West Trip Day 13 – Continental Divide

Saturday was largely a travel day, but we routed the trip through Aspen, Colorado to do a bit of hiking on the way.

We stopped off at the Maroon Belles and hiked back into the valley a bit. We went in as far as the lake, which I think was the only real ‘destination’ of the hike, before turning around and heading back.  I’m not sure how much further the trail would have gone had we kept going from there.

Maroon Bells

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West Trip Day 12 – Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon is known, at least by Janet, for two things – lots of expansive views of the canyon full of hoodoos and bristle cone pines. We’ll start with the latter item first.

Bristle cone pines are a very slow growing tree, which will easily be out competed by other varieties at lower altitudes. They grow very gnarly , in part because the majority of the tree can, and probably will. be dead while still supporting a small offshoot. According to a fellow tourist, they will eventually be extinct because of global warming allowing the competing pines to take over the higher reaches where they live. For our purposes, they make some really cool pictures of old, twisted, knotted, weathered, dead or mostly dead trees.

Bryce Canyon hoodoos

The hoodoos are rock formations which consist of many ‘small’ towers of rock left by years of erosion. I’d venture a guess that they’re formed in a similar manner to the fins that we saw in Arches, where layers were deposited, which a more durable layer on top which partially eroded and left small caps, protecting the column of rock under it from eroding away. Bryce is not the only place to see these, but it has a very high density of them.

Bryce Canyon Bristle Cone Pines

Bryce was mostly a driving tour with one longer hike at the end of the day on the Navajo Trail.  I think we drove as far as Grand Junction that night.  Most of the pictures for this day don’t have much in the way of captions, since the captions would be something along the lines of tree #1, tree #2, tree #3.

As a side note from the trip, I think Bryce Canyon was probably one of the most difficult places on our trip to take good pictures.  I took hundreds of them, but very few really look the way I want them to.  There were two things that stood out:  First, I thought it made sense to use a polarizing filter.  This cuts down on the light from the sky, evening out the brightness contrast in the shot (see thing two), but does so unevenly.  Since the sky was clear and very uniform, this leaves an end image with an odd gradient across the sky, or nice blue sky with a near white horizon line.  I probably should have just bracketed some shots for later compilation.

Two, in contrast to our time in Arches, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky at Bryce.  This made all the lighting very harsh and highly contrasted with the shadows being cast by the cliffs that we were standing on.  This combination causes a shot with a very high dynamic range and is difficult for the camera to deal with.  I think Canon is seriously lagging in this area also (http://www.dxomark.com/index.php/Cameras/Camera-Sensor-Ratings) with the best sensors today having 17 stops of dynamic range vs. my 60D having just over 11.  For those who don’t know, a stop is a doubling of light, meaning that my camera can handle about a 2^11 (2048x) difference in light from darkest to lightest before things start looking pure white or pure black.  A sensor with a dynamic range of 17 stops can handle a difference of 131000 x which is significant.

As a result of these two items, some of the pictures, which could be quite amazing, will probably take a good amount of post processing work just to get to acceptable.  There is also the fact that professional photographers will go to a place when the lighting is right to compliment that place’s features.  We, on the other hand, were going to these places on vacation and just engaging in the hobby of photography along the way.

West Trip Day 11 – Grand Staircase Escalante

The Sun-n-Sand Motel was where Janet had stayed during her last visit to the area, and is an interesting enough place that it was kind of the destination in and of itself. The next morning, we got to meet Wayne in person, and the reviews are accurate – he is a character, if a bit unkempt. http://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g57030-d1229438-Reviews-Sun_n_Sand_Motel-Kanab_Utah.html

In talking to Wayne, he mentioned that we should get tickets to The Wave (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wave,_Arizona), which was true – if we had known we would still be in town that morning, we should have gone the previous morning and put our names into the lottery. I believe only 20 people are allowed in per day, as a means of preserving it, and it’s a very well known destination for photography. Unfortunately, we weren’t planing on being there a second day, so we didn’t have tickets.

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West Trip Day 10 – Grand Canyon

We only spent one day at the Grand Canyon, having decided not to spend the two days or so it would have taken to drive around to the South rim. The South is the more tourist laden We stayed in Kenab, AZ which is the closest town to stay in, but which really isn’t that close – about an hour and half drive to and through the park to get to the hiking. If I were to make a return trip to the North rim, I would definitely stay at the campground, probably for two nights. It was cheap, and didn’t involve an hour and half drive in the morning to get where we wanted to be for the day. Two nights would have eliminated the need to pack up the next day and would have been good because we would likely be too tired to drive that night anyway.

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West Trip Day 8 & 9 – The Narrows, Zion National Park

Day 8 was The Narrows day 1.  The hike almost ended before it began when we parked in the wrong place and walked up to the wrong bus stop.  The shuttle driver called my phone, but I had turned it off and left it in the car given the expectation that it was going to be useless in the Narrows anyway.  Luckily, he stuck around long enough to find us and we were on our way.   Given that he bothered to wait around for us, and was friendly and informative on our way up to the trail head, I’ll say that this guy was the exception to the previously mentioned rule that the people working at Zion Rock Guides were oafs.  It was about an hour and a half drive through twisty bumpy roads to the entry into the Narrows.  Once we got there, our driver basically pointed us in the general direction we needed to go and said good luck since there wasn’t much more he could do.  We used the bathroom and got ready to head out just as another van, presumably from the other outfitter showed up with eight or so more people.

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West Trip Day 6 – Arches National Park

We headed back into Arches National Park for a second day.  After a brief stop on the drive in at Fiery Furnace, we headed to Landscape Arch, or rather, the trail head near it.  Prior to Landscape arch, we stopped at Pine Tree Arch, which as you may guess, is an arch with a  pine tree growing in it.  Landscape Arch is naturally an arch that lends itself well to being shown in landscape format (as opposed to portrait).  It’s also, I think, the most recent site of a collapse and the only one caught on picture.  Landscape Arch is open for distance viewing only from a defined path, maybe because of the recent collapse, maybe because it’s just kind of rough terrain to get to it.

Arches National Park Map

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West Trip, Day 1 – Rocky Mountain National Park

We left Chicago at around 6:30AM flying into Denver on Southwest.  This was my first time flying Southwest after a lot of flying, mostly on Delta.  A few things were different – the main one being no predetermined seats.  Southwest has everyone line up by check in number and then you board taking any seat you want.  This is apparently for efficiency since people who want to hurry to find their seat will board faster and people boarding later will just sit in a seat since they don’t have to make their way to any specific seat.  Janet and I were able to get seats together about 2/3 of the way back on the plane both in and out of Denver.

By the nature of leaving at 6:30 AM, we got to Denver quite early.  After claiming luggage, we went to Avis.  (Side note:  Avis somehow charged two different rates depending on whether I was logged in or not.  I’m not sure what settings I had going on, but when I was logged in, using my standard work account, the car cost about $150 more than when I was logged out.)  While walking down the row to our car, we passed a  green Mazda 2 which yielded some entertainment.  Upon reaching the end of the row, we realized we had passed our car and turned back to arrive right at that very same Mazda 2 – which was actually fine, it served the purpose nicely.

Our first stop in Denver was the REI, with the only real reason being the need to acquire a single isobutane canister for the Narrows hike later in the trip.  On the way out of Denver, heading toward Rocky Mountain National Park we stopped at a Sam’s Club and a Walmart (Colorado doesn’t have Meijer) for supplies.  We ended up getting into Estes Park around 3:00 in the afternoon, just in time to come to a complete halt on behalf of some elk in the road.

After marveling at our first wildlife spotting, we noticed there were more elk wandering through town.  We drove up into town a bit to see about 12 elk walking around what was a Senior Center.  Pretty soon, they headed back over to the lake, and like the gawking tourists we were, followed them there in the Frog.  This was a sizable herd and we were not by any means the only ones who wanted to watch them.  We parked and spent a good bit of time wandering in the park with the elk and taking pictures and videos.  I did get one good video of two bulls doing battle, but at the moment, I’m not sure how to cleanly embed video in this page.  Maybe later.

After our elk curiosities were satisfied, we continued up into Rocky Mountain National Park for a drive through tour.  We stopped briefly at the ranger station, discovering that it was apparently the last day they were going to be open for the season.  This didn’t really affect our plans at all, but it did mean we were there on the border of what’s considered to be the normal season.  As we drove up into the park, we came upon a second herd of elk just at the park’s official entrance.  We stopped along the road there to again watch the elk, listen to the bulls bugle and got to see the kids play fighting.

Up up up and then down down down again into the town of Grand Lake just a bit after sunset.  There we found the Bighorn Lodge, which seemed a suitable place to stay for the night.  It had a hot tub, which was a major advantage for Janet given that she had just run her marathon the day before.  You might wonder who runs a marathon and then goes on a hiking vacation and think that such a person might be rather insane.  I couldn’t really argue with you on that one either, but that’s a different story, and not really my story.

Grand Marais Kayaking 2012

Here I sit, freshly returned from Grand Marais this year.  Josh and I headed up to do some paddling in the U.P. but we weren’t officially attending the Great Lakes Sea Kayaking Symposium. We did get to hang out with some people though, and as a result may be going up to instruct next year.

We left Thursday late morning and got there in the early evening. It was a bit late to paddle, so we drove down to Sable Falls to wander and shoot some pictures. It turns out, Doug was leading a trip up the West side of Grand Island on Thursday, so we could have joined up with that, had we gotten in Wednesday night.

Sable Falls
Sable Falls, with a stupid fallen birch tree
Sable Falls
The run-out of Sable Falls and the dunes next to it.

Friday, we joined up with Doug who was leading a trip from Whitefish Point to a couple shipwrecks and the shipwreck museum. This was a pretty leisurely trip. After some GPS mishaps, we were able to employ modern technology to download GPS apps on our phones and found one of the two, the Saturn. I sat right on the coordinates of the second wreck but saw nothing. The map said it was in 10 feet of water, but at the given coordinates, it was only about 3 feet deep.

Saturn shipwreck
One decent picture of a portion of the Saturn. Josh went swimming and dove down, so he may have some better ones.
Lighthouse at Whitefish Point
The lighthouse from the water to the north

Since we had driven about two hours to get to the paddle, we also took the time to stop at Tahquamenon Falls on the return trip. It wasn’t really part of the day’s plan, but we were basically there already. The lower falls are the smaller, and there are two sides. Without renting a boat, you can really only get close to the west side.

Miners Castle
Miners Castle from the overlook above. It used to have two turrets, but one collapsed a few years ago.

So, we weren’t officially symposium bound, but it was a fun trip just to go up and do some moderate paddles, hang out with fun people (some of whom were new acquaintances to Josh and me), and have a few beers at the Lake Superior Brewing Company.

As a side note, I see that it’s been more than year since I posted anything here. That’s hardly something we can call a blog. I’ll have to make an archery related post sometime since that’s been my winter spring obsession. I’m not really sure how to turn it into a story though – my hobbies are not necessarily interesting to those who are not me.

North Manitou Kayaking

Last weekend I had a chance to add a new island to the kayaking repertoire. Doug, Callum and I had been to South Manitou a few years back. This time, Todd and Linda were making a quick trip to the North island.

The trip was fist planned a week earlier, but weather wasn’t cooperating. On the second attempt, the weather appeared to be holding, so we headed up to the area on Friday night. Crashed at the farm in Empire, mainly to avoid having to pack up, paddle in the dark then pitch a camp somewhere along the point.

Saturday morning we got up kind of early to head out to the island. Stopped at DH Day, filed a float plan, got car passes and a back country permit. Stopped in Glen Arbor for breakfast and were unpacking at the beach when I had the brilliant idea to lock my keys in the car. Since there were no objections, I went ahead with the plan. That ended up causing about an hour delay in getting on the water.

Conveniently, I’m still within the three year / 36k mile window on the Subaru, so with that I get free roadside assistance. I called Subaru, Subaru found a tow service who they then contracted to come let me back into my car.


Morning drama aside, we got on the water in what was a beautifully clear day with maybe 10kt winds from the West / Northwest. We cruised three miles out to the point before turning to cross the channel. Finding the point is kind of battle between logic and instinct. Instinctively, every outcropping of land we went around seemed like it might be the proper departure from the mainland. Logically, you just have to keep paddling until the lighthouse and the island are squarely to your side. At that point, unless there is obvious land jutting out in front of you, you’re probably starting to turn and move away from the target.

Also, since I failed to mention, there is a lighthouse in the channel. Island & lighthouse – this was a two-for-one trip.

Mainland Shoreline

This is what much of the mainland shoreline looked like, with Linda for scale.

The crossing itself is about seven miles with the lighthouse roughly in the middle. For the most part, the waves stayed under 1ft. and the wind wasn’t anything to horrible.

Manitou Passage Lighthouse Manitou Passage Lighthouse

Perspective is a neat thing, but don’t let it fool you – those dunes are huge.

Manitou Passage Lighthouse

This is the closest clear shot I have of the lighthouse. It’s not really in the best condition, especially noting the poop covered solar panels on the second level.

Landing on North Manitou

After the initial landing on the island, we paddled up the West coast a ways. There was a very nice campsite up there (as Todd and Linda has speculated) but because of the winds and waves, the water near it was quite churned up. Too bad, because watching the sunset from a tent on a bluff would have been kinda cool. It would have also added three miles to Sunday’s return trip, so given the options, we headed back to the South end of the island.

Paddling Snake

It rained overnight and this guy took shelter under my kayak. And then I chased it down for a picture.

We didn’t waste much time in the morning, because the best weather was slated to be early on in the day. It was overcast and raining in places – we got to see South Manitou consumed by rainclouds while on our return trip. The weather held well enough, and we only got sprinkled on briefly.

Return Trip Clouds

These clouds looked more concerning than they really were – there was no lightning. I found it neat how you could see how they were sitting on a pocket of lower air.

Dune Trail

Back on the mainland – I think this was the tallest and it was definitely the steepest bluff we saw. Obviously some daring people have climbed it.

Sugarloaf Mountain

As we were getting back to the launch site I grabbed this picture of Sugarloaf. Too bad they’re no longer open for skiing.