Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Maile - In Memoriam

This post is dedicated to Maile, our wonderful 13 year old Australian Shepherd who accompanied us on our amazing adventures across North America and Europe. She had as full of life as any dog could ever have.

Nephi Point, UT

Sometimes those leaves are not on a solid surface!

She was often camoflauged

Grand Canyon

Boy did she like to dig in the sand!

Or the snow...

Maile in Liechtenstein

Red Canyon, UT

Fields of Marina di Pisa, Italy

Of all her travels, Maile loved the desert southwest the most! The sand, the rocks, the open spaces, the dry conditions, that was where she seemed to thrive the most.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Parson's Spring at Sycamore Canyon Wilderness, Coconino NF, Arizona

Distance: 3.7 miles one way (6 km)
Elevation: 3700 feet (1128 meters)
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Season: Year Round

Amongst the mesquite, creosote bush, and cactus there was a herd of pronghorns

Just a short drive from Dead Horse Ranch State Park, at the meeting place of the Verde Valley and Mogollon Rim is the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness in the Coconino National Forest. The beautiful perennial stream creates a verdant oasis in this otherwise stark desert landscape.

Sycamore Canyon Wilderness can be reached by following signs for Tuzigoot National Monument just west of Cottonwood, AZ. After turning on the Tuzigoot NM road, turn left just after the bridge onto Sycamore Canyon Road. The road starts out paved and then becomes dirt while following the Verde River for some distance past slag piles and old mining ruins. Stay on this main road across the flats and then it will climb up toward the red rock cliffs ahead. This last section of the road is very rocky and rough. 2WD vehicles can make it, but it'll be bumpy. The Parson's Spring Trail begins on the ridge above the creek and then descends 0.2 miles down to the creek.

This is the view from the trailhead in November

The snows and rain that fall on the top of the rim at 7000 feet percolate through the lava beds, coconino sandstone, and supai shales to the bottom of the Colorado Plateau sedimentary layers. Here, in the redwall limestone springs emerge at the bottom of this canyon to supply this oasis with water.

This lush riparian forest consists primarily of cottonwoods, Arizona ash, walnut, willows, box elder, grape, and the namesake sycamores contast with the reds and oranges of the canyon walls. The alders remain green the longest and had not started dropping their leaves.

Slightly further back hackberries, acacias and mesquites provide slightly different shades of green and brown.

Just a few feet above the water table, the landscape changes to mid-desert vegetation of prickly-pear and cholla cactus, yucca, palo verde, agave, and junipers.

The trail is easy to follow as it heads upstream. It meanders back and forth into the riparian forest and then onto the arid rocky ledges above. While there are rocky stretches that may take some effort, for the most part, this route is a pleasant stroll with lots of shade in the first couple of miles.

The trail crosses the riverbed just before reaching the "swimming hole" where deep waters go right up against a tall red cliff. The trail will continue along the stream and will criss-cross a total of 6 times before reaching the Parson's Spring. A rather unimpressive pool of water near where the perennial stream ends.

View from the trailhead in summer

While any time of year is a great time to visit the canyon, a visit in early November at the peak of the fall colors is a real treat. The bright yellows of the various trees make for a brilliant sight.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Kaibab Trail to Cedar Ridge, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ

Distance: 3-5 miles round trip (4.8 - 8.0 km)

Elevation: 7300 - 5500 feet (2225 - 1670 m)

Difficulty: Strenuous

Season: March-November

Want to have a sample experience of the Grand Canyon without descending the full 5000 feet to the river?

Jeff and Hilina in the Coconino Sandstone Layer

The Kaibab trail down to Cedar Ridge is the trail for you. The trail starts at the Kaibab Trailhead near Yaki Point and requires you to get on the park shuttle to access. The trail desends through several of the sedimentary layers that makes up the Grand Canyon. It starts on the South Rim in Kaibab Limestone and quickly switchbacks down several times before reaching a more level area as it heads out toward the Cedar Ridge.

The trail soon descends through ledgy Toroweap limestone and then into the Coconino Sandstone. The Coconino sandstone is obvious as it is the primary material that makes up the light colored vertical cliffs of the upper portion of the canyon. Up close it is obvious by the angled cross-bedding typical of ancient sand dunes. This is the same formation that makes up Walnut Canyon National Monument near Flagstaff.

The trail is in good condition, except for the large juniper logs you have to climb over every few feet. These logs are designed to prevent erosion from eating away the trail. This is particular true due to the mules that use this trail to get people and equipment to the bottom of the canyon.

The Taylor-Lenz Family at Ooh Ahh Point

At about 1 mile, the trail comes to a major switchback where the first views to the east up the canyon are visible. This site is known as Ooh Ahh Point. There is no sign, but you will know when you are there. This is a turn around point for many people, as you have already descended 600 feet in elevation.

View from Ooh Ahh Point: the red area below is Cedar Ridge and the butte further out is O'Neil Butte

But, if you have it in you, Ooh Ahh Point is not where to stop! The trail soon descends down to a shelter on a red colored, wide, flat ledge below. This is Cedar Ridge and the expansive views, available water and toilets make this a worthwhile place to eat lunch.

The red shaly rocks of this ridge are in the Supai Formation. This formation also happens to be the same material that the red rock country of Sedona is made of! Cedar Ridge offers spectacular views down to the inner rim and the 1.8 billion year old Vishnu Schist of the inner canyon. Unfortunately, you can not see the river from here. But, Cedar Ridge gives you an amazing feel of what its like to be IN Grand Canyon!

View into the Inner Gorge from O'Neill Butte - notice the dark Vishnu Schist and white granite dikes

If you have not had enough of descending into the canyon, there is another nice spot another half mile of so called O'Neil Butte. This tall butte is obvious and there is a saddle with even nicer views of the inner rim, which is made up of light Tapeat Sandstone. The saddle sits on top of the next most obvious layer of the Grand Canyon, which is the Red Wall Limestone. This is the second major vertical cliff formation of the canyon.

O'Neill Butte

Ironically, the Redwall Limestone is not actually red like it appears, but white. The red color comes from staining of the surface from erosion of the red Supai formation above it. Another 30 minutes further down and another 1000 feet is where the first great views of the river occur at Skeleton Point at the end of the ridge in the light colored Muav Limstone.

Linda and Hilina at Cedar Ridge

Basically, you can turn back any time you want. But, keep this in mind...What goes down, must come back up! It is a strenuous hike back up. So, while the canyon may be calling you down, you may be dreading the haul back up! Also, remember it gets hotter the further down you go, with temps approaching 100 degrees in the lower canyon in summer. So, be prepared with plenty of water and hike outside the heat of the day.

The climb back up from Cedar Ridge to the South Rim

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Golden Wall Loop, Red Canyon Area, Dixie National Forest, UT

Distance: 5 mile loop (8 km)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 7246 - 7750 ft (2210 - 2360 m)
Season: Year Round (hot in summer and potentially icy in winter)

When people of beautiful pink/orange cliffs and hoodoos, Bryce Canyon NP always comes to mind. But, there is a place nearby, with far fewer people, that offers scenary as beautiful, if not more. The pink cliffs, known as the Claron Formation, is among the highest levels of the "Grand Staircase". The limestone of this formation occurs between 7,000-10,000 feet in Southern Utah, and represents some of the youngest formations of the region at around 60 million years ago when the Late Cretaceous Seaway was in its final stages. Approximately 10-20 million years ago the region was uplifted from sea level to over 10,000 feet in elevation.

The Golden Wall loop begins at the Red Canyon Visitor Center along Highway 12 just west of Bryce Canyon National Park. From the visitor center, cross the highway and follow the bike trail west a few hundred yards to the trailhead. The trail begins in a pinyon-ponderosa pine forest and then quickly heads up into beautiful orange/pink rock formations. The trail slowly begins climbing up the drainage.
There will be a side trail known as the Castle Bridge Trail will depart to the left. You can either stay on the Golden Wall Trail or take the Castle Bridge Trail up the ridge to some hoodoos and beautiful views of the Golden Wall. The Castle Bridge Trail will rejoin the Golden Wall trail in 0.6 mi and then the trail will begin climbing fairly steeply up the back of the basin.

From here, the views become grander and the formations more dramatic. As for the vegetation, the species include krumholz formed Douglas firs with tightly packed needles and tiny cones, as well as, white firs, limber pines, ponderosa pine, and near the top of the ridge, bristlecone pines.

The trail will cross a saddle and at first, the views down the other side seem a little disappointing, as you imagine simply dropping into the opposite valley and into the forest below. But, what will actually happen is completely different. The trail will instead stay up on the pink rocks and will climb up to the very top of the ridge with continued spectacular views. There will be a second saddle and then a descent down a steep section.

However, the trail will climb again including several steep switchbacks to a third saddle where you will meet the Buckhorn Trail. To the left is a spur trail to the top of the ridge above. The view from the top of this formation is not really any different than what you have seen already. The trail to the right heads down hill 0.9 mi to the Red Canyon Campground. Walk through the campground to the bike trail and follow it 0.5 miles back to the visitor center.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Dinosaur Tracks and Slot Canyons

Distance: 1.6 miles round trip

Difficulty: Easy

About 5 miles from Escalante is the Hole-in-the-Rock Road. This 46 mile dirt road leads all the way to a break in the steep walls of Glen Canyon and was one of the only ways early mormon pioneers could cross the Colorado River for nearly 500 miles. While reaching the Hole-in-the-Rock is a major journey of excitement, requiring a high clearance 4x4, there are numerous sites along the way that anyone can reach with a passenger car which also provide great excitement.

Approximately 13.6 miles from the beginning of the Hole-in-the Rock Road is a road to the right called “Collet Top”. If you turn here you can quickly reach some ancient dinosaur tracks laid down in cretaceous sand dunes some 77 million years ago. Follow Collet Top Road for 1.7 miles until reaching the wash out. Park your car, cross the dry wash, and then continue to follow the road on foot for an additional 0.7 miles. The dinosaur tracks are located on the white sandstone ridge to your right.

As you walk the road, you will appear to be walking past the sandstone, but soon there will be a branch. Follow the main road as it curves right and heads back toward the sandstone ridge. Just as you reach the base of the ridge there will be a trail register and a map of how to find the tracks. Walk to the slope where it seems easiest to climb to the top of the ridge, then go up that way to the top. Upon reaching the top you will see at least one very obvious 3-toed track, as well as, numerous other fainter tracks. There is even a place where several tracks are lined up side-by-side with a tail drag mark in the middle.

The quickest way back to your vehicle is to enter the dry wash and walk it all the way back to the washout.

Distance: 2 miles to unlimited

Difficulty: Moderately Easy to Difficult

If you continue down Hole-in-the-Rock road to appoximately 30 miles from the start, there will be a road to the left for “Dry Fork”, which refers to Dry Fork Coyote Gulch. Follow this rough road for 1.7 miles to the trailhead. At the trailhead, the trail will descend nearly 300 feet over slickrock to the dry wash at the bottom.

You must follow the cairns down and a couple of places can be tricky if you have a heavy pack on. Upon reaching the canyon bottom, there will be a nice big slot canyon to the left. This is Dry Fork Coyote Gulch and it is an easy walk upstream for several miles along this 10-15 foot wide, 100 foot deep slot. Just outside the entrance to the open wash to the right is another slot known as Peek-a-Boo slot. This is a very difficult slot with several difficult climbs up rock faces and mud in deep pools within. Having a toddler with us, we did not attempt this one, but we talked to several people who did it.

However, if you continue to walk down the wash ½ mile, you can reach a really wonderful slot canyon that is made just for kids. It is Spooky Gulch. The way to find it is to walk the Dry Fork until reaching a very wide sandy wash coming in from the left. As you walk up this wide sandy wash you will notice a large sand dune on the left and then as you turn right you will go right into this narrow slot.

Spooky Gulch is an incredible slot canyon because it is only about 2-3 feet across. Our 20 month toddler loved it because it was just her size as she wandered up the canyon. Linda was thin enough to follow pretty easily. I however had several tight squeezes and at least one spot where I got on my hands-and-knees because it was too narrow for my chest at that height.

The slot only goes about a ½ mile, but the further you go the tighter it gets, so eventually you will reach a point where you want to turn back. Hilina did not want to turn back however! This is a slot that can make anyone claustrophic eventually!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Lower Calf Creek Falls

Distance: 6 miles (10 km) round trip
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Elevation Change: Minimal
Season: Year Round (Avoid mid-day summer)

Located in the heart of the Navajo Sandstone canyons of the Escalante area is a wonderful hike along a beautiful riparian canyon to the 126 foot high Lower Calf Creek Falls. This hike is very popular and thus the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) charges a $2 per vehicle parking fee. But, it is well worth it to get a taste for these Escalante Canyons, without getting your feel wet, which is what happens in almost all of the other canyons in the area.

The trail starts from the Lower Calf Creek Recreation Area, which is both a campground and a parking area. After walking past a few campsites on the access road, the trail leaves the road to the left just as the road crosses the creek.

The trail stays on the west side of the creek, where it sometimes climbs along the slick rock and other times descends down next to the creek. Much of the trail is covered in sand, which can get very hot in mid-day during the summer, so it is recommended you either not take your dogs or at least have foot protection for them.

The canyon starts out fairly wide, but the further up you go, the narrower it gets. These magnificent sandstone walls rise 500 feet or more above the canyon bottom. Along the way, beautiful stands of gambel oak and box elder provide shade.

In the last stretch, the trail goes right along the creek, where trout can be seen pointing into the current to get oxygen. Then, as you emerge from the riparian forest, this magnificent waterfall comes cascading down the canyon wall. It is a sight I had never seen before and you stand there mezmorized.

If it is hot that day, the cool mist of the falls will be a welcome relief. As you take your boots off and step into the plunge pool, you will be shocked to feel how cold the water it. It had drained down from the 10,000 foot Boulder Mountain and then has been trapped in the sandstone layers for thousands of years. Thus, it remains icy cold year round. I saw someone swim to the base of the falls, but I would not have braved those icy temperatures!

Remember, while this cool, shady spot is a nice reprieve from the heat, you have 3 miles of exposed hiking to return to the trailhead. We left early in the morning and Maile has no problems, as the sand was cool and shade adeuate. But, upon the return, the sand started getting hot. Eventually it got hot enough that we first put socks on Maile’s feet and then in the last ½ mile, we had her walk in the creek all the way back.
So, be prepared with enough water and sun protection. And, watch out for your dog’s feet!

Just Giving Back For All To Enjoy

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