Lake Clark National Park, AK. June 2022

National Park Count: 31

NUMBER THIRTY ONE!???? Holy Cow! Just about 5 years ago I didn’t really even know what the national park scene was all about! If you’d have told me even just 3 years ago that I would now have 31 of the 63 under my belt I would have thought I either won the lottery or married well! But, despite neither of those being true, here we are with number 31: Lake Clark National Park in Alaska.

Nice sign and PROOF!

Alaska has 8 national parks. Three of them are accessible by road (click here for my thoughts on Kenai Fjords, also in this trip, and Denali, from 2017) but the other 5 are…difficult. This one is one of the “difficult ones” but actually isn’t too hard to get to if you have 600 bucks and know what to look for!

Lake Clark is most easily accessible in 1 of 2 ways: by boat from Homer, to the outer shores of the park, or by plane from either Homer or Anchorage, delivering you to a potential variety of spots. Initially, I was gearing up to pay 600 bucks for the boat ride from Homer to the outer shores (Chinitna Bay, specifically) of the National Park to basically watch brown bears digging for clams. The captain told me that it’s a crapshoot on how long the trip ashore is. It is a 5 or 6 hour total tour, but if the majority of tourists want to simply come ashore, snap some pictures of grizzlies for instagram, and then head back out to look for whales, that’s what he does. There is no visitor center there, no signs, no facilities of any kind, just landing on the shore going to a viewing platform and watching the bears. Didn’t sound awesome, but what could I do? The only flight trips I saw at first were for at least an overnight and that one was going to be about 900 bucks per person, based on double occupancy, and I was traveling solo…..sooooo…nope, not in my budget, the boat is was! BUT! After asking around online, I was informed that the same company with the rate I just mentioned, Lake Clark Air, also did a 600 dollar day trip! On their website it is hidden pretty well in custom trips, which is why I didn’t see it! So, after making some phone calls I was booked on Lake Clark Air out of Merrill Field in Anchorage! It was to be a 9ish AM flight to Port Alsworth, the little town right on Lake Clark proper. The flight would take an hour and I would be on the ground until about 5 PM. For the same price as the boat tour, this was a no brainer!

A quick bit of info on Lake Clark National Park. This is a park that, in its entirety, is bigger than the entire state of Hawai’i. Due to its remoteness, however, most people are only able to visit the two ways I describe above. That being the case, one can easily spend several days at some different lodges scattered about in the area, reachable by water taxi or float plane out of Port Alsworth. Truly adventurous people can commission a guide and go backcountry hiking which includes a stop at a cabin built in the last 50 or so years by a guy way out in the middle of the wilderness of what is now the national park. All of these things are prohibitively expensive and probably best done in a decent sized group. So, not for me!

I got to Lake Clark Air hangar around 8 AM, checked in, and soon the little 8 seater Piper took off! The flight path took us high enough to see Denali! That mountain is SOOOO huge and was visible here, at least 130 miles away! Anyway, she wasn’t the focus or even a “maybe I can” on this trip, so it was a pleasant surprise! Our flight was low enough that we traversed the famed Lake Clark Pass below mountaintop height and it was not long that the cirques and glaciers off to the side gave way to the gorgeous Lake Clark under the plane!

If you have never been in this little planes…a fear of flying, a fear of heights, and claustrophobia will not be your friend at all, at all!
A view looking up a valley from inside the pass.
This is pretty much the pass. We were flying most of this below the mountain tops!

Upon landing in Lake Clark (one of two gravel landing strips, mind you), myself and the other guests were led to where we needed to go for whatever our activities planned to be! Lake Clark Air seems to be a very well organized company! I was the only one that came in that day doing my particular trip and the young man who was my very short term guide took me to find bear spray, get my very large bag lunch that was part of my ticket, and then gave me some directions! There is a lodge here, with several rooms, called The Farm Lodge. It is run by Lake Clark Air and the Alsworth group. To be fair, I honestly think I would like to convince someone to come back with me and stay a night or two there, so nice and rustic it looked, and right on the harbor! Now, there were a couple things that surprised me quite a bit right off the bat. Number one, there was a COFFEE SHOP open all day right there, thank goodness!! Their drinks are cheaper than Starbucks! They actually had wifi available for me at their lodge. Every employee seems to be a local and a lot of them are teens. The town is kind of a weird place. The name Alsworth is the name of the family who basically settled it, and the man I spoke too about the flights was Glenn Alsworth who runs Lake Clark Air and a lot of stuff in the town itself. A lot of the residents are somehow in that family circle. The town has roads, and there are vehicles there! They were all gravel roads and most vehicles were trucks or ATV/OTVs but there were some cars??? as well. There are actually are two long airstrips, as another air operator called Lake and Pen Air operates there as well. This is a place where planes are life, for sure, and planes are parked everywhere. There is also a big Bible retreat called the Tanalian Bible Camp located here as well. The name comes, I presume, from Mt. Tanalian, which looms large over the town.

Looking down the landingstrip I came in on. The plane I was on is the one on the left. The Lake Clark hangar is the near right side.
This is about the first view you see exiting the aircraft. That’s Mt. Tanalian looming at about 4 thousand feet elevation. Port Alsworth is not much above sea level. The harbor here is where the float planes land and depart.
Legit, a busy intersection in the town! This is the road that pretty much connects the Lake Clark area, The Farm Lodge, the town church to the rest of the town.
This picture is looking at the main drag of the town. To get a bearing, this is where the left side road in the previous picture leads out to. Here is where you access the second landing strip, most of the town homes, back in that woodsy area, the legit food truck (????!!!) in the town (the truck is visible next to the larger building on the far left), as well as the post office, the visitor center, and several hangars that looked to be more private planes or for air mechanics, all of which are down the left side of the runway and off to the right of the picture.

Anyway, despite how small the town is, it actually takes a good long while to get from place to place depending on where you need to go! From my landing area I was going to pick up a kayak rental, from Tulchina Adventures, which was all the way at the opposite end of the other landing strip. It was a haul! And to make matters worse, the end of that landing strip is where I thought I was to go, but there was nothing there except a “road” that went down to a pretty fierce looking creek. So I walked about half way back again to the national park visitor center and the ranger told me where that little road met the water there was a side trail leading to a bridge to get where I needed to go… :/ A lot of wasted time here…and when I got my kayak, the lady was extremely polite and friendly, but it is basically a home job situation and then she ATVed the kayak down to the lake edge and I had to walk…probably another quarter mile, and by the time I finally got into the kayak a lot of time had passed!

The Port Alsworth “bridge.” And I am here to tell you, there is no alcohol in the town…it’s not prohibited…just nowhere to get it…this bridge is a good reason to not have it accessible. It is exactly as …sturdy….as it looks! And that water under it is booking, a few feet deep, and very rocky beneath.

In any event I finally got in and started my first evey kayaking trip in a national park! This water was cold and my feet were now soaked getting in…the lake is very rocky and no sand to push off from, but this is a strikingly beautiful lake. There are mountains all around, the water is crystal clear, and you cannot see much of the town at all! The sound of planes is ever present though, but I couldn’t complain as that’s how these people survive!

Looking down Lake Clark.
Pretty awesome pic, if I do say so myself! That’s Mt. Tanalian there looming over Port Alsworth. Beautiful!
Just a quick little clip on the water of this gorgeous area!

Because of the challenges to merely finding the kayak house, I only was on the water for a bit more than an hour. I was allowed to land the kayak in the area very near where my plane came in. This was a blessing since this spot was quite close to the trailhead for the hike I wanted to do : Tanalian Falls. This was a good hike with a KILLER payoff. The hike to this spot is about 4 miles round trip (you can go much much further) with about 800 feet of elevation gain and is rated easy. Honestly, the beginning of the trail is actually not in national park land, and it’s a decently steep ATV trail up to entering national park land and was not that easy. Most of the elevation gain on this trail in that first half mile or so. But, from there the trail is quite pleasant. Again, this is primitive Alaska back country and in town they said the bears are definitely all around the town, so I was on guard, being a solo hiker. I was getting quite a bit uncomfortable about not seeing any people on the hike but finally saw some people closed to the falls! Much sooner than expected I could hear the roar of water indicating my hike was near an end! These falls are SPECTACULAR. I am guessing the water was nuts due to snow melt, but it was really coming down, and the color of the water…amazing! There is also a short hike up a ledge to get to the top view of the falls….the view of this water is insane! This river eventually makes it way out to the lake. Though I had seen some people coming back from the falls, and I would later see a decent amount more headed to the the falls, my time at the falls was entirely solitary. Not one person. Such an amazing spot, and I had it all to myself! Check out the videos, pardon the poor narration, but the pictures don’t really do it justice!

The bottom of Tanalian Falls.
The top of the falls.
The lower view of the falls.
From the top.
Another video from the top, just a different vantage point.

There is actually a food truck in this town…it was not even high priced, and after my hike I stopped there to refill and concluded my ground trip by checking out the area around the park visitor center more. The weather started looking suspicious for the first and only time of my entire trip, and they rushed to get us out ahead of the storm. We went out on a bigger 10 seat Beechcraft, I guess to avoid bad weather. I got to be copilot! The take off was terrifying and I thought we were going to die, especially when the aircraft went from facing forward to being pushed nearly 90 degrees off that direction. Finally we got up and over the storm! Since we were now flying about 18000 feet as opposed to the 2 or 3000 feet coming in, we were well above the pass, which was disappointing, but we also were able to see Redoubt Volcano and the steam coming from the active volcano, which was certainly neat! A neat approach into Anchorage and we were back on the ground at the end of the afternoon and that concluded my brief visit to Lake Clark National Park!

Redoubt Volcano from the plane. No, that’s not a cloud over the cone. Yes, it is an active volcano. This volcano nearly crashed a plane about 20 years ago…eek!

Overall Impressions: A truly beautiful spot, absolutely stunning, and possibly the most beautiful landscape I have ever seen. Remote. Pristine. Not the easiest to get too. And certainly not the easiest on the wallet to fully experience. But just being in remote Alaska, an area that most people never ever get to visit…that’s special.

The Adventurer Final Word:
I am giving this one 4.5 stars for the same reason I have that to Kenai Fjords: limited accessibility to probably a place of unequaled beauty on this planet. This visit encompassed, probably by a wide margin, the least amount of any National Park I have seen, but that one 6 hour or so excursion was pretty memorable! I think if I had limitless funds and could have done overnights and water taxis to other parts of the lake, and what not it would be a 5 hands down!

Kenai Fjords National Park, AK. June 2022

National Park Count: 30

Hey there Adventurers! I am pretty awestruck by the fact that I have now visited nearly half of the National Parks of the United States. The first 20 years of my life in Indiana, my travels took me no further than my grandparent’s old vacation house near my current home in the Tampa Bay area, and mostly no further than Indianapolis, Nashville, or St. Louis. The following 15 years did not do much more for me – trips to weddings or the such in NY, TN, GA – mostly those type of things. But the last five years? In that time span I have been very blessed and fortunate to be able to do and see things that so few people get a chance to!

Boring sign, but PROOF!

Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the 8 in Alaska, and one of only three that are accessible by road. This park is one of the lesser visited in the country at a mere 350,000 visitors on average, but is only behind Denali and Glacier Bay in Alaska. The part of this park that you can actually step foot in is accessible only by one road about 7 miles long off of the Seward Highway. This is maybe 6 miles short of Seward proper. The other ways to access the park include taking cruise tours or water taxis into the actual fjords of the park, or by taking a couple different helicopter options, all out of Seward.

For this trip I had planned to do a cruise and a hike. The helicopter stuff is relatively short and very pricey, like 400 bucks for 30 minutes! The cruise I selected was the Kenai Fjords National Park Tour operated by Kenai Fjord Tours. This is a 6 hour cruise and very much worth the 150 or so dollars! The captain and staff are awesome and explain all the wildlife seen and explain everything relevant to the trip! It was very soon into the tour that we saw our first humpbacks, and not too long after that we saw orcas, bald eagles, and otters. We also saw a lot of golden seals chilling on rocks on the way out!

THREE ORCAS! The captain explained this was a mom and two kids. Dad was around also, but I was unable to get all 4 in one shot! I snagged this off of my phone video!
Another view of one of the orcas, and this one might have been dad. How neat! I am sure all the other critters in the water were not nearly as impressed!
Humpback Whale Tail! I guess you never really see any more of them that this or a bit of their back/blowhole.
Seals. It is a phone after all!

The air was super warm for Alaska, but with the speed of the vessel and the water temperature, when we were moving it was COLD! Even though it was brutally hot in my layers on shore, I was very glad I had them on the boat! Also, the waters were very very choppy, and at the speed this boat was going it was a roller coaster! In any event, we did see a lot of wildlife and we eventually got to our destination, the Aialik Glacier, one of the glaciers that meets the sea at the end of one of the fjords in the park. This was really neat! The captain was super knowledgeable in describing everything and explaining how the glacier was retreating and how they can determine age based on when plant life starts growing again along the moraines (the left over piles of dirt and rock left by glaciers in retreat). The glacier itself didn’t actually look all that impressive on approach but as we got closer it is pretty big! It’s about a mile and a half wide, three and a half miles long up to the icefield and about 400 feet above the water where it meets the sea. Our boat got close enough to hear the cracks of the glacier and many chunks of ice broke off while we were there. The entire bay here was filled with floating ice and the crew even captured chunks and brought them up for for use to touch (spoiler alert: felt like ice from my freezer!). One interesting tidbit is that since the glacier is in retreat, a new island is actually being “born” out of the ice! That’s cool to see! A quick check on wikipedia shows an image in 2009 where none of the new island is visible at all…and you can see how much is now visible in my picture! Alarm bells! The only disappointing thing about this trip was we didn’t see the famous Spire Cove. The crew member I spoke to said it was captain’s discretion based on time and sea conditions. I think we spent too much time looking for whales and it was cut. Booo. But all good, still a fantastic trip!

Aialik Glacier from a bit of distance.
Close up view, and the “birthing” of the new island!
Iceberg, right ahead!

The next day I got up pretty early and went into the park entrance and visitor’s center. The road parallels a glacial outwash basin and the braided rivers running within. The road is about 7 miles long to the park entrance. After the first mile or so there is really nothing at all other than a couple trail heads that are technically part of the national forest there and some access points to the outwash basin. At some point on the drive you can get a good from-a-distance view of the famed Exit Glacier. Alarms bells continue to sound! The last mile or so of the drive into the visitor center parking lot includes signage indicating the glacial extent since about 1890. This glacier has retreated a LOT in a very rapid time frame, more on that shortly.

The drive into the park gives this view! Well, note the entire drive, this part is actually Exit Glacier from afar, but the road parallels this outwash basin the entire way.
This is more of the view. Pano…they aren’t really good for anything I guess!
So, 120 years ago this entire area was under the ice of Exit Glacier. This spot isn’t even to the visitor center yet. And then it is another couple miles from there to the where the glacier currently is.

This park is very pretty, but it is very primitive. There is a visitor center and one bathroom (running water oddly enough!) There are no snacks, drinks, etc to purchase either. Make sure you use the restroom and bring plenty of water. Probably best to come with a full belly as well. This is extreme moose and bear country. Bears have a hell of good nose and I wouldn’t even let food in a car out here! When I got there, the parking lot was filled with my car and 2 others! Eek! I started walking the trail past the visitor center and there was a sign that said there was an injured grizzly in the area and to be smart. It was utterly silent and there were no signs of people anywhere! I actually went down the path a bit and turned back due to being spooked! I was not really sure what to do, but I was going to wait to see some people! When I got to the visitor center again, a tour bus filled with people, including the lady I met on the cruise the previous day, got off. They were only there for like 30 minutes, but I decided to tag along and we all went along the tourist friendly trail.

This trail is pretty accessible and flat. Part of it is even paved if you want to walk that direction (it’s a loop). There is a simple viewing shelter set up that has a view of nothing but brush but if you read the information signs there you can see that the shelter was built in 1987 and at that time the terminus of the glacier was literally right there. Now it’s nowhere near there! The signage indicating the years the glacier reached that particular point continued all along this trail. This entire hike took maybe an hour to explore.

The sun kind of made this not so great of a picture. But for context, maybe 1 mile behind me is the glacier. In front is where this glacier used to be. Even though there are no signs visible here, the spot literally right at the bottom of this picture was where the glacier was in 2000. This entire valley was filled with ice only 100 years ago. That’s insane.
Nuts. In relation to the picture right above, I merely turned around and took this shot. Apparently, I missed a picture of the 2014 sign (I think it was 2014, and it might be in a video somewhere that I missed) but that sign is on that right side rock. And then the distance from there to the bottom of the glacier has happened in 7ish years. This glacier will be gone very soon.

I had a reservation in Seward for the sealife center for around 2 and it was now only about 9.30. There was one other trail, the “legit” trail that leads all the way up to the icefield, called the Harding Icefield. I wasn’t really prepared to do it. The day before someone working the visitor center when I stopped in for some recon (looked like a volunteer) said I would need snow gear, which I didn’t have. However, on this morning, I spoke directly to a ranger. He looked at my trusty Columbia hiking shoes, said they were good enough, make sure I had a hiking pole, and I could make it about halfway to a spot called the Marmut Meadow which gives the best up close views of the glacier at just a little above eye level. This trail….gorgeous vistas. Stunning really. This hike is not easy by any stretch. The entire length that I did was uphill. And eventually you are hiking through some pretty sketchy snow areas. The mileage to this point was about 3.5 miles with 1300 feet of elevation gain. And, because it was in the 70s, it was melting. Of course, the snow is not actually on the ground, it’s on top of bent over plantlife, so your foot can easily go through not only the snow, but then the rest of the way until it hits something hard and stops, which includes things that are not flat and easy on the old legs! Anyway, eventually I made it to that Marmot Meadows spot. I stopped a bit early and didn’t think going further was smart, but then about 10 or 15 people passed me and I saw how they went, so all was good and I continued. The meadow spot was a rock outcrop with great views of the glacier and, I assume, a beautiful meadow under all the snow. I stopped, had a beer, took many pictures and videos and just soaked it in for a moment! From this spot, it was turn around or continue up the mountain to the icefield, which would be about 2 more miles and entirely under snow. Nope. No thanks. The hike down through the snow was not pleasant at all but I made it with no injuries, somehow. And that was it for exploring the park, mostly!

Me, at Marmot Meadows in front of the top of the terminus of Exit Glacier. Some nice fellow hikers offer to take this picture. That vest I am wearing? Absolutely unnecessary. It was super warm … hence the glacier retreating like mad :(.

I did return to the visitor center later that evening, and also early the following morning. Coming back through at about 10 PM I saw a moose running through the outwash and, well, that’s not normal, so I stopped, got out and watched as mama moose apparently decided to be a better mom and was running to rescue her baby who was stuck in the rocks in the rushing river, VERY FAR AWAY, and was in quite a bit of trouble. There were some people across the street at a KOA who were out there as well and we all kinda followed a bit. The mama and baby eventually made their way up to the road right in front of me and I hurried my butt back to my car before mama got annoyed. Then I got some nice pictures from the safety of the car :). The following morning, as I came toward the entrance of the park I saw a moose come out in my rear mirror. I pulled a quick turn around and tried to get a shot, but she went into the brush. I turned around again to go back toward the entrance and it happened! TWO grizzly kids came running out across the road RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I got the best national park sign ever with those two, and so made a perfect ending to my adventure in Kenai Fjords National Park!

Baby had a close call with the Circle of Life.
BEST EVER NATIONAL PARK SIGN PICTURE! Hands down!

Overall impressions: It’s Alaska. It’s remote. It’s wild. It’s amazing. Part of the awesomeness of this area is that which is Alaska. The whole area is phenomenal. That being said, you are limited to two hikes, one of which is pretty easy and the other which is pretty hard, and to boat tours. The park is gorgeous to be sure, but you will probably find yourself doing as many or even more things outside the park area than in the park proper. And that’s ok, the whole area is awesome!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Giving this one 4.5 stars! It’s phenomenal but a little small in scope of activities for the run of the mill tourist!

Bark Ranger Happenings!

Hey adventurers! I am still working on my Alaska entry, but in the meantime I am excited to introduce the new “thing” I alluded to a while back! The Sidekick and I have started a brand new Facebook Group: Bark Rangers of the U.S. National Parks. What you’ll want to do is click on that link and hit the join button! We are looking to create an active and thriving group of people who want to share their pictures, adventures, and info on visits to dog friendly parks (not just national parks, but also national forests, and local parks as well) in the US!

Bark Ranger Bella and I recently hit several spots in the Southeast. I will have a specific post for those shortly but for now I am going to just shares some pics!

First we checked out Cloudland Canyon State Park. This is a neat place on Lookout Mountain outside of Chattanooga, TN, but technically in Georgia. It surprised me to find out this was on Lookout Mountain, but it’s a very loooong mountain. Anyway, I got a few awesome pics of my baby bark ranger girl! Fyi, she wears her hat like a pro and has no issues with it!

In love with the side eye in this picture!
Full disclosure, this one required a treat!

Stone River National Battlefield. This one is basically in Murfreesboro, TN and protects Civil War battlegrounds.

Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park. This one is on top of Lookout Mountain, overlooking Chattanooga. The specific spot is called Point Park.

Next up was Ocmulgee Mounds National Historic Site. This is in Macon, GA and protects native mounds and lands dating back more than 10 THOUSAND YEARS.

I like this one, because the sign is super cool. The bird is the same design as the bird sculpted into the clay floor (original) of a structure called the Earth Lodge.

Andersonville National Historic Site. This site located in Andersonville, GA, is the site where 35,000 Union Soldiers were imprisoned, and many buried in what is now an active National Cemetery.

The end of our tour was a stop at the Jimmy Carter National Historic Site in Plains, GA. Bark Ranger Bella was a little tired and both of us were being chased and eaten by bugs…so pictures were not the best of her, BUT I got a cute one of her on a spot that Future President Carter carved his name into concrete at the spot he grew up!

Be sure to go to the new page and join for more info and pictures from people all around the country! See you there!

Yesterday’s Alaskan Adventure!

So yesterday’s adventure took us from Seward, eventually back to Anchorage. Here’s a little sample of what happened! Today’s adventure takes me on a bush plane to Lake Clark National Park. I’ll hopefully have an update tomorrow!

Best sign pic yet!
A waterfall back in Girdwood
Hey bear!
The 4 above were all at Portage Lake, near Whittier. The 3 below were all in the same general area, as well!

The three above were all along the Byron Glacier Trail. The glacier is actually above my head and to my left (my right side).

Yesterday’s Alaskan adventures!

Hey there adventurers! Yesterday I took a day cruise from Seward to see a Kenai Fjords glacier up close! Along the way we saw humpbacks, orcas, seals, bald eagles, and sea otters. More of that later, but I thought I’d share a few pictures, including some good ones I got from the drive along the Seward Highway!

Somewhere along the highway. This is possibly my new favorite picture that I took….
And only about 15 minutes earlier I snagged this one which I loved as well.
Aialik Glacier. You can see its retreat is sprouting a new island.

On my way!

This is my first time flying Alaska airlines and the first leg was pretty good! I feel extremely humbled and blessed to no longer call my Alaska trip “my Alaska trip” anymore! Anyway, I snagged this picture of Mt. Rainier from the plane. Usually those pictures don’t turn out so well but I think this one looks really nice! I am going to (once again) try to give some in progress updates on this trip. Next stop, Anchorage!

Arches National Park, UT. Somehow, part 2. May 2022.

National Park Count: 29

Somehow…part 2!

Hey there adventurers! To clarify the subtitle…you can read part 1, specific to my visit to Canyonlands, or…you can just read the next couple sentences! Long story, short, I had some travel ado, slept on an airport floor, arrived late to Utah with next to no sleep, and began my second Utah adventure! (You can check out my first adventure in Utah, with the Sidekick, here.) After a pretty fierce tour of most of what I wanted to experience in Canyonlands I began my visit to Arches National Park.

As a reminder, I have a post on tips and tricks for visiting national parks. Something as simple as merely visiting (and actually reading) park websites is a must. It is critical, now, to be aware of timed entry requirements and other potential ticketing requirements. I also detail the IMMENSE importance of getting into parks (especially busy ones) before sunup. Arches is one of these parks. I had not secured a timed entry pass as of the night before so I got up around 4 AM to head to Arches. But, I thought, hmm..let me check anyway, just in case. I found a 6 AM pass available and snagged it! (This proved to be a very important item in a couple hours!). From my hotel, I drove the hour or so to the entrance and arrived at 5.30 AM. I will add, that even at this early hour, the entrance station was manned, so you aren’t avoiding entrance fees at the early pre dawn hours, but buy a damned annual parks pass and be a decent human being! In any event, pre 6 AM you do not need a timed entry pass. BUT…I learned a few potentially helpful things! After showing my parks pass, the ranger cleared me in, but I wanted to clarify that I could leave and come back since I had a 6 AM pass. She said, oh, yes, but I have to scan it first, otherwise you cannot. Weird. Had I not specifically asked, she would mot have scanned my pass and I would NOT have been able to re-enter! Unbeknownst to me, I had a GoPro micro sd card that was dangerously close to full after my first hike…and the visitor center has the regular sized ones to buy, but not the little ones. So, at about 8 AM I actually did need to leave the park to go into Moab. Thank goodness I had snagged that pass! But…when I came back in that ranger looked me up and THEN said he ALSO needed the park map!? Well, since I collect and display them, of course I had it from a just a few hours earlier, but what if I had lost it? Or went back to a room and dropped it off? He said point blank, no re-entry without it…and he even put a pink sticker on it and said I had to show to another ranger monitoring at the roundabout. And she did check. Whoa. Super strict, AND none of this was on the website, mind you. The rec.gov site simply says if you have a pass you can leave and come back it. I am not really sure what the problem is if I had a 6 AM pass and came in, left and came back, verus, I DIDN’T come in at 6 and instead came in at 10….really those two make no difference at all…but it is what it is. Just make sure you have the rangers scan your pass if you go in ahead of hours, and make sure you have your map!

Ok, so after all of that, off to fun Arches stuff! So I have to say this park is pretty small, but pretty damn amazing! Right off the bat this place is super neat! Even the entrance is on point! Once you pass the station to take short windy road up and then boom, there it is! The park opened in front of me. It really looks like another planet! Off in the distance is the ever vigilant La Sal Mountains, and in the nearby landscape is this huge open area of petrified sand dunes (that term doesn’t actually make sense to me, but it is what it is…). So the entire park sits on top of a lot of salt that was laid down millions of years ago. The area was underwater. Then it wasn’t, then it was, and repeat. In between, stuff was laid down on top of the salt over time and became rock. All this rock sits on top of all that salt. And salt doesn’t stay put, it actually kinda…flows or something. Eventually all the weight on top compresses the salt and forces it into domes and ridges. Eventually the rock on top gives and cracks creating fractures that make rock fins. It is a rare occurrence to actually form an arch, but that part is done by erosion, mostly water, if the conditions are extremely right. Most of the erosion is from the side of a fin, but some arches were formed from pools of water that made potholes that worked their way from the top to the sides of the rock fin. Arches National Park is not the only place in the world, and not even the only place in Utah, or even in the Moab area to have arches, but it does have the most in one spot on the planet, at over 2 THOUSAND!

These are fins. I show this particular picture because the fin dead center has an arch in it. They are essentially long, tall, and thin outcroppings. Taken by me.
And obviously, this is an arch. This is the arch in the fin in the picture above! Taken by me.

My first stop was Delicate Arch! As I came in early, the park was DESERTED. There was nearly no one there. At 5.45 AM there were maybe 6 cars in the lot. That was it. It was not quite sunrise, but I would not be able to make it in time. However, I wasn’t concerned about that as the sky was wonderfully filled with clouds…so, anyway, I did the hike to the arch. The hike itself is about 3 miles round trip. It’s not terribly difficult or painful…except for one bastard area. There is a pretty lengthy stretch of very steep slick rock. Going up actually wasn’t too much of a problem, but going down was not kind at all, at all, at all! But, I digress! After 1.5 miles of hiking, and going around the last corner, there she was! The most famous landmark in the park, the arch featured on the Utah state license plate, the Delicate Arch. There were people there, to be sure, but maybe 20? It was beautiful and serene. Had there been a decent sunrise it might have been better, but as it was, it was just perfect! I stayed up there a bit, had a snack, took some photos, lamented my lack of a beer to frame in the arch (what was up with that? I had beer with me, just in the car, and didn’t take any beer pictures at all in Utah!?), and just existed. The spot I choose to park myself down on was empty of people and gave a great arch frame of the La Sal Mountains as a backdrop! Upon leaving I was very dismayed to discover that I did, indeed, have to go back down the way I came up. That meant dealing with that slick rock spot. As I ascended this spot, there was a little nugget in the back of my brain that I was not going to be a happy camper coming back down. The knees are not great so this was rough. Going up is rarely a problem. It is always the going down that is a hassle…and this was really not cool. I sorta took it personally too. (Don’t worry, I might have called the rock a m*****f*****, but I later asked forgiveness from another rock and was not squished to death, so I think we are all good!) Anyway, as I finished coming down, I took an offshoot trail that goes to some old native petroglyphs. Whenever I see stuff like this, I cannot help but stand in awe at the history and the circumstances of the people who first discovered and settled in areas like this.

Delicate Arch! The La Sal Mountains form a beautiful backdrop. Taken by me.
Look at me mom! I have a hat! (also that was about the extent of people there this early on this day as well!)
The featured photo on this entry was a gorgeous wildflower found on this trail as well, but here are so more flowers somehow surviving out here! Taken by me.
Admittedly, it’s a rather small feature, but still, neat. I wonder if modern graffiti will be viewed as a “petroglyph” some day? Taken by me,

This is the point that I discovered my GoPro memory card had 2 measly minutes of recording time left, so at this point I left the park and returned restocked, 30 minutes later. Interestingly, the line to get in was still only 2 or 3 cars, and it was well after 8 AM. After re-entering I then decided to make some stops as per the Gypsy Guide and get in some learning about the park! The drive down the main road is replete with awesome things to see straight from the car! I went off from the main drag and headed down a side road to another cool area that features a balanced rock, people with larger huevos than I, climbing up the side of these sheer rock formations, and many, many more arches. I also found probably my favorite part of the park, The Windows area.

This area is access by the Windows Road and leads past several cool things to a very large arch feature called, appropriately enough, The Windows. This whole area is probably my favorite spot in the park. The walk to the two windows is nice and easy with cool things to see. And then, you can actually get into the thick of the arches, both The Windows and also the nearby Turret Arch. As I have said many times, people in national parks are very predictable. The trail to the north and south windows contained the most people. There is a side trail that goes off to Turret Arch. It was nearly empty. Shocking. And, even though the two Windows Arches are physically joined and just require a pretty short extra walk, the people going to the south one were much fewer than the crowd hanging around the north window. Additionally, you can go around the south arch and get into a little nook that it helps form and just chill there. And then, there is a primitive loop trail that goes entirely behind the whole area. NOT ONE SINGLE PERSON. Not one. Not one single solitary person was on that trail other than me. It is a pretty sweet way to see a part of the area without humans around! The trail is not marked other than a couple signs informing you that way isn’t it, and some cairns. But, it isn’t like you can really get lost or anything. I also found it interesting how part of this trail went through a very heavy vegetative section. I suppose this little nook must afford some better living conditions!

Balanced Rock. Taken by me.
This is The Windows. I called it the Batman and I think my name is better! The left one is the North Window. There were a ton of people in that area. You cannot see them for the rock in the foreground, but they are there. That is also the closest to the parking lot. The South Window, not exactly far away, was nearly human free…..
… and just a bit to my back and right from the previous picture is the Turret Arch. This was a furthest from the parking lot. And you can see no one hanging out by the arch.
If you take the primitive loop trail behind The Windows you come out through this area which was a nice contrast of color! In the background you can see one of the “elephants” in the Parade of Elephants area mentioned in the next paragraph. Taken by me.

After making my way off the primitive loop trail, it was a short walk down the road to access the Double Arch Trail. This trail is another easy one, just a bit longer. There are lots of cool animal looking features in this are. One definitely looks like an Elephant and that feature is called the Parade of Elephants. This area was more crowded, but still not bad. There are, shockingly enough, two arches that make up the Double Arch. They were both formed as a pothole that eroded down from the top, rather than from the side, as is more common. This one is actually the tallest in the park and also the second widest. With a little scrambling and climbing there is a way to climb up into the actual arch opening and see the view out of the window to the back side. The back is a pretty sheer drop that would not end well, so watch your footing! Following this, I passed brave climbers in the Garden of Eden area and watched them for a minute as they climbed the hoodoos here. Those people are nuts! Anyway, I made my way out of The Windows area and headed to the very end of the park drive.

Double Arch. Taken by me.
Double Arch selfie style!

After a stop and talk with a ranger at the Fiery Furnace area of the park – you can’t do this hike on your own without a ranger and a permit – I made it to the Devils Garden area of the park. This is the end of the road and the start of the Devils Garden Trailhead, which was my next stop. There is quite a large parking area here, but at about 11 AM or so, this area was pretty packed and I found one of the last parking spots available at the end of the loop! This is a nice trail. It was quite hot at this point, but the trail starts in a slot between fins that keeps you shaded for a bit. There are many rock fins in the area giving some neat formations to look at throughout the hike. My destination was Landscape Arch but there are a couple side arches to be seen as well, so I did those also. One of those is my “educational” picture early on in the post, Pine Tree Arch. Landscape Arch is the longest natural stone arch in the world at 290 feet long. Relatively recently, a big section of it collapsed and now there are parts that are only SEVEN feet thick. Whether this spells the beginning of the end of the arch or the arch merely shedded excess weight and increased it’s longevity remains to be seen, but in any event, you could once hike right under it (a not pleasant looking hike to be sure) but now have to see it from a bit of a distance. Still, a very cool thing to see! Now, at this point I had a decision to make, this trail actually goes on for a quite a while longer and to see some more awesome stuff. If I return to Arches I will probably do it. But on this day, my knees were tender after coming down from the Delicate Arch hike, so I turned back. Plus it was pretty intensely sunny and pretty warm. Also, it was approaching lunch time!

The Fiery Furnace. With a permit and a ranger, it is possible to hike in there, even though it doesn’t look like there is anywhere to squeeze in! Taken by me.
The iconic Landscape Arch, the longest stone arch in the world.

After departing the Devils Garden area I made a few stops before departing the park. I stopped and did a mini hike to get a view of Skyline Arch. I stopped at the Courthouse Towers and the Park Avenue area. There is a hike to be done on a future visit as well…but see the last sentence of the previous paragraph! So that concluded my visit to Arches National Park, National Park Number 29!

Skyline Arch, easily seen from the road, but there is a short hike to get a better vantage point. Taken by me.
This is part of the Park Avenue area. I did not do the hike here but a return visit I would! It leads out to….
…the COurthouse Towers. There are few of these, not just this one. Both taken by me.

Overall impressions: This place is stunning. Really, a very unique place on planet earth. It is very close to a town, rather than the 25 or 30 miles Canyonlands is (in case you need something…oops). I could be wrong about this, but I feel this park had more places to stop and relax and there some decent hiking opportunities if want, but yet you could see many of the awesome things in the park without leaving the car too far behind. That being the case there are 2 knocks. The timed entry is one. There is nothing to be done about it either, so it is what it is. And, even though I missed some things, I still feel the park is quite small and somewhat limited in scope of things one can do.

The Adventurer Final Word:
Giving this one 4.5 stars! I am not sure if it was better than Zion or not, so it gets the same rating!

ALASKA BOUND!

Hey there Adventurers! I haven’t even finished my Arches entry yet (that’s coming later today or tomorrow) and here I am on the verge of more cool shit! Next week I am getting on a plane and headed to the land of the midnight sun! (go here to read about my 2017 Alaska trip!) I don’t want to say this trip snuck up on me (I planned this one back in February after all!) but this is a big trip and I feel like the time has flown by!

Anyway, weather permitting my rough itinerary:
Day 1: Land in Anchorage, get rental car, stop at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Get to Girdwood and check out the scene that evening and Girdwood Brewery Co.
Day 2: Boat tour to the Kenai Fjords National Park with Kenai Fjords Tours hang in Seward, Seward Brewing Co.
Day 3: Hike in the park/Seward area, check out the Alaska Sealife Center.
Day 4: Work my way back to Anchorage and explore some other parts of the Kenai, Cooper Landing Brewing Co and maaaaybe Kenai River Brewing Co, but it’s a bit far…and I also want to check out the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Day 5: Bush Plane ride with Lake Clark Air to Port Alsworth on Lake Clark.
Day 6: Hang around Anchorage all day, maybe do Flattop Peak, overlooking Anchorage midnight flight back to Florida!

The featured image is one of the NPS pictures of Lake Clark. Obviously, I havent been there so next time I post a Lake Clark picture it should be my own! Temps are looking like mid 60s/high 40s! Sunrise around 4.30 AM/Sunset about 11:30 PM. In Anchorage, even, the last night that got to Astronomical Night was May 6. The darkest I will have is the sun between 6 and 12 degrees below the horizon before it starts coming up again!

I would like to quickly add that this was an expensive flight, (like $8-900) entirely free via my new handy Alaska Airlines Credit card. If anyone is interested in learning more, feel free to ask!

Lastly, I am planning on doing some mid-trip updates if I am in spots with working wifi! Be sure to check in later next week! And be looking for that Arches post very soon!

Canyonlands National Park, UT. Somehow, Part 1. April/May 2022

National Park Count: 28

Somehow.

Greetings fellow adventurers! Well, my whirlwind travel habits nearly derailed me this time! Thankfully I was able to wrestle a positive experience out of the jaws of disappointment. There was little downtime, little sleeping, and much exhaustion, but I managed to have a pretty satisfying experience of Canyonlands and Arches!

Without getting into too much, I was quite delayed in my arrival with airport and plane issues which got me into Salt Lake much later and with nearly 0 sleep. After retrieving my rental vehicle it was straight out of SLC and on to Green River, UT where my hotel was located. The drive out of Salt Lake was not really what I expected, surprisingly green and with snow capped peaks. These views eventually gave way to the desert as I hit the long stretch to the Motel 6. As a side note, this Motel 6 was actually shockingly decent and only 100 bucks a night! Anyway, I checked in refreshed a bit (remember 2 hours of sleep?!) and then off to the “Island in the Sky” district of Canyonlands. The drive from Green River to Canyonlands is about an hour through the desert But it is all scenic and definitely different from the Florida landscape! After turning onto the road leading into the park I turned on the trusty Gypsy App. It was not long before the first suggested stop came! At this point I will admit some ignorance. I had a general idea of a mesa, and butte, and a plateau…but this area is full of them and I wouldn’t have been able to tell you one from the other. The Gypsy guide was quick to educate on all the relevant terms needed for visiting the park! This first stop was to see two iconic buttes, The Merrimack and Monitor – named after their resemblance to those two civil war ships. This was a fun preview of the rest of the trip where I spent a lot of time making my own names for rocks!

The Merrimack and Monitor. I wasn’t really expecting to need my Civil War history, but here we are! Taken by me.
Surprisingly, many beautiful wildflowers seem to survive in this inhospitable environment! Taken by me.

The Merrimack and Monitor are not actually within the boundaries of the national park; it was still many miles from that spot, passing grassland (???) and herds of cattle grazing in the open fields. Though there were signs warning of wait times, the entrance to the park was wide open and after snapping the entrance picture, in I went to National Park 28! After a quick stop at the visitor center I walked across the street to get some spectacular views of the cliffs of the Island of the Sky mesa and the “White Rim,” 1000 feet below stretching as far as the eye could see, and then even further down, another 1000 feet to the canyons that the rivers have carved out. I was very surprised at the expanse of the area leading off to the distant La Sal Mountains. The only sign of civilization was the well known Shafer Road snaking through the cliffs below my vantage point.

The Shafer Trail, a perilous looking drive from the top of the mesa to the White Rim area. This is the view closest to the visitor center.
Here is a (lengthy) video I took from another viewpoint of this trail/road. Worth a view I think! Taken by me.

I next crossed the “Neck”, the proper entrance to the Island in the Sky. Now, at this point we might need a bit of geographical information (and you might want to take a peek at the picture under this paragraph) The park actually is the largest in Utah and at 300,000 plus acres is divided into 4 districts. One district is the made up of the Green and Colorado Rivers themselves. Another district is the remote and not easily accessible “Maze.” Another is the also remote but easier to get to (I did not on this trip) “Needles” district. I only visited the Island in the Sky district on this trip, which is the very accessible part of the park. It is called this because it literally is like an Island in the Sky! Once you pass the Neck, you are are on a large mesa wherein you can literally can walk in any direction possible and eventually you are going to walk off of a 1200 foot cliff! No slight slopes down to the bottom, none of that, just pretty much straight falling to the “middle” area of the canyons. Now there are a couple trails and roads (like the Shafer Road) that do get you down there but just assume you’ll fall off a cliff. Also, apparently at times the clouds sit below the mesa and gives a much more convincing visual of an “island in the sky.” Anyway, at the bottom of those cliffs lies the sort of “middle” section of the topography, the white rim. And then from there is the bottom layer, the canyons that are currently hiding the river or recent areas where the rivers have been.

The Park Service info card does a much better job describing the area. Open it in a new tab to zoom in if you would like!

Now that you know a little of the lay of the land, let’s continue! So I ventured past the neck. This was quite a surprisingly green area at this point! In recent history farmers kept their cattle up on this mesa and gated off the neck. The cows could go anywhere because of the cliffs! And there is a large amount of grassland in this section! Also, it is worth noting that ancient Puebloans lived up here as well and some of traces are still seen in the area! There is essentially one paved road through the area, and it goes essentially from the park entrance, through the neck and all the way to the southern point of the mesa, with an offshoot to the west to another chunk of the mesa. This was my path. I would consider this park to be more of a driving and get out and walk park more than a big hiker park. But that was quite ok for my tired self! I stopped pretty much everywhere the Gypsy Guide said and still did do a couple walks/hikes.

First up was the Mesa Arch! This is one of the big draws of this park and can be pretty busy. I was not there at sunrise or sunset, so it wasn’t too bad! Cool little feature for sure! The hike from the road was not too long at all, and there is a little loop you can do rather than out and back. Bonus, you can hike along the edge of the cliff to the side of the arch and get yourself in a position to see it from the other side, sort of! Also, I do have a gripe. People can be rude. Though there was not a large crowd there, a couple dudes decided to just sit down basically right in a spot in front of the arch that basically impeded everyone’s view…and they were in no hurry to move. I mean, come on!

Pretty wild flowers, again, how weird!?, in the Mesa Arch Area. Taken by me.
It wasn’t sunrise or sunset, but I think of a very limited amount of people made for a much more enjoyable moment! Taken by me.
So, no one was venturing up here, so I thought it was a good spot to check out the other side of the arch, which, if you can’t see it, it’s on the middle right of the picture and you can just barely make out a small opening there. Taken by me.

From there I drove all the way to the end of the road to Grand View point and did a good chunk of the overlook trail there. Also in this area is the Orange Cliffs view where you can see….well…cliffs that are kinda orange in the sun! You also get a viewpoint of the Maze area from up here. This was probably my favorite spot in the park. It was deserted, and had some killer views! It also had some sweet opportunities to hike around and explore without being bothered, just watch your step!

A shot along the trail of the Grand View Point. There is a road down there. That one is drivable with a permit! Taken by me.
Another spot along that Grand View Point. Taken by me.
A peek of the “Orange Cliffs” I had to venture out pretty far and off the beaten path for this! Taken by me.
Quick video of the area of the Orange Cliffs. Taken by me.

The last segment of my day was the drive back to the exit, but I took the offshoot road that I passed by earlier that goes out to Upheaval Dome. Now at this point it was getting late and I was super tired, so I was just doing some recon for the most part for potentially the next day. However, the sun was lower in the sky and the Gypsy Guide was quite insistent on taking a peek at the Green River Overlook, which was maybe one of the only spots to see that river from this district of the park. Then it was off to Moab Brewery for dinner and beer and then back to my hotel for another super early start for Arches National Park.

This has a name but I cannot remember it at all. Easily seen from the road! Taken by me.

I am doing a separate post on my visit to Arches, but after I finished my day there I came back to Canyonlands for the late afternoon! When I was leaving the previous day from Upheaval Dome, there was another hike the Gypsy Guide strongly suggested so I was looking forward to two more hikes. After revisiting the Shafer Road viewpoint I headed straight for Upheaval Dome. The hike to the overlook for the dome was not much to write home about, but the dome itself is a fairly neat looking feature in the park! The dome itself is somewhat of a mystery! One thing that is very cool about this area is how you can see the different layers of rock throughout the cliffs and canyons. These layers tell the history of the rock. The rock that is visible at the top of the dome is quite old and should not be where it is. I had seen some of that color in small areas and it was way at the bottom of the cliffs, but in this spot that color was pretty far up. There are two disputed theories, one being a meteor impact, and the other being that a layer of salt compacted by the weight of the rock above created a bubbled or sorts that deformed the land above it. It seems that new evidence points to the meteor impact, happening around 60 million years ago! Cool!

Upheaval Dome….you decided! Impact or salt dome deformation? Taken by me.

My last stop in the park was a…half fulfilling… hike called Aztec Butte. The hike wasn’t really long, but a part of it seemed very sketchy so I only did part of it. The hike starts easy enough, a sandy walk around a smalle butte. About 3 tenths or so in there is a split to actually ascend that butte. On top are some nice views of the area. There is also a spot where you can get down on some ledges on the side of the butte and access some old Puebloan granaries, they are original, and they are small…but neat nonetheless and several hundreds of years old. They are very well hidden on purpose, even from local wildlife. The next part of the trail, however, seemed like a much bigger payoff but it seemed a bit perilous to me. This part also made an ascent up a butte, but this one was much bigger. There was no path per se, just cairn markers up the side on the very steep “slick rock”. (Slick rock will be mentioned more in the Arches entry – but it’s essentially very smooth sandstone, pretty steep, but provides good grip, unless it’s wet). To be honest, I gave it a fair shake! Here were my issues. Number 1, it had become quite windy. Number 2, it has become very cloudy and the clouds looked rainy. Number 3, I was literally the only person there as it was quite land in the day now. Those three factors together spelled the end of the hike. Supposedly I missed some ruins on the top and some more intact type of structures on the cliffs edge, which I read are quite treacherous to get to anyway. So that concluded my Canyonlands experience!

These buggers are well hidden and well protected! What is not seen is a pretty steep curve to my left and down. The edge of the top of the butte is visible and to get up there required navigating a crack that is obscured by that tree’s left vertical branch. Don’t trip there. You wouldn’t like the results. At least not for very long!. Taken by me.
Here is the slope. The Pueblo granaries are in the black nook there in the middle. Taken by me.
If you look closely toward the center top you can see a cairn marking the “trail.” The payoff is pretty far up there and seemed suspect to me with the wind and the rainy looking clouds coming from behind. Taken by me.

Overall impressions: Before I get to my nifty Final Word blurb…I don’t want to use the term “hating on”…a lot of people seem to put this one low on their list of Utah parks. To each their own, I rather thought this was an amazing place that requires a little more preparation and equipment than I was able to give to it. Pros: Awesome, VAST, and other-wordly views. If you ever wanted to go to another planet and cannot, ahem, I don’t think you can get much closer than here. If you want to see several awesome things and have limited time, you certainly can do that. This is a park that is very drive friendly without much in the way of any challenging hiking, for the most part. There also was almost no one here when I was there (but I don’t know if that’s normal or not!) Cons: The spread out districts make a good exploration of all of the park very difficult. Outside of the visitor center there is only one other spot to really stop and chill, at the trailhead of the Upheaval Dome. There were toilets sprinkled about, but even the ones at the visitor center were composting. The visitor center has very limited supplies and it’s about 25 miles from the main highway …and the gas station there is pretty ill stocked as well!

The Adventurer Final Word:
Giving this one a 4 star rating! They can’t all be 5s and I gave Zion a 4.5.

Hiccup!

Hey adventurers! My first ever mobile post and curious how it works compared to on the computer! Anyway, I am writing to you from a plane at the Denver Airport about to depart to Salt Lake…and I was intending to be halfway between Salt Lake and Moab right now, so obviously there were issues! Gonna make the best out of what I got dealt! I kinda always envisioned my National Parks tour as a more quick taste and then find the ones I really want to spend lots of time at later in life, so I am not gonna stress anything! Till the next time, do cool shit!