Wednesday, April 05, 2017

Slots, Narrows and Washes but no Wave in the Southwest

This year, on our second annual March trip to the Southwest we passed through Vegas and near Reno but didn’t play the slots. Instead we spent a lot of time playing in the slots – as well as in the washes and narrows. Roger’s inner kid came out exploring the slot canyons, scrambling up and down in nature’s jungle gym.
Peek-a-boo slot
Our first stop was Capitol Reef NP and it was cool and WINDY. We found some protection from the wind hiking the Grand Wash Trail which had high canyon walls that were beautiful and offered us some shelter. We drove the Notom/Burr loop road that afternoon. I was actually thankful for the wind because we would not have done this drive had it been a nice day. The ever changing landscape was delightful and we scouted out camping and hiking for a future trip.

Notom/Burr Road
Notom/Burr Road
The next morning greeted us with cold, wind, and snow on the ground but it warmed enough for us to enjoy hiking the Capitol Gorge and Hickman Bridge trails.
Capitol Reef NP
Grand Wash
Next destination was the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We did the popular Peek-a-boo and Spooky slot canyons. Roger LOVED Peek-a-boo, which was a good thing because he got to do it twice. I was intimidated by the 10 foot climb into Peek-a-boo and waited below while Roger scrambled up into the slot and shouted back to me how much I was missing! Thanks for that! I later found a trail leading to an entrance from the top and Roger joined me in exploring Peek-a-boo from the “wrong way”. Which ever way you enter, Peek-a-boo is really cool with twists and turns and arches overhead.
We also did nearby Spooky, the narrowest of the slots we explored on the trip. To get through it we frequently had to turn sideways and it was still a squeeze. I would not recommend getting breast implants if you plan on doing Spooky! Both slots are well named. Peek-a-boo is fun and playful while Spooky is dark and claustrophobic.

Taking roads less traveled we hiked Cottonwood Narrows and Lick Wash in Grand Staircase-Escalante. (Check at park or BLM visitor centers for road conditions on any that aren’t paved.) We had Cottonwood Narrows to ourselves and shared Lick Wash with a couple and their dog. Unlike most of the washes and narrows we hiked, Lick Wash had some big old pine trees and chirping birds. It also had a stream that required frequent hopping to avoid wet feet - until the water disappeared into the earth about a mile down the wash. Roger enjoyed the hopping and breaking ice along the stream edge in the cooler spots. 
Stream at entrance to Lick Wash
We had been to Bryce NP on a couple previous trips but stopped there again because: #1- It is really cool and #2 – we wanted to see the hoodoos in snow. We arrived on a beautiful weekend day. So did many, many others. The crowds were a bit of a culture shock after the solitude of Grand Staircase-Escalante. The nice thing, though, is that at a special place like Bryce almost everyone has a smile on their face.
Bryce NP
Next up was a stop at the BLM visitor center in Kanab to enter the lottery for permits to hike “The Wave”. It wasn’t peak tourist season yet but at the visitor center it sure looked like it with the long line waiting to enter the lottery. Despite the poor odds I entered and waited with the rest of the crowd for the drawing of the lucky few. Everyone politely clapped as the first name was called. The ranger joked that we might not have clapped if we had known the winner had a party of five. Only 10 people get permits so half were already gone. Two more names were called and the lottery was over. We did not win. Next time I’ll try the online lottery. At least I won’t have to travel over 1000 miles to be unlucky.

We headed to Lake Powell so we could put our kayak in the water after traveling over 1000 miles with it. We stopped at the Big Water BLM Visitor Center to ask them for hiking recommendations near Lake Powell. On duty was Merle H. Graffam and he had NO interest in hiking trails. This Visitor Center was essentially a little dinosaur museum, highlighted with replicas of dinosaur skulls that had been found in the area. Mr. Graffam was VERY knowledgeable about dinosaurs and actually discovered a new dinosaur 2 miles north of Big Water in 1999. The dinosaur was named after him – Nothronychus graffami. You don’t always get what you want but sometimes you get something better. (We did do the easy Wahweap hoodoos hike north of Big Water and enjoyed that.)

It felt like summertime when we arrived at Wahweap Bay at Lake Powell. It was about 80 degrees with little to no wind and was great for kayaking. We did a nice paddle in the vicinity of Lone Rock but kayaking to Antelope Canyon and then hiking the slot was even better. The colors and shapes of Antelope slot are very beautiful. (Tours starting about 3 miles east of Page are available that take people down into what is considered the most spectacular part of Antelope Canyon.) As we paddled to the slot entrance, we encountered a couple power boats and several people in rental kayaks and SUP’s, but overall the outing was pretty peaceful.
Lone Rock
Wahweap Hoodoo
Antelope Canyon
We decided to do one more slot, Wire Pass, before starting the return leg of our trip. Wire Pass has the same trailhead as “The Wave”. We were in the parking lot when a women approached and asked if we had permits to “The Wave”. Before we could answer she joked, “I’ll give you $1000 for your permits”. At least I think she was joking! She and her daughter were from Seattle and a couple other people came over from Spokane so Washington State was well represented in the parking lot.

The Wire Pass hike started in a wash and narrowed into a short but fun slot. It ended at a wide junction with Buckskin Gulch so we followed that down canyon a ways. Buckskin Gulch is quite impressive with really, really high walls that narrowed into a slot. Most memorable though was the stink. There was a generous supply of bighorn sheep poop, fresh enough for an odor to linger in the narrow sections of the canyon. We didn’t see any live sheep but there is a petroglyph panel with several bighorn at the confluence of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.
Wire Pass hike
I like Joshua Trees and was happy that we came across a couple concentrations of them. First was the Joshua Tree Forest west of St. George. It felt more like a garden to me but Joshua Trees are certainly worthy of the hype. Increasing our viewing pleasure, at the weirdly named Wee Thump Joshua Tree Wilderness in Nevada some of the trees were blooming. My computer tells me that Wee Thump means "ancient ones" in the Paiute language so the name does fit after all.
Joshua Tree near St. George, Utah
Dwarfed by a cactus
Near Las Vegas we planned to camp at Valley of the Fire State Park and/or Red Rocks National Conservation Area. The campgrounds were full. So were parking lots, visitor centers, etc. We did a couple short hikes and moved on. 

We drove through Death Valley and it was quite a contrast to last year when we were there for the super bloom. This year there were no flowers even though California has had a lot of precipitation. Apparently the flowers are really fussy and must have perfect – for them – rain, temperature and wind conditions.  

As we headed north of Death Valley the wind returned and we were unable to kayak on Mono Lake as planned. Silver lining was that Roger did find a good bakery, the Great Basin Bakery and Deli, in Bishop.

We did kayak on a drizzly day on the Ahjumawi Lava Springs lakes in northern California. Birds are the biggest reason to stop here. Big flocks of snow geese put on a show for us, lifting off and landing in unison. White pelican, northern shovelers, and western grebe were also favorites.
Mt. Lassen from Ahumawi Lava Springs State Park
Our route home took us near Lava Beds Nat’l Monument so we spent a couple hours there, enough time to decide we would like to spend more time there. Lava caves and bats are the big attraction. I’m not sure I want to hang with the bats too much but Roger is all batty about the idea. Lava Beds National Monument has above ground appeal as well, including a wall of petroglyphs.
Small section of a long line of petroglyphs at Lava Beds Nat'l Monument
Finishing the trip on a sweet note, the last night we stayed near Bend, Oregon, and Roger greatly reduced the inventory of the “Village Baker” the next morning. Bend has 4 or 5 small bakeries that Roger tried on our trip there last fall. They are all good but the chocolate croissants and the orange croissant-like rolls of the “Village Baker” are yummy, yummy, yummy.

Looking back at our time in the southwest, we're thinking there may be a third annual trip there next March.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Costa Rica II

Everybody poops. Sloths do it just once a week. They live in the forest canopy and ONLY descend (slowly) to the ground to poop. Typically if you spot a sloth in the wild you will see a ball of fur hanging from a branch high above you. During our recent visit to Costa Rica to help Graham celebrate his 9th birthday, we were incredibly lucky to see a small sloth during one of its infrequent trips to the ground. From pictures I'd always thought sloths were kind of homely but "in person" this little sloth was the cutest creature ever. 
We also enjoyed the birds, snakes, lizards, and butterflies that Costa Rica has in abundance and were especially excited to see the showy little Blue Jeans frog. 
Graham chose Carolina Lodge, in the foothills near Miravelles and Tenorio volcanoes, for celebrating his birthday. The 170 acre ranch offered plenty of activities to enjoy during the four days we were there.  
Barry family on hike.

Amara and Graham milking cows.
Horseback riding.


Graham paddling, Amara fishing with string from boat.
Play at the exercise platform.
Birthday boy enjoying Carolina Lodge hot chocolate - extra 
yummy with fresh milk.
Amara and Celeste
Graham with dog he had bonded with on prior visit. 
Man and animals working.

After Carolina Lodge we stayed near the Arenal Volcano. Since it was the "green season" - which means rainy - we weren't sure if we would be able to see Arenal. Again we were lucky and had nice views of the volcano each day we were there. Arenal was erupting a few years ago but now there is a steam plume.
Graham with Arenal in backround.

We stayed one night in a hotel in La Fortuna. A fortunate choice, because after dark Amara, Celeste and I armed ourselves with flashlights and explored the hotel's garden. Jackpot! We spied about a dozen tree frogs. They were definitely more attractive than the tree frog sculpture in the hotel's yard!

A visit to Costa Rica wouldn't be complete without a scorpion encounter. Roger got into the passenger seat of Celeste's car and we soon noticed a scorpion on the ceiling right above his head. Everyone started shouting. Loudly. We probably made it more likely that the scorpion would panic as well and drop onto Roger's scalp. Thankfully it did not. We tried to get it out of the car but didn't succeed. The scorpion disappeared behind the glove compartment and left us wondering if we might encounter it again.

Costa Rica is a feast of green inhabited by beautiful and exotic plants and animals. However, the best part of the trip was spending time with our delightful grand-kids. Roger is less than enamored with Costa Rica's hot and steamy weather but Amara and Graham are great for the prevention of a grumpy grandpa. 
Gracias a la vida.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Death Valley Super Bloom

"16 hours 23 minutes to see flowers". Roger reminded me of his phone's prediction multiple times on the drive to Death Valley to see the "Super Bloom". I must admit he had a point, especially since we usually have our own super bloom in April on the slope behind our house. But Death Valley had been on our list of places to see so the "Super Bloom" put our butts in the truck for the long drive. 

The anticipated two day drive turned into four, not because of problems but because of distractions. We turned onto Highway 31 at La Pine, Oregon and the route from there to Death Valley was all new to us. Roger is Geography Man so he had a good time in that 16 hours and 23 minutes.

First distraction was Fort Rock - which was not a human fort but a geologic one - the remnants of an old volcano rim.
Fort Rock
Continuing on we thought of Malheur Wildlife Refuge, east of Fort Rock, which was the site of the occupation by the Bundy brothers and their followers. We followed the occupation closely since Malheur during the bird migration has long been on our list of places to see. Unfortunately, the end of the occupation turned tragic, but a couple of Portland comedians wrote a satirical song about the craziness before then. Sample lyrics:

"Patrioooooots, Patriooooooots, Stormin' a building surrounded by ducks" 
The third day of our trip we didn't get far, beginning in Reno and ending at Mono Lake. Our route took us up through the snowy mountains and down along the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe. We did more stopping than driving. There is a reason Californians come to play here. 
Great spot for snow shoeing, skiing and snow play along HWY 431
Roger navigating the granite along Lake Tahoe shoreline
Public beach at Lake Tahoe
Day four brought even greater distractions. We explored magical Mono Lake with its other-worldy tufas and Panum Crater with its large, gleaming blocks of obsidium. Both are facinating. Tufas are formed when the calcium of freshwater springs combine with the carbonates of the lake water and form limestone. Panum Crater is one of the Mono Craters, the youngest mountain range in North America. 
Dwarfed by the tufa at Mono Lake.
South Tufa Area at Mono Lake
My he-man holding up Panum pumice.
Mt. Whitney on right.
The next morning we admired Mt. Whitney and then finally headed into Death Valley. First point of interest was Father Crowley Vista Point overlooking Rainbow Canyon. Lots of people were hanging out, but not so much for the scenery. They were waiting for F-18's to fly through the canyon, giving the crowd an eye-level view. The F-18's had flown over us on the drive into the park so we didn't wait around for the "show".

The more fertile areas of Death Valley were carpeted with flowers, especially Desert Gold. A less common, but elegant flower that I thought stood out was the Desert Five-spot.
Desert Gold in Death Valley
Desert Five-spot
We were blessed that Death Valley had come to life with blooms but the flowers were just a bonus to an interesting and often beautiful landscape.  Zabriskie Point with its chocolate/vanilla hues was a favorite spot of ours - and of a myriad of photographers.
Waiting for the sun at Zabriskie Point
From Zabriskie Point
Salt flat at Badwater Basin, lowest spot in North America 
Roger walking down wash on Gower Gulch Loop
Artist's Palette
Titus Canyon drive
Entering Titus Canyon Narrows

Good way to begin last full day in Death Valley NP.
A bit east of Death Valley is Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, home of tiny pupfish. I'm thankful we took the time to stop at this oasis.  The facilities are very nice but the beautiful blue pupfish is the star. They live in the Crystal Spring pool near the Visitor Center and Kings Pool at Point of the Rocks. Pupfish are a "relic" species that has existed since mammoths drank from the same springs so they've adapted to a dramatically different environment than that of their ancestors. These amazing survivors are most easily seen in Kings Pool.
Pupfish in King Pool
16 hours and 23 minutes? Yah betcha!