Saturday, September 22, 2007

"Rocky Mountain High"

We arrived Thursday evening and stayed in a campground just outside of the West entrance to the park so we could get showers and organized for our backcountry trip (National Parks rarely have showers and it is quite annoying). That night in our campground we were treated to the mating calls (technically referred to as a “buggle call”) of the bull elks. Apparently September is high-season for elk to pair up, so the males walk around day and night making this high-pitched shreaking very strange sound that sounds nothing like a buggle. They were loud and buggled all night in the forest, but we actually enjoyed it… some of the guys have great calls, some guys will definitely be lonely this fall. The next morning we were treated to our tent being frosted and frozen solid, welcome to Colorado in September!

After defrosting the tent, we headed out to the trail head, strapped on the backpacks and walked into the wilderness for a night. We hiked about 6.5 miles and up about 1800 feet along the East Inlet Trail to Lake Verna which is nestled in a valley at about 10,000 feet. The hike scenery was spectacular as it winded along a river up the canyon, but the climb was steep and we were quite tired by the time we got there. The altitude takes your breath away when you hike here, there just isn’t as much oxygen available at 10,000 feet. We made camp, hung our food between some trees to keep it from the bears (yes we are back in bear country), and enjoyed the afternoon. The Rockies in the fall are great, warm sunny days, the pine trees are fragrant, the aspens are turning and the evenings are brisk. We didn’t have any bear encounters, but a large moose or elk or elephant walked through our camp. We couldn’t tell what it was, but it was large and made these snorting sounds as it trumped along up the path. The next morning we were relieved to find that no animals had foiled our complicated food hanging system, so we had breakfast, packed up and headed out. We got showers at our campground from the night before and drove the main park road which takes you above the treeline and to the East side of the park. This road is the tallest road in North America, topping out at 12,100 feet. It provides sweeping views of the peaks and tree-less alpine tundra. It rivals the Glacier National Park “Going to the Sun” road, but we still give Glacier the edge. We are now headed back east to see a few things before heading home, goodbye “Wild West”, we enjoyed you for the past 2 months. Check out the pics:

Hello Colorado

After packing up and heading out of dry and dusty Utah, we entered Colorado. We made a quick stop at Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park. A relatively new park (thanks Clinton) which protects a dark, deep granite canyon that only sees sun for a few hours a day. It is deeper than the Grand Canyon, but very narrow, probably only a few hundred feet across (versus 12 miles for the GC). The walls are almost at a perfect 90 degree angle… looking over the edge certainly makes your stomach drop.

After getting multiple recommendations for a small town nestled in the Rockies South of Vail, we marched forward to the town of Crested Butte, Colorado. Crested Butte seems to be a perfect little family oriented mountain town with a nice school, downtown area, skiing, mountain biking and breath-taking scenery. The home prices are also perfectly astronomical so we stayed in a National Forest campground outside of town with the other gypsies. We had planned to mountain bike in the area the next morning, but it got so cold that night that our riding shorts (which we had rinsed out the night before) were frozen when we woke up. Slipping on frozen biking shorts and riding on a 30 degree morning didn’t sound fun, so we decided to skip biking and drive up Kebler Pass to check out some foliage on our way to Rocky Mountain National Park. The aspen trees here in Colorado are all orange and yellow indicating that fall is here and snow is just around the corner. The drive through Kebler pass was beautiful, massive groves of aspens draped the slopes for 25 miles of winding gravel road at about 8000 feet. We both agreed that while the aspens are beautiful when grouped in large numbers, Colorado can’t compete with the foliage of the East Coast, there just are not enough trees that turn their colors here. Check out the pics:

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Moab, UT and Arches NP

We finally made it to Moab, UT on Monday… a virtual mecca for the mountain biker outdoorsy-types. While the town itself might not be too much to look at, the surrounding scenery and trail system is absolutely amazing. We found a campsite near town, and decided to use that as our home base both for mountain biking, and visiting Arches NP, just north of town.

This being one of the places those who LIVE to mountain bike come to ride, we decided to warm up our skills with an intermediate level ride on Tuesday morning. A few miles north of town we found a 12-mile out and back called Klondike Bluffs. A lot of the trails in this area are shared by bikers, ATV-ers and offroad motorcyclists, so there were definitely some interesting obstacles. The first half of the ride was largely uphill, and a good workout, traversing some rocky terrain, and a few miles of Moab’s famous “slickrock.” Contrary to what its name might draw to mind, the slickrock is actually super-grippy, allowing your tires to stick to it really well, so you can climb up and down hills you would otherwise not be able to ride in dirt or other trail types. (Check out the pics)

At the halfway point of the ride, we parked our bikes, and entered through a walk-in gate to Arches NP. We hiked a half mile or so, and were afforded some awesome views of the park down below while we ate our lunch. As we set out for the ride back, we met a couple on the trail and started talking to them; it turned out the woman was a nurse at the same hospital as Chris’s sister Jen in Traverse City, MI. Small world.

After our ride, we stopped at Arches NP on our way back to the campground, and did a quick driving tour, spending a few hours checking out some of the fantastic viewpoints, and hiking to some of the better-known sites in the park. We then headed back to the campground and got cleaned up, with the plan being that we would go back to arches, and hike to the famous “Delicate Arch” for sunset, then come back to town to grab a bite to eat for dinner.

We got to the parking area for Delicate Arch around 6:45, and sunset was slated for 7:21. In our books, plenty of time to make the 1.5 mile hike up to the arch in time for the sunset. Little did we know, however, that due to the location of the arch, the sun actually goes down into the mountains around… 6:50. So as we were hiking up, tons of people were coming down looking at us like we were crazy. We sped up our hike, all the while thinking we were idiots for messing this one up. When we got up there, however, although the sun had set, it was still casting a beautiful glow on the arch. There were about 80 people up there, frantically snapping pictures, and we sat there amazed for a good half hour or so.

The next morning we packed up camp, and set out to ride the Slick Rock trail before leaving town. Unlike yesterday’s ride where the slickrock was only a portion of the ride, it makes up the entirety of this entire 12.5 mile trail. Reading the multitude of warnings about how this trail is for experts only, don’t even bother attempting it if you don’t consider yourself one, etc., we decided we would try out the 2.2 mile practice loop (you know a trail is seriously difficult if it has a practice loop). While our first loop was a bit shaky, we made it around the practice loop a few times, and got the hang of riding on the rock, but deemed ourselves not yet ready to ride the full trail. We’ll have to come back and tackle it in a year or so once we have some more riding under our belts.

On to Colorado.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Bryce Canyon NP

If it seems like we are spending all of our time in canyons lately, you are right. This part of the country has an amazing collection of canyons each with a different look, all formed by the millions of years of erosion driven by the constantly evolving topography of the Colorado Plateau.

Bryce has some very interesting sandstone pillars called “hoodoos”. All kinds of interesting geology behind why and how they where created, but we’ll save that for another day. In short, the canyon was beautiful and the park was very nice. We got up to watch the sunrise over the hoodoos on Monday morning and it cast and interesting light over the valley. It was a cold morning however, we were holding right about 32 degrees and realized that now that we have turned back northeast, Fall temperatures in the Rockies are in store for a while. Where did summer go? We are also starting to see some signs of fall foliage peeking out at the higher elevations. After leaving Bryce on Monday morning, we headed further across Southern Utah toward Colorado. This part of Utah in between the natural wonders of the many national parks wins the award for the entire trip as having the longest expense of nothingness and will now forever be regarded as “the middle of nowhere.” On the way to Moab, we stopped in Capital Reef National Park. Again, known for geologic reasons because of the “waterfold”, a.k.a. a crack in the Earth’s crust, that forms another canyon. This park served as a nice place for us to stop for lunch and in which we discovered that the Park Service maintains a 130 year old fruit orchard started by the first settlers here many years ago. Depending on the time of year, visitors are allowed to pick and eat any of the fruit in the orchards. Since it was apple season, we picked some apples (we think pink lady variety) and a few pears that were left. The park service is great at keeping nice parks, but not at growing good fruit.

Zion - Yikes...

We are a few days behind on the blog updates. On our last day at Zion (Sunday), we decided to get up early before we left the park and hike one of the overlook trails. Billed as “not for acrophobes,” we were intrigued by the description of the Angel’s Landing Trail and it seemed like a must do in the park. The 6 mile trail climbs from the Zion Valley floor about 2000 feet to a steep sandstone peak which provides 360 degree views of the canyon. The first few miles were quite steep but on a well maintained trail. The remaining mile or so out to the end was best described as… terrifying. Sara and I are not afraid of heights and love to scramble on rocks to get great views but this one is different. Imagine crawling, crouching and climbing up the saddle of a ridge where the trail is sometimes less than 3 feet wide with sheer 2000 foot cliffs to each side. The Park Service put chains into the rocks to assist you; without these chains the trail would be impossible to climb without ropes and a harness. Sara and I looked at each other several times and said, “are we really going to finish this one?” With our stomachs in our shoes, we managed our way to the top and were rewarded with some great views of the valley. We can’t believe that people don’t die on this one each year. We left Zion and headed to Bryce Canyon a bit further East in Utah along the Colorado Plateau.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Monday Night Football In The Tent

Sometimes even Sara and I are amazed at what technology can do these days. Thanks to our friends Matt and Larry, we are watching Monday night football live on our laptop, in our tent, in Utah. No, no cable or T.V. here… Here is the setup: Matt has a device called a Slingbox on his cable box in Arlington, VA. Using the broadband connection through my cell phone, we downloaded the player and setup the software. So Matt’s cable box is now sending us an image of what they are watching over the Internet down through my phone and we are now watching it on our laptop in the tent. We can even change the channels using the virtual remote control and watch something else during the commercials! Basically, we can see what they are watching on their TV through the Internet on our laptop.