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Posts Tagged ‘national parks’

Capitol Reef: More Red Rocks (Day 127)

November 23rd, 2009 3 comments

Went on an actual little hike at Capitol Reef (National Park). It’s the national park in Utah that no one wants to talk about. Probably due to all the scandals and all.

Chimney Rock Loop, with about 3 miles of additional canyon thrown in.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 1The rock they named the trail after. Curiously, it’s not much a part of the route’s scenery.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 2

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 3Evidence I was there — and that the moustache was still alive and well as of Day 127.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 4

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 5I’m always impressed by the trees that manage to make a living out here. And by contrails.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 6

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 7Birds could live here. Or rock-climbing gnomes.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 8

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 9Just trying to imagine the wind that blew the pinecone (or whatever) here in the first place…

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 11The rocks also make me think of the U2: Live at Red Rocks video, which then reminds me that someone thought it was a good idea to put songs like “Party Girl” on the video/album, which then makes me remember there’s a reason I never owned U2’s Live at Red Rocks video.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 12And do the trees get lonely?

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 14Looking west from the top of the switchbacks.

capitol-reef-chimney-rock 15

Yeah, I guess I’m mostly over captions.

BTW, another park with a ranger who gave good advice on a hike. She also seemed somewhat outraged that every photo of Bryce Canyon that she’d ever seen in a calendar pictured Bryce during winter with snow on the Hoodoos. It *is* an outrage.

Just FWIW in case you care etc. etc., I liked Capitol Reef. It’s more subtle and less in-your-face than Bryce or Arches — more just a place to hang out than to have to confront. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I know it’s true. FWIW.

bkd


Carlsbad Caverns Is the Only Cave You Need (Day 122)

November 17th, 2009 No comments

Here’s what sets Carlsbad Caverns apart:

  1. The caverns are, you know, cavernous. The underground spaces are gigantic. You expect to see rope bridges and dwarf miners in there.
  2. Tons of formations. Literally! But there are also a lot of them — more than in other caves.
  3. SELF-GUIDED TOUR!

I imagine the bats also set CC apart, but given that I didn’t go in summer or October, the heck with ’em. (Although I really like bats and feel like I have to go back again some time when they’re performing.)

(Because they eat their body weight in mosquitoes *every night*!)

(Plus they have sonar.)

At any rate, CC puts the other caves I’ve been to to shame. They seem wholly superfluous after Carlsbad.

And while Carlsbad with its self-guided tour would be the perfect cave for bringing your tripod and getting great photos, I don’t have a tripod with me, so my photos from inside the cave don’t do anything to show off its bigness and grandeur. OTOH, I’m guessing someone somewhere has posted some good photos on the In-ter-net.

carlsbad-caverns_entranceDescent into darkness.

carlsbad-caverns_meEvidence that I was there.

carlsbad-caverns_colorsCavescape.

carlsbad-caverns_pillarsSee the water drips down and leaves a deposit behind and…

carlsbad-caverns_stalactitesReally, we’re just lucky water allows us to share the planet with it.

carlsbad-caverns_ladderAccording to the placard, climbing down the 200-foot rope ladder made some of the original researchers uneasy.

carlsbad-caverns_prisonWhere they keep visitors who touch rocks inside the cave prior to interrogation.

carlsbad-caverns_gift-shopIt’s like aliens landed inside the cave and set up a gift shop.

Self-guided tours are the best ever, btw. You go at your own pace and don’t have to feign interest when another guide tells you about how amazing rocks are. Echt stark.

bkd

I Slept at Guadalupe Mountain (Sort Of)!

November 17th, 2009 3 comments

It’s the highest peak in all of Texas.

guadalupe-mtn10,000-some odd feet. I didn’t climb it.

guadalupe-mtn-sunsetSunset from the campground.

I think Guadalupe Mountain is probably best known for being an NPS campground pretty near Carlsbad Caverns. And the campground was really just a parking lot — charmless, but flat. And about 2 AM the wind started howling. At 5, I gave up on sleeping and pulled up stakes. Not literally — I slept in the back of the truck. Then I drove to Carlsbad and got a sausage egg McMuffin. Are you supposed to capitalize “sausage egg”?

And FWIW, I don’t think the government uses consistent criteria to determine which areas should be “National Parks”. Guadalupe Mountain, Carlsbad Caverns, and probably Mammoth Cave should all be National Monuments, not Parks. At least according to their stated criteria. Oh well.

bkd

Big Bend National Park Zone 3: The River (Day 121, Part 2)

November 17th, 2009 No comments

Best zone for last, I guess. Big Bend is so-named because it’s situated on a large bend on the Rio Grande. Clever naming, yes. Anyway — the river goes through a gorge and, um, I think I’m back to where I should start these posts with the second paragraph again.

Except that I don’t have any material for a second paragraph. Maybe it’s too early in the morning.

big-bend_santa-elena-roadThe gap in the cliff is Santa Elena canyon. And the cliff to the left of the gap is in Mexico.

big-bend_santa-elena-opening (1)The canyon’s gaping maw.

big-bend_santa-elena-canyonCanyon, river.

big-bend_santa-elena-canyon-visitorsIf they’re on their honeymoon, I don’t think it’s going well.

big-bend_santa-elena-wallThe walls, closing in.

big-bend_santa-elena-jungleThe canyon contains its own jungle!

big-bend_santa-elena-view-outOut the canyon and onto the flood plain. I think the river was low.

big-bend_santa-elena-ramps-downThe trail heading down from the cliffs’ giddy heights.

big-bend_santa-elena-riverbedThe river bed.

big-bend_santa-elena-touristsThe tourist hordes.

It’s sort of telling that this park only exists on the US side of the border. I went to a couple border parks on the north side of the country that both extended into Canada (Glacier-Waterton and Boundary Waters) and none that were on the Canadian border that didn’t.

OTOH, there were a lot more border patrol agents cruising around Big Bend.

I like rivers and canyons.

bkd


Big Bend National Park Zone 2: The Desert (Day 121)

November 16th, 2009 No comments

121 seems like a big number, doesn’t it? Anyway:

First thing I did when I got to the park was go to the Visitors Center to figure out what I’m going to do. I tell him that I’ve been to California, Arizona, and Utah plenty, so what I want to see is how this place (Big Bend) is different from those places. He proceeds to tell me that since none of those places are the Chihuahua Desert and that therefore I haven’t seen anything that’s at all like Big Bend.

Ahem. Deserts:

  1. They’re all dry.
  2. They’re all very hot.
  3. Except at night, when they’re all very fetchin’ cold.
  4. They all have tough, ugly, leathery plants.
  5. They all have a narrow assortment of small, crunchy animals.
  6. There are usually some barren, rocky hills around.
  7. There’s often sand.

Whereas the Mojave Desert has mule deer, we have Chihuahuan White Tail Deer!

Wow, that *is* big. If only I were a zoologist.

Whereas their rocks are between 100 and 450 million years old, ours are between 50 and 400 million years old!

Or a geologist.

We don’t have saguaro cactus like in the Sonora Desert, but we have the highest concentration of ocotillo in North America!

For one thing, lack of saguaro and glut of ocotillo aren’t exactly selling points. For another, I’m not a botanist either.

Plus, we’re the only national park with its own mountain range!

Listen:

  1. If a mountain range can be completely contained within a national park, it’s not much of a mountain range.
  2. Olympic National Park *is* a mountain range, so that doesn’t make you special anyway.

The more park rangers I interact with, the more I think that one lady ranger at Acadia in Maine deserves a medal for outstanding competence. Half a day? Good. Drive this loop, stop here and here, then you’ll have time to hike the second-best trail in the park. Write down these trail names. Now go! Go! They need more like her. A lot more. I should’ve got her name.

Oh well. Desert, and not very different from the Mojave or Sonoran deserts.

big-bend_desert-drive

big-bend_desert-trail

big-bend_desert-trail-2

big-bend_desert-hill

big-bend_dirt-road

Definitely no saguaros.

bkd

Big Bend National Park Zone 1: The Mountains (Day 120)

November 16th, 2009 No comments

See, because there are three main zones in the park: (1) mountains; (2) desert; and (3) river. Right.

And before things get too wild, I’d like to mention that this national park is in the middle of nowhere (which I guess is better than being at the edge of nowhere, because at least it’s in the middle of something). It’s a hard park to get to without meaning to be there. OTOH, (they claim) it has the darkest night sky of any NP in the lower 48. Would probably make it a good place to be a burglar — not that anything happened.

Hiked to “The Window”. Kind of a short hike (4.5 miles), mostly tourists. And most of the good pictures I got of the mountains were from the Visitors Center rather than the hike. Naturally.

‘Course, they didn’t have one of *these* at the Visitors Center:

big-bend_tarantulaA tarantula! Or maybe it’s a tarantulo. It’s hard to tell without flippin’ ’em over.

About the size of my hand. And then the trail (although, technically, the tarantula photo *is* a photo of the trail.

big-bend_window-trailHere’s the trail. Not bad-looking for a desert. Oh wait — these are mountains, not desert.

big-bend_windowThen this is “The Window” itself.

So it was kind of a dull hike — but at least I got to sweat a lot. Then I went back to the campground and visitors center to get some *real* photos. Relatively real. Two of them.

big-bend_casa-grandeCasa Grande from the handicapped-accessible trail.

big-bend_pink-cloudsA middling-quality sunset, with mountain silhouettes.

Then I decided that since I’d never gone to a National Park ranger lecture at a campground amphitheater before, I should try that. So I went, listened to a guy talk about how old rocks are for 20 minutes, then tried to leave quietly. There was a new moon, which made things especially dark, but I found these guys right outside my campsite.

big-bend_javelina-soloA javelina!

big-bend_javelina-bandAnd his merry band!

(It’s hard to compose wildlife photos interestingly when you can’t really see the wildlife so well.)

And then I went to sleep.

bkd

Mammoth Cave: The Historic Tour! (Day 111)

November 6th, 2009 3 comments

The one tour you’re supposed to go on at Mammoth Cave is The Historic Tour. It’s the one that people have, historically, gone on. The history involved primarily has to do with the history of cave touring at Mammoth Cave. I’m not kidding.

But first, here’s a deer:

mammoth-cave_deer-in-leavesTired from a night of partying with the cave trolls.

And then this also came before the cave:

mammoth-cave_pardon-progressThere *is* no excuse for progress.

And *then* I went on the tour.

mammoth-cave_big-chamberIt’s called “Mammoth Cave” because it’s big (it’s the longest cave in the world).

mammoth-cave_fat-mans-miseryRemember that one Simpsons where they re-build Ned’s house?

mammoth-cave_graffiti19th-century graffiti artists had much neater penmanship.

mammoth-cave_chasmTarget practice for rock-droppers.

mammoth-cave_exitDaylight at last!

People on this tour had a hard time not standing on the rocks. OTOH, the guide stood on rocks, so why shouldn’t the tourists? The guide also said that the National Park belongs to *us* (as opposed to belonging to the government). I didn’t engage, but I really, really wanted to. Discretion and valor, etc.

Historical facts:

  • They mined saltpeter here for the War of 1812, also known as the Second War of American Independence.
  • Originally, tour guides were all slaves.
  • The slaves got to keep their tips.
  • One of the slaves discovered a whole lot of the cave.
  • You used to be able to take a boat cruise on an underwater river in this part of the cave (the tour guide was proud of having been part of the group that disassembled the boat pier and boats thereby putting an end to the practice).

Anyway. I saw wild turkeys near the deer, but they were skittish and thus the photo was blurry. The bobcat is still the best animal I’ve seen all trip. Although the turtle in Minnesota was also pretty cool.

bkd

Another Park with Mostly Tree Prisons (Day 110)

November 6th, 2009 2 comments

So the north part of the park has all these hiking trails, but the ranger informs me that they’re all tree prisons (not her exact words). But then there’s this hike-in lake that, she says, has pretty good fishing.

No park rangers have ever fished. I’m sure of it. Well, whatever.

It was about a 4 mile round-trip hike to this lake and, yes, tree prison. The lake was okay-looking. I saw fish jumping, but none biting. Went to the river nearby — similar story. I’m trying to figure out how this took an entire day. Eh.

first-creek_lakeThe lake.

nolin-riverThe river.

nolin-river_fishingThe fishing gear.

houchins-ferryThe ferry.

I think I needed rooster tails. Was there two and a half hours trying to catch something. That was probably enough to prove the point.

Also! Did laundry at the campground when I got back. And took a cold shower that cost me $2. And it got down into the low-30s that night.

bkd

Mammoth Cave, Inside and Out (Day 109)

November 6th, 2009 No comments

Mammoth Cave is in Kentucky.

It’s a nice enough park, definitely worth spending a full day. I spent two and a half, of course — but that was fine, I kind of needed to have a couple days of not driving 300 miles anyway.

Got there around noon, which gave me time to walk around the six or so miles of “hiking paths” around the visitors center. Then it was still only 2:30, so I signed up for one of the cave tours (“New Entrance” was the name of the tour — you can see how that would have enticed me).

Make photos go now:

mammoth-cave_campsiteMy campsite.

mammoth-cave_trail-trunksFall colors: past-peak.

mammoth-cave_boardwalkBoardwalk.

mammoth-cave_styx-springsStyx Springs (there’s an underground river, you see).

mammoth-cave_looking-upThe bowels of the earth.

mammoth-cave_magic-glowThe NPS does a good job of setting up their lights, imho, fwiw, etc.

mammoth-cave_formationThe only stalactites in the cave.

mammoth-cave_cave-cricketCave crickets: the bottom of the food chain.

A few lessons learned from the cave tour:

  • Cave photos never work out. Maybe if you took a tripod (but the ranger won’t let you).
  • This part of the cave used to be owned by a guy who was jealous of the people who owned the other part of the cave and so tried to make his cave seem like theirs.
  • There are some really dumb people running loose in this world (I mean, just, not intelligent). “Which direction does water always want to go?” “South!” That wasn’t the worst.
  • All caves should come with friendly Filipina-Canadians — a shame they don’t have those in Kentucky.

L8,

bkd

Toolin’ Around in the Ol’ Congaree Swamp (Day 95)

October 21st, 2009 4 comments

Crap — Day 100 is coming up. I better do something momentous.

Day 95 I went to Congaree National Park (south of Columbia, S.C.) and paddled around in the swamp. It was about as chill, relaxing an activity as I’ve done this trip. Apart from havin’ to wrench my kayak out of the cab of my truck, dig underneath my cot to find the keel and my PFD, extract my foot pump out of the nether-corner of the truck bed, and then inflate and assemble the whole thing. But, really, you know, once that was done, it was pretty dang relaxin’. Check it out:

I should probably take more photos of stuff like diggin’ under the cot to find my keel. Posterity might appreciate that kind of thing. Next trip. (Although, in my defense, it’s not always easy to take photos of yourself doin’ things like that.)

Sorry for all that paddlin’ noise on the video. Kind of kills the moment(s).

Trip lasted about three hours. By “the swamp”, I mean “Cedar Creek”. Technically, yes, the water is flowin’. Just very slowly. Made for easy paddlin’ upstream and still waters that yielded really good reflections. Photos are kind of off though — too dark to use normal ISO and a small aperture, which blew out the details. Plus there were too many snags to stop paddlin’ long enough to really compose anything. Oh well. Here’s what I ended up with.

congaree_swamp-1Mmm: swampy!

congaree_me-consternationMy apparent consternation is unfounded.

congaree_leaning-branchGlass-like.

congaree_kayak-pointAnother photo.

congaree_y-in-creekA fork in the creek.

congaree_spiderSomewhat spider-like, imho.

congaree_kick-back-floatFloatin’.

congaree_tree-canopyFall color *and* spanish moss festooning the trees of Congaree.

Other notes:

  • I saw no alligators.
  • I saw no pythons.
  • I saw no alligator-python fights.

For that matter, I didn’t see many animals at all — a few ducks and that was it. Still, a beautiful, easy-goin’ day.

bkd

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