West 2018 Day 8 – Anacapa Island

Sunday 05/20/18

The second day of the Channel Islands was to Anacapa Island.  Anacapa is much smaller, with only about two miles of trails which more or less covers the entire island end to end.  I guess technically we were on East Anacapa island – it’s all labeled as one island, but there’s an east, middle and west.  Maybe they are all connected at low tide – I’m not sure.

Our boat ride over started a bit later and was a smaller boat.  We were on the upper deck, but not standing on the bow of the boat, so it was a bit warmer.  We did see some dolphins, but not nearly as many as the morning before.  The surprise sighting of the day was a mola mola, the biggest, and arguably dumbest, bony fish in the world.  This one wasn’t that huge, but happened to be near the surface.  Also, much further in the distance, we got to seem some whale spouts – we weren’t close enough to see the whales, but I think, mostly just playing the odds based on the log board in the harbor office, they were likely Minke whales.

As with Santa Cruz, there’s a mandatory orientation when you arrive on the island (I think this is just a National Park Islands kind of thing, they do it on the Manitous as well) where we got a quick rundown of the island and one very critical piece of information on how to ward off any gulls that might get aggressive from the air.  The trick is apparently to stick your fist up in the air if you see one, but not to walk around with your fist in the air because that just instigates more attacking.  This information seemed to be accurate and was used frequently on the walk around the island.

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West 2018 Day 7 – Santa Cruz Island


Saturday 05/19/18

We had planned two days to visit a couple of the islands of Channel Islands National Park.  Day one was the island of Santa Cruz.  Island Packers is the only ferry operation to the island, and though I think their prices were high, we didn’t have much option if we wanted to go.  We had an 8:00 departure to arrive on the island at 9:00 or slightly later if there was wildlife sighted – which it was.

Other than pelicans around the harbor, we didn’t see much early on.  It wasn’t until we were about 2/3 of the way to the island that a large pod of common dolphins was sited.  The captain stopped the boat a bit to let everyone onboard watch.  Janet and I were standing up front in the bow, which was a bit chilly, but was fun and was a good vantage point for the wildlife viewing.  I tried to take a few pictures, but in the end just decided to watch.  Most of them were too close and there wasn’t really enough light.

Island Fox

Once we arrived on the island and received our orientation speech, we started with the longest section we planned to do, the hike out to Smuggler’s Cove.  This took us up and over the center of the island (red dots) to a somewhat isolated cove with a few remnants of settlement.  As an important part of the hike, we saw a number of island foxes which are one of the smallest fox species.  They were endangered due to golden eagle predation in 2004.  The recovery program put in place worked (breeding foxes, relocating the golden eagles, bringing back bald eagles and removing domesticated sheep and cows) and now the foxes seemed plentiful and relatively unconcerned with our presence. Continue reading

West 2018 Day 6 – Joshua Tree Day 2

Friday 05/18/18

We went back to Keys View in the morning to see if there was any better visibility of the San Adreas Fault earlier in the morning.  It was better but still pretty hazy.  We stopped at Lost Horse Mine to hike out and see some of the remains of the mining operations that used to exist.  It’s about a 3.5 mile round trip and pretty remote, or at least remote feeling.  On the way to the mine, we came across a herd of big horn sheep that let us get pretty close for some good pictures.

After the mine, we went to the Hidden Valley area and wandered along the Hall of Horrors trail for a while before heading South toward the other end of the park.  On the drive south, we made a few stops at the Cholla Cactus Garden, home of the jumping Chollas that seem to magically (and painfully) attach themselves to people, Ocotillo Patch (different kind of cactus) and the Cottonwood Visitor Center / Lost Palms Oasis before leaving the park to the South.  We must have been pretty tired from the heat, because we chose not to hike the Lost Palms Oasis trail but instead to stick to the short trail near the parking lot. Continue reading

West 2018 Day 5 – Joshua Tree

Joshua tree map

Thursday 05/17/18

We planned to spend two days in Joshua Tree, but we didn’t know a lot about the park, so the first order of business on Thursday was stopping at the visitor center (very upper left of the map above) to get some maps, figure out what campgrounds were likely to have spaces and figure out what areas were most interesting to hike.  You can somewhat see that Joshua Tree is a sizeable park with the concentration of roads, campgrounds and attractions in the Northwest corner.  We entered from the Northwest and kind of drove through the most popular areas just checking out campgrounds.

The campsite was huge and remote... worth the search.

The ranger pointed us in the direction of Jumbo Rocks campground and then further on to Belle and White Tank, the latter two being campgrounds that did not take reservations and which were thus likely to have open spots.  We drove through both and then circled back to Jumbo Rocks where we found a site to our liking (it was a pretty fantastic site) and set up camp.  We could have saved some time by poking around Jumbo Rocks first, but we were of the impression that sites were going to be in short supply and that we’d need to find something quick so our first stop at the more distant sites seemed to be playing the odds.  Turns out, Joshua Tree was not nearly as busy as Grand Canyon and there were probably open sites in all the park’s campgrounds.

Joshua Tree definitely has a unique feel to it.  The Joshua trees aren’t only found in the park (we drove through some significant expanses elsewhere) but they’re definitely there in a much higher density than anywhere else.  Side note – Joshua trees are not actual trees, they are a large variety of yucca.  Their trunks are fibrous and they split when the bloom after the end of a branch sustains frost damage.  https://www.nps.gov/jotr/learn/nature/jtrees.htm

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West 2018 Day 4 – Out of the Grand Canyon

Looking Back

Wednesday 5/16/18

We stuck to the 5AM plan pretty well.  We didn’t really cook breakfast since the ravens stole the oats and I think we were back at the silver suspension bridge by 5:20.  The only real stop we took before Indian Garden was at the River rest house.  We realized that we had never actually went all the way down to the Colorado River, so we made a quick diversion to go touch the water before starting the climb out.  We made one other brief stop for sunscreen, but after that it was pretty much straight through, but the early part of the trail is the less steep and strenuous portion.

As expected, the early start gained us some shade for a good chunk of the hike up.  We didn’t really stop until 3 mile rest house other than a quick water fill and bathroom break at Indian Garden.  Our long stop to eat, again fill water and use the bathrooms at 3 mile rest house was followed by a shorter stop at 1.5 mile rest house.  The last of the significant shade ended between 3 mile and 1.5 mile and we started taking short breaks in the shady corners the rest of the way up.  The stretch between 3 mile rest house and the top is the more intense portion with lots of shorter switch-backs and it’s also where we started to see most of the other hikers (enviably carrying less gear than us) as the two rest houses are common day-hike endpoints.  We ended up getting to the canyon rim right around 11:00, a time of around 6 hours and getting us to the top just as the worst of the day’s heat hit.  Even then, the sun combined with the climb was pretty intense.

There wasn’t anything more on the list for the day, we were plenty tired, and it was hot, so after some quick refreshments at the hotel / visitor center we headed out of the Grand Canyon driving back south.  We did stop at a McDonald’s for coffee and ice cream.  Our next real point of interest was Joshua Tree National Park, and we got into town just before sunset to get some good and crash at the Super 8 for the night.

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West 2018 Day 3 – Into the Grand Canyon

South Kaibab Trail

Tuesday 05/15/18

We got up early to organize and pack for the overnight at the bottom of the canyon.  After breaking down camp and packing the necessary items in backpacks we went to park the car near the top of Bright Angel trail.  Not sure if it was luck or the fact that we were there at quarter to seven in the morning, but we got a spot right next to the trailhead and walked up to the hotel to catch the 7AM shuttle.

We arrived at the North Kaibab Trailhead and were headed down into the canyon around 7:30 along with a handful of other hikers.  As usual, this seemed absurdly early to start hiking (and it wasn’t even the earliest shuttle), but around 10:30 or so it started getting hot enough that we fully understood why the early start was important – and this was when traveling downhill.  It was hot and sunny, but otherwise a not particularly strenuous hike, so we were both wearing long sleeves and hoods / hats to keep the sun off and the heat out.

South Kaibab Trail

Most of the pictures are either from the top portion – above the Cedar Ridge rest area, or the bottom as we approached or once we were in the campground.  The “middle” was the hot and sunny portion (I think the only picture from there is the mules coming up), and in addition to being more strenuous, it was also not as interesting.

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West 2018 Day 2 – Antelope Canyon

Monday 05/13/18

Back Country Office

In our deliberations the day before, we found out that Upper Antelope Canyon had openings for a 4:00 tour on Monday.  So, we knew what our plan was for the afternoon, but first we needed to get to the back country office before 9:00 to get a campsite for Tuesday night.  We did this with no problem and then once again stopped at the campground office to check on cancellation sites.

We lucked out a second time and got a site, so we hastily wadded up the tent, sleeping bags and all, crammed it into the car and relocated.  We didn’t burn too much time in that process and then headed North toward Antelope Canyon.

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West 2018 Day 1 – Grand Canyon Rim

Saturday 05/12/18


We flew out of Chicago early (6:20) and got to Vegas just before 1:00.  The only real excitement of the trip being the rebooking of the rental car through Costco to add the second driver and the momentary fear that Avis had charged a $150 fee to cancel the previous booking.  They ended up cancelling it with no fee at all, so that was a surprise perk.  Also, I’ll make a recommendation for renting through Costco – it was a better rate, on a slightly nicer car and they include the second driver for no extra cost.

As usual, the first day involved getting supplies (including a secondary supply stop for a gas canister when the first Walmart failed us) which is necessary, but not very exciting.

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Maine 2017 – Niagara Falls


Rainbow Bridge

We stayed the night in the Oasis Motel in Niagara Falls, Ontario. The hotel was pretty dumpy, as it seems was the trend in that area. It probably ranked better than the Ash Fork Inn out West, but not by much. We begrudgingly gave them an extra $10 to stay parked there the next day while we walked down to the river and the falls. The town of Niagara Falls is a year round carnival, reminiscent of Pigeon Forge or whatever the town outside Rushmore was. We walked the Canadian side of the falls first and then crossed the bridge to the US side. While the Canadian side has by far the better viewing of the falls, the US side has a much more extensive park and closer access to the falls.  We wandered the park for a few hours before crossing the bridge back to Canada. Continue reading

Maine 2017 – Gananoque


The Socialist Pig

Departing Maine – we took a pretty leisurely pace getting packed up and heading out in the morning. Stopped at the visitor center and a few other places along the way as we headed back toward the Thousand Islands area of Canada.

We had chance, though getting close enough (there was much uncertainty about how far the road was passable) and possible rain were concerns, to hike the second highest peak in Maine – Sugarloaf Mountain, but we bypassed that on our way out of the state.


We had paddled the US side of the Thousand Islands area on the way out to Maine, so on the return we chose to stay on the Canadian side. We stayed outside the little town of Gananoque and drove into town in the morning.  We stopped at the visitor center and at a nice little coffee shop (The Socialist Pig) prior to heading down to the harbor for some paddling.  Finding a launch site and parking was a little bit annoying due to some construction and one way roads (I think we drove around the block three times), but we got on the water a bit before noon. Continue reading