Tag Archives: hike366

Hiking Cathedral Gorge State Park

April 12-13, 2018.

Photos.

We arrived at Cathedral Gorge before lunchtime in order to increase our chances of getting a campsite. We had cut it a bit close yesterday. When we got to the park the campsite was pretty empty, so we had our choice of spots to choose from. After claiming a site we did a quick hike at Kershaw-Ryan State Park (not impressed), ate a picnic lunch on the lawn there, drove to Pioche for coffee and then returned to camp. It was still windy as hell and my foot still hurt, so you can imagine how awesome my mood was when it came time to take another walk.

Nature Loop and Cathedral Caves

We bundled up and set out for the Nature Loop, a half-mile interpretive trail. I could handle that. The trail was pretty meh but the Cathedral Caves were filled with unexpected treasures.

One note before the trail report: the signage at Nevada State Parks is absolutely ridiculous. The maps are gorgeous. But the table of data on every sign has so much superfluous information it’s almost laughable. No one visiting the park who’s heading out on a 1-mile loop needs to know information like “maximum cross slope,” “typical surface firmness (in inches, of course)” and “typical tread width.” WTF? Maybe this information is useful in internal documents, but not on a public-facing sign. Distance and elevation gain is pretty much all that’s necessary. But wait, the tables don’t even list elevation gain? I really couldn’t understand the impetus for such a sign. And they’re in every Nevada State Park we’ve visited. In an age when people’s eyes glaze over if they have to read a sign that says “pack it in, pack it out,” I can’t imagine anyone is understanding the information overload on these signs. Okay, rant over.

I had originally become interested in this park after seeing a photo in a AAA magazine. I was mesmerized by the colors and shapes carved into the unusual rock here. But that is all I knew about the place. What we discovered were tall, narrow hallways that burrowed into the fluted rock formations. Called “caves,” these passageways were unlike anything I’d seen before. The “rock” didn’t even look like rock, but like flaky, delicate piles of mud. It looked as if a single rainstorm would wash it all away. The passages were just barely wide enough for us to walk through.

None were terribly long, but they were really fun to explore. You’d walk in a few yards, hit a dead end, turn around. Some of them had branching passages to explore. At each hallway terminus it felt like you could say, “beam me up, Scotty!” and be taken to another dimension.

A side benefit was that the caves offered complete protection from the wind, which we were reminded of every time we stepped out into the open. They were so cool! We spent quite some time oohing and aahing over the geology before trudging back to the campsite. It was so insanely windy that I holed up in the tent while Aaron prepared dinner, and we ate inside the tent, too. It was going to be another long night.

Juniper Draw Loop

The wind blew hard all night long. In the morning, the air was quiet but cold. After breakfast we each enjoyed hot showers in the campground before taking a walk on the Juniper Draw Loop.

The trail passed close to the badlands formations that make the park so unique. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. The fluted spires and pillars that looked so fragile had, in fact, formed from ash deposited tens of millions of years ago. Geology is so in your face in the west. I remember yawning through geology class in college back in New Jersey, where all of it seemed so theoretical. But here it was tangible, visible, notable. You couldn’t deny it. How my life may have been different if I grew up here…

Along the way we saw jackrabbits and lizards. No snakes. I couldn’t believe I was on the tail end of a two week desert trip and I hadn’t seen one single rattlesnake. It feels like the only people who see rattlers are the ones who don’t want to see them.

We walked slowly around the loop. I was keeping my fingers crossed that my foot wouldn’t act up today. I didn’t want to push it. Looking down I noticed cryptobiotic soil. I’d first learned about this phenomenon on a visit to Utah a couple years prior. Between the rocks, the microbes, the animals, plants and weather there was a lifetime of science stuff to geek out on here. But we weren’t done yet.

Near the end of the loop we came across more of those “caves.” Some of them were signed: Canyon Caves, Moon Caves. They were nearly identical to the ones we’d explored yesterday. But there were some passageways that led uphill, providing a view looking down into the thin hallways. I was terrified up there, as if at any moment the ground beneath me could collapse. We hurried back down to the safety of the floor and continued on our way. By now, my ankle was hurting. I got grouchy again and made a beeline for the car.

Despite the foot injury I felt like we made a good effort to see this park. While the colors weren’t as impressive as the (probably photoshopped) images from my AAA magazine, the experience was just as delightful as I’d hoped it would be.

Short hikes in Snow Canyon State Park

April 11-12, 2018

By some miracle, we rolled into Snow Canyon State Park sometime in the afternoon of April 11 and managed to snag the last available campsite. It was about a thousand degrees outside and we had one scraggly tree near our site. It wasn’t the best, but at least we didn’t have to keep driving. Besides, there were some hikes I wanted to do here.

After a little nap in the tent we packed up for a couple of short hikes to stretch our legs. My foot was really hurting after yesterday’s adventure in Buckskin Gulch. I didn’t notice it until I woke up this morning and could barely stand up. I had a rip in my left foot at the base of my big toe that prevented me from walking without a limp. And here I thought my feet held up great after a day of barefoot canyoneering. Wrong.

Jenny’s Canyon

This was possibly one of the most disappointing hike of the trip and it’s all because we were spoiled in some sweet slot canyons already. Plus, there was a loud (but surprisingly small) group ahead of us whose sole purpose of visiting the park was clearly shouting their life stories across the valley. Fun.

Hidden Pinyon

I have a bit of a soft spot for park interpretive trails with brochures. This was one of them. Plus, it gave me an excuse to stop at every numbered sign and read about the vegetation and animal life in the park. We slowly meandered along this trail, enjoying the learning opportunities and stopping breathlessly underneath every shade tree. I could never live in Utah.

White Rock Amphitheater

We drove up to the northern-most trailhead in the park and set out on a trail to the White Rock Amphitheater. It was a quick but beautiful walk to the natural amphitheater set in a movie-like backdrop of white sandstone. By now the sun was low enough in the sky that the air felt comfortable. A light breeze blew by and we had this place all to ourselves. Now I was starting to settle in here. Despite my angry foot I managed to scramble up the slickrock to the high point above the bowl because, duh, it was there. Aaron was on a mission to find a desert tortoise, so we pretended to look for one at every little patch of sand and shrubs along the hillside. We didn’t find one, but we did see some pretty agave and cacti.

It was quite breezy and cool up top; I could have stayed here awhile. But our hungry bellies were ready for dinner so we hauled back out of there.

Back at camp, we grilled up some pork chops and asparagus. The camp host walked past and warned us about high winds and rain coming through tonight. We thanked her, finished our meal and collapsed in the tent.

Petrified Dunes

So there was some wind last night. It was blowing so hard I got probably an hour of sleep. Several times I woke up to stick my feet up on the tent ceiling to help bolster the poles. I’d never seen my low-profile backpacking tent get pushed around so much! It was nuts. And since we were in the desert, we woke up with a thick layer of sand on everything in the tent. And in our mouths and noses. And, yeah you get the point. It was a miserable night. We packed up and got right in the car.

We took one more walk in Snow Canyon at the Petrified Sand Dunes. The wind was still blowing, the sun was barely up and the air was surprisingly chilly. I layered up for this walk.

The trail crosses petrified sand dunes, which look like any other slickrock hill I’ve ever been on. There were funky trail markers drilled into the rock for the start of the hike, but after seeing about three of them we never saw another one. We meandered around on the rock until we felt like we’d seen enough, turned around and looped back towards the parking area. My foot was still really angry so I had to walk very carefully and slowly, not an easy thing for me to do. I struggled with feeling so inept at walking but I tried not to let it get me down. The wind didn’t help my mood.

Back in the car we drove off towards Nevada for the next couple of state parks on our journey…

Buckskin Gulch

April 10, 2018.

Photos.

Last night’s campsite was the most spectacular of the trip. It’s really something when taking a chance works out in your favor. Having never been in this area before, it felt like a bit of a crapshoot. Nevermind all that Internet research, there’s still something unsettling about pulling up to a foreign place for the first time. But we nailed it.

Where did we stay? Well, let’s just keep that a secret. What I will say is that doing your research ahead of time sometimes pans out. And sometimes you just stumble across the perfect spot. It’s up to you to plan your trips (or not) the way you want to. Some things, I think, are better left to the imagination.

The trail head

We drove up to the Wire Pass trailhead, confused as to why there were so many cars there. A minivan speedily pulled in next to us. They rolled down the window and shouted “Is this the parking lot for THE WAVE??”

Ah, so that explained the excitement.

I read the sign and sure enough, this trailhead did provide the access point for the Wave. If you’ve ever seen a picture of the American Southwest, you’ve seen this picture. It became such a popular area that there are now limited entry permits required to visit it. With my disdain for both permits and popular hiking spots, the Wave was not on the top of my to-do list. Instead we were heading for another slot canyon, the longest in the southwest.

Unlike yesterday’s hike, I knew we wouldn’t reach the end of it. But I wanted to see how far we could get.

The canyon

Unsure of the trail conditions, the temperature inside the canyon and the water situation, I had trouble figuring out what to pack. I read that there would be some sections of standing water we’d have to wade through so I wore sandals. I figured it might be cooler inside the slot so I packed my fuzzy yellow fleecy top. And I knew we’d need lots of snacks and water so of course I packed all that.

The trail began as a path in a broad wash lined with shrubs and wildflowers. There were other people walking ahead of us, their WAVE permits dangling from their backpacks. We turned a corner, passed through a dry slot, scrambled down a vertical channel and popped out into a large canyon with tall, steep walls. There were a couple of groups of people sitting at the edge of this canyon, where it joined up with Buckskin Gulch.

One man walked up to me, asked where I was heading and shook his head. “You can’t get through there, the canyon is filled with thigh-deep mud.” I thanked him for the beta and kept walking towards the canyon. I had to see for myself.

We reached the canyon mouth and turned right, heading for the narrow section that I’d read about. Just a short ways into the gulch we reached some mud. Then deep puddles of water. Very quickly, my shoes came off. And I’d keep them off for the entire day.

In some sections, the pools of water were avoidable. The canyon bottom was wide enough, and had a mud bar to one side, so that I could skirt the edge of the water. But in other places the canyon was so narrow that I had to walk right into the water. It was ankle deep. Knee deep. Over the knees. Oh yes, there was thigh deep…water, not mud. This was totally passable! And a grand adventure. We decided to keep going.

The day went like this: walk a bit on the mud, approach the next pool, gingerly test how deep the pool was, hike up shorts accordingly. Occasionally stop to adjust layers, as in put MORE clothes on. It was damned cold down there, which was especially weird considering it was probably 90 degrees outside the canyon. Little sunlight was able to penetrate the deep and narrow canyon, so it was like we had entered a completely different world.

The interior of the canyon also looked otherworldly. Rocks were eroded in unique shapes and patterns. Flash flooding had created holes, pockets and channels into the stone. The canyon bottom exhibited a wide range of textures, going from fine sand to smooth boulders to sharp pebbles, all in the blink of an eye. The sun, when it reached the canyon floor, created interesting shadows and silhouettes. I stopped to take a picture at least every 3 minutes, thinking, I’ll never see this again!

We were walking through the slot for so long it felt like it would never open up. As soon as we got a small widening in the gulch, we plopped down to have a much-needed snack.

Just a few minutes after we sat down, we heard voices. People?! Who would choose to walk through this water and sludge?

A couple appeared, wearing sandals, tank tops and shorts. They asked “Does this go to the Paria River?” Well yes, I thought, but that’s like 10 miles away. I informed them of this, then turned to reach into my bag for the map. When I turned around, they were already gone, retreating back the way they came. Well, that was odd. Who would have walked this far into a challenging hike with no sense of where they were or where they were going?

We pressed on, again the only people in the canyon. Right around the next corner the canyon opened wide and we felt the warm rays of the sun. Aaaahhh! It was wonderful.

But now we really got a sense of the size of the canyon. The walls to either side of us rose straight up, hundreds of feet. We felt tiny inside of this massive split in the earth. Since the canyon was so wide, it was now easier to avoid the slick mud and deep holes filled with water. It gave us an opportunity to dry our feet out and walk on soft ground.

At some point we reached a point in the canyon that was choked with boulders and debris. It wasn’t clear which way was the best way to get around it, so I picked a side and went. There may have been a handful of climbey-type moves on less than stellar rock but we both made it over just fine. And kept walking.

“When should we turn around?” Aaron asked. Oh, do we have to?! We both thought simultaneously. We looked at the time, selected a hard turnaround time and continued on.

I was mesmerized by the experience and already planning a return trip. How cool would it be to backpack the entire Paria Canyon? And I’m not even a backpacker!

At x-o’clock in the afternoon, I don’t remember what time, we decided it was time to turn around. I really didn’t have a sense of how far we had come, since the GPS on my phone was wildly inaccurate inside of a canyon. And while it felt like we had walked 20 miles, in reality we assuredly hiked much less!

On our way back, I stopped to take fewer pictures, but I was no less in awe of the place we were in. Each fold in the rock, each groove in the mud, each bundle of debris and each shadow on the water was a spectacular moment to be cherished. I just didn’t need to capture it on camera.

We had almost made it back to Wire Canyon when we began to hear voices again. Another couple was heading our way. We chatted with them a bit, and they seemed excited about their adventure. They knew how late in the day it was and it sounded like they were planning to turn around soon.

After stepping out of that last puddle of water I breathed a sigh of relief. While Aaron washed his feet and put his shoes back on, I found a place to sit just off the trail. OUCH. Every plant in this damn place is covered in spines! I carefully found another seat and savored a few moments of quiet rest. There wasn’t another soul in the canyon.

The rest of the hike was uneventful, but my feet were pretty sore. Every little pebble and sticker sent sharp pains through my body. I put my sandals back on. Feet, you’ve had a long day.

Upon arriving at the car before sunset, I took a moment to reflect on a day well spent. Adventure is there for those who are willing to grab it, and I was grateful to have a partner who put his trust in me to find a new trail and was all in to give it a shot.

Valley of Fire State Park

April 1, 2018.

Photo album

We rolled into Valley of Fire State Park around 9 am. Immediately we were sitting in line, waiting to pay the entry fee to get into the park. To be fair, it was Easter weekend, which is apparently one of the most popular weekends in the park. Our first objective was grabbing a campsite and dropping our stuff so we could go out hiking for the day without wondering where we’d spend the night.

We drove through Arch Rock Campground and secured a site. Then we drove up White Domes Road to check out several short hikes. A quick stop at the Visitor’s Center was less helpful than I’d imagined. There was no map to buy (they were out!) and the ranger seemed pretty uninterested in making hike recommendations. I took a bunch of pictures of the posted hiking map and we went on our way.

Mouse’s Tank

First stop: Mouse’s Tank. There was a raging party going on across the street at a picnic area, with tons of people, radio blaring, kids yelling… We were glad to hit the trail and disappear around a corner back into quiet.

The hike was lovely, following a gentle wash. There were pictographs on the vertical rock walls along the trail. At the end, we reached Mouse’s Tank, a pool of water that allegedly kept a Paiute nicknamed “Mouse” alive while he was hiding from the law. There wasn’t a great viewpoint of the tank itself. We even scrambled up the rock above it to see if we could get a better look. Nope.

This short walk was a good way to get acclimated to the desert weather and get up close to the red rock walls.

Rainbow Vista

Next up: Rainbow Vista. This was another short hike that led to a canyon overlook. There were lots of pretty cacti and rocks, but what I most enjoyed was seeing the chuckwallas!

I’d been itching to see a chuckwalla in the wild ever since our trip to Death Valley several years ago. Aaron spotted the first one. It was sunning itself on a rock. Then, he found another one on the same rock formation. And another. They had staked out this rock as a cozy chuckwalla condo. There was even a sentry sitting at the very top! We watched these cool creatures for a while before continuing along the route.

The rock here was all different colors: red, yellow, white. At the end, there was a pretty viewpoint. And if we’d had the time maybe we would have scrambled down into the canyon to explore. But there was one other trail head on my agenda.

White Domes Loop and beyond

By the time we made it to the White Domes trail head it was about lunchtime. It was pushing 90 degrees and I was feeling pretty low energy. We made up a lunch and found some shade to sit and eat. There were people milling around everywhere. But I had a plan.

The White Domes Loop, a popular, mile-long hike, connected to a trail that the ranger recommended: Prospect Trail. We walked the east side of the loop, past an old movie set and into a slot canyon. Then we kept our eyes peeled for a sign. When we found it, we were delighted at what it said: 5.5 miles to main road, not maintained or marked. PERFECT.

We wandered down a wash, through another mini-slot and then into the open. The trail on the map looked like it followed the canyon, so we tried to stay roughly on route. But it was so tempting to explore.

So we did.

It was very hot, and shade was at a premium, so we didn’t make it too far back there. But we had enough time to do some hiking in the wash, up on the slickrock and into some nooks and crannies. We saw one other couple hiding out in the shade, but that’s pretty much it. The views were incredible. There were so many rock colors; colors I’d never seen before. No people, no noise, just the rocks and lizards and big blue skies.

On our way back we saw some flagging and decided to follow it to the White Domes Loop. This route was far more tedious than the route we had chosen but we stuck with it anyways. Once on the trail we walked quickly from one shady spot to the next, admiring the various types and colors of rock along the way. It sure was a stunning location and no wonder this trail was so popular.

Camp disappointment

On our way back to camp we stopped back in the visitor’s center, which had run out of cold drinks (of course) so we just wandered around in the A/C until our body temperatures dropped back to normal. Before calling it a night we made two more stops: Petrified Log and Elephant Rock. Neither were that spectacular, or maybe that was the heat stroke talking. We passed by a mother who was encouraging her two sons to climb on Elephant Rock so she could take a picture. And to my utter amazement, one of the boys pointed to the sign that said “please do not climb on rock” and said he wasn’t comfortable doing that. BRAVO, KID!

Back at camp, we got ourselves all set up and prepared to cook dinner. In the meantime, a band of kids kept running back and forth through our campsite to climb on the rocks behind us. And their parents were doing the same. For the rest of the night we got to listen to one of the obnoxious dads howling like a wolf, followed by the chorus of kids howling back from all over the camping area. Father of the year. It would have been an absolutely beautiful place to camp if not for that one group of inconsiderate people. The rest of the camp was pretty quiet.

I was determined not to camp in a developed site anytime soon after that experience. There’s always one person who ruins it for everyone else…

 

Kentucky Falls

September 30, 2015.

6 mi. | 800′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

The drive to the trailhead for this hike was probably the most adventurous part…

To find this remote series of waterfalls, it was necessary to negotiate a network of poorly marked (or unmarked) logging roads. It was an exercise in following directions precisely! I was by myself, had no cell service and was miles from any civilization, so you can imagine my relief when I pulled into the parking area. Sigh, I made it.

The Kentucky Falls trail was a thin ribbon of brown dirt enclosed by a lush, coastal forest. There was greenery everywhere: trees climbing towards the sky, lichen dangling from every available branch, mosses and ferns blanketing the ground and shrubs squeezing through the soil in search of sunlight. It was a magical, fairyland forest.

Quiet, too. Not surprisingly, there were no other cars out here today. I was truly alone in the woods. A feeling I enjoy but don’t get to experience too often.

The river was absolutely beautiful. Moss-covered boulders lay strewn throughout the water. Newts, slugs, snails and bugs crawled about the forest. This was a place full of life and color.

In just under an hour of walking, I arrived at the epic viewpoint with two lovely waterfalls pouring down steep, rocky cliffs. I wasn’t alone here; there was a massive colony of millipede-looking bugs on nearly every surface they could cover.

At first I just saw a few. Okay, no big deal. But then, hundreds. Thousands. Squirming, writhing, being bugs. It is so bizarre to me how a few of a thing can be cool and interesting but thousands of the same thing is horrifying and disgusting. Besides bunnies, maybe. Thousands of bunnies in a big bunny pile? Probably still cute.

I stood there for a while, angling for all the perspectives I could get of the two waterfalls, while avoiding the throbbing masses of millipedes.

But I didn’t just come here for an hour of hiking. I decided to press on a bit further. I continued on the North Fork trail past the waterfalls and into an even lusher, richer world. The path felt a bit more rugged and closed in here. In places, huge fallen tree stumps were covered in moss, creating tall green walls on the side of the trail. I pushed through curtains of dangling lichen as if I was entering a mystical temple.

And then, mushrooms. So many mushrooms! The diversity in this short stretch of trail was astonishing. Oh, Oregon coast range, you never disappoint.

But the final gem had yet to be discovered. I walked a bit further and caught a glimpse of the river through the thick trees. I continued until I found an easy way to get down to the river. And there I found paradise.

The flowing water had carved bowls, pools, potholes and cliffs into the bedrock beneath the river. It was unreal. I wandered around, walking from rock to rock, observing all the shapes and patterns carved into the rock. The gentle flow of the water created a lovely background of white noise. No one else was around. I felt like I’d stumbled into a private sanctuary. True bliss. I scouted out a resting spot and there I sat, taking it all in, savoring this time and place, alone in the river.

Nature is powerful. This was a particularly moving place for me. I was tempted to never share pictures, never write about it, never draw attention to it. But alas, here I am. Years later I still distinctly remember being here. There is something to be said about the feeling of discovering your own special place. Nothing in the book or Internet write-up mentioned the magic of this spot. Perhaps that was a good thing.

My only hope is that people who come here leave with the same sense of wonder and joy that I did. That they refrain from carving their names into trees, stacking rocks, leaving trash, building fires or any other thing that people seemingly like to do. Just let it be, so someone else can be captivated by its un-scarred beauty.

Feather Falls

March 9, 2018.

Feather Falls Loop | 8 mi | 1870′ ele. gain | 3:15 hr.

I found Feather Falls in a Northern California hiking book. I had to drive to Sacramento for a weekend event, so I decided to tack on an extra day and do some hiking. The book rated Feather Falls as a “3” difficult level but “10” for scenery. Sounded like a plan to me. The description noted, however, that the trail was once a loop but now an out-and-back route due to some trail damage. The out-and-back would be 9 miles, but since it was pretty flat and easy going I figured I could tackle it in under 4 hours.

I camped for the night at the trail head camping area, a free, walk-in tent site in the forest. It was very convenient to roll out of my tent in the morning and walk right up to the trail. I had forgotten to pack any hiking pants so I put on my sweats, hugged my thermos of tea and started up the trail. There was no indication of any closure up ahead so I was excited to be able to do a loop hike.

The path was wide, well-worn and well-graded. There was a disappointing number of plastic water bottles tossed on the side of the trail. I can’t believe people are still actually buying those things.

I sipped my tea as I wandered up the trail, enjoying all the unusual plants of the northern California forest. Everything looked similar to Oregon’s flora but just different enough to make me feel like I was on a movie set. There were fir-like trees, madrone-like shrubberies and ferns that were just a little off.  The occasional mushroom, flower, or newt splashed color on the otherwise brown and drab landscape.

About a half hour up the trail I reached a pretty waterfall on Frey Creek. The water tumbled down beautiful granite slabs, with lush green moss growing on either side.

Not 15 minutes later I approached a viewpoint of Bald Rock Dome, a mini-Half-Dome right across the valley. This striking granite rock face apparently has some “old-school” climbing routes on it, but today was not about climbing for me. I admired it, wiped the drool from my mouth and continued on.

Signs along the trail kept me both entertained and informed. One warned of poison oak, which apparently grew everywhere (but I didn’t see any).

I reached a new-ish looking trail sign that pointed towards the falls and headed in that direction. The trail looked like it was paved long ago but was now pretty eroded and worn away. Shooting star grew along the trail. More views opened up. The anticipation was building.

Suddenly I could hear the water’s roar. I sped up, following the eroded trail to a wooden viewing platform with a front-row seat at the falls. Feather Falls, according to the signs, was the 6th largest waterfall in the contiguous U.S. and the 4th highest in California. It has a bit of an identity crisis, as the trailhead sign marks it at 640′ tall and the Internet calls it 410′ tall. Besides, a quick search of “tallest waterfalls in California” shows that it doesn’t even rank in the top ten. Despite the number, it was an impressive waterfall. I enjoyed a good 20 minutes here, looking at the panoramic views and appreciating the solitude.

I returned to the “falls” sign and headed towards the other half of the loop. Again, there was no indication that the trail was impassable so I went that way knowing that I might have to backtrack if I encountered a sketchy section.

The sun finally peeked through the clouds. The warmth felt good on my skin. I negotiated a few washed out sections of trail but otherwise the other side of the loop was totally passable. It did have a different character: it was steeper, narrower and more rugged. I’m sure most visitors simply did the out-and-back. But doing the loop at least shaved off a mile, so I was back to the car in just over three hours. Plenty of time to make it to Sacramento and take a nap before I had to be presentable.

Feather Falls lived up to its expectations, well, except for the height. The trail was lovely. The waterfall was mesmerizing. And the early morning solitude was well-worth the early wake up.

Shevlin Park Loop

February 4, 2018.

4.7 mi. | 300′ ele. gain | 1:45 hr.

I always find it amusing when facts are debatable. The Shevlin Park loop, probably one of the most popular hikes in the park, is listed on various websites as 6 miles, 4.6 miles, 4.9 miles, etc… The most consistent sources clock it in at 4.7 so I’m going with that.

Today I partnered up with a friend who was going through some relationship troubles and needed some fresh air and kid-free time. I was happy to facilitate this.

The air was cool and brisk, as any day in February, and we heartily took to the trail. We walked quickly as we talked. There was so much to say and so much to hear. Occasionally we pulled off the side of the trail to let a runner pass. Trail running is so popular around here. I think it’s Bend’s favorite pastime.

As we reached the mid-point of the loop we paused on the bridge. The water tumbled beneath us. It was a nice place to stop and take it all in.

Nature is chaos. Life is chaos. It seemed appropriate then, to put the two together. I was sorry that my friend’s marriage was collapsing. I struggled to hear her pain. But together, in the forest, among birds and trees and clouds, we shared a moment. I was grateful that she felt comfortable enough to talk.

We walked on, shifting gears to lighter topics. There were more people on this side, mostly hikers. Everyone smiled and said hello as they passed. It was a jovial crowd. Anyone who’s out on a walk in the winter is pretty dedicated to being out there and having a good time. How nice is it to live in a community that values preserving and enjoying natural spaces.

As always, Shevlin Park brought the goods. I only wished that our hike could have been a little longer.

Otter Bench

January 10, 2018.

9.3 mi. | 1060′ ele. gain | 3:30 hr. | All the trails at Otter Bench

It can be difficult to find new and interesting things to do in the winter when all you want to do is go for a hike. The snow makes access to high places difficult and sometimes dangerous. Bare ground is at a minimum. After much snooping around I came across a trail description for Otter Bench, just a stone’s throw from Bend. I checked the forecast, packed a bag and headed out.

It felt weird, pulling up to a trailhead in basically a neighborhood development. But there it was. The hardest part of the whole day was just figuring out exactly where to go from the parking lot, since there were trails and user paths going every which way.

My goal was to hike all the trails today in order to get the most out of my visit. I began on the Lone Pine Trail, which led steeply down to the river bottom from the parking area. The trail just kind of petered out, so I admired the river and the golden winter foliage before trekking back up.

Back at the parking lot I took the Horny Hollow Trail (which was open this time of year) to the junction with the Pink trail, another spur down to the river. This was a beautiful trail with great views of the Crooked River Canyon. I imagined this place would be insufferably hot in the summertime and was grateful for the cold, wet winter weather I had this morning.

After a quick jaunt down the Pink Trail I returned to the main pathway and continued north. The Opal Canyon Loop formed a lollipop shape as it looped up along the river and then cut inland to return. The riverside walk was lovely. Before turning back I stopped to eat my lunch. I had a great viewpoint overlooking the deep canyon. Far below, the Crooked River rushed by. No one else was out here today.

The hike back was across the broad, flat, high desert plateau. It was less scenic and interesting than the hike in, so I moved a bit more quickly. Occasionally I’d stop to photograph the interesting forms made by dormant winter plants. Their twisted stalks, geometric seed heads and striking colors made me curious.

One more trail to go: the Otter Bench trail. It was just as boring and mundane as the one before. I don’t think I’d go back here in the spring or summer, when access is restricted to this trail. Besides the heat, there just wouldn’t be much to look at.

Grateful for three and a half hours of solitude!

Lava Beds for Thanksgiving

November 22-26, 2017.

View all the photos from this trip here.

With forecasts for unseasonably warm and wet weather all across the west, we decided to head south to a not-terribly-well-known National Monument for our Thanksgiving weekend escape this year.

The drive down to Lava Beds is just a few hours from Bend. We arrived after dark and pulled into the campground there. There were two loops; one was nearly full and the other was (inexplicably) empty. So we chose the best site on the empty loop.

The next morning we drove to the visitor’s center to pick up our free cave permit and gather information about entering the caves. I’d been here once, a long time ago, but my caving experience was rather limited. We spoke with the rangers for awhile and left satisfied that we had all the information we needed to have a fun time in the caves.

Cave Loop

On the first day of Thanksgiving weekend, we decided to hit all the open caves on the cave loop (with the exception of Catacombs). The park brochure provided basic information about each cave, including its length and a difficulty rating. They were similar to ski run ratings: green dot for easy, blue square for moderate, black diamond for challenging. We started with a black diamond cave because it was the first one on the loop! Thunderbolt Cave. After donning our helmets and headlamps we took our last breath of above-ground air and descended a metal staircase into the darkness.

There were a few differences between walking on earth and walking underneath it. First, it was quiet. SO quiet. Second, it was disorienting. When I could only see just a little ways in front of me it was difficult to retain any sense of direction or distance. Third, it felt spooky. Okay, I think I’m pretty resilient and have dealt with quite a lot of lousy adventure situations in my life. But this felt different. Monsters lived in caves, right? And did we turn down this passageway or that passageway? Shit!

Without a map or visibility beyond a few yards, navigation was difficult. I felt that little knot in my throat at one point wondering how we were going to get back out again. Great, we got lost in our first cave. But we soon remembered a landmark and soon saw that refreshing beam of sunlight coming down from the outside. Phew! We’d have to be a little more careful in the other caves. This was a wake-up call right from the outset. Nice job, Lava Beds, on not dumbing down the caves with lights and navigation arrows. I’ll take this more seriously now.

Next, Golden Dome. This one was recommended by the ranger. As we walked deeper and deeper into the cave, I’d exclaim: I found the golden dome! There was a hydrophobic bacteria on the cave ceiling that looked like gold flakes when it was coated with beads of water. It was amazing! But then I’d walk into the next room and say, no here it is! There was so much of it! As the trip wore on we’d discover this bacteria living in most of the caves. Why this one was singled out as the golden dome I’m not so sure. Other caves also had spectacular displays of this coloration.

Then, Hopkins Chocolate. There were some low sections that required stooping and creative crawling so that we didn’t tear up our pants. In this one rare instance, I wished I would have been wearing an old pair of jeans.

On to the Blue Grotto and lots more crawling. We popped up through a few skylights and ended up wandering into Labyrinth Cave somehow. The only way we knew was that We’d found a metal staircase leading up into the light, plus a trail register in a PVC pipe with the cave name listed. Knowing that Labyrinth Cave was closed we decided to hightail it out of there. We wandered up through an unmarked cave opening and walked cross-country back to the car, being careful not to fall into any unmarked skylights!

Next up: Ovis, Paradise Alley, Sunshine. We were racking up caves left and right.

At Natural Bridge we got to do a little surface walking. Then it was back underground at Indian Well Cave. I was feeling a bit of cave fatigue.

Finally, Mushpot Cave. This was the only developed cave on the cave loop, which was made obvious by the sounds of screaming children that got louder and louder as we approached. Lucky for us, they were finishing up their cave activity and we got to have it to ourselves. It felt so plush and luxurious after being in the undeveloped caves all day.

Last cave of the day: Valentine Cave. I was so ready to be done. I would have appreciated this more in the beginning of the day. We could mostly walk upright in the spacious chambers. The main passageway looked like a subway tunnel. But I wanted to be back at camp, building a fire and making dinner.

That night we feasted on roast turkey and our favorite sides: gravy, squash puree, green beans, etc. Plus a marionberry pie and freshly made ice cream. Oh I’m drooling just thinking about it.

Big Nasty Trail and Hidden Valley

The next morning we rolled out of the tent with full bellies and headed out for a full day of exploration. We stopped into the visitor’s center again, this time to purchase a book of maps for the caves. After our first experienced of feeling disoriented I knew I’d be happier with a map.

But first, hiking. I was itching for a real hike and the Big Nasty Trail was high on my list. How big and nasty could it be?

We began walking under chilly, overcast skies. A short, paved trail led to a viewpoint of Mammoth Crater. This looked exactly as it sounded. A steep-sided crater with lava rock walls lay before us, so big that it was hard to get it all into one photo. From there we sauntered out on the Big Nasty Trail, named for the conditions of the nearby lava flow. The trail itself, however, was lovely. Pebbles and sand made of pumice lay underfoot. This soft surface felt nice after scrambling over lava blocks in the caves the day before. The landscape was very open and beautiful. While it looked very similar to the high desert near our home in Bend, there was a surprising amount of lichen and moss covering the vegetation. Mountain mahogany grew alongside the more familiar Ponderosa pine and juniper trees.

We returned from the loop and hopped on the Hidden Valley trail just across the street. It led a quarter mile out to a viewpoint of the Hidden Valley. This depression in the landscape was filled with Ponderosa pines all lined up as if planted in rows. It would make for a fun scramble down on another day. We had some caving to do.

Heppe Cave

Onward ho! To Heppe Cave. A short trail led to this short cave with towering ceilings. There was a little pool of dirty water at the bottom. In fact the hike out there and the nearby Heppe Chimney were more interesting than the cave itself. Or maybe I just felt a little grumpy about the cave because I slipped on the wet rocks several times there. I did not wear the best shoes for rock-hopping.

Merrill Cave

A picnic table outside the entrance to Merrill Cave was a great place to sit and have lunch. As we ate, a few families exited the cave, got in their cars and left. Ours was the only one remaining, so that meant it was time to explore the cave! We’d been extraordinarily lucky in our adventures so far. There were a few people out and about but we almost never crossed paths with anyone inside of a cave. We passed a few folks entering as we were leaving and vice versa, but otherwise the caves were our own personal hideaways. We felt like explorers for nearly the entire trip.

Like Heppe cave, Merrill Cave had a history of harboring perennial ice. But today, without much ice these caves were far less interesting than they must have been in the past. Good thing we didn’t bring our ice skates. Metal stairways and catwalks led to a gated viewpoint of where the ice used to be. How, so…anticlimactic.

Balcony and Boulevard Caves

It was finally time to pull out the map book! Our last stop was the trailhead for Balcony and Boulevard Caves. These were both listed as “moderately challenging” in our cave guide. We first wandered into Balcony Cave. There was no indicator at the entrance which one this was, but there was a feature that resembled a balcony right near the cave opening. So that was our best guess.

We walked under a heart-shaped skylight and explored the various tunnels and nooks, trying to locate ourselves on the cave map. While I felt pretty comfortable with my navigation skills, I felt like a total newbie in deciphering the cave maps.

We wandered back up, enjoyed the insane clouds for a moment, and then descended into Boulevard Cave. The map looked SO SIMPLE. Any idiot should have been able to figure it out. But I was struggling to match up what I saw in front of me with what was drawn on the map. To test our map skills further, we decided to try one more thing…

Sharks Mouth

On the same page as Balcony and Boulevard, we noticed Shark’s Mouth Cave. With a name like that, how could we possibly go back to camp without looking for that first? There was no developed entrance but based on the information in the book it should have been well within our reach.

Out came the map and compass and we walked slowly in the direction where we believed one of the entrances would be. One led into an 8 foot tall chamber, so we figured it would be easy enough to find.

While it was not “easy,” we eventually found an entrance to the cave and ducked inside. It was a valuable activity to practice using the map inside the cave. I started feeling a little more confidence with this skill. We noticed the shark’s teeth formations and crawled into the shark’s mouth.

Success! Yay! Emerging from the cave just before sunset, we decided to call it a day and drove back to camp.

Catacombs

Armed with the map book and the knowledge of how to use it, we felt ready to test our skills in the Catacombs.

According to the rangers, people can spend upwards of FOUR HOURS exploring the network of tunnels inside the Catacombs cave system. That’s a lot of time underground! Looking at the map, I guessed we’d be able to see about half of it without needing to squeeze into a 2 foot tall slot. That’s not for me.

And so, we packed a small bag with the essentials for a jaunt through the Catacombs.

As we walked through the cave we referred back to the map frequently, identifying marked points of interest and learning how to interpret the markings in the book. This cave had multiple levels, which were not always easy to figure out on the map. We climbed up and scrambled down, took lefts and rights, investigated small cul-de-sacs and squirmed through tight passages. I used all the crawling techniques I knew and invented a few more. It felt like a real adventure! But the really small spaces didn’t appeal to me, and we turned back right where I thought we would. No matter, we spent nearly two hours in the cave and got to see a bunch of cool places.

I had no idea “wilderness” like this existed in the National Parks System, and I was thrilled that this existed as a public resource without handrails, paved floors or a bunch of red tape to get inside. At the entrance of each developed cave there was a standard sign with a bunch of warnings that no one ever reads, and then you’re on your own. Awesome.

First thing I had to do after getting outside of the cave was water a tree!

Skull Cave, Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave

There were three more caves to tick off the list and all could be reached from the campground on a 5-ish mile hike. We drove back to camp, ate lunch and then set off on foot to tackle the final caves. It was a nice walk on trails through the sunny, high desert landscape to the parking lot of Skull Cave. This easy, short cave was reached via a long stairway down into complete darkness. This was another one of those “there used to be ice here!” caves which was not terribly exciting to explore. Since it was marked easy in the book there were also a number of other visitors here.

Next we walked up to the access trail for Symbol Bridge and Big Painted Cave. The walk, again, was the highlight of this visit. We saw a pika on the rocks and enjoyed the sunny skies above us. Symbol Bridge had some (shockingly) non-vandalized cave painting remaining from Native Americans who’d lived here eons ago. But the juniper tree growing right over the entrance was probably my favorite feature. At Big Painted Cave, very little Native American markings remained today but it used to be a spiritual place for the former inhabitants.

The walk back was a treat. A nice way to cap off a weekend of new adventures. Halfway back to the camp, we stumbled upon a couple of deer on our path. Aaron spotted them first and we both stopped to watch them amble through. Delightful.

I would go back to Lava Beds National Monument in a heartbeat. There’s more to explore. Labyrinth Cave, Hercules Leg, Sentinel, Lava Brook and Juniper Cave were all closed for hibernating bats. Fern Cave, accessible only by tour group in the summer time, was also closed. Plus there was a ton of land we didn’t even come close to exploring. And in a cold snap, the ice sculptures that form inside the cave would be worth the visit. I was glad to have had the chance to get to this special place in 2017 and hope it remains protected, and wild, for decades to come.

Paulina Peak winter hike

November 18, 2017.

12 mi. | 2400′ ele. gain | 7 hrs.

The last time I hiked to the top of Paulina Peak in the winter I remember one thing: snowmobiles. It was late December, and snowmobile season was in full swing. We heard them, we saw them, and worst of all, we smelled them. It was awful. Ruined an almost perfect day.

So this year I put my thinking cap on. How early could I plan a trip up Paulina where there would be good snow for hiking but not enough snow to get the sleds out? Mid-November. I hoped. And then I put it on the schedule for the Cascades Mountaineers.

Eight people put their faith in my planning skills, so I REALLY hoped I had timed it right. We all met up in Bend and carpooled out to the trailhead on a cold and sunny November morning.

By 9:45 am we were all ready to start walking. There was a light coating of snow at the trailhead so we started with snowshoes strapped to our pack. It would take a couple miles of walking before we decided to strap them on our feet. We trekked into the viewpoint of Paulina Falls and took a nice rest break. Food, water, pictures. It wasn’t too long before we put our packs back on and started the climb up towards the peak.

I’ve been on this trail many times and each time the most difficult section is finding the summer trail from the road. There are blue diamonds on some trees that lure you into the woods, but then they seemingly disappear. I always end up walking on the road and off the trail for a while. So after a little bit of fussing around, that’s what we did.

Once the trail started climbing steeply uphill, the group separated a bit. The fastest hikers sped ahead and the slower hikers filtered towards the back. I prefer to lead from the back so I accompanied the latter group. It was such a lovely day and I was just so happy to be out there. It felt like we were the only group on the mountain.

After much trudging in the woods we eventually broke out to our first good viewpoint looking towards Paulina Peak’s cliff faces. It was beautiful. But we still had some ground to cover, so we didn’t dally long.

As we approached the upper trail sections we were careful to follow the blue diamonds. I have been led astray many times up here by following my gut instead of looking for the trail. In just a couple spots we stopped to assess our route. We mostly stayed on track.

That final push to the top couldn’t come soon enough. We burst out of the trees to a summit sign and an epic view over Paulina Lake. All the snowy volcanoes stood out on the distant horizon under deep blue skies. It was perfect timing, after all!

At the top we all got comfortable and dug into our food supplies. One of the hikers brought out his “instant fire” and we had a little warming station to stand around as we ate.

On the way down there was lots of chatter. The hard work was mostly done. We could now relax and enjoy the walk. Heading down the mountain through a gallery of rime-coated trees was just as magical today as it was the first time I wandered up here in 2006. As the sun began to set in the distance, we completed the final riverside walk to the parking lot. It was a glorious day. I was grateful to be able to share this experience with others and hopefully inspire them to plan their own winter adventures.