McDonald Observatory – Solar Viewing and Tour

Deborah and I checked out the McDonald Observatory last month, attending the daytime solar presentation and tour of the telescopes. This tour was a good deal, and we loved it.  They started us out with an excellent presentation on the sun, with all kinds of cool facts about about our giant star.  We learned about the complicated magnetic field on the sun, how solar flares are formed, and all kinds of interesting stuff.  The sun is amazing, and Deborah and I geeked out pretty hard on all the science, but then then took us up to the telescopes…

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Canyonlands National Park – Confluence Trail

Canyonlands - Colorado River

I spent a nice afternoon on the Confluence Trail earlier this month while in Canyonlands. This was a nice trail that went out to a overlook above where the Green and the Colorado Rivers converge. Along the way I had good views of other parts of the park, including Island in the Sky and the Maze, while enjoying a lesser seen part of the Needles District. Overall, this was a good hike, and I enjoyed it a lot.

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Canyonlands National Park – Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

Canyonlands National Park – Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

A row of spires in the Chesler Park

Location:  Canyonlands National Park, Needles District, Southeastern Utah
Distance & Gain: 13.3 miles, 1,900 feet
Difficulty:  Strenuous
Type: Lollipop loop
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 15, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A long day hike through the Needles, with a nice tour through Chesler Park, and an awesome secret passage through the Joint Trail.

I hiked through the Needles District of Canyonlands earlier this month, doing the wonderful Joint Trail loop in Chesler Park.  The Joint Trail explored a deep fracture in the rocks, and was really cool.  The crack was nearly a half a mile long, and just wide enough for a person to walk through, much like a narrows.  This was a long day-hike, with a fair amount of gain, but a great loop, and a lot of fun.

Into the Needles

Squaw Flat Campground
Starting out at Squaw Flat Campground

I hiked out from Squaw Flats Campground that morning.  One of the benefits of visiting the park in the winter was free camping in the Needles campground. I got a site right by the trailhead, making for an easy start to the day.

Elephant Hill Canyon
Elephant Hill Canyon

The hike to Chesler Park was around 4.5 miles, cutting across a series of canyons and small washes.  While most of this hike was straight forward, there were a few sections marked only by cairns, making it easy to lose the trail if you’re not paying attention.  In other places, I had to scramble up or down rocks using my hands, nothing too tricky, but still requiring extra attention.

View of the La Sal Mountains from the Needles District
View of the La Sal Mountains from the Needles District

The trail climbed a small expanse of slickrock on the way up to Chesler Park.  From here, I had a lovely view of the La Sal Mountains to the east, full of snow and gleaming white.

The Joint Trail

Spire in Chesler Park
A big spire in Chesler Park

At the first junction in Chesler Park, I headed to the right, starting the counterclockwise loop out to the 4×4 road west of the park.  I had pretty views of Chesler Park here, passing by many beautiful points and spires along the way.

Rows of needles near the Joint Trail
Rows of needles near the Joint Trail

Two miles later, the trail joined up with the 4×4 road, which connected up with the Joint Trail shortly after.  At the trailhead, there was a small picnic area, where I took a short break, and some pics.  By this time, I was deep in the Needles District, and had rows of spires in every direction.

Cave along the Joint Trail
The cave along the Joint Trail

The section through the Joint Trail was very cool.  After a short climb through a canyon, a small set of stairs lead me up into this beautiful cave.  The chamber was big, with an echoing reverb, and beautiful golden light.  Just beyond here, there were a couple boxcar sized boulders that had collapsed through the ceiling, maybe hundreds, maybe thousands of years ago.  It was a magical place, and felt very special.

The crack on the Joint Trail
Walking the crack on the Joint Trail

Beyond the cave, the trail cut through a huge mass of stone, through an incredible crack, just wide enough to walk though.  The crack was almost half a mile long, and was one of the highlights of the whole day.  So cool!

Chesler Park

Chesler Park

The other end of the Joint Trail put me right back into Chesler Park, with beautiful afternoon sun lighting up the spires.  So pretty!

Red and white towers in Chesler Park
Red and white towers in Chesler Park

From here, the trail wound back through Chesler Park, with idyllic scenery all around.  Chesler Park had an amazing meadow, beautiful even in winter, and pretty red and white towers, washed clean of debris from years of erosion.  There were great backcountry sites here as well, with nice options for overnight trips.  Chesler Park was very good.

Sunset in the Needles
Sunset in the Needles

From Chesler, I returned to my van via the 4.5 mile leg I had hiked in the morning.  The sun went down just as I left Chesler Park however, so I had to hike for a couple hours in the dark.  There was a pretty moon out though, lighting up most of the trail along the way, so got to enjoy wonderful night hike, without even using my headlamp much.

Final Thoughts

This was a long loop, taking most of the day to complete, but it took me deep into the Needles District, immersing me into one of the prettiest parts of Canyonlands.  Chesler Park alone, was worth the hike out, but if you have the time, the loop through the Joint Trail should not be missed.  Walking through the huge crack in the rock was a unique experience, and a really special place in Canyonlands.  All in all, I thought the Chesler Park and Joint Trail loop was a great hike, and totally recommend.

Maps

Mapping for Chesler Park and the Joint Trail can be found on the Park Service map for the Needles District:

Canyonlands National Park – Needles District Trails and Roads

Other Canyonlands Pages

Needles District

Confluence Trail

Druid Arch Trail

Island in the Sky District

Lathrop Trail

Murphy Trail

Additional Information

General information for Canyonlands National Park is available on the National Park Service website.

Canyonlands National Park – General Information

Canyonlands National Park – Murphy Trail

Canyonlands National Park – Murphy Trail

Murphy Trail - View from the Hogsback

Location:  Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
Distance & Gain:  13.3 miles, 2,000 feet
Difficulty:  Strenuous, (with options for easier trips)
Type: Loop, with a short side-trip to an overlook
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 10, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A short and easy hike to a point overlooking the Green River, combined with a challenging 2,000 foot hike down into the Green River basin.

A couple weeks ago, I did the wonderful Murphy Trail in Canyonlands National Park.  I did this hike in two parts, a short 2 mile hike out to the Murphy Overlook, and then a long loop through the Green River basin.  The trip provided wonderful views over the east side of the park, including White Rim Canyon, the Maze and Candlestick Butte.  The loop portion included a steep descent down the Wingate Cliffs, and a long climb back up at the end of the day.   Despite the strenuous climb, however, the extended loop was very scenic, and provided great access to quieter parts of the Island in the Sky District.

The Murphy Overlook

The trail to the Murphy Overlook
Trail to the Murphy Overlook

I started out on a cool December morning, getting on the trail around 9:00 am.  There was snow on the ground, but I had clear skies, and the place to myself.  Bam!  I love Canyonlands!

View of the Murphy Overlook
The Murphy Overlook

The hike out to the Murphy Overlook was flat and nice, taking a little less than an hour to hike to.  The overlook sat on the high cliffs of Island in the Sky, with sweeping views over the park.

View of the Hogsback and Murphy Trail from the Murphy Overlook
The Hogsback

From the overlook, you can see the route of the Murphy Trail below, looping through the wash off to the left, before returning along a high bench to the right.  To get there, however, the trail must descend the Wingate Cliffs, which means a steep climb down, and a long climb back up on the return trip.

The Murphy Trail

View of the trail down the Wingate Cliffs
The trail down the Wingate Cliffs

From the overlook, I had to backtrack a mile to the Murphy Trail turnoff.  From there, the trail went out to a bowl, with a set of ledges descending 800 feet to the basin floor.  This trail here was steep, but well laid out, with steps in some the steeper sections, and switchback through the pile of rubble at the bottom.

The view of the Wingate Cliffs from the Murphy wash
Hiking along the Murphy Wash

The trail splits at the bottom of the cliffs, with Murphy Wash going to the left, and the Hogsback going off to the right.  I took the trail down to the wash, hiking a creek bed down to White Rim Road.

Murphy Wash sign at White Rim Road
The trail junction at White Rim Road

The trail eventually joins White Rim Road, an old 4×4 road that circles around Island in the Sky.  From here, there is a short 400 foot climb up to the Hogsback.

The Hogsback

The view from the Hogsback
Grand View Point and Junction Butte from the Hogsback

The Hogsback is a long bench, a couple miles in length, that extends out over the Green River basin.  I hiked to the western tip of the bench, where I ate my lunch and took many pictures.  The view here was wonderful, with beautiful vantages on Grand View Point and Junction Butte.  I also had great views of White Rim Canyon, the Green River, the Needles, the Maze, and more.

View of the Hogsback Campground
Hogsback Campground

The Hogsback included a backcountry campground as well, providing a few simple amenities for bikers, backpackers, and 4x4s passing through this area. Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry.

View of Candlestick Butte and White Rim Canyon from the Hogsback
Candlestick Butte and White Rim Canyon

From the campground, I followed the last leg of trail back up the Hogsback.  I had beautiful late day sun that afternoon, with wonderful light over Candlestick Butte and the White Rim Canyon.

View of the Murphy Overlook from the Hogsback
View of the Murphy Overlook from the Hogsback

As I made my way back, I had a pretty view of the Wingate Cliffs, the giant sandstone formation making up the base beneath Island in the Sky.  I got my first sight of people that day as well, two tiny figures visiting the Murphy Overlook high above.

The Final Climb

Sunset on Junction Butte and Grand View Point from the Wingate Cliffs
Climbing the Wingate Cliffs

The hike back to my van included the 800 foot climb back up the Wingate cliffs to Island in the Sky.  I made this climb at sunset, with beautiful golden light coloring the surrounding cliffs.

Crescent moon at twilight
Returning to Island in the Sky at twilight

I hiked my last 2 miles back to my van by headlight, a sliver of moon hanging low in the western sky, a pretty end to an otherwise beautiful day.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I enjoyed the Murphy Trail a lot.  The overlook trail is a nice option for a shorter hike, with sweeping views over the Green River basin.  Meanwhile, the extended loop into the Green River basin, is a wonderful option for people wanting a more challenging day hike.  If you have done the Lathrop Trail, and are looking for similar hike through the Green River basin, the extended Murphy loop is a good option.  All in all, the Murphy area very pretty, and worth a visit.

Maps

Mapping for the Murphy Trail can be found on the Park Service map for the Needles District:

Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky District Trails and Roads

Other Canyonlands Pages

Island in the Sky District

Lathrop Trail

Needles District

Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

Confluence Trail

Druid Arch Trail

Additional Information

General information for Canyonlands National Park is available on the National Park Service website.

Canyonlands National Park – General Information

 

Canyonlands National Park – Lathrop Trail

Canyonlands National Park – Lathrop Trail

Canyonlands - The Lathrop Trail from White Rim Canyon

Location:  Canyonlands National Park, Moab, Utah
Distance & Gain:  13.6 miles, 1,600 feet
Difficulty:  Strenuous
Type: Out and back
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 10, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A challenging, yet spectacular, hike that descends from Island in the Sky to White Rim Canyon, with epic views over towering monuments and the sprawling Colorado River basin.

Last week I did the amazing Lathrop Trail in Canyonlands National Park.  This trail climbed all the way down the Wingate Cliffs, with a spectacular traverse at the edge of the mesa.  At the bottom, I enjoyed a lunch at the beautiful White Rim Canyon.  The climb back out of the canyon was long, including 1,200 feet of switchbacks up the canyon wall, but I had soaring views over the park and it was an amazing climb.  Altogether, this was probably my favorite trail out of Island in the Sky, and I highly recommend.

Epic Passage

Early moring fog on the trail
A foggy start

I had a clear forecast for the day, and had blue skies all the way into the trailhead that morning, but just as I was finished gearing up, a big bank of fog blew in.  I wasn’t sure what to make of it, but was still game for a day on the trail.

Canyonlands - View over the Colorado River Basin from the Lathrop Trail
The Colorado River Basin

I hiked for an hour or so through flat prairie, before the fog began to break.  Then, like magic, there was the Colorado River basin in all its sprawling glory.  The White Rim Canyon lay deep in the canyon below me, and the snowy La Sal Mountains sat far off to the east.  What a view!

Canyonlands - Towering ledges along the Lathrop Trail
Dizzying ledges at the mesa’s edge

From here, the trail cut an amazing route atop the cliffs of Island in the Sky, climbing down an impossible system of ledges, and over vertigo-inducing drop-offs.  This trail would eventually climb all the way down to the rocky edge of White Rim Canyon.  However, how it would descend the cliffs was still a mystery.

Canyonlands - A big descent on the Lathrop Trail
The trail climbs down this chute

After a mile or so at the canyon rim, the trail came into this big chute, with a long set of ledges leading down, and a big pile of rubble at the bottom.  The trail went all the way though here, and was surprisingly good, though steep and slow in a few places.  It was a long climb down, and would be a longer climb on the way up.

Uranium Mines

Canyonlands - Inscriptions in rocks by miners
Miners inscriptions

The trail passed through an old mining area near the bottom, with old uranium mines from the 1950s still visible up in the canyon walls.  As far as I could tell, all the mines were closed off, but I did find some inscriptions in a boulder near the trail.  I’m guessing the names from the fifties were probably local miners.

White Rim Canyon

Canyonlands - View of the Lathrop Trail from White Rim Canyon
The White Rim Canyon 4×4 road

The trail eventually connected up to White Rim Road, a 4×4 road that goes deep into the park.  Looking back, I could see the cliffs I had just descended, including many of the overlooks I’d stood on earlier in the morning.  In fact, the third photo up was taken near the prominent point above on the right.

Canyonlands - Looking into the Colorado Basin from White Rim Canyon
The heart of the Colorado Basin

I ate my lunch at the edge of White Rim Canyon, studying the endless sub-canyons that lead off to the Colorado River.  What do these canyons know, that we might not ever see?

Canyonlands - View of the White Rim Canyon edge
Spot the Jeep

After lunch, I climbed along the edge of the canyon, where I could see all the collapsed rocks from the harder sandstone deposits along the rim.  How long have those rocks been there?  Thousands of years?  Tens of thousands of years?  They are older than I am, that is for sure.

A Monumental Climb

Canyonlands - View from the canyon walls along the Lathrop Trail
Frost on the northern faces of Island in the Sky.

The climb back up to Island in the Sky was long, especially at the end of the day.  I took the climb slow, knowing I had a light if I needed to hike a bit in the dark after dusk.  The view from the chute was amazing though, with the massive Airport Tower standing guard a mile away, and the distant Blue Mountains far to the south.

Canyonlands - View of the White Rim Canyon from the Lathrop Trail
White Rim Canyon

Back at the top, I had a last look down on White Rim Canyon, and bits of the Colorado beyond that.  I could see the 4×4 road down below, and parts of the trail I had hiked earlier in the afternoon.  In the photo above, I climbed all the way down to the canyon edge, where the road turns off behind the bench to the right.

Final Rundown

This was an epic hike for sure, particularly the route going down the cliffs from Island in the Sky.  With the long climb down, then back up the canyon wall, the White Rim area sees fewer people than other parts of the park, and provides a more satisfying sense of remoteness.  Given that, the overlooks from the Island in the Sky sections of this trail are outstanding, and worth seeing even if you don’t want to climb all the way to the bottom.

This trail could also be done as a backpack, with a stay at Airport Campground or somewhere nearby.  Airport is a backcountry campground on White Rim Road, close to the end of the trail.  There is a vault toilet there, but few other amenities.  More adventurous backpackers can continue down the Lathrop 4×4 road all the way to the Colorado River.   Permits are required for all overnight stays in the backcountry.

Bottom line, I loved this hike, and it was probably my favorite hike out of the Island in the Sky District.  If you’re looking to do one big hike out of Island in the Sky, this is the one.

Maps

Mapping for the Lathrop Trail can be found on the Park Service map for the Needles District:

Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky District Trails and Roads

Other Canyonlands Pages

Island in the Sky District

Murphy Trail

Needles District

Chesler Park and the Joint Trail

Confluence Trail

Druid Arch Trail

Additional Information

General information for Canyonlands National Park is available on the National Park Service website.

Canyonlands National Park – General Information

 

Arches National Park – Delicate Arch Trail

Arches National Park – Delicate Arch Trail


Location:  Arches National Park, Moab, Utah
Distance & Gain: 3.0 miles round-trip, 500 feet
Difficulty:  Moderate
Type: Out and back
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 7, 2018
Permits and Fees: $30 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A short hike up to the Arches’ most photogenic arch.

I hiked the trail up to Delicate Arch a couple weeks ago, in Arches National Park.  This was a short trail that climbed up to the iconic Delicate Arch, one of the most photographed arches in the park.  I did this as a late day hike, as is popular among photographers, catching the orange glow of sunset on this beautiful sandstone arch.

The Hike

Delicate Arch Trail - Climbing the sandstone expanse
The Delicate Arch Trail climbs the broad sandstone expanse on the left

There are a couple ways to see Delicate Arch.  The first way is from the Delicate Arch Viewpoint, a roadside stop with a distant view of the arch.  The second way is to hike up to the 3 mile trail to the arch itself.  The Delicate Arch Trail starts from a small parking lot, a short distance up the road from the viewpoint.  The route climbed the sandstone expanse on the left in the photo above, and winds through some bluffs at the top on the way to the arch.

Arches National Park - Ledges
The ledges near the end of the trail

Near the top, the path follows a set of ledges up to the arch.  There was a little exposure up here, with ice on the trail to boot.  Given that, it was only mildly tricky, and nothing I had to worry about.  Still Microspikes would be good to carry here in the winter.

Arches National Park - Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch sits on a high sandstone bench, with a lovely little red amphitheater from which hikers can admire the view.  I sat with a handful of other people, all of us quietly watching the colors as they turned up, then down, with the setting sun. What a lovely show!

A consequence of watching the sunset at arch, is hiking back down to the parking lot in the dark.  It wasn’t a big deal though, as there were more colors in the clouds as I walked back down, and I had a light with me for the last bit in the dark.

Wolfe Ranch

Arches National Park - Wolfe Ranch
Wolfe Ranch

There is also the remains of a small cabin near the trailhead.  I did a little reading on this cabin, and it was built by a civil war vet who moved to Utah in 1898 when he was 69!  He raised cattle for another decade, building this larger cabin in 1906 with his sons.  The pioneers were rugged people, folks.  I hope I live to be that tough some day!

More Information

Official information for the Delicate Arch Trail is available on the National Park Service Website:

Arches National Park – Delicate Arch Trail

Colorado National Monument – Monument Canyon Trail

Colorado National Monument – Monument Canyon Trail

Location:  Colorado National Monument, Grand Junction, Colorado
Distance & Gain: 8.5 Miles, 1,100 feet
Difficulty:  Moderate
Type: Out and Back
Season: Year-round
Date Hiked: December 4, 2018
Permits and Fees: $15 Park Entrance Fee (increases to $20 in 2019)
Description: An early season winter hike through pretty snow covered red rock monuments.

I hiked a nice trail through Colorado National Monument last week.  The Monument Canyon Trail does a pretty tour though one of the park’s most popular canyon, passing next to many big red rock towers.  The first snow of the season fell here just a day earlier as well, so everything was under a fresh blanket of white.  I had a nice crisp morning on the trail, and it was a good hike.

An Early Start

Colorado National Monument - Fog
Woke up to some early morning fog

I was up early Tuesday morning, with cold temps and fog.  It was hard to motivate in a half frozen van, but there was fresh snow outside, and I was looking forward my first real winter hike of the year.  After a little coffee, the fog began to burn off, and I was all warmed up for a trail-walk.  Yay, for snow!

Colorado National Monument - Wrong trailhead?
Correct trailhead?

I kicked off my morning by parking at the wrong trailhead.  It turned out ok, but I had to follow a use trail through a break in the boundary fence, before I figured out where I was.  This also put me onto the Wedding Canyon Trail, an alternate route up a side canyon.  This was fine, however, as it would connect up with the Monument Canyon Trail later on.

Colorado National Monument - View from Wedding Canyon
View of Independence Monument (left) and the Pipe Organ (right) from Wedding Canyon

After a short climb, I was getting nice views of the monuments in the canyon, including Independence Monument and the Pipe Organ.  Everything was dusted in snow and frost, and I was feeling better about pushing through the chilly morning.

Colorado National Monument - Independence Monument
Independence Monument

Independence Monument was a beautiful formation right in the middle of the canyon.  The trail skirted the base of this rock and it was cool to see it up close.  It’s definitely an impressive rock.

Colorado National Monument - Upper Monument Canyon
Upper Monument Canyon

I climbed the base of Independence Monument, which had nice views of Upper Monument Canyon.  From here, I could see more of the prominent rock towers, including Rainbow Spire and Kissing Couple.  From here, the Upper Monument Canyon Trail continues on, passing under all of these towers, and into the canyons beyond.

Colorado National Monument - The Coke Ovens
The Coke Ovens

I hiked a couple more miles back to a nice view the Coke Ovens.  From here, the trail climbed high to the scenic road that runs through the park.  I had plans to head out to Moab later, however, so I made this spot my turnaround point, taking a break to eat a sandwich, before making my way back to the van.

The Return Trip

Colorado National Monument - Kissing Couple
Kissing Couple

On the way back, I had nice views of all the monuments with snow melted off their southern faces.  The view of Kissing Couple was very good from here, and really looked like like two figures kissing.  I could also see at least one bonafide arch on this tower, and wondered if there were more among the pillars at the top.

Colorado National Monument - The Pipe Organ
The Pipe Organ

I also had nice views of the Pipe Organ, with most of this snow on its southern face melted off in the sun.

Colorado National Monument - Window Rock
Window Rock

Window Rock was the same story, with exposed rock on its southern face.  You can visit the top of Window Rock from the scenic road as well, near Saddlehorn Campground.  There is even a view looking down through the window.

Colorado National Monument - Looking over Fruita from Wedding Canyon
Looking over Fruita from Wedding Canyon

By 2:00 PM I was making my way back down Wedding Canyon, returning to my van by 3:00 PM.  From here, I was off to Moab, for a few days in Arches and Canyonlands.  This was a nice trail though, and I’m glad I had a chance to see the Colorado National Monument while I was in the area.

Final Thoughts

I was in Grand Junction for the week to reup on provisions, and wait out some weather.  Sadly, this town was not exactly a trip highlight.  I camped near the airport, which worked ok, but turned out to be a popular area for 4-wheeling as well… at 3 AM in the morning!  I spent another morning filing a police report, after watching a homeless man beat up his girlfriend in an alley.  Yay, shitty people!!

The plus-side of Grand Junction however, was nice access to Colorado National Monument.  This particular trail is probably the most popular hike in the park, with iconic views of the canyons, and a good general representation of the park.  I really enjoyed getting into deeper parts of the monument on this trail, and liked getting up close to big rock towers.   Plus, it was a treat hiking through some snow again.  Overall, this was a good trail and I enjoyed it a lot.

More Information

General information at trail information for Colorado National Monument is available on the National Park Service Website.

Colorado Nation Monument – General Information

Colorado Nation Monument – Trail Information

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park

Goblin Valley State Park - Three Sisters

Location:  Hanksville, Southeastern Utah
Cost: $15 day-use, $30 per night campground stay, $100 per night yurt stay
Season: Open year-round
Date Visited: November 29, 2018
Description: An excellent state park, located between Capitol Reef and Moab, with a valley full of goblins and a great campground.

I stopped in at Goblin Valley State Park in Southern Utah, a few days back.  This is a small park off Highway 24, somewhere between Capitol Reef and Green River.  It had great campground, complete with a frisbee golf course, and a bunch of crazy goblins.  The valley was really cool, with lots of side canyons to explore.  It’s a good park, and I enjoyed my afternoon here.

Goblin Valley

Goblin Valley State Park - View from the Curtis Bench
Checking out the view from the Curtis Bench

I rolled into Goblin Valley late in the morning, after a satisfying breakfast at Blondie’s in Hanksville.  I started out on the Curtis Bench Trail, hiking out to a rock outcrop overlooking Goblin Valley.  This was a short trail, maybe a mile long, through open sage land, and had nice views of the valley, plus a nice vantage on the Henry Mountains to the west.

Goblin Valley State Park - View from Observation Point
In addition to goblins, Observation Point has nice views of Molly’s Castle (left) and the Glison Formation (far distance)

Later, I drove down to Observation Point, which had a big area looking over Goblin Valley.  This spot also had good views over the San Rafael desert, with nice vantages on Molly’s Castle, Willdhorse Butte, Temple Mountain, the Three Sisters, and the Glison formations.

Goblin Valley State Park - Goblin Valley
Exploring Goblin Valley

The goblins are everybody’s favorite part of the park.  You can wander through them freely down in the valley, and there are lots to explore, (the goblins are fragile, so please explore with care).  I poked around a nice canyon, opposite Observation Point, with lots of little nooks to check out.

Goblin Valley Campground

Goblin Valley State Park - View of the campground
Goblin Valley Campground

Goblin Valley has an excellent campground, located in a pretty canyon below Wildhorse Butte.  The campground has nice amenities. with tent sites, free showers, and a yurt.  The yurt looked cozy, but was by reservation only, and ran $100 per night, (out of my budget).  Still, it looked like a worthwhile option for a future return trip.

Goblin Valley State Park - Frisbee golf
Goblin Valley also has a frisbee golf course!

Goblin Valley Campground also has a sweet frisbee golf course.  I think this might beat the tetherball in Cathedral Gorge!

Final Thoughts

Goblin Valley was a good stop.  The Goblins were very cool, and fun to explore, and the campground was very nice.  The park is an hour drive from Capitol Reef National Park, and within two hours of Moab, so it would be a convenient stopover for travelers passing through this part of Utah.   The greater desert outside of the park is also really cool with many pretty mesas and other formations nearby.  I really wanted to check out the San Rafael swell north of the park, but I ran out of time.  There’s too much to see in the Southwest!

More Information

More information can be found the Utah State Parks website:

Utah State Parks – Goblin Valley

 

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita District

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita District

Capitol Reef National Park - Scenic Drive

Location:  Southeastern, Utah
Cost:  $15 entrance fee for Scenic Drive, no entrance fees for rest of park
Season: Open year-round
Date Visited: November 28, 2018
Description: Two short day hikes and a scenic drive out of the Fruita District, in Capitol Reef National Park.

After a couple days driving the Burr Trail through the southern part of Capitol Reef National Park, I spent a leisurely day in the lovely Fruita District, checking out the short Scenic Drive, and hiking the Capitol Gorge and the Sunset Point trails.  Fruita sits along Highway 24, and serves as the main headquarters for the park, with a visitor center, a few historical sites, a campground, and a network of trails.  The land around Fruita is spectacular, and its a wonderful way to see Capitol Reef without straying too far from the Highway.

Scenic Drive

Capitol Reef National Park - Scenic Drive
View along the Scenic Drive

The Scenic Drive is a short 8-mile road that explores the southern end of the Fruita District.  Its the lazy way to see the park for sure, letting you see everything from the comfort of your own car, but the whole drive is pretty, and there’s a few different trails along the way, if you looking for something active.

Capitol Gorge

Capitol Reef National Park - Pioneer Inscriptions
Pioneer inscriptions along the Capitol Gorge Trail

At the far end of the Scenic Drive, I checked out the Capitol Gorge Trail.  This short out-and-back hike was just a couple miles round trip through a small gorge, with a great set of pioneer inscriptions.  The inscriptions were really cool, with all kinds of names and dates.  The oldest one I could find was from 1800.

Capitol Reef National Park - White Domes
White Domes at the far end of the Capitol Gorge Trail

At the far end of trail, the canyon opens into the capitol dome shaped formations for which the park was named after.  There were more canyons back here, and one could easily spend an afternoon getting lost in the ravines.  Looks like fun!

Capitol Reef National Park - Capitol Tanks
Sign for the Tanks

There is also a short trail close to here, that leads up to the Capitol Tanks, where water collects in depressions in the rocks.  The tanks were near empty on my late season visit, but they were still cool.

Sunset Point

Capitol Reef National Park - Sunset Point
The view from Sunset Point

The Sunset Point Trail, is an easy half-mile hike from Panorama Point, along Highway 24.  This trail goes to a fantastic overlook above the Fremont River Canyon.  This place was awesome, and as the names suggests, would be a perfect place to watch the sunset.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Capitol Reef is an totally underrated park.  It has a huge area, with many remote sections, and miles of solitude.  The Waterpocket Fold is a geologic wonder, full rocky outcrops and beautiful colors, and there are lots of opportunities for hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, climbing, canyoneering, and much more.  I spent some 3 days going through the park and it wasn’t nearly enough.

The area around Fruita, while more developed then the rest of the park, is still incredibly scenic, with lots of things to do.  I was only there for a day, and only did a couple short trails, but it looked like there were many other great trails that go deeper into the park.  There were also many historical sites in Fruita that looked interesting.  Overall, I totally recommend everything in Capitol Reef.  This park is awesome!

Related Articles

Capitol Reef National Park – Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road

Scenic Byway 12

More Information

More information for Capitol Reef National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Capitol Reef National Park – General Information

Capitol Reef National Park – Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road

Capitol Reef National Park – Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road

Capitol Reef National Park - Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road

Distance: 69 Miles
Date Driven: November 26-27, 2018
Description: An adventurous drive through the more remote, southern reaches of Capitol Reef National Park, with unpaved roads, few services, some crazy switchbacks, and awe-inspiring geology.

I did an incredible drive across Capitol Reef National Park last week, going from Boulder to Fruita via the Burr Trail and Bullfrog Road.  The Burr Trail traverses part of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, before crossing into the lower part section of Capitol Reef.  From there, I took Bullfrog Road up a beautiful 30 mile stretch across the park, with spectacular views of the Waterpocket Fold and other sights.  A lot of this drive was on remote, unpaved roads, but it was an amazing couple of days, and an awesome trip.

Burr Trail

Boulder, Utah - Start of the Burr Trail
The start of Burr Trail in Boulder, Utah

I picked up the Burr Trail in Boulder, after a couple days driving Scenic Byway 12.  The ranger at the visitor center there said the road was in good condition and passable.  I was gassed up, with extra food in the van, and very much ready to see some desert, so off I went.

The Burr Trail - The Gulch
The Gulch

The Gulch was a few miles from Boulder, and an early highlight on the Burr Trail.  This section followed a beautiful canyon, with big red walls all the way through.  There were a few trails along the way as well, and I was tempted to stop and check them out, but it was already late in the day and I had to keep moving.

The Burr Trail - The Lampstand
The Lampstand area

I camped that night in a patch of BLM land between Capitol Reef and Grand Staircase-Escalante, in an area known as the Lampstand.  The Lampstand was open juniper plain, with a few dirt roads that went back into the canyons.  I was able to find a quiet place to sleep that night, in a small sheltered ravine.  It was cold, somewhere in the teens, but I used my little heater in my van and stayed warm.

Burr Trail - Capitol Reef Boundary
Crossing into Capitol Reef

I came into Capitol Reef early the next morning.  The next 20 miles from here were dirt road, but everything looked well maintained and dry.  Let’s hope there are no washouts!

Capitol Reef - Rock formations in the Waterpocket Fold
Coming into the Waterpocket Fold

Inside the park, the road wound into the Waterpocket Fold, where tons of rock layers started peeking out of the earth.  What a cool place!

Burr Trail - Switchbacks
The switchbacks at the end of the Burr Trail

A few miles in, the road descended a long set of switchbacks down a narrow canyon.  This section looked dicey, but getting the van through here was a breeze. It was a lot of fun, in fact!

The Burr trail ended just beyond the canyon here, where it connected up with Bullfrog Road.  Bullfrog Road runs north to south, from Highway 24 down to Glen Canyon.  I took it north, heading back to Highway 24.

Bullfrog Road

Capitol Reef - The Waterpocket Fold
The Waterpocket Fold

Bullfrog Road runs along the beautiful Waterpocket Fold.  Here, the Colorado Plateau basically “folded” over a huge fault, turning millions of years of sedimentary rock layers over on their side.  The “fold” then eroded away for millions more years, gradually exposing all the rock layers within.  The time scales on this thing are mind-boggling, yes, but it’s now an amazing swath of stratified rock, stretching the entire length of the park.

Capitol Reef - View of the Fruita area
View over the Fruita area in Capitol Reef

I also had great views here of the massive domes around the Fruita area, at the north end of the park.  Capitol Reef gets its name from these domes, since they resemble the dome on the U.S. Capitol Building.   These dome were also thought to be impassible, the way a barrier reef might block the passage of a ship, thus the park was given the name Capitol Reef.

Capitol Reef - View of the Henry Mountains
The Henry Mountains over the canyons in the Waterpocket Fold

I also had beautiful views of the Henry Mountains to the east.  These mountains were the last mountains to be surveyed in the lower 48, and still fairly inaccessible.  There’s apparently a jeep road that goes over it, but 4WD is recommended, and I wasn’t sure if my van would be up for it.  I’d love to do some climbing up there though.  The view would be amazing.

Capitol Reef - Highway 24
Driving into the Fruita area at the end of the day

I connected up with Highway 24 late in the day, grabbing a Passport stamp at the Fruita visitor center, just as they where closing.  The area around Fruita looked nice, and I ended up coming back the next day to explore more.  See more on my Fruita District trip report.

Factory Butte
View of Factory Butte from my campsite later that night

I camped that night in an OHV area, east of Capitol Reef, with a beautiful view of Factory Butte.  The butte was lit up with late day sun, and looked stunning.  From here I was able to pick up a couple bars on my phone here, and make my check-ins.  An excellent day all together.

Final Thoughts

The Burr Trail – Bullfrog Road traverse is an awesome drive.  The Waterpocket Fold, in Capitol Reef, was my most favorite part of the whole thing, but I also enjoyed driving through the Gulch, near Boulder, and the long set of switchbacks along the Burr Trail.  About 20 miles of this road was an unpaved dirt road, but aside from some washboarding on Bullfrog, I had no problems getting my van though.  Given that, this road is remote and services are limited.  The roads can also become muddy and impassable in wet weather, so travelers should check conditions before they leave.  Gas, food and other provision are also recommended.

Related Articles

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita District

Scenic Byway 12

More Information

More information for Capitol Reef National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Capitol Reef National Park – General Information

Scenic Byway 12 – Red Canyon to Boulder

Scenic Byway 12 – Red Canyon to Boulder

Scenic Byway 12 - Sign

Distance: 86 Miles
Date Driven: November 24-26, 2018
Description: A gorgeous drive across Southern Utah over the crest of the Colorado Plateau, from Red Canyon to Boulder, passing through both Bryce Canyon and Grand Staircase-Escalante.

I drove the amazing Scenic Byway 12 in last week, going from Red Canyon, Utah, to Boulder, Utah.  This drive went through some amazing territory, including Bryce Canyon, the Kodachrome Basin, Grand Staircase Escalante, and Head of the Rocks.  This was a spectacular drive that just kept getting better and better!

Red Canyon to Kodachrome Basin

I started out on a cold, late November Saturday, picking up Scenic Byway 12 late in the morning, near Panguitch, Utah.  I had some grey skies that morning, but all the roads were open, and I was excited to see stretch of highway.

Scenic Byway 12 - Arches in Red Rock Canyon
Arches along the road in Red Canyon

Red Canyon came up within the first few miles of the turnoff.  This is a National Recreation Area along the scenic corridor, and includes a trail system and campground.  It was super photogenic and looked like a fun place to explore, but I had plans to go to Kodachrome Basin State Park later, so I kept moving.

Scenic Byway 12 - Mossy Cave Trail
The Mossy Cave Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Byway 12 also passes through the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park.  Deborah and I had done the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive earlier in the month, but I was still wanted to hike through the hoodoos down in the canyons, so I stopped near the Mossy Cave area to poke around.  The Mossy Cave trail was short, less than a couple miles, but went to a small cave and a waterfall, winding through a canyon along the way.

Scenic Byway 12 - Kodachrome Basin State Park
Kodachrome Basin State Park

I checked in at the Basin Campground in Kodachrome Basin State Park outside of Cannonville, that afternoon.  The campground in Kodachrome was great, and was easy to get into on an off-season weekend.  The next day was sunny and warm, so I spent a whole Sunday relaxing in the campground, and hiking the Panorama Trail.  Read more about that on my Kodachrome page.

Grosvenor Arch to Escalante

Scenic Byway 12 - Grosvenor Arch
Grosvenor Arch

I camped out next to Grand-Staircase Escalante on Sunday night, checking out Grosvenor Arch in the morning on Monday.  Grosvenor Arch is 18 miles south of Byway 12, on Cottonwood Road in Grand Staircase.   It was essentially just an arch with a small interpretive trail, but pretty nonetheless.

Scenic Byway 12 - View of Bryce Canyon from Cannonville
View of Bryce Canyon from Cannonville

I picked up a coffee in Cannonville on my way out to Escalante.  Bryce Canyon, sits high over Cannonville, and you could see into the hoodoos up in the canyon above.  So pretty!

Scenic Byway 12 - Straight Cliffs
The Straight Cliffs near Escalante

I continued on Byway 12 toward Escalante, passing by Powell Point, the Dixie National Forest, and the Straight Cliff just before town.

Scenic Byway 12 - Nemo's
Good burgers can be found at Nemo’s in Escalante

I got into Escalante late in the morning, checking out the Grand Staircase Visitor Center, picking up some gas, and grabbing a delicious College Burger at Nemo’s.  The Grand Staircase Visitor Center has an awesome 3D map of the park, by the way.

There were a few other options here in Escalante, that I couldn’t check out due to time.   Petrified Forest State Park, Hells Backbone Road, and Hole-in-the-Rock Road, the Devils Backbone, all sound awesome, but couldn’t be fit into this trip.  Hoping I can come back to explore more some time!

Head of the Rocks to Boulder

Scenic Byway 12 - Head of the Rocks
Head of the Rocks

10 miles east of Escalante, a juniper plain opens out to Head of the Rocks, an amazing overlook with a breathtaking view.  This spot blew my mind.  Below was the vast swath of white  canyons down in the Escalante River drainage.  Beyond that was the Waterpocket Fold, out in Capitol Reef, some 25 miles to the east, with the Henry Mountains far beyond that.  I stayed here for nearly an hour, taking photos, checking out my maps, and simply absorbing the landscape.  It was an amazing spot and maybe my favorite stop along the whole Scenic Byway 12.

Scenic Byway 12 - The Hogsback
The Hogsback

From Head of the Rocks, the road goes down into the canyons, passing through Calf Creek, before climbing a long skinny ridge up to Boulder.  The ridge is known as the Hogsback, and was billed as a white-knuckle drive, with cliffy drop-off on both sides.  True, it climbed high, and did have drop-offs, but it wasn’t difficult.  Just try not to get distracted by all the amazing views while negotiating the curves.

Scenic Byway 12 - The Burr Trail
The start of the Burr Trail

From Boulder, Scenic Byway 12 continues on to Torrey, some 35 miles to the north, but I wanted to check out the Burr Trail and Bullfrog Roads up to Notom, another scenic route that would traverse the southern section of Capitol Reef.  The Burr-Bullfrog route is partially unpaved, and high clearance vehicles were recommended, but it looked more adventurous than the drive to Torrey.  Check back later for my write up on the Burr-Bullfrog drive.

Final Thoughts

Scenic Byway 12 is a spectacular road that connects between many of the best parks in Southern Utah.  It was a great alternative to Interstate 70, with quieter roads, and more spectacular scenery.  Parts of the road were remote and many of the towns along the way were tiny, so provisions could be tricky to find.  Gas and food are available is some of the town, but prices were higher and availability was somewhat limited for me during the off-season.  Given that, I was still able to find gas, a few groceries, and and excellent cheesburger in Escalante that week.  Cell service was also spotty pretty much everywhere.  Either way, Scenic Byway 12 was awesome, and I completely recommended.

Related Articles

Bryce Canyon National Park – Scenic Drive

Kodachrome Basin State Park

More Information

The Scenic Byway 12 Foundation has lots more information on their website, included maps, logistics, and additional stops.  Check out their website below:

Scenic Byway 12 Foundation

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park

Kodachrome Basin State Park
Location:  Cannonville, Southern Utah
Cost: $8 day-use, $20 per night campground stay, $10 hookup fee, $105 per night bunkhouse stay
Season: Open year-round
Date Visited: November 24-25, 2018
Description: A nice state park near Bryce Canyon in Southern Utah, with interesting desert rock formations and a great campground.

I stopped in at Kodachrome Basin State Park in Southern Utah last month and had a great stay.  Kodachrome is a small park, close to Bryce Canyon, with some nice trails, interesting rock formations, and a great campground.  It was a good stop, with excellent amenities.

Panorama Trail

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Park map
The Kodachrome Basin trail map

I checked out the Panorama Trail during my visit to Kodachrome.  The park has a few different trails, all pretty short, but the Panorama Trail was one of the longer ones, with a six mile loop through the park.  There were lots of nice stops along this trail as well, including Indian Cave, Secret Passage, Cool Cave, and Panorama Point.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Handprints at Indian Cave
The hand prints at Indian Cave

Indian Cave was one of the first stops on the Panorama Trail, and it was pretty cool.  There were all these hand prints that had been worn into the rock over the years.  There wasn’t a lot of information about where they came from, but I still wondered how many other people had touched these rocks?  Who were they, and what were their lives?  It is a mystery for now.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Ballerina Spire
The Ballerina Spire

I came across the Ballerina Spire a little past Indian Cave.  Kodachrome is known for these spires, and has nearly 70 different ones throughout the park.  Their formation is not well understood, but some think they might be mineralized geyser columns.  The Ballerina was one of the prettiest, with nice clean lines and a graceful arc.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Rock formations
Interesting rock formations near Secret Passage

A little over a mile in, you can take a side trail through Secret Passage.  This is a short detour, but passes some pretty slots in the canyon, and these weird alien-like dome formations.  It and easy side trip, and only adds a couple extra minutes to the hike, so everyone should hike through here.

Not far after Secret Passage, there is another turnoff that heads back to the trailhead.  This shortcut cuts the loop down to 3 miles, vs 6 miles, but misses the whole Cool Cave section.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Cool Cave
Inside the Cool Cave

The Cool Cave Trail (formerly the Big Bear Geyser Trail) does a second loop through the next canyon over from the Panorama Trail, and stops in at Cool Cave along the way.  Cool Cave is more of a narrows than a cave, but it has a nice large chamber cut into the rock, with a pretty reverb when you clap your hands.  It looked like there might be a waterfall through here when there is flow, but the day I was there, everything was dry.

Basin Campground

Kodachrome Basin State Park - The Basin Campground area
The Basin Campground area

I also stayed at Basin Campground while I was in Kodachrome State Park.  Basin Campground is a great campground, tucked into a small cove at the north end of the park.  It is very popular base camp for this part of Southern Utah, since Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is practically next door, Scenic Byway 12 is just a few miles away, and Bryce Canyon is only a short 40 minute drive away.  The campground also has RV hookup sites and showers, and even a laundromat, so it is very convenient.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Showers
Basin Campground has nice showers!

The showers at Kodachrome State Park were super nice, probably the nicest showers I’ve ever seen in a state park—nicer than any of the showers in any of houses I’ve ever lived, for that matter! They had rain shower heads, wands, and nice modern tiling, plus the water stayed hot forever.  On top of that, they were totally free.  Good job Kodachrome State Park!

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Red Dirt Laundromat
The Red Dirt Laundromat near Basin Campground

Kodachrome also has a laundromat onsite, with coin operated machines and a change machine, another nice amenity for people traveling through the area.

Kodachrome Basin State Park - Bunkhouses
Kodachrome State Park also has two bunkhouses available by reservation

The park also had new bunkhouses that look pretty cush.  They were simple affairs, but had bunks, a couch, and a table, plus heat and air.  They were $105 per night and you need reservations to stay, but they looked nice.

Kodachrome Basin State Park
Petrified wood?

Sooo… I can’t really give you guys a full review of the Basin Camp, without pointing out this beefy rock pillar that sticks up above camp.  There are many large rocks in Kodachrome State Park, but this particular one reaches high above the rest, a prominent member among so many other features just hanging around the park. Look how it stands erect, like a pink, swollen worm reaching up to heaven somewhere.  See how its milky white tip gleams in the sun, a big flesh-colored apple of clay hanging low at its base. If you’ve been hard-up for that standout vacation selfie my friend, don’t hold back, as the sight of this girthy mass will be so satisfying, you’ll be shooting massive loads of pics to all your friends in no time.  Take all the photos you like kids, and enjoy your stay at Basin Campground!

Final Thoughts

Seriously, I really liked Kodachrome State Park.  The trails are nice and Basin Campground is an especially convenient stopover for this part of Southern Utah.  It’s a great stop, and I totally recommend, inappropriate rocks and all.

Related Articles

Bryce Canyon National Park – Scenic Drive

Scenic Byway 12 – Red Canyon to Boulder

More Information

More information can be found the Utah State Parks website:

Nevada State Parks – Kodachrome Basin

Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire State Park

Valley of Fire, - West Entrance

Location:  Overton, Southern Nevada, 60 miles east of Las Vegas
Cost: $10 day-use fee, $20 per night at campground, $10 additional fee for hookups
Season: Open year-round
Dates Visited: November 20-21, 2018
Description: An excellent southern Nevada state park with big piles of red rocks, lots of hiking trails and great campgrounds.

I spent a few nice days in Valley of Fire State Park last month.  Valley of Fire is in an hour east of Las Vegas, and known for its magnificent red rock formations.  These rocks are beautifully wind eroded, and lots of fun to climb.  I spent a whole afternoon just exploring the rocks around my campground.  The next day I checked out Fire Wave and White Domes trails.  These trails went through some spectacular geologic areas, with wavy strata, colorful hills, and more.  Valley of Fire was an excellent park and a great stop.

Atlatl and Arch Rock Campgrounds

Valley of Fire - Atlatl Campground
Atlatl Campground

I spent a quiet Tuesday night at Atlatl Campground, next to one of the big rocks around the campground.  Atlatl and Arch Rock are both good campgrounds, located next to each other in a big cluster of rocks on the west side of the park.  The campgrounds are well maintained, and the showers at Atlatl are free.  Both campgrounds are first-come-first-serve, and both can fill out quickly, but I had no problem finding a good spot in Atlatl on a mellow November weekday morning.

Valley of Fire - Red rocks
The playground of rock formations behind Atlatl and Arch Rock campgrounds

The rocks around Atlatl and Arch Rock campgrounds were immediately inviting.  After setting camp, I spent the rest of afternoon just exploring these rocks.  There were beautiful stands of sandstone back here, with all kinds of secret hideouts and passage ways.  I climbed to some great overlooks with expansive views as well.  So much fun.

Valley of Fire - Wind caves
Wind caves

There is some awesome wind erosion in Valley of Fire.  This small wind cave was one of many I saw that afternoon.

Valley of Fire - Red rocks in the valley
Red rocks rising out of the valley floor

I climbed to a number of high points around the campground that day, from which I had nice views around the valley.  All the red rocks poking out of the sand and sage is so beautiful.

Valley of Fire - Lake Mead Recreation Area
The mountains in the Lake Mead Area

I stayed out the whole day, watching the moon rise up in the late afternoon sky.  From the tops of the rocks I could see all the way into the canyons around Lake Mead off to the southeast.

Valley of Fire - Virgin Peak
Sunset over Virgin Peak

I watched the sky fill up with color over Virgin Peak, far off to the east, as the sun set behind me.  I had a nice dinner at my campsite later that night and caught up on some journaling in the van.  Perfect day.

Valley of Fire - Red rocks at night
A night hike in the desert

I went for a walk through the desert by the moonlight late that night, taking the tripod and camera along for some star photography.  The moon was nearly full and I could get all the detail in the rocks and desert scrub.  It was cold out, somewhere in the thirties, but I brought a bunch of layers and it was pretty to see the desert at night.

The Fire Wave and White Domes

Valley of Fire - Fire Wave
The Fire Wave

The next morning, I drove out from the visitor center along White Domes Road, a 5.5-mile scenic drive into a back section of the park.  I hiked the Fire Wave Trail towards the far end of the road.  This was a short and easy hike that ends at the Fire Wave, an interesting expanse of smooth, striped sandstone.  This was a popular trail and were lots of people out, but the fire wave was cool and I enjoyed the walk.

Valley of Fire - Rainbow Vista
The colorful rocks of the Rainbow Vista area

The greater area around Fire Wave is known as Rainbow Vista, and it had some astonishingly colorful rocks.

Valley of Fire - Bighorn sheep
A bighorn sheep

There are bighorn sheep in Valley of Fire as well, and I saw a few in Rainbow Vista while I was on the Fire Wave Trail.

Valley of Fire - White Domes
The White Domes Trail

I also did the short, mile and a half, White Domes Trail.  This trail was not quite as spectacular as Fire Wave, but was still a decent loop, with an old movie set ruins and a pretty narrows.  Apparently, lots of movies have been filmed in Valley of Fire, including one of my all-time childhood favorites, Beastmaster.  I am Dar!

Atlatl Rock Petroglyphs

Valley of Fire - Atlatl Rock
Petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock

Deborah and I also passed through here a couple weeks prior, and we stayed at Arch Rock Campground.  While we were there, we checked out a great set of petroglyphs at Atlatl Rock.  There is a main set up a short stairway by the parking lot, but if you walk around side of the rock there are lots more.  Native Americans have been coming through here since for over 2,000 years.  So cool!

Final Thoughts

Valley of Fire is an awesome park.  Like many of the southwest state parks, it is competitive with the big national parks, with low rates, nice amenities, and great scenery.  Valley of Fire also has easy access into the more remote north-side of Lake Mead, and is an excellent stop between Zion National Park and Las Vegas.  I loved this park, and highly recommend it.

More Information

More information can be found the Nevada State Parks website:

Nevada State Parks – Valley of Fire

Bryce Canyon National Park – Scenic Drive

Bryce Canyon National Park – Scenic Drive

Bryce Canyon National Park - The Amphitheater
The Amphitheater

Location:  Southern Utah, Bryce Canyon National Park,
Distance: 36 miles round-trip
Cost: $35 Park Entrance Fee
Season: Open year-round, some turnoffs closed to vehicle traffic in winter
Date Visited: November 12, 2018
Description: A scenic drive along the length of Bryce Canyon National Park, with many pretty overlooks from the canyon rim.

Deborah and I drove the main scenic road through Bryce Canyon National Park on Veterans Day this year.  This road is one of the most popular ways to see the canyon, as it can all be done by car, and has access to tons of pretty overlooks and viewpoints.  The drive is 36 miles round-trip and took us about 3 hours to complete, including stops.

We drove in from Zion that morning, checking in at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center late in the morning.  Since we were just there for the day, the ranger recommended the scenic road as an easy way to see the whole park in an afternoon.  He suggested driving all the way to the end of the road first, and stopping at any of the 15 overlooks on the way back.

Bryce Canyon National Park - Yovimpa Point
Yovimpa Point

As recommended, we drove out to the far end of the park first, making our first stop at Yovimpa Point.  This point looked way out over Grand Staircase-Escalante and was very impressive.  Bryce sits at the top of Grand Staircase, and you could see many of the giant “steps” dropping off toward the Grand Canyon to the south.  We also got our first up close views of the pink cliffs that make up the walls of Bryce Canyon.  This was to be a nice drive.

Bryce Canyon National Park - hoodoos
The Bryce Canyon hoodoos

We made our way back down the road, stopping at a bunch of the overlooks.  The hoodoo formations in Bryce are really cool, like spirits watching over the valley.  They look delicate, but Deborah and I were able to walk through a few of them and they were all solid stone.  So cool!

Bryce Canyon National Park - Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge

The Natural Bridge overlook was pretty cool in that it had, well, a natural bridge.  Also cool!

Bryce Canyon National Park - Inspiration Point
Inspiration Point had a nice view over the Amphitheater

We spent the rest of the day, checking out all the stops.  The big payoff at the end was the Amphitheater, with hundreds of hoodoos packed into a giant bowl.  We checked it out from Inspiration Point, which was full of tourists, but still awesome.  We scrambled around the rim a little, and saw some coyotes poking around the hoodoos as well.  Yay wildlife!!

Final Thoughts

Driving the park was a nice and easy way to see Bryce Canyon.  We had a cold November afternoon while we were there, so it was nice to be in the van with the heater on.  We did see many trails going down from some of the overlooks, and I think hiking or backpacking Bryce in the summer months would be great fun.    Either way, Bryce is a beautiful park and we enjoyed it a lot.

More Information

More information for Bryce Canyon National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Bryce Canyon National Park – General Information

Mystic Hot Springs

Mystic Hot Springs

Mystic Hot Springs - Main Entrance
Location:  Monroe, Utah
Season: Year round
Cost: $15 day-soak, $30 campground stay, $60+ rooms cabins/buses
Date Visited: November 12-14, 2018
Description: Funky hot springs retreat and campground, with spring-fed pools and tubs, plus cabins and hippy buses.

Deborah and I spent a couple nights at Mystic Hot Springs, just outside of Monroe, Utah, last week.  Mystic is a rustic hot-springs, with hot pools, pretty views, and a generous dose of Grateful Dead paraphernalia.  The retreat has two large pools, one hot and one warm, plus a scattering of up-cycled bathtubs tucked into the sagebrush, all of which are fed from natural springs in the hills above the grounds.  Accommodations were simple, with a campground and handful of cabins, plus a few converted (and whimsically painted) buses fitted with beds and electricity.   We had a nice quiet stay during our mid-week, off-season visit, and Deborah and I both loved the pools and view over the Monroe Valley.

Mystic Hot Springs - View of the Monroe Valley
Mystic Hot Springs and the Monroe Valley

Mystic Hot Springs is located on the outskirts of Monroe, at the foot of the hills above town.  It has a beautiful view of the valley and the mountains around Delano and Belknap Peaks.  The property is modestly developed with natural trails and tubs hidden in the desert scrub.

Pools and Tubs

Mystic Hot Springs - Warm and hot pools
The warm and hot pools

The two large pools have concrete walls, and are fed from the natural springs above the pools.  The water is heavily mineralized, and a pours into the warm pool from a large travertine formation.  Extra hot water is piped into a second pool above, for extra hot soaks.

Mystic Hot Springs - Bathtubs
The bathtubs

Above the pools, Mystic has a few bathtubs spread across the hillside.  The temperatures in each tub are fixed, but they vary from tub to tub, so guests have a range to choose from.

Mystic Hot Springs - Tub with a travertine formation
My personal favorite Mystic tub

Our favorite bathtub was located on the south end of the hill, where a large mineral dome has begun to eat the tub alive.  This tub fit the two of us comfortably, and had its own private corner of the grounds, with a spectacular view of the mountains.  We watched the sunset here on the second evening, while a beautiful flock of birds danced around the trees nearby.  Mystic Hot Springs definitely had some magic in the air that night.

Accommodations

Mystic Hot Springs - Busses and cabins
Cabins and buses are available for overnight stays

Mystic has a variety of accommodations for overnight stays.  We nested out in the van, under a stand of cottonwoods in the campground, but guests can also stay in a handful of cabins and buses onsite as well.  The cabins and buses are simple, most are just a roof, a bed, and some electricity, but the November mornings were chilly, and the cabins would be a nice alternative to tent camping.  Showers are provided for all guests, including day-soaks, and the pools are open all night for overnighters.

Final Thoughts

We liked Mystic Hot Springs a lot.  The hot springs were great, with nice hot water and beautiful surroundings.  The facilities are funky,  and the accommodations were simple with modest frills, but the staff are great and take good care of the place.  Swim suits are required for all the pools and tubs, so there is no awkwardness about nudity as well.  We were there in the off-season, and the place was very quiet, but they have music on select nights in the summer too, which looked like fun.  There was no food available onsite while we were there, but there were restaurants and grocery stores in Monroe and Richfield.   We just cooked and snacked on our food in the campground, and grabbed one breakfast in Richland.  Given all that, Mystic was a good stop and we would go back.

More Information

More information can be found the Mystic Hot Springs website:

Mystic Hot Springs

Zion National Park – Observation Point

Deborah and I did the gorgeous Observation Point Trail in Zion National Park over Veterans Day weekend.  This trail was spectacular, climbing from Weeping Rock at the canyon floor to an amazing viewpoint high up on the East Rim.  The views from Observation Point were awe-inspiring, with sweeping views down the length of Zion Canyon, from Angels Landing below, to the Watchmen high over Springdale.  The trail climbed through a wide range of environments as it ascended the canyon walls, and passed through the beautiful Echo Canyon narrows.  This was an altogether amazing trail and Deborah and I both loved it.

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Zion National Park – Observation Point

Zion National Park – Observation Point

Location:  Southwestern Utah, Zion National Park
Distance & Gain: 8.0 Miles, 2,150 feet
Difficulty:  Moderate to Strenuous
Type: Out and Back
Season: Spring, Summer, and Fall
Date Hiked: November 11, 2018
Permits and Fees: $25 Park Entrance Fee
Description: A classic Zion hike that climbs from the valley floor to the east rim, with breathtaking views over Zion Canyon and Angels Landing.

Deborah and I did the gorgeous Observation Point Trail in Zion National Park over Veterans Day weekend.  This trail was spectacular, climbing from Weeping Rock at the canyon floor to an amazing viewpoint high up on the East Rim.  The views from Observation Point were awe-inspiring, with sweeping views down the length of Zion Canyon, from Angels Landing below, to the Watchmen high over Springdale.  The trail climbed through a wide range of environments as it ascended the canyon walls, and passed through the beautiful Echo Canyon narrows.  This was an altogether amazing trail and Deborah and I both loved it.

Cable Mountain from the Observation Point trailhead

Jammies and I got a lazy start on Sunday morning, after a tasty breakfast and coffee at Café Solei in Springdale.  We parked the van at the Visitor Center and caught the park shuttle into Zion Canyon.  The Observation Point Trailhead was at the Weeping Rock shuttle stop.  Cable Mountain towered above us a we stepped off the bus here.  We’d switchback all the way up to the base of this massive wall here, before hanging a left into Echo Canyon.  Start time for us was a little after 11 AM.

The Echo Canyon Narrows

After an hour or so of climbing switchbacks, the trail wound back into Echo Canyon, part of which was an amazing slot canyon.  This whole section was very cool, with towering walls and beautiful erosion.  There were some fantastic patterns in the rocks, and Deborah and I geeked out pretty hard on the geology through here.  Trail construction was impressive here as well, with parts of the cliff wall blasted out to make room for the trail.

The White Cliffs

The far side of Echo Canyon opened out into the White Cliffs, an open area with scattered pine forest and lighter colored rock.  From here the trail seemed to climb impossibly higher, chipped out of the cliff walls in tight switchbacks.

The view of Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne on the left, with Lady Mountain in the background

The views became even more impressive as we climbed toward the canyon rim.  Looking down Echo Canyon, we had Cable Mountain and the Great White Throne to the left, with Lady Mountain and Court of the Patriarchs in the background.  The size of some of these walls were staggeringly big.  Zion is an amazing place.

View from the East Rim of Zion Canyon

Eventually the trail began to top out, wrapping around the East Rim on a flat grade to Observation Point, with all of Zion Canyon opening out before us.  We’d been climbing for a couple hours now and our legs we tired, but the view kept us going, and it was an easy walk to the point from here.

Jammies and me enjoying the view at Observation Point

Observation Point was a perfect cap to an already amazing trail.  We were blown away by the view, with Angels Landing below us and the Virgin River shimmering through the cottonwoods on the canyon floor.  What a spot!

Hikers enjoying their lunches on Angels Landing

We spent half an hour at the top, taking in all that the view had to offer.  Down below us we could see all the hikers eating lunch on top of Angels Landing, an amazing overlook in its own right.

Looking down on the switchbacks at the base of Cable Mountain

We also had nice views of the earlier sections of our trail.  We could see the long series of switchbacks that climb the base of Cable Mountain, before heading into the narrows of Echo Canyon.  We had climbed high!

Two tiny climbers on a massive wall beneath Observation Point

We saw a few rock climbers ascending some insane faces within the canyon as well.  There are two of these climbers in the photo above, slowly making their way up a crack below Observation Point.   Looks crazy.

Enjoying a second round of views on the way down

The descent was nice, having all our climbing for the day behind us, we enjoyed a second dose of all the views.  Again, I was impressed with the quality of Observation Point Trail construction.  This was a massive climb, up what should otherwise be an impossible route, but the trail was carved right into the canyon wall, with a wide tread and gentle switchbacks all the way up.  Big shout-outs to the skilled crafts-people of the Zion National Park trail crews.

Late day sun on Angels Landing and the Organ in Zion Canyon

The Observation Point Trail is a totally awesome hike.  Jammies and I both loved it and would do it again in a heartbeat.  Its spectacular, widely varied in beauty and terrain, artfully constructed, and a great work out; an altogether classic trail in one of America’s classic national parks.  The climb is significant, but the endless display of amazing scenery is an easy distraction from the effort, and the payoff at the top is well worth the energy spent to get there.  Observation Point has my very enthusiastic recommendation.

More Information

Official information and trail descriptions for Zion National Park is available on the National Park Service website.

Zion National Park – General Information

Zion National Park – Trail Descriptions

Cathedral Gorge State Park

Cathedral Gorge State Park

Location:  Panaca, Southeastern Nevada, 165 miles north of Las Vegas
Cost: $5 day-use, $15 per night at campground (day-use fee waived), $10 additional fee for hookups
Season: Open year-round
Date Visited: November 6-7, 2018
Description: An great state park located in southeastern Nevada, with a small but dramatically eroded canyon.  The park includes good hiking trails and a campground.

I spent a night at Cathedral Gorge State Park, in Nevada, while driving down Highway 93, between Great Basin National Park and Las Vegas.  Cathedral Gorge was a little gem of park, with and eroded gorge reminiscent of Bryce Canyon.  There is a small system of trails, some cool “cave” features, and a decent campground as well.  I really enjoyed Cathedral Gorge, and would recommend it to anyone traveling through this part of Nevada.

The Miller Overlook

I stopped for a break at the Miller Overlook on Tuesday afternoon, about 100 miles south of Ely on Highway 93.  The overlook was a free stop-off, with some signboards and a couple of trails.  I wasn’t expecting much, but was immediately impressed once I saw the view.  The canyon was full off hoo-doos, with pretty red and white layers of strata.  I locked up the van and did a quick tour through the Eagle Point Trail.

View along the Eagle Point Trail

The Eagle Point Trail walks along the rim of the canyon, with pretty views of all the features down below.  There were some cool formations in the park, and a pretty speckling of desert junipers.

View from Eagle Point

From Eagle Point I had nice views over the park’s open canyon, and I could see the campground under a small stand of cottonwood trees out in the middle.  Exploring the canyon looked like a fun way to spend the afternoon, and the campground looked promising, so I decided to take a closer look.

The Cathedral Gorge Campground features cheap fees ($15), free showers, and tether-ball

The campground was good.  It was the middle of the week and off-season, so I had plenty of sites to choose from.  Each site had a table, fire-pit, and shade structure.  There were nice restrooms and free showers (score!).  Overnight fees were an affordable $15 night.  There were trails right out of the campground, and cool “caves” within a ten-minute walk.  They even had a tether-ball!

Caves can be found within the erosion

I did a nice walk that afternoon, checking out the nature trail and cave features near the campground.  Some areas of the canyon have been eroded so heavily, that deep slot canyons have been cut into the mesa.  Some of these slots even tunnel into chambers and sheltered halls, creating cave formations that were very fun to explore.

I slept well at the campground that night, fixing a nice breakfast and coffee the next morning at my site,  taking a well needed shower, before hitting the road again to Vegas.  Cathedral Gorge was a great stop though, with an awesome canyon and nice campground.  I recommend.

Related Articles

Great Basin National Park

More Information

More information can be found the Nevada State Parks website:

Nevada State Parks – Cathedral Gorge

Great Basin National Park – Detailed Information

I’ve added more information from my trip to Great Basin National Park recently, including the following pages:

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak

These pages cover my 2-day trip to the park a couple weeks ago, including visits to some of the more popular areas in Great Basin National Park.

Great Basin National Park

Great Basin National Park

Location:  Eastern Nevada
Costs: Free entrance, $15 per night at developed campgrounds, $11 for cave tours
Season: Park is open year-round, with reduced operations in winter
Date Visited: Early November, 2018
Description: A remote mountain range in the high desert of eastern Nevada, with alpine peaks, bristlecone pines, and caves.

I visited Great Basin National Park in early November, 2018, spending 2 days in the Wheeler Peak and the Lehman Caves areas.  Wheeler Peak is the tallest peak in the park, and second highest point in Nevada.  Its summit features alpine landscapes, with bristlecone pines and aspen groves in the lower elevations.  The Lehman Caves is a cavern with some beautiful rooms and some amazing formations.  It is only accessible by guided tour, but the tours are cheap ($11) and fun.

The Wheeler Peak and Lehman Caves areas are in the northern part of the park, and are the most accessible parts of the park.  There is a main Visitor Center at Lehman Caves, with park information and many other facilities. The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive connects Lehman Caves to Wheeler Peak, via an 11-mile road that climbs to the highest paved point in the park.  The road tops out at the Wheeler Peak Trailhead at just over 10,000 feet.  Just beyond that is the Wheeler Peak Campground and more trails.  There are other, more primitive facilities in other parts of the park as well, such as Strawberry Creek and Baker Creek, but I was unable to explore these during my visit.  The Park Service has an official park map here.

I spent a couple days in the park total, doing a nice hike through the Alpine Lakes Loop Trail and the Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Grove on Day 1, and hiking Wheeler Peak followed by the Lehman Cave Tour on Day 2.  I stayed at the Lower Lehman Campground, which was easy to stay at in off-season November.  I had cloudy skies the first day, but a clear day the next, and beautiful night skies both nights that I camped.  The nights were cold, down to freezing at the wee hours of the morning, and I had crisp autumn temps during the days, so layers and winter gear were very useful for me on my trip.

Park Features

Hiking – There are many nice trails in Great Basin National Park, with opportunities to climb high in Snake Range, visit old bristlecone groves, or explore canyons in the lower elevations.  The Park Service has complete  list of maintained trails here.

Hiking through the Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Grove

I hiked a few of the trails out of the Wheeler Peak Area, including some of the more popular hikes in the park.  Trip reports for these hikes are linked below.

Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier TrailsA combined trip through the Alpine Lakes Loop including Stella and Teresa Lakes, and the Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails.  The hike included a nice circuit through the Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Grove, with many beautiful examples of ancient bristlecone pines.

Wheeler Peak TrailA rewarding hike up to the top of Wheeler Peak, the highest peak in the park.  This trail is strenuous, climbing nearly 3000 feet and topping out at 13,036 feet, but the summit affords sweeping views of the Snake Range and the surrounding valleys.

Lehman Caves – The Lehman Caves is a highlight of Great Basin National Park.  There are 40 known caves in the park, all protected from human entry.  The Lehman Caves however, are accessible by guided tours provided by the Park Service.   The tours are really good, and the Lehman Caves, are a beautiful specimen, with some amazing formations.

Lehman Caves Tour

The Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive – The Wheeler Peek Scenic Drive is an 11-mile road that runs from the Lehman Caves Visitor Center to Wheeler Peak Campground.  The road tops out at just over 10,000 feet near the Wheeler Peak Campground, and affords excellent views of the Baker Valley and Western Utah.   The road is an easy way to see the park without straying to far from the car.

The Baker Valley from the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive

Astronomy – Great Basin National Park is one of the most remote national parks in the country, with very few cities nearby to disrupt the night skies with light pollution.  I had some of the most beautiful skies I’ve ever seen during my nights in Great Basin, with clear views of the Milky Way and lots of shooting stars.  During the busy season, the Park Service hosts a variety of astronomy events in the evenings.

Camping

Camping in Great Basin National Park – Using the National Park campgrounds in the park is the most convenient camping option, as it lets you stay close to best features in the park.  Campground fees were $15 per night for standard tent sites, typically a picnic table, fire ring, drinking water and restrooms.  I stayed in the Lehman Campgrounds and they were great. Primitive camping is also available in other parts of the park. More information about park campgrounds can be found on the National Park website here.

Baker – RV camping is available in the small town of Baker, located just outside the park near the Lehman Caves.  Check for closures in the off-season.

Mount Moriah Wilderness – Dispersed camping is also available about 40 miles from Baker, in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, north of Highway 50.

Nearby towns

Baker – The town of Baker is located just outside of the park, six miles east of the Lehman Caves.  The town is very small, just a few hundred residents, but there are a couple motels, RV camping and restaurants.  Some of the businesses close through the off-season however, so check beforehand if you are considering a stay in Baker.

Ely – The town of Ely is a 60-mile drive from Baker, and located on the west side of the park along Highway 50.  Ely is not large either, about 5,000 residents, but it has a grocery store, affordable gas, and restaurants and accommodations that are open year-round.

Trip Budget

Great Basin National Park, like many parks in Nevada, is very affordable.  I spent just under $45 a day for food, accommodations, transportation and entertainment.  Below is a generalized breakdown of my budget.

Total Cost for 2 days $85

Itemized Costs:
Food (groceries) – $40
Gas (about 75 miles of driving within the park, and Baker, NV) – $15
Camping (1 night at Lower Lehman Campground and 1 night at the Wheeler Peak Trailhead (no fee)) – $15
Lehman Caves Tour, plus some postcards- $15

Permits

Backcountry camping and climbing permits are not required in Great Basin National Park, but registration is still heavily recommended but the Park Service.  Registration can be done at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center and is free.

Aside from the guided Lehman Cave Tours, entry into any of the caves in Great Basin National Park is generally prohibited.  The park service allows entry into one additional cave, requiring a more extensive permit application.  See the National Park website for more information.  Official permit and regulation information is available here.

Related Articles

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves Tour

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak Hike

Central Nevada via the Lincoln Highway – Highway 50

More Information

More information for Great Basin National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Map (pdf)

Great Basin National Park – Hiking Trails

Great Basin National Park – Permits

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Location:  Nevada, Great Basin National Park
Distance & Gain: 6.5 Miles, 1,500 feet
Difficulty:  Moderate to easy
Type: Combined loop and out-and-back trip
Season: Summer, Fall
Date Hiked: November 4, 2018
Permits and Fees: Free
Description: A loop out to a couple alpine lakes, plus a side trip to a beautiful bristlecone grove and small glacial rock moraine.

I spent an afternoon exploring a few of the trails in the Wheeler Peak area of Great Basin National Park, including a couple of alpine lakes, a grove of ancient bristlecones, and a small glacier.  These trails are high up on in the park, at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Road.  The trails begin at the Wheeler Peak Campground and pass through the cirques below Wheeler Peak.  I combined the Alpine Lakes Loop with the Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trail to make a nice 6.5 mile hike through the area.

Walking the Wheeler Peak Scenic Road to get to the trailheads

I spent the night at Lower Lehman Campground, getting up around sunrise to make the short drive up the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Road.  The Wheeler Peak Campground was closed for the season, so I parked at the nearby Wheeler Peak Trailhead, and geared up while I made coffee.  I had been contemplating climbing Wheeler Peak that day, but on this particular morning a fair amount of wind seemed to be blowing up on the ridgelines and a thick layer of cloud was obscuring the summit.  This wasn’t ideal climbing weather, so I opted to poke around the trails out of Wheeler Peak Campground.  To get down to those trails, I just walked the last half mile stretch of road into the campground.

Lake Stella

I jumped on the Alpine Lakes Loop, hanging a right at the first junction.  After another mile or so, I arrived at Lake Stella.  It was quiet here, and winter was already starting to creep in, with snow on the ground, ice on the lake, and brush going into dormancy.  The exposed shoulders of Wheeler were just above me, with a swath of cloud still hiding the peak.

Teresa Lake

I continued on, passing by Teresa Lake after another 20 minutes or so.  The season here was late and the water was low, but the lake was quiet and pretty.  A few hundred feet beyond Teresa Lake the loop trail meets up with the Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trail.  I hung a left here, heading toward the bristlecone grove.

Wheeler Peak Bristlecone Grove

The Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trail wraps around a large slope, opening into a beautiful grove of bristlecone pines after 20 minutes or so.   This grove is really nice, with many beautiful examples of these ancient trees.  There is a short interpretive loop through a few of the best specimens, with information about bristlecone pines, and ages of a few of the trees.

The stumps of bristlecone pines can remain for 5,000 years after they die

Bristlecones are some of the heartiest trees in the world.  Some of these trees are over 4,000 years old, and their wood is extremely tough.  After they die, their stumps can last for another 5,000 years, making some of the stump close to 10,000 years old.  There is some old wood here!

Bristlecones will continue to grow even after part of the trees die

Parts of the bristlecone pines will continue to live even after parts of the tree dies, and the dead wood will begin to weather while the rest of the tree continues to grow, twisting the tree into its gnarled shape.  It’s a slightly tragic, but nevertheless beautiful, process.

Rock Glacier

Beyond the bristlecones, the trail continues on to the Rock Glacier, a large moraine of boulders brought down by over many thousands of years by a glacier.  Supposedly the glacier can be reached in the summertime, but at this time of year, the trail was cover in snow and crossing the boulder field would have been a pain, so I enjoyed the view from the foot of the moraine, and headed back after a snack and a few pics.  Still the area was pretty with nice views of the moraine and surrounding cirque.

This was a nice hike, with fairly easy trails and nice views of the lake and bristlecone pines.  Different variations can be done for shorter hikes, and the Alpine Lakes Loop can be combined with the Wheeler Peak Trail for a longer adventure.  My personal favorite section was the bristlecone grove, and recommend at least seeing that, if you are looking for a short hike in the area.  If you have more time, the lakes and the glacier are great too.

Related Articles

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves Tour

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak Hike

More Information

More information for Great Basin National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Hiking Trails

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves

Location:  Eastern Nevada, Great Basin National Park
Hours: Tour schedules varies depending on season
Cost: $11 for a 90 minute tour
Difficulty: Easy
Season: Year-round
Date Visited: November 5, 2018
Description: A guided tour through a beautiful cave in the heart of Great Basin National Park.

I toured the Lehman Caves on Monday during my visit to Great Basin.  Great Basin National Park is home to at least 40 caves, all of which are protected from human entry.  The Park Service however, provides a great tour of one of the best caves in the park, the Lehman Caves.  The cave tours are one of the highlights of the park, and well worth the admission price.

I climbed Wheeler Peak early Monday morning, a cold and strenuous climb, but short enough of a climb to still have the afternoon open once I was done.  I knew the Lehman Caves Tour was a guided tour, and figured it would be a mellow way to spend the afternoon after a busy morning of peak bagging.

In the off-season, the Park Service offers only one tour a day, at 1 PM, so I picked up my ticket at the Lehman Caves Visitor Center, just before the start, and headed in with my tour group.  We were 15 or so tourists with a geeky park ranger as our tour guide.

The Lehman Caves

The tour was really good with lots of rooms filled with pretty speleothems.  Our guide explained the geology of the caves and how all the different formations develop.  He also explained the history of the caves and various ways that people used the caves over the years.  The cave has been an attraction, a meeting hall, a boy scout camp, and a dancehall among many other thngs.  The park service protects the caves now, and some of the damage that was sustained during its various years of misuse has begun to fade.  Still there is evidence of human activity in chambers like the Inscription Room, where early cave explores stained their names into the rocks. We also saw bats, and a few different spiders indigenous to the cave along the way.

The tour itself is easy.  The route was paved and lit, with stairs and railings in various places, and we only walked a half a mile or so through the caves.  The Park Service has also blasted out new tunnels, making some of the historically difficult passages more accessible.  There were a few passages that had low ceilings, but otherwise the tour was easy and fun.  In some of the busier seasons, the Park Service also offers a shorter version for a reduce price.

Overall, I thought the Lehman Cave Tour was great.  The cave is beautiful, the tour guides are informative, and the admission price is a bargain.  Definitely worth a stop.

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Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak

Additional Information

More information can be found on the the Great Basin National Park website:

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves Tours

 

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak

Great Basin National Park – Wheeler Peak

Location:  Nevada, Great Basin National Park
Distance & Gain: 8.5 Miles, 2,850 feet
Difficulty:  Strenuous
Type: Out and back
Season: Summer, Fall
Date Hiked: November 5, 2018
Permits and Fees: Free
Description: A challenging hike to the summit of Wheeler Peak, the highest point in Great Basin National Park and second highest point in Nevada.

I did a great hike up to the top of Wheeler Peak last Monday.  Wheeler is the highest peak in Great Basin National Park, and second highest peak in Nevada.  It has great views over the park, Spring Valley, and Western Utah.  This was a non-technical climb, with a trail leading all the way to the summit, though it climbs nearly 3,000 feet, topping out at 13,036 feet.  It took some work to reach the top, but the views were great and the climb was fun.

This hike starts fairly high up on Wheeler, at the end of the Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive. The base elevation at the parking lot is just over 10,000 feet.  The climb would ascend another 3000 feet and I was sure I’d feel the altitude, so spent the night at the trailhead to acclimate.

I was up before sunrise on Monday morning, with temps just below freezing.  Brrrrrr!  I took mountaineering boots along for this climb, which weren’t totally necessary, but still nice and toasty warm on my feet and completely snow-proof.  I also brought Microspikes with me, which were very useful on the icy parts of the trail.  I brought plenty of layers along as well—down jacket, windbreaker, hat, 2 pairs of gloves, gaiters, and some other stuff.  Why should I let minor freezing conditions hamper my otherwise beautiful early morning slog-fest?  I had my lunch prepacked and coffee premade, so once I was dressed, I was ready to hike.

Sunrise on Wheeler over the Alpine Lakes junction

The first leg of the trail cut through mixed stands of aspen trees and subalpine pines.  It was still dark when I left, but the skies slowly lightened up, and by the time I crossed the Alpine Lakes trail, I had a pretty sunrise and nice views of the peak.

Climbing the switchbacks to the saddle

From the Alpine Lakes trail, the Wheeler trail does a couple longish switch backs to a saddle on the Wheeler Ridge, cutting through the transition between pine forest and alpine zones, and I was getting good views through the trees.

Bald Mountain above the saddle

Once above the saddle I had clear views of the Bald Mountain summit and snowy Mount Moriah to the far north.  The wind began to pick up here as well, as I was out of the trees on now climbing a ridge, so I was very happy to have a good set of layers with me.

The Wheeler Peak summit dome

From the saddle, it was a 2,000 foot slog to the top of Wheeler.  Without trees the trail was straightforward and obvious, just follow the ridge.  The wind was blowing a steady here, maybe 20 to 30 mph, and it was cold.  I could also feel the elevation now, gradually wearing down my energy.  I took it slow though, getting in plenty of snacks and water, and rest-stepped my way to the top.

The summit ridge

I reached the summit around 10:30 AM.  The wind was whipping pretty good here, and I only stayed for about 10 minutes, taking a bunch of photos and downing a bar before heading down.  What a view though.

Jeff Davis Peak

To the east was the the excellently named Jeff Davis Peak, and a grand view over the Snake Valley and distant mountains in Utah.

The Snake Range to the south

To the south I had great views of the Snake Range, the backbone of Great Basin National Park, including Baker Peak, Pyramid Peak, Mount Washington, and Lincoln Peak.

The view over the Spring Valley

To the southwest, I could see far down the Spring Valley and the endless rolling ranges of the Nevada Desert.

Windmill array below Cave Mountain

To the northwest, I could see the windmill array far below, and the Cave Mountain beyond that.

Mount Moriah and a distant Ibapah

To the north, I could see Mount Moriah and Ibapah far off in the distance.  It was beautiful at the top.  Wheeler has a great vantage, with views in every direction.

I climbed back down without incident, and it was nice to have a couple hours of decent after a long morning of climbing.  I used my Microspikes for almost all of the trail along the ridge, and was again happy to have them for the icy patches.  I imagine this trail is very nice in the summer, in warmer temperatures and without snow, but I still love hiking around in the off-season.

I was back a the car park around 11:30 AM, and still had the afternoon free, so after lunch I picked up a ticket for the Lehman Caves Tour just down the road.  It was an excellent way to wind down after this climb.

Overall, if you are up for the climb, Wheeler Peak is an excellent hike, providing some of the best views in the park and plenty of adventure.  Be prepared for a high altitude climb, and bring plenty of food and water to combat any fatigue at elevation. Pay attention to the weather as well.  I postponed my climb by a day to avoid heavier winds and a thick cloud layer at the top the day before.  Wheeler is also prone to thunderstorms in the summer.

Related Articles

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Alpine Lakes, Bristlecone and Rock Glacier Trails

Great Basin National Park – Lehman Caves

More Information

More information for Great Basin National Park is available on the National Park Service Website.

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Great Basin National Park – Hiking Trails

 

Central Nevada via the Lincoln Highway – Highway 50

Central Nevada via the Lincoln Highway – Highway 50

Distance: 385 Miles
Date Driven: November 1-3, 2018
Description: A 3-day drive across a beautiful section of Nevada Desert via historic Highway 50.

I drove across Nevada last week, from Reno to Great Basin National Park via Highway 50. The stretch of highway from Fallon to Ely is the old two-lane transcontinental Lincoln Highway, the first paved highway to cross Nevada.  After the multilane Highway 80 was built across Northern Nevada, Highway 50 became less favorable, earning it the moniker Loneliest Road in America, which is liberally referenced along the way.  Highway 50 also follows the old Pony Express route, and there are many related stops along the way as well.   The whole drive is very pretty, crossing a long procession of mountain ranges and desert valleys.  I made a few interesting stops along the way, and generally enjoyed this trip.

I got an early start Thursday morning after a stay at Sierra Hot Springs near Sierraville, California.  Crossed the state-line into Nevada and met an old friend in Reno for a burger.  My friend Bret has been a ranger with Washoe County for the last couple years, so it was nice to catch up and hear about his work. After lunch, I was off to Fallon to gas up for the drive to Ely, Nevada.

Petroglyphs at the Grimes Point Archaeological Area

Stopped into a Grimes Point Archaeological Area just east of Fallon on Thursday afternoon and did a quick circuit through the petroglyph trail.  They have a small interpretive site here, essentially a picnic area and some short trails, but it was a nice place for a break along the highway.

Watching the sunset over Sand Mountain

I camped near the Sand Mountain Recreation Area Thursday night.  Sand Mountain is a giant sand dune next to the highway, and is a popular off-road vehicle area.  There was a beautiful sunset that evening and one of the drivers had a nice view from the crest of the dune.

Dune buggy tracks at Sand Mountain

Sand Mountain was called Panitogogwa by the Native Americans, and fabled it to be a giant rattlesnake slithering into the mountains.  Its ridge did in fact, resemble the winding line of the back of a snake.  There were lots of pretty lines here for that matter, and I got a lot of nice pictures in the evening light that night.

Wild horses outside of Cold Springs

Friday morning I continued east, spotting some wild horses in the sagebrush near Cold Springs.  Where do these horses sleep at night?  How do they fair during the winter?  What are the lives of these horses?

Petroglyphs at the Hickison Recreation Area

I stopped in at the Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area Friday afternoon for lunch.  This place had a simple campground, and a short interpretive trail through petroglyphs carved into the walls of a canyon.

Overlook from the Hickison Petroglyph Area

There was a nice overlook trail above the petroglyphs, with expansive views over the Eureaka Valley and Summit Mountain, with the Diamond Mountains in the distance.   This was a good trail and nice leg off the petroglyph loop.

Sunrise over the Ruby Copper Mine

I camped at Garnet Hill just east of Ely, Nevada, Friday night, watching the sunrise over the Ruth Copper Mine Saturday morning.

My treasure haul from Garnet Hill

The Garnet Hill Geological Area was pretty cool.  The hillside has a big deposit of garnets, and these little dark gemstones can be found along the creeks where water has washed away the silt.  I found a nice handful within an hour, plucking them out of the pebbles and sandbars in the creek.  It was like a scavenger hunt and a lot of fun.

Heading into Great Basin National Park

I stopped in Ely Saturday afternoon to pick up provisions for a couple of days in Great Basin National Park.  Ely was a small town, but had an ATM, a grocery store, a few restaurants and reasonably priced fuel.  From Ely it would be another hour to Great Basin.  I camped at the lovely Lower Lehman Campground that evening in the park, and had a pretty pink sunset and a beautiful starry sky that night.

Overall, the Highway 50 route across Nevada is a pretty drive.  It can be cranked out in a day, but an overnight along the way, makes this a more pleasant trip.  I did it with 2 overnights and had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery, and do things along the way.

Camping was very inexpensive, if not free.  Don’t expect the fanciest accommodations, but there was lots of access to BLM land or National Forest where it was easy to boondock.  Being early November, nights were a little chilly and I layered up a lot.  The air was dusty and dry here too, and I was happy to have moisturizer with me for my face and hands.  Aside from that, finding good places to sleep was pretty straight forward.

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Sierraville, California – Sierra Hot Springs

Great Basin National Park – General Information

Sierra Hot Springs

Sierra Hot Springs

Location:  Sierraville, California
Office Hours: 8am to 10pm
Cost: $25 for 3-hour soak, $33 campground stay, $55 Dorm stay, $77-$132+ private rooms, (all options require a minimum $5 membership)
Season: Open year round
Date Visited: October 31, 2018
Description: a hot springs resort with rustic lodge and campground.  Facilities include three pools, sauna, showers, restaurant, communal kitchen, and cozy social area.

I stopped into one of my favorite hot springs last week, Sierra Hot Springs, in Sierraville, California.  Sierra Hot Springs is located in a pretty valley just outside of Sierraville, and includes 3 soaking pools and a historic lodge.  They have a range of accommodation options, from day soaks to private rooms, and all guest are welcome to shared facilities in the lodge.  I have been going to these hot springs for many years and have lots of love for this place.

The hot springs here were used by the Native Americans long before Europeans arrived in California, but the area was developed in the 1850’s and has been a popular stopover for travelers ever since.  The lodge includes rooms, a restaurant, communal kitchen, a warm fire place, and pretty views over the Sierraville Valley.  They also have a campground for reduced rates, and an additional hotel in nearby Sierraville, if the historic lodge is booked out.

The Hot Pool is housed in beautiful geodesic dome, and includes one hot pool and two cold plunges.  A warm pool, sauna and deck are just outside the geo-dome as well.  All the pools in Sierra Hot Springs are clothing optional, by the way.

The Meditation Pool is an outdoor pool, surrounded by sage brush and ponderosa pines, and includes a small gazebo for changing clothes.  This is my personal favorite pool, especially in the winter when there is snow on the ground.  Its also great late at night when the stars are out.  It’s a little cooler than the Hot Pool, but I love the outdoor environment and it tends to be quieter here.

Sierra Hot Springs is a great place and comes with my personal recommendations.  I have a particular soft spot for this hot spring, as it was not far from my hometown, and I have stayed here many times over the years.  There are trails close by for hiking, and Lake Tahoe is within an hour’s drive to the south.  The Sierraville Valley is a very beautiful, and the hot springs are a great place to get grounded and recharge.

More Information

More information can be found the Sierra Hot Springs website:

Sierra Hot Springs Resort and Retreat Center