This trip will take us through New Mexico and deep into (the heart of) Texas before turning east along the Gulf Coast and eventually driving back to Connecticut. As usual we began our trip in Salt Lake City where we have been storing the Beast between trips.
After a day of travel to SLC and a day of preparing the Beast for this journey we departed for Moab, UT. We spent an overnight in Moab, UT (Moab Coffee Roasters) before traveling to southwestern Colorado to view some of the finest examples of Peubloan cliff and mesa communities in existence today.
Mesa Verde National Park was created by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906 for the explicit purpose of preserving the remarkable Ancesteral Peublo architecture. Mesa Verde was occupied by the Pueblo people for about 750 years beginning in 550 A.D.
MVNP is definitely a bit off the beaten path but we think more than worth the drive. The park is laid out with a loop drive that allows you to see many of the cliff villages from excellent view points. There are a number of kivas that have been excavated which are easily accessible by foot.
In the summer months you can also tour several of the cliff dwellings on ranger guided tours. The Far View Lodge offers acommodations with outstanding views of the mesa and canyons below. There is also a small musueum located in the park about twenty miles from the entrance.
There are a number of indigenous sites in the Four Corners area which could easily be combined with a visit to MVNP for an extended tour; Canyons of the Ancients and Chaco Culture National Historic Park are two major sites.
With repairs to the Beast completed we set out to Yosemite National Park for our first ever visit. We had perfect weather during our three day visit to the park. We did have to contend with smoke from the Briceburg Fire settling in the Yosemite Valley on our first day.
Yosemite is located in the Western Sierra Nevada and features a number of dramatic, well known granite formations. Many of these formations are in Yosemite Valley and should be seen or experienced in some fashion – hiking, climbing or driving. We particularly enjoyed the hikes accessed from Glacier Point Road which provide many spectacular views.
We also recommend visiting other areas of the park outside of the valley. The park is almost 1200 squaremiles in size – there are many opportunites to see and experience the park outside of Yosemite Valley, without the traffic and crowds.
Yosemite NP is a must see if you are a national park fan. We camped outside the park in the Stanislaus NF. If you want to to stay in one of the park campgrounds or lodges you will need to reserve many months in advance. Regardless of where you stay, driving will be required to access the various areas of the park. Also, go early as trailhead parking is very limited.
Working our way through northern Nevada to get to the Alvord Desert and Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon.
‘Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow’ …or we departed Ashland, home of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, for the Northern California coast and the majesty of the Redwood forests in Redwood National and State Parks.
The Southern Oregon and Northern California coast is home to the vast majority of coastal Redwood trees in existence today. These trees are as tall as 360 feet, with a trunk diameter of 30 feet and may live up to 2000 years.
Just a fraction of the old growth Redwoods remain standing today as logging of these magnificent trees continued as late as the 1960s. Today the majority of Coastal Redwoods reside within state and federal lands and are protected by law. Additionally, state and federal agencies are working to ensure the survival of new growth Redwoods through careful management of the environment surrounding the current generation of trees.
Hiking and camping within a Redwood forest was an experience that reminded us of how small we are as human beings and how temporary our stay here is in regard to the natural order of all things. These silent giants dwarf everything around them and demand reverence and silence as you walk among them – we cannot articulate why – they just do.
There are many camping opportunities within the forest and along the coast from which to visit and enjoy the Redwoods, so come and enjoy the beauty.
We will spend a few more days on the coast before moving inland to go to Fresno for repairs to the Beast. After that, weather permitting we will visit Yosemite National Park.
After leaving the Oregon coast we followed the Umpqua River east to visit Crater Lake National Park. Crater Lake is fascinating geologically and quite the natural phenomenon to behold. The crater was formed about 7700 years ago when Mt. Mazama erupted. Years of rain and snowfall into the crater, which has no outlet, gave birth to the lake. It is believed to contain the cleanest water in the world and the average water depth of 6500 feet makes it the deepest lake in the U.S.
Having said that, we would not recommend more than a day or two if you plan on visiting the park. The rim drive allows you to stop at a significant number of lookouts and view the lake from various vantage points but the entire drive is only 31 miles and at most consumes half a day.
There are a number of hikes in the park but only a handful provide views of the lake and only one goes down to the lake. If you visit CLNP, most definitely have a drink (or two) on the porch of the lodge in Rim Village in the late afternoon. And yes, the water is really that blue!
Heading back to the coast and Redwood National Forest after a quick stop in Ashland, Oregon to visit Noble Coffee Roasting (Good Foods Award winning roaster of Ethiopa Buku beans).
Death Valley welcomed us to the park with 100F plus temperatures – a combination of somewhat hotter than usual temperatures for this time in April and our arriving later than we originally envisioned. We however, were determined to work around the weather and experience the park for at least several days.
We knew we would not be able to hike in the full heat of the day so we set our alarm for the early morning in order to hit the hiking trail by 6:30AM each morning. This approach gave us four to five hours each day to hike with safe conditions. We also went out in the evenings to drive to various vista points and view the impressive night sky.
We have included some photos from several of our hikes including Golden Canyon, Red Cathedral, Gower Gulch and Natural Arch. The Natural Arch Canyon hike features an easily reachable natural arch about one third of a mile from the trailhead. The interesting and increasingly challenging hike comes after passing through the arch as you encounter a series of dry waterfalls which must be climbed to continue up the canyon.
The USAF flies low level training missions through Rainbow Canyon. As aviation buffs, we were thrilled to be at Rainbow Canyon when four F16 fighter jets came roaring through the canyon fast and low. We managed to photograph one of the fighters in the canyon and we have included that photo in this post.
We ventured to the Keane Wonder Mine to see the remains of this abandoned gold mine and mill. It was one of the few mines to utilize an aerial tramway to haul ore down the mountain. This mine closed in 1912.
The Billie Mine, an underground mine, was the last mine to operate in DVNP, closing in 2005. There are still thousands of mining claims that exist within the area that is now DVNP. However, it is unlikely that the National Park Service will allow any further mining within the park.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the western hemisphere at 282 feet below sea level. We walked out onto the salt flats early one morning and found the experience of being on the valley floor – the immense scale, the complete quiet and the forces of nature so evident – very humbling.
It is quite apparent to us that we could spend months exploring DVNP and not come close to seeing and experiencing all the wonders of nature that exist in this vast park. DVNP is larger than Connecticut and ninety percent wilderness.
It is also apparent to us that this place is not to be taken lightly if you are going to seriously explore the more remote locations within the park. This park is both extremely beautiful and inherently dangerous. Regardless, we recommend that you experience it first hand if you have the opportunity.
P.S. As with many of the public lands within the United States there is a saga related to Native Americans. The Timbisha Shoshone Tribe have lived in now what is Death Valley for over 1000 years. When the precursor to the national park, DV National Monument, was created in 1933 the Timbisha were displaced with no provision for a new homeland. It was not until 1982 that the tribe was recognized by the federal government and allowed to have a reservation within the park – initially a grant of 40 acres for the 199 tribal members (in three million acre park!). In 2000 the Timbisha Homeland Act returned 7500 acres to the tribe. The reservation is located within the Furnace Creek area of the park.
After extending our stay in both San Diego and San Clemente, we are back on the road. Our first stop was at JTNP where the wildflower “super bloom” is at its peak.
JTNP is one of a limited number of National Parks that allows access to back country high clearance 4WD trails. Many of these trails exist due to the significant number of mines (300) that at various times operated in the area which is now JTNP. We took advantage of the opportunity by spending an afternoon traveling through Pinkham Canyon and were treated to spectacular scenery and solitude.
There are a number of great hiking trails within the park. Because this is the busy season at the park we chose several hikes that we thought would be less crowded including Mastodon Peak and 49 Palms Oasis.
An interesting aspect of the park is that portions of both the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert are within its boundaries. While the park is named after the Joshua Tree there are no Joshua Trees in the Colorado Desert area of the park; they are only found in the Mojave Desert area of the park.
JTNP is extremely beautiful at this time of the year and the temperatures are reasonable for hiking. But as this is a true desert environment we would recommend you that you visit between late fall and early spring before high temperatures go into the triple digits!
The Southern Arizona landscape is dominated by cacti. However, we never realized until we began exploring in this area that there are more than two dozen species of cactus living here. The most well recognized is the Saguaro. This species can live to be 200 years old, grow to 50 feet in height and weigh six tons. We have identified six species during our hikes: saguaro, barrel, teddy bear, ocotillo, prickly pear and cane cholla.
Saguaro National Park + Tucson Mountains
We hiked Kings Canyon Trail to Wasson Peak loop trail. Wasson Peak is the highest peak in the Tucson Mountains and provided us with tremendous vistas. We were able to clearly see Mt Lemmon, Mt Wrightson, Kitt and Picacho Peaks as well as the city of Tucson. This hike is a bit on the strenous side at eight miles with an elevation gain of over 1600 feet but well worth the effort. In addition to the views the trail was awash with wild flowers.
Looking to rest our legs between hikes we spent an afternoon making the drive from Tucson up to Mt Lemmon and the village of Summerhaven via the Sky Island Scenic Byway. The road winds up through the Catalina Mounatains with an elevation gain of more than 6000 feet. As you leave Tucson you are in the desert and by the time you reach Mt Lemmon we found ourselves driving through connifer forests. The temperature drop was more than 30 degrees. Picture below is a view of the San Pedro River Valley from an elevation of apx. 8000 feet above sea level. This byway is a beautifully engineered road with incredible views and scenery. The general store is Summerhaven can provide you with ice cream and fudge as an added incentive to go all the way to the end of the drive.
Picacho Peak State Park was our base of operation for six nights. This location provided easy access to Tucson proper (coffee and tea!) and plenty of hiking in Saguaro NP and the Coronado NF. The added bonus was that Picacho Peak presented us with several challenging hikes without needing to leave the park. We photos below are from our hike on the Sunset Vista Trail.
Pima Air + Space
As we are both aviation buffs we kicked off our stay in the Tucson area with a visit to the Pima Air & Space Museum. Pima has a large collection of primarily military aircraft. We were able to see two aircraft (pictured below) that we had never seen in person previously. The Convair B58 Husler (left below) was the first USAF bomber capable of Mach 2 flight and was operational with SAC during the 1960s. On the top right is the Boeing B36 Peacemaker. The B36 was used from 1949 until 1959. It was the largest piston engined plane ever built. It was powered by six pusher props and four jet engines and had a wingspan of 230 feet. It is ugly but could travel 10,000 miles without refueling and carry 87,000 pounds of nuclear bombs. Two rare aircraft that we were pleased to have the opportunity to see in person.
We also took a tour of the “boneyard” located within Davis Monthan Air Force Base. The boneyard is home to more than 3000 military aircraft not currently needed operationally. A portion of the aircraft staged to be ready to operate within 24 hours while others are being cannabilized for parts to keep active models of the same aircraft flying.
Our next stop is Kartchner Caverns State Park located at the base of the Whetstone Mountains, located about 50 miles southeast of Tucson.
Lastly, please continue to follow the coffee and tea adventures of our good friends @fikawithfiona on Instagram.
We spent a couple of nights in Flagstaff or “Flag” as the locals refer to the city. This city of approximately 70,000 sits at 7000 feet above sea level in the Coconino NF with the San Francisco Peaks as the backdrop. The town still boasts a lively and well preserved downtown with local merchants, restaurants and most importantly good coffee. Flag is home to Northern Arizona University (The Lumberjacks). We have found that many of the towns we have visited that have a nice vibe like Flag have a university or college located within the city or town.
We visited three coffee roasters while in Flag. All were legit but our favorite was Firecreek Coffee Company. We have included photos from all three below.
While traveling our focus is to see new places, meet new people, try new adventures, however, as we wander we do need to deal with the mundane. For one of us that means doing laundry, for the other it means getting a haircut. Pictured below is Hermanis Ulibarri. A haircut from Mr. Ulibarri turned out to be anything but mundane. Mr. Ulibarri is 77 years old and has been “barbering” since his return from serving in Vietnam over 50 years ago. He has given haircuts to tourists from all over the world and has quite a following of French clients that spend time in Flag on a regular basis. Lots of interesting stories. Oh, and cash only if you stop in for a haircut on your next visit to Flagstaff.
Just a few miles east of Flag is the Walnut Canyon NM. We spent an afternoon there viewing some of the extremely well preserved ancient cliff dwellings. These dwellings were constructed by the Sinagua People during the 12th to 13th centuries. The dwellings sit 300 feet above the canyon floor and provided protection from the weather, animals and rivals. The Island Trail has been constructed so that visitors can descend 200 feet down into the canyon and actually go inside a number of the dwellings. Amazing to think of an entire community raising families, growing crops, hunting, storing water and food while living 300 feet above the canyon floor.
We are off to Sedona for some hiking in the Red Rocks and perhaps to experience the energy of the purported vortices!
We have been taking full advantage of the great weather to boondock and hike in the Hurricane area and Zion NP. We also had an great afternoon on the dunes in Sand Hollow. We have arived in Kanab after about a four hour wait as a section of the Smithsonian Butte was impassable due to a strom that passed through early this morning. Fortunately the Sun appeared with a light breeze to help the road dry out enough for us to make it through the clay section. If the weather remains dry over the next several days we will be able to hike in several exciting slot canyons in the nearby Vermillion Cliffs area.
We did an overnight at CMNM which is in Eastern Idaho about 20 miles west of Arco. This is a 752,000 acre monument and wilderness area. This massive tract was once an area of significant volcanic activity and features huge lava fields, spatter cones and the remnants of a number of smaller volcanoes. This monument is so otherworldly that NASA sends astronauts to train here for Moon and Mars walks. We also did some caving in several lava tube caves which were formed by underground molten lava flows. 0058,0059