Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Waterpocket Fold and Upper Muley Twist, Capitol Reef National Park, UT

Distance: 1 mile round trip to Strike Valley Overlook
Distance: As long or short as you want for Upper Muley Twist
Difficulty: Easy
Season: Spring and Fall

About 30 miles from Escalante, along the spectacularly scenic highway 12 that climbs over and around amazing Navajo sandstone, is the tiny town of Boulder. From Boulder, the Burr Trail heads off to the west towards Capitol Reef National Park. The Burr Trail is a paved route that for 30 spectacular miles heads into narrow red rock slot canyons, down a staircase of rock formations, and eventually down the Burr Trail Switchbacks that somehow descends nearly 2000 feet down to the valley below the Waterpocket Fold. The road is paved until the Capitol Reef NP boundary and then is a good dirt road until it reaches the Bullfrog-Notom road at the bottom of the fold. This route was used by John Burr to move his cattle from season to season in the 1800's.

But, just before you head down those switchbacks, there is a rough dirt road heading north into the Upper Muley Twist Canyon. For the next 3 miles, the road literally is the stream bed as it enters the canyon. It is a rough road only suitable to high clearance 4x4 vehicles and there are several sections of rough rocks to deal with. Despite the thoughts to stop several times, we continued to the end at the Strike Valley Overlook Trailhead. This trail is an easy 1/2 mile one-way climb along a sandy wash and then bare Navajo sandstone to the top of the Waterpocket Fold and to one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen in my life.

The Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile fault-block launched 2000 feet into the air. Across the valley, the layers remain horizontal. But, on the fold themselves, they are strongly tilted upwards. While the resistant Navajo sandstone and other layers remain high up above, the weaker siltstones and clays below that were exposed eroded away, leaving a deep valley. This is thus a reversed monocline.

It is somewhat ironic that what you are looking at far below should actually be ON TOP of what you are standing on. But, those layers eroded away as they were exposed to the elements.

Across the valley are the 11,500 foot Henry Mountains, which are laccolith volcanic remnants. These mountains were literally the last place in the continental United States to ever be mapped!

What a site to behold! After the Strike Valley Overlook hike, do a little excursion up the canyon to have lunch and check out the sites. The Upper Muley Twist Canyon goes for 9 miles one way and can be done as an exciting backpacking trip. There are narrow slot sections and wider areas as well. But, even a little one or two mile jaunt will be worth it, looking up at the immense canyon walls and seeing the tilted layers of the fold heading down canyon.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Hackberry Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, Utah

Distance: Day Trip 4-6 miles roundtrip or backpack 20 miles one way.
Difficulty: Moderately Easy
Season: Spring or Fall if it hasn't rained lately

Hackberry Canyon is a long, narrow canyon which penetrates into the Coxcomb near the Paria River in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The Coxcomb is a fold in the earth that tilts the sedimentary layers up at a angle for some 30 miles along the Paria River and Cottonwood Wash. The best way to reach Hackberry Canyon is to drive down US-89 from Kanab toward Page. Shortly after crossing the Paria River look for a left onto Cottonwood Canyon Road. This rough dirt road goes for 46 miles up to Cannonville in Bryce Valley. Go 14.4 miles up Cottonwood Canyon road to reach the trailhead for Hackberry Canyon. This road is generally passable by passenger cars, although a high clearance 4x4 would be preferred. It is NOT passable after rain, when the soft tropic shale turns into an oozing wet clay that will trap even off-road vehicles.

The route starts off as a pleasant stroll through a sandy, cottonwood shaded wash. As the wash enters the canyon walls, the first signs of water begin to show on the surface. Soon, as the canyon walls close in, the creek grows larger and you will now need to criss-cross over the stream numerous times. Most of the time, it is possible to skip over it, use rocks, or otherwise keep your feet dry. But, occassionally you may need to just step across through the shallow water. Also, water levels vary depending on the weather and season. So, be prepared to get your feet wet.

Also, watch out for quicksand. These piles of sand on the stream banks seem stable and dry until you step on them. At first you sink an inch or two and you can see a huge mound jiggle like it was jello. But, every movement causes water from below to move upward in a process known as liquifaction and you will sink deeper in. Usually you can step out before you sink ankle deep, but Linda ended up knee deep once. I highly recommend you basically launch yourself out as quickly as possible before you lose a boot in that stuff.

The route through this beautiful slot is just filled with amazing colors and sights. The first mile of this hike is really the best, especially because of the cool shade the canyon provides on a hot day. After a little over a mile, the creek leaves the narrow, white sandstone and enters a wider, more sun exposed, red canyon of siltstone. This area has a completely different feel. The stream is allowed to meander more, the vegetation is more arid adapted with cactus becoming prevalent, and the cliffs a bright red. We hiked about 1 additional mile up through this canyon until reaching some interesting purple shale formations.

Eventually, upon reaching a rise that provided a view further down the canyon, we decided that the scenery was not going to change significantly the further we went and it was getting hot. However, I read the entire length of the canyon is 20 miles and end up meeting up with the road further up. So, it is possible, by backpacking, to go the length of it, especially if you had another car to park at the exit.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

See Zion National Park by Bike!

Today, on our first full day back in canyon country, we decided to do something we have never done before and that is bike the length of Zion Canyon. We drove up from Kanab and when we got to the visitor center, the parking lot was completely full. We were forced to park outside the park and pay $10. We unloaded the bikes, hooked up Hilina's bike seat, and away we went.

We cruised up the Pa'rus Trail to Canyon Junction. But, as we went onto the road, we soon realized that it would be an uphill climb the entire way to the end of the canyon at 6 miles. It makes sense given we were heading upstream along the Virgin River. This wasn't steep, it was just steadily climbing and taking more effort in the heat than we were wanting. The first section is probably the worst climb since it crosses the old landslide that dammed the river 200 feet deep until the river over-topped it and ate a route through it.

The good news is that since the canyon is closed to vehicular traffic and only the park shuttles run on the road, it is a relaxing bike ride without the traffic. Well, upon reaching the first shuttle stop at Court of the Patriarchs, we decided to load our bikes onto the shuttle, ride it to the end of the road, and then let gravity help us on the return. That ended up being a very wise decision.

From the end of the road, we hiked one more mile to the Virgin Narrows. Here, Hilina got stripped down and went in to play in the cool waters. While Linda watched Hilina, I proceeded to hike upstream into the gorge. I did not make it very far before a section of stomach-high water stopped me. It was not that I was afraid to cross this 20 foot section, but I just did not feel like riding back in wet underwear. Many others proceeded further up the river.

After ample play time, we hiked back to our bikes and cruised effortlessly back down the road to the visitor center. An ominous looking storm formed in the mountains to the north and we head some thunder, but we did not get rained on. However, those are conditions to get out of the narrows in, because of the danger of flash floods forming miles up river.

What a great first day back in canyon country!

Friday, September 18, 2009

On the Road to Canyon Country!

Sorry everyone for the long break on this blog. We have been on the road for the last week as we do the drive from Sequim, WA to Kanab, UT. I will be now posting some snippets from our adventures and then next week we'll get serious about our daily adventures in canyon country. For those looking for a hike description, I'll get back to that once we get established in Kanab.

On Sept 11th we hit the road in our travel trailer for the canyon country. We stopped for two days in Portland, OR to visit with friends of Linda. Visiting Linda's friend Juma, we went down to Silver Falls State Park to see the beautiful falls that drop over a series of flood basalt benches.

After leaving Gresham, then we set out on the grand adventure. Our first stop along the way was Farewell Bend State Park on the Oregon/Idaho border along the Snake River. This was the spot where people on the Oregon Trail left the Snake River after having followed it for hundreds of miles and headed out toward the Blue Mountains and eventually to the Willamette Valley.

The next day we drove down the Snake River plain through Boise and towards Twin Falls. This part of Idaho is extremely boring and I can not imagine living out there. We did stop briefly at Hagerman Fossil Beds to see the 3.5 million year old horses they dug up in old lakebed sediment along the Snake River.

This area also has large areas of rounded basalt rock from the Bonneville floods 15,000 years ago when Lake Bonneville overtopped the ridges and rushed into the Snake River plain as it eroded a channel into the hills.

Then it was onto Twin Falls and the spectacular 200 foot cliffs of Shoshone Falls in the Snake River Canyon. This is the end of the historic salmon migration, as they could not possibly ascend those falls. In fact, those falls create a biogeographic separation between Pacific oriented fish species such as salmon, rainbow trout, sturgeon, and others and those with Rocky Mountain/Great Basin affinities such as Bonneville cutthroat trout. Only when flood waters created temporary lakes in the canyon were fish able to pass this barrier. After a night at the nice little county campground of Rock Creek Park.

After a night at the nice little county campground of Rock Creek Park, we headed south into Northern Utah to Golden Spike National Historic Site, where the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific railways finally met from east and west. They had two circa 1960’s replica steam engines on display and did demonstration runs with them. Hilina was in heaven, as they went by and she waived her little Thomas the Tank Engine toy at the conductor.

That night we camped at Antelope Island State Park in the middle of the Great Salt Lake, the last remnant of the ancient Lake Bonneville that once covered over half of Utah. It is a beautiful grassland full of proghorns, bison, and coyotes yelping at dusk. We had pronghorns running right by the campsite.

We went for a quick swim in the warm Great Salt Lake, which due to its extreme salinity that is some 4-8 times saltier than the ocean, makes you extremely bouyant. I also discovered that the flat oolitic rocks on the shore are some of the most amazing skipping rocks I have ever seen. The extra heavy salt waters, in combination with the light, flat rocks, makes for rocks that seem to float across the surface until all momentum is lost.

So, what is oolitic rock? It is sand that has been glued together with calcium carbonate, sodium chloride, and brine shrimp excrement into layer rocks. They are fairly soft and pretty easily to break apart. You can tell they will become (or already are) layers of sedimentary rock that future geologists will study.

Next we traveled down to Timpanogos Cave National Monument in the Wasatch Front range. Just south of Salt Lake City, this cave system is unique due to being a fault cave. It was formed when a fault on the mountain moved, creating a large crack in the mountain that allowed rainwater to flow down and deposit calcite formations. It is also home to some really unique formations I have never seen in any other caves before including, helictites which resemble soda straws but curl around in all directions like curly fries. We were told that Timpanogos Cave has one of the largest collection of these formations in the world.

To get to the cave requires a 1.5 mile hike that climbs 1000 feet through stands of white fir and canyon maple. It is located up the beautiful American Fork Canyon, which gives a great peak at the geology of the Wasatch Front Range. The cave tour is lead by National Park Rangers and lasts about 1 hour. Hilina loves caves and was having a blast inside. But, the boring park ranger kept going "blah blah blah" and stopping us while Hilina wanted to continue. Linda had her hands full. At one point, the ranger was talking and Hilina blurted out "No No No".

That night we camped at Utah Lake State Park near Provo. Utah Lake is another, albeit smaller, remnant of Lake Bonneville. However, due to the inflow of freshwater from the mountains and an outlet has remained mostly fresh, as compared to the Great Salt Lake. The Great Salt Lake is so salty because evaporation greatly outpaces inflow and there is no outlet for it. Thus, any salts that flow into the basin remains in that basin and has been accumulating for over 20,000 years. As evening approached, a vicious looking storm formed over the Wasatch Front and looked like it might come over us. However, it eventually broke up and we never saw any rain.

From Utah Lake, we then made the 5 hour run to Kanab, which will be our home base for the next month. On the next post, I will tell you about our lovely adventures at Crazy Horse RV park and why we are paying more to stay at Hitch-N-Post RV Park instead.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Lassen Peak, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Distance: 5 mi (8 km) round trip
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 8,400 - 10,453 ft (2560 – 3187 m)
Season: late-June to October

Prior to the famous eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, the last eruption of a volcano in continental United States occurred on Lassen Peak in Northern California between 1914-1917. Lassen Peak is the southernmost volcano in the Cascade range, although along with its neighbor Mount Shasta, is actually the result of subduction by the tiny Gorda plate, as opposed its larger sister, the Juan de Fuca plate which is responsible for the rest of the Cascade range in Washington and Oregon. Together, they are both remnants of the much larger ancient Farallon plate.

Lassen Peak is also different in nature from most of the other Cascade volcanoes. Rather than being a composite cone of Andesite lava, layers of ash, and cinders, Lassen is a plug dome volcano. This means it is almost entirely composed of extremely thick Andesite lava. However, from its summit, you can actually see examples of all of the other volcano types including a stratovolcano, shield volcano, and cinder cones in the distance.

To get to Lassen Peak, simply visit Lassen Volcanic National Park using the CA-89 highway. The highway takes a route right around the volcano and the trailhead is visible right from the highway on the southside of the mountain.

The trail is pretty self explanatory. From the trailhead, it climbs steeply with relentless switchbacks as you climb the slopes of the volcano. The forest of mountain hemlock grows thinner and shorter as you climb, with whitebark pines becoming more common right near treeline. As the trail climbs above the trees, expansive views of Northern California begin to open up. In the distance, the Sierra Nevada are seen beginning to the south, the Coast range are across the Sacramento valley to the west and the Trinity Alps to the northwest.

As you approach the summit area, the trail levels out and takes you along the rim of the crater that was formed in the 1914-1917 eruption. The one thing you will notice is that rocks along this crater rim are darker and fresher looking than the pale gray of the older rocks. The trail will take you to a weather station next to the true summit.

The summit provides a view down the northern slopes where a pyroclastic flow davastated the area below. In addition, a spectacular view of the 14,000 foot Mount Shasta stratovolcano becomes obvious to the north. The smooth shield volcano of Prospect peak and its associated cinder cones are visible to the northwest. The remnants of an ancient eroded stratovolcano of Mount Tehama are visible south including Pilot Pinnacle, Mount Dillar, and Brokeoff Mountain. The return is a quick 2.5 mile trip down the way you came.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Forca d'Acero Loop, Parco Nazionale delle Abruzzi, Italy

Distance: 9.3 km (5.8 mi)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation: 1420 - 1880 m (4657 - 6166 ft)
Season: late May - November

Forca d’Acero translates to "fork of the maples" and is the main pass providing access to the Parco Nazionale della Abruzzi from the west. Located at 1530 m, it is also an excellent jumping off point for accessing the high alpine meadows of the Abruzzi mountains. Forca d'Acero can be accessed by taking the Cassino exit if coming from Naples or the Frosinone exit if coming from Rome and following signs for Atina and Sora. Take the SS509 from Atina straight there or the SS666 from Sora to the intersection with SS509 and then turn right onto it.

Approximately 400 meters west of the pass at Forca d'Acero is the trailhead for the P2 trail, which is the entrance and exit for this loop hike. There is a small parking area across from the trailhead, which is not well signed. Look for a blue road sign which says “10 innesto ss83 km 10+000 ss 509 Forca D’Acero” at this parking spot. Should you miss the trailhead or if the pull out is full, it is possible to park at the pass itself, where there is a refugio and plenty of parking, and to walk the road back down approximately 400 meters, looking for the trailhead on the left across from the pullout on the right.

The trail begins as a pleasant stroll through an old-growth beech forest. Approximate 600 m into the forest, look for blue/white blazes on the trees to the right leading to an opening in the forest at the base of the slope. Turn right and follow the blue/white blazes. Soon the route will climb fairly steeply up the slope through a tangle of young beech up to the treeline. This climb is the most difficult part of the hike both physically and in terms of orientation. It is difficult to follow the blue/white blazes on the rocks and small trees. But, if you lose them, do not be concerned. Just bushwhack your way upward and soon you will emerge out of the trees into the alpine meadows and will intersect a well established trail paralleling the treeline.

Turn right onto this trail and follow it as it switchbacks a couple of times and then emerges onto a beautiful promontory with the spectacular view to the north and west across the Abruzzi range, the meadows of Campo Luogo and Campo Rotondo, and the village of Pescasseroli in the distance. Follow the trail around the westside of the ridge until reaching a series of snow fences. The fences were built to prevent landslides and avalanches from reaching the road below. The trail appears to end at this snow fences, with the exception of a myriad of small livestock and game trails. Instead, turn straight up the slope to the saddle above. It is steep, but short, and just walk between the fences and use them for support, if necessary.

Once at the saddle, the most spectacular part of this hike is about to begin. The view becomes fully panoramic, with the entire Abruzzi range in view. Below is a beautiful valley, which you will descend into later. You can also see the dominant peak of the range, Monte Marsicano which stands over 2230 m high.

From the saddle, turn right and climb up the grassy slope to the summit above. From the summit, the next 2 km is just a pleasant stroll along the ridgeline, with magnificent views all around. There is not much of an established trail, but there is a faint path of beaten down grass caused by the wild horses that live on these slopes and occasional yellow stripes on the rocks indicating some sort of route. However, this faint this trail does not appear on the maps and the way is obvious in this open landscape.

The ridge undulates up and down over several short summits and saddles. Across the steep valley to the southwest is Monte San Marcello and in the distance to the west are the 2200 m peaks of Monte Petrose and Monte Altara. Between the last two summits on the ridgeline in the saddle you will come across the F9 trail blazed in orange descending down into the valley to the left. This is the trail down to loop back to Forca D’Acero. But, if you want to make one last climb to the summit of Monte San Nicola, you can stay straight and go up to the top, before returning back to the F9. It will initially descend very steeply into the valley, before becoming more gradual upon entering the beech forest.

This is a very pleasant trail and easy to follow as it gradually works its way down the slopes through the old-growth beech trees. Eventually, the F9 trail will descend all the way down to 1420 m and will emerge into the small meadow that you had seen from above. Here, it can get a little confusing with a myriad of blazes heading in several directions. Just head out into the middle of the meadow and look for a large limestone rock with several blazes on it.

It will read Inizio F8 pointing to the left. Turn left on the F8 following the orange blazes as it climbs up out of the valley and towards the ridgeline above. This is a fairly relentless climb of 200 m, especially since you may not really feel like climbing at this stage of the hike after having descended so far. The F8 will continue until reaching a saddle in the forest. At the saddle, it changes its name to the P2 – the same P2 you started on. Follow this gentle trail back to the trailhead.

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