At first we thought crossing the Utah-Nevada state border might be a bit boring, after being totally wowed by southern Utah during the past few weeks. But on this route into the state we enjoyed stretches of gorgeous mountain ranges, a vast treeless valley floor, and seas of sagebrush on dry desert. Continue reading
We’re currently on the Atlantic coast of north Florida; the events covered in this post (Nov 16-22) occurred before the recent snow storms hit the Carolinas.
We left Gaffney, South Carolina soaking wet, but happy that Betsy had come out of the Freightliner shop in good shape. We camped at Carowinds Campground, just south of Charlotte, NC as our home base during our long-awaited visit with dear friends Joe and Judy. Continue reading
It’s been several weeks since I returned from the Philippines, and just like my previous visit I came home coughing and sick, with about a week required to deal with jet lag. But I had a grand time with family, former high school classmates, coworkers and friends in the sweltering heat and humidity. I survived that journey, and I’m sure glad to be back home!
So where were we? Oh yeah, having a blast with friends in Moab a few weeks ago!
We stayed in Moab for two weeks, exploring and hiking trails we had missed during our first visit. Although it’s been a few weeks, the photos I took then are bringing it all back to me now…
We revisited Arches National Park to see a few new-to-us arches, and to get up close to Delicate Arch which is a widely recognized symbol of Utah. It’s described as “the most delicately chiseled arch in the entire area.” Although sunset is said to be the best time to photograph it, we are morning people so we hiked out to it at sunrise before the crowds arrived.
We then continued our explorations, checking out Sand Dune Arch, Broken Arch and Tapestry Arch, all of which we hiked in one big loop.
Here is more information on the other popular arches we visited at Arches NP.
The small resort town of Moab is surrounded by stunning red rock landscapes, making it a huge playground for outdoor enthusiasts. We tackled as many hikes and activities as we could during our stay.
Hidden Valley Trail
A thunderstorm with hail made us turn around during our first attempt on this trail a couple of years ago. The first part of the hike is a steep uphill climb, then at the top we reached a low divide to the valley as it traversed between awesome towering cliffs. We were rewarded with scenic views, solitude, and a fine rock art panel.
Long Bow Arch
One of the many trails along Potash Road, this trek is known for the dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs that can be seen along the way. Wildflowers had already started showing off blooms while we were there.
Jeep Arch Trail
This trail is also accessed from Potash Road and leads to a photogenic, jeep-shaped arch situated in a large sandstone cul-de-sac. On our way in we followed the trail along the canyon ridge, then climbed high above the side of the wash. On the way back we wandered through the canyon bottom for some variety. The views here are wonderful and impressive, with multi-hued sandstone walls lining both sides of the canyon.
Stair Master Trail
This trail lived up to its name, gaining over 900′ in the first mile on slick rock. After catching our breath at the top, the reward was excellent views of the Colorado River, Moab Valley, La Sal mountains and even part of Arches NP in the distance.
We had some fun with friends Dave and Sue during this hike. We could see our RV park from the summit, so Steve called them to see if they could spot us with their binoculars. After we waved frantically like a couple of maniacs, they finally did see us!
The trail runs along a ledge of purplish sandstone on an anticline rising next to the Colorado River. It forms the cliffs that define the western side of Moab Valley, and also a gnarly jeep trail for “extreme jeepers”.
Next Up: Enjoying Moab sights with friends
This is our final segment about California’s remarkable rocks, as we continued through the southern part of the state.
After climbing around the pinnacles and craggy spires at Pinnacles National Park and gaping at the dramatic and vivid formations at Red Rock Canyon State Park, we arrived at yet another geologic wonder. If you’re tired of looking at photos of rocks, you may stop here and look at pretty flowers somewhere else instead 🙂
Joshua Tree National Park is in the top three of the nine national parks for popularity in California, behind Yosemite National Park and Death Valley National Park. More than 2.5 million people visited last year — 60% more than just two years earlier. It may be in the desert, but the rock piles and jumbled formations are often what inspire folks to come here.
As for us, we came in the winter so we had little competition during our explorations. As always, seeing the best a park has to offer involved following several trails. We took the Willow Hole, Hidden Valley, Ryan Ranch and Skull Rock treks.
At first the hiking looked easy, as the trails were mostly flat. But it was no easy stroll, and several times we have to negotiate carefully through a jumbled landscape – even doing a little scampering. In the process we were dazzled by oversized loaf-like stacks of rocks, and we pondered the arrangement of boulders in columns and spires. It felt like we were thrown into an otherworldly place while in the middle of all this beauty.
And then there is the Joshua tree, the namesake of the park. It was Mormon settlers who named the trees because the branches stretched up toward heaven and reminded them of the Biblical prophet Joshua pointing the way to the promised land.
One day we drove to the highest point of the park known as Keys View. The viewpoint faces south and on this decent day we had amazing views of Coachella Valley, the Salton Sea and several surrounding peaks.
So there you have it, just a glimpse of the dramatic and remarkable California rocks we explored in January. If you’re interested in seeing other California rocky landscapes we’ve visited, below are my appropriate posts. Yosemite National Park (still my all-time favorite) isn’t on the list, as we visited it several times before we started RV’ing and blogging. We have no plans to return there since it’s just too crazy busy for us now.
- Fascinating Death Valley National Park
- Backcountry driving in Death Valley National Park
- Lava Beds National Monument
- Cave hopping at Lava Beds National monument
- It’s a rocky situation at Glass Mountain
Next up: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park
This is the first in a series of three posts about California’s remarkable rocks that we explored in January as we headed south to Arizona. After checking out this amazing parks we realized these rocks are as spectacular in their own way as the “mighty five” National Parks in southern Utah that we visited last year.
Below is the map of our stops at Pinnacles National Park, Red Rock Canyon State Park and Joshua Tree National Park
We visited Pinnacles National Park, the 9th N.P. in California (making it the state with the most national parks), and the 59th in the U.S. It was just four years ago in 2013 that the park was elevated from a national monument to a national park. It’s about 150 miles south of San Francisco and 55 miles east of Monterey. There are two entrances, one from the east and one from the west, and the internal road does not pass through the park so folks must pick the entrance they want to use for their visit. We camped on the west side of the park in Soledad and checked out the park from there.
With only one day of sunny weather predicted, we followed the High Peaks Trail starting from the west side. It crossed streams and climbed around and through the park’s namesake rock spires in several places, using rock stairs to allow the ascent along the sides of the pinnacles.
We saw the eroded leftovers of multiple volcanoes that had erupted, flowed, and slid some 23 million years ago to form what is now Pinnacles National Park.
The High Peaks area covered in rock spires and the equally impressive views at the top made the park a unique landscape. Pinnacles National Park is a hidden gem, and despite being only a 2-hour drive from our former home in Tracy, we never made it there. Then Eric and Laurel of Raven and Chickadee paved the way for us to discover and enjoy this wonderful place.
If you happen to be in the Monterey/Salinas area, be sure to drive up into the hills and see this great spot for yourself.
Next up: California’s remarkable rocks part 2 – Red Canyon State Park
After being wowed by the lesser-known North Dakota Badlands, we began our southward trek and spent two weeks in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Steve’s parents were from South Dakota, and growing up he heard a lot about the Black Hills area and the many exciting things to do here. So he was fired up that we were finally going to experience them, and I was about to unknowingly fall in love with the area myself!
There was so much to do here that I’m getting seriously behind in my posts, and we barely had enough time to see everything on out list. But I’m trying to keep my priorities straight – fun and fitness first, then blogging as time permits!
We began with one of Steve’s bucket list items, the popular and rugged Badlands National Park. I decided to post this one immediately following the one about the North Dakotas Badlands, for a better appreciation of the erosive forces of nature and the sculpted land it leaves behind in both areas. They were created about the same time, 65 million years ago, but we saw more spires and pinnacles on this stop. The rock layers contained hues of green, gold, buff and pink, which made them very colorful.
The park protects 242,756 acres of badlands, blended with the largest undisturbed mixed grass prairie in the United States. We entered from the west on highway 44 past the town of Scenic through the Buffalo Gap National Grassland. Our first stop was at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center near the town of Interior.
At the Visitor’s Center we were advised that driving the Badlands Scenic Loop Byway was the best way to learn the science behind its barren landscape, and at the same time enjoy the breathtaking vistas and quiet atmosphere it provides.
From the signs and plaques at several overlooks we learned that the badlands were formed by the geologic processes of deposition and erosion. The land was forced up, and the sea slowly drained away. A jungle developed on the exposed seabed, transforming the mud and shale into a bright yellow soil.
During the Oligocene period, the warm and humid climate slowly became cool and dry. As the lands to the west rose even higher, sediment-loaded floods washed over this level region, depositing layer after layer of mud, volcanic ash and sand. Under pressure of successive layers, these sediments became soft rock.
Continuous water and wind erosion have sculpted soft sedimentary rock into intricate mazes of narrow ravines, V-shaped gullies, ridges, buttes, and colorful pinnacles. The result is rock layers that reveal subtle hues of sand, rose, gold and green. Erosion continues to carve the badlands buttes today, and scientists speculate that in 500,000 years it will be flat again.
The main geological feature of the Badlands National Park is best described as a long ridge, or “wall” that extends nearly 100 miles south into the panhandle of the State of Nebraska. This wall divides the park into the upper and lower prairie.
The Scenic Loop Byway followed the wall, snaking through passes and sometimes dipping to the lower prairie. We enjoyed looking up at the spires and multi-layered ridges with a beautiful blue sky above to provide stark relief.
We climbed to the rim at one of the overlooks to view the cliffs and canyons below:
Hiking the Notch Trail, we had a good view of the badlands dropping down to the lower prairie, with the White River Valley below:
Then we followed the Door Trail to a landscape that made me feel like I was on another planet:
We did not see big wildlife, but I captured these little amphibians along the trail:
At the end of our badlands visit we saw an area where yellow and red were the colors on the hills. They were called Yellow Mound Paleosols, and they are evidence that a jungle resided here covered by a shallow sea which left behind its shale-exposed signatures.
The yellow soil is a result of tree roots that broke up the shale and chemicals from decaying plants. Then 37 millions years later sediments from the west washed over the jungle. The jungle rebounded, converting the new sediment into red soil. Buried once again by later sediment, both yellow and red soils were fossilized – and that’s what we’re seeing today. Amazing!
I could go on and on (as you probably suspected), but being in the badlands, also known as the White River Badlands, is a study in fascination. Nature continues to amaze us, and we’re very thankful that these areas are being protected for future generations.
On our way out of the park I caught a glimpse of this house sitting on top of the layered badlands, painted in a color that blended well with the colored rock layers. Pretty cool, but would you build your house on top of an eroding badlands?
Steve was happy to check this one off his bucket list, and I have to admit I did the same!
Next Up: Critter Alert! – Black Hills, South Dakota
Our first outing at Theodore Roosevelt NP was a long hike at South Unit of the Petrified Forest loop trail in the Theodore Roosevelt wilderness (read here if you missed it). But that was only a piece of the sprawling 70,400 acres of the breathtaking North Dakota Badlands. The South Unit was close to our home base at Medora Campground (Steve’s review here), but it was a 60-mile drive to the North Unit, our next area of exploration.
It was a good thing we visited the badlands areas on different days and at different times, for it gave us a variety of perspectives on the ever-changing mountain hues as the sun moved across the sky. As we approached each unit we were faced with colorful multi-layered mountains.
Winding down the scenic roads we began to understand why the badlands had profoundly affected Theodore Roosevelt. This landscape changes rapidly due to erosion by wind and rain. Many multi-colored horizontal stripes in the rocks run for miles. The corrugated cliffs, steep convoluted gullies and dome-shaped hills unfolded before us, and we were both fascinated and in awe of the beauty – so much to take in!
Creation of the badlands began over 65 million years ago. It occurred when the newly-arisen Rockies began depositing sediments that streamed here layer after layer. Six hundred thousand years ago the northward-flowing Little Missouri River, which was headed for Hudson Bay in Canada, was diverted east by glaciers. The change in flow eventually formed the rugged terrain that we saw today.
With the continuing erosion, colored layers of rock are exposed. They consist of layers of poorly lithified siltstone, claystone, sandstone, and lignite coal that were deposited in a coastal plain environment. When we looked around, common sedimentary sandstone was mostly what we see. But a closer look showed odd shapes and strange formations that we learned result from weathered sandstone that forms a protective cap of rock in some places called “hoodoos.”
With erosion wearing down the less resistant material, a jumble of knobs, ridges, and buttes topped with durable red scoria caps remain
Geologic formations have always fascinated me, and from further reading I learned that the badlands are eroded mainly by “slope wash” not directly by streams and rivers. The soil and rock materials are easily weathered in places where vegetation is thin, forming a loose surface that slips and slides easily downslope during rain showers or when the snow cover melts.
Concretions, on the other hand, are spheres of mineral matter once surrounded by rock of a different composition. The concretions in the picture below were formed when a cementing material formed around a center of organic matter such as a leaf, twig, shell or tooth. As the softer material weathers away, the spheres emerge as an apparently separate feature in the landscape. Isn’t that fascinating?
The horizontal layers of multi-colored sandstone, clay and shale are complimented by scattered beds of lignite coal and patches of pastel pink scoria. The pinkish color is created when the soft lignite burns in fires usually started by lightning, baking the surrounding clay to this bright color.
A closer look at the formations show bluish-gray layers of weathered volcanic ash that formed excellent marker beds in places. We also saw markers formed by brownish-gray layers of sand containing thin, orange iron-rich bands.
The badlands are a hilly landscape, and as we approached them at the South Unit we were looking down at them from above:
From one of the North Unit pullouts we saw plateaus capped with a blue-black popcorn-like soil called bentonitic clay which added even more color to the hills.
From the rim of “the breaks,” as the descent into the badlands is called, we viewed strips of sparsely-wooded ridges and bluffs.
The badlands may look austere and desolate, but it is home to a dense population of wildlife. Bison and Prairie Dogs cause traffic jams, pronghorns can be seen on the hillside and wild horses munch peacefully in the meadows.
We didn’t see any Bighorn sheep until we ran across a park ranger who pointed out several on a distant cliff. He told us that 50% of the sheep here have died of pneumonia recently, and there may not be any left in a year or two. Very sad.
And of course I was excited to see several of my feathered friends!
Amidst all of the breathtaking landscape in the North Unit is the reality of the oil boom in the Bakken Oil Fields just a few miles north of the park. We were surprised during our drive to the North Unit to see I-85 so busy with big rig traffic and speeding trucks.
While reading about fracking concerns I stumbled onto an interview of a defender of the North Dakota Badlands. It turned out to be none other than the ranger we had met at the park! Click here to learn about the realities of the oil drilling near the park.
Perhaps the best part of our hikes was the absence of one particular mammal – humans! Between the two areas of the park we preferred the North Unit, as it’s in a relatively isolated region and rarely crowded. While there we felt like we were experiencing the gorgeous loneliness of the badlands much as Roosevelt did more than a hundred years ago.
Next up: Then there’s the SOUTH Dakota badlands!
Acadia National Park had been on our radar screen for several years, and the time finally came for us to explore it. We were not disappointed! We quickly learned that the park covers much of Mount Desert Island, the largest island off the coast of Maine. When visiting the park, one should also check out the various other busy little resort towns and harbors that are intertwined with national park land throughout Mount Desert Island.
Jeffrey, our campground host at Forest Ridge RV Park (you can see Steve’s park review here), provided us with detailed tips for exploring the island, the park and the surrounding towns and villages via less traveled roads. To do all he suggested we decided to extend our stay to 4 days, as there is much to see and experience here. We allowed two days to explore Acadia National Park, to include not only the “must see” but also to discover sceneries and hidden delights of the island. We were also excited to resume our much-needed exercise, since we had been getting rained out a few days earlier.
Acadia National Park is the jewel of Maine, and also the first national park east of the Mississippi. It includes mountains…
…woodlands, moss, evergreens…
…lakes and ponds…
…rocky ocean coastlines…
…and lichens-splotched granite, where I managed to blend in quite well!
All of the above and much more spectacular scenery were revealed and took our breath away, as we drove two scenic loops to cover the park. One was the 27-mile scenic loop at Mount Desert Island (the “main” part of the park that everyone visits), and the other is a 6-mile one-way loop at Schoodic Peninsula. Many people don’t make it to the Schoodic Peninsula, but it is at least as beautiful as Mount Desert Island. We just loved the short drive on the new road and took a great hike there, too. Don’t miss the Schoodic Peninsula if you come to this area.
We were also excited to hike the Cadillac Mountain South Ridge, which began at the summit and gave us an unimpeded view all the way to the ocean. This hike is a bit strenuous, as it requires some “scrambling” on the rocks near the beginning of the trail. It’s one of those hikes where each time you think you’ve reached the final rise, there’s always another one ahead. But the scenery is so worth it!
And at Schoodic Peninsula, which is about an hour’s drive from Bar Harbor, we combined the four trails that traverse the area for a great hike. We enjoyed spruce-fir forests and great views of Cadillac Mountain in the distance. At the end of the peninsula we were led to the wind-swept coast, where we noted dark diabase dykes intruding into pink granite ledges.
We saw several fascinating lichens that thrive on granite and rocks here.
Borders of the park are accented by picturesque harbor villages such as Southwest Harbor, known for its active waterfront. Also, the very popular Bar Harbor is a commercial center and tourist destination that even hosts cruise ships. We also visited Seal Harbor with its lovely beach, and more!
We think an interesting fact about Acadia National Park is that it is the first national park whose land was donated entirely by private citizens over many years. Although we missed the fall colors as we were here a couple of weeks too early, this park is high up on the list of our favorite stops so far.
Next up: The Penobscot Narrows and more Maine adventures!