Monday, August 22, 2016

Flagstaff, Arizona - Hiking and Sightseeing

I met up with Stephen and Jared on Thursday morning for another great adventure in Stephen's quest to climb the highest peaks in the United States.  This year's plan was to climb Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, with an elevation of 12,637 feet above sea level.  Humphreys Peak is part the San Francisco Peaks, a group of extinct volcanic mountains located near Flagstaff, Arizona. We made the two hour drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff and walked around town for a bit before checking in for the night.  The downtown area, while small in size, was very lively and filled with restaurants, bars and shops.

San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ

We decided to hike Humphreys Peak on Friday morning, hoping to avoid the stormy monsoon weather that was in the forecast for the entire trip.  Everyone agreed to an early morning start, and we were at the trail head near Arizona Snowbowl at 5am.  We started hiking in the dark, but the trail was easy to follow and it gained elevation gradually from the open field where we began.  As daylight arrived, we were treated to blue skies and beautiful views of the surrounding forests.

Stephen and Jared on the trail to Humphreys Peak
An early start to beat the storms

Around 3 miles into the hike, the trail became noticeably steeper, climbing quickly above treeline and reaching the saddle below Humphreys Peak.  The views of the surrounding summits and expansive forests below were spectacular.  The weather was clear and cool, a bit of a surprise given the gloomy forecast.

Stephen hiking towards the saddle
View from the saddle
Jared and Stephen at the saddle

We made a navigational mistake at the saddle and took the Weatherford Trail away from Humphreys Peak.  Eventually,  we realized our error and made our way back to the saddle.  The sign indicating the correct trail to the summit was turned around to face downhill traffic - not very useful for hikers arriving from below.

Wrong trail but great views

The last mile to the summit was very rocky, and the trail was occasionally difficult to find and follow.  It was slow going walking over the rocks, but everyone was enjoying themselves as the weather was perfect and the views were amazing. The summit finally came into view after a few false summits, and we arrived at the peak around 8am.  We completed the entire hike at 11am, just as the first thunderstorms of the day rolled through.  Thai food, beers (for me) and sweet treats were the rewards after a great day on the mountain.

Stephen making his way to the summit of Humphreys Peak
Humphreys Peak
At the summit of Humphreys Peak
Jared at the summit of Humphreys Peak

On Saturday, we headed towards Winslow, AZ to see the world-famous Meteor Crater.  I visited the crater with my grandparents when I was very young, and I was excited to see a place that I remembered well from my childhood.  The crater was formed when a meteor impacted the area about 50,000 years ago, blasting a hole 1 mile in diameter and over 500 feet deep.  Fortunately, it was interesting enough to offset the $18 admission price.

Meteor Crater

On our way back to Flagstaff, we stopped at Walnut Canyon National Monument.  The monument was established in 1915 to protect the ancient cliff dwellings that were built by the Sinagua people between 1100 and 1250 AD.  We hiked the Island Trail, descending 185 feet into the canyon and along a rim containing several  preserved cliff dwellings.  Aside from the interesting dwellings, the quiet solitude and beautiful flowers made Walnut Canyon a stunning place that I could have enjoyed for an entire day.

Cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument
Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Flowers along the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument

The final stop of our busy Saturday was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a dormant cinder cone located north of Flagstaff, AZ.  The volcano erupted around the year 1085 AD, spewing ash and lava flows across 800 square miles and disrupting the lives of the Sinagua people living in the area.  Like Walnut Canyon, this monument was peaceful and beautiful, with several hiking trails around the lava flows and cinder cones.  We hiked the Lenox Crater trail, a 1 mile trail that offered some great views of the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, and the Bonito lava flow.

Lava flow in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
View of the San Francisco Peaks from Lenox Crater Trail
Flowers along the Lenox Crater Trail
Sunset Crater

I spent Sunday walking around the Northern Arizona University Campus and visiting the exceptional  Museum of Northern Arizona.  To finish a great trip, I enjoyed some delicious beers at  Lumberyard Brewing Company and Mother Road Brewing Company, and had a fantastic dinner at Red Curry Vegan Kitchen.  I fell in love with Flagstaff and hope to return again soon.  Thanks to Stephen and Jared for planning a great trip!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fremont Indian State Park, Utah - Camping, Hiking, and Biking

Roger and I discovered a hidden gem in the Utah State Park system over the 4th of July weekend.  We were looking for a camping and hiking trip that wasn't too far from Salt Lake City and wouldn't be too overcrowded on a holiday weekend.  We also wanted a location where we could watch some fireworks on Monday evening.  After a lot of searching, Fremont Indian State Park seemed to fit the bill.  We left Salt Lake City on Saturday morning, passed through Richfield a few hours later, and made our way over to Fremont Indian State Park.

Clear Creek running through Fremont Indian State Park

We stayed in the Castle Rock campground, a two mile drive from the park's visitor center, at the end of a gravel road.  The campground was beautiful and well maintained, and many of the sites were surround by trees and spectacular views of the surrounding rock formations.  It seemed like an oasis on the desert with Joe Lott Creek running through the center of the campground.  Our site was large, but a bit exposed, and it felt more like a parking lot.  We found a more secluded area for our tent and set it up just before a strong thunderstorm moved through.  The rain and hail came down hard for several minutes, and the air was filled with the smell of pine as needles were ripped from the surrounding trees.  After hunkering down in our tent for almost an hour, I emerged to find the ground covered in ice and fog shrouding our campground.

Our tent surrounded by hail at Fremont Indian State Park

Thankfully, the sun came out and quickly warmed the air, giving us a chance to hike around the campground and explore the castle-like rocks.  Later that evening, we joined a "scorpion walk" hosted by the state park.  After listening to a talk about scorpions in the Utah desert, we were given blacklights to look for the arachnids on a nearby hill.  Scorpions fluoresce under blacklights due to chemicals in their cuticle.  We saw several small scorpions before heading back to camp and calling it a day.

Castle Rock campground at Fremont Indian State Park
Exploring the Castle Rock campground
Dinner at Castle Rock campground
Sunset at Castle Rock campground
Scorpion fluorescing under blacklight at Fremont Indian State Park
On Sunday, we drove to the town of Sevier with our road bikes and found the trail head for the Candy Mountain Express bike trail.  The paved trail travels up the canyon, following the Sevier River, and offers great views the entire way.  The trail ends at Big Rock Candy Mountain, an interesting roadside attraction, and the entire round trip back to the trail head was only about 14 miles.  We intended to continue our ride after returning the to trail head, but more thunderstorms were brewing. We decided to return to Fremont Indian State Park and hike some of the short trails in the area for the afternoon.

Big Rock Candy Mountain Express bike trail
Big Rock Candy Mountain

We checked out the interesting visitor center museum while the thunderstorms passed.  As the weather cleared, we hiked a few of the looping trails that surround the visitor center.  While construction was occurring to build Interstate 70, the largest known Fremont Indian village was uncovered in the area.  Many of the surrounding rocks and cliffs contain pictographs and petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indians several hundred years ago.  The noise of cars and trucks from the interstate is hard to escape in the park, but it adds another level of human history to the canyon as a corridor for travel.

Petroglyph at Fremont Indian State Park
Petroglyphs at Fremont Indian State Park
Example of a wikiup at Fremont Indian State Park
Example of a pit-house at Fremont Indian State Park
Petroglyph at Fremont Indian State Park
On Monday, the 4th of July, we headed into Richfield to watch the town's parade before riding our bikes from Elsinore to Big Rock Candy Mountain and back.  We enjoyed some relaxation time back at camp before checking out the fireworks in Richfield later that evening.  For a small town, the fireworks display was spectacular, and many people were launching their own fireworks in the streets prior to the main show.  It was quite event in Richfield and a great way to spend the last evening of our trip.

Castle rocks
Birthday boy relaxing at camp
Castle rocks at Fremont Indian State Park

As we traveled back to Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning, we made a stop at historic Cove Fort.  It was  built by Mormon pioneers and founded in 1867 and served as a way station and stagecoach stop for people traveling between the towns of Fillmore and Beaver.  It's a great place to learn some interesting Mormon history and tour beautifully restored structure.

Cove Fort
Cove Fort
Peaceful surroundings of Cove Fort

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Oregon Coast - Sightseeing and Camping

After leaving Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Monday morning, we made a brief stop at Eel River Brewing Company near Fortuna, CA for some delicious beers.  The outdoor seating area was very nice and the weather was beautiful.  We continued north, heading back again through Eureka, and made our way to Harris Beach State Park in southern Oregon to set up camp for the night.

Eel River Brewing Company near Fortuna, CA
Setting up camp at Harris Beach State Park, OR
Harris Beach State Park, OR

The campground at Harris Beach State Park was nice and well-kept, but our site didn't have a good view of the ocean like some of the more exposed RV sites.  We decided to head down to the beach and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the beautiful scenery and spectacular rock formations.  It was a quiet Monday evening, and while the campground had a surprising number of people, we had the beach to ourselves.

Harris Beach State Park, OR
Harris Beach State Park, OR
Keith and Melissa at the beach
Keith enjoying a beer at the beach

After packing up camp and enjoying a warmer shower than I experienced at Humboldt Redwoods State Park, we continued north along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway.  Our first stop of the morning was at Cape Blanco, the westernmost point in Oregon and the state's most southern lighthouse.  Unfortunately, the lighthouse was closed for tours on Tuesdays, but we enjoyed hiking around the surrounding hills and taking in the spectacular views of the ocean below.

Cape Blanco lighthouse
Cape Blanco, OR
Cape Blanco, OR

We continued north and made a stop at the Oregon Dunes National recreation area near Eel Creek Campground.  We hiked to the first dunes viewpoint and enjoyed markedly different scenery from the rocky coastlines we'd seen farther south.  A surprising number of wildflowers were blooming, adding a splash of color to moving mounds of sand.

Hiking in Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Wildflowers at Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area
Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area

We had lunch in  Florence at the Riverside Cafe, with excellent views of the Siuslaw River Bridge from our table.  After grabbing some groceries for dinner, we continued north to find a camping spot for the night.  We ended up camping at Tillicum Beach Campground,  which offered numerous ocean view sites, along with sites shrouded by dense pine trees.  Due to the wind, we decided against camping in the exposed sites facing the ocean and opted for a nice site in the trees with some partial ocean views.  Rain began to fall after we set up our tents, but Keith had brought a large rain tarp which allowed us to enjoy the rest of the evening outside.  I fell asleep to the sound of the crashing waves and rain falling on my tent.

On Wednesday morning, we stopped at the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area on our way back to Portland.  The area offers great views of the ocean, a beautiful lighthouse, and a black rock cobble beach.

View from Yaquina Head
Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Black rock cobble beach at Yaquina Head
Yaquina Head

After passing through Lincoln City, OR, we headed northeast away from the coast and back towards Portland.  Keith and Melissa planned a perfect trip and I can't thank them enough for a memorable adventure through the Redwoods of northern California and the beaches southern Oregon!