It’s all about the birds – Patagonia, AZ

Comments 30 Standard
Northern Cardinal

Well, hello there, Steve and MonaLiza, welcome

My interest in birds started in January 2013, when we first camped at Patagonia Lake State Park.  During that visit, I joined a guided bird walk and soon became a bird enthusiast.  Now I search for new birds on my own, an activity I find very relaxing.  It’s often a challenge to identify them, but I enjoy trying after photographing them in their environment.

The small town of Patagonia is home to the Sonoita Creek State Natural Area and Paton Center for Hummingbirds, and just a few miles from Patagonia Lake State Park.  The area is known for its diversity of birds and other wildlife, so I was full of anticipation when we decided to revisit the area.

Birding is a major draw for visitors at Patagonia Lake, which also attracts lovers of water sports, fishing, hiking and more.  We had reserved a site for a week and a half, but we cut it short due to noise and dust coming from a construction project directly across the street from our site.  Also, the place is just too crowded and noisy these days, nothing like we remember it being on our first visit.

Our dining area window gave us a front-row seat for the construction project

But before we bailed out we explored the area, hiked at the Sonoita Creek National Preserve and of course I enjoyed some birding time.  I was hoping to see the elusive Elegant Trogon, but was disappointed to learn that the last sighting of it was over a year ago.  Seeing the bird would have been the highlight of our stay.  I was initially bummed, but happy that I was fortunate enough to see it during our first visit (here is a photo).

Patagonia Lake

Steel and wood pedestrian bridge over Patagonia Lake

During a stop at the visitor center I heard a twittering outside and hurried out to see two Rufous Hummingbirds chasing each other around.  This tiny brilliant orange bird is extremely territorial, attacking any other hummingbirds approaching “his” feeder.  He makes one of the longest migratory journeys known for a bird his size, from Alaska to Mexico!

Rufous Hummingbird

Isn’t he handsome!

After that excitement and getting our permit to hike at Sonoita Creek Preserve, we drove to the trailhead.  The highlight of our hike was a 360º view of the surrounding mountains during a 2-mile trek along the permanent flow of Sonoita Creek and the floodplains adjacent to the stream.  It was a quiet and scenic hike interspersed with many chirping birds – our kind of outing!

 Patagonia Lake

Overlooking Patagonia Lake

Looking southwest toward Nogales

Mesquite Bosque prevailed along this part of the hike

Sonoita Creek

Permanently flowing Sonoita Creek

Betsy’s site was near the park’s birding trail, and every day we saw dozens of birders with their binoculars and photographers with their long and huge cameras walking by.  I had easy access to the trail and went during quiet times.

These guys were used to all of the birders and mostly ignored them

The birding trail at Patagonia Lake SP

A good spot to wait and see which birds will appear

One of the things I love about birding is the surprise factor – I never know what’s around the next bend or hiding in nearby bushes.  I always get excited and grab my camera when I hear a tweet, a chirp, a whistle or a song.  And correctly identifying my “target” is an added bonus.  Although I don’t keep a “bird list”, I do have a collection of photos from all of the states we’ve visited.  This post contains just a few of the small birds I sighted in this area; my complete bird photo collection is here.

Black-throated Warbler

Black-throated Warbler

Mexican Jay

Mexican Jay

I heard a tap-tap-tap and almost overlooked this Brown-backed Arizona Woodpecker

Another place in this area to enjoy a wonderland of birds is the Paton Center for Hummingbirds.  A camera, binoculars and patience are all you need to experience many birds unique to southern Arizona, both locals and migrants.  It was here that I sighted several new and beautiful hummers.

Broad-billed Hummingbird

This tiny handsome guy, a Broad-billed Hummingbird, was eyeing me intently

Distinguished by its violet-colored cap, the Violet-crowned Hummingbird is the center of attraction at the Paton Center

After a week of enjoying all of these beautiful little birds, we moved on to De Anza RV Park in Amado.  That made it easy to revisit Madera Canyon and the artsy town of Tubac (here is my post on our previous visit).

Madera Canyon is another well-known birding spot, and the Elegant Trogon had been sighted here recently.  Once again my hopes were high as we headed out early one morning for a good 6+ mile hike and the chance to see this beautiful birdie.

Revisiting another trail on a chilly morning

Steve and I kept our ears and eyes open as we hiked, but although we saw several birds we did not spot the Elegant Trogon.  After the hike we stopped at Santa Rita Lodge, another birding hotspot in the canyon.  There were many birds entertaining the crowd there, but not the one we were hoping to see.  Instead, another hummer zoomed up to me and stopped for a quick pose before zipping away.

Magnificent Hummingbird

A not-so-good photo of a big hummer – a Magnificent Hummingbird – also known as the Rivoli Hummingbird

Yellow-eyed Junco

The fierce look of a Yellow-eyed Junco

Overall I was a happy photographer, with lots of treasured shots of native and migrating species of birds in Patagonia and Madera Canyon!

As we prepared to head back to Tucson, a brief winter storm dumped snow in the nearby mountains, and also some sleet and snow flurries at our campground.  It was beautiful to see, but not no safe to drive in so we requested and got permission to stay a couple of extra hours until it moved on.

We woke up to sleet and snow flurries

Driving along Hwy 19 we could see surrounding mountains covered in snow, what a beautiful morning it was!

The Santa Cruz mountains where we had hiked the day before

 

Next up:  Last days with the Saguaros



 

Healing and fun continue in New Mexico

Comments 30 Standard

Note: Once again I’m slacking off on my blogging, but I have good reasons.  We just got back from a wonderful trip to central Europe, and now we’re on our way to Tucson for Steve’s follow-up appointments.  I have a lot of writing to catch up on, as well as reading the current status of fellow bloggers.

For now, let me take you back two months to our time in New Mexico where Steve continued his recovery.  After a post-treatment follow-up with his oncologist, we were OK’d to finally get out of overheated Tucson.  Steve wasn’t yet in top shape to drive Betsy, but we just had to move on. The city life with blaring sirens, traffic, train horns, dust, and impossible heat was getting old.  We had to hit the road!

This post is a clipped version of the many fun things we did while in New Mexico:

Our escape to southwest New Mexico began at Silver City.  Sitting at a cool 6142′ of elevation, it was perfect for a month of healing.  Rose Valley RV Ranch was highly recommended by most of our RV friends who had stayed there.  What a difference a change in elevation, scenery, temperature, and state made.  To top it off, our next door neighbors were super quiet since they were all six feet below ground at Pioneer Cemetery, on Old Silver City Cemetery’s “Memory Lane!”

Steve had a complication resulting from his radiation treatments.  The good doctor gave him a cocktail of medications to remedy a throat ulcer, in addition to painkillers for management of his unrelenting head and jaw pain.  We took it easy for the first week as his body adjusted to the onslaught of drugs, but we did manage to maintain our daily morning walks by strolling around the neighboring cemetery on a little hill that pumped up our heart rates.

View of Silver City from nearby Boston Hill

Silver City is a vibrant little artsy town that was our gateway to several explorations.  When Steve was up for it we spent time walking the historic downtown and driving the scenic wide open space of the Gila wilderness.  We also tackled a few “real” hiking trails, visited historical spots and attended events in town.

Silver City

Shoe shopping at historic downtown Silver City

Just one of the many art galleries here

The Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument is just an hour’s drive from Silver City on a scenic and sometimes narrow road.  It’s an interlinked dwelling built in alcoves within a remote canyon deep in the Gila wilderness.  The dwellings were built in five cliff alcoves by Mogollon peoples between 1275 and 1300 A.D.

On another day we went to White Water Canyon, where we followed the easy Catwalk National Scenic Trail.  The sheer cliff walls rise out of the stream bed, and metal walkways are supported on steel beams drilled into the rock 20′ above the water.  It zigzags from cliff to cliff as it winds through the canyon.

The walkway hangs 20 ft above the creek

The walkway was originally built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and was named The Catwalk, referring to the original plank-board walkway that was placed atop the steel pipe used to bring water to the ore processing plant downstream.

Whitewater Creek

A creek runs through Whitewater Canyon

Just southeast of Silver City is the City of Rocks, consisting of rows of monolithic blocks formed by volcanic ash welded together 35 million years ago.

While roaming around the rocks, we imagined the various formations as a small city containing houses, chimneys, courtyards and streets.

Back in Old Silver City, we enjoyed seeing the Silver Steamroller Street Printing Event which was featured during the Southwest Print Fiesta.  We watched as large-scale hand carved blocks were inked, placed on the street, and pressed onto paper by a 3,000-pound steamroller.  Very cool!

While in southwest New Mexico previously, we experienced their unique cuisine, and one of the biggest questions here is, “red or green?”  At the center of it all is the New Mexican hatch chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.  We tried it again this time, but Steve learned the hard way that it was too spicy in his current condition.  Oh well, I still love the green ones!

After a month in Silver City we moved on to Elephant Butte Lake State Park.  We had heard good things about this place, where the lake is the largest and most popular in New Mexico.  Here we continued to chill and enjoy the view together in the peace and quiet of late-season camping.

A double rainbow adorns Betsy after an afternoon storm

In life, you take what you get and run with it the best that you can 🙂

Goofing off on the reservoir dam

I was looking forward to a visit to Bosque del Apache Wildlife National Refuge, but was disappointed to learn I was too early for the arrival of migratory birds.  At least while driving the scenic road I was able to take in the sights of mountains and expansive meadows, and to enjoy some wildlife encounters:

Where are the birds?  Looking out from an observation blind

A deck where hundreds of Sandhill Cranes can be observed taking flight – but not today!

Moving from nature to astronomy, the Very Large Array Radio Telescope located west of Socorro, NM was something to behold.  It uses 27 dish antennas in a Y-shaped configuration, which work together as a single telescope system with an eye up to 22 miles across.   It collects and processes into digital images the radio waves emitted by astronomical objects.

Very Large Array

VLA antennas are moved to different positions to make the whole system “zoom” in and out

Very Large Array

These big boys each measure 82′ in diameter, stand 90′ tall and weigh 230 tons

VLA

This custom-built locomotive transporter carefully lifts and relocates each antenna after maintenance and during reconfigurations

Very Large Array

In the 1997 movie “Contact”, Jodie Foster made contact with the aliens here.  I tried too, but heard only a noisy air conditioner

VLA

And then it was time for us to fly away for our long-awaited river cruise in Europe!

All our bags were packed…

Before leaving, we secured Betsy at the home of our very gracious friends Hector and Brenda of Island Girl.  They were kind enough to keep an eye on her while we were cruising around Europe.  Hector is an accomplished professional photographer, and like us you may want to be wowed by his work at H.M. Lopez Photography.

You can’t get any better accommodations than here at Casa Lopez

 

Next up:  All aboard for a Viking river cruise!



 

A rendezvous in the desert – Tucson, AZ

Comments 14 Standard
Humming Bird
saguaro

“Welcome to Tucson”, the Saguaro seems to say as it bows

So here we remain, at our “winter headquarters” for this year – Tucson.  The population of over a half million seems to be spread out enough that it usually doesn’t feel too overcrowded, although we do try hard to avoid commute hour traffic when possible.

We love that this city is ringed by mountain ranges offering endless hiking opportunities, especially when combined with the many miles of desert trails in the immediate area.  And we also happen to love the Sonoran Desert!  We’ve stayed in three distinct areas during our visits here, and have always enjoyed the many nearby points of interest.

Tucson, Arizona

Downtown Tucson viewed from Robles Park, with the Catalina Mountains as the backdrop

In January, 2013 we camped at Catalina State Park in northern Tucson (our tales of that stay are here and here).  Returning in January of 2016, we hung out for a month at the Lazy Daze/KOA in southern Tucson (the activities we enjoyed during that stay are detailed here).

 Mission San Xavier del Bac

Looking south toward the Santa Rita Mountains, the “White Dove of the Desert” – Mission San Xavier del Bac – takes center stage

Saguaro National Park

After the movie at the Saguaro National Park visitor center, the theater curtains open to reveal the giants of the Sonoran Desert – the Saguaros

Tucson Mountain Park

Looking down at the Western side of Tucson

Tucson

The sprawling city of Tucson

So far this year we’ve stayed on the western side of Tucson, one month at Western Way RV Resort and we’re currently residing for a second month at Desert Trails RV Park just up the road.  The choice of these campgrounds was based mainly on their excellent access to the many great hiking trails in Saguaro National Park, Tucson Mountain Park and Robles Park. We wasted no time getting started on those hikes to burn off the mega calories we packed on while partying in Puerto Peñasco.

Saguaro National Park

We always enjoy our treks with serious hikers like Hans and Lisa, this time on the Hugh Norris Trail

Sweetwater Preserve

Investigating a downed Saguaro at Sweetwater Preserve

Brown Mountain Trail

We like nearby Brown Mountain Trail, and have hiked it a couple of times so far

Saguaro

Some Saguaros gave us the finger…

Saguaro

…this one gave us many fingers!

Saguaro

This one could be hundreds of years old

saguaro skeleton

This dead Saguaro looks like a desert scarecrow

Yetman Trail

An early morning hike on the Yetman Trail via Tucson Estates

Tucson Mountains

Tucson Mountains as seen from the Wasson Peak Trail

Crested saguaro

Goofing off with one of Pam’s friends – a crested Saguaro – on the Flight Path Trail

We’ve been here for several weeks now, plenty of time to repeat trails we followed last year and to discover new ones.  For the first time we’ll be staying long enough to catch the colors of spring in the Sonoran Desert, which we’ve missed previously in our haste to head north.

The Ocotillo blossoms provide a splash of red all over the desert, just beautiful!

Crimson red Ocotillo blooms – don’t they look like mini lipsticks?

Creosote bush

Creosote bush swaths the desert a golden hue

A closer look at a creosote bloom

 

On the desert floor, area sidewalks and vacant lots was a profusion of dainty vibrant wildflowers.  I can’t help but stop, take a picture and admire them:

The birds are also enjoying the blooms, sucking sweet nectar from the flowers and whistling at us as we stroll by:

Of course, mild winters here are the main draw for us and thousands of other “snowbirds”. It’s a place where we congregate to meet up with old friends and make new ones.  I think of our meet-up here as a renewal of our friendships, and it’s always a joy to see those folks to exchange travel stories and the adventures we’ve had on the road during the past year.

Kathie and Mike of Life Rebooted.  We met them last year at Bryce Canyon after following their blog for several months

At the big gathering below, we met Paul and Marsha of Where’s Weaver for the first time. Everyone else were folks we’ve forged relationships with over the years through our blog sites – Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road, John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go and Dave and Sue of Belugas Excellent Adventure.

John, David, Sue, Marsha, Paul, Steve, me, Lisa, Hans and Pam

Me with John and Pam, and “serious Jeep pilots” Joe and Gay of Good Times Rolling

Infected humanoid – stay away!

We’re always excited to meet new friends, but we were sorry we missed out on meeting up with Jim and Barb of Jim and Barb’s RV Adventure.  I was recovering from a flu bug and wasn’t about to risk infecting them.

We spent this happy hour huddled inside Betsy as gusty winds spoiled our outdoor venue

New friends Jim and Nancy of Running Down our Dreams (behind us) and good buddies John and Sharon of On the Road of Retirement

Just before Hans and Lisa left we had an alcohol-free happy hour at their coach (well, it WAS in the morning), followed by a mini-tour of Desert Trails RV Park.  They showed us around so we could note the best sites to request for our upcoming stay.  Two weeks later we got one of the most-desired sites (M28), and we are enjoying the afternoon shade here.  It’s nice to have friends to help us gather good intel!

A healthy and happy start to the day with Hans and Lisa

As we remain here enjoying all the trails and spring blooms, our friends have all moved on. We hope to see them here again, at our favorite rendezvous spot in the desert!

A post from the southwest would be incomplete without a Sonoran Desert sunset!

 

Next up:  More fun things to do around Tucson



 

Celebrating Milestones- Coeur d’Alene, ID

Comments 24 Standard

We did it!

We had several reasons to be excited as we crossed the U.S border into Idaho, although the weather gods weren’t as enthusiastic.  We hunkered down overnight at a small RV park 4 miles from the border until the heavy rain passed.  The following day we ventured on to our next destination at Coeur d’Alene, where we took a break to do some chores and re-stock the cupboards.

First we shook the grit and grime we had carried from Canada off Betsy, giving her a good wash.  We also had to replace the rice that had been confiscated at the border, as we were informed since it was no longer in its original packaging they could not determine if it had come from a prohibited country.  I guess we should have known that after 25 border crossings!

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Finally we were ready to celebrate a milestone.  Idaho capped our goal of visiting all of the 49 states, and our USA map is finally covered!  Yes, after over four and a half years of running around the country we have accomplished one of our main retirement goals.  It was quite a ride, and in doing so we also visited 8 picturesque Canadian Provinces; British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia), plus 1 Canadian Territory, the Yukon.  An unexpected bonus was our foray into Sonora, Mexico when we joined a caravan to Puerto Penasco in February.

We’ll post highlights and statistics covering our entire adventure once we arrive back at our starting point in northern California.  At that time we’ll consider our RV adventure completed and figure out what to do next.  We’ll continue fulltime RV’ing, of course, but probably in a more “traditional” and spontaneous way without the need to visit particular states.  We don’t know yet, and that’s the fun of it!

For now we’re elated, excited and happy that our main goal has been reached with no major problems.

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Cheers to the Lowe’s RV Adventures!

Coeur d’Alene

Sparkling Coeur d’Alene Lake was the backdrop for another celebration, our 11th wedding anniversary.  Living in Betsy’s close quarters 24/7 for the past several years was an accomplishment of its own, and we’re very happy that we’re still the best of friends, with only a few lover’s spats thrown in to make it interesting.

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We had a beerlicious anniversary, as the city’s annual Oktoberfest happened to be scheduled for that very day.  Along with hundreds of others, we partied and strolled the streets to sample several craft beers.  Strangely, no streets were closed for the event, and most of the beers were dispensed from within local shops.  It was definitely nothing like the major party that shut down Brekenridge for their celebration last year.

We strolled through town and stumbled onto what is called the “world’s longest floating boardwalk” by folks hereabouts.  Completed in 1985, it’s 3,300′ long and 12′ wide.  We thought it was pretty cool walking on the lake over the 16,000 cedar logs it took to build the thing.

Coeur d' Alene Resort

The floating boardwalk, complete with picnic tables overlooking the lake

 

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Bridge on the boardwalk

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Slip Marina –  Steve loves all the blue in this shot!

We were aching for a hike, and just across from our campground (Steve’s review here) was access to the 23-mile long Centennial Trail that extends to the Idaho/Washington border. We walked a section of it and learned the difference between a hobo, a tramp and a bum – the last sentence on this plaque enlightened us:

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There’s Betsy across Spokane River

We also took on the Tubbs Hill and Mineral Ridge trails, recommended by Andy who sent me a message thru RVillage.  It was a nice surprise to get recommendations from strangers who know the area through this site.

Tubbs Hill Trail

Viewing Coeur d’Alene lake from Tubbs Hill Trail

Mineral Ridge Trail

The leaves had turned along the Mineral Ridge trail

View of Coeur d’Alene Lake from 2,724′

The last celebration was Steve joining the smartphone crowd after holding off for several years.  I just hope he won’t be playing Pokémon Go during our hikes!

Mineral Ridge

Monitoring our hike and elevation with his new toy.  I’d better be nice – I’m getting mine soon!

Cheers to our milestones celebrations!

 

Next up:  Steve hooks up our new propane fire pit



 

Oh so famous Lake Louise – Alberta, Canada

Comments 17 Standard

Our final stop in the Canadian Rockies was ever-popular and very crowded Lake Louise.  Located in Banff National Park, it’s one of the best known lakes in the Rocky Mountains. Even a little girl we met in Montana gushed with excitement when she overheard me mentioning it to her parents.

Lake Louise

A distant view of Lake Louise framed by Mount Victoria

If you’ve missed our previous Canadian Rockies tales, click on the posts below for a catch up:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles

Banff National Park

-Sightseeing in Calgary

-Visiting friends in Edmonton

-Wonderful Jasper National Park

-Captivating Icefields Parkway

We didn’t waste time once Betsy was set up at the campground.  We hadn’t seen a single bear during our past few Canadian stops, and we hoped we might catch a glimpse of a grizzly while riding the Lake Louise Gondola.  But no such luck during our 14-minute cruise up to 6,850′.  Happily we were rewarded with some pretty spectacular scenery instead:

Lake Louise Gondola

Some areas beneath the gondola make up a prime wildlife corridor where no hiking is permitted

Grizzly bear sightings happen here, hence the area is known as the Home of the Grizzly Bear.  Huge amounts of money have obviously been spent on fencing to keep the bears and humans separated:

Lake Gondola

Touch the blue bar only to go through the gate for your hike (at your own risk).  Thanks, but we’ll look elsewhere!

No red chair but a wooden one with a view

No red chairs here, but this nice wooden one provided views just as good!

Bow Valle

We reached the top to enjoy a fabulous panorama of Bow Valley and its surrounding mountain range

After taking in the views and with no bear in sight, we rode back down on an open chairlift, breathing in fresh mountain air as we relaxed.

Lake Louise Ski Resort

Lake Louise Ski Resort

After the ride we swung by Lake Louise and did a quick “recon” just to see what was in store for us over the next few days:

Lake Louise

 

Hordes of people congregated along the lakeshore taking all manner of selfies and posed shots:

Lake Louise

Who can blame them, this lake is gorgeous!

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House Trail

Judging from the tour busses and overflowing parked cars throughout the area, we knew an early start for our hike the next morning was mandatory.  Despite the 29º morning chill, we bundled up in layers (for the first time I wore two pair of pants) and followed the Plain of Six Glaciers Trail.  Several tourists were already strolling along the shore trail before 8:00am, but we left the majority of them behind as we started more serious climbing.

Lake Louise

A still Lake Louise on a cold morning.  The backdrop of Mount Victoria and hanging Mount Victoria Glacier make this place a stunner

The 6.8-mile trail is a moderate hike, and we added an extra mile to Abbots Pass while gaining 1,215′.  We traveled counter-clockwise via Mirror Lake in the shadow of Beehive Mountain.

Beehive Mountain

Yep, looks like a beehive

We meandered along streams, waterfalls and forested areas until the landscape eventually became more rocky and barren.  It revealed fully the valley below the mountains, long ago carved out by the glaciers that gave this trail its name.

Lake Louise

From previous experience, we knew that sunlight reflecting off the “rock flour” in the water is what gives lakes here their spectacular turquoise color

Grouse

While taking pictures of the lake, this curious grouse seemed to sort of materialize from out of the bushes

Plain of Six Glaciers

Taking a break after hiking the first ridge line – from here on it was a steady hike up

For most hikers the tea house is the end of the trail.  The original tea house was built in 1924 by Swiss guides employed by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It’s still in operation, and the staff rotates out each week, hiking back out as the new staff comes in to take their place. Food and supplies are replenished via helicopter.

Plain of Six Glaciers Tea House

Hikers resting and/or sipping tea at the tea house

We continued on an extra round-trip mile along a lateral moraine to the Abbots Pass viewpoint:

Abbots Pass Viewpoint

The path continued along a narrow ridge, with a drop off to the glacier below

Abbots Pass Viewpoint

At the end of the lateral moraine we could barely see Abbot’s Hut.  To the left is Mount Lefroy and to the right is Mount Victoria

Abbots Hut, originally built in 1922 by Swiss guides working for the Canadian Alpine Association, is a staging point for serious climbers in the area.  It was named after an American named Philip Abbot who fell to his death in 1896 on Mount Lefroy.  Apparently he was North America’s first recorded climbing accident.  Today supplies are flown in, and ambitious climbers can access it via British Columbia or from Lake Louise.

Abbot Pass Hut

That speck at the top of the glacier is Abbots Pass hut, Canada’s highest national historic site

After being blown away by the enormity of the mountains (11,000′ and higher) and glaciers, we began our long slog back to Lake Louise.  The return offered a different perspective of the impressive mountain features surrounding the lake.

Plain of Six Glaciers Trail

Heading back to Lake Louise along the plains of the six glaciers (although I failed to identify them)

Pika

I finally saw a pika busily gathering his winter stash

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Melt water cascading down from the glaciers carries the glacial silt (rock flour) with it.  At this point the agitated water is off-white

Lake Louise

Looking back at lower Victoria Glacier where we were just a few hours ago

Fairmont Chateau Lake Louise

Fairmont Chateau across Lake Louise

Arriving back at our campground, Dave and Faye had settled in next to us and we were thrilled to see them again.  They had just arrived from their 61-day Alaska Caravan, and we were excited to hear all about their adventures and activities.  It seemed they had brought the sun with them, as it remained sunny during the whole time we hung out together.

Betsy parked side by side with Solitude

Moraine Lake

During dinner we agreed that we had to be at Moraine Lake early the next morning to beat the crowds.  This lake is as popular as its cousin just a few miles away, with tour busses a-plenty.  And for the second day in a row the temps were in the high 20’s when we headed out.

Morraine Lake

The ready foursome – Dave, Faye, myself and Steve

The best way to appreciate the beauty of this famous alpine lake is to follow a flat, easy trail that weaves through its shoreline trees.

Moraine Lake

Moraine Lake encircled by the Ten Peaks, all of which top out over 10,000′

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For another view of the lake we hiked up “the rock pile” just as a busload of tourists arrived.

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The rock pile behind us was the result of an avalanche

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The view from the top of that rock pile was one for the books!  Gorgeous, fabulous, stunning.  The iconic image of Moraine Lake and the Valley Of The Ten Peaks was used on the back of the Canadian twenty dollar bill between 1969 and 1979.  The beautiful deep blue water with a backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains is one of the most photographed spots in the Canadian Rockies, and possibly in all of Canada.

Moraine Lake

The twenty dollar view from the rock pile

Our walk along the shoreline and on the rock pile was short, and we were pumped up for a few additional miles.  So we decided to tackle another trail that lead to Consolation Lake.

This lake is a key area for grizzly bears in Banff National Park, and it’s where we saw a sign requiring hiking in groups.  The area encompasses critical bear habitat where a concentration of female grizzlies live and raise their cubs, hence visitor access is managed to protect visitors and minimize disturbance to bears.

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The 4-mile round-trip trail to Consolation Lake got a bit tedious at the lake, because we had to climb over large boulders and rubble fields to reach our destination.  But our reward was yet another crystal clear lake.

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Goofing off between boulders

Consolation Lake

Crystal clear Consolation Lake

Later on, the four of us had a wonderful time comparing stories of our Alaskan Adventures, and there were hints of returning there together.  Dave and Faye shared smoked salmon and halibut they brought back, and I cooked Pancit and Lumpia. Between fun hiking, good food and great happy hours we had a ball at Lake Louise.  For sure we’ll meet up again down the road.

Bow River

Goofing off again by Bow River

Finally, it was time for our 26th border crossing as we re-entered the U.S. on a cold and rainy day.  It’s great to be home!

Crossing border

At the border on a soggy day – you never know what to expect here.   They took away our rice!

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That wraps up our magical time in the Canadian Rocky Mountains.  Our almost 5-week stay gave us experiences far beyond our expectations.  The jaw-dropping landscape and postcard-perfect scenery kept my cameras humming.  We think we came at the right time to avoid the worst crowds, the penalty being some chillier than expected weather.  But we’ll never forget this part of our adventure!

 

Next up:  We’ve done it!



 

Wonderful Jasper National Park – Jasper, AB

Comments 15 Standard
Maligne lake

This post details stop #4, at Jasper National Park.  It’s loaded with pictures of stunning scenery and awe-inspiring natural wonders of the Rocky Mountains.

canada-rockies

Although the weather was not always picture perfect, I managed to capture a lot of the surrounding beauty.  The cameras stayed warm on this stop!

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We didn’t waste any time upon our arrival in Jasper, immediately hitting the visitor center to get the scoop on the must-do’s in the park.  With only a few days here (Sept 6-10) we would be challenged to see as much of Canada’s largest National Park as possible.

Founded in 1907, it is one of only 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  We could see why, as everywhere we looked there was no shortage of crystal-clear lakes, glacial rivers, amazing glaciers, cascading waterfalls, deep canyons, alpine forests and wildlife – all surrounded by towering mountains.

Athabasca River

Foggy morning over Athabasca Valley and River

Our home base was in the heart of Jasper NP.  Whistler’s Campground (Steve’s review here) was next to the town of Jasper, which is nestled in the wide Athabasca Valley.

Jasper, Alberta

The town of Jasper is surrounded by majestic mountain peaks

Jasper, Alberta

Main drag in Jasper

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Raven Totem Pole

A landmark in town stood near the railway station

Two Brothers Totem Pole

Two Brothers Totem Pole- tells the story of a journey long ago of an unusual connection between the west coast islands of Haida Gwaii and the Rocky Mountains

Whistler Campground

Betsy was snuggled in among the pine trees in an electric-only site

Bull Elk

This bull elk was a daily guest at the campground, as he kept an eye on his harem

We wanted to experience the beauty of Jasper NP on foot, as there are more than 615 miles of hiking trails of various difficulty to choose from.  But we were here during berry season, and the lady at the VC marked several trails as closed due to heavy bear activity.

On most days the sun was hiding behind the clouds and morning temps were in the 30’s. We had to push ourselves hard to get out and hike in those chilly conditions, but we did fairly well.

Berry

That’s bear food!

Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake is surrounded by several towering mountain peaks, and is the largest natural lake in the Canadian Rockies.  It’s a very popular spot, and bus loads of tourists were enjoying the lake view with us.  But we left them behind as we followed a trail named after Mary Schaffer, who along with friends was one of the first tourists at the lake in 1908.

Curly Philips Boathouse, Maligne Lake

Turquoise colored glacial Maligne Lake

Maligne Lake

Boat tours were filled to capacity, even on dreary days

Mary Schaffer Loop Trail

Stands of pine and spruce lined the Mary Schaffer Loop Trail

Moss and lichens covered the grounds

Feather mosses covered the forest floor

Maligne Lake

Brrr…I’m guessing this was some kind of a crazy ritual?  It’s 35º out here!

Maligne Lake

Final look at Maligne Lake

Maligne Canyon

There are six bridges that criss-cross Maligne Canyon, and we followed the steep trail up to the fifth bridge.  The canyon’s karst system is cut incredibly deep through limestone, and water tumbles through a series of falls and drops.  Some geologists speculate that parts of the canyon were originally deep caves that have since been uncovered by glacial scraping and water erosion.

Maligne Canyon

View from the fourth bridge

Maligne Canyon

Looking down at the canyon, see the people way back there?

Medicine Lake

Along the Maligne Scenic Drive we stopped at Medicine Lake, considered a unique body of water.  It’s described as such because its water vanishes and re-appears each year.  In the springtime runoff fills the lake, but by September (when we were here) the continuously-dropping water level exposes the bottom.

The disappearance of the lake was a mystery until the discovery of a massive underground river system under it, which is where the water all drains.

Medicine Lake

By September a mudflat and ribbons of water are all that remain

Medicine Lake

You know a lake is shallow when a man can walk his dog all the way across it!

Pyramid Lake Island

Just a few minutes out of Jasper is a lake-dotted terrace named Pyramid Bench.  The island and lake around it get their names from Pyramid Mountain, which stands nearby at 9,064′.

Pyramid Island

Pyramid Island

Pyramid Mountain

Clouds obstruct Pyramid Mountain

Athabasca Valley

The trees have started to turn – yay!

Patricia Lake

Patricia Lake (left) and Pyramid Lake viewed from an overlook

Patricia Lake

Colorful boats at Patricia Lake

Pyramid Bench

The trails here are not well marked, so Steve had to be diligent with the map

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We found one of the six pairs of Red Chairs overlooking Pyramid Mountain

Mount Edith Cavell

From Pyramid Lake we drove further south to see Mount Edith Cavell, also recommended at the VC.  The mountain is named after a British nurse executed during World War I for her part in helping Allied prisoners escape occupied Brussels.  Getting there involved following a twisty road built in the 1930’s.

Mt Edith Cavell

A 9-mile switchback road lead us up to the mountain

Since we had just completed a 6-mile hike at Pyramid Lake, we followed the Path of the Glacier Trail here.  It’s an easy walk that took us across rocky landscape to the great north face of the mountain.

Path to Glacier Trail

Trail through glacial debris

Path of Glacier Trail

Interesting material along this trail

This impressive 10,826′ peak receives heavy snowfall even during the summer months.  My photos can’t capture the enormity of the mountain and the beauty of the surrounding landscape.

Mt Edith Clavell

We had lots of company here, since we arrived in the afternoon

Angel Glacier

Angel Glacier – hanging from the mountainside, it sits in a cirque between Mount Edith Cavell (left) and Mount Sorrow (right), supported (so it seems) by its “wings.”

Clavell Pond

Small but stunning opaque green Cavell Pond

Jasper SkyTram

Whistler’s Campground was only 2 miles from the Jasper Skytram, so we just had to take a ride.  It whisked us up Whistler’s Mountain to an elevation of 7,472′ in 7 minutes.  The payoff when we arrived was panoramic views of Jasper NP, and green valleys and mountains that stretched for miles.  The town of Jasper lay below, and we caught a glimpse of our campground tucked under heavy forest nearby.

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Athabasca River

Gazing down at Athabasca River – look at that glacial water!

Jasper

Look, there’s the town of Jasper!

Ice field Parkway

Running along Athabasca River is the Icefield Parkway

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We enjoyed the breathtaking views, then tried to rush a short hike to the summit – only to turn around halfway as ugly clouds approached, the temperature dropped and ice began pelting us.
Whistler Summit Trail

Whistler Summit

The trail to Whistler’s Summit – we made it just up to the snow line and decided to turn around

Jasper Tramway

On the way back down we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow developing over Jasper and the whole valley.  It was awesome!

Jasper Sky Tram

Somewhere under the rainbow is Steve, that little speck!

jasper over the rainbow

Double rainbow over Jasper

The rainbow signaled our departure back to lower elevations, but it was just the beginning of more spectacular moments to come.

 

Next Up:  Icefield Parkway



 

 

 

Picturesque Lakes – Glacier National Park

Comments 37 Standard

As you might imagine, Glacier NP has an enormous snowmelt every spring and summer. Water cascades down the mountains and creates hundreds of beautiful waterfalls, some captured in my previous post.  Then the glacial water continues down the cliff walls to fill picturesque lakes.

Of the over 700 lakes within the park, 131 are named.  According to the NPS, Glacier’s water can be considered the headwaters for the entire continent.  From Triple Divide Peak, a droplet can theoretically split three ways and eventually make it to the Pacific, Atlantic or Hudson Bay watersheds.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald viewed from Apgar Village, with craggy mountain peaks as the backdrop

Having hiked to some enchanting waterfalls, our interest moved to the lakes that receive the meltwater.  Two of the park’s big lakes are accessible from Going-to-the-Sun Road, and are therefore very popular.  The hub of activity on the west side is Lake McDonald, the largest of the many glacially-carved lakes.

Lake McDonald

Lake McDonald looking south from Lake McDonald Lodge. Note the multi-colored rocks

On the east side is St. Mary Lake – the park’s second largest – which provides incredible views of the mountains bordering it.  The boat tour we took was at St. Mary Lake, that post is here.

Saint Mary Lake

St. Mary Lake viewed from Going-to-the-Sun Road.  There’s tiny Wild Goose island out in the lake

Smaller lakes in the backcountry require hiking to reach, and we picked a few to head up to.

Fish Lake (west)

The 3-mile trail leading to Fish Lake begins a steep ascent almost immediately, passing through old growth forests of red cedar, western larch and hemlock to a dense spruce-fir forest at higher elevations.  We didn’t like that this trail is also used for horseback riding excursions, but at least we got up there before those smelly creatures did.

We saw day-old bear scat on the trail, which kept us very “bear alert” all the way to the lake. This 8-acre lake is lined with lily pads and surrounded by dense forest.  The quiet setting (we were all alone) made it a good choice for our breakfast, as we arrived before 8:30AM.

Fish Lake Trail

Bear Scat

Yup, a bear was there

Fish Lake

Breakfast with a view at Fish Lake, which is filled with lilies and surrounded by dense forest

Avalanche Lake (west)

This was a great trek that reminded us of many trails we’ve hiked in the pacific northwest. The first segment is on a raised boardwalk, called The Trail of Cedars, as it passes through a forest of ancient western hemlock and red cedar.  These huge old-growth trees created a wonderful canopy for us to walk under, as we moved parallel to a rushing creek.

A moderate hike of about 5 miles roundtrip, the lake with several dramatic waterfalls feeding it was our reward.  The large number of people we encountered on our way back to the car was testimony to how popular this trail is.  Highly recommended, but be sure to start early!

Trail of the Cedar

Ancient trees that were still young when Thomas Jefferson crafted the Declaration of Independence

Avalanche Gorge

Lower Avalanche Gorge, one of the highlights along this trail

Avalanche Lake

Multiple waterfalls feed the lake

Avalanche Lake

Avalanche Lake sits at the base of 8,694′ Bearhat Mountain, which rises almost 4,800′ higher

Avalanche Lake

Another view of the pristine lake

Hidden Lake (east)

For good reason, Hidden Lake is one of the most popular destinations in the park.  The trail features views of alpine meadows and rugged peaks.  As always, starting early was the best way to enjoy solitude – at least for a while.

The trail started at the west side of the Logan Pass visitor center, with a 500′ ascent on a raised boardwalk built into the mountain.  That got the blood pumping pretty good right away.  Then it was a fairly easy walk to the platform that overlooks the lake at the 1.5-mile mark.  The majority of folks stop there to enjoy outstanding panoramic views of the lake and surrounding mountains, but they don’t continue the challenge down the mountain to the lake.

Hidden Lake Trail

Snow still lingers well into July

But we continued to the lake, tackling the strenuous 780′ descent/ascent over the next 1.2 miles to the shoreline.  At just under 6 miles round trip, this was a great hike on which we encountered Hoary Marmots, Mountain Goats and a swath of vibrant wildflowers.

Mountain Goat

On the way to the lake, this friendly guy gave us a good morning greeting!

Hoary Marmot

A Hoary Marmot playing in the meadow stopped to say hello

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What a wonderful palette of wildflowers we’ve been blessed with all this summer!

Hidden Lake

Hidden Lake at the base of Bearheart Mountain

Hidden Lake

Colored rocks glimmer from under the water

Hidden Lake

You will huff and you will puff when you climb away from this lake!

As expected, on our way back the trail from the visitor center to the overlook platform was swamped with people.  The parking lot was total chaos as cars circled around looking for a spot.  We were told the parking lot at Logan Pass fills up as early as 8:00AM, so remember that if you drive here during the busy months!

Mountain Goat

Another mountain goat ignores the paparazzi

Hidden Lake

Crowds on the trail picking up

The lakes in Glacier National Park are stunning, with the towering mountains rising up right at their shorelines.  Their waters are absolutely clear, and not surprisingly also cold even in late summer.  Although we’ve seen only a few of the 700+ lakes here, we have no doubt they all have one thing in common – incredible scenery in an unspoiled environment.

Hidden Lake

I had to save my favorite picture of pristine Hidden Lake for last

So far we’ve hiked to cascading waterfalls and picturesque lakes.  Next up is a hike to one of the few remaining glaciers that’s a source of the beautiful water here.

Next up:  Hiking to a receding glacier



 

Waterfalls and Mountains – Glacier National Park

Comments 36 Standard
Glacier National Park

A visit to Montana’s Glacier National Park had been on our wishlist since long before we began our RV adventure.  Now into our fifth year of full timing, we finally arrived.  Having been here for more than a week now, we can attest to the park’s beauty as awe-inspiring, stunning and dramatic.

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park east entrance

Within its 1 million acres, Glacier NP is comprised of high alpine meadows, glacially-carved mountain peaks and valleys, hundreds of lakes, cascading waterfalls, glaciers, rolling foothills and unparalleled vistas.  I initially thought the park was named for its existing glaciers, but actually it’s for the work done by earlier glaciers at the conclusion of the last ice age.

Those glaciers left scoured dip valleys, sharp ridges, carved rugged mountains and deep lakes.  Of the 150 or so glaciers known to have existed in the mid-19th century, only about 25 remain.  Global warming models predict that by 2030 – or even sooner – they will be gone as well.

Going to the Sun Mountain

Going-to-the-Sun Mountain, the namesake of the Going-to-the-Sun Road

Jackson Glacier

Jackson Glacier is one of the 25 remaining glaciers

Many hikes begin at trailheads along the Going-to-the-Sun Road, the only highway that crosses the park from east to west.  An engineering marvel and National Historic Landmark, the road spans 50 miles and crests at the Continental Divide at Logan Pass (6,646′).

Free shuttles run on the east-west route, with Logan Pass as the transfer point to proceed to either side.  Coming in for a quick visit, folks would probably want to take shuttles or drive their own car (start EARLY) to best see the park in a hurry.

Of course, staying a while and hiking as many of the wonderful trails as possible is really the way to go!

Triple Arches

Triple arches on Going-to-the-Sun Road blend a man-made structure into the surrounding environment

Going to the Sun Road at Sun Rift Gorge

Going-to-the-Sun Road at Sunrift Gorge

St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike

We were camped right outside the east entrance to the park, at Johnson’s of St. Mary RV Park (Steve’s review here).  With dozens of trails to choose from, we decided to warm up with the St. Mary Area Waterfalls hike.  Armed with our latest hiking accessory – bear spray – we tried the park’s shuttle service from the east entrance visitor center at 7AM.  We got off at popular St. Mary Falls and noticed several cars already parked in the small lot.

We followed the moderate trail that descends 200′ to St. Mary Falls and then climbs 250′ to Virginia Falls.  This area was involved in the July, 2015 Reynolds Creek Fire that burned 4,800 acres.  It wiped out all of the trees, but the area is recovering rapidly as evidenced by new growth and the incredible variety of wildflowers – most notably the Alpine Fireweed – blooming in abundance.

Saint Marys Falls Trail

We hiked through burnt stands of fir, spruce and cedar which graced the west end of St. Mary Lake

Alpine Fireweed

Alpine Fireweed

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Saint Mary Falls

St. Mary Falls gushes through a rocky channel, thundering down 50′ feet over two tiers

Unnamed Falls

Unnamed Falls, a quite impressive cascade that drops in a series of four separate tiers

Virginia Falls

Virginia Falls tumbles 100′ down a string of tiers

Since we didn’t even break a sweat on this short 3-mile trek, we added a segment of another trail that continued along the cliffs to descend toward St. Mary Lake.

St Mary's Lake

St. Mary Lake glimmers behind this colorful, but ailing, tree

Eventually we reached a small boat dock (which we actually docked at later in the day) then turned left to Baring Falls, only a couple hundred yards away.

Barring Falls

Baring Falls drops about 25′

From here we climbed back up to the road to end our hike at 5.6 miles, then took the shuttle from Sunrift Gorge back toward the visitor center.

Baring Creek Bridge

Archway of the Sunrift Gorge Bridge

Sun rift Gorge

Sunrift Gorge is a straight steep canyon cut through the bedrock just 200′ off the main road. All of these waterfalls feed into St. Mary Lake, the second largest in the park

Rising Sun Boat Tour

We thought this day in the park was over, but our shuttle driver was very persuasive when she told us it was a perfect day for a boat tour on the lake, if we could get a seat.  When she stopped at the Rising Sun Boat Tour stop, Steve jumped off and got tickets ($26 each), then we had lunch as we waited for our tour.

Rising Sun Boat dock

A family-owned business, the boat tours have been offered at four locations in the park (Many Glacier, Lake McDonald, St. Mary Lake and Two Medicine) since 1938.  The 1.5-hour narrated tour at St Mary’s Lake features classic wooden boats.

Little Chief

Our boat “Little Chief” at Baring Dock, where folks were allowed to check out the falls we had hiked past earlier.  Note the scarred trees in the background

Instead of describing the tour, I’ll let my photos tell the story of of the immense mountains and lake scenery we viewed during our relaxing ride.

St Mary Lake

Diseased trees displaying orange and brown contrasting colors

Wild goose island

Iconic Wild Goose Island, a little spot the initial glacier failed to carve out of the deep lake

Wild Goose Island

A different perspective – Wild Goose Island seen from Going-to-the-Sun Road

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Glacier National Park

Heavy Runner on the far right and Reynolds Mountain to its left

Fullisade Mtn

Fusillade Mountain on the right and Gunsight Mountain on the left

Baring Dock

Crystal clear St. Mary Lake with Dusty Star Mountain in the background

Little Chief Mountain

Little Chief Mountain on the left and About-to-be-a-Dog Mountain on the right

Baring waterfall

A waterfall cascading from Sexton Glacier to Sunrift Gorge, running under the Going-to-the-Sun bridge, through Baring Falls and into the lake

Divide Mountain

Divide Mountain marking the border between the Blackfeet Indian Nation and Glacier NP

East Glacier NP shuttle

The shuttles on the east side of the park run only every 45 minutes – far too long between shuttles when the park is busy.  After the boat tour we waited 40 minutes for the next shuttle, which zoomed right by because it was full.  Now we were getting very unhappy.

We started walking toward the visitor center and our car, but it was a daunting 5-mile walk along the busy highway with no shoulders.  I suggested we wait at the next shuttle stop just up the road, but it went to Logan Pass – the opposite direction.  Steve agreed with me that it was better to take a trip up to Logan Pass and back and see the scenery, than to sit around and stew for another 45 minutes hoping for a shuttle with space.

Rising Sun Dock

An unhappy camper waits for the woefully understaffed shuttle service

It turned out to be a good move.  Enjoying our first scenic views of Logan Pass, we ended up back at our car an hour later.  This is terrible shuttle service – these shuttles should be running every 15-20 minutes like on the west side of the park!  We never took the east side shuttle again, instead driving our car early in the mornings to guarantee parking for our hikes.

And these hikes were just for starters!

 

Next up:  Picturesque glacial lakes



 

Antidote to jet lag? Hiking and socializing – Golden, CO

Comments 15 Standard
Mt Galbraith Loop Trail

Steve tracked my flight from the Philippines and figured my total travel time from Cebu to Denver, including layovers, was 35 hours.  That included 11+ hours in Seoul, South Korea and 6 more in Seattle.  Since I flew through many time zones and the international dateline, my lost day resulted in a bad case of jet lag.  The fatigue and drowsiness lasting for several days as my internal clock readjusted, but I discovered that hanging out and getting active with several of our blogger friends sped up my recovery.

Golden Colorado

A typical storm brewing in Golden, Colorado

Several of our RVer/hiker/blogger buddies had converged on the Denver area in late May. These are folks we had met previously during our travels, and the relationships continued via our blogs.  We’d met Hans and Lisa of Metamorphosis Road in January of 2013, and John and Pam of Oh the Places They Go in February of 2014.  We had also met Sue and David of Belugas Excellent Adventure in February of 2014.  It was only Rick and Joanne of RJRV Travels that we finally met for the first time during this stop in the Denver area.

So what do these adventurous folks do on a nice day after not seeing each other for such a long time?  Go hiking and get reacquainted – the perfect antidote to my jet lag!  We had not hiked with John, Pam, Hans and Lisa previously, but this was the perfect opportunity to do so. There was no shortage of challenging trails in the Golden area, and Lisa picked a good one to get our hiking-starved bodies back into shape.

Mt Galbraith Loop Trail

Steve’s getting ready for our first hike with Lisa, Hans and John.  Pam and I are chatting off-camera

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Mt. Galbraith Loop Trail – This 4.9-mile loop was a good one to acclimate us to the elevation and get the muscles warmed up.  It had an initial 1,100 ft. elevation gain, and the scenery was beautiful.  Steve and I really enjoyed the hike and the good company.  For a more detailed description of this hike, check out John’s account here.

Mt Galbraith LoopTrail

A view from the trail – the Denver skyline in the background and the huge Coors brewery to the lower right

Mt Galbraith Loop Trail

Happy hikers – Steve, John, Hans, Pam and Lisa

Carpenter Peak Trail – The next day brought no more sympathy for my jet lag, as we tackled this 6.4-mile round-trip trail at Roxborough State Park.  It took us to the highest point in the park, and rewarded us with a spectacular view of beautiful rock formations, pine forests and the front range of the Rocky Mountains.  The vast expanses of green peppered with sandstone rock formations far below us made this hike with friends a memorable one.

Carpenter Trail

Look at the response I got when I yelled out “Faces!”

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Roxborough State Park

How would you like to live next to those red rocks?

Roxborough State Park is a Colorado Natural Area, and a National Natural Landmark known for its 300 million-year-old red sandstone Fountain Formation that tilts out of the ground at a 60-degree angle.

Roxborough State Park

Dramatic red sandstone formations at the base of the mountain

Happy Hikers

Happy hikers – John and Pam, Hans and Lisa, MonaLiza and Steve

This trail featured several wildflowers and critters, but these caterpillars really fascinated me.  We saw several nests of them along the way.

Tent caterpillars

Tent Caterpillars

This was our first time hiking with friends and we really enjoyed it.  Time flew by as we talked, laughed and took water breaks – all while snapping pictures along the way.

We capped our second day of bonding with dinner at a local brew pub that Lisa had also organized.  We spent hours recounting our recent adventures, and Steve and I were happy to finally meet Rick and Joanne.  The evening was pleasant and the company great as we shared stories and had a lot of laughs.

Steve, Rick, Hans, John, Dave, Sue, Pam, Lisa, Joanne and me – a lively bunch of friends

These were just our initial gatherings, and there were more.  I can’t even fit all of our fun activities in one post!

Next up:  And the outings with friends continue…



A journey back in time – Seminole Canyon SP, Comstock, TX

Comments 35 Standard

What we saw while driving northwest along US-90 towards Seminole Canyon State Historical Park was flat wilderness – all the way to the horizon in every direction.  I’ve heard a lot about boring drives through Texas, and I believe this is one of those parts of the state that people refer to.

Maybe a bit boring, but we found it beautiful in its own desert-kind of way

Seminole Canyon State Historical Park is located just off US-90, at the junction of the Pecos and Rio Grande rivers.  So of course that puts it right on the border with Mexico.  The rugged 2,172-acre park features some impressive deep canyons with rocky terrain and sparse desert vegetation.  And hey, there are lots of birds here, too 🙂

The Maker of Peace by Bill Worrel

The Maker of Peace, built by artist Bill Worrel.  It overlooks Presa Canyon

With a week to explore under sunny skies, we were both pumped up and ready to go exploring every morning.  During our stay we racked up 29 miles of walking and hiking throughout the park, completing every trail – and some of them several times.  We finally got our leg muscles back in shape!

The trails here were rocky but not difficult, with only a 210-ft maximum elevation gain.  We found that the trail listed as “strenuous” was really only “moderate” by our standards, but perhaps they were considering the condition of parts of the trail more than physical difficulty.

Parts of some trails were a bit boring, but coming upon the rim of the deep canyons and the river that ran through parts of them took our breath away.  Fortunately, it was springtime and some sparse wildflowers could be seen blooming along the trails.  That stopped me in my tracks for a few shots of the beauties.

We were excited to see a couple of Javelinas walk across a trail in front of us!  They were too quick for us to get a picture, so Steve ran through the scrub brush with the camera to pursue them.  He finally gave up, with nothing to show for his efforts but a bunch of cactus scratches on his legs that are still healing.

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We saw this critter and didn’t know what it was – maybe some kind of beetle?

A point of interest along one of the trails was the Panther Cave Overlook.  It lies at the confluence of Seminole Canyon and the Rio Grande.  Panther Cave is a rock shelter used by the Desert Archaic culture between about 1,300-8,900 years ago.  Visible across the canyon from the cave was an immense pictograph panel that spanned the back wall of the rock shelter, and it included a panther image nine feet long.  Access to this cave shelter is by private boat only, and tours had been canceled due to shallow waters.

Panther Cave

The Border Patrol folks were taking a lunch break on their little boat

I zoomed into the cave from across the canyon, and the Panther was visible on the right side of the wall.  The plaque at the overlook indicated that some archeologists believe the Desert Archaic people were depicting the shaman’s journey to the spirit world.  Caves and rock shelters like this one served as sacred portals or passageways for the shamans, and the panther represented an animal tutelary or guardian that protected them.

Panther Cave pictograph

Panther Cave pictograph

We were interested in viewing some of the ancient rock art, and this park’s focus is on the Fate Bell Shelter, the largest rock shelter in the region.  In many of the canyons, erosion over millions of years has carved massive rock overhangs that were used by prehistoric Indians for shelter.  Hiking in the canyons and viewing rock pictographs can only be done on guided tours.  We joined two of the tours to see some prehistoric rock art, and to walk on the floor of the canyons.

Fate Bell Shelter

The Visitor Center is the building to the right above the canyon

 

The Fate Bell Tour involved a fairly rugged walk to the bottom of the canyon, then over to the huge cliff overhang containing many good examples of Pecos river style pictographs.

Fate Bell Shelter

These protective mats made the walk into the overhang much easier

Radiocarbon dating suggests these pictographs were created between 2,950 and 4,200 years ago.  Because they are so old, experts know very little about the people who created them.  The walls were once densely painted, but only isolated panels have been able to resist the effects of time and indiscriminant looting of the site before its acquisition by the state.

Fate Bell Shelter Rock Art

There are suppose to be four human beings facing the four corners.

 

Our tour guide explained that colors were made with pigments from local stones such as hematite (red ochre) for red, limonite (yellow ochre) for yellow, manganese oxide for black and calcite (or gypsum) for white.  These rocks were ground into a fine powder and mixed with a binder (probably animal fat) to make the pigment stick together and to the wall. The soapy juice of the yucca plant root, mixed with water, may have been used to thin the pigment and fat mixture into a smooth paint that has held up for thousands of years.  Is that amazing or what?

Fate Bell Shelter Rock Art

A panel of rock art

 

One of the guided tours we joined was the Upper Canyon backcountry hike, which included visits to a variety of sites that had prehistoric and historic rock art styles.  The latter of these were created by folks who built the railroad in the 1880’s that ran through this area.

Upper Canyon Hike

The rock art here was created in the 1880’s by railroad engineers working in the area

Upper Canyon Trail

Scrambling along the canyon trail

Seminole Canyon Rock Shelter

The pictographs in this huge overhang have faded severely due to water erosion

Did I forget to mention that this park is also another Texas birding trail?  The Pyrrhuloxias shown below, along with many Cactus Wrens, alternately sang to us during our walks.  And the Canyon Towhees and Black-throated Sparrows helped the beautiful Cardinals empty our feeder every day.

The birdies all knew there was free food at site #1, and we spent many hours sitting by our campfire and watching the excellent variety of birds competing for the goodies.

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Male Pyrrhuloxia

Pyrrhuloxia

Female Pyrrhuloxia

A sunset with bird silhouettes capped a wonderful week full of outdoor fun.  The sun was finally shining on us!

All of the outdoor activities made me forget my strange medical issue.  I want to express my appreciation to everyone for sending me your warm thoughts and messages of concern. Just the thought that all of you are thinking of me makes me feel better.  I will soon find out what my new doctor has to say!

 

Next up:  Visiting FABULOUS Big Bend National Park!