 3

August 2nd

Day 3 we started the morning by packing up camp at the KOA and heading into Estes Park. We were not able to get all our nights in the park because we decided to go on such short notice, but Julie was able to get us in the Moraine campground for 2 nights so it was time to move. Since we couldn’t claim our campground until later in the afternoon, we drove up to Bear Lake, which is one of the most popular hikes in the park because it’s beautiful and easily accessible.

All the guide books/online sites/and rangers told us to park in the mega parking lot a few miles from the trail head and take the big shuttle bus to the top. This would have been sound advise since there are only 100 or so parking spots (estimation) and they fill up really really early in the morning. But who are we to listen to EVERYONE that we asked about this… so we drove up to the top and BAM! Got a spot. Nailed it!

So if you are going here, I would recommend at least trying. There are very nice rangers stationed in the parking lot and they will not let you just wait for a spot to open or keep driving in circles. One trick I didn’t try, but would probably would have worked, would be to tell the ranger your kid has to use the bathroom so you can wait a little longer for a spot to open…. it’s worth a shot because that damn tram ride up did not look like any fun.

The trail is just a big circle around the lake. Nice, easy hiking and paved most of the way. I could tell the girls were itching for something a little more adventurous but that would have to wait until the following day. For now, it was great to just enjoy the weather (3rd day in a row of fantastic weather) and take in the beauty. Brooke did happen to find a snake that all of us missed except her. How cool is that? She was so proud.

One thing you can kind of see in this shot of the girls are some dead trees. This is one of the saddest things we saw on the trip. Rock Mountain NP has been devastated by  a mountain pine beetle epidemic. It’s very, very obvious when you drive through and on TRR. Not a whole lot they can do at this point, but you can just imagine all the green and how awesome it must have looked before the beetle arrived.

Mountain Pine Beetles

That night, we went back into Estes Park and went to hear Cowboy Brad. This guy plays free concerts in the main square a couple of nights a week. He is great family entertainment and seems like a really nice guy. He played songs just for the kids and some great classic western music. He got the whole family hooked on John Denver for the next couple of months. Rocky Mountain high baby… rocky mountain high.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Day 2

August 1st

For day 2, we planned on spending the morning driving up Trail Ridge Road and then heading back into town in the late afternoon to spend the evening in downtown Estes Park. We had one more night at the KOA so we had to head back into town at some point.

A short ways up the road, we found a really nice pull off that had a view of Long’s Peak. The girls jumped out of the van and before Julie could get her bearings, the girls were climbing up and over a rock pile.

Once we caught up, we got this snapshot thanks to the self-timer and mini-tripod (JOBY). Places like RMNP are made for kids to get out and run around. It’s true freedom and with so much space and not too much fear of them getting hurt, it’s great to let them do some exploring on their own and find cool things.

Starting up the drive on TRR, there were two things that became clear very quickly.

  1. This is BIG COUNTRY. The air is clean and the mountains are big.
  2. There are some frickin’ insane people that bike this road and want to share it with cars. Does it look like there is room on this road for you??? This just makes for a dangerous situation for not just the bikers but drivers too. There were LOTS of bikes on the road.

View of Trail Ridge Road as Julie and Maddie climbed up the back way to this hiking path. It was very cold and windy. Above the tree line was very exciting for everyone and with the weather you can easily see why little grows up here. There were piles of snow, even in late July, right off the road.

You can see where this USGS survey marker is in the map below:

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=104267311669100252934.000484dba2dddf444ac85&ll=40.363604,-105.606422&spn=0.100861,0.235433&t=h&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

We stopped at the visitor’s center/gift shop that they had at the top for a few minutes. This was a cool place and it’s only open for a few months out of the year. They have some pictures inside of what the road looks like during winter and needless to say, the entire building we were standing in and what you see in this picture is not visible during winter months. Another fun activity while at the visitor’s center was to watch the people driving up the old Trial Ridge Road, what is now called Old Fall River Road. People who chose to head up this way did NOT seem happy at the top. It looks very stressful and the men driving looked like they had taken a physical beating on the way up… still, I enjoyed watching.

We drove down the backside of TRR to have lunch and go on a short hike to…. wait for it… the Colorado River. That’s right, up here the river is just a shallow stream and you can walk in it. Julie took this opportunity to look for a few choice rocks, of course, and loaded up her pockets to the point where her pants couldn’t stay up.

On our way back we stopped at the main Visitor’s Center for the park near the entrance and got a call from Julie’s uncle who rode up to see us for the afternoon so we bailed on any afternoon plans and went fishing on Lake Estes. There is a place on the north side of the lake, near our campground, where you can rent boats of all types. This was a real highlight for the kids as they got to drive the boat around while the adults just relaxed. Now that I think about this, we were probably violating a few rules about the age of boat drivers, but who cares… it was fun.

That night, while shopping in downtown Estes Park, Julie got a cowgirl hat. She said she didn’t want one, but hey… we are in Colorado… you need to get a hat. So we made our way to Craftsmen In Leather and picked out a very cool hat that you will see in upcoming pictures.

Rocky Mountain National Park, Day 1

July 31st

We were pretty beat when we finally arrived at camp in the late afternoon. As we pulled into the Estes Park KOA, we were feeling good… until we opened the door to the car and realized our campsite was next to a stable, the Sombrero Ranch Stables. You can clearly see this in the google maps view of where the KOA is but we didn’t know where the campsites were on the grounds before we left. NOTE TO SELF: Julie is not fond of the smell of horse crap.

[googlemaps http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&ll=40.369828,-105.499992&spn=0.19147,0.407867&t=h&msid=104267311669100252934.000484dba2dddf444ac85&output=embed&w=425&h=350]

We decided to make the best of it and just setup camp and then head into town to do some grocery shopping and grab some dinner. We also made a stop at this very cool and EXTREMELY CHEAP gear store that is right across the road from the KOA named the Estes Park Mountain Shop. We ended up with some new gear… and here’s the shocker… it was North Face.

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