Saturday, March 31, 2018

Critters of the Canyon

I normally have bad luck when it comes to wildlife sightings.  When visiting National Parks, usually chipmunks are the only critters I encounter.  But during my short stay at the Grand Canyon's South Rim, I was lucky enough to spot a few other wild animals.

This pretty bird posed for me

This pretty blue bird posed in a tree for me, and using my zoom lens I was able to get a half decent shot of it.  Sorry, I'm not a birder so I have no idea what species (maybe some of my more bird friendly readers can help out with id).

Elk in the camground!

Walking from my campsite the first morning, I encountered a mama elk and her baby about 10 feet from the road.

Mama and baby elk

The elk were busy eating, and didn't seem to care that I was nearby.

"Don't bother me, I'm eating"

It was a huge thrill to be able to photograph these animals.  Of course, I knew better than to get any closer.  (That's what zoom lenses are for).

I got extremely close

Later in the day, while riding one of the park's shuttle buses, we passed by another herd of elk, foraging along the main road.  These animals must be used to humans, as the heavy auto traffic rumbling by didn't faze them in the least.

Very cool to see these graceful animals

The next morning, I walked to the campground's water spigot, and discovered two deer drinking from the puddle that had formed underneath.

Deer waiting for me to finish filling my water bottle

The deer seemed quite annoyed when I forced them to move.  They hung close by, just waiting for me to finish.  I only had my phone with me, but was able to get a couple of cute shots.  I was amused by the front deer's expression.  He (or she) seemed to say "hurry up and get your water already!"

Friendly mule

My last critter sighting wasn't a wild animal, but I was thrilled just the same.  During my hike down into the canyon, I met up with one of the mule trains.  I enjoyed trying to capture images of these hard-working critters.  More photos coming in my next post!

P.S.  If you missed my first Grand Canyon post, you can find it here.

Sharing with:  Saturday's Critters

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Grand Canyon, The Introduction

The seed was planted late last August.

I met up with blogging friends Hans and Lisa while they were visiting the northern Oregon coast.  During our customary post-hike brewery stop, Hans mentioned their plans to be near Sedona, Arizona the following March.  Both he and Lisa invited me to come visit.  They both raved about the fantastic red rock scenery, adding "you'll be in photographic heaven."

Hmmm......I'd miss a week of ski season, and March usually had the best conditions.  But on the flip side, this was a chance to visit an amazing area with my own personal tour guides.  I'd be a fool to pass up such a great opportunity.  After mulling it over during the fall months, in early January I decided to go for it.  After all, life is short.

Grand Canyon just after sunset

Having never been anywhere near Sedona, I took to the internet for research.  Lo and behold, I discovered the Grand Canyon's South Rim was not far away.  Although I'd visited the North Rim in October 2015, the South Rim remained an elusive bucket list item.  An additional two-hour drive would take me right there.  This was a side trip I just had to tack on!  So plans were made to fly into Phoenix, rent a vehicle, and spend the first two days at the Grand Canyon before heading back south to Sedona.

Now for accommodations.  Being a cheapskate, I didn't want to pay a bundle of cash to stay in a motel at the Park.  I considered just getting a campsite and sleeping in my rental car.  But that meant bringing along some sort of bedding that would take up precious suitcase space.

Mather Point

Then a friend suggested looking into renting a camper van.  I found a place in Phoenix that offered just such a vehicle.  Not only did the rear area convert into a bed, the very back had a kitchen, complete with fridge, sink and Coleman stove.  Dishes and bedding were also included.  And I discovered their prices were a tiny bit cheaper than renting a car (although I later discovered my auto insurance didn't cover RVs, necessitating the purchase of additional insurance).  So I booked the van and a campsite at the Grand Canyon for two nights.  Pieces were falling into place nicely for "Linda's Great Adventure."

My ride

Finally, the day arrived.  I was a tiny bit nervous about trying to navigate such a large vehicle in Phoenix traffic, but quickly discovered the van, although way bigger than my Subaru, wasn't too difficult to drive.  It didn't take long before I left the metro area freeways behind.  Away I drove through barren, catcus-filled desert.

My first Arizona surprise - the large number of long, steep hills between Phoenix and Flagstaff.  (I was particularly amused by the warning to turn off air conditioning on the first big climb out of town.)  The van didn't like going uphill at all, and plodded along in the slow lane.  But, as I discovered, Flagstaff is at an elevation of 7000 feet (which produced an unwelcome weather event two days later) and up is the only way to get there.

Kitchen in the back!

It took about 4 hours of driving to reach the South Rim.  After watching several death-defying near misses from vehicles passing when they shouldn't on the final road into the park, I was more than ready to leave my van at the campground.  Hoping to catch the sunset, I quickly unpacked warm clothes and my camera gear.  Now which way to the Canyon?

Warm light just after sunrise

I quickly discovered the park's extensive shuttle bus system.  A ranger at the campground directed me to a nearby stop.  I watched the sun slowly sink while impatiently waiting for a bus to arrive.  Daylight was running out fast.  Just as I was contemplating finding the rim on foot, a bus finally pulled up.  Nearing the Visitor Center, the sky began turning amazing shades of red and pink.  Oh no, I was missing the show!

Hopping off, I got turned around (being in a unfamiliar place at dusk didn't help) and wasted precious time trying to locate a path that led to the rim.   By the time I finally found the way to Mather Point, it was too late.  The sky had turned dark.  I met a huge crowd of people, all  heading in the opposite direction. 

The light has yet to reach the canyon bottom

Well, I was here now.  Sunset or not, I was seeing this canyon.  Walking out onto Mather Point's rocky promontory, the Grand Canyon's rippled features spread out before me.  It was just as breathtaking in twilight.  I grabbed my camera, turned up the ISO as high as it would go, and took photos anyway.  And to my surprise, although a bit grainy, I liked the colorful images that were captured.

Peek a boo

A wide, paved path paralleled the canyon's rim.  Although the sun was long gone, a tiny bit of light remained in the sky.  After sitting all day I could really use the exercise.  My map showed the rim path led a mile and half to a short connector trail that would take me back to the campground.  I had my headlamp, so why not walk back?

So. Many. Photo. Subjects

After a hot drive, the cool night air felt wonderful.  And the star-lit sky was beautiful.  My twilight walk was so pleasant, I kept my headlamp off.  Several other groups of people had the same idea, and I met many folks out for a nighttime stroll along the canyon rim.

Eroded ridge

But past Yavapai Point, the sky turned pitch-black, and the crowds thinned to nearly zero.  Nothing more to see, the headlamp came on and I anxiously followed the paved path further.  Although my map showed it was only another 3/4 mile to the campground connector trail, this stretch seemed to take much longer.  I began to realize walking at night in an unfamiliar place was probably not the smartest thing I'd ever done.  But luckily, the connector trail was well-marked, and after a small hiccup blundering through a road construction area, I located the campground and my campsite.  

Someone hanging out on the edge

The next day, I had aspirations of rising early and catching sunrise over the canyon.  But I'd neglected to check what time the sun came up.  Bedding down in my van, I decided to play things by ear.  (Before going to sleep, I drank a bunch of water and figured I'd naturally wake up when nature called). 

Can you spot the two guys?

But....a warm bed is hard to leave on a cold, dark morning.  The next morning I overslept, and totally missed the sunrise.


Finally getting my act together, I headed back towards the canyon rim.  Although contemplating taking the bus back towards the visitor center, I didn't feel like waiting and instead retraced the previous night's route in reverse. 

Wrinkled land

Now that it was daylight, I could see everything I'd missed.  The canyon was as grand as ever, tiered layers of colorful eroded rock as far as the eye could see.

Mather Point in the morning

I walked the rim path all the way back to the visitor center, snapping copious photos.  Sadly, the harsh morning light didn't make for great photography conditions, and I wasn't happy with most of my images.

Top of the world

But the day was young, and I had lots of sights to see.  And high on my wish list, I hoped to explore a bit of the canyon taking a hike below its rim.  Coming soon in a future post!

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Pam Visits the Gorge

Sorry for being MIA from blogland the past couple of weeks.  I just returned from a fabulous trip to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon and hike with some blogging friends in Sedona.  You know me, I took tons of photos which will provide fodder for many future blog posts.  Stay tuned, lots of good stuff to come!

A happy Pam at Latourell Falls

But before flying south, I met up with my blogging pal, Pam from Nomadic Newfies.  She was visiting Tacoma and drove down to Portland to see the Oregon coast and Columbia River Gorge.  Pam asked if I'd be available to take her hiking in the Gorge.  Of course I never pass up a chance to show off my beloved Gorge (even if a good portion of the Oregon side was still closed from last September's fire).

Historic Highway bridge

So one chilly Friday in early March, I picked Pam up from a park and ride lot in Vancouver, and headed back to the Oregon side.  Although sadly most of the stunning waterfalls and trails on the Oregon side were closed due to fire damage, lovely Latourell Falls was one of the few that had recently reopened to the public (you may have seen my post from last December.)

Looking upstream to the falls

Latourell Falls is indeed one of the Gorge's great cascades.  Plunging 249 feet over a high basalt cliff it's tall white curtain is sight to behold.  I also love the unique neon yellow-green lichen that covers the rock on either side.  A picture-perfect waterfall if there ever was one!

Yup, it's a tall one!

Of course, Pam thought so too, and we both proceeded to whip out our cameras for a copious photo session.

Pam was grinning from ear to ear

Then I directed Pam to the short trail that looped by the bottom of Latourell Falls.  Despite heavy spray that drenched our cameras, she was grinning from ear to ear.

Posing on the bridge below the falls

We continued past the falls, following a lovely trail winding through a mossy forest.  It passed underneath the Historic Columbia River Highway bridge before climbing up and crossing the highway itself.

Eagle-eye Pam spotted these tiny mushrooms

From my December visit, I remembered this trail then traversed steeply for a mile to Upper Latourell Falls.  We took it slow, giving eagle-eye Pam time to spot a group of tiny mushrooms sprouting from a fallen log.  She also found the season's first trillium bloom!

She also spotted the season's first trillium

This was the portion of the trail where my camera battery began dying on my last visit, so I took full advantage of fresh batteries to capture all the beautiful green forest scenes that I'd missed.

Love these mossy woods

The mossy woods lining upper Latourell creek were spectacular.

Admiring the trees

After coming upon Upper Latourell Falls, and admiring the churning two-tiered cascade, Pam and I returned to the parking area via a path on the creek's opposite banks. 

Upper Latourell Falls

Some of the best views of Latourell Falls can be found from this return trail, although you have to play peek-a-boo through the trees.  Good thing it was still winter, and the leaves were gone.

Latourell falls plays peek-a-boo through the forest

I've come to the conclusion that my new Fujifilm mirrorless camera doesn't like Latourell Falls.  From my last visit, you may recall I had a string of bad luck (dropping the camera, losing a lens caps, low battery....)  Well, as Pam and I were loading our gear into the car, I accidentally dropped my camera again.  Sadly, my camera bag wasn't enough protection.  I turned it on, tried to take a test photo, and got a "lens error" message.  Ugh!

Trying for that money shot

Luckily, I had another lens with me, and when I put it on the camera both worked.  So I knew only the lens had sustained damage, thankfully not the camera too.  But the damaged lens was my go-to 18-55 mm, the one I used for 99% of my landscape shots. 

On the bridge to Bridal Veil Falls

After a quick trip up to Crown Point to check out the Vista House, I took Pam down the short trail to Bridal Veil Falls.  I didn't take very many photos here, as my 55-200 mm lens wasn't good at capturing wide-angle scenes.  By this time it was also raining, and I didn't want to get my gear wet.

Lovely mossy forest below the falls

Of course no trip to the Gorge is complete without a visit to Multnomah Falls, the grand dame of all Columbia River Gorge waterfalls.  I hadn't visited here since the fire, and was disappointed to see that the lower viewing platform was still fenced off.  The only decent view of the falls was from the parking area across the freeway.  (I learned they just opened the lower viewing area last weekend.....sorry Pam, you were three weeks too early!)

Soggy photographer

After a quick lunch in Cascade Locks, I drove Pam over the famed Bridge of the Gods into Washington state for our last waterfall destination - Rodney Falls.  This waterfall is within the first mile of the Hamilton Mountain trail, and since I was still bummed about my broken lens (plus I've hiked trail this dozens of times), I left the photo taking to Pam. 

Trying to capture the rainbow and Rodney falls

However, approaching the top of Rodney Falls, we got to see a cool rainbow arching out of the rocky cavern, known as the Pool of Winds.  The water drops off a cliff and swirls around in this cavern before shooting out in a churning spray of wind and water.  I couldn't resist a couple of cell phone photos of Pam sacrificing her camera for a shot of this amazing cascade.

Some nice guy offered to take our photo!

It was great to get together with Pam once again!  So glad she was able to get "out west" to see some of my favorite places.  Now I guess it's my turn to come visit her in Wisconsin.

If you want to see photos of all the places we visited, check out Pam's blog posts:

Latourell Falls
Upper Latourell Falls
From Vista House to Bridal Veil
Bridge of the Gods to Pool of Winds

Friday, March 9, 2018

Weekend at Schweitzer

When my son attended the University of Montana, we used to have an after-Christmas ritual of skiing at Idaho's Schweitzer Mountain on his way back to school.  I have many fond memories our trips to this scenic, off the beaten path resort.  The largest ski area in Washington and Idaho, Schweitzer is home to some of my all-time favorite black diamond ski runs.  On clear days, it's mountaintops boast stellar views of gorgeous Lake Pend Oreille. 

But then my son graduated and started seminary, and before I knew it, ten years had elapsed since I'd been back. 

So over Christmas, my son and I hatched a plan to meet up in early February and revive the tradition.  I was beyond excited.  I counted down the long, dark January days in anticipation of spending time with my son and revisiting a favorite resort.

Hello from Idaho!

Then the morning I was to leave, I got a call from my son.  He'd come down with the flu and wouldn't be able to make it.  Since it was too late to cancel my motel reservation and I'd already purchased lift tickets online, I was committed.  Disappointed, and worried about my son's health, I sadly loaded the car and headed east, fretting the entire 7-hour drive to Sandpoint.  Although I considered continuing on to Montana to be with my son, he encouraged me to go ski and have fun (he also didn't want me to catch his bug).

Appropriate song for my first day

The following morning, I woke to cloudy, rainy skies.  The forecast for Schweitzer was a warm borderline rain/snow mix.  Ugh - I wasn't a fan of skiing in the rain.  But I'd traveled  here to ski, and ski I would.  Driving to the parking shuttle area, the first song that came on my car radio was "Private Idaho" by the B-52s.  I laughed at the coincidence.  Maybe this was a sign - it was gonna be a good day after all.

Cute base area

Schweitzer Mountain is accessed by a scary winding, hairpin road from the outskirts of town.  But for those not wanting to endure a white-knuckle drive, the resort provides shuttle buses.  Judging by the amount of vehicles in the huge park and ride lot, it appeared the bus was a popular option.  A three dollar fee (or free for season pass holders) got me a round trip.  For the ride up, I was seated next to a friendly local man who was more than happy to share resort beta.

Super-foggy day

After taking a few quick laps on the lower elevation Basin Express lift, I was ready to whisk to the mountain's very top and find my favorite black diamond runs, White Lightening, Stiles, and Pend Oreille.  But as I rode higher up the mountain, the clouds became thicker.  Exiting the lift, I found visibility near zero.  Slowly I edged my way towards Pend Oreille, the closest trail to the lift.  Not only did the fog make visibility difficult, my glasses were fogging under my goggles.  Getting down this steep slope required a leap of faith (I joke about "skiing by Braille" but that's exactly what I did).  Luckily, about halfway down the skies became lighter and I could see once again.  But after a couple of scary trips from the top fighting foggy glasses, I went inside to clear my lenses.

Ice covered skier

Returning to the slopes after a quick break, I tried to find the mountain's backside, only to end up in a different area than I intended.  No big deal, I took advantage of a long cruising run to the Stella lift.  But the elevation was lower here, and instead of snow, I encountered rain.  Starting to get soaked, I decided to head back to the base area, where it was colder.

Over on the front side a full-on snowstorm was in progress.  Winds howled, and snow whirled through the air.  But, oh was the snow nice!  Although visibility was still a challenge, I could see just enough to make my way down from the very top.  I kept making run after run, every trip fresh tracks in the new-fallen snow.  So much fun!  The wet snow began collecting on my outerwear, freezing into an icy coating.  I skied through the lunch hour, knowing that once I went inside melting ice would soak my gear, and I wouldn't go back out.

They get lots of snow here!

Finally around 1:30 hunger got the best of me, and I surrendered to the nearest cafeteria.  After downing a bowl of chili, I just couldn't bring myself to put my wet gear back on and return to the cold, stormy slopes.  So I decided to head back into town.  Waiting outside for the shuttle bus, I realized the mushy falling snow had turned into full-fledged raindrops.  Good thing I quit when I did!  

Sandpoint had a cute downtown

Sandpoint, Idaho has a cute downtown area.  I purposely chose a motel close by so I could walk to nearby restaurants and shops.  That evening I enjoyed a leisurely stroll through downtown, window shopping at the cute boutiques before locating an excellent brewpub.

Loved the Christmas lights in February

Sandpoint even kept their Christmas lights up into February.  Really made for a festive atmosphere.  These lights made some fantastic reflections on the wet pavement, but only having my cell phone with me at the time, my photos weren't the best.

Stella lift house

Drier weather was forecast for the following day.  I was happy to wake up to clearing, moisture-free skies.  Hustling to make the 8:00 shuttle bus, I took a wrong turn and ended up driving through downtown a second time.  Thinking I'd surely be late, a Starbucks conveniently located next to the resort's main road enticed me in.  Despite the detours, I pulled into the park and ride and the bus was still there!  I hopped out and began unloading my skis but at that moment the bus closed it's doors and rumbled away.  Oh well, the next bus was only a half hour away, and now I had time to enjoy my latte.

Scenic trail junction

Morning sunlight streamed down from blue skies as the next bus delivered me into Schweitzer's base area.  Eager for a dry, better visibility day, I boarded the Great Escape Quad lift bound for the resort's very top.  About halfway up, my chair was swallowed by a dense, white cloud.  So much for my clear, sunny day.....

Still murky fog on top (someone laughed at me for taking this photo)

The entire top half of the mountain was enveloped by a huge fog bank.  Visibility wasn't any better than the previous day.  Oh well, I'd skied in these conditions yesterday and survived.  So I began making laps up and down.  The fog clung to the upper reaches and I gingerly made slow turns until I could see again.

Lake Pend Oreille emerges

Riding single, I got paired up with lots of interesting people on the chairlift.  All mentioned that fog was a common problem here.  One guy jokingly commented that Schweitzer was French for "fog." 

Top of Lakeview lift

After the first hour, tired of not being able to see, I traveled to the resort's back side in search of better conditions.  Although visibility was much improved, yesterday's warm rain had frozen overnight, turning the slopes here into a sheet of ice.  A high school ski race was underway on one of the runs, and although the racers may have liked the icy slopes, I did not.

Amazing scenery!

Back to the front side once again!  A long, winding cat track took skiers around the mountain.  As I descended, the skies cleared once again, and Lake Pend Oreille emerged front and center.  Wow, what an excellent view!  Many photo stops ensued.  (By the way, the lake's name is pronounced "ponderay")

Snow ghosts

After lunch, I traveled around the mountain once again, seeking good snow and clear skies.  Unfortunately, thick clouds clung stubbornly to the mountaintop all day and the back side slopes never did thaw out.  Around 2:30, I was ready to call it quits and head in for a beer, when I noticed sun illuminating slopes by the Lakeview chairlift.  I hadn't skied there yet, and decided to check it out.

Ridge run

Turned out to be the best conditions of the day.  Not only was the snow here soft and fluffy, on top of the chair, I was awed by the interesting shapes created by ice encasing every surface.  The lifts, trail signs, and radio towers had been transformed into white works of art.  But the best scenery was the ice-crusted trees, nicknamed "snow ghosts," lining nearby slopes.  Oh were they lovely! 

There was a reason the resort named this chairlift Lakeview.  The best panoramas of huge Lake Pend Oreille were from the top of this ridge.  It was so lovely, I ended up taking three more runs, just to enjoy the snow and fantastic scenery.  Glad I saved the best for last.

Breathtaking lake views!

Despite the wet, foggy weather and my son's last-minute illness, I ended up having a great trip.  It was fun to reacquaint myself with an old favorite resort after so many years.  The town of Sandpoint and the friendly locals on the slopes totally charmed me.  I'd love to spend more time here again someday.