Category Archives: vacations

Gray Green Beautiful Scene

Alaska is large.  Who knew?  It felt like it was going to take a looong time to get from Talkeetna to Whittier, where we would go on the half day glacier cruise the next day.  And so it did, but we saw some cool stuff along the way.  We took a detour up Hatcher Pass, which is known for some historic mining buildings.  It turned out to be a long detour–a long, beautiful detour with territory ripe for exploration. We didn’t exactly hike a lot, but the potential is off the charts, especially as we gained elevation. Such gorgeous, open country.  I kept wanting to make comparisons to other places, but they fall short.  Alaska is its own world.

The mountains and valleys we saw on that detour are but a mere wrinkle in the landscape of Alaska.  And there’s more.  Lots more.  The weather wasn’t great, so we didn’t stop much more until we passed Anchorage.  Once we were driving along the water, we started looking for whales, specifically Belugas.  No luck. That’s okay. It was still a cool part of the Alaska experience.  More to come.

 

Cobbling Together an Adventure

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Looking towards Whiteface Mountain and Wilmington Notch

The view is easily worth the effort expended on the short hike and scramble to reach the top of Cobble Hill, especially when considering the trail’s proximity to town.  The Adirondacks can be like that.  My wife and I set out for a small adventure last week as our vacation was winding down.  A big peak did not seem in the offing, but we found another small hike to a great view, this time near the tourist town of Lake Placid.

 

The beginning of the hike meanders through flat deciduous forest, but soon starts climbing.  There is even a signed warning that the way is steep.  We continued. At one point the route crosses rock steep enough that someone has placed a rope for a handline.  I was slightly surprised to see one guy pass us wearing only Crocs on his feet.  Said path continues across patches of open rock and ledges.  We had to use our hands in a few spots, but the grade tapers off before the summit.  Like our last hike at Flume Knob, Cobble Hill offers broad views in a few directions.  There are great views to the south and east, but I was slightly disappointed that we didn’t catch glimpses of Mirror Lake and Lake Placid.

An alternate route takes a longer, mellower route down, one that actually has switchbacks.  The way is peaceful and the grade is easier.  We passed through some gorgeous birch forest and skirted the edge of the lovely Echo Lake.  Other than that, the descent was uneventful, but this is a worthy hike if you have limited time.

I did no other significant hikes while I was back east, but it was great to be there, visiting family and enjoying an entirely different environment.  The Adirondacks are a long way from Oregon, but visiting them is always a pleasure.

Dungeness Spit

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The spit arcs across the whole frame and out of sight.

I’ve climbed mountains in the Rockies, walked in temperate rainforests, scrambled in the Sonorans, and ambled across eastern wildflower meadows, but Dungeness Spit might be one of the most unique spots for a hike I’ve encountered.  Situated on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington, the spit bends like a fishing rod into the Strait of Juan de Fuca as it reaches out to shake hands with Puget Sound.

I’d read that the spit was a nice place to visit, so when my mom visited from Virginia, I put it on our itinerary. I didn’t realize that I’d actually want more time to explore Dungeness Spit.  A flat trail stretches along the top of a long bluff, accessible from a few different points.  There were great views of the strait.  At one point I did my best Sarah Palin impersonation.  If not Russia, I could see, in fact, see Canada from the bluff.  At the east end of the bluff, a trail heads through forest to the base of the spit itself.  There are a few interpretive signs on viewing platforms, but I wanted to get down there.  I just checked out the beginning of the driftwood-strewn, wave-lapped spit, which extends over five miles into the water, where a persistent sand hiker will find a lighthouse.  I already want to return.  Happy hiking.

Bend Trip Part Two: Smith Rock

Smith 7.5

The drier side of Oregon

Smith Rock is one of those places where one’s attention is drawn to a few spots, while missing many of the gems in the park.   Famous as a rock climbing destination for decades, Smith is a place touched by outdoor magic. It’s why I moved to nearby Bend when I was 19.  That stay didn’t last long, but over the years, I continued visiting Smith regularly until the past decade.  When I drove to the park last Saturday, I wanted a different experience.  I went not as a climber but a simple hiker who likes to avoid the crowds.  And crowds there were.  Parking was a minor adventure.  The regular lots were full before 10 a.m.  Of course, it was the first really nice day in weeks, which happened to coincide with the beginning of Oregon’s spring break.   Once I got my parking spot and bought a day pass, I geared up and hiked to the river crossing below the massive Picnic Lunch Wall. Unlike most people,  I turned upstream at the junction there.  I was headed toward Staender Ridge and the Marsupial Crags.  It was a part of the park I’d never visited.

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The cliffs are stupendous, and while not all crags are appealing for climbers, the overall setting is stunning.  Partway up the ridge, there was the dry gulch of an old canal stemming from the 1940s. Above that, the Marsupial Crags beckoned a few climbers. They certainly looked worthy of the longer approach hike. I continued up the road to the saddle, and found myself sweating.  It was fascinating to skirt behind cliffs I’d seen so many times from below, now looking way down on the popular climbing areas.  Everything seemed less consequential from that height.

Leaving the saddle, I took the Summit Trail along the backside of the cliffs, heading west.  Memories of youthful climbing exploits washed over my mind as I soaked in the views of distant peaks. The South Sister, Middle Sister, Mount Jefferson.  There had been so many memorable climbs at Smith itself, including the time I broke my leg.  Now my joints creak when I hike a stiff hill.  All around me, amazing cliffs, crags, and spires in a variety of hues. I could have gawked for hours.  The trail descends in switchbacks through sage and juniper draped slopes, crossing through private land as the grade tapered, then turned to parallel the Crooked River, heading back upstream.  In moments, the famous Monkey Face was visible-okay, the back of the monkey’s head.

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As I passed a series of minor cliffs, the views of Monkey Face improved, and I could hear a group of climbers hundreds of feet up as they negotiated the final pitch of a route.  Right at the northwest base of the tower, the river trail intersected with the Misery Ridge Trail, and the crowds grew almost exponentially, a mix of climbers and tourists who didn’t even look prepared to hike. I sauntered past Mesa Verde wall and Spiderman Buttress to the notch where climbers cross the rocky ridge in a shortcut which bypasses a mile of trail where the river does a sharp bend, cliffs soaring above it.  Scrambling over Asterisk Pass never bothered me when I was in my twenties, but now, years later, I had to hesitate before climbing over it.  It is not for everyone. Once I crossed, I was looking at the heart of the Smith, the other crags that made it famous: the Christian Brothers, the Dihedrals, and Morning Glory Wall.  Climbers were everywhere.  I’d never seen such crowds.   Call it sour grapes, but it took away a little bit of the mystique the place used to hold for me.  Okay, not much.  I had seen way too many cool things in a a few hours.  But don’t listen to me.  Just ask the climbers.  Or the geese.

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A few Canada Geese perched on rocks as if guarding the area

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Looking down from Asterisk Pass after I’d crossed back over.  

Even if I can’t do all the same things I did twenty years ago, Smith is an awesome place to visit.  I recommend it to any Pacific Northwest visitors who love the outdoors. Get there early if the weather is nice, or plan on parking far away.  I hope I’ll return soon.

 

Cannon Beach Strolls

Although I enjoy the beach, I never think about it as a place to get exercise.  Silly me.  When my wife and I joined her sister and brother in law in Cannon Beach, we did a lot of walking on the sand.   My legs actually got a bit sore.  Beach walking has a few benefits.  1. No navigation required.  Just don’t go in the ocean like those crazy kids.  2. The views reach a loooong way.   3. The rocks are bizarre and awesome.  The downside?  Sand gets in everything.  Ultimately, being at the beach is invigorating and life affirming.  Especially when you see the flock of gulls on Haystack Rock go nuts and realize a bald eagle swooped in on their turf to rule the roost.  Not bad at all.  (Note:  Click on images to see them full size)

Deschutes River Walks

On a whim, my wife and I drove over the Cascades last night to go camping along the banks of the Deschutes River.  There were no crowds, and we managed to stumble into a good campsite at the city park in Maupin, the epicenter of Deschutes rafting. After gawking at a close to full moon, we crashed.  In the morning, we had a very satisfying breakfast at Henry’s, then headed downriver for some adventures.  Because the ecosystems here are so different than those around Portland, it always feels like a vacation.

Something about sagebrush, rimrock, and blue skies engergized me.  We popped out of the car at many spots, including one where D. and I first camped together in 1996.  It brought back good memories, and Jackie Chan kept bringing back the ball we chucked.  Sherar’s Falls was a sight to behold.  The fishing platforms Native American constructed over the whitewater were crazy.   There were also wooden ladders going right down the volcanic rock to the water.  Eventually we  left the river and headed back towards a main road, but it had been a great little adventure.

Palms to Pines: A Visit to Idyllwild

Sadly, all vacations come to an end.  After saying goodbyes to friends with whom I felt closer now, it was time for Denise and I to leave Palm Desert.  We picked the highway headed through the mountains to Idyllwild, where we would rendezvous with another old friend and former firefighting comrade, Scott. The drive was dramatic in the beginning as we wound through many tight turns to climb out of the desert and move into the cooler pine forests of the San Jacinto Mountains.

As it turns out, Idyllwild is a classic cute mountain town filled with log cabins and faux Swiss chalets. We had a great lunch with Scott, who had just officially become a firefighter in Idyllwild.  Denise wanted to get some computer work done, so she found a great cafe, while Scott pointed me towards a trailhead before returning to the fire station. I drove uphill and found a trail with little trouble. Unfortunately, once I was up there I realized that I didn’t have the correct parking pass. I just hoped I wouldn’t get a ticket, and I headed up, feeling the elevation as I started up hill.  Idyllwild itself is a hair over a mile high, so the trail must have started about 6000 feet.  It  had been many months since I’d hiked at that altitude.  I know it’s not that high in the greater scheme of things, but I was huffing and puffing fairly hard at first.  It is as though I need to warm my engine up, and then I can hike all day.

As soon as I embarked on the trail, I saw a sign mentioning a wilderness permit. One more omission. On Mount Hood, you can self issue a permit at the trailhead or wilderness boundary, but I found no place to do that. In less than an hour, I met a ranger.  Rejected!  I needed to go back to the ranger station to get a permit. “This is one of the most heavily traveled forests…” Blah blah blah. I hate bureaucracy, even as I know it may be necessary.  Thus I turned around.  It was enough.

Idyllwild was a cute town.  I was disappointed we couldn’t find a room for the night.  It was a holiday weekend, so vacancies were rare. Onward.   I pointed straight for Ontario, where it was still challenging finding a room.  Vacation was effectively over, but it had been a good one.

P.S. This is the first time I’ve tried these photo galleries.  Let me know what you think. Cheers.  –JB

Crossing the Joshua Tree Desert Divide

As I recall, people use Ocotillo for fences in southern Arizona

Ocotillo and yucca in the southern part of the park

Vacations are funny creatures.   They are so jam packed with fun activities, it seems as though they will never end.  Then…poof!  You are home.  Visiting Joshua Tree National Park was like that.   After wonderful short hikes at Hidden Valley and Barker Dam, we’d had a pleasant drive to Key’s Point, the highest spot in the park.  Our next destination was uncertain.

Skull Rock-- need I say more?

Guess what it’s called…

I had no agenda in particular, but I knew we had miles to go before we slept.   We didn’t have time for  more significant hikes.  Still, there was a vast range of desert sights to enjoy.  Skull Rock sounded interesting, so we stopped there.  And what do you know, close to the road, there was a rock with concavities which, when seen from a certain angle, lent it the appearance of a skull.  An alien skull, perhaps, but a skull nonetheless.   Fellow touristas were scrambling around the base of it, posing for silly photos.  Not me.  I am too dignified for that.   Oh, wait…

Goofing around beside Skull Rock

Once in a while I pull out the goofball tourist card

Denise and I wandered around the Skull Rock area with Jackie Chan, finding cool rocks to climb on and bumping into dead end spots from which we couldn’t continue.  It was a seemingly endless maze of rocks and sandy troughs with scrubby desert flora.  Navigation was a challenge, but from any high point we could see the road. I could have stayed there for hours, happily getting lost in the afternoon shadows.

Family shadow portrait: Jackie Chan, moi, and Denise

Family shadow portrait: Jackie Chan, moi, and Denise

Alas, we needed to move on.  The drive trended downhill soon after we turned towards the south entrance of the park.  Major rock outcroppings became rarer, but the views extended further.  It was a stupendous shift between the immediacy of rock piles near Skull Rock and vastness of views stretching dozens of miles across a desert without roads.  My eyes shifted from focusing on a handhold right in front of me to ridges ten miles away.

My lovely bride and Jackie

My lovely bride and Jackie

The Joshua Trees disappeared, but now we saw cholla and ocotillo dotting the landscape.  We had made the transition to the Colorado Desert, a sub-region of the greater Sonoran Desert.  It reminded me of the brief period in my dreaming early adulthood when I lived on a ranch in Arizona, wanting to be a cowboy.  I’d got more than a few barbs in my skin through curiosity then.  Not this time.  We found pullouts designed to look at the views and plant life.  The pleasures of these spots were very different than those at the mazes of rocks above but equally enthralling.

The cholla forest and a slice of eternity behind it

The cholla forest and a slice of eternity behind it

It looks soft until you get up close and painful

It looks soft until you get up close and painful

The wide open spaces were gorgeous, punctuated with occasional rock piles or bumpy ridges alongside smooth looking plains.  We surmised that the smooth part had been the bottom of the ocean in another geological era.  A few times, we got out of the car a few times to stretch our legs and soak up the solitude.  In this part of the park, cars might pass on the road every five minutes or so, but there was nobody else around.

A different angle of the cholla forest

A different angle of the cholla forest

Eventually the dramatic scenery tailed off as we approached the southern entrance to the park.  A couple motorcycle riders sped around us, stopped roadside, then sped around us again ten minutes later.  I can’t help but think they missed some of the beauty of this desert world by focusing on the mundane pleasure of speed.  Maybe I am just getting old, but I wish I had missed nothing.  Joshua Tree National Park is an amazing place, and I hope I am lucky enough to return, perhaps with climbing gear and a tent, perhaps with a four wheel drive rig to check out some side roads with mining history.  So many places to go!  Our drive back to Palm Desert was filled with smiles.

The gorgeous waning light of a perfect day

The gorgeous waning light of a perfect day

I highly recommend a trip to Joshua Tree.   If you visit, carry plenty of water.

Bullet the Blue Sky Over Joshua Tree (and a whole lotta rocks going on)

Driving in to the park. My tree forest...

Driving in to the park. “My” tree forest…

Since I first heard of Joshua Tree National Park in the eighties, I have wanted to visit there.  Well, duh, it’s my name, I love to climb rocks, and U2 was one of my favorite bands in the mid 80s when they came out with their breakthrough Joshua Tree CD.  It seemed a destination carved in the stars.  Why it took me decades to get there is one of the many mysteries of my life, but I finally went there last week with my wife and our dog, Jackie Chan.  I was not disappointed.

Love the scraggly tree atop the gorgeous rocks beneath the blue sky

Love the scraggly tree atop the gorgeous rocks beneath the blue sky

J Tree, as many climbers call it, features the boundary of two great deserts, the Mojave and the Sonoran.  The first is relatively high in elevation and features the park’s namesake trees.  We approached from the north after gaining a significant amount of elevation on the road through Yucca Valley.  I wanted to smile when I started seeing Joshua Trees, AKA yucca brevifolia.  The rocks were not yet dramatic, but finally the outcroppings popped up more and more often until their rounded granite domes and crags seemed ubiquitous.  We stopped at a picnic area for a first taste of the rocks, and then we made our way to the famed Hidden Valley area, so named because supposed rustlers a century ago or more would hide their stolen beasts amid the chaotic jumble of rock which would deter most people from finding them.

Denise and Jackie walking in the Hidden Valley

Denise and Jackie walking in the Hidden Valley

We started seeing climbers carefully scaling a few of the crags, rope snaking upwards, and I was nostalgic for my climbing days.  Scrambling sans rope on a small boulder is fun, but it does not produce the same thrill as climbing a vertical face 80 feet high.  Ah, well.  The trail was a loop winding around the interior of the so-called valley.  After a while, it became very difficult to orient myself.  There were hundreds if not thousands of house sized rocks to pass.  Luckily, the path was easy to follow, and the sun was out, gloriously warm.  I was actually surprised at how few climbers we saw, but I guess it’s an odd time of year for some people.  March through May might be prime time.

So much for water: Barker Dam

Yes, there is water behind Barker Dam, but the dark bathtub ring shows how much higher it once was

After leaving Hidden Valley, we drove nearby to the Barker Dam trail, where locals augmented a natural water source with a dam to save water for their cattle in the early 20th century.  The trail was similar to Hidden Valley, but more wide open in spots.  On the return leg, we encountered a rock with petroglyphs.  Unfortunately, some movie studio geniuses marred the images by painting over them to make them more visible.

The petroglyph rock.  Can you see them?

The petroglyph rock. Can you see them?

At this point, we had done enough hiking for while, and I thought driving to Key’s Point, the highest point in the park, would be a nice change of pace.  On the way up, we saw some great stands of Joshua Trees.

On the way to Key's Point

Somewhere between the Barker Dam trailhead and the road to Key’s Point

The golden rocks faded away.  The land sloped upward.  On top, there was a big parking lot with a dozen or more vehicles.  The views from the short paved path were stunning.  Rumpled brown ridges fell away in all directions to the low desert and the Salton Sea beyond.  Dozens of people milled about, gawking and talking, pointing at views and posing for photos.

Looking over a wrinkle world from Key's Point

Looking over a wrinkled world from Key’s Point

We drove away from Key’s Point, already amazed the by scale of Joshua Tree.  I could spend days here hiking and scrambling and working on a tan.  Unfortunately, that was not in the cards for this trip, but we weren’t done yet.  There would be more to come.  Tune in next time for more images and tales about Joshua Tree National Park.

Looking towards Salton Sea, you can almost see forever

Looking towards Salton Sea, you can almost see forever

The Easy Way Up: Palm Springs Tram

The view from the base of the tram

The view from the base of the tram

The Palm Springs aerial tramway is reminiscent of the tram I rode outside Albuquerque, New Mexico last summer.  Both gain a lot of elevation in a hurry, transporting passengers from the desert to a subalpine ecosystem.  The Palm Springs tram wins the innovation contest, because its cab spins two complete revolutions during the ten minute trip up Chino Canyon.   Thus each passenger can effectively see in all directions.

Pretty open forest with some meadow areas above 8000 feet

Pretty open forest with some meadow areas above 8000 feet

At the upper end of the tram, there is a lodge with a restaurant and bar, a mini movie theatre, viewing decks, and access to wilderness trails.  We soon had a group of folks traipsing around the mountainside on a loop trail.  Interpretive signs dotted the path.  I learned that the bark of a Jeffrey Pine smells like vanilla (some people say butterscotch).  Who knew?

A friend saw the letter Y; I saw a face

A friend saw the letter Y; I saw a face

Our path led us from a pleasant meadow through pine forests forest to cliff’s edge on five occasions.  The views ranged from great to spectacular.  Ridges and canyons plunged more than a mile to the vast desert plains where across the Coachella Valley we could see the Salton Sea.

An amazing domelike cliff reminiscent of Tuolomne Meadows

An amazing domelike cliff reminiscent of Tuolomne Meadows

I felt at home in the mountain environment, and I could have stayed there for days, hiking off into the wilderness and peakbagging in perfect weather.   Mount San Jacinto, one of the tallest peaks in Southern California, is nearby.  The only concern is water.  Signs on the highway below don’t tell drivers to be safe.  They tell drivers to conserve water.   I can’t help but wonder what will happen for Southern California residents if the drought continues.

Far off mountains

Far off mountains

Our loop skirted the edge of the massive escarpment looking down onto the desert.   I loved popping up to various viewpoints amid the rocks with slightly different views of desert, crags, and canyons.  It was also interesting to see the streets and land plot geometry of the dry cities in the brown world below.  Our group met back at the lodge on top of the tram for round of Bloody Marys.  Not bad at all.

The view through pines shows a mile drop to the desert

The view through pines shows a mile drop to the desert

The tram isn’t a freebie.  For two of us, we spent $47 and change for our tickets, but the experience was worthwhile.  Being able to make that quick trip to a completely different ecosystem was amazing.  If I returned, I would love to explore the area for a few more hours and climb a peak.  I hear there is a trail all the way back down to the desert that’s about 18 miles.   Anybody want to join  me?  🙂

Great shadows looking down the sides of Chino Canyon

Great shadows looking down the sides of Chino Canyon