Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Bryce Canyon

(Continuing the recap of my mid-October trip to southern Utah and Northern Arizona...)

Two National Parks down - one to go!

National Park number three!

Despite the damp weather, so far our Southwestern US trip had been a success.  My hubby and I had spent time at both Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon's North Rim.  Now it was time to head north again to visit the final National Park on our agenda - Bryce Canyon.

First panorama

Leaving Jacob Lake, Arizona, we headed back into Utah.  And for once it wasn't raining!  Although a few low clouds still hung in the sky, at least they weren't dropping moisture.  It was a dry, uneventful three hour drive to Bryce Canyon. 

Interesting rock formations

After the requisite park sign photos (hey, it's a tradition!) we headed to the visitor center.  Not only needing to use the little girl's room, I also wanted to get some hiking recommendations.

Super muddy trail!

Turned out it was a good thing we stopped by the visitor center.  I learned:  1.)  The park shuttle system was done for the season and  2.) 5 inches of rain that fell over the past week had rendered most of the hiking trails impassible, either by rockfall or thick gooey mud.  The only ones still open were the Queen's Garden and Navajo Loops.

These hoodoos looked like ship masts

Darn!  Foiled by rain once again!  And on a non-stormy day....

Looking down on Queen's Garden

But we'd traveled all the way for Oregon to see this National park, and see it we would, despite the trail closures.

Trees growing on narrow ridge

So Roger and I headed to the Queen's Garden Trailhead.  A short walk from one of the many parking lots led us to Bryce Canyon's edge.  Looking out over the rim, I gasped at the multitudes of colorful rock spires stretching out in all directions, as far as the eye could see.

Peek-a-boo canyon

These tall, slender spires, known as hoodoos, were formed by water and ice erosion.  Bryce Canyon is composed of limestone, siltstone and dolomite layers.  An uplift of the Colorado Plateau created cracks in these layers, enabling water to flow into the rock.  Over time, the water's action widened these cracks into deep slot canyons.  Variations in rock layers created the interesting shapes of these strange features.

The trail down into Queen's Garden

A Paiute Indian legend tells of a people who lived in a beautiful city built by Coyote.  When these people began behaving badly towards Coyote, he transformed them all into stone. (The endless rows of hoodoos do kind of resemble a crowd of people...)

Narrow rock gap

A sign pointed towards a nearby viewpoint.  Of course I wanted to see it!  Following the rim trail, Roger and I had our first encounter with Bryce Canyon's famous sticky mud.  The consistency of peanut butter, it clung to our shoes like glue.  Luckily it wasn't very deep, or our boots would have stayed behind.  Now I understood the reason for so many trail closures.

Heading towards a tunnel

After oohing and aahhing at the viewpoint (and trying in vain to scrape mud off our boot soles!)  we turned around and headed back through the mud to the Queen's Garden trailhead.  The trail dived down into the canyon itself, passing by lots of tall, impressive hoodoos.

View through the tunnel

Oh there was so much to see!  Every bend in the path brought another group of spectacular rock carvings.  They rose from the canyon's bottom, like colorful church steeples.  The bright earthtones of pink, orange, and cream made for lovely photo subjects (despite the cloudy gray skies).

Tall spires above

Since this was one of the few trails still open, it was extremely busy.  We definitely were not alone.  People of all ages, shapes, and sizes streamed up and down the path.  Sometimes I had to wait my turn to get a photo.  I was surprised to see so many people still here in mid-October.

Taking in the scenery subjects!  There was always something catching my eye, and I lagged far behind my hubby.  Poor Roger was forced to wait for me many times.

We added the Navajo Loop to our hike

After a mile and a half, we came upon a junction with the Navajo Loop.  It advertised a short half mile jaunt to Sunset Point, so of course we decided to check it out.

The steep climb out

This trail took visitors back up the canyon.  A steep path that wound through a narrow canyon, we traversed sets of never-ending switchbacks until finally reaching the rim.

The rewards of our climb

Although this climb got our hearts thumping, I didn't mind at all - the views were fantastic!

Thor's Hammer

We passed by a tall hoodoo with a square rock perched upon a slender column.  Named "Thor's Hammer" it was one of the park's more well-known attractions.

Windy trail to the rim

Once again back on the rim, Roger and I followed another path, hugging the very edge.  Oh was the scenery spectacular!

Admiring the view at the canyon's rim

I couldn't get enough of these colorful hoodoos.  Even Roger got in on the action, taking shots with his little camera.

The hoodoos go forever!

The rock pillar shapes changed depending upon location.  In some places the rock spires were smooth with pointy tops.  Other places, the hoodoos were more uniform in thickness, with lots of cracks circling their sides. 

Interesting formations

To me, the rock formation shapes and colors reminded me of prehistoric times.  They looked like something you'd see on a "Flintstones" cartoon (Yabba, Dabba, Doo!)

No place like Bryce Canyon!

Although short and crowded, I totally enjoyed our trip through the Queen's Garden and Navajo Loops.  But once we'd explored these trails, it was still early afternoon.  With most of the other trails closed, what else could we see?  Happily my hubby and I did find another cool place.  I'll share that, and more of Bryce Canyon's wondrous scenery in my next post.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Perfect Powder on Mt. Hood

While I've been posting photos from my October National Parks trip, fun stuff has been happening at home.  Its ski season!!  Taking a brief break from my vacation recaps, I wanted to share a recent ski trip on a perfectly powdery bluebird day.  (Bryce Canyon photos are coming in my next post - I promise!)

Picture perfect morning!

Between Christmas and New Year, the snow gods delivered big time on Mt. Hood.  Storm after storm rolled through the Cascades, coating the mountaintops with layers of white fluff.  The Wednesday after Christmas, the skies cleared.  My friends John and Young made plans to ski up Mt. Hood and invited me along.  I hemmed and hawed about taking a vacation day from work.  I'd been extremely busy with a large project and was worried about falling behind.

Sparkly snow

But in the end, as it always does, the promise of a sunny ski day won out.  Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood was reporting 7 inches of new fluffy snow.  Blue skies and fresh powder?  The heck with work!  I requested the day off (on my deathbed I knew I wouldn't be wishing I'd worked more).

John, our trailbreaking hero!

Pulling into the Timberline Lodge parking lot that morning, Mt. Hood gleamed a brilliant white.  John, giddy with the prospect of fresh snow, told Young and I he planned to take us all the way up to Illumination Rock.  Gulp!  That's a 3500 foot climb!  Extremely ambitious for the first backcountry outing of the year (IMHO).

Palmer and Magic Mile lift houses

Young and I strapped on our skis, shouldered our backpacks, and followed John up the first steep pitch paralleling the Magic Mile ski trail.  Both of us were secretly hoping John would forget his outlandish plan.  But John was having a great time slicing through the new-fallen snow, even deliberately steering us off the plowed cat track so he could break trail.

Ice-crusted lift tower

At least breaking trail slowed John down!  He's extremely fit and usually leaves Young and I in the dust.  This time, we were able to keep up.

Young is happy to arrive at the top of Palmer

I know what some of you are thinking - they're skiing UP a mountain?  If you're not a long-time reader of my blog, yes, I'm one of the crazy folks who loves backcountry skiing.  This involves climbing up mountains under your own power (no lift required).  I've posted more details about this activity in past entries and if you'd like to learn more see this post.

Sunny lunch spot

Our group continued it's journey up the side of Mt. Hood.  It wasn't long before we were passing by the top of the Magic Mile ski lift.  The top of the Magic Mile is also the bottom of the Palmer Lift, which takes skiers to an elevation of 8,540 feet - the highest lift on Mt. Hood.  The snow-covered lift houses made a nice contrast to a backdrop of low clouds.

Young and I enjoy the views (Photo by John)

While low clouds settled in the valleys below, my friends and I enjoyed unlimited vitamin D.  Bright sunshine made the fluffy snow crystals sparkle like diamonds.

Onward to Illumination Saddle

Here's where the real climbing began!  Although we'd ascended 1000 feet already, we still had a stiff 1500 foot trek to reach the top of the Palmer.  And from past trips, I knew this next leg was much steeper.

High above the clouds (photo by John)

John advised Young and I not to ski too fast and burn ourselves out (I'm especially guilty of this).  "Slow and steady" he reminded us.  With the Palmer lift closed (it was covered in ice from the last storm and needed to be cleared) we were able to use the groomed ski run.  Knowing I had a long, slog ahead, I put my head down and concentrated on sliding one foot in front of the other (slow and steady, of course!)

Just me 'n Hood

Turning my focus inward, I developed a consistent rhythm.  Inch by inch, I crept uphill, marking progress by counting the lift towers.  Although this climb had been difficult in the past, today time seemed to pass quickly, and before I knew it I was one lift tower away from the top!  Yahoo!  And, although strenuous, I'd done much better than I thought, especially considering it was my first trip of the season.

Tracks lead to Illumination Rock

Beating Young and John to the to of the Palmer, I waited for them to catch up.  Then we trekked uphill to a sunny spot, and John shoveled a out snow bench.  Perfect spot for a leisurely lunch break!  It felt so good to sit down and fill my belly.  And the views were fabulous. 

We reach our turnaround point

After our relaxing lunch, I was sort of hoping John would tell us to prepare for our ski down.  But he had other plans - John instructed Young and I to gear back up, and follow him further up the mountain.

Yahoo!  Time to ski down!  (Photo by John)

John pointed us toward Illumination Rock, a tall fin-shaped pillar jutting up from Mt. Hood's west side.  A gentle depression sloped between the top of Palmer and this pinnacle, that usually caught tons of snowfall.  John predicted there would be good skiing here.

So one we trudged...up, up, up.  It was nearing mid afternoon and I was beginning to get tired.  The fluffy snow we'd been skiing through all morning looked so wonderful.  I was dying to swoosh downhill through it.

Snack break with a killer view

Finally John came to a stop.  This, he announced, was our turn-around point.  We'd climbed to an elevation of 9400 feet.  Young and I took the climbing skins off our skis, and donned our helmets and warmer jackets.  Then we sat in the snow, took a snack break, and marveled at the incredible view from high on Hood.  Acres of virgin, untracked snow spread out below.  It was ours to ski - all ours!

We skiers dream of making first tracks through untouched slopes of fresh powder.  At ski areas, you may have one or two of these runs before the trails get tracked up.  But this was the advantage of backcountry skiing - we practically had the place to ourselves.  Hardly any other people were up on the mountain.  It couldn't have been more perfect!

Enjoying our turns (photo by John)

And so my friends and I made our descent, whooping and hollering joyfully through nearly a foot of perfect powder snow.  (John hates it when I holler "woo-hoo" so I made sure to do it as often as possible)  Using my GoPro, I captured a very shaky video of our first turns (I was tired from the climb and adjusting to skiing with a backpack).  Knowing the trip down would be way faster than our climb, I took my time and savored each and every turn.

Lovely late afternoon light on the mountain

Towards the bottom of our run, with daylight fading fast, we reached John's truck as the sun began to sink towards the horizon.  The last rays on Mt. Hood were so fabulous, I just had to capture the scene.  The mountain was drenched in a lovely pink alpenglow, highlighting our entire day's route.

Pink alpenglow lights up where we'd been

Supremely proud of myself, I'd climbed 3500 feet in seven miles.  A huge confidence boost to my fitness level!  But now it was time to find some pizza and beer, and review the days photos and video footage (Do I really say "woo-hoo" that much?)

A great use of a vacation day!  I didn't think about work even once.  :)

Sharing with:  Photo Friday and Through My Lens

Friday, January 29, 2016

Point Imperial

(Continuing the recap of my mid-October trip to southern Utah and Northern Arizona...)

Are you tired of Grand Canyon photos yet?  Hopefully not 'cause I have one more post to share.

After our rainy hike into the canyon on the North Kaibab Trail, my hubby and I returned to our campsite to change into dry clothes.  It was still early afternoon though, and we weren't ready to be done for the day.

Colorful ground patterns

Our map indicated another viewpoint, Point Imperial, on a plateau 11 miles away.  Although low, rain-spitting clouds obscured the skies, we decided to check it out anyway.

Hello there deer!

On the way out of the campground, I spotted a lovely grove of golden aspens.  Convincing my hubby to pull over for a few photos, I discovered we weren't alone.

Large herd near the campground

A large herd of deer was hanging out nearby.  They were too busy grazing to even notice as I approached, camera in hand.  Even when one finally looked up, he just gave me a quick stare and went back to his lunch.

More wonderful aspens

Then it was back down a narrow, winding forest service road to reach Point Imperial.  Heavy rain pelted our car the entire journey, briefly turning to sleet at one point.  Our car thermometer was registering a few degrees above freezing.  Hmmm.....was this really such a good idea?

Point Imperial viewpoint

But as Point Imperial's sign came into view, the rain miraculously tapered off.  Roger and I walked down to the viewpoint and - yahoo - discovered the clouds were starting to part.  A man standing nearby told us this area been completely socked in with fog only a few minutes ago.

Foggy skies

At 8,800 feet, Point Imperial is the highest viewpoint on either rim.  With the clouds clearing away, I could catch glimpses of canyon walls on the opposite side.  Narrow, winding side canyons and beautifully banded rock formations spread out from all sides.  Another impressive Grand Canyon vista!

Surprise rainbow!

Although breathtaking, the air was cold!  My hands started to freeze.  After spending five minutes snapping images, I had to retreat back to the car.  Roger followed, and we huddled inside with the heater blasting.

Such brilliant colors

I was just about to suggest leaving when Roger exclaimed: "I see a rainbow!"  Sure enough, a brilliant band of color was arching over the canyon.  Forgetting all about the cold temperatures, I grabbed my camera and hustled back to the viewpoint.

Roger enjoys the show

Oh what a spectacular sight!  The clouds parted and let in just enough light to illuminate a nearby rocky spine.  The rainbow hovered over this ridge, showing off its lovely colors.  So unexpected on this overcast, rainy day. 

Mount Hayden

Seeing that rainbow more than made up for our miserable wet morning.  As a matter of fact, it was the highlight of my Grand Canyon visit.  As the clouds cleared even more, the distant canyon walls came into view.  I even got a good shot of Mount Hayden's rocky pinnacle jutting up from a nearby red ridge.

Only in the Grand Canyon!

Driving back to camp, the rain started up again, and we passed by an area of sleety snow on the road.  Temps hovered close to freezing.  I thought about our soaking wet tent, drenched by the morning's deluge.  It had rained so hard water had penetrated the seams, dampening our sleeping bags.  I dreaded spending another cold night in a wet, leaky tent.

Sunset at Bright Angel Point

Remembering the large resort I'd seen at Jacob Lake, 40 miles down the road, I suggested getting a room for the night.  It took some convincing (all right - more like outright whining) but my hubby finally gave in.

Some clouds hanging on

One quick phone call and credit card number secured a small cabin for the night.  Happily, I packed up our wet gear and bid the slanting campsite goodbye.

Last light on the mountaintops

Before departing, Roger insisted we take in one last Grand Canyon sunset.  Returning to Bright Angel Point, I set up my tripod and joined a small group of other visitors waiting for the sun to drop.

The clouds returned and blotted out most of the sky causing the night's sunset to be woefully underwhelming.   But I did get a few stunning final images of this magnificent place.

Goodbye Grand Canyon!

Despite the disappointing weather, I'd had a marvelous two days.  The Grand Canyon was everything I'd hoped it to be - gorgeous, breathtaking, unique, jaw-dropping.  There's truly nothing else like it.  Next time, I'm planning to visit the South Rim....and maybe, just maybe I'll hike all the way to the very bottom. 

But tomorrow my hubby and I were heading to the final National Park in our trip - Bryce Canyon.

Sharing with:  Saturday's Critters and Through My Lens