Author Archives: needstogetaway

About needstogetaway

I run (a lot), bike (a little), swim (a little less), and hike (a bit more these days). I am a scientist, wife, daughter, and human guardian to three kitties. I wish my life allowed me to travel more. But, it's not a bad life after all!

Death Valley December 2014

I’m a bit late (as in a few years) publishing this. Oh well, life happens! I wrote the narrative as soon as we got back but never got around to looking through all the photos my husband took until now.

I have relatives that live in Las Vegas. Which means I go to Vegas more than someone who likes to gamble as little as I do would normally go. On the flip side, we get out and explore as much as possible. In 2014 we visited early enough in December to make it to Death Valley during the “shoulder” season.

In September 1996 I moved from Virginia to California. My mom drove with me in my brand new 1996 Honda accord with all my possessions in the backseat and trunk. We had budgeted way more time than we had needed for the drive and in the end made a detour through Death Valley and up across Tioga Pass road. What I remember of Death Valley was standing at Badwater, the sand dunes, and that the drive out of the west side of the park made my mom very nervous due to her fear of heights. I knew that someday I would make it back to explore a bit more.

DISCLAIMER: We took this trip back in 2014, 10 months before the devastating floods. As of July 2018, Scotty’s castle and the nearby road remains closed and are not anticipated to reopen until 2020.

DAY 1:

I had originally done a lot of planning and gotten advice on Tripadvisor for our trip to Death Valley, but when the time came we ended up winging it a bit. We had both been extremely busy with work related stuff before our trip and wanted a bit more “chill” time than I had originally planned. We had originally planned to get up early and head to Death Valley our second full day in Vegas, but we were kind of pooped and the weather was poor so we altered our plans a bit. After a leisurely breakfast at a casino buffet we eventually headed out. The rain was predicted to taper off in Death Valley in the early afternoon which meant we had a wet drive most of the way heading out of Vegas on route 160. I was a bit nervous in the Spring Mountains because the temperature kept dropping and I was afraid we might hit some snow. Fortunately, the car thermometer bottomed out at 39 degrees so all we had to deal with was some fog. Originally we were going to detour to China Ranch Date farm, but when we reached the decision point to turn or not, it was pouring rain still so we decided to keep going toward Death Valley.

When we got to Shoshone it was still raining so we decided to forgo the cold sandwiches we had packed in our cooler and stopped at the Crowbar Cafe and Saloon. Great decision- they were decorated for Christmas and we enjoyed our hot lunches with more food than we could eat and plenty of ice tea. Unfortunately it was still raining when we left but we headed into the Park via route 178. I was surprised that there was no official entrance station and was disappointed we hadn’t picked up some sort of map at the Shoshone museum. At this point my husband asked how far to our hotel, and when I said 70 miles he was a bit surprised. I reminded him that the park is about the size of the state of Connecticut. About the time we got to Jubilee Pass the rain let up and we could even see a tiny bit of blue sky. It almost seemed like some of the scrub plants were turning green before our eyes.

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Rain finally stopped but you can tell where it had been flowing across the road. This road was also damaged in the floods of October 2015 but reopened a few months later.

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Desolate and beautiful at the same time.

Continuing towards Badwater we stopped briefly to have a look at the Ashford Mill ruins and to use the pit toilets. PSA- at least in late 2014 none of the pit toilets we used had any kind of hand sanitizer, so consider bringing your own.

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Ashford Mill ruins. Note a hint of blue sky and sun!

Along the way to Badwater we enjoyed the view and even saw a Coyote along the road.

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Heading into Death Valley toward Badwater. The sky was clearing and allowed us views of the snow covered mountains.

At Badwater the sign I remember having my picture made with in 1996 was still there (or at least a new one just like it!) so I had my husband take my picture there again 18 years after my first visit. I’m a bit camera shy so decided not to post it here. We hiked out onto the salt flat a bit and enjoyed the view up to the sea level sign on the mountainside above us.

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Standing in the salt flats at Badwater. The tiny speck of white on the hillside above us is a sign that says “Sea Level” and puts everything into perspective.

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Badwater. 282 feet below sea level.

We continued the drive toward Furnace Creek and enjoyed all the beautiful desert views as well as the brief glimpses of the snow covered peaks of the mountains across the valley as the clouds shifted around them. We decided to forgo the Natural Bridge on this trip, and unfortunately the road to access Devils Golf Course was closed due to the recent rains. We arrived at Artists drive at about 2:30, which at this time of year gave us great lighting. We stopped fairly early in the drive to hike up a hill to have a look around. I swear there were sustained tropical force winds at the top of that hill. I had to brace myself to let my husband take some pictures and at times the wind was moving me around. Again, I’m camera shy so will forgo the photos here. We continued on to Artist’s Palette where we hiked around briefly and my husband took a lot of pictures. This place is stunningly beautiful! There was a guy giving people photography tips (an organized class I assume) and people discussing that scenes for Star Wars had been filmed in the area. I would say this is a “don’t miss” in Death Valley!

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Artists drive.

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Along Artists drive.

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One of the overlooks along Artists Drive. It was super windy here.

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Artist’s Palette- one of my favorite photos from the trip. I need to get this one printed and framed.

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My husband calls this one “self portrait”.

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A closer view of some of the colors.

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Star Wars fans will recognize this!

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Even more beautiful colors.

After Artist’s Drive we decided to head to the Ranch at Furnace Creek (now called Ranch at Death Valley) to check in. We made a wrong turn and ended up at the Inn where we saw where the fire had taken out their laundry building a few days before. The volunteer fire department was still on scene and was diverting traffic to detour through the parking lot. After turning around we made a brief visit to the Visitor’s center to pay our entrance fee, get a map and buy a postcard. The Ranch at Furnace Creek is right next door to the Visitor’s center and after checking in we decided to chill the rest of the day. We had time to play a game of bocce ball and enjoy a cocktail out on our balcony before heading to dinner. We ended up just grabbing a pizza and beers in the Saloon. That worked out well because with the fridge in the room we took the leftover pizza with us for later. We are huge fans of the TV show the Amazing Race so we were happy to call it an early evening to be back in our room in time to watch that night’s episode.

DAY 2:

The next morning we took advantage of the in room coffee and had leftover cold pizza for breakfast before heading out. We headed to Golden Canyon for a hike. We hiked up to Red Cathedral area. We considered doing the full loop through Gower Gulch, but the access to Zabriskie point was posted to be closed at that time (December 2014) and I had forgotten to bring my hiking poles. I could tell the full loop would be more climbing and descending on the side of a hill than I would be comfortable doing without them, so we decided to save the full loop for a future visit. The part we did hike though was just absolutely gorgeous. I would highly recommend even a short out and back though Golden Canyon.

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Hiking in Golden Canyon.

After our hike we headed out toward Stovepipe Wells. We stopped briefly at Harmony Borax Works ruins.

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Borax works ruins. Could you imagine working in the heat?

The Visitor’s Center had recommended visiting the Salt Creek interpretive trail. Originally, this wasn’t on my radar as something to do, but I’m glad we did- I really enjoyed this short hike. There were lots of animal prints around the creek and even birds and butterflies. We think we saw pupfish in the creek. We took advantage of the picnic tables there to eat the sandwiches we didn’t eat the day before. You really do have to plan ahead for lunch in the park as the places to buy food are few and far apart.

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Salt Creek area.

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Animal tracks at Salt Creek.

Our next stop was the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes. We hiked out across the dunes for a bit, which is very hard work hiking through sand up and over the dunes. It was a lot of fun though, and we watched a bunch of kids out “sledding” on the dunes.

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Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes.

We headed out to Stovepipe Wells Village and enjoyed a cold soda on the front porch of the store there before heading up to Mosaic Canyon. I enjoyed the hike in Mosaic Canyon but thought Golden Canyon was a bit more interesting.

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An interesting area in Mosaic Canyon.

By that point, we had actually been on our feet quite a bit and also had done quite a bit of driving, so decided to head back to Furnace Creek to take advantage of the pool. The pool is fed by a warm (but not hot) spring, but I thought it was warm enough while I was in it. However, the air temperature was pretty cool, so once we got out we made a freezing mad dash back to our room. Dinner was back at the Saloon again. Overall, food choices are rather limited at Furnace Creek. That night there was a meteor shower, but it was predicted to be hampered somewhat by the moon. Just sitting out on our balcony we saw a couple of shooting stars, so decided to not get out in the car to try to get a better view. Sleep was more important.

DAY 3:

The next morning we decided to head up to Scotty’s Castle. It was about an hour drive from Furnace Creek and we stopped a couple of times along the way to take some photos of the amazing scenery. There were also a few places on the road where debris had been washed across it in flash floods a few days before. Once we got to the Castle, the weather was very cool so I busted out my hat and gloves. We didn’t get our tour tickets in advance, so we got there a bit before the office opened. It was definitely slow season because we had no problem walking up to get the tickets. This place is absolutely amazing. Such a lavash house basically in the middle of nowhere, and the story of Scotty is quite something. We did the house tour and our tour guide who played the part of the likable scoundrel Scotty did a phenomenal job. There are so many interesting architectural details and amazing art inside the house. There is a “big finish” to the tour involving the player piano, which was even more special because due to the holiday season the music was “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”. There is also an underground tour of the house we could have taken, but we felt like we wanted to see some other stuff and wanted to be back in Vegas before dark. We did have time though to hike up to where Scotty is buried above the castle and admire the views from there. (My future self feels very fortunate to have visited Scotty’s Castle before the devastating flood of 2015).

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Scotty’s Castle, December 2014.

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Entering the castle for the tour, December 2014.

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Some of the amazing details and art in the castle, December 2014.

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The upstairs music room. The player piano is in the left corner. Standing in this room and listening to the holiday music on the player piano is a memory I will always cherish. December 2014.

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View from up on the hill where Scotty is buried (photo from December 2014). I can imagine the flood waters the next year racing down this valley.

Before heading out of Death Valley, we headed to Ubehebe crater for a look. We decided not to hike around or down to the bottom though.

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Ubehebe crater.

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Views from Ubehebe crater.

We then headed out back past Scotty’s Castle (this road was wiped out by the 2015 flood) out to Scotty’s Junction where we got on route 95, only stopping briefly during the drive to take a picture of the entrance sign to Death Valley right at the Nevada/California border.

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We stopped briefly in Beatty to visit the Death Valley Nut and Candy company where I bought some old fashioned candy to take back to the people who work for me and we enjoyed some ice cream. We then checked out the ghost town of Rhyolite, which is actually something I would have been okay skipping because I didn’t find it too interesting. After that it was a straight shot back to Vegas in time for dinner and to spend some time with family.

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Image from the ghost town.

Death Valley is a spectacular place, and we obviously didn’t have time to see it all. We don’t spend much time in a car in our day to day lives, so we kind of got tired of driving so much on our full day in the park which meant we skipped Dante’s View. So, I’m sad about that but that is definitely on the list for the next trip along with Devil’s Golf Course and the complete Golden Canyon/Gower’s Gulch hiking loop. I would also like to rent a jeep and see some of the things that are only accessible when you have high clearance 4WD.

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Las Vegas/Arizona spring 2018

Well, I’ve fallen behind with describing travel but am trying to get back in the saddle again.

We took a short but fun road trip from Las Vegas through Arizona late May/early June 2018. Overall I enjoyed the trip but was somewhat saddened by ever increasing crowds. For this trip, my husband had a normal camera but I took a camera that had an infrared filter. My mom was kind enough to loan us her car.

Vegas time:

Our time in Vegas is usually spent with relatives although we usually get out at least once to stretch our legs and do some hiking. This time we re-visited Floyd Lamb Park. I usually love this park- the lakes and old buildings make it an oasis in the desert. You don’t really expect to see people fishing in Las Vegas! However, we happened to be there on Memorial day and the park was being enjoyed by a lot more people than usual. However, we did escape the crowds by hiking out in the desert past the lakes. I wish we had some binoculars though to get a better look at the birds that make the wooded area there their home. This park is about 17 miles from the Strip, so isn’t really visited by tourists.

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Floyd Lamb park in infrared

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Peacock at Floyd Lamb displaying for some pigeons.

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I think these are Ruddy ducks at Floyd Lamb.

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I could use some help with exactly what this is!

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A kid with bread got the attention of many goslings

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Bunny at Floyd Lamb

On to the road trip:

Day 1: Las Vegas to North Rim Grand Canyon. Google maps: about 264 miles, 4.5 hours. This is the furthest I have driven in some time!

A couple of months ago I was fortunate to snag a hotel room at the Grand Canyon Lodge for 1 night. As teenagers, my husband and I had been to the South Rim on family road trips, plus I heard the North Rim was less crowded. On the way we stopped at the Le Fevre Overlook along highway 89A. This gives you a view of “all the steps of the Grand Staircase“. Definitely worth a stop, there are bathrooms there if you need them too.

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View of Grand Staircase from Le Fever overlook.

After another stop for lunch in Jacob Lake, we turned onto the long entrance road (67) to the North Rim. Along the drive toward the park we were blown away by how gorgeous the scenery is- meadows, aspen and pine. In late May the Aspen leaves are still coming in and many were a beautiful almost gold color (think Robert Frost’s poem Nothing Gold Can Stay). There are also some bison along the drive.

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Pine and aspen.

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Bison.

Once we arrived at the North Rim we went straight to the Lodge to admire the view. The Lodge is amazing- the main building is right on the rim and there are balconies you can sit out on and just take in the view. We did some exploring on the trails around the lodge, but with our combined unease with steep drop offs there were just some areas that we didn’t hike to.

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Canyon View from Lodge

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Canyon View from Lodge

After admiring the view from the Lodge, we decided to drive out to Point Imperial which is the highest viewpoint in the park.

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View from Point Imperial.

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View from Point Imperial.

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View from Point Imperial in infrared.

Once there we were at Point Imperial we were intrigued by the way the forest in the area was recovering from the 2000 fire so we hiked about a mile and a half out and back on the Point Imperial trail. It was amazing to see how the land heals itself and to escape the people (we saw no other hikers). There were also a couple of places we could get canyon views. At one point though we did get spooked by a loud noise off the trail that we think must have been a mule deer. I feel weird saying this, but I think having this short hike to ourselves was the highlight of the day.

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Hiking through the burn area on the Point Imperial trail.

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View from Point Imperial trail.

After our short hike, we considered driving toward Cape Royal but after so much time in the car already and the winding road that was indicated on the map just decided to skip it in favor of returning back to the lodge to check in. We just had a motel room at the lodge and although it was very basic, we were in the park! After a quick foray to the North Kaibab trailhead area to remind ourselves how hard a rim to rim hike would be, we spent the rest of the day enjoying some Arizona beers on the Lodge balcony and enjoying the views. It got very crowded as sunset approached, but we grabbed some food from the Deli at the lodge and enjoyed watching the light change during sunset. The sunset is almost behind you this time of year, but the effects are still beautiful on the canyon. If it all possible, I would recommend being there for sunset!

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Late afternoon shadows.

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Getting closer to sunset.

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Last rays of sun hitting the canyon.

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Grand Canyon in infrared.

After sunset on the way back to our room we caught the almost full moon rising over Roaring Spring Canyon. A great end to the day.

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Moonrise.

Day 2: North Rim Grand Canyon to Page. Google maps: about 123 miles, 2.5 hours.

I didn’t plan much for this day thinking we would likely do the drive to Cape Royal at the North Rim. However, after enjoying the beautiful drive from Jacob Lake to the park the day before we decided to do some hiking in the national forest in that area. After enjoying the views from the Lodge one more time and armed with only some basic knowledge that we gained using the slow internet at the camp store, we set off. The first hiker sign we saw, we turned. We followed a gravel road up the mountain and arrived at the East Rim Viewpoint. This is technically the Saddle Mountain wilderness and I do believe the view is into something called North Canyon. The Viewpoint is actually on a segment of the Arizona trail. We hiked a bit along the trail and enjoyed the Aspen forest and views into the canyon. We also enjoyed the relative solitude compared to the national park- we only saw a handful of mountain bikers the hour we were hiking.

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Views from Arizona trail segment.

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Aspen

We continued toward Page and stopped several times to enjoy the views of the Vermilion cliffs. We had actually entered the online lottery for The Wave permits for both May and June and were unsuccessful, so that will have to hopefully happen on a future trip. Some of our stops as the highway followed the cliffs were caused by being behind a person pulling a wide trailer that was impossible to pass because they were always creeping into the other lane. Better to stop and take pictures than to be overcome with road rage!

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Vermillion cliffs from highway overlook. A few of the raindrops did eventually hit our windshield.

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View from an impromptu stop. There are actually a lot of different colors in the cliffs.

On the way to Page we also stopped and walked across the historic Navajo Bridge that spans the Colorado river next to the newer one that cars travel across. The views from the bridge were amazing, although I did stop to take a photo for a family who claimed the teenage son was getting sick of all the rocks looking the same.

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View from Navajo Bridge. Again the range of colors in the cliffs really stood out to me.

Just outside of Page we stopped at the Horseshoe bend overlook. Holy tons of people Batman! Seriously, this famous viewpoint is a hot up and down hike (both ways!) to a sheer drop off where hundreds of people speaking very loudly are all trying to get to a position on the edge of a sheer drop off to take a selfie. If you are especially lucky, there will be babies crying and construction noise (they appear to be building a safer overlook). Although my husband was patient and took several photos, for me I can only say I am grateful it was free.

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Crowds gathering on the edge.

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My husband had a lot of patience to get this and the next shot of Horseshoe bend.

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In Page, we weren’t in a hurry to get to the hotel so we found Scenic drive and a overlook for the Glen Canyon Dam. It was couple of flights of “stairs” down to the best observation area and it was definitely worth the 15 minutes we spent there to get a face on view of the engineering marvel that the dam is. We decided against touring the dam as we were more interested in being outdoors.

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Glen Canyon Dam from the overlook.

We then headed to the Page Boy Motel to check in. Pluses of the Page Boy: swimming pool, nice refrigerator in room (a bonus for road tripping with a cooler!), walkable to restaurants, and plenty of outdoor seating/tables for chilling outside. They also have a continental breakfast but unfortunately we had to leave each morning before they started serving it at 7 am. We walked to the State 48 Tavern for dinner and very much enjoyed it (great service, fine food, large cold beers, Stanley cup hockey on the TV). We then turned in as early as possible as we had to get up very early the next morning.

Day 3: Page: Canyon tours, short hike.

My husband is really into photography so I booked us a photography tour of the local canyons. After consulting him and a friend who did the tour back in April, we booked the four canyon photography tour (Upper Antelope + 3 other lesser known canyons) with Adventurous Antelope Canyon. This tour was not cheap, and requires cameras with tripods for everyone, but in the end was well worth the cost for us. My husband came well prepared with a nice camera and tripod, I faked it with our lesser camera with the infrared filter and lesser tripod. We arrived to check in earlier than the required 6:45 am time and then waited until our 7:15 departure. Turns out we were the only ones booked on the four canyon tour so had our own guide! Our guide (Cody) had a lot of fun driving us to the different canyons (we even got a bonus fifth side canyon) and gave us photography tips as well as telling us a bit about the area. Three of the canyons we visited were exclusive for our tour company so we were totally alone in those. In the bonus side canyon we saw only 2 other people. However, Antelope Canyon is chock full of people. CHOCK FULL. The business model is to move people along as quickly as possible. But, being on a photography tour we got a full 2 minutes at prime photography locations while other non-photography tours were forced out of the area. Felt like cattle were being herded, but we were the choicest cattle that would yield the best beef. The guides would throw dust into the shafts of light to create the best possible photo opportunities. I could post a ton of photos, but don’t want to fill up my media storage or bore you to tears.

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Antelope Canyon.

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Antelope Canyon.

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Colors and textures in Mountain Sheep canyon.

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From one of the quieter canyons in infrared.

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Nearby but shot with my iPhone. Maybe a bit over-filtered.

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Infrared laser cat sunbeam!

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Taken with my iPhone in Antelope Canyon. Kind of looks like the famous 6.5 million dollar phantom photograph, no?

After our tour, we stopped for a late lunch (I won’t mention the place because I don’t recommend it) and then headed back to the hotel to regroup. We ended up going on a short, easy out and back hike before dinner near the Glenn Canyon Dam. The hike is called hanging gardens and ends at an outcropping of rock with a (relatively) high amount of vegetation hanging from it. Toward the end the trail forks and we accidentally went left away from the right hand turn that would have taken us to the actual hanging gardens but we did instead get some nice views of parts of the lake. We had a nice dinner of pizza at Strombolli’s and fortunately had leftovers to have for breakfast the next morning as it was a very early day.

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Infrared view of Lake Powell from Hanging Gardens trail.

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I think the greenery along the back bluff is actually the hanging garden.

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Lake Powell from Hanging Gardens trail.

Day 4: Page to Navajo National Monument; Navajo National Monument to Tuba City. 151 miles total driving, 2.5 hours.

I really wanted to see cliff dwellings on this trip at Canyon de Chelly. However that would have been too far to drive. So I found this “small” national monument that would still let me accomplish my goal of seeing cliff dwellings without driving so much that I wanted to pull my hair out. At Navajo National Monument there are 3 different cliff dwellings, although one (Inscription House) is closed to the public as it is very fragile and another (Keet Seel) is basically an overnight hike as it is 17 mile round trip. The third, Betatakin, is more easily accessible. From the Visitor’s Center you can take a 1.6 mile round trip out and back hike to a viewpoint of Betatakin from across the canyon. However, you must take a ranger guided hike to see the ruins up close. Check with them for the times when you are planning to go, but when we were there the guided hikes were at 8:15 or 10 am. The 8:15 hike is longer (5 miles round trip) than the 10 am hike (3 miles roundtrip). Because it is a shorter hike, the going down (about 850 feet vertical) and then going back up is steeper on the 10 am hike. The hikes are first come first served, and are limited to 25 people. We ended up having one other person on our hike with us, but he said the day before one hike was full as the other was cancelled as the rangers had training to attend. So, I would call ahead a day or two before to double check times.

Unlike other parts of Arizona, the Navajo Reservation observes daylight savings time, so the Navajo National Monument time was an hour ahead of Page time. So, the 8:15 hike would have meant an extremely early wake up call. As it was, getting there in time for the 10 am hike did mean an early wake up. The drive from Page on Google Maps routes you the last couple of miles to over what I think is a dirt road, so we ended up taking 98 all the way to 160 and then took the turn off for Navajo National Monument. We ended up getting there with plenty of time to spare for the 10 am hike. I kind of expected pit toilets and water spigots at a free national monument (they do take donations) but was surprised at how nice the facilities were at the visitor’s center and a ranger was also meticulously cleaning everything too! They have a water bottle filler as well which is important as we had a strenuous hike ahead of us. And, although I did need a light jacket when we arrived at the visitor’s center it would warm up quickly. We spent a few minutes wandering around the trails near the visitors center before the hike down to the ruin.

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View into the canyon from near the visitors center. Betatakin is tucked into the left cliff face and not visible from this angle.

This hike was probably my favorite thing on the whole trip. Granted, you do have to have some basic physical fitness to do this hike, and people with bad knees should avoid it due to the steep steps. Also, you are descending into a canyon, and although there weren’t the open sheer drop offs like a few places we saw in Glacier National Park, my fear of heights did set off a few warning bells in my head on the way down, but nothing I couldn’t push through on the way down and the way back up I was fine. This hike takes the Aspen trail which covers the first 350 feet or so the vertical downhill. On the way down our ranger told us about some of the plants we encountered, and what they can be used for medicinally or what nutrients they are high in when used as a food source. The prickly pear cacti were in bloom while we were there. At the end of the Aspen trail you have a view of an ancient aspen forest which does seem quite out of place in the desert. The end of the Aspen trail is as far as you can go down into the canyon without being on one of the guided tours.

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View from the end of the Aspen trail. You can see the forest below and tell that we have descended partway down into the canyon.

Our guide says he is concerned for the health and long-term well being of the aspens in the forest and the area is currently in a drought. The last half mile of the hike you are hiking in this forest which in addition to aspen has giant Douglas Fir trees and also oaks. Every once and a while you do see prickly pair cactus which makes for a surreal mix of plant life.

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Aspen.

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Prickly pear cactus in bloom.

We waited a few minutes for the earlier hike to leave the ruins before approaching. Once you emerge from the forest and see the ruins it is truly an amazing sight.

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Approaching the ruin.

Our guide told us about some of the earliest people to “rediscover” the area, and how early photographs indicate the ruin looks similar now as it did then, with some exceptions. Our guide told us about what life would have been like in when the area was occupied from 1250-1300 AD. We learned about a rock fall (a tour was actually present when it happened!) that limits the area that we could see. We did go up a side trail to get a closer view of some of the buildings that had been damaged by rockfalls, passing by the spring that was likely the occupants water source. We could also see the pictographs (paintings) of the 4 clans that lived there- Deer, Fire, Flute, and Water; and also some petroglyphs (carvings). Our guide explained that to respect the people who lived there that he did not like to say that the place was abandoned but instead to say that the people who lived there moved on.

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At the ruin.

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Pictographs.

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Petroglyphs.

I felt very lucky to have been able to visit such a special place, which made the trek back up out of the canyon a bit easier. Back at the visitor’s center we did do the hike out to the viewpoint on the canyon rim.

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The view from the canyon rim.

I had made a hotel reservation in Tuba City for that evening. In hindsight we could have likely pushed on to Monument Valley or even toward Flagstaff, but I hadn’t wanted to plan too much driving. We ended up getting to the hotel, Quality Inn Navajo Nation, and I was hoping they would have a pool to just relax in but they didn’t. My husband did look on Trip Advisor for things to do in Yuba City and the Navajo Museum happened to be next to our hotel. It’s a pretty small museum as the exhibits were actually put together to have at the Salt Lake City Olympics and then relocated to the present location. However, it was pretty inexpensive (I think either $4.00 or $4.50 a person) and although I’m usually not much for videos at museums, the one they showed about the Navajo creation story was  very informative as the story is quite complicated involving four worlds. The rest of the museum is mostly in one room, and I really enjoyed seeing some of the weavings and reading about how much effort and skill they take to make. There is also a free Code Talkers museum at the next-door Trading Post, however it was closed by the time we we got there. We did walk through the Trading Post but decided we were collecting memories and not stuff so did not purchase anything.

Other than fast food, food choices in Tuba City are very slim, so we ended up grabbing dinner at the Hogan Restaurant which is next to our hotel. The reviews say the food is bland, which I’m going to have to agree with, but at least they have a salad bar too. The Navajo Nation is dry, so no beer or wine with dinner. We got back to the hotel pretty early so I racked up a couple of losses playing cards with my husband.

Day 5: Tuba City to Williams (about 115 miles, 2 hours), plus approximately 40 miles to see Wupatki National MonumentSunset Crater National Monument, and Walnut Canyon National Monument.

The hotel included breakfast at the Hogan Restaurant, so after that we got back on the road. There had been a bad accident on route 89 (this is mostly one lane each way) but crews were on hand to assist and to direct traffic. A lot of the driving we did was on 2 lane roads which did test my patience when it came to dealing with slower traffic (think 3 RVs in a caravan!).

The sightseeing plan for the day was to see the National Monuments in the area. Wupatki and Sunset Crater are connected via a 34 mile loop road and once entrance fee is good at both. Wupatki is very interesting and accessible as several Pueblo dwellings are all pretty short walks from the road, and you can even walk through some of them. The views of the San Francisco Peaks are also amazing. The largest of the ruins is behind the visitors center and accessible via a short trail. This park was not very crowded.

lizzard2

For the first half hour or so we were in the park, this is the only other living thing we shared the trails with!

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Ruins at Wupatki National Monument.

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Pueblo dwelling (at the Wupatki visitor’s center) in infrared.

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Ruins at Wupatki National Monument with San Francisco peaks in background.

Sunset Crater is on the same loop road, but as the name indicates is quite different in appearance. In the national forest adjacent to the monument four wheeling on the volcanic slopes appears to be a very popular activity. As for the monument itself, you can’t hike on the actual Sunset crater, but there is a parking area with a nice viewpoint and also hikes adjacent to it that skirt a really cool lava flow. We ended up hiking the Lenox Crater trail. From where we parked it was about a 1.5 mile round trip hike, but there is a pretty steep uphill. At the top you do get good views of the San Francisco peaks and see how vegetation recovers after volcanic eruptions. The flat part where you start/end skirts the Bonito lava flow and if you didn’t know any better you could imagine that you were on the Big Island of Hawaii. I enjoyed this hike and it took far shorter time than was listed in the park newspaper.

sunsetcraterinfrared

Sunset crater in infrared.

sunsetcrater

Sunset crater.

lava

Lava field in infrared.

lavaflow

Lava field looking back toward sunset crater.

lenoxtrail

View of San Francisco peaks from the Lenox trail in infrared.

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View of San Francisco peaks from the Lenox trail.

Since it was early enough in the day, after grabbing a fast food lunch in Flagstaff we decided to go to Walnut Canyon. This is a National Monument where you pay per person instead of per car. At the beginning of the trip we had decided against an America the Beautiful pass because we don’t have any National Parks near us at home that we are likely to go to the rest of the year. I think with this per person charge we were at 70$ for all our parks where the pass would have been 80$. Fees went up in the middle of our trip (June 1) at some locations.

Anyway, back to describing Walnut canyon. The ruins there are tucked along the cliffs. There is a pretty steep trail called the Island Trail that takes you down to walk around some of the ruins. I think there have been restoration efforts for many of them. I did that hike, but my husband’s knee was bugging him so he walked along the trail at the rim of the canyon. I only took a few pictures while on the Island trail. You can also see some of the ruins in the canyon from the visitor’s center so even if the Island Trail is too much for you, you can still have views of what the monument is famous for. I think we were there all total about 45 minutes, but I did think it was a worthy stop.

walnutcanyon

View heading down the Island Trail in infrared. There are ruins in the horizontal rock outcroppings in the canyon.

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If you look closely at the overhangs you can see at least three separate areas with ruins in this photo. In the very middle you may pick out some hikers on the Island trail (one is wearing red). This photo was taken from the trail along the rim.

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In the middle you can see some of the ruins (photo was taken from the top of the canyon).

walnutcanyon

Zoomed in view of some of the ruins, also taken from the top of canyon.

From Walnut Canyon we headed toward Williams and encountered our first major road construction along the interstate. It ended up not being too bad and we got to Williams a bit earlier than I thought. That was fine though as our room was ready and I had planned on us going to a brewpub as we love to try local beer when traveling. Williams is a kitschy town along Route 66 and also the home of the Grand Canyon Railway. Keep that in mind if you decide to stay there as the first train of the day (and first train whistle) is before 7 am. After doing some quick research we found out that there were actually 2 breweries in town, so we headed out to the first one which was just a block from our hotel- Historic Brewing Co. Barrel+Bottle. This place gets high marks for its outdoor seating. They also have wine (and a wine tasting room) but we didn’t try any. The beer was tasty too- many more exotic, craft brewery-type selections. We then headed over to Grand Canyon Brewing. They had more beers on tap, and many were what I think of as more traditional styles, and hockey was again on the TV. Not a bad end to the last true day of vacation.

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Tastings at Historic Brewing Co.

Day 6: Straight back to my mom’s house in Las Vegas. Google maps: 232 miles, 3 hours 40 minutes.

Breakfast was included at our hotel. So, other than stopping for gas in Kingman, our only other stop was at a lookout about 8 miles from the Hoover Dam to briefly stretch our legs. We could have stopped at the Hoover Dam, but are in Vegas enough that we will put that off for a future visit where we can combine it with other things in the Boulder City area (like hiking!). If you are driving route 93 from Kingman up to Hoover Dam, definitely get gas in Kingman. The gas stations out in the middle of the desert have pretty inflated prices.

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Overlook along route 93 a few miles south of Hoover Dam.

All in all, I really enjoyed our trip. I think the only day I would have changed would have been trying to fit in additional things on our day at Navajo National Monument. It ended up being a short day sightseeing wise, but I think my husband appreciated some downtime. I also learned that if I ever want to do the rim to rim Grand Canyon hike, I need to start training now!

San Antonio, TX November 2014

I was fortunate to take a work trip to San Antonio. I stayed at the Crockett Hotel which is right across the street from The Alamo, a quick walk to the convention center, and not too far from the river walk. Since I was traveling by myself, I got the single queen room which was almost half the cost of the hotels right at the convention center. I would definitely stay there again.

I arrived the evening before the conference and walked around the river walk a bit. I stopped for dinner at a place with Texas in the name thinking I would enjoy some local beers on draft. Wrong. They had plenty in bottles but the two things on draft were not from Texas. I ended up with an Alien Ale from New Mexico and did enjoy it. The food was only so/so, the enchiladas had a bit of a kick that is missing from Wisconsin Mexican food, but they were nothing to write home about. Although it was cold (for Texas) after dinner I put on my hat and gloves and took one of the river cruises. I enjoyed the narration and the guide pointed out things like the stage where where part of Miss Congeniality was filmed and a bridge that was used in the movie Selena. Highly recommend doing this tour. Since it was dark I didn’t take any pictures though.

The next morning I found myself with some time free due to a cancelled session at the conference. I thought about doing one of the red trolley tours down to the missions, but it would have been about 30 dollars and the first one departed at 9:30. Instead I decided to see the two missions that can be reached by city bus. The bus stop was a five minute walk from my hotel and cost a whole $1.20 each way. I got to Mission San Jose (which is also known as the Queen of the Missions) right when it opened at 9 am. It is strange how the mission is right in the middle of an urban area- there is a Pizza Hut across the street! It was a blustery day, so decided to warm myself in the theater at the visitor’s center. The movie was so interesting that I stayed for the whole thing (about 20 minutes). The mission is restored, so I spent a bit of time walking around and taking it all in. I was very impressed. You can read about the mission here: http://www.nps.gov/saan/historyculture/sanjosehistory1.htm

The area of the mission where the Indians lived.

The area of the mission where the Indians lived.

The outside of the chapel.

The outside of the chapel.

A bit of brightness on a gray day.

A bit of brightness on a gray day.

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The inside of the chapel, where services are still held.

 

Only some of the original color remains

Only some of the original color remains

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The main chapel door.

 

I chatted with a ranger who convinced me that being from Wisconsin I could tolerate the cold and wind to walk along the river walk to the Mission Concepcion, about 3 miles away. It would have been shorter to walk the road, but I wanted to see the river. The walk was cold and blustery, but I saw a lot of birds, including lots of cormorants. There was even some art along part of the walk but I didn’t stop long enough to pull out my camera.

Cormorants in the San Antonio river

Cormorants in the San Antonio river

Mission Concepcion was a short detour off the main river walk. The park ranger had told me it was the least restored of the missions. Again, it struck me how urban the area around the mission is. It is beautiful and historical, but much smaller than Mission San Jose.

Mission Concepction

Mission Concepction

The active chapel at Mission Concepcion.

The active chapel at Mission Concepcion.

Some of the original artwork remains.

Some of the original artwork remains.

Front view of Mission Concepcion.

Front view of Mission Concepcion.

The weather was cold and the bus stop is right in front of the Mission, so I hopped the bus back to downtown instead of walking the rest of the way. I still had time before the meeting started to briefly tour the Alamo. It is a war memorial, so there is no photography allowed inside. There were a lot of people, so I decided to go back later in my trip to tour the grounds and the barracks museum. Admission is free!

The next morning I did go back to the Alamo to take a few pictures along the outside with fewer people around. The barracks museum was interesting, it is sad how few people survived the siege. The grounds are also lovely, and again I was amazed at the juxtaposition between history and modern urban life.

The Alamo

The Alamo

Ground of the Alamo.

Grounds of the Alamo.

Ground of the Alamo.

Grounds of the Alamo. There are several hotels immediately adjacent to the Alamo.

That morning I also walked down to the Market Square. It was early, so no vendors were out. I had already had breakfast, but I did grab a treat that consisted of walnuts in caramel at the famous Mi Tierra for later in the day. Mi Tierra is open 24 hours a day! I also stopped at the San Fernando Cathedral where there is a memorial that supposedly holds the ashes of several defenders of the Alamo. The Bexar county courthouse is adjacent to the Cathedral and is architecturally very interesting, although I failed to take any pictures.

San Fernando Cathedral

San Fernando Cathedral

The rest of my free time in San Antonio was mostly spent meandering around the river walk. There are so many little gardens and other things to see. Lots of statues, sculptures and other pieces of art scattered around. Don’t forget to look down- the artwork may even be under your feet!

One of the little gardens along the river walk had a ton of fountains.

One of the little gardens along the river walk had a ton of fountains. This is only one of them.

Art beneath your feet!

Art beneath your feet!

This marks the spot where the distance in miles along the river walk to the north and the south are measured.

This marks mile zero of the river walk. Distances in miles along the river walk to the north and the south are measured from here.

All in all I really enjoyed my trip. For the amount of free time I had, I felt like I got in a lot of sightseeing and spent very little money doing it. Most of the things I visited were free (you can donate if you want), and most of the time I used my own two feet as transportation. The bus was an excellent way to get to two of the Missions, which for the limited amount of time I had was sufficient. I hope one day to make it back to see even more if this wonderful city!

Madison, Wisconsin Fall Colors

There has been some discussion on Tripadvisor about early fall colors. According to the fall color report Madison is currently at about 15%. That seems accurate to me, but some areas have really nice color as can be seen by our hike in the UW Arboretum today!

http://www.travelwisconsin.com/fall-color-report

UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Curtis Prairie UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Longnecker garden UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Longnecker garden UW Madison arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie at UW Madison Arboretum 9/21/14

Sumac in Curtis Prairie at UW Madison Arboretum 9/21/14

 

Glacier National Park- additional photos

As we continue to sort through and edit photos, if I find any more that are interesting I’ll post them here.

Panorama of Lake McDonald as viewed from Apgar Village Inn.

Panorama of Lake McDonald as viewed from Apgar Village Inn.

This is really the only shot of the sow we got, she was rapidly heading up the hill.

This is really the only shot of the sow at the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead we got, she was rapidly heading up the hill.

A different shot of the cub at the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead. I think this is a better view of the lack of a hump.

A different shot of the black bear cub at the Iceberg/Ptarmigan trailhead. I think this is a better view of the lack of a hump.

Another deer at Fishercap lake.

Another deer at Fishercap lake.

Bridge on Grinnell Lake hike

Bridge on Grinnell Lake hike

paulonbridge

Day 10- Glacier National Park

Day 10: The plan: Breakfast and head to airport.

Reality: We had learned that there was an airshow in Kalispell that weekend, and it was actually being held at the airport. Gates were opening at 10am, and traffic delays were expected. Our flight was at 11:15 am, so we left ourselves plenty of time. Breakfast at Eddies was not great, but after breakfast we somehow managed to fit the last of our stuff back in the bags. The main thing is that we wanted to check our hiking boots, which take up a fair amount of room. In the long run we settled for checking Paul’s backpack too since we could for free (see below!). We were ready to check out when the office opened at 8, and we left our bear spray with the woman at the front desk since we couldn’t take it back on the plane and we didn’t want to detour to the visitors center to give it to the ranger. We don’t seem to have taken any pictures that morning. I think maybe it was cloudy, so the views from the day before were better anyway.

The ride back to the airport was uneventful, and we filled up the rental car at the closest gas station to the airport, where you make a left turn off route 2 to head toward Kalispell. It turns out we drove less than 300 miles the whole trip and the Legacy got pretty good gas mileage. Although the rental car place didn’t officially open until 9, there was someone there early at 8:45 and he checked the car back in and got us to the airport. Things were getting set up for the airshow, and there were already people directing traffic at the entrance, so I knew later it would be no fun. Because I had used frequent flier miles for the ticket, I decided to splurge and get us first class seats on the way home. It was totally awesome to see them slap those “priority” stickers on our checked bags. Also, we found out the likely reason that our original planned flight later in the afternoon got cancelled. It turns out the planes for the airshow use the airport runways and therefore the airport shuts down to commercial traffic late morning and doesn’t reopen until night. The same would happen on Sunday. So, keep that in mind of you plan on travelling in or out of Kalispell on Labor Day weekend. Security was quick, and we were asked on several different occasions if we had bear spray. Nope, left it behind! Since we were in the airport early, I had a chance to catch up on some emails and to read some local newspapers. The police blotter was very interesting! The Delta gates also have candy bowls, so I enjoyed some mini-Gobstoppers while I waited. The plane boarded on time, so our return was looking a lot less eventful than our departure.

Pomeranians can be terrifying!

Pomeranians can be terrifying!

So how exactly do you be-dazzle a G-string?

So how exactly do you be-dazzle a G-string?

To squeeze the most value out of our spent frequent flier miles, we both enjoyed a rum and diet with lime (Cuba Libre) before takeoff. The couple across the aisle from us were newlyweds who had been in Montana for part of their honeymoon so they enjoyed a cocktail as well. Taxing out was kind of surreal- the people at the airshow were sitting out on the fields near the runway and were waving at the planes as they were taking off. I think there was one other plane waiting to take off behind us and then they would shut down the airport for the show. Needless to say, the big seat, lunch and cocktails that were to be had in first class made for a pleasant flight to Minneapolis. I had the window, and noticed that we flew over the stunning black hills region. We are considering the western areas of North Dakota/South Dakota as a destination for a future trip. We made a brief visit to Badlands and Mt Rushmore almost 15 years ago, so there is still much for us to see.

Due to the schedule changes, we were to have a five hour layover in Minneapolis. I spent the first hour catching up on emails, walking a bit and Paul did some shopping to replace his belt that had broken earlier in the trip. I was going to buy us passes to the lounge, but we instead decided to spend that money at Rock Bottom Brewery inside the airport. Walking over there we ran into people with Packer’s jerseys and it turns out they were headed to Kalispell. I asked them if they had a guide book, and they said no, so I passed ours off to them. Hopefully it got some good use with its second owners.

I’ll wind down by saying the rest of the trip was uneventful- flight on time, taxi home, and a welcoming committee of our three cats that seemed to have missed us very much.

Final thoughts: Glacier is truly a special place, but sadly the glaciers are disappearing very rapidly. With the exception of planning the Highline after a long day hiking, my trip plan was pretty good, if I had only been planning for me. Paul made it, and his memories of the trip grow fonder every day, but I think overall he would have preferred less hiking and a rest day. Overall, I did about 65 miles over the whole trip, and I think more than 12000 feet of climbing. Most of that was with a rather heavy day pack since I was often carrying water, clothes and a camera with a big lens. All the running I do didn’t prepare me for the pack and climbing, but remarkably, I was blister free at the end! My favorite part of the trip was our day/night at Granite Park Chalet, but the nice weather also factored in to that. My second favorite was our time on the Grinnell Glacier trail and at Grinnell Lake just admiring the views, again with great weather. I estimate we took over 2500 photos total on the trip between three cameras. If I had it to do over again, I would have extended our stay one night, and added that night at Lake McDonald Lodge between the two chalets. That would have given us time to recover from Gunsight pass, and also to take a red bus tour to truly enjoy the GTTSR. With my height issues I did not get to do that while driving, and our time across it on the shuttle bus was marred by rain. Although I wish I had gotten to do Siyeh Pass, I’m hoping to do it in a future visit. In the future I would like to visit the Canadian Rockies, and then drive down to spend a couple of days on the east side of Glacier to catch up on the things we missed this trip. I think though that next year we will likely take a winter vacation to a tropical island.

Day 9- Glacier National Park

Day 9: The plan: Siyeh Pass Loop (10.4 miles, 2280 ft gain). Night at Apgar Village Inn.

Reality: I already knew that if I even brought up such a hike Paul could hold it against me in Divorce court. So, I offered up that we should hike to St. Mary’s falls on the GTTSR on the way back to Apgar. That morning there was a lot of mist in the Swiftcurrent area due to the rain we had the night before. After breakfast, I did a quick solo hike to FIshercap lake to check for moose one more time. It was kind of creepy with the mist, and very few footprints on the newly wet trail. I didn’t see any moose, but the mist made for some glorious vistas, and I took a few pictures. There were three other people at the lake when I got there, and one had been waiting for about an hour when I showed up without seeing a moose. When a couple left to hike back to the Many Glacier Campground I asked if I could trail along to keep from having to talk aloud to myself constantly. Like other people I met on the trip, they were very nice and we chatted for the quick walk back.

Swiftcurrent mountain in the mist.

Swiftcurrent mountain in the mist.

Mt. Wilbur in the mist.

Mt. Wilbur in the mist.

Fishercap lake in the mist.

Fishercap lake in the mist.

This tree is near Fishercap lake. If this were in Wisconsin I would think this is an Indian marker tree. However, it wasn't marked as such.

This tree is near Fishercap lake. If this were in Wisconsin I would think this is an Indian marker tree. However, it wasn’t marked as such.

Mt WIlbur in the mist.

Mt WIlbur in the mist.

Sunrise near Swiftcurrent Inn.

Sunrise near Swiftcurrent Inn.

Wilbur creek in the mist.

Wilbur creek in the mist.

Back at our room, I collected Paul, we checked out and began the drive back to the other side of the park. There was lots of cool mist and free range cattle on the road from Many Glacier back to the main highway. Paul drove the rental car for the first time for a bit because he wanted to be used to the car in case I wanted him to drive over any hairy sections of the GTTSR. At St. Mary’s there was a line to get into the park of 4 or 5 cars/motorcycles but a ranger approached us and since we already had a pass allowed us “this one time” to use the commercial vehicle lane. We stopped once along St. Mary lake to take photos, but then got to the gravel section of the GTTSR (road work). They were not working at the time, so we went straight through. There was one section of road that the gravel was very thick and it was clear to me that the truck behind me could go faster than me, so I found a wide area in the road and let them go by.

Free range cows right up on the Many Glacier road.

Free range cows right up on the Many Glacier road.

Mist on St. Mary lake.

Mist on St. Mary lake.

This part of the GTTSR I enjoyed with views of the mist on St. Mary lake. Unfortunately I'm not sure of the names of the mountains.

This part of the GTTSR I enjoyed with views of the mist on St. Mary lake. Unfortunately I’m not sure of the names of the mountains.

We got one of three remaining parking spaces at the St. Mary’s falls trailhead. I think that with the road construction, the former trailhead is now the shuttle stop, so the route to the falls is slightly longer than all guidebooks say. I think it is about a mile down to the falls, losing about 250 ft in elevation. The falls were cool, but a family with a toddler in a backpack carrier and a 5 year old were making me very nervous because the 5 year old was scampering along rocks almost unsupervised. Not a good place to slip and fall. They were nice enough to take our picture and we hiked the mile back up to the car. By that point Paul basically said to me “Let me be clear: my foot hurts, my toe hurts, my leg hurts and I’m not hiking anymore.” Point well received. I have verified the accuracy of my writing of his statement post-trip and he declared it “mostly if not completely accurate”.

 

Views from the trail for St. Mary's falls. I do believe those are Almost-A-Dog and Little Chief Mountains. I don't know the name of the falls visible from here.

Views from the trail for St. Mary’s falls. I do believe those are Almost-A-Dog and Little Chief Mountains. I don’t know the name of the falls visible from here.

Looking at the St Mary river from the falls.

Looking at the St Mary river from the falls.

St Mary's falls- long exposure

St Mary’s falls- long exposure

Just downstream of the falls the lovely turquoise color.

Just downstream of the falls the lovely turquoise color.

St Mary river near the falls.

St Mary river near the falls.

We did also stop at the Jackson Glacier Overlook to actually see and take pictures of the Glaciers in nice weather. Shortly thereafter the road became more stressful for me, even though we were in the inside lane. We did see an elk in one of the pull-outs, but never stopped. There was a stretch up to Logan Pass that was white knuckle for me, and the visitors’ center parking there was full so we kept going. The stretch down from Logan Pass to the Loop was also incredibly stressful. I drove VERY slowly and used two stretches of wide-ish road with no oncoming traffic to let people go by me. I asked Paul if he could drive, but he was very shaky. Once we got to the Loop, I knew I would be on the outside edge of the road, but I also knew the road quickly descended and got to river level. I was so happy to see the river! Paul congratulated me on my driving job. In hindsight it would have been nice to have an extra day to take a red bus tour to have someone else drive so I could enjoy the view.

 

I think this must be the view from where we stopped to use a pit toilet in a pull-out.

I think this must be the view from where we stopped to use a pit toilet in a pull-out.

Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers from the overlook. Much better weather than when we were standing there after our Gunsight Pass hike.

Jackson and Blackfoot glaciers from the overlook. Much better weather than when we were standing there after our Gunsight Pass hike.

Elk at pull out on GTTSR. I don't think the woman sitting there had even noticed it yet.

Elk at pull out on GTTSR. I don’t think the woman sitting there had even noticed it yet.

The last photo we have from the GTTSR- Reynolds mountain. Taken from the car.

The last photo we have from the GTTSR- Reynolds mountain. Taken from the car.

We had never stopped for lunch so we pulled off at the Sprague Creek picnic area to eat the lunches we had packed. After lunch we took the brief stroll down to the like. I would not want to camp at Sprague Creek. Way too much road noise!

View toward Apgar from Sprague creek.

View toward Apgar from Sprague creek.

View from Sprague Creek toward the northeast.

View from Sprague Creek toward the northeast.

We actually made it to the Village Inn very early but our room was fortunately ready. At that point we decided to split up. I briefly considered going on the shuttle back to Logan Pass to see the visitors center and do Hidden Lake overlook. However, being on the shuttle that long ultimately lost out to taking the shuttle to Avalanche Creek, doing trail of the Cedars and Avalanche Lake. At the transit stop at the former Apgar school turned gift shop I got the last seat on the shuttle. Well, the driver actually miscounted and there were 2 extra seats, but that didn’t matter in the long run because there was a family of 3 waiting at Apgar Campground that we left behind. I actually saw them on the trail later and they said they ended up waiting an hour in total for the shuttle. Boo.

I was very impressed by Avalanche Lake. The 4 mile round-trip trail to Avalanche Lake starts at the half way point on the Trail of the Cedars, so a hike to the lake will include the Trail of the Cedars. It climbs about 500 feet in the 2 miles to the lake and then loses that on the return. There were some happy kids on the trail and some that looked like they were about to sit down and have a temper tantrum. You are along a creek with some falls part of the way and there was one group out doing Dirty Dancing imitations on a long that had fallen across the creek. You all know exactly the scene I am describing, right? The trail is quite busy, but I found myself alone for some stretches and having to talk aloud again. The lake is stunning, and you can walk around the shore for quite a bit to get away from some, but not all, of the masses that are enjoying the view. So many waterfalls cascading down the mountain to the lake. I’ve seen some photos that suggest that 100+ years ago Sperry Glacier was visible from the Avalanche Lake area. There are tree stumps in Avalanche Lake which set it apart from many of the other lakes I had seen. I had borrowed Paul’s camera for the hike and took a ton of pictures. On the way down, I got behind a fast-descending chatty group and asked if I could follow them down to not be by myself to have to talk all the time. I parted ways with them to take some photos at Avalanche Gorge just before Trail of the Cedars. On Trail of the Cedars I met a family in full Packer gear and chatted with them briefly. The patriarch was born in Wisconsin and moved to Montana when he was fairly young, but remains a Packer fan to this day! Having spent 6 years in the Bay Area in California and visiting both Muir Woods and Kings/Sequoia, the trail of the cedars was okay. There were some nice vistas and a cool overturned root, but on its own not worth the almost 30 minute shuttle ride from Apgar.

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake looking back toward the trail up.

Avalanche Lake looking back toward the trail up.

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake

Zoom into monument falls.

Zoom into monument falls.

Avalanche Gorge.

Avalanche Gorge.

avalanchecreekcr

Avalanche creek

trailofthecedarscr

From Trail of the Cedars.

trailofthecedars2cr

From trail of the cedars.

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Cool roots on Trail of the Cedars.

Once at the shuttle stop at Avalanche creek, I didn’t have to wait long for the shuttle. That was my last official hike so I had the shuttle driver try to give away by bear spray, but there were no takers! I chatted with a woman visiting from Texas on the shuttle trip, so it went quickly. In Apgar I went straight to Eddie’s and ordered a huckleberry ice cream cone. DELICIOUS!!!! Paul was sitting outside our room when I got back and there was enough of it for him to share. He had spent the day taking photos from the lakeshore in the nice weather, and got some great pictures of mergansers and even a bald eagle. He walked over to the visitor’s center and saw the sun through a scope the rangers had set up in the parking lot near the Village Inn. We had dinner at Eddie’s and I finally broke down and tried the wine that also had huckleberries in it. I think it was a Riesling, but with the huckleberries it was bright pink. I satisfied my curiosity, but didn’t write down the details because quite frankly, I don’t need to have it again. So, to summarize my huckleberry booze (wine and beer) experience: been there, drunk that, don’t need to drink that again.

 

What views from the Apgar Village Inn should look like!

What views from the Apgar Village Inn should look like!

I'm taking a stab at these mountains: from left to right (I think): Stanton Mountain, Mount Vaught, McPartland Mountain and then the Garden Wall.

This and the next few pictures are zooms into the mountains looking northeast across Lake McDonald, sweeping from left to right. I’m taking a stab at these mountains: from left to right (I think): Stanton Mountain, Mount Vaught, McPartland Mountain and then the Garden Wall.

Sweeping to the right now: a better view of the Garden Wall and Mt Cannon now in the right of the picture.

Sweeping to the right now: a better view of the Garden Wall and Mt Cannon now in the right of the picture.

Sweeping right again: still a bit of the Garden Wall, Mt. Cannon and Mt. Brown is now in the view.

Sweeping right again: still a bit of the Garden Wall, Mt. Cannon and Mt. Brown is now in the view.

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Sweeping right again. From left to right: Mt Brown, I think Bearhat mountain in the distance, Little Matterhorn (with maybe a glimpse of Reynolds behind it?) and Edwards Mountain.

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Sweeping right yet again: Little Matterhorn, Edwards Mountain, Gunsight Mountain, and I think the smaller peak at the far right is Lincoln Peak.

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Last time sweeping right: At the far left is Mt. Edwards, Gunsight Mountain, Lincoln peak (?) and then those must be the Belton Hills coming into view at the far right according to the placard with the names at the boat dock.

Merganser.

Merganser.

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Lots of Mergansers in Apgar Creek.

Mergansers in Make McDonald.

Mergansers in Lake McDonald.

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Bald eagle in tree. Too far away to get a good shot with the camera Paul had.

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Bald Eagle over Lake McDonald.

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Paddlers with the Garden Wall behind them.

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Bonus shot of Mt. Cannon and Mt. Brown.

After dinner I did buy some huckleberry chocolates to take back to our cat sitters and staff who work for us. I did try a huckleberry cordial. Huckleberries and chocolate are a match made in heaven. Delicious. Our after dinner activities included drinking beer, enjoying the lake view, and listening to some people on the shore on the opposite side of the creek playing music. I think they had a fiddle, guitar and banjo, and they were quite frankly very good. We had wanted to go stargazing at the visitor’s center but it got very cloudy as the evening went on. And, as was usual we chatted with our neighbors. I swear being in Glacier makes people know no strangers. Given it was our last night, I tried to drink one more Scape Goat Ale since we still had some, but I gave up and poured it out. We also gave up on serious packing until the next morning.