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Posts tagged ‘Hiking’

Escaping Las Vegas

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In a move that can only be described as being highly uncharacteristic, last week Kelly and I made a snap decision to leave the soothing vast emptiness of Death Valley National Park and visit its evil twin – Las Vegas – for a few days.

We made the decision knowing that during the stay I would have a chance to meet-up with former colleagues attending a conference while also making time to visit family.  Coupled with a few other to-do’s while in the area, these “up-sides” became justifications Kel and I anchored to as we ventured into the city known for showcasing much of the urban trappings we otherwise loath.

And yes … we did spend an evening on the strip dining and walking – not gambling – through casinos.

Valley of Fire State Park is located about an hour from the glitz and glamour of the Las Vegas strip, but scenically the park may as well sit atop another planet.  This being our second visit to VOF we knew what to expect.  The park is not particiually large and ambitious hikers can easily  traverse most of the trails in two or three days.

As an escape from the Vegas circus this place is just about perfect … even more so if you camp in the (cheaper) non-hook-up sites.

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Exploring The Smokies

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Usually when out hiking, Kelly and I simply eat bars, gels, and sometimes fruit or trail mix.

However, in a change of routine, today I decided to pack a backcountry stove and #mountainhouse meal.  Not sure why, but for some reason I thought a hot lunch might be a welcome treat – which it was.

A few hours into the hike, we enjoyed a warm lunch and hot tea in the shadow of a backcountry church (denominationn unknown).

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Here in western North Carolina fall colors are in full swing, daytime temperatures are lovely, and the hiking has been wonderful during our first visit to Smokey Mountain National Park.

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Ascending To The Valley

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The elevation here in south-central Kentucky is just over 1,300ft.  While this altitude is nothing to outright dismiss, it is hardly on par with abundance of 5,000+ heights common to the western portions of the country I am more accustomed to.

In the absence of elevation to ascend, a lot of hiking seems to instead descend into valleys and gorges.

And so, we venture into the belly of the beast.

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Jaques Lake

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The hike to Jaques Lake was supposed to be a solo backpacking trip. In the process I would shakedown loads of new backpacking gear I’ve been slowly assembling.

Weather forecasts had me envisioning a night – sans rainfly – peering endlessly at the stars before peacefully drifting to sleep. Instead, what I got was a ferocious rainstorm … and confirmation that my new tent and rainfly performs like a champ.

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Eventually I resigned myself to the fact that I’d be left alone or eaten. With either scenario being out of my control, I settled comfortably into my sleeping bag, awaking both alive and unscathed.

The area is beautiful; I can’t blame the moose for making this serene location their home.

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Helen Lake

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Directions to Helen Lake.

From the parking lot, follow the trailhead up the steep, rooted path. Numerous switchbacks are woven into dense trees and thick bush; keep an eye out for bears munching ripe berries.

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Anticipate a bit of huffing and puffing during this initial climb. A nice resting point is a rock outcropping overlooking turquoise waters of Bow Lake far below, casually situated at the base of Mt. Thompson.

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Pushing on, continue uphill through a clearing of new growth – the result of recent forest fires. Negotiate more switchbacks before a final turn towards Dolomite Peak.

Having arrived to the alpine meadow, now is the time to relax – the trail is mostly flat ahead. With less need to watch your footing, allow yourself to marvel at the neighboring peaks and an abundance of blooming wildflowers as far as one can see.

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Be sure to keep trekking poles handy, they will prove useful as you traverse a few final water crossings. And, because you’ll be well above the tree-line, expect the winds to pick-up and temperatures to drop.

Helen Lake lie hidden ahead.

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Well Rested

I chose not to write anything yesterday as Kelly and I were strictly observing a proper day of nothing.  Squeezed in between Lilly walks, we mostly did a lot of nothing … the highlight of the day being my lengthy afternoon nap. Unlike yesterday, our plan today called for a quick morning walk before prepping Mabel for her return home to Half Moon Bay.  The campground we were staying at is located at the far southern end of the park.  There are a number of trails scattered throughout the broader park itself and our plan this morning was to complete a four mile loop located at the far northern tip of the park boundary.  As an added bonus, the trail is also situated atop the highpoint and offers a nice view of the surrounding areas.

Looking west over the town of San Martin

Looking west over the town of San Martin

The trail starts at the Coyote Dam, built during 1935-36 as a WPA effort.  Today, the dam overlooks the mostly recreational lake and is open to any pedestrian interested in walking along the topside.

Coyote Lake placard

Coyote Lake placard

Moving towards the trail – which starts off easy enough – we were greeted by the warning sign below:

Warning sign at the trailhead

Warning sign at the trailhead

We never did encounter any Mountain Lions or Babcats, but did see a lot of cows and a few wild turkeys.

Approaching cows

Approaching the cows

A lone turkey

A lone turkey

Anticipating hot temperatures and having read the trail lacked any significant shade, we got an early start.  The absence of shade and very little breeze propelled hot temperatures, but Lilly didn’t seem to mind too much as there were numerous gopher holes to stick her nose into.  As usual, she found nothing.

The rolling hillside

The rolling hillside

Lilly waiting for me

Lilly waiting for me

Following our hike, we had to hustle in order to pack-up the trailer in advance of the 1pm check-out.  Sadly, our relaxing weekend was ending … it was time to go home and begin thinking about the looming workweek.   Dang.

Wandering With the Watsons

California's largest desert park

California’s largest desert park

Yesterday Kelly and I arrived to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, our destination for a few days until we continue the crawl back towards Half Moon Bay.  We continue to dry camp, this time alongside fellow Airstreamers – Tim, Amanda, and Phineas … aka WatsonsWander.  They arrived a few days before us and scouted out a very nice spot – spacious, with only a few other RV’s scattered across a vast landscape.  The site is California’s larger desert park – exceeding 900 acres.  Generous with the rules, there is no time limit to stay, and at free, the price is definitely right.

Basically, it is perfect.

Our mobile homes, just down the path

Our mobile homes, just down the path

Our Airstream homes down this path

A closer look at the picture above

Tim and Amanda joined Kelly and me last night for dinner and great conversation.  This afternoon, the four us (plus Lilly & Phineas) ventured to the Calcite Mine Trail, a remote area about 10 east of our campsite.  The trail is pretty cool – a diverse  network of slot canyons easily traveled, less some spots requiring a bit of bouldering/scrambling.  There is also an abandoned access road which, as evidenced by the number of Jeeps we saw, is now a popular 4×4 off-roading destination.

Approaching the trails - Lilly and Phineas leading the way

Approaching the trails – Lilly and Phineas leading the way

This area is prone to flash flooding, our trail today included.  Over what I can only assume to be hundreds, if not thousands of years, the rushing water flows have carved an Alice in Wonderland like maze through these slots, which are significantly taller than they are wide.  I’ve never seen anything like them before.

Slots

Slots

More slots

More slots

After a while we ascended the canyon in search of the mining remnants, but never did find the site.  However, the views from high above were fabulous.

The climb starts with some scrambling

The climb starts with some scrambling

Up, up, up

Up, up, up

Cactus resting neat the top

Cactus perched near the top

Eventually, we completed the loop satisfied with the hike, but a bit bummed we missed out on the mining remains.

On the way home, Lilly enjoyed a post-hike treat in the car.

Enjoying a post hike treat

Enjoying a post hike treat