Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 5 – Sunrise and Travel

Most of the last day is taken with the drive home, but we did get up early and go catch sunrise from a new spot.  This time, just after (heading to Tenessee) the Newfound Gap Overlook.  Since we didn’t do much Sunday, I’ll use this post as a wrap up.

Wednesday night – drive to Gatlinburg

Thursday – hike Huskey Gap Trail, early night, no sunset

Friday – hike Rainbow Falls, Aquarium in the afternoon, dinner at Smoky Mountain Brewery

Saturday – hike Mt. Cammerer, Sunset Photography

Sunday – sunrise photography, hike Grotto Falls, hike Laurel Falls, Cades Cove

Monday – sunrise photography, return trip

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Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 4 – Grotto Falls, Laurel Falls, Cade’s Cove

Mill

We started early on Saturday and went up to Clingman’s dome for a chilly (as expected) sunrise.

After that, we headed over to the Roaring Fork Motor Trail to the Grotto Falls trail head.  It’s a moderate hike and climb at 2.6 miles round trip with 585 ft of elevation.  We had been there once before on the first trip to the Smokies and were not able to visit on the second due to the Motor Trail being closed that time.  Grotto falls is a neat one in that you can walk behind the falls.  With a little bit of scrambling into the river below, you can also get a pretty well aligned shot of the falls.

The second stop was at Laurel Falls en route to Cades Cove.  Laurel is an easy hike, 1.15 miles, all paved (somewhat poorly in places) to a more pour-over type falls.  There’s also the option to scramble around a bit at the falls to get down to the second level and again out into the river a bit.

This trip up was special – we found a black bear cub just before the top of the trail.  It was down over the steep edge of the trail, so it was hard to see and hard to get pictures of. Continue reading

Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 3 – Mt. Cammerer

Despite avoiding the weather the evening before, day three was the real day of questionable weather.  Having been to the park a few times before, and wanting to explore something new, we took a drive to the Eastern end of the park to hike up Mt. Cammerer.  I think we were a bit guided by the theory that it was going to be the drier side of the park.

The East side of the park may have been drier, but it was not dry.  The hike starts heading up through a campground and then along the river.  For the first mile or so it was dry, but then it started to rain lightly and more or less kept on dripping until we were maybe a mile form the peak.  At the top, we were reminded that the visibility from within a cloud is very limited, so whatever view we might have been hiking to was to remain a mystery.  On the up side, there is a mostly whole fire watch station at the top, so we had a chance to sit down, dry out a bit and wait for the rain to pass. Continue reading

Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 2 – Rainbow Falls & Aquarium

Apparently I started to write this (day 1 was written then), but then took a six month hiatus, so though I can track what we did based on pictures, I don’t recall exactly what the rationale was for doing the various things on various days.  So, for some reason which I now longer recall, we decided to do Rainbow Falls Friday morning.  We had hiked this two trips and three years prior.  I remembered it having some nice views along the river in the first portion and it’s one of the taller (maybe tallest) falls in the park.  I was also fatter, so I remember it being more challenging.

The trail was markedly different his time on account of the fire that burned some 10,000 acres of the park and Gatlinburg six months earlier.  Apparently, due to winds at the time, the fire spread pretty quickly, but also was not able to fully burn down much of the forest.  As a result, the underbrush was mostly missing and the windward side of the larger trees were heavily scorched, but they were mostly still standing and still had canopy up top.  The falls area itself appeared to be untouched by the fire. Continue reading

Smoky Mountains 2017 Day 1 – Husky Gap Trail

First day of an extended weekend trip to the Smokies.

Janet and I had done a very similar trip to this before in 2015, so it was relatively predictable.  Drove overnight Wednesday to get to Gatlinburg and then got a hotel on the outskirts of Smoky Mountain National Park to do some hiking and picture taking.  The 2017 version started a bit later than typical – we left Chicago at about 1AM or maybe a bit later.  Janet drove for a while and I think I took over somewhere just south of Louisville.  We got to the park visitor center around 11AM.

Our day 1 hike was up Little River Trail, continuing onto the Husky Gap Trail which was reportedly good for wildflowers.  There wasn’t a specific destination for this one, we decided to turn around where it meets up with Sugarland Mountain Trail, which made it about a 10 mile round trip.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 6b – Bryce Canyon

We had been to Bryce Canyon once before and were nearby so it seemed like a fine idea to stop in again.  I think we were there for maybe an hour all together (partially affected by wasting time taking pictures of a hawk on a post earlier).  It seemed that there were about a dozen people in the entire park at that time and it was pretty cold and windy.

Bryce Canyon Map to Cedar City

We stopped at several of the overlooks and grabbed a few pictures of the rock formations in the fading daylight.  The lighting was incredibly different than the harsh midday sun that we were contending with last time we were in that area and the snow on the tops of the hoodoos was a nice change.  Most of the pictures I took are of the Queens Garden area.

The visitor center was closed already on our way in, but we stopped briefly at the lodge on our way out hoping that a gift shop was open, but we missed that by a few minutes.

While we were stopped, we booked a hotel in Cedar City.  I don’t remember the exact motivation for that area, other than it had been a larger city we drove through a few days earlier while heading north and was a reasonable distance away.   Turns out, it’s also over a mountain range, was heading into a storm and Tom Tom was completely unaware that we were driving a Prius.

I really have no idea how far through the mountains we got though I think we made it past a small lake as you can see on the map.  The visibility was continually deteriorating and the accumulated snow increasing when we came to any clearing in the trees.  It got to the point that just knowing where the road went was a challenge, so we stopped and very carefully turned around, which was a challenge for us since we didn’t exactly know where the road was and a challenge for the front wheel drive Prius since the tires were now all cutting their own tracks.  We saw two other vehicles while we were up there – a large SUV headed East right as we stopped and a minivan going West right after turning around.  The minivan made me wonder if the way was more passable than we thought, but it didn’t seem like a good idea to find out.  We ended up driving through Zion and then backtracking some to get to Cedar City.  In hindsight, there probably was no point to booking the hotel ahead of time and we could have stayed somewhere further South in the direction of the next day’s travel.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 6a – Capitol Reef NP

We woke up on on day two of the Capitol Reef visit to snow on the tent.  This did little to encourage expediency in getting on with doing things.  We violated the safety and wildlife rules of camping and proceeded to pull out the stove and make oatmeal in the tent vestibule.

Eventually we did get moving and went back to Capitol Gulch to hike up to Cassidy Arch and through the gulch itself.  Cassidy Arch was a pretty simple climb of about 1000 ft. ending in a relatively distant view of the arch.  We were keeping any eye out for big horn sheep as they were rumored to be present in the area, but saw none.

Cassidy Arch

Capitol Gulch was huge in comparison to what we had hiked the day before and there was no climbing required.  At the end (a few hundred yards from the parking lot on the other side) we finally caught a glimpse of something moving at the top of the cliffs and rounded the end of the plateau to find a family of four sheep.  I took a bunch of pictures of the sheep, which is kind of dumb since they’re just sheep after all, but then ran out of battery on the return, so I don’t have many pictures from in the canyon itself.

A little less than half way back it started to rain and snow lightly, so we took the hint that our day there was coming to an end, made our way out of the canyon and headed out of the park.  It was early enough, and we were close enough that we decided to stop by Bryce Canyon on our way back toward Las Vegas.

Somewhere en route to Bryce we were driving through a field and spotted a hawk on a fence post.  I decided we needed pictures of it, so there was short delay for that.  We also saw another bird soaring above and followed it for a bit.  I got a few very poor pictures, but I think, based on the feather patterns underneath and what I can find on Google that it was a Golden Eagle. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 5 – Capitol Reef NP

Capitol Reef Map

Having completed most everything we could do in Zion short of the hikes that require permits, such as the Narrows and Subway.  Our next destination was Capitol Reef.  It was relatively close, something new, and sounded like there might be some interesting hikes there.  It’s not as well known as Bryce, Arches, or a few of the other parks in that area, but we had already seen parts of those in past trips.

The park itself is a very long narrow stretch of land surrounding a waterpocket fold.  As we learned, the defining element of a fold is where the rock rises up gently from one side, but has broken off and forms cliffs from the other.  In the park, this means that if you approach from the West you see cliff walls and if you approach from the East, not so much.  Capitol Reef has a small area which is the Fruita Historic District where the remains of the town are preserved and the various orchards are still active and at the right time of year you can pick your own fruit.

We stayed at a hotel about 10 miles outside of the park in Torrey, got up relatively early and went straight to the Capitol Reef visitor center to figure out what we were going to do to make best use of about a day and half visit.  The weather which had haunted us thus far on the trip was not far off and the ranger warned us that if we wanted to hike any of the slot canyons we needed to be headed there immediately to avoid potential rain and flash floods later in the day.

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Grand Canyon Trip – Day 4 – Zion National Park

Kolob Canyons Sign

Clearly, a smart person would have categorized this entire trip as being to Zion with some side hikes.  But, I’m being stubborn and calling it the Grand Canyon trip because that’s what we intended it to be.

We had read some of the information on Capitol Reef National Park and it sounded like there was some good hiking and exploring to do there and it was within reasonable driving distance, so that became the evening plan, but first we had one more hike to do in Zion.  It was a more out of the way hike, and certainly one of the less popular as a result.  This was the journey to Kolob Arch, one of the two predominant arches in Zion, the other being Crawford Arch.  It’s also a 14 mile round trip to get to the arch, which probably has some impact on its popularity.  The fact that it’s a 30-45 minute drive out of the park and to a entirely different area also probably has something to do with it.

We started at Lee’s Pass Trailhead and descended into the valley wrapping around to follow LaVerkin Creek for a while and then following one of it’s tributaries up to the arch itself.  It was often obvious that this was a drier time for the area as there were lots of temporary riverbeds and a few would have been waterfalls had there been more recent rain. Continue reading

Grand Canyon Trip – Day 3 – Zion National Park

First order of business for day three was moving to the Zion campground, because 1) I don’t like spending money and 2) when we pack a tent across the country, I get very disappointed when it doesn’t get used.  The campground was full, but we got there early enough that there was just a small line and the ranger was letting cars in as people departed for the day.  This meant we weren’t going to get much choice on sites, but we lucked out and got a site along the river.

Observation Point

Since I chickened out on Angel’s Landing the previous day, our primary hike for the day was going to be Observation Point – a longer hike that starts a bit further into the canyon and ends up above Angel’s Landing, but with less clinging to rocks.

The trail starts out with a lot of switchbacks, then leveled out for a while as it and went through a nice little slot canyon section.  This was probably the coolest individual section of trail and we stopped for picture time on the way down.  After that, the switchbacks resumed and then a final long, gradual climb around the rim of the plateau to the point itself, which is the highest viewpoint in the park and overlooks Angel’s Landing.

I think we started up sometime after 11, which meant we were climbing during the hottest part of the day, which is generally a bad plan, but it was also early season, so we got away with it.  There is apparently also a trail to access the point from the top, so you technically don’t have to drive into Zion to get to the point and could backpack down into the canyon from there.

Observation Point is a pretty broad point – there’s a large area at the top where hikers kind of mill about, rest, have snacks, etc.  There is a geological survey marker at the point, so you know you’ve achieved something.  If you leave your backpack for more than a minute or two with food inside, the chipmunks will try to help themselves to your snacks as well. Continue reading