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  • Kanaka Loop Trail, Santa Ysabel Open Space Preserve (East) – San Diego County, California

    East Preserve: There are two trailheads on either side of the East Preserve. One along Highway 79 (Santa Ysabel East Preserve, Highway 79 Staging area). The other is along Farmer Road. Driving to Farmer Road, continue on Highway 78 past Santa Ysabel and then to 79/Julian Road. Head east to Wynola Road and then north to Farmer Road all the way to the Santa Ysabel East Preserve trailhead. SANTA YSABEL EAST PRESERVE (Kanaka Loop Trail) – 8 miles Round Trip You can either begin your hike here along Highway 79 (Staging Area) or at the parking lot along Farmer Road, depending on which trail you want to tackle. But if you plan on taking the whole trail, 15 miles in all one way, then you might want to take two cars, parking one at each trailhead. The Kanaka Loop Trail begin along Farmers Road. Hiking here you will find some spots of shade from the oak trees, but most of the way is through open meadows where you will find some cattle grazing on the green grass. The trail is gentle with some elevation gain in some areas, but overall this is a pleasant hiking trail. A few yards from the trailhead, you will cross the Santa Ysabel Creek. You will cross this creek again after about 1.4 miles. Near the creek you will pass a shapely looking rock (you can use your imagination). Along the trail you will find a wooden "throne"; well, a high chair actually cut out from a huge dead tree. They even provided a step stool, and a step, for vertically challenged people like me. Kudos to those people who carved this chair. Soon enough you will encounter cattle along the trail, a dilemma for some who haven't encountered bovines up close and personal. They will stare at you, but will not get out of your way, so you just have to walk around them, cautiously. Needless to say, I was hesitant (picture below) especially with mama with the baby, but we passed through unharmed. Passing the next herd of cattle is easier afterward. Check for the sign along the trail so you won't get lost. People miss signs sometimes, if they are busy chatting amongst themselves; believe me it happens, we've seen that. Upon crossing the creek the second time, the trail starts to gain elevation, but for a short distance only. The beginning of the loop is about 0.7 miles from the creek. You will see a sign pointing you to the right direction. There are two signs 0.3 miles apart. This portion of the trail is part of the Coast-To-Crest Trail so pay attention to the signs. The Kanaka Loop crosses open meadows - a pasture for cattle so look where you step, you don't want cow poop on your boots. Along the trail look on the sides and you will find small, but beautiful, wildflowers. Some are so tiny it's hard to take photos of them. NOTE: Sant Ysabel is a historic place. If you want to learn about the area’s ecology, natural and cultural history, near the West Preserve, just at the edge of the town of Santa Ysabel, is a 6,000 square foot Nature Center. PREVIOUS ARTICLE... SANTA YSABEL OPEN SPACE PRESERVE (EAST & WEST TRAILS) OTHER TRAILS TO EXPLORE IN THE PRESERVE:

  • Hiking to Observation Point - Zion National Park, Utah

    OBSERVATION POINT – 8 miles round trip The trail to Observation Point is one of the longer hikes in Zion. The trail begins at the Weeping Rock Trailhead and follows the East Rim Trail. This is a strenuous hike but is highly recommended, although not for those who have a fear of heights. THE TRAIL The trail was chiseled out of the side of the canyon wall and can be quite hairy when you look at the ravine below. It is a long way down, though the trail is wide enough to allow two people to pass each other comfortably. But accidents can happen, especially when the trail is icy, so you have to be cautious - trail etiquette will be much appreciated. Although it is a well maintained trail and paved part of the way, there are switchbacks and zigzagging sections. Take plenty of water and pace yourself and you will have no problems. So now, don't be disheartened by the zigzagging trail and long uphill, you will have a reprieve. You will be surprised when you enter Echo Canyon. It is a nice place to stop, recharge and cool off while looking at the interesting rock formations and towering cliffs. You will be glad you brought along some snacks, since there's still a long way to go, so you will need it. The spectacular view along the way is well worth the sweats and huffing and puffing, so keep going! You haven't seen the best view on the trail yet. Finally, the summit, the Observation Point’s eight-mile trail is aptly named, the view takes in 270 degrees of the canyon. I think this must be the most beautiful spot in the park. The aerial view is amazing you can see as far as the eye could see. Look down and you will find the popular Angels Landing is much lower than the Observation Point. After your hike, you probably want to hydrate or have snack. We sure did. Unless you brought your own, the Zion Lodge, located in the heart of the canyon, is the only place you can find food inside the park. This lodge is part of the history of Zion. While resting and recharging, you will enjoy the view of the towering sandstone cliffs. NOTE: For more info about the free shuttles, check the link here. PREVIOUS ARTICLE... ZION NATIONAL PARK OTHER NATIONAL PARKS TO EXPLORE IN UTAH BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK, ARCHES NATIONAL PARK, CANYONLANDS NATIONAL PARK, CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK

  • Petrified Forest National Park - Arizona

    Petrified Forest National Park straddles the border between Apache County and Navajo County and is about 30 miles long from north to the south. It is accessible by road at both ends. The north entrance, where we started, follows the historic Route 66 highway (the only national park site that contains a segment of the historic route) within the southeastern extension of the Painted Desert. It is in the south part of the park where most of the petrified woods are concentrated. THE PARK The park was originally designated as a national monument in 1906 to preserve the petrified woods. In 1962 it became a National Park. Today, Petrified Forest also has a broad representation of the Late Triassic paleo-ecosystem and significant human history. There are scenic vistas, grasslands ecosystem and mostly clear skies. The park’s clear night skies are due to the area’s pure air quality. The park is one of the national parks that has Class I air quality, protected under Clean Air Act. Can you imagine the Petrified Forest's environment over 200 million years ago? During the Triassic (227-205 million years ago), the climate in this region was humid and tropical. Located near the equator (about where Costa Rica is now), the landscape was dominated by a river system larger than anything on Earth today. Streams flowing through the lowland fed towering trees and plants that grew abundantly, providing food and shelter for animals and insects. It's hard to imagine today, but giant reptiles, amphibians, fish, and many invertebrates lived here. Dinosaurs once roamed here as well. PETRIFIED WOOD Petrified wood? These are logs made up of almost solid quartz. Each log is like a giant crystal, with a rainbow of colors, due to impurities in the quartz (iron, carbon, and manganese). Million of years ago, lush green forests covered the landscape here, with 200-foot tall conifers. Everything was destroyed when volcanic mountains erupted toppling the trees which were then swept away into the waterways. They were buried so quickly and deeply by massive amounts of sediment and debris that oxygen was cut off. The decay was slowed to a process that would take eons, with minerals (including silica dissolved from volcanic ash) absorbed into the porous wood through the years. These minerals crystallized within the cellular structure, replacing the organic material as it broke down. Large jewel-like crystals (clear quartz, purple amethyst, yellow citrine, and smoky quartz) formed over time. These logs were entombed over millions of years, and through gradual erosion, these gigantic logs and pieces became exposed. Petrified trees today lie strewn across the hills and within cliff faces of the park. Notice how the logs were broken into large segments as if cut with a chain saw? During the gradual uplifting of the Colorado Plateau, starting about 60 million years ago, these buried logs were under so much stress they broke like glass rods. That is due to the crystal nature of the quartz; it is hard and brittle and fractures easily and cleanly. Nature is incredible isn't it? Everywhere we go we see these incredible sites created by nature alone. Most of the petrified trees have been given the scientific name Araucarioxylon arizonicum. John Muir, who was told that Arizona would be beneficial for his daughters' (Helen and Wanda) health, moved to Adamana (northeast Arizona) in 1905. Muir was one of the first to make a small collection of fossils in the area, which ended up at the University of California at Berkeley. He named the Blue Forest (one of the trails) in the park and was influential in getting President Theodore Roosevelt to set the land aside as a national monument in 1906. Petrified Forest National Park has a remarkably diverse and long human history and culture - from prehistoric peoples to the Civilian Conservation Corps, from early explorers to Route 66 motorists. So don't be surprised if you see an old rusty car (see photo), probably abandoned when it broke down. But that rusty car is not the amazing artifacts here. Evidence shows that humans have occupied the area for over 13,000 years. More than 600 archaeological sites have been found inside the boundaries of the park. Archaeological finds include ancient walls, artifacts, traces of roads and symbols on rocks. - HIKING THE BLUE MESA TRAIL - There are several hiking trails in the national park, but we didn’t have enough time and were able to hike on only one. In Blue Mesa, you will find the Chinle Formation (deposited over 200 million years ago), consisting of thick deposits of grey, blue, purple and green mud-stone and minor sandstone beds. The Blue Mesa Trail is a short, easy trail, about a one-mile loop with paved and gravel trail in some areas. There is a steep grade at the beginning of the trail, though you have to do it twice since it is a loop and you have to go back up where you started. It is a popular trail, but we saw hardly any people when we were there. This is a must- see since it is a unique and unusual hiking experience. The beautiful landscapes and scattered bits of petrified wood is something you just have to experience yourself. You will be mesmerized and be awed by what you will see. In this area, many fossilized plants and animals have also been found, including fossils of dinosaurs and phytosaurs that date to the Triassic Period (252 to 201 million years ago). Take note, there are restrictions and stiff fines for taking rocks from within the park, but you might still be tempted in spite of that. No matter how small, try to resist taking any so others can enjoy them as well. Taking petrified wood from the area is not actually new. Imagine what it was like here before it was discovered by military survey parties. They passed through here in the 1850's and filled their saddlebags with pieces of petrified wood. Eventually word spread and fossil logs were hauled off by the wagon-load for making table tops, lamps, and mantels. Even gem collectors began dynamiting logs while searching for amethyst and quartz crystals in the 1890's. It was a "free for all" back then. Aren't we glad the park is preserved today for everyone to see and experience? GIANT LOGS Another hiking trail to explore is the Giant Long Logs area, a 1.6 miles trail with one of the largest concentrations of petrified wood in the park. As much as we wanted to do the whole trail, we only walked part way since we didn’t have enough time to do the whole thing. If you don't have enough time to explore the trails in the park, there are plenty of petrified logs scattered around the visitor's area in the south part of the park. OTHER FEATURES AT THE PARK It’s not all sand and fossils in the Petrified Forest National Park. Depending on the elevation and availability of minerals, soil, rock and moisture, plants and animals thrive here. Plants have adapted to the arid climate and are able to survive the extremes of temperature and precipitation of the desert. The grasslands, shrub-lands and little juniper-cliffrose woodlands are critical components within the grassland ecosystem throughout the park. These, along with riparian and spring habitats, are valuable not only for plants but for wildlife as well. Animal life at Petrified Forest includes amphibians, birds, insects, spiders, mammals, and reptiles. Birds, lizards and rabbits are seen most frequently, though seasons and weather play a large role in determining what animals are active at any one time. Many are nocturnal (active at night), an adaptation not only to avoid high summer daytime temperatures, but also to avoid certain predators. STAYING & DINING IN HOLBROOK After visiting the Petrified Forest, we stayed the night in the town of Holbrook. The town, founded in 1881, was named after the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad chief engineer, Henry R. Holbrook. It was known as "the town too tough for women and churches". A real wild west town with saloons and heavy drinking, gun-toting men. But that was then. Today, Holbrook is the seat of Navajo County and the gateway to Petrified Forest National Park. Staying the night and eating good food in Holbrook is not a problem. Just ask the locals, they know where the best eateries are. We dined in an Italian Restaurant recommended by the hotel we stayed in. It was a long day and we needed some delicious sustenance. We were not disappointed. NEXT... TOWN OF SEDONA PREVIOUS... PAINTED DESERT

  • Cathedral Rock - Sedona, Arizona

    There are many rock formations and viewing points you could find outside of town of Sedona. The landscape here is simply spectacular, something you can only find in the western United States. There is something extra ordinary about the desert landscape. It's not only about the rock formations but the vegetation as well. Together, it creates an amazing vista and plenty of photo opportunities. Arizona is desert country, but plants thrive here: Yucca, Agave (or century plant), Mormon tea Juniper, Creosote Bush (Chaparral), to name a few. These plants are not only drought tolerant but were also known to have medicinal uses with native Americans. We didn't hike the first day (that was scheduled the next day), but there was plenty to see, even if you are not a hiker. Drive around and explore other areas not just the popular sights. Sedona has seven natural wonders (Cathedral Rock, West Fork Trail. Devil's Bridge, Oak Creek Canyon, Airport Vortex/Mesa, Bell Rock & Boynton Canyon), but not all of these afford easy access. One of the easy access points is the Cathedral Rock. This is one of the most popular sights in Sedona, due partly to its proximity to the highway. Another is the Bell Rock. CATHEDRAL ROCK Cathedral Rock is a natural sandstone butte located at the south side of Sedona. Looking at the massive rock, it does resemble a cathedral, carved from the Permian Schnebly Hill formation. It was at one time called "Court House Rock" - not to be confused with Court House Butte which was once called "Church House Rock". To get to Cathedral Rock we followed the Upper Red Rock Loop Road to Chavez Ranch Road, then to Red Rock Crossing Drive to Forest Park. With so many stops along the way, we didn't have enough time to take the 1.2 mile back trail up to Cathedral Rock. Though it is short, it was rated as difficult. So, we just walked in the park following Oak Creek and took some pictures at several viewpoints. This trail is accessible year-round. Dogs are allowed but must be kept on leash. The Cathedral Rock trailhead can be accessed from the Back 'O' Beyond Road. It can also be accessed from Baldwin and Templeton trails. The small parking lot is not free and often fills up by mid-morning. But you can park on verges and on a stony stream bed further along the road. NEXT... EXPLORING BELL ROCK, CHAPEL OF THE HOLY CROSS, SCHNEBLY HILL & TLAQUEPAQUE PREVIOUS... TOWN OF SEDONA

  • Hiking to Chicago Lakes - Mount Evans Wilderness, Colorado

    CHICAGO LAKES – 9.5 to 10 miles This trail is strenuous and can be long if you hike all the way to the upper lake. The trailhead begins at Echo Lake. Then the trail goes downhill for the first mile or so, and as you pass Idaho Springs Reservoir, the trail goes uphill for the last three to four miles, depending how far you want to go. You will find an area where 400 acres were burned in the Reservoir Fire in 1978. Wildflowers have overtaken that burned area today, at least while the forest tries to recover. It takes time. There are two lakes on this trail. You can either stop at the Lower Chicago Lake or continue on to the upper lake. You will find the Lower Chicago Lake at treeline. It offers great views, but hiking all the way to the second lake is even better. It's not an easy trail going to the upper lake though; it is very steep, but it will be worth the extra mile. We hike here in Summer or Fall - either time offers a different experience. You get to see wildflowers in summer and beautiful fall colors of the landscape in Autumn. Hermann has hiked here many times, but I only hiked here with him three times. There are so many beautiful trails to explore here in Colorado that we don't have to keep coming back to the same trails all the time. Up by the upper lake is a gorgeous view of the landscape. You can see why it is worth huffing and puffing to the top. In Autumn this trail is stunning. The different shades of gold and rust covering the landscape are so bright that you almost need to wear sunglasses, if you are not already wearing one. For a much tougher hike, you can continue hiking south to Summit Lake and all the way to the summit of Mount Evans. The elevation gain will be quite tough, but if you can do it, why not? Not for me, hiking to the upper lake is quite long enough for me. NEXT... CLIMBING MOUNT BIERSTADT MAIN ARTICLE... HIKING IN MOUNT EVANS WILDERNESS NOTE: Wilderness Areas have special regulations, check the U.S. Forest Service for information. Check with Idaho Springs Visitors Center or Colorado Department of Transportation for road conditions. The Mount Evans Road and Scenic Byway (Colorado Highway 5) is usually open from Friday of Memorial Day weekend through the first weekend in October, depending on weather conditions. The road and access to the top of Mount Evans is closed at Summit Lake the day after Labor Day. Weather conditions can change, even in summer, so come prepared. The best way is to dress in layers, it's easier to take it off when it gets warm or put it on when it gets chilly, hail, rain or extreme wind. Watch out for afternoon summer thunderstorms - they are common here and you don't want to be caught outside in one at this altitude. Vehicles over 30' long are not recommended on Highway 5 (Mount Evans road) due to the steep, narrow, winding road. Other nearby wilderness areas you can explore: Indian Peaks Wilderness James Peak Wilderness Lost Creek Wilderness

  • Climbing Mount Bierstadt - Mount Evans Wilderness, Colorado

    This is my only fourteneer I can brag about. My first and last one actually, since I don't want to climb another one. I'm not a "peak bagger". I just wanted to experience the climb and see what kind of a view you can find on top. I was hesitant, but as my husband says, Mount Bierstadt is the easiest climb among the 54 fourteneers in Colorado, and so we did it. This is also a popular trail since it’s close to Denver. Until recently, Bierstadt was considered the most climbed fourteener in the state. In late summer 2019 it was surpassed by Quandary Peak in the Mosquito Range near Breckenridge. TO GET HERE To get to the trailhead, take the Georgetown exit off of Interstate 70. Drive through Georgetown and follow the signs for the Guanella Pass Scenic Byway. After about 12 miles you will reach two parking lots, located on each side of the road. The trail to Bierstadt begins near the parking area on the east side. Both parking areas have restrooms, just in case you need one before tackling the climb. CLIMBING MOUNT BIERSTADT – 8 miles round-trip Near the parking lot you will find a pond with a beautiful view. It's a nice detour before tackling the climb to Mount Bierstadt. When Hermann hiked here way before this trail got popular, he had to wade through wet/boggy terrain and thick willows. Today, the trail has a boardwalk along some parts of the trail so you can't complain about getting your boots wet. You don't need a GPS to navigate this trail, just follow the crowd. The trail passes a creek, and more willows, before the trail goes uphill. On the last leg to the summit, the trail is rocky and steep; it's an ankle breaker, so you have to be careful. Wearing hiking boots saved me from any accident and is always recommended. Upon reaching the summit, you might have to wait for your turn to take pictures. Everybody does it. Well, you have to, it's an accomplishment. When we were there, somebody brought along a paper with the name of Mt. Bierstadt, the date and the elevation written on it. Some people just think of everything to make their experience memorable, don't they? The sign was passed around so that we had proof that we summited. No need to bring your tripod here; fellow hikers will offer to take your pictures. No need to take "selfies" either, unless you want to. We chose a perfect day when we climbed Mt. Bierstadt. It was chilly at the top but sunny. It was a fun climb I should say. From the top there's a 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains. It is spectacular, but I still prefer the views down below. You can't stay long up there, the chilly wind is not so nice and there is nothing to shield you from the wind. NOTE: Wilderness Areas have special regulations, check the U.S. Forest Service for information. Check with Idaho Springs Visitors Center or Colorado Department of Transportation for road conditions. The Mount Evans Road and Scenic Byway (Colorado Highway 5) is usually open from Friday of Memorial Day weekend through the first weekend in October, depending on weather conditions. The road and access to the top of Mount Evans is closed at Summit Lake the day after Labor Day. Weather conditions can change, even in summer, so come prepared. The best way is to dress in layers, it's easier to take it off when it gets warm or put it on when it gets chilly, hail, rain or extreme wind. Watch out for afternoon summer thunderstorms - they are common here and you don't want to be caught outside in one at this altitude. Vehicles over 30' long are not recommended on Highway 5 (Mount Evans road) due to the steep, narrow, winding road. PREVIOUS... HIKING TO CHICAGO LAKES MAIN ARTICLE... HIKING IN MOUNT EVANS WILDERNESS OTHER NEARBY WILDERNESS YOU CAN EXPLORE: Indian Peaks Wilderness James Peak Wilderness Lost Creek Wilderness

  • Crater Lakes, South Boulder Creek Trail – James Peak Wilderness/Roosevelt National Forest

    From the main South Boulder Creek Trail, continue past the first junction if your aim is the Crater Lakes. The sign at the second junction will direct you to that trail. Going to the two main Crater Lakes is a six-mile round trip hike from the trailhead. If you want to go to the Upper Crater Lake, be prepared for a steep ascent going up to the ridge. From there you still have to climb up a ways which brings you to a viewpoint above the upper lake. Then you will have to do some scrambling over big boulders to get down to the Upper Crater Lake. There is another way up, but you won't get the great view looking down on the lake. CRATER LAKES (Main Crater Lakes elevation 10,600 feet) - 6.5 to 7.5 miles Hiking here in June you will still find snow in some areas, so the trail might be difficult to follow. Unless someone else already created a temporary trail over the snow which you just have to follow. It helps to have a GPS with you which my husband, Hermann, always carries, not only to record our hike but also to know where we are. Wildflowers also abound here, if you are lucky to pick the right time. In the meadows, as well as by the streams and lakes, you will find wildflowers everywhere! It's a steep climb to the Upper Crater Lake, but don't hurry, look back down from time to time and you will see the view getting better as you reach the ridge. The mountains and the lower lakes below are such an amazing landscape you will be in awe, as you can see on the photo. Nature is really amazing, isn't it? We also hiked here in early Autumn and we found some wildflowers by the trail still in bloom (photo below). Hiking in Colorado you will find many surprises. NEXT... ROGERS PASS LAKES MAIN ARTICLE... SOUTH BOULDER CREEK TRAIL HEART LAKE NOTE: If you are camping, you will have time to go hiking to the top of the Continental Divide, which separates the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. There are many fine campsites in the James Peak Wilderness, but campfires are not allowed and group size is limited to only 12 - including pets.

  • Rogers Pass Lake, South Boulder Creek Trail – James Peak Wilderness/Roosevelt National Forest

    If your aim is to hike to Rogers Pass Lake and Heart Lake, follow the South Boulder Trail all the way. Combined, it's about 9 miles round trip from the trailhead to the two lakes. But due to greater elevation gain, this hike is a bit more strenuous than Crater or Forest Lakes. ROGERS PASS LAKE (Elevation 11,028 feet) - 9 miles This is a beautiful hike as well; there are streams and amazing meadows of wildflowers along the trail, especially up by the lakes. See photo below. Hiking here in autumn is also great. There will be very few wildflowers but most of the foliage will be transformed from green to red, yellow and orange - a different view of the landscape altogether. You might get lucky to find marmots if you stay a while. They are shy animals, which is good. NEXT... HEART LAKE MAIN ARTICLE... SOUTH BOULDER CREEK TRAIL PREVIOUS... CRATER LAKES NOTE: If you are camping, you will have time to go hiking to the top of the Continental Divide, which separates the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. There are many fine campsites in the James Peak Wilderness, but campfires are not allowed and group size is limited to only 12 - including pets.

  • Heart Lake, South Boulder Creek Trail – James Peak Wilderness/Roosevelt National Forest

    So, if you hike to Rogers Pass Lake you might as well hike all the way to Heart Lake. That is, if you still have the stamina, or time. It is a steep climb but only about a quarter mile further and about 200 feet above Rogers Pass Lake. You can do it and you won't regret it. The view from up there is fantastic. HEART LAKE (Elevation 11,300 feet) - 10 miles This lake is located at the base of the Continental Divide. Heart Lake is shaped like a heart, but only if you look at it from above. Google it. You can find amazing meadows of wildflowers here, especially columbines (photo below). As you can see, snow still remains in the nooks and crannies of the mountain in summer. Whether it be summer or autumn, it is wonderful up there. One thing we learned, the later in summer we go, the less people we encounter and will almost always have the place to ourselves. All we can hear is the sounds of nature, most especially the shrill sound of marmots. From Heart Lake you will get a good view of James Peak and Haystack Mountain. PREVIOUS... ROGERS PASS LAKE, MAIN ARTICLE... SOUTH BOULDER CREEK TRAIL CRATER LAKES NOTE: If you are camping, you will have time to go hiking to the top of the Continental Divide, which separates the Pacific and Atlantic watersheds. There are many fine campsites in the James Peak Wilderness, but campfires are not allowed and group size is limited to only 12 - including pets.

  • Square Top Lakes, Pike National Forest – Front Range, Colorado

    Square Top Lakes is a popular hiking trail because of the stunning views and two lakes at the end. This trail is considered moderate, but that also depends on your hiking capability. It’s a 5-mile round trip hike with elevation gains and steep ascents. It's short, but you have to consider the elevation. These are high alpine lakes, and it is wise to go slow. Starting early is best since afternoon thunderstorms can also occur anytime. Since this trail is above tree line it means no shade; you will be in open tundra and under the sun all throughout the hike. TO GET HERE From Denver, you can reach the trail from I-70 the Georgetown exit. You will drive through the historic town to the Guanella Pass Road. It’s about 10 miles or so to the trailhead at the top of the pass. The trailhead is on the west side above the hill past the Mt. Bierstadt parking area. You have to be early since this is a popular area and hikers who want to summit Mt. Bierstadt on the east side will take up all available spaces and even occupy both sides of Guanella Pass road as well. SOUTH PARK TRAIL – 4 to 5 miles round trip The trail to the Square Top Lakes is an easy downhill at the beginning, but then it gets steeper as you start climbing higher. Take it slow, the air gets thinner as you get higher. There's a reprieve where you can break up your hike and catch your breath by the first lake before ascending to the upper lake. You can either rest and have some snacks or just enjoy the landscape. You will need it especially if you are not acclimated. LOWER LAKE The Lower Lake, which is 12,086 feet and sits below the Upper Lake (12,304 feet). You can end your hike here, but why would you? The view by the lower lake is stunning enough but if you still have the energy, and the will, the best part is going all the way to the Upper Lake. The South Park Trail is also used to access the summit of Square Top Mountain (13,794 feet). That trail veers off to the left at a junction where the trail to the upper lake begins its steep ascend. There is a sign, but some hiker's get confused here, so make sure you are heading to where you want to be. UPPER LAKE The Upper Lake sits below the ridge of Square Top Mountain (on the other side of this ridge are Silver Dollar and Murray Lakes, one of our favorite hikes in the Front Range). To continue up to the Upper Lake is less than a half mile from the junction, but this portion of the trail is the steepest part. It’s worth the extra effort though since the view from up there is unbelievably stunning. From above upper lake, you will see in front of you an amazing landscape with two prominent fourteeners, Mt. Evans and Mt. Bierstadt. Now, if you choose to hike to the summit of Square Top Mountain, 200 yards from the junction to the Upper Lake is another sign. From there it is a steep uphill climb all the way. Some hikers turn around part-way up; not enough energy to make it to the top. But even so, the view is worth the effort, even just a short hike up this trail. The hard part hiking back is you have to climb that last mile or so to the parking lot. You will be huffing and puffing, especially when it's hot, even though it is not really steep. Just think about the beautiful landscape you found at the top and it will be worth it. WILDFLOWERS If you are looking for wildflowers, this trail also offers an amazing variety. PREVIOUS... SHELF LAKE, PIKE NATIONAL FOREST

  • Hiking to Vernal & Nevada Falls, Taft Point & The Fissures -Yosemite National Park

    There are over 800 miles of trails in Yosemite, from easy, moderate to strenuous. Some trails, of course, requires backpacking. Almost 95 percent of the park is wilderness with 750 miles of trails, and backpacking here requires a permit. We didn't plan on doing long hikes here, in fact we didn't even bring along our hiking boots and hiking sticks. But how can you resist not hiking in this place. We only did a couple of day hikes since we combined visiting other two national parks on this trip - Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park. We were not equipped for hiking in the wilderness, so we hiked the two most popular trails, Vernal and Nevada Falls, and a short hike to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. VERNAL FALL & NEVADA FALL TRAILS – 8 miles This trail begins at the Happy Isles trailhead which gives access to the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail, which begin about 0.6 miles from the parking lot. If you take a shuttle bus, it’s stop #16 (Valleywide or East Valley Shuttles). This trail is mostly uphill, so you can choose how far you want to go, either to the Vernal footbridge, the top of Vernal Fall, the top of Nevada Fall or all the way. To Vernal Fall bridge is about 0.9 mile and another 0.5 mile to Vernal Falls. Both waterfalls are fed by Merced Lake high above. About 0.2 mile from Vernal Fall is a junction. It splits into a loop trail, so either way will take you to Nevada Fall. Both trails also connect to the John Muir trail. The Mist Trail continues on the left while the trail to the right will take you to Clark Point and then to Nevada Fall. This trail is longer but scenic all the way. You have a choice to end your hike at Clark Point, or continue on the John Muir Trail all the way to Nevada Fall. From here the trail is even more scenic, or I should say, spectacular. Along the trail you will see Nevada Fall from afar and the impressive Liberty Cap, a granite dome above the fall - the park contains dozens of granite domes and you will find them everywhere you look. The loop trail ends past the Nevada Fall, while the John Muir Trail continues on into the wilderness area, interconnecting with other trails in its 200-mile length. We ended our hike here at Nevada Fall, enjoying the view as much as we could while we had our lunch. Above the waterfall is Emerald Pool, from which the water flows down the waterfalls. You can easily find a nice spot here, to rest and recharge for the journey back down. There were people here but it was not crowded when we were there. TAFT POINT & THE FISSURES – 3 miles There are two trailheads on this hike - Pohono/Artist Point Trailhead and Taft Point Trailhead. Taft Point was named after the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, who came across the point while visiting the area with John Muir in October 1909. The short hike is accessed via the Glacier Point Road, the only access by car to this trail. The Glacier Point Road opens around late May or early June and closes sometime in November. For a longer hike, you can start at the Artist Point Trailhead via Wawona Road, near Tunnel View overlook. So, we opted for a short hike from the Taft Point Trailhead, an easy short hike but with the same spectacular views of the valley below and the wilderness beyond. From here, Taft Point is just 1.1 miles, but if you want to add some miles, you can follow a loop trail around Sentinel Dome and Roosevelt Point, then on to Taft Point. On the trail, after passing through sparsely populated pines, the view opens up where a stunning view of the Yosemite landscape is revealed. There is El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley right before your eyes. Would you dare to stand at the edge of the cliff? Some people do, we did also, but not right to the edge, at least. It's not for the faint of heart, I can tell you especially if you have vertigo. In 1900, Kitty Tatch and Katherine Hazelston, waitresses at Yosemite National Park hotels, danced on Overhanging Rock at Glacier Point. Their pictures were later made into postcards, autographed and sold for years. Look down at the fissure - it's one of the attractions on this trail. It's a natural crack in the granite rock that drops all the way down at some point. NOTE: Check the park's website for road closures, reservations, tickets and permits if you are planning to visit Yosemite National Park. PREVIOUS... YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK

  • Hiking in Bryce Canyon National Park - Utah

    The best time of year to hike in Utah is either Spring or Fall, the weather is cooler and there will be less crowds - summer in Utah can be really hot if you are not used to it. The panoramic views of the whole canyon and hoodoos at different viewpoints are amazing, but hiking down below is when you will really appreciate the wonder of this magical place. You will feel quite insignificant when you wander between, around and even through these amazing rock formations. FIGURE 8 LOOP HIKE (Navajo Loop, Peekaboo Loop & Queens Garden Trail) – 7.5 miles round trip Don't get intimidated hiking down into the "canyon", there are easy as well as strenuous hikes that you can choose from. Some of these trails are interconnected and can be combined with other trails to make the hike as long as you want. One is the 8-mile "Figure Eight" loop trail, a popular hike that should not be missed by anyone, if you are in good enough condition to do it. Just remember, you have to consider the hike uphill back to the rim on the last leg of the trail. We did this hike in Autumn of 2012. It took us about 7.5 miles, combining the Navajo Loop, the Peek-a-Boo Loop and the Queens Garden - each is a short trail that you can take on its own, but you would probably change your mind once you are down there and do them all in one hike. It is not until you hike down into one of the amphitheaters that you realize how big and tall the hoodoos are. Just look up and let your imagination run wild - you will see an endless display of shapes and colors as you work your way around one bend to another. The Hoodoos Bryce Canyon has the largest concentration of hoodoos, and most are found in the northern sections of the park. These hoodoos range in size from an average human height, to a 20 story building. The Paiute Indians, who moved into the surrounding valleys and plateaus in the area around the same time that the other cultures left, had a myth surrounding the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon. They believed the hoodoos were the Legend People whom the trickster Coyote turned to stone. A Paiute tribe’s elder called the hoodoos Anka-ku-was-a-wits, meaning "red painted faces". In scientific or geological terms, Hoodoos, which are mainly found in the Colorado Plateau, are formed from layers of different types of sedimentary rock - limestone, dolostone, mudstone, siltstone and sandstone, accumulated and cemented together to create Bryce Canyon’s rocks. Due to Bryce Canyon's location, it experiences a variety of temperature conditions. The natural process of freeze and thaw is what shaped the hoodoos. The mineral deposits within the layers are what give them their colors. Desert Flowers Down in the "canyon" we found some wildflowers still in bloom. Plants in bloom are like a magnet, I couldn't resist to stop and take pictures. PREVIOUS... Bryce Canyon National Park

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