Category Archives: Hiking

Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners

Southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico sites worth seeing.

WorldAtlas.com
WorldAtlas.com

My son has lived in Durango since he went there for college in 2001, and I’ve been there often. I’ve driven by the Chimney Rock ancient site (now a National Monument), and my husband and I hiked up on a splendid fall day some years ago and explored the site, I’ve driven past the signs on US Highway 160 pointing to Ignacio but never turned off the highway. I knew about the Aztec Ruins National Monument just outside of Farmington, New Mexico, but hadn’t been there, and I’d driven past Shiprock to the west. My husband and I recently went to the Four Corners area to see my son and also our friend, Mary, who had just moved to Bayfield from Seattle. We did several day trips, both to introduce Mary to her new turf and to revisit it ourselves. Some highlights of what I think of as the eastern half of the Four Corners — that is, southwestern Colorado and northwestern New Mexico but not Arizona or Utah.

Downtown Bayfield

A cute little town that still maintains its rural flavor, though now there’s a brew pub and a couple of cute restaurants.

An appliance store with a sense-of-humor front yard display.
A main street Laundromat with a sense-of-humor front yard display.

Weminuche Wilderness

At 488,210 acres, this is the largest wilderness area in the state of Colorado. It is just 15 miles from Durango. The nearest access is from a campground just north of Vallecito Lake, a lake  surrounded by cottages, resorts, outfitters and other small commercial businesses. This area was devastated during the Missionary Ridge Fire of 2002. It also made headlines a couple of years ago when young Dylan Redwine disappeared while visiting his father a decade later; his remains were eventually found. The area is considerably more tranquil in early spring, when few visitors are around. We started up a trail from a seasonally closed campground and hiked a short distance up Vallecito Creek. Looks like a promising hike later in the year.

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Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.
Aspens tall and straight as lodgepoles.
Vallecito Creek.
Vallecito Creek.

Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum

Ignacio, the main town on the Southern Ute Reservation, has an obligatory casino that I’d never bother with and the excellent Southern Ute Cultural Center and Museum. The dramatic building encompasses includes many symbols of Native life in the Southwest, and the exhibition inside calmly and poignantly documents the history of the Four Corners’ people. No photos inside.

The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.
The main entrance recalls a teepee shape within the kiva-inspired circle.
Soaring entrance lobby.
Soaring entrance lobby.

Continue reading Highlights of the Eastern Four Corners

Book Recommendation for Peru

Adams followed Bingham’s footsteps to Machu Picchu and wrote about it.

MacchuPichu-coverMark Adams is a non-fiction travel and adventure writer and editor. He got it in his head and his heart to follow the route that Hiram Bingham — thought by many to be the model for Indiana Jones — took to discover the great Inca site of Machu Picchu. When Bingham undertook to find the lost city, or at least a lost city, roughly century earlier, he did a lot of reading and research and enlisted the services of an Aussie-born guide and Inca expert named John Leivers. He also has a lot of Indiana Jones in him.

Turn Right at Machu Picchu is the travel book that Adams about this epic trek. He writes with insights, information, humor and the right amount of self-effacement to make the reader — well, a reader like me — briefly and fleetingly think, “I could do that.” Or at least, “I could have done that when I was much younger.” Truth of the matter is that even the tourist version of Peru’s Inca Trail would bee though for me now. I did hike a section of Ecuador’s Inca Trail between Achupallas and Ingprirca some years ago. It was remote and exhilarating — and uncrowded.

I am leaving for Peru on Tuesday, but there will be no trekking. This trip, an adjunct to the Society of American Travel Writers’ Freelance Council meeting, will be by plane, train and bus. No step-by-step journey as undertaken by Bingham in the early 20th century and by Adams and Leivers. Still, I had to read the book to walk with them vicariously. And I enjoyed the book — a lot.

50% Off Everest Base Camp Trek

Himalaya adventure company seeks to rebuild visitation.

AceHolidays-logoIf I thought that I were still able to make a 15-day Himalayan trek, I’d sign up in a heartbeat for this great deal. Sure, I’d have to get myself half-way around the world from the US, but what an opportunity. I hope you or someone you might know is up for it. Think of me.

Guides don't need such signs! they know the route, but trekkers like seeing such markers. (Ace Adventures photo)
Guides don’t need such signs! they know the route, but trekkers like seeing such markers. (Ace Holidays photo)

Ace Holidays (a division of legendary Nepal operator, Ace the Himalayas) has announced 50 percent savings to guests who   book an epic 15-day Everest Base Camp Trek by February 28.  “Our rationale for offering this incredible price is to re-introduce people to Nepal after last year’s Everest issues,” said Prem K. Khatry, founder and director of Ace Holidays, referring to the April 18, 2014, tragedy that killed 16 Nepali mountain workers. Since then the number of foreign trekkers to this part of the world has declined.

There is no substitute for seeing the great mountain wonders one step at a time. (Photo courtesy Ace Adventures photo)
There is no substitute for seeing the great mountain wonders one step at a time. (Photo courtesy Ace Holidays photo)

Continue reading 50% Off Everest Base Camp Trek

Michigan Dunes Now Under National Wilderness Designation

Nearly half of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore protection upped. 

NatlParkServiceLogoSome 32,557 acres of the 71,199-acre Sleeping Bear Dunes Lakeshore in the northern part of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula are now protected as a National Wilderness area, thanks to a bill sponsored by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan and signed into law by President Barack Obama last Thursday. In an all-too-rare acknowledgment by a politician from one party of the accomplishments of the other, Representative Dan Benishek, a Republican who represents the Upper Peninsula and northern Michigan, issued a statement that said. “Today is a huge win for Sleeping Bear Dunes, our economy, and for the citizens of Northern Michigan.” And it is an accomplishment —  the first wilderness protection bill to pass both chambers since 2009.

The Dunes boast 35 miles of miles of sand beach on the mainland, bluffs that tower as high as 450 feet above Lake Michigan, off-shore islands, lush forests, two rivers (the Platte and the Crystal), 21 clear inland lakes, unique flora and fauna. The Philip A. Hart Visitor Center in the town of Empire is open year-round, plus seasonal attractions that include an island lighthouse, US Life Saving Service stations, the historic Glen Haven General Store, Glen Haven Blacksmith Shop and three museums (te Empire Historical Museum, the Cannery Boat Museum and the Sleeping Bear Maritime Museum). The whole area’s sweet coastal villages and picturesque farmsteads reflect a rich maritime, agricultural and recreational history.

Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely on Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service
Sleeping Bear Dunes, now largely under Wilderness Act protection. Photo: National Park Service

The Dunes remain under National Park Service jurisdiction with additional wilderness parameters. The NPS stated that will not limit public access, which understandably peaks in spring, summer and fall. Roads, highways, boat launches and other structures are excluded from the wilderness designation. Park visitors will continue to be able to hunt, fish, hike and camp in designated areas.

Arguably the most distinctive activity in the park is the Dune Climb, a windblown ascent that can be strenuous, especially for out-of-shape adults, though the run back down to the picnic area is a blast. Hiking through the dunes all the way to Lake Michigan can take as long as 3 to 4 hours. Sightseers take the Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, a 7.4-mile loop road with 12 numbered interpretive signs at spectacular overlooks of Lake Michigan, Glen Lake and the Sleeping Bear Dunes. Other things to do in the warm months include various ranger programs, kayaking, hiking (100 miles of trails), road cycling on paved roads, fishing, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling and scuba diving and snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Such motorized activities as ATVing and snowmobiling are no-go in the wilderness.

Some years ago, when on a winter assignment in nearby Traverse City, my ski-writer friend Michael Terrell urged me to borrow some skis or  snowshoes and explore the Dunes. I went there on a quiet, sunny weekday. I can’t begin to remember which route I followed, but I do recall that it more or less paralleled the lakeshore. I also remember enjoying the undulating terrain, the water views and breeze that differed from a sea breeze only in that it wasn’t salty.

The park spans Benzie and Leelanau counties in northwest lower Michigan, and  in 2011, even before it received wilderness designation, it was named the “Most Beautiful Place in America” by “Good Morning America.” Following recognition on national television, visitation grew nearly 14 percent to a record 1.5 million in 2012. It fell 12.5 percent in 2013, due in part to the federal government shutdown, which I’m guessing Senators Levin and Stabenow did not support. I don’t know about Representative Benishek.

Wilderness Poster Features Fielder Photos

Fielder introduces commemorative poster at Fort Collins event.

WildernessAct50th-logoIn September 1964,  President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act that initially set aside 9.1 million acres of some of the most spectacular and beautiful places in the country for future generations to use and enjoy. The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System that today protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas throughout the nation. Various government agencies administer the 758  natural areas protected by this landmark wilderness designation. More than 40 are in Colorado — and aren’t we lucky.

50th-poster
 Wilderness means different things to different people, but hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, photographers, backpackers and nature lovers alike value wilderness areas. They enhance our experience of the out-of-doors in ways that can be difficult to explain. Most of us believe our lives would be poorer without wilderness and the opportunity to experience it first-hand. This is reason enough to feel inspired by this landmark achievement in our nation’s history.

To celebrate the upcoming 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Poudre Wilderness Volunteers and John Fielder, Colorado’s best-known nature and outdoor photographer, have joined forces to publish a commemorative poster to honor the state’s wilderness areas with a poster that can be framed. Fielder will be in Fort Collins on April 21 to give a free presentation celebrating the Wilderness Act through his stunning photography of Colorado’s wilderness. The event is hosted by Colorado State University’s Warner College of Natural Resources on April 21 at the Griffin Concert Hall Griffin Concert Hall, University Center for the Arts, 1400 Remington Street, Fort Collins. Doors open at 6 p.m., and the presentation begins at 7 p.m. The 24 by 36-inch commemorative poster is printed on high quality paper with a protective coating and is suitable for framing. Click here to purchase either the regular poster ($19.95) or the limited edition (100, signed by Fielder and numbered, $75).

Mallard Mountain Lodge Opens in B.C.’s backcountry

Small, simple and sensitively conceived and built lodge

MallardMountainLodge-snowFifteen years since the vision of a small, sustainable wilderness lodge was conceived and after a decade of planning and building, the Canadian Adventure Company opened its fly-in backcountry lodge on January 6. Located at 6,400 feet in the newly minted ‘Punch Bowl’ area of British Columbia’s western Rocky Mountains, the Mallard Mountain Lodge sits in a remote area of the Hugh Allan River Valley northeast of Mica Creek.  It offers guided excursions into the pristine backcountry, designed around ski and snowboard touring in winter and llama hiking in summer.

The Mallard Mountain Lodge offers doorstep adventure into the British Columbia backcountry.
The Mallard Mountain Lodge offers doorstep adventure into the British Columbia backcountry.

The lodge accommodates just seven guests in winter (eight in summer), has a living / dining space with a wood-burning stove on one level, semi-private sleeping quarters and showers on the second floor, with washrooms adjacent to the lodge. Every bolt and brace were flown in by helicopter, and the lodge was designed for maximum efficiency, occupying a small footprint with solar panels to generate power and incinerating toilets that produce no waste. Internet access? Of course not. Being out of reach is a bit part of the appeal of the backcountry.

The “Punch Bowl,” adjacent to the area originally named “Committee Punch Bowl” by David Thompson of the Hudson’s Bay Company during the fur trade era, is at the base of the Mallard Peaks with an area comprising five valleys: Whirlpool, Mallard, Simpson, Canoe and Iroquois, which connect to the Hugh Allan River Valley and flow into the historic Columbia River.

The Canadian Adventure Company offers winter itineraries that delve into of one of BC’s remote wilderness areas via ski and snowboard touring, with optional snowmobile assistance to access a wider area. In summer, friendly llamas carry guest packs on hiking expeditions, adding a new dimension to the trekking experience.

Three-, four- and seven-night winter and summer packages cost $1,530 CDN for 3 nights, $1,890 CDN for 4 nights and $2,200 CDN for 7 nights. For US dollars, do the math. Packages include helicopter access between Valemount and the lodge,  all meals, accommodation and guide (A.C.M.G, Canadian Ski Guide or equivalent winter, and hiking guides in summer). Future years may see the addition of snowcat skiing and snowboarding. FoMoInfo: 250-835 4516.

Milford Track at 125 Years

New Zealand’s premier walking route celebrates a milestone

MilfordTrack-signNew Zealand is one of my very favorite countries. Its marvelous landscape of mountain and seacoast, its wonderful friendly people and its vibrant cities are unsurpassed. Next month, the Milford Track, one of the island nation’s nine Great Walks, celebrates a special anniversary. To mark the 125th anniversary of the opening of Milford Track, the Department of Conservation (DOC) has organized a guided, commemorative heritage walk between October 31 and November 3.

The guides, clad in period costumes, will add a nostalgic element to the 33.2-mile walk on the spectacular South Island as they tell historic tales mixed with their own real-life experiences. Hikers are also encouraged to dress in theme attire as described in the early guides, some dating back as far as the 1890s. At the end of the walk, which takes approximately four days, hikers are rewarded with the sight of the spectacular Milford Sound, described by storyteller Rudyard Kipling as the “eighth wonder of the world’”and on the bucket list of thousands of international travelers every year.

MillfordTrack2

I actually have been on Milford Sound on a day trip from Queenstown, but it was winter and raining to beat the band. We saw nothing but streams and waterfalls cascading from the surrounding banks, so it is still on my bucket list.

South Boulder Creek Trail Hike

A walk toward the Divide with train viewing at each endP1040061

The South Boulder Creek Trail begins at the East Portal of the Moffat Tunnel, an engineering feat that bores under the Continental Divide for about six miles. The Moffat Tunnel story is fascinating but ancillary to the trail that parallels South Boulder Creek. As we got out of the car, we heard the whistle of a train coming up the valley. Of course, we waited, and were rewarded with a trio of Union Pacific locomotives hauling a very long chain of empty cars, heading to reload at the coal fields of northwestern Colorado.

Union Pacific locomotives soon to enter the Moffat Tunnel.
Union Pacific locomotives soon to enter the Moffat Tunnel.

We started out on a blue-bird day with not a cloud in the clear blue sky. The trail, which enters the James Peak Wilderness almost immediately, was once upon a time a wagon road along the creek. It starts out wide and open mostly through a healthy-looking coniferous forest, with the creek audible below. The first mile of so of the trail features occsional creek crossings on sturdy bridges, a few old cabins or ruins and several meadows, and some raspberry bushes. Soon after the junction with the Forest Lake Trail, it re-enters the trees and winds up toward Rogers Pass. Wildflowers include several species of clover, lots of asters and plenty of goldeneye, which at this time of year cover the banks along roads. There were also lots of mushrooms. I’ve posted many plant pix this summer, so here are a few images of different subjects:

After the junction with the Forest Lake Trail, the South Boulder Creek narrows and crosses a lovely open meadow before re-entering the trees.
After the junction with the Forest Lake Trail, the South Boulder Creek narrows and crosses a lovely open meadow before re-entering the trees.
I can never remember what this plant is, and I can't find it in my flower book. It is a low bush with willow-like leaves and these bright red berries hanging down from them. Anyone know?
I can never remember what this plant is, and I can’t find it in my flower book. It is a low bush with willow-like leaves and these bright red berries hanging down from them. Anyone know?
I couldn't resist taking this mushroom photo, because three large 'shrooms were crowded together next to a decomposing log.
I couldn’t resist taking this mushroom photo, because three large ‘shrooms were crowded together next to a decomposing log.

 

We passed the junction with the Crater Lake Trail but continued toward Rogers Pass. The trail is steep and parts with protruding rocks and exposed tree roots most of the way, which makes for slow going. The clouds rolled in after a time, and though we had more than 2 miles to go before we reached Rogers Pass Lake, we turned back.

We don't like to keep ascending when the sky darkens, but several groups of backpackers were still heading up when we turned back.
We don’t like to keep ascending when the sky darkens, but several groups of backpackers were still heading up when we turned back. We heard the first distant  thunder clap as we got near the trailhead and the car.
Just as the coal train had welcomed us to East Portal, Amtrak came by at the end of the day's hike.
The coal train had welcomed us to East Portal, and Amtrak came by at the end of the day’s hike.

 

A Walk in the Park

Park's shuttle system makes Odessa Lake Loop do-able without a car shuttle.
Park’s shuttle system makes Odessa Lake Loop do-able without a car shuttle.

Rocky Mountain National Park beckons again

In my home, when we talk about “going to the park,” we are referring to Rocky Mountain National Park, who east entrances are only about an hour away. The latest hike my husband and our friends Andrea and Dana undertook was the Odessa Lake Loop, logistically aided by the park’s growing shuttle services. We parked the shuttle lot along Bear Lake Road (which BTW is being greatly improved), hiked up the rocky flank of Bierstadt Moraine and contoured around the bases of Flattop, Notchtop, Knobtop, Litter Matterhorn and the Gable before the long, rough Fern Lake Trail reached the Big Thompson River at the bottom of the valley.

The lower section of the trail had been impacted by the recent Fern Lake Fire, while Mt. Beaver Mountain across the deep valley had burned almost completely. When we reached the trailhead, we still had 7/10 mile to the shuttle stop. The three guys had different GPS devices. The most sophisticated one that measured all intermediary ups and downs calculated that we had hiked about 9½ miles with 1,900 feet of elevation gain and some 3,330 feet of loss. I couldn’t have made it without trekking poles.

Bear Lake, just steps from the shuttle stop on a paved path, is enough for some casual visitors, but it was just the start of our hike.
Pretty little Bear Lake, just steps from the shuttle stop on a paved path, is enough for some casual visitors, but it was just the start of our hike.
Rocky Mountain National Park, which contains 113 mountains of 10,000 feet of higher, offers panorama after panorama.
Rocky Mountain National Park, which contains 113 mountains of 10,000 feet of higher, offers panorama after panorama. The flat-top giant near the left side of this photo is 14,259-foot Longs Peak.
Snow remains across the rocky trail on the ascent of the Bierstadt Moraine, even in mid-July.
Snow remains across the rocky trail on the ascent of the Bierstadt Moraine, even in mid-July.

 

Rockfalls bracketed by conifers are a common sight.
Rockfalls bracketed by conifers are a common sight.

 

My hiking companions: Andrea Meyer, Dana Meyer, Dave Brooks and my husband, Ral Sandberg, after a lunch stop at a sport overlook Lake Helene in a valley below.
My hiking companions: Andrea Meyer, Dana Meyer, Dave Brooks and my husband, Ral Sandberg, after a lunch stop at a sport overlook Lake Helene in a valley below.
Well-named Notchtop, a distinctive peak.
Well-named Notchtop, a distinctive peak.
Short side trail to Fern Lake follows outlet stream that drains into the Big Thompson River.
Short side trail to Fern Lake follows outlet stream that drains into the Big Thompson River.
Fern Lake, a scenic spot 3 1/2 miles from the ending trailhead, is a good place to take a break -- and take a few pictures.
Fern Lake, a scenic spot 3 1/2 miles from the ending trailhead, is a good place to take a break — and take a few pictures.
Several waterfalls are visible from the trail, but it was built so close to Fern Falls that hikers feel the mist from the cascade.
Several waterfalls are visible from the trail, but it was built so close to Fern Falls that hikers feel the mist from the cascade.
Near the bottom of the trail are burned trunks from the Fern Lake Fire, which began last October and finally burned itself out last month. Fireweed is already growing to begin healing the land.
Near the bottom of the trail are burned trunks from the Fern Lake Fire, which began last October and finally burned itself out last month. Fireweed is already growing to begin healing the land.
From the Fern Lake Trailhead, it is 7/10 mile to the shuttle stop overlooking Moraine Park.
From the Fern Lake Trailhead, it is 7/10 mile to the shuttle stop overlooking Moraine Park.

From the Fern Lake Trailhead, we took one shuttle to the Moraine Park Museum and Visitor Center, then transferred to another shuttle that returned us to our car. Without this wonderful shuttle service, the Odessa Lake Loop would have required two cars or a very much longer hike. Thank you, Park Service.

 

Short Hike with Abundant Wildflowers

Two-mile ranch road makes up in beauty for a lack of length or challenge

P1030525When I was researching Snowshoeing Colorado, a trail and resources guide, a bench trail just south of Crested Butte was one I selected to include. I snowshoed it with the East River snaking its way through the snow-covered meadows of the Veltri Ranch below. Not only is it an attractive and easy winter trail, but when it comes to wildflowers and scenery, it offers a lot of bang for the buck. This a fabulous summer option is very near to town and provides abundant mountain scenery and excellent wildflowers. With the Crested Butte Wildflower Festival officially kicking off on Monday, the opulent blossoms did a dress rehearsal over the Fourth of July Weekend.

This north-bound trail at the Brush Creek Road winter road closure is an old ranch road, only about 2 miles one way with just a few hundred feet of elevation difference. There is a loop of about one mile through the trees, but we missed the unmarked entrance to it, so our hike was out nearly to the fence at the end of the trail and back again. We met casual walkers and wildflower enthusiasts who were admiring, identifying and photographing the beautiful blossoms. Here are some of our images:

Glorious Alpine sunflowers turned meadows into fields o yellow..
Glorious Alpine sunflowers turned meadows into fields o yellow..
The route follows on old road -- wide and relatively obstacle-free -- with northward view across the wide valley toward the mountains.
I’m on this scenic route follows on old road — wide and relatively obstacle-free — with northward view across the wide valley toward the mountains.
Sunflowers, upclose and personal.
Sunflowers, upclose and personal with the East River curving and carving its way through the valley below.
Lovely red flowers on a delicate stalk that goes by the name scarlet gilia or the more intuitive fairy trumpet.
Lovely red flower lining a delicate stalk that goes by the name scarlet gilia or the more intuitive and romantic fairy trumpet.
Tall lupine were part of this long weekend from the time we came down from the west side of Cottonwood Pass and on each of our two hikes.
Tall lupine were part of this long weekend from the time we came down from the west side of Cottonwood Pass and on each of our two hikes.
My husband points his lens up to the head-high monkshood along the trail. We never would have noticed it if another hiker hadn't told us where to look at one minor stream crossing.
My husband points his lens up to the head-high monkshood along the trail. We never would have noticed it if another hiker hadn’t told us where to look at one minor stream crossing.
Wild geranium of the blue variety. This flower is also found in pink.
Wild geranium of the blue variety. This flower is also found in pink. The pole tips are in the picture for perspective.
On our way back from trail's end, we kept looking behind us to find the loop trail. No wonder we missed it!
On our way back from trail’s end, we kept looking behind us to find the loop trail. No wonder we missed it!

The 27th annual Crested Butte Wildflower Festival, going on right now, features such varied events as guided wildflower hikes, wildflower photograph, plein air painting, garden tours, 4X4 tours and picnics.