Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Tucson, Arizona - Hiking and Sightseeing

I spent the Thanksgiving holiday with Roger hiking, sightseeing, and relaxing in Tucson, Arizona.  Earlier in the year, we explored a few places in the northern part of the valley, including Sabino Canyon and Mt. Lemmon.  For this trip, we decided to focus on the western portion of the valley and points south.  I arrived in Phoenix on Wednesday night, and after a 2 hour drive on Thursday morning, we arrived at our hotel in Starr Pass.  Since it was Thanksgiving day, our plan was to eat good food and relax by the pool.  Even though winter is off to a mild start Salt Lake City, the warm sunshine felt great.

Gates Pass

On Friday, we drove through Gates Pass to the western district of Saguaro National Park.  We hiked several miles of the Hugh Norris trail, but did not make it all the way to Wasson Peak.  The scenery was beautiful, but it wasn't strikingly different from the surrounding areas outside the park.  After a few hours of hiking, we had seen enough of the trail and completed the remainder of the scenic drive before heading back to Tucson.

At the entrance to Saguaro National Park - West
Hugh Norris Trail
Saguaro cacti spine
Cholla cactus
Saguaro along the Hugh Norris Trail

On Saturday, we drove south to Tumacácori National Historical Park, a place where native O’odham, Yaqui, and Apache people coexisted with early European Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries.  Beginning in 1681 and continuing until around 1848, the Native Americans and European missionaries shared a complex history that eventually led to the construction and abandonment of a beautiful church, the Mission San José de Tumacácori.

Mission San José de Tumacácori

I learned of Tumacácori when I spoke with a ranger at the National Park centennial celebration in Flagstaff, AZ this past August.  After an hour drive south from Tucson, I was hoping the park would be interesting enough to make the trip worthwhile.  It far exceeded my expectations and ended up being the highlight of my weekend.  Tumacácori National Historical Park is a historical and architectural gem, set in the tranquil  and picturesque Santa Cruz river valley.  It was a beautiful place to explore, both inside and out, and the adjacent visitor center and museum were very educational.  There were few people inside the park, and I often had the entire church to myself.  There was an immense sense of peace as I walked around the area, sometimes so intense that it felt like time had stopped.

Outside the mission with the bell tower in the background
The santuary
Mission San José de Tumacácori
Convento ruin
The façade of the church

On our way back to Tucson, we stopped in the small community of Tubac.  It was a bustling place full of galleries, restaurants, and shoppers. Our brief visit was a bit of a disappointment, however, as we found little in the way of locally made art.  Our final stop for the day was the Mission San Xavier del Bac, a Spanish mission on the Tohono O’odham San Xavier Indian Reservation.  The church was completed in 1797 and is the oldest European structure in Arizona.

Mission San Xavier del Bac
On the hill adjacent to Mission San Xavier del Bac
Mission San Xavier del Bac
Candles at Mission San Xavier del Bac
Inside Mission San Xavier del Bac

We were treated to a beautiful sunrise on Sunday morning as a cold storm approached the area.  We spent our final hours in Tucson hiking through Tucson Mountain Park and visiting the immense Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.  It was a great way to finish up an excellent holiday weekend in the Tucson area.

Sunrise at Starr Pass
Sunrise over Tucson Mountain Park
Tucson Mountain Park

Saguaro
Tucson Mountain Park

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Silver Falls State Park, Oregon - 50K Trail Race

I ran my first 50K trail race at Silver Falls State Park this past weekend.  I had planned to do this race last year, but a last minute ankle injury dashed those hopes, forcing me to watch the race from the sidelines.  Fortunately, this year's training was more successful, and I headed up to Portland on Thursday night to meet up with Keith and Melissa.  We left Portland on Friday afternoon for the hour and a half drive to Silver Falls.  Everything seemed vividly familiar from last year's trip; it was hard to believe that an entire year passed.  The only thing different was the pre-race jitters that I didn't get to experience last year.  We stayed in an Upper Smith Creek cabin this year and found it to be a much nicer than the lower cabin we had last year, despite the fact that the showers were in a nearby building.  The cabin was very cozy and spacious, and part of me wished I didn't have to race the next morning so that I could relax and enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

Upper Smith Creek cabin 7

After getting settled at the cabin, we headed over to the packet pickup area to collect our race items.  It was quick and efficient, but we were disappointed that there wasn't a roaring fire or an unattended beer tap like last year.  We decided to head back to the cabin and make our own fire in one of the nearby fire rings.  The wet conditions and damp wood made starting a fire a bit of challenge, but Keith always manages to get one going.  We sat around the fire for a few hours, surrounded by beautiful old growth forest, enjoying the quiet with some good pre-race beers.  Then it was off to bed for some sleep before the big race on Saturday.

Keith ran the full marathon at 8am, and I ran the 50K which started 30 minutes earlier.  We headed over to the start line around 7am in total darkness.  I  hadn't anticipated it being so dark, and some runners were wearing headlamps at the start line.  I stood around the starting line, being overly anxious, noting that almost everyone had warmer clothes and trail packs.  I decided to wear shorts and a long sleeve shirt, a running hat, and gloves.  I am a warm exerciser, even in cold conditions, so I didn't want to be overdressed.  I also hate wearing hydration packs, so I was hoping the aid stations every 6 or so miles would we sufficient.  In the end, my choices were perfect, and I was glad I didn't have excess clothing or a pack.

At the start line for the 50K
Keith at the start line for the marathon

At 7am, I was off for a 31 mile run through the beautiful forests of Silver Falls State Park.  The first few miles looped us through the campground and then back past the starting line, so there were quite a few people out and about.  After that, we headed into the backcountry, and we were on our own in the quiet forests of Silver Falls State Park.  The rain began to fall about an hour into the race, and it continued for the rest of the day.  It wasn't a downpour, but it was a continuous light rain that made the muddy trails even muddier and full of puddles.  Staying dry wasn't an option.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful, and as the runners began to  spread out, it became more and more peaceful.  I attempted to keep up with a leading pack of runners, but everyone turned out to be much better downhill runners than me.  I didn't have the confidence or experience to run down slippery, wet hills at full speed.  Eventually I fell back a bit, frequently passing people on the uphills, only to be re-passed on the way down.  It was a little frustrating, but I didn't want to risk a fall after finally making it past the starting line.  Around mile 12, we ran through a very cold, shin deep river.  The ups and downs continued until around mile 20, when the course took us down into the canyon containing the many famous waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park.

Entering the canyon
One of the many beautiful waterfalls of Silver Falls State Park


Behind North Falls
On the climb out of the canyon

I was beginning to feel fatigued before entering the canyon, but the incredible scenery and beautiful waterfalls really brightened my mood.  The trail takes you behind some of the largest waterfalls, offering a unique way to view the cascading water.  The 5 miles inside the canyon really flew by, and it wasn't long before I was faced with the steep climb out of the canyon behind South Falls.  At this point in the race, you are very close to the finish line.  You can hear the cheering and the music, but you take a sharp turn away from the finish to do a  loop above the canyon.  As you head back towards the finish line, the course takes you on another detour, a painfully steep hill with a sign at the bottom proclaiming it to be "nutcracker hill".  After nearly 31 miles, the name was accurate.  Finally, a steep, muddy, extremely slippery descent takes you to the finish line.  I finished with a time of 5:15, right were I had estimated, and 25th place overall.  I was pretty happy with the results for my first 50K trail race, especially in wet, slippery conditions that I'm not used to.  The rest of the afternoon consisted of beer, celebration, and warm fireplaces.

Keith after his marathon
Keeping warm at the finish line

Melissa and Jane ran the half marathon on Sunday.  The weather was much nicer, with blue skies and lots of sunshine.  While both of them ran, Keith and I wandered around the waterfalls and cheered them on at various points during the race.

Melissa and Jane ready for their half marathon
Jane running through an aid station
South Falls
Keith at Middle Falls
Melissa running the half marathon

Everyone has great races at Silver Falls this year.  A big thanks to Keith, Melissa, and Jane for making it such a fun weekend!  The Silver Falls Trail Runs are wonderfully organized and incredibly scenic.  It is a top-notch event, and there is good reason why it sells out so quickly each year.  I am so thankful that I was able to participate this year!

Celebrating our great races

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Goat Mountain and Deadman's Lake, Washington - Backpacking

Earlier in the summer, Keith, Melissa, and I discussed the idea of backpacking near Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  We wanted to coordinate with our friends, Katy and John, so that they could join us from Seattle.  We knew the weather would be most ideal for backpacking in late September or early October, but the only weekend that worked for everyone was October 22-23.  We made our plans for that weekend and hoped for the best, despite a very rainy forecast.  I flew up to Portland on Thursday night, and we were off to meet up with Katy and John at the trail head on Friday morning.

Our drive to the trail was more of an adventure than we had planned.  A washout on NF-26, not far from the turnoff to the trail head, resulted in us driving back and forth, and then back again, before finally accessing the road we needed from the NF-99 side.  Amazingly, Katy and John were waiting for us at the trail head and hadn't been there long, despite it being hours past the planned meetup time.  It was a late start, but we were off to climb Goat Mountain.

Starting the hike up Goat Mountain
Katy and John on the climb up Goat Mountain
Ryan Lake
Clouds and fog limited the views on the way in
  
After a fairly strenuous climb, we reached the ridge line of Goat mountain.  The views opened up, but low clouds and fog prevented us from seeing much beyond the valley below.  It was interesting the see the pattern of trees and grassy fields, indicating the areas that survived the blast of Mt. St. Helens and the areas that didn't.

Along the ridge of Goat Mountain
Patterns of trees reveal the blast zone
Tonic, Melissa, and Katy make their way along the ridge

After traversing along Goat Mountain, we crossed over the ridge and began our descent toward Deadman's Lake, the planned camping spot for the night.  We arrived to find the entire lake to ourselves, with plenty of open space to spread out and set up our tents.  Not long after setting up camp, the wind picked up and light rain began to fall.  Keith's shelter kept us mostly dry as we made dinner, but the wind whipped the rain around and made for a chilly evening.  Fortunately, substantial quantities of wine kept our spirits up as the rain and wind increased in intensity.  After crawling into my tent, the rain came down hard and continued for the rest of the night.
 
My tent set up at Deadman's Lake
Enjoying wine and taking shelter from the storm
Tonic the dog enjoying her backpacking trip

I was surprised to see blue sky when I emerged from my tent on Saturday morning.  The lake was calm and peaceful, and rain from the night before had frozen on our tents and gear.  It was a chilly, but very beautiful, morning.  We made breakfast and decided to do a day hike to nearby Vanson Peak, leaving our camp set up for a second night at Deadman's Lake in case the stormy weather returned.

Deadman's Lake

The hike to Vanson Peak offered some stunning views of Mt. Rainier as we made our way through the peaceful forest.  As we reached the summit, we were treated to views of Mt. Adams as well.  The weather was perfect and we were  thankful to have clear skies to see these massive, snow capped volcanic peaks.

Keith at Vanson Peak
Mt. Rainier

Views of Mt. Rainier from Vanson Peak
Mt. Adams
Heading back to camp from Vanson Peak

The weather held out the entire day and we were able to made it back to camp before sunset to make dinner and start a fire.  Thankfully, Keith's fire starting skills and Katy's awesome fire starters combined to save the day.  We were able to enjoy a wonderful, warm fire despite the wet conditions.

Back at camp before sunset
A fire made the second night more comfortable

We expected Sunday to be a rainy day, so we were surprised to find dry conditions when we emerged from our tents on Sunday morning. We packed up camp and headed back the way we came, up and over the ridge of Goat Mountain.  Our original trip plan was to make a loop hike via the Green River valley, but our late start from the trail head and the wet weather made the shorter out-and-back hike a better choice.

Melissa heading back up Goat Mountain

Katy on the ridge on Goat Mountain

It was very windy on Goat Mountain, but the visibility was better than on our hike in.  We finally caught a few glimpses of Mt. St. Helens as we made our way along the ridge, and Mt.  Hood could be seen in the far distance.

Katy and John and the ridge of Goat Mountain
Goat Mountain
Mt. St. Helens peeks out from the clouds

We made it back to the trail head around mid afternoon and headed towards Randle, WA.  We had some good views of Mt. St. Helens on our way out, despite the haze and clouds.  We were happy to warm up and dry off, and enjoyed some food at the Tall Timber restaurant in Randle before parting ways with Katy and John.

Mt. St. Helens
Mt. St. Helens