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!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Avenue of the Giants - Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California - Marathon and Camping

Keith, Melissa, and I arrived in Eureka, California on Saturday evening after driving down the coast from Crater Lake National Park.  We planned to camp at Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Sunday night, so our first stop was a grocery store to pick up some food and supplies.  After dinner at the Lost Coast Brewery with many fellow runners, we headed back to our hotel for a few more beers and a good night's sleep.

The Avenue of the Giants Marathon was my first race in nearly two years, and due to the last minute decision to run, my training really wasn't up to marathon standards.  It sounded like a beautiful race, and trips with Keith and Melissa are always awesome, so I decided I'd run the race with no expectations aside from having fun.

I awoke on Sunday morning with the usual pre-race butterflies in my stomach as I tried to eat something substantial for breakfast.  It was cool and sunny as we jumped in the car around 6am and made the one hour drive to Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  Fog replaced sunshine as we approached the park, alleviating my fear that it was going to be a hot race.  Parking and packet pickup was quick and efficient, and we still had plenty of time before my race began at 7:45am.  Keith and Melissa were running the half marathon and that race started about an hour after me, so I was able to keep my jacket on until the last minute before giving it to them and walking down to the start line.  I ended up farther back in the pack than I was hoping and the starting area was too narrow and crowded to move up very much.  There was some music and a quick announcement, and then we were off!  I always wonder how I am going to run 26.2 miles as I am crossing the start line.  It always seems ridiculous to me, until I get moving.

The marathon course is an out and back on one of the smaller park roads, and then a second out and back on the main Avenue of the Giants road.  I really liked this setup; it broke the race up into four manageable parts.  It also meant I passed a lot of people along the way, from the first place runner to the walkers in the back of the pack.  Everyone was enthusiastic and encouraging, and it was a lot of fun to pass so many friendly faces along the way.

The first six miles were slightly uphill, but with fresh legs, the hills were barely noticeable.  Despite starting in the middle of the pack, I was able to move up to the front with little difficulty after the start .  By the second mile, the race was already spread out.  The road was a little rough with potholes, so I kept my eyes looking down as much as possible to avoid a twisted ankle.  That was difficult, however,  because every time I looked up my eyes were met with the most incredible views of towering redwoods shrouded in fog and mist.  It was absolutely breathtaking.  The road was so narrow that it felt like I was running through a tunnel of trees.

Avenue of the Giants

I expected to see the leaders of the race pass me on their way back from the first turnaround by mile 4 or 5, but I made it to the turnaround point not long after seeing the first several runners.  I was feeling good and running faster than expected, and I got to experience all the cheers and encouragement from the runners behind me as I made my way back down the road.  The return was also slightly downhill, so this was a really fun segment of the marathon.  I was back at the start, 13 miles into the marathon, before I knew it.

Around mile 14 at Avenue of the Giants Marathon

The second half of the race was on smooth pavement, so I was able to look around and enjoy the views a little more.  I felt like the first half was more spectacular and peaceful, but the trees were still inspiring and beautiful on the second half.  It wasn't long before the leaders of the other races started passing me in the opposite direction.  Shortly after, I began to encounter the walkers and slower runners from the other races going in the same direction as me.  I was worried that it was going to get congested and I would need to do a lot of weaving around people, but it never got too difficult to pass.  Everything seemed to flow fairly smoothly.  It was a big running party with people heading in opposite directions and running at different paces.  It became difficult to figure out who was running the full, half, 10K, or 5K.  Everyone was just out running and having an amazing time.

I reached the second turnaround point, around mile 20, feeling good and running strong.  The last six miles are always mentally exhausting, anxiously anticipating each new mile marker long before they make their appearance.  Despite being tired, I never felt drained and I was still enjoying the race.  Passing people is always a mental boost, even if they aren't running the same race as you.  At that point, I had no idea who was running the marathon vs. the 5K.

I don't wear a GPS watch during races and there were no pace groups or clocks along the course, so I had no idea how fast I was running, but I knew I was having a good race.  It's an awesome feeling to feel strong for the last mile of a marathon - you can celebrate and enjoy the moment instead of just running to get it over with.  There were lots of people lining the course for the last half mile and the cheering was welcomed after a quiet run through the redwoods.  With a final burst of energy, I run up the small hill to the finish, with a time of 3:15:53 for a new marathon PR.  That was a pretty awesome way to finish  an amazingly beautiful run through the redwoods.

Keith and Melissa met me at the finish, and we headed back to the car for food and refreshments.  There wasn't much in the way of food or beer at the finish line, so we were glad we had brought our own.  We headed down to the banks of the Eel river on the sand bar that we had parked, and enjoyed beers, sunshine, and relaxation for the rest of the afternoon.  I was in heaven!

Cheers to a great race!
Eel River at the Dyerville Sand Bar

We camped in the Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park on Sunday night, celebrating our races and enjoying great food and drinks.  The campground was beautiful and surrounded by majestic redwood trees.  We all ended up in our tents fairly early, exhausted from a great day of running.

Camping at the Burlington Campground in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Melissa celebrating a great day of running

We were all a little sore from running the next morning, but we decided to do some short walks around the redwoods in Humboldt Redwoods State Park before heading up the coast.  We spent a few hours at the Founders' Grove, walking the interpretative trails and enjoying the peaceful beauty of the redwood forest.  It was a great way to say goodbye to this spectacular redwood forest before continuing our trip up the Oregon Coast.

Founders' Grove in Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Keith and Melissa walking through the Founders' Grove
Humboldt Redwoods State Park
Humboldt Redwoods State Park