Category Archives: National Park

Arches National Park’s Wall Arch Collapses

Park’s 12th largest arch collapsed in the middle of the night with no witnesses and no injuries

On August 3, Wall Arch was one of the more prominent and accessible sandstone arches in Utah’s Arches National Park. At 71 feet high and and 33 1/2 feet wide, it was the 12th largest of the 2,000-plus arches known in the park, according to the National Park Service. Sometime on the night of August 4, Wall Arch came tumbling down, blocking a section of the Devil’s Garden Trail beyond Landscape Arch. Fortunately, the collapse did not occur during the day, when visitors frequent the trail. (The park service’s before and after photos appear below.)

“Not being a geologist, I can’t get very technical but it just went kaboom,” chief ranger Denny Ziemann told reporter Tom Wharton of the Salt Lake City Tribune. “The middle of the arch just collapsed under its own weight. It just happens.”

Wharton also wrote, “Ziemann said the trail closure extends from Double 0 Arch to Wall Arch. If the rest of Wall Arch falls soon, the Park Service will clear off the trail to make it passable. If it continues to teeter over the trail, it may be a while before the trail reopens.”

The park service itself reported that “On August 7, 2008, representatives from both the National Park Service Geologic Resources Division and the Utah Geological Survey visited the site and noted obvious stress fractures in the remaining formation.” The trail is currently closed because debris has not yet been removed — a tricky operation under any circumstances, but even more so in an area where motorized vehicles are generally not used.

Recognizing that natural phenomena are attractions in their own right, park service and the Moab Area Travel Council officials put a positive spin on the loss of one the park’s most iconic arches, describing the event as a rare opportunity to see “geology in action.”

Nearby Mountains Cooler Than the Front Range

Higher elevations = cooler air = relief from daily temps above 90 degrees

Temperatures in the Denver -Boulder area have hit the mid-90s every day for what seems like weeks and weeks — though unlike the Northeast, where I grew up, the humidity doesn’t match the temperature. Even in the height of summer, pockets of snow remain at high elevations, and cool air makes hiking a joy when you start early to beat the high, searing sun on the ascent. Here are some recent getaways within a two-hour drive of Boulder to which we have escaped in the last few weeks:

Ypsilon Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park, July 4, 2008

Blue Lake, Indian Peaks Wilderness, July 10, 2008

Lake Isabel, Indian Peaks Wildnerness, July 14, 2008

Wilder Gulch, Vail Pass, July 19, 2008

Lake Dillon, between Frisco and Silverthorne, July 20, 2008

Bear Lake-Lake Odessa-Fern Lake Loop, Rocky Mountain National Park,

July 22, 2008

Travel Thumbnail #1: Bent’s Old Fort

Step back to the 1830s and 1840s with a visit to this adobe fort along the historic Santa Fe Trail

This is the first of a series of periodic reports on specific places I’ve visited — and you might want to as well. Post a comment or let me know directly what you think of this new Travel Babel feature.

The Place: Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site, CO
The Story: This “castle on the Plains” is a faithful reconstruction of a fortified adobe trading post built on this this site in 1833 by brothers William and Charles Bent and Ceran St. Vrain along the Santa Fe Trail’s Mountain Route (that is, the northern route). That section of the Santa Fe Trail followed the Arkansas River, which provided water for livestock and humans in the Great American Desert.

Bent’s Fort was the linchpin of the Bent-St.Vrain Company’s trade that stretched from Fort St.Vrain to the north to Fort Adobe to the south. Cheyenne, Arapaho, Arikara, Comanche, Kiowa, Shoshone and Sioux Native Americans were known to have traded at Bent’s Fort, but the main trade was with the Southern Cheyennes and Arapahos. Bent’s Fort took in buffalo robes and passed out supplies, but it also resupplied explorers, adventurers, pioneers and the US Army and also was a place for wagon repairs, livestock, food, water, hospitality and congenial company.

Bent’s Fort welcomed anyone traveling along the Santa Fe Trail, including Indians, soldiers, Mexicans, Germans, French, Irish and blacks — tolerance that was not to be taken for granted in its heyday. William bent encouraged alliances among people who would later war violently on each other.

During Mexican-American War in 1846, Bent’s Fort was a staging area for Colonel Stephen Watts Kearny’s “Army of the West,” which seized land in what is now New Mexico but was eventually defeated in California. Until a combination of disease and the US Army’s unwillingness to compensate William Bent for garrisoning Kearny’s soldiers caused its abandonment in 1849, the fort was the only major permanent Anglo settlement along the Santa Fe Trail between Missouri and Mexican holdings.
The fort was reconstructed for the US Bicentennial in 1976 according to archaeological excavations and original sketches, paintings and diaries. A skeleton Park Service staff is on hand all year round, supplemented in summer by costumed docents and re-enactors who recapture life in this frontier fort for 21st century visitors.
Today, visitors see living quarters, workshops, store rooms, ramparts, kitchens and trading areas.
Tips for visiting: Sunscreen, water and bug spray are useful. Mid-day summer temperatures in the 90s or higher are not unusual.
Cost: Adults, $3; children aged 6 to 12, $2 under 6 years , free. Also free are holders of the Interagency Annual Passes, Senior Passes and Access Passes.
More Information: The Santa Fe Trail Historic Byway Association has additional information about Bent’s Old Fort and also encampments and other participation events.
The site is open daily except select holidays. Summer hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. From September 1 through May 31, hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Bent’s Old Fort is 70 miles from Pueblo, 8 miles from La Junta and 15 miles from Las Animas. The official address is 35110 Highway 194 East, La Junta, CO 81050-9523; 719-383-5010.

2008 is the Year of the Volcano in Chile

Two major volcanoes eruptions since January impact national parks and resort towns

In January, the central Chilean volcano called Llaima began breathing fire, sporadically emitting lava flows that turned the snow that covered upper slopes into steam and sending an ash column more than 10,000 feet into the sky, as was dramatically captured in filmed reports from National Geographic and CNN. The 10,252-foot volcano is reportedly one of the country’s most active, having erupted as recently as 1994. It is some 422 miles south of the capital of Santiago. The nearest town, Melipueco, was evacuated, as were visitors and rangers in Conguillio National Park.

Chaiten, some 400 miles farther south near the Chile-Argentina border has been erupting since May 2, forcing evacuations first from the nearby eponymous town of Chaiten, then the larger and then more distant community of Futaleufo and even moving out military personnel. This was far more surprising. “The long dormant 3,280-foot (1,000-meter) Chaiten volcano began erupting on Friday for the first time in thousands of years, and the huge plume of volcanic ash is clearly visible on satellite images cutting a swathe across South America’s southern tip,” according to a Reuters report. Airlines have canceled flights to southern Patagonia, because of the potential danger of volcanic ash being sucked into jet engines.

Chaiten’s eruption is still going strong (NASA satellite, photo right). It is located in what vulcanologists refer to as the Andean Arc that stretches from Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. “It is home to 2,000 volcanoes, 500 of which experts say are potentially active. Around 60 have erupted over the past 450 years,” Reuters noted. While Argentina is not usually listed as part of the arc, ash has been reported in the Argentine resort of Bariloche in Nahuel Huapi National Park and even as far away as the capital of Buenos Aires. The region is famous not only for skiing at Bariloche but also for Tahoe-blue mountain lakes. As ash, which soared into the stratosphere, continues to fall over a wide region, it could impact the ski season that begins in June, and the lakes might no longer be so pristine.

My Death Valley Travels — and Airlines’ Death Rattles

I haven’t dropped off the face of the earth, but I’ve been traveling.

I was in Death Valley National Park for several days, staying at the historic Furnace Creek Inn, which will have Internet access next season (this inn closes during the summer) but does not at this time. I’ll post a longer report about Death Valley’s history and natural wonders when I can.
But meanwhile, as a teaser, I’ll just note that the park is phenomenal and fascinating: famous as the continent’s hottest, driest, lowest-elevation place, but its 3 million acres also include stark desertscape of salt flats, mineral deposits, sand dunes and multicolored rock layers, surrounded by mountains some of which still are capped with the last of winter’s snow. This has been a good — not a great, but a good — wildflower year, and I caught just the tail end. The beautiful flower here is called the Desert Five-Spot, which looks a bit like a lavender Japanese lantern whose rounded petals surround five bright red spots in the center.

Another Airline Bites the Dust

While I’ve been unconnected to the on-line world, big news in travel is the continuing (and worsening) litany of airline woes. Two scheduled and one charter carrier recently folded. Late last week, Columbus, OH-based SkyBus went under. Aloha Airlines, which declared bankruptcy some 10 days ago was 61 years old. SkyBus, a discount carrier with 11 destinations and big dreams, had not yet celebrated its first anniversary. Delta, United, American and others have announced various cost-saving measures. Just when the leaner and meaner aviation industry had returned to profitability, literally and figuratively sky-high jet-fuel costs have killed off some carriers and weakened others. Major media will continue to report on rumored or planned airline mergers or deaths of the biggies, but in this blog, I am concerned with the impact on travelers.

Travel Insurance Tips

I received the following message from QuoteWright, and online travel insurance provider. These tips are worth paying attention to when you plan your next travels:

In the past several days 3 airlines have suddenly ceased
business. Travelers can use travel insurance to help protect
themselves but there are a few things they should know before buying:

1. Buy travel insurance from an independent source rather than from the travel provider. Travel Insurance policies offered by tour operators, cruise lines, or airlines either don’t cover their own financial default or they exclude the financial default of the company from whom you purchase your coverage.
2. Check the insurance plan to see if they have a list of airlines or travel companies that they either will or will not cover. One company, Access America, provides a list of companies they will cover while two other companies, Travel Guard and Travelex, provide a list of companies they will not cover.
3. Buy travel insurance very soon after they make a deposit. Default protection is only available if you purchase your travel insurance within 10 to 21 days of your initial deposit. The time period varies with each company and plan so our advice is to do it within 10 days to ensure that you have the maximum flexibility.
4. Review the coverage carefully. Some plans will have a “waiting period” after the coverage is purchased before the default coverage goes into effect. In some cases this is 14 days after you buy the insurance. Another reason to buy coverage early.
5. Buy your trip or airline ticket through a travel agent. Some insurance plans exclude coverage if you have purchase your trip directly with the travel company. Most travel insurance plans will not, however, to have the maximum flexibility you should purchase your trip through a travel agent, whether locally or online, rather than buying direct.
6. Always use a credit card for the payment of your ticket or trip. In the event of a default you might be able to dispute your charge and have the credit card company remove it from your billing. This is fine if it happens prior to your trip but doesn’t help much if you are traveling at the time of the default. If that happens other airlines might offer you an alternative flight on a standby basis but it can still result in delays and additional expenses that would be covered by many travel insurance policies.

These are all ways that a consumer can minimize their risks. You can never
eliminate all risks but you can take prudent measures to minimize them before
you travel.”

Upbeat Report from Grand Canyon Flood

Flooding beneficial but probably won’t be repeated until 2012.

The recent artifical flood unleashed earlier this month via a three-day water release from the Glen Canyon Dam that I blogged about earlier this month appears to have been successful — better that the two previous floods that, at the time, were also reported to have been successful in rebuilding sandbars for wildlife habitat and also as beaches were rafters could camp.

According to a widely published Associated Press report, Grand Canyon National Park superintendent, upon returning from a five-day trip down the recontoured Colorado River flowing through canyon floor, told reporters, “”On a couple of big sandbars there were already beaver tracks, bighorn sheep tracks. You could see the animals already exploring new aspects of the old canyon….It changes the feeling of the canyon as you see the sediment along the shoreline from a feeling of increased sterility to one of a greater amount of vibrance. The benefits are substantial.”

This is a contrast to similar manmade floods in 1996 and in 2004, which, according to the AP report, “actually resulted in a net reduction in overall sandbar size because they were conducted when the Colorado River was relatively sand-depleted, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Officials believe this year’s flood will be beneficial because sand levels in the river are at a 10-year high and are three times greater than 2004 levels. Whatever benefits come from this year’s flood, however, will be eroded within 18 months without additional floods every year to 18 months depending on the amount of sediment available, Martin said. In its environmental assessment on Glen Canyon Dam releases, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation calls for no other high-flow releases until after 2012.”

So now that the authorities have figured out when and how to do it, there’s another example of a foot-dragging federal government that now predicts that this year’s benefits could well be gone within 18 months but is planning to wait another four years before unleashing another flood.

Three Things You Can’t Do in Colorado Right Now

  • Fly into Aspen/Pitkin County Airport (ASE), which closed on April 9 and remains so until June 7 for runway rehabilitation and other improvements. The good news is that the airport expects more than a 20 percent increase in flights over last summer.
  • Ride the free gondola (right) between Telluride and Mountain Village. It was put into service in November 1996 and therefore just celebrated its 10th winter of operating both as a ski lift and as wonderful local transportation. It closed on April 8 when the ski season ended and reopens on May 24 for the summer season. It is handicap-accessible, and some cabins have been designated for dogs as well as their humans.
  • Drive Trail Ridge Road all the way through Rocky Mountain National Park between Estes Park and Grand Lake. Road workers always try to get this road, the nation’s highest continuous paved route, open for Memorial Day, but heavy late-season storms are making it less likely.

"Leave Only Footprints," Rangers Plead

“Take only pictures. Leave only footprints,” has long been the slogan of the Leave No Trace movement, in an effort to persuade users of public lands not to abuse the nation’s forests and parks. For years, Volcanoes National Park rangers have pleaded with visitors not to take away volcanic rocks as souvenirs. Now, they are begging people not to leave anything either. According to an Associated Press report, “rangers at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park are launching a program to stop people from leaving religious offerings at the summit of Mount Kilauea — including food they say attracts rats and cockroaches.”

Park officials say that some 45 pounds of unwanted “offerings” must be removed from Halemaumau Crater each week. These include flowers, bottles, money, incense, candles and crystals, but the problem is food that well-meaning visitors leave for Pele, the goddess of fire. The report continued,”One ranger recently found a whole, cooked piglet replete with a papaya, orange and apple in a cardboard box…The rotting offerings pose a hazard to the endangered nene goose, the state bird endemic to the islands, the park service said.”

Many years ago on the island of Bali, I saw offerings everywhere, including in front of shops every morning and on the hood of my rental car. A Chinese tradition is burning fake money to assist the deceased in the afterlife. Freelance fires are illegal in Volcanoes, as in virtually all national parks.

The national park has always been a leading attraction on the Big Island of Hawaii, increasingly so since Kilauea began erupting, continuously, on January 3, 1983.

Forests I Have Visited and Loved

According to the natural-wonder-filled Greenpeace calendar that hangs in my kitchen, today is World Forestry Day. I’d never heard of it, so I looked it up. Celebrated at the autumn equinox in the Southern Hemisphere, which leads me to infer that it might have started in Australia or New Zealand, it supposedly encourages the planting of trees (sort of like Arbor Day, I suppose) and encourages preservation of “green cover.” It did cause me to think about woods and forests I have known and enjoyed. Here are five that have impressed me for the most different of reasons.

  • Sterling Forest State Park, NY – This park’s 18,000 fairly pristine acres would be lost in a corner of, say, southwestern Colorado’s 2.5 million-acre San Juan National Forest, but being at the northern edge of the ultra-congested New York City metropolitan area, it is a rare green relief to all that concrete and all those skyscrapers.
  • Tongass National Forest, AK – I know that the Tongass has been heavily logged, but on my three visits to Southeast Alaska, I’ve never actually seen any of the logged areas — and I’m glad of it. At nearly 17 million acres, the Tongass is the largest unit in the national forest system. It covers the mainland and many of the islands that form the Inside Passage. I’ve been awestruck stately Sitka spruce secured to steep slopes that rise straight from the sea. The Tongass is what is commonly called a “recreational paradise” — suitable for hiking, fishing, hunting, kayaking, wildlife viewing, camping and photography, but being prepared for foul weather is a necessity in this northern rainforest. Some 150 simple backcountry cabins (like that at Cascade Creek, right) are available for rent — little pieces of paradise at a very moderate price.
  • Laurentides Provincial Wildlife Reserve, QU – On a family vacation to Quebec, I remember driving from Quebec city to Chicoutimi on the Saguenay River. It is something like 140 miles, but in my dim childhood recollection, it was a very, very long trip. I’ve since learned that this reserve offer splendid fishing and hunting, but all I remember are trees. Lots of trees. It was the first time I had seen more than the little woods and mini-forests of southern New England, and the impression, though dim, remains with me.
  • Muir Woods, CA – Much as Sterling Forest is a relief from New York, the magnificent Muir Woods National Monument fulfills the same role for San Francisco. West Coast redwood trees dominate this coastal forest, with a supporting cast of Douglas fir, big-leaf maple, tanbark oak and baylaurel. No cathedreal is more inspiring, and just to walk among these giants is to be humbled by nature’s majesty and grandeur.
  • Khao Sok National Park, Thailand – A short visit to this national park containing the world’s oldest evergreen rainforests made me understand more about the Vietnam War than years of distressing newscasts. The Southeast Asian rainforest is so dense that it is virtually impossible to see someone a few feet away. And then there were the leeches! No wonder the US military was so eager to defoliate. Today, the jungle is incredibly lush and improbably green. We stayed at Art’s Jungle Lodge, primitive bungalows perched high on stilts. The beds are hung with mosquito netting, water for bathing or flushing is dipped from a barrel in each bathroom, and citronella candles decorated each unscreened window. It was hot. It was sticky. My pillow was not much softer than a brick. When night fell the forest creatures all sang, trilled, chirped, cried and generally added to a rainforest cacophony. When I put my head on that hard pillow, I thought I’d be awake all night, but I slept like a baby in a cradle.

Retro Transport in Two National Parks

Visitors to two national parks wholly or partly in Montana (Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks, respectively) will be able to travel as in the good old days in restored vehicles made by the White Motor Company decades ago specifically for sightseeing use in America’s national parks. Once retired, these two classic vehicles have been now brought up to modern emissions and safety standards by the respective park’s tradition-minded concessionaires, Glacier Park, Inc., and Xanterra Parks and Resorts.

In Glacier National Park in northern Montana, the fleet of 33 vintage red buses with roll-back canvas tops built between 1936 and 1939 were refurbished several years ago and have again been used for sightseeing tours from both the east and west sides of the park for the last five or six summers. The buses travel along Going-to-the-Sun Highway and also go north to Canada’s Waterton Lakes National Park. Scenic interpretive Red Bus Tours range from the three-hour Western Alpine Tour from Lake McDonald ($30 adult, $15 child) to the 8 1/2-hour International Peace Park Tour from Glacier Park Lodge ($75 adult, $37.50 child). Exact dates vary, but most routes begin in mid-June and end in mid-September. You can book on-line or by calling 406-892-2525.

Starting this summer, visitors to Yellowstone National Park, which is partly in Montana but mostly in Wyoming, can also sightsee in retro fashion with the return of eight of the park’s White Motor Company Model 706 touring vehicles. These long, low-slung “Old Yellow Buses,” which began service in 1936, are back — and isn’t it happily appropriate to have yellow buses plying the byways of Yellowstone? The park’s fleet, which once totaled 98 touring vehicles, transported visitors for more than 20 years. With park visitors increasingly using private vehicles, the Old Yellow Buses were dispersed to museums, other tour operators and who-knows-where- else.

The Skagway (AK) Streetcar Company purchased some of the yellow buses, but the owner felt they really belonged back in Yellowstone and returned them to the park in 2001. Now, brought up to modern standards, they are going back into action. For Yellowstone tour details, prices (not yet available) and reservations, go to the operator’s website or call 866-439-7375 or 307-344-7311.