Bryce Canyon National Park: The Navajo Loop Trail

I visited Bryce Canyon multiple times from November through April.  It is a beautiful park and it is in an excellent location to visit multiple parks within a couple hours drive time.  

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Sunset Point is the center of the universe at Bryce Canyon National Park.  The panoramic view of the park is a photographer’s paradise.  If you head to your left, you can take the Rim Trail to Sunrise Point.  From there, you can continue to the Fairyland Loop Trail or the Queens Garden Trail which take you deep into Hoodoo country.  A shorter and easier trail which provides a healthy dose of Hoodoos is the Navajo Loop Trail.  This trail heads off to the right of Sunset Point and allows you an up close and personal experience that you can’t get from the pedestrian viewing areas next to the parking lots. 

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Bearing to your right, the trail will allow you to stroll next to Hoodoos via a series of switchbacks down to the bottom.  The trail is flat and well-maintained but the decline of this trail measures 550 feet so it is not necessarily easy if you aren’t used to walking at 8000-foot elevation.  It is important that you are careful when traversing the switchbacks.  Although they are a smooth surface, there are no railings or barriers to prevent you from falling over the edge. 

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The trail is 1.3 miles and offers an upward view of the landscape. Being below these structures and seeing the orange flavor of the sandstone against the blue sky and puffy white clouds offers a completely different perspective.  They are rightly perched on pedestals for us to pay homage.  The trail features boulders perched on high, trees growing in less than perfect locations and curious rock formations that have defied erosion. 

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At the bottom, you are awed by the majesty and sheer will of these formations which have withstood the test of The Big 3: climate, weather and time.  They stand proudly as a reminder of the past and a stubbornness towards the future.  They are defying The Big 3 as long as possible.  Someday, they will all have crumbled and humans will have nothing but memories and pictures of their grandeur. 

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The picture above has two stone structures that look like bridges, hence the name Two Bridges.  Can you see both of them linking the two walls of the trail?

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When you visit Bryce Canyon, I encourage you to walk this trail.  Take your time and enjoy the unique views and characteristics of this park.  Be safe and feel the impressiveness of the history of this land.  Imagine if you were the first person to see it this way.  How would you feel?  What thoughts would you have?  

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Have you visited Bryce Canyon National Park?  What was your experience like?  Please share your thoughts with us.

Bryce Canyon National Park: Woohoo for Hoodoos

Mossy Cave

Before we get deep into the heart of Bryce Canyon National Park, there is a small area down the road from Bryce Canyon proper called Mossy Cave.  If you drive about 3 miles east from the intersection of Routes 12 and 63, you will happen upon a small parking lot on the right.  Don’t skip past this quaint corner of Bryce Canyon.  This slice of the canyon is an easy way to get up close and personal with the Hoodoos that capture everyone’s fascination.  Hoodoos, pine trees and a small waterfall await your arrival.  This is an appetizer of what is to come. 

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What is a Hoodoo?

Here is part of the description from the National Parks website:

https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/nature/hoodoos.htm

General Description:

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands.  At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of an average human to heights exceeding a 10-story building. Formed in sedimentary rock, hoodoo shapes are affected by the erosional patterns of alternating hard and softer rock layers. The name given to the rock layer that forms hoodoos at Bryce Canyon is the Claron Formation. This layer has several rock types including siltstones and mudstones but is predominantly limestone. Thirty to 40 million years ago this rock was "born" in an ancient lake that covered much of Western Utah. Minerals deposited within different rock types cause hoodoos to have different colors throughout their height.

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Formational Process:

Hoodoos are formed by two weathering processes that continuously work together in eroding the edges of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The primary weathering force at Bryce Canyon is frost wedging. Here we experience over 200 freeze/thaw cycles each year. In the winter, melting snow, in the form of water, seeps into the cracks and freezes at night. When water freezes it expands by almost 10%, bit by bit prying open cracks, making them ever wider in the same way a pothole forms in a paved road.

Rain is also the chief source of erosion (the actual removal of the debris). In the summer, monsoon type rainstorms travel through the Bryce Canyon region bringing short duration high intensity rain.

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Preservation Message:

Unfortunately, hoodoos don't last very long. The same processes that create hoodoos are equally aggressive and intent on their destruction. The average rate of erosion is calculated at 2-4 feet (.6-1.3 m) every 100 years. So, it is that Bryce Canyon, as we know it, will not always be here. As the canyon continues to erode to the west it will eventually capture (perhaps 3 million years from now) the watershed of the East Fork of the Sevier River. Once this river flows through the Bryce Amphitheater it will dominate the erosional pattern, replacing hoodoos with a "V" shaped canyon and steep cliff walls typical of the weathering and erosional patterns created by flowing water. Indeed, a foreshadowing of this fate can be observed in Water Canyon while hiking the Mossy Cave Trail. For over 100 years a diversion canal has been taking a portion of the East Fork of the Sevier River through this section of the park and already it's easy to see the changes the flowing water has created.

Hoodoo colors are more vibrant after a rainstorm. Viewing hoodoos in the winter is especially rewarding. Not only does melting snow enrich the colors but the blanket of white adds another dimension to the beauty under the crisp blue sky.

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The elevation of Bryce Canyon ranges from around 7,000 to 9,000 feet. Taking a hike into the canyons can mean a drop of several hundred feet.  Well constructed paths make the hikes relatively easy but you must take your time if you are not used to walking or hiking at high elevations.  

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I highly recommend Ruby's Inn for lodging and food.  During summer and fall months, they offer a buffet that will fill your belly for hours and give you plenty of fuel for those hikes through the Hoodoos.  Performances run Wednesday through Saturday at 7pm from late May through mid-August.  

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I visited Bryce Canyon multiple times in the fall and winter.  There wasn't enough snow to make a huge difference in the view but I have seen other pictures which make the park seem magical in winter.

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Have you been to Bryce Canyon NP?  What was your experience like?  What advice would you give to people who are planning to visit the park?  For more information about Bryce Canyon National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/brca/index.htm

Big Bend National Park: A Vast and Beautiful Wonderland

Big Bend lives up to both words which make up its famous name.  It is bigger than big and features grand vistas and wide valleys.  There are stunning rock formations, an infamous river and adventures on land and in the water. If you want a more extreme adventure, I recommend driving a four-wheel drive/high center vehicle on some of the dirt roads or take a kayak down the Rio Grande River. 

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This is not a barren desert.  The landscape has many different species of plants and cactus.  It is a thriving ecosystem in a place that doesn’t get a ton of precipitation.  In fact, this area averages about 14 inches of precipitation per year.  Obviously the Rio Grande river basin helps but some of these areas like Panther Junction and Chisos Basin produce vibrant foliage. 

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Sunset watchers have some choices at Big Bend.  The patio at Chisos Mountain Lodge is pretty wonderful.  If you enjoy a more 360 degree view, Gano Springs Road or the Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive give you ample opportunity to see shades of light and shadows against mountains, mesas and rolling hills. 

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On a clear day, you can see mountains for miles and miles.  Main Park Road which takes you from Panther Junction to the Persimmon Gap visitor center is a long drive so be prepared.  The road features the Fossil Exhibit which I featured in another article and I highly recommend.  Big Bend is a big park, measuring over 800,000 acres, and this drive covers a huge chunk of land. 

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Have you visited Big Bend National Park?  What was your experience like?  For more information on Big Bend, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/bibe/index.htm

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Clingman's Dome

The Smoky Mountains, rays of sunlight piercing the clouds and a fog bank overwhelming a ridge like you would see in San Francisco, that’s what a visit to Clingman’s Dome is like.  Clingman’s is: the third highest point east of the Mississippi; the tallest mountain in the Smoky Mountain Range; and peers down paternally on the rest of the Smokies.  It can’t be ignored or avoided, it is too impressive for that. 

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The parking lot provides a carnival-like atmosphere.  There are families taking pictures, elderly waiting for the bathroom and hikers challenging themselves to take a brisk walk to the observation tower without stopping to catch their breath.  This mountain is over 6,600 feet above sea level and the walk from the parking area to the tower, although not far, is very steep which is challenging for those who live at much lower elevations. 

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Unfortunately, the observation tower is currently closed due to renovations.  It is expected to open again in the spring of 2018.  Seven and a half miles of the Appalachian Trail crosses the mountain just north of the observation tower.  There are also many other trails of varying grades that can satisfy the appetite of any avid hiker. 

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It was overcast during my visit but I definitely recommend spending some time here.  The observation tower is scheduled to re-open in April 2018.  I would schedule a visit after that date so you can enjoy the 360 degree view from the top of the mountain. 

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Have you been to Clingman’s Dome?  What was your experience like there? 

For more information about the Clingman’s Dome area, click on the link.

https://www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/clingmansdome.htm

Shenandoah National Park: The Gem of the East Coast

Last night I was watching a repeat of a Seinfeld episode that I’ve probably seen at least a half dozen times.  Despite my familiarity with that particular episode it still brings a smile to my face whenever I watch it.  Driving along Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is a similar experience.  You see view after view of the great expanse below and it never gets old. (These first five pictures are from just one overlook)

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The word “WOW” is uttered by nearly everyone who exits their car at one of the dozens of scenic overlooks.  The Appalachian Mountains roll along in an unending wave of trees and leaves.  The slopes of green are peppered with rays of sunlight that poke through the clouds.  The contours of each ridge stand proud like contestants at a beauty contest. 

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Skyline Drive meanders 105 miles from Front Royal, Virginia to Route 64 where it turns into The Blue Ridge Parkway.  Within the park, there are 75 designated areas where you can stop and enjoy its beauty.  Most of those turnoffs provide views like these. 

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You can’t see forever from here but you can come really close.  The views from atop the mountain ridges are breathtaking.  Visitors spend their time sightseeing, camping, hiking, horseback riding and cycling.  These mountains are perfect if you want to have the Tour De France experience in America. 

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There are over 500 miles of trails to hike.  Be aware that you need to have proper walking/hiking shoes and clothing.  I went on a hike to photograph a waterfall.  The mountains are steeply sloped which provides you with the great views of the valleys but they make for strenuous hikes.  Here is my report……..

The busiest time of the year is from summer through the end of October when the leaves change their colors.  There are three choices for lodging in the park with several campgrounds also available.  If you choose to stay outside the park, expect a 20-40 minute drive to one of the surrounding towns. 

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Shenandoah National Park is a hidden gem of the east coast.  When I mention it to people they either get a quizzical look on their face or they say, “Oh yeah, we went there years and years ago when I was a kid.  Beautiful place.”  It certainly doesn’t get the recognition it deserves so I encourage everyone to make the trip. 

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Have you visited Shenandoah NP?  What was your experience like?  What did you do there?

For more information about Shanadoah National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/shen/index.htm

Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a charming park which features waterfalls, bridges, wildlife, massive rock formations and a historic canal.  Cuyahoga is different from many other parks in that it was named a national park in 2000, therefore human intrusion left its imprint on the park prior to the designation. 

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Brandywine Falls is one of the most popular waterfalls in the park.  These pictures show a decent flow but it can be a much heavier flow at different times of the year or after significant rainfall. 

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The area between Cleveland and Akron was very rural in the early 1800’s when the Ohio and Erie Canal was established.  This canal spurred economic development and trade that transformed one of the poorest areas of Ohio into one of the wealthiest areas of the state.

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The Great Falls is located at Viaduct Park in the northeast corner of the park.  As you can see from the pictures, the trip to this area is definitely worth it. The journey starts above the falls and flows to the tunnel where the water disappears. 

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Cuyahoga is a desirable destination during the fall when the leaves are changing colors.  The forest not only allows just the right amount of sunlight to warm the earth, but it also shrouds many roads with limbs that reach across the pavement. 

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The Ledges area is a zoo for enormous rock formations.  Many of these rocks are larger than houses and weigh hundreds of tons. 

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This tree had one root that traveled along the rock and ended in the dirt.  This is what I call survival mode.

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Our last stop is at the Everett Covered Bridge.  This is a bridge that was rebuilt in 1986 to reflect what the original bridge might have looked like in the 1800's. 

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Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a very nice park.  It would not make my top 10 list of best national parks due to some issues.  First, two major highways run through the middle of the park (I-271 and I-80).  Secondly, there is an active rail line running through the park.  There are also many residential roads that cut through the park.  In addition, there are private residences within the borders of the park.  Maybe I am being too nitpicky but I believe that a National Park should have that eye-popping WOW effect.  I didn’t get that feeling at CVNP.  It felt more like a state park or National Forest.  I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go or it’s not worthwhile, but I wouldn’t prioritize it over many other parks in the NP system. 

Have you been to Cuyahoga Valley National Park?  How would you compare it to other parks in the national park system?

For more information about Cuyahoga Valley National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/cuva/index.htm

Congaree National Park: Silence is Golden

Hello darkness, my old friend,

I've come to talk with you again.

Because a vision softly creeping,

Left its seeds while I was sleeping.

And the vision that was planted in my brain,

Still remains,

Within the sound of silence.

 

The Sound of Silence—Simon and Garfunkel

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Wandering through Congaree National Park will not elicit feelings of angst or depression that the lyrics of The Sound of Silence might evoke but the overwhelming feeling that you are experiencing a sacred ritual is prevalent.  Although you’ve walked thousands of times through all different types of terrain (cities, suburbs, stores, beaches, etc), one element of this experience has been lacking—silence.  Congaree is amazingly silent and even encountering other hikers means that a courteous hello will be met with hushed tones.  Congaree commands respect without ever uttering a word.

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A small park (only 26,000 acres) it boasts 25 miles of hiking trails, camping, fishing, canoeing and kayaking.  I hiked approximately 3 miles between the Boardwalk and Sims Trails, spending time at Weston Lake and Wise Lake. 

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A turtle (directly below the 4 x 4 post) makes his way towards the shore in Lake Weston.

A turtle (directly below the 4 x 4 post) makes his way towards the shore in Lake Weston.

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The mud between these trails can measure eight feet thick in spots and helps to cleanse the environment of pollution and toxins that would threaten the ecosystem.  My advice is to stay on the trails as much as possible because there are some huge spiders to be found between limbs, leaves, stumps and trees. 

The thick mud seen here helps to maintain a healthy balance in this special forest.

The thick mud seen here helps to maintain a healthy balance in this special forest.

If you look closely just above the center of this picture, you can see a rather large spider resting in its web.

If you look closely just above the center of this picture, you can see a rather large spider resting in its web.

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Congaree is (according to the National Park website) home to “the largest intact expanse of old growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the southeastern United States.”

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Congaree, located about 20 miles southeast of Columbia, SC, is unique in that it is open to the public 24 hours/day, does not charge a fee for entry or use of the park and has a Boardwalk trail that allows disabled visitors (especially in wheelchairs) to enjoy the surroundings.  If you want a secluded place where peace and quiet is your goal (and your phone will be inoperable) Congaree is a destination that you will want to experience. 

A colorful black butterfly travels along the brush.

A colorful black butterfly travels along the brush.

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The roots of the many trees in the forest intertwine like a web of wood.

The roots of the many trees in the forest intertwine like a web of wood.

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Have you explored Congaree National Park?  If so, what are your thoughts about this park? 

For more information about Congaree National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/cong/index.htm

Kings Canyon National Park: The Kings River

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No:

Swimming

Wading

Boating

Rafting

or Fishing.

In essence, stay out of the water.  It is too rough.  Too fast.  Too violent.  It’s not this dangerous on the whole river, but in many parts of Kings Canyon National Park, it is.

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I am convinced that if you fell into the Kings River in most areas of Kings Canyon National Park, you would be dead within minutes.  There are too many boulders that you would strike and the water is too fast that you could never stand up or drag yourself to safety.

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Don’t get me wrong, it is a gorgeous flow of water to see in contrast with the mountains and valleys.  But in this case, Mother Nature is not to be tested.

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The Kings River provides irrigation to over a million acres of farmland in California's central valley.  The river also provides fresh drinking water to central valley residents.  In some areas, white water rafting is permitted.  It is a level 3 river.

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I made acrylic prints of this waterfall.  They are as breathtaking as the waterfall is itself.

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Have you seen the Kings River in person?  What were your impressions?

For more information about Kings Canyon National Park, click the link below.

https://www.nps.gov/seki/index.htm