Maine 2017 – Acadia Day 1

8/22/17

acadia_map

There’s a one-way driving & biking loop that goes around a good chunk of the park. We started out with that to get a feel for the place. First stop was heading up Cadillac Mountain (3) for a quick walk-hike to the view of the island and Bar Harbor. Our next pull-off was at the Thunder Hole (5) – we happened by right at high tide, which is the right time to be there. We climbed around on the rocks for a bit, but the day was apparently not right for the booming wave crashes that the location was known for.

Parking along the loop was obnoxious, particularly in the prime areas. So long as we had parked for the Thunder Hole, we took a walk back to Sand Beach which is apparently *the* beach in the park. We descended into the little harbor to see the beach, stood around for a bit acknowledging that indeed it was a beach and then headed back. We weren’t really planning on swimming or just laying there, so I’m not exactly sure what else we expected. Continue reading

Maine 2017 – Travel Days

8/19/17

Campsite
Wellesly Island State Park campsite on the edge of the St. Lawrence River.

We left Grand Rapids around noon on Saturday after taking a bit longer than planned to pack up (aka gather all the paddling gear). We crossed into Canada at the Blue Water Bridge, and then drove pretty much straight through to Thousand Islands National Park and crossed back out to the US at Wellesley Island State Park in New York. It was supposedly about a 8-9 hour drive, but with stops and all, we got to the park just before 11:00. We setup camp, went and showered (it’s a nice campground, with hot showers) and went to bed.

8/20/17

We spent one day at Thousand Islands on the US side. On a combination of our interest in paddling to something notable and the visitor center guide’s recommendation we drove up to Alexandria Bay and put the kayaks in the water at a public boat launch.  It was at the end of Crossman St. and we parked on the street a few blocks away, if you’re wanting to look it up.  This was supposedly one of the few free launches in the area and it did not appear to get especially heavy use.

Boldt Castle
Boldt Castle from the grounds / island entryway

From there we paddled out into the St. Lawrence River and turned right to head toward Boldt Castle. The Castle is on Heart Island, which has a small harbor for private boats to dock as well as the commercial tour docking location. We pulled the kayaks up on shore and locked them to a lamp-post (probably an unnecessary precaution, but given that they were our way off the island it seemed prudent).

Admission to the castle was $10 and we spent the extra to get the audio tour. We spent a few hours walking the grounds, following the audio tour stops. The one line summary is that the entire island, including the four story (accessible, a few more total) castle was built up by George C. Boldt to display his love for his wife Louise. But, as it turns out, Louise died and he immediately stopped all work on the castle, so it was left unfinished and unmaintained for years. Unfortunately, I goofed and erased all my pictures from Heart Island, but it was a neat place to poke around for a bit.

When we got back on the water, we paddled the rest of the way across the St. Lawrence River to the boathouse and then turned upstream (West) to paddle among the many islands.  The only interesting part from a paddling perspective was that right around Stony Crest Island we hit current that was 3-ish MPH – notably different than everywhere else we had paddled. We crossed back to the south side of the river there, but not without getting swept downstream in a stronger current and some standing waves just off of Stony Crest which pushed us back around the East side of the island. This was weird, because the river there didn’t seem any different than anywhere else we had paddled and most places were nearly still.

Once we got to the Southern banks on the river, we continued West some more.  I wasn’t running a GPS, but I think we went about 3.5 miles upstream from the castle. The wind had picked up a good bit as well as the current in some places, and with no specific destination in mind, we turned back somewhere around the mouth of Swan Bay. The trip back was faster, being down wind, down current and having fewer islands to thread through.

The drive back to camp took us by a small town, and I had packed some frozen venison chunks, so we stopped off at a grocery store and got some vegetables and skewers, returned to the campground and made a fantastic sunset shishkebab dinner.

Dinner
Venison kebabs for dinner. Grand Rapids back-yard Bambi!

8/21/17

The next day we headed out crossing back into Canada to continue toward Maine. We first spent a bit of time attempting to scope out some additional paddling right near the campground, but our attempt to find a launch led us down a long dirt road ending in a cluster of private residences with no water access in sight.  Thousand Islands was about in the middle of the trip, so there was another 8-9 hours drive to get to Acadia anyway.  We made it to Mt. Desert Island kind of late and checked into our nice little room at the Belle Island Hotel which was going to serve as our home for the next week.

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 Tennessee) 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 7 – Hoover Dam

I had been to Las Vegas at least five times prior to this trip and each time, going to the Hoover Dam was a tentative item on the list that got canceled for one reason or another.  It was not getting canceled this time.  Though, with the issues we had the night before, it was not an early start.  I think we only had about 45 minutes to ‘visit’ the dam.

Hoover Dam

One could argue that the Hoover Dam is no more, and possibly less, impressive than the previously berated Mt. Shmushmore.  But, at least there’s some cool technology on display.  Parking is kind of a mess, so somewhat by chance we drove over the dam, found a spot on the other side, hopped out of the car and walked around on the dam for a bit, drove back over and up to the new primary traffic bridge above and walked out on that for aerial pictures of the Hoover Dam.  I’m not sure how things were before the new bridge, but if traffic across the dam was anything like what it is now as primarily a pedestrian tourist attraction, that had to have been miserable with no bypass.

After checking the Hoover Dam off the bucket list, we headed back to Las Vegas to drop off the car (which was as confusing as reputed to be by others) and head home.

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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