West 2019 – Day 3 – Rocky Mountain NP, Sky Pond

Tuesday, 8/13

Second day of success – we got up early enough to get to the Sky Pond trailhead and secure parking.  We were still in prime season at the parks, so the need to find parking early ended up being something of a theme for the entire trip. We probably got there around 8:00, which was safe but not too early for parking. Once we were parked, we took our time to decide on clothes, pack, sunscreen and generally get ready before catching the shuttle bus to the official trailhead. We were heading up by 8:45.

Note: The official trailhead required taking a shuttle bus back to a previous parking lot that was full, which we did. The unofficial trailhead where we parked was a difference of only 0.1mi in total distance, but the 0.4mi fork to that lot is all uphill when coming back, which we did not realize. So, if the plan is to shuttle, the ideal would be to park at the lower trailhead and shuttle uphill to start the hike. We didn’t really have this option due to parking and didn’t realize just how much uphill we chose to tack onto the end of the hike going the route we did.  Additionally, there’s really no benefit or different to the two trailheads and thus no real need take the shuttle.  The higher elevation trailhead is the larger lot with more amenities.

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West 2019 – Day 0/1 – Prelude

Saturday, 8/10

I drove down to Chicago in the Subaru getting in at around midnight and with the expectation that we would be driving the Subaru westbound the next day. Something about the drive made me uncomfortable enough with that plan that we decided to take Janet’s Honda Fit instead. It’s been a few months now and other than inspecting a few more things and replacing the spark plug wires, which was likely unnecessary, I can’t actually find anything that would have affected taking the Subaru.

We departed Chicago in the Fit around noon. A little later than expected, but there was some delay for making the final decision and transferring gear to the Fit. We did have to deal with a mostly flat tire at some point along the way and then another one shortly after due to a misbehaving valve stem, but otherwise the drive wasn’t too eventful.

Our “destination” for the night was some Walmart, probably in Nebraska, where we stopped at 3AM or so to sleep for a bit in the parking lot (which was apparently a pretty common occurrence there). While we were there we picked up a portable tire inflator as a safety precaution for the rest of the trip.

The only other part of the trip that I specifically remember was passing Sierra Trading Post in Wyoming, and that’s only because we had stopped there years ago, not because we had any intention or need to stop this time.

Sunday, 8/11

We got to Rocky Mountain National Park (Estes Park) mid-morning. There was no elk parade through town as there had been on our previous visit. We headed into the park and drove short loop stopping at a few of the overlooks before getting to Alpine Visitor Center which is about half way through the park. We got some moderately overpriced coffee (it was $3 and 20 miles from the nearest town, so this is not a real complaint) and hiked out the short, somewhat steep, and paved Alpine Ridge Trail to nowhere.

The second tiny hike was the Tundra Communities Trail past the mushroom rocks and to a geological marker (as seen guarded by the octopus).  And, now thinking back, I might have these two out of order.  It was pretty cool being at altitude and all so we might have been slightly chilly, thus adding to the motivation for the coffee before the second hike.

We returned to town by a slightly different route through the park. It was raining lightly, so we stopped in at the Estes Park Safeway to see what seemed appealing for dinner – I think we ended up choosing some roasted chicken and beers to supplement what we had brought along. After that, we headed to the hotel (Estes Mountain Lodge, I think, that Janet had booked sometime during the day) relatively early, expecting to need an early start the next day.

Maine 2017 – Acadia to Portland

8/27/17

We headed out toward Portland in the morning, opting for the somewhat more scenic route down the coast. Down the coast, in this case, meant highway between small towns instead of freeway. For the most part, I didn’t feel like it was “on the ocean” – not like California where you’re driving on the ocean for 10’s of miles. Looking at the map, and the timing of when we would have been driving past, I guess this impression could have been influenced by the fact that most of the run down the coast was after sunset.

The first stop along the way was at Blue Hill Mountain – only about 45 minutes out of Acadia. I’m not sure what the claim to fame of the place was, but it came up in Janet’s search for hikes so we diverted a bit. It was a pretty, and pretty easy hike up through the woods to a peak. There was formerly a tower there, but just the footings remain at this point. Continue reading

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 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