Friday, November 30, 2012

High Wind Warning for Northern Colorado

A high wind warning has been issued for Northern Colorado, which includes Rocky Mountain National Park.

This is from the National Weather Service:

...HIGH WIND WARNING IN EFFECT FROM MIDNIGHT TONIGHT TO 11 AM MST SATURDAY...

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN DENVER HAS ISSUED A HIGH WIND WARNING...WHICH IS IN EFFECT FROM MIDNIGHT TONIGHT TO 11 AM MST SATURDAY. THE HIGH WIND WATCH IS NO LONGER IN EFFECT.

* TIMING...WINDS WILL INCREASE LATE TONIGHT INTO THE EARLY MORNING HOURS SATURDAY. WINDS WILL DECREASE BY NOON SATURDAY.

* WINDS...WEST WINDS 25 TO 45 MPH WITH GUSTS AROUND 75 MPH POSSIBLE.

* IMPACTS...THE STRONG WINDS WILL BE CAPABLE OF DOWNING WEAKENED BEETLE-KILLED TREES AND ALSO DEAD TREES FROM SUMMER FIRES. FIRE DANGER WILL ALSO INCREASE.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

REMEMBER...A HIGH WIND WARNING MEANS THAT STRONG AND POTENTIALLY DAMAGING WINDS ARE EITHER OCCURRING OR HIGHLY LIKELY. RESIDENTS SHOULD MOVE TRASH CANS...PATIO FURNITURE...AND ANY OTHER ITEMS EASILY TOSSED ABOUT BY HIGH WINDS INDOORS. MOTORISTS TRAVELING IN HIGH PROFILE VEHICLES SHOULD CONSIDER DELAYING TRAVEL UNTIL THE WINDS SUBSIDE.


Obviously this is bad news for crews working on the Fern Lake Fire. In recent days the fire has grown to almost 1500 acres. I'm sure the fire will continue to expand as a result of the wind storm.

For the latest updates on the fire, visit the Inciweb website. To keep up with the latest weather related developments and forecasts, please click here.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Fern Lake Fire Grows to 1500 Acres

Firefighters made progress on about a half mile-stretch of fireline on the southwest side of the fire near the confluence of Spruce and Forest canyons. The crews set up pumps to draw water from Spruce Creek to aid in suppression efforts. They continued "mopping up" spot fires and scouting out where they can build fire line connecting natural barriers to check the spread to the south and east of the current active fire area.

The fire was mapped Wednesday at approximately 1,488 acres, still primarily on the west and southwest side of the fire in Forest Canyon and near the confluence of Forest and Spruce canyons. About 60 personnel are now assigned to the fire, which estimated to be about 40% contained.


The Fern Lake Fire is being managed under a full-suppression strategy. Due to steep terrain, hazard trees and heavy fuel loading, fire managers opted to attack the fire on their terms, when the risk is more acceptable. Fire crews are accessing the fire from the Fern Lake Trail and avoiding areas that have an abundance of hazard trees. Their objective is to keep the fire on the north side of the Spruce Creek Drainage and to suppress any spot fires that ignite to the south or east of the active fire area.

The continued safety of visitors and firefighters and the containment of the fire in the park remain the top priorities of park and fire officials. A fire and smoking ban is in effect until further notice in the backcountry of the park, east of the Continental Divide. Moraine Park Campground remains open and campfires in grates are allowed. Use of fire anywhere in the area should be used with extreme caution. For visitor safety, trails in the immediate area of western Moraine Park and the fire are closed to hikers. This includes Fern Lake Road beyond the winter parking lot, Fern Lake Trail all the way to Lake Helene (by The Pool, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, Odessa Lake to Helene), the Cub Lake Trail from the trailhead to The Pool and the Mill Creek Trail from the Mill Creek Basin campsites to the Cub Lake Trail. Visitors who ignore trail closures will be issued a citation. Trails are posted and physically closed.

Information about the fire will be updated in additional press releases and is also available at InciWeb and by dialing (970) 586-1381, a recorded fire information number. New information about the Fern Lake Fire will be released as it becomes available.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Extreme Hiking: Angels Landing

One of Zion National Park’s most famous features is the death-defying hike up to Angels Landing. The trail climbs 1200 feet in roughly 2.4 miles. The last half-mile features sharp drop-offs along a very narrow path, and includes chains for hikers to hold onto. The chains are there for a very good reason. In the past eight years alone, six people have plunged to their deaths after losing their footing along this trail.

Below is an excellent video that shows what hiking this trail is all about. Back in September my wife and I visited Zion. Although this trail is one of the most popular hikes in the park, we opted not to take it. Instead, we hiked up to Observation Point, which is a bit safer, and arguably offers better views, including a birds-eye view of Angels Landing.

If you've never been to the park, I highly recommend it. The question is, would you hike to Angels Landing? With a baby?







Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A rerouting of Continental Divide Trail in southern Colorado could ban bikes

The Rio Grande and Gunnison National Forests continue to seek comments on an environmental assessment analyzing a proposal to relocate a segment of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail, from its current alignment on existing roads and trails, to a newly constructed trail. The proposed 32-mile relocation would occur north and west of Saguache between Lujan Pass and the La Garita Wilderness boundary.

This "preferred alternative", however, is raising eyebrows within the cycling community. The preferred plan proposal would not allow bicycles on the new trail. Instead, mountain bikers would be re-routed onto existing roads.

The deadline, if you wish to make a comment, has been extended to December 17th. Comments may be submitted by mail, email, fax, or delivered by hand to the Forest Service offices in Gunnison or Saguache. Office hours for hand delivery are Monday through Friday, from 8:00 am to 4:30 p.m. You can mail comments to:

CDNST, USFS
2250 Hwy 50
Delta, CO 81416

Fax to: 970-874-6698

Email to: comments-rocky-mountain-gmug@fs.fed.us

The EA may be reviewed by clicking here.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Medical helicopter pilot cited for harassing wildlife

Colorado Parks and Wildlife has cited a medical helicopter pilot from Arizona for harassing wildlife after a group of hunters observed him flying his ship very low over an elk herd in a canyon near the headwaters of Granite Creek, southwest of Grand Junction.

Owen Park, 35, of Page, Ariz., a pilot for Classic Lifeguard Air Medical in Page, was assessed 10 penalty points against his hunting and fishing privileges and issued a fine of $200.00, which he has paid. A medical crew was also on board but only Park received a citation. The aircraft was not carrying a patient at the time of the incident.

On Sept. 23, Park and the ship's crew were returning to their home base in Arizona after delivering a patient to a hospital in Grand Junction. It was during the return trip that the witnesses say they observed the helicopter drop into the canyon and begin harassing the elk.

"The people that saw this told me that the pilot ruined their hunt," said Ty Smith, District Wildlife Officer in Grand Junction. "When I mentioned this to Park, he agreed that his actions may have done that."

According to the witnesses, Park flew erratically, making several passes below the rim of the canyon and at treetop level, causing several groups of elk to scatter in multiple directions. At times, it appeared Park was herding the elk, the witnesses said.

Because the witnesses were able to provide Smith with the ship's tail numbers, he was able to trace the helicopter to a company in Utah. With assistance from a Utah Wildlife Conservation officer, Smith contacted representatives of M & J Leisure L.C. of Ogden, Utah, the company that owns Classic Lifeguard Air Medical.

Company officials were cooperative with Smith, and told him that the pilot would contact him immediately. Park called Smith approximately 15 minutes later and explained that he did not feel his actions harassed the elk, but did admit that he was trying to get a better look at the herds.

Agency officials regularly receive reports of low-flying aircraft that appears to be harassing wildlife. In some cases, spotters in aircraft will assist hunters in finding their game, which is illegal.

In addition, the public is reminded that during critical, late-winter months when big game is surviving almost exclusively on fat reserves, or during calving and fawning seasons in early spring, human-caused pressure from any motorized vehicle or aircraft can lead to higher than normal mortality.

"I believe that most pilots may not realize the extent of the harm they can cause when they fly low over wildlife," continued Smith. "We remind everyone that the best way to observe wildlife is to do it from the ground, from a safe distance, and with a good pair of binoculars or a camera."

Anyone who sees suspicious activity should contact a local District Wildlife Manager, or Operation Game Thief toll-free at 877-COLO-OGT (877-265-6648). Callers contacting the tip line remain anonymous and may be eligible for a reward if the information leads to a citation.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fern Lake Fire Activity Picks Up Due to Red Flag Conditions

The Fern Lake Fire is burning actively today, due to Red Flag conditions, including strong, gusty winds and single-digit relative humidity. The fire has spotted across Spruce Creek to the southern side, where fire crews are taking action on the ground. High winds have prohibited the use of the helitanker so far today. Smoke is heavier today and is visible from several places along the Front Range.

Due to increased fire activity and no relief in the weather forecast, the fire's incident commander has ordered more resources including a wildland engine and some overhead support.

The Fern Lake Fire, west of Moraine Park, is being managed with a full suppression strategy. It is burning in steep, rugged terrain that includes beetle-killed trees limiting direct attack by firefighters on the ground. It was mapped Saturday at approximately 1,370 acres.

The continued safety of visitors and firefighters and the containment of the fire in the park remain the top priorities of park and fire officials. A fire and smoking ban is in effect until further notice in the backcountry of the park, east of the Continental Divide.

Moraine Park Campground remains open and campfires in grates are allowed. Use of fire anywhere in the area should be used with extreme caution.

For visitor safety, trails in the immediate area of western Moraine Park and the fire are closed to hikers. This includes Fern Lake Road beyond the winter parking lot, Fern Lake Trail all the way to Lake Helene (by The Pool, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, Odessa Lake to Helene), the Cub Lake Trail from the trailhead to The Pool and the Mill Creek Trail from the Mill Creek Basin campsites to the Cub Lake Trail. Visitors who ignore trail closures will be issued a citation. Trails are posted and physically closed.

Information about the fire will be updated in additional press releases and is also available at InciWeb and by dialing (970) 586-1381, a recorded fire information number. New information about the Fern Lake Fire will be released as it becomes available.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Forest Service announces $13.4 million in contracts to improve 20,000 acres of national forest land

Bolstering a long-term strategy to address fuel reduction and overall forest health, USDA Under Secretary Harris Sherman has announced two Forest Service 10-year stewardship contracts totaling $13.4 million.

The two contracts identify projects that will treat a minimum of 20,000 acres in two national forests.

The stewardship contracts are focused on improving the health of subalpine and mountain forests affected by mountain pine beetle on portions of the Medicine Bow-Routt and the White River national forests in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado. The stewardship contracts announced today add to the $100 million the Forest Service directed toward addressing bark beetle infestations in the Rocky Mountain Region since 2010.

The Medicine Bow-Routt Long Term Stewardship Contract was awarded to Confluence Energy of Kremmling, Colo. Confluence Energy’s bid of $4.75 million was awarded based on price and on the company’s technical ability to accomplish forest health projects. Confluence Energy will remove beetle-killed trees and pile or scatter the residual debris that has no commercial value. In areas where the trees have commercial value for wood products such as dimension lumber, wood pellets and other biomass products, Confluence Energy will pay for that material to offset the cost to the government of the other forest health treatments in the contract area.

West Range Reclamation of Hotchkiss, Colo., submitted a winning bid for the White River Long Term Stewardship Contract. West Range Reclamation’s bid of $8.66 million was accepted by the Forest Service based on the company’s ability to meet technical requirements and per-acre price. The contract focuses on the removal of tree species susceptible to insect and disease infestations, including lodgepole pine, subalpine fir, Douglas-fir, Engelmann spruce, aspen and ponderosa pine.

West Range has partnered with Eagle Valley Clean Energy to develop an environmentally sound use for the dead and small-diameter trees – known as woody biomass – that will be removed during fuels reduction and forest health treatments. Eagle Valley Clean Energy is currently planning an 11.5 megawatt woody biomass-fueled power plant in Gypsum, Colo. The electricity generated from the plant will be supplied to Holy Cross Energy, servicing 8,000 to 10,000 homes in Colorado from Parachute to Vail and Glenwood Springs to Aspen. Heat from the plant will also support an adjacent wallboard manufacturing facility. In October, USDA’s Rural Utilities Service announced a $40 million loan guarantee to help finance the plant.

The Rocky Mountain Region of the Forest Service developed a strategy to address the increasing threats to health and safety from the millions of acres with dead trees due to the mountain pine beetle epidemic and the emerging spruce beetle epidemic. The strategy focuses on prioritizing hazardous tree removal, working with partners to reduce risks to infrastructure such as power lines, residences and ski areas and providing up-to-date public information as those activities move forward.

Since the mountain pine beetle epidemic began in the late 1990s, more than 1.7 million acres of lodgepole pine and ponderosa pine forests on the Medicine Bow-Routt and White River National Forests have been affected. Estimates are that on average approximately 70 to 80 percent of the mature trees have been killed to date. As the dead trees fall, experts predict an increase in wildfire severity which would result in a degradation of our watersheds and in turn negatively affect municipal water quality and other national forest resources.

Stewardship contracting allows the Forest Service to apply the value of timber or other forest products removed from national forests as an offset against the cost of non-income generating treatments such as thinning or hazardous fuel removal. Learn more about stewardship contracting at the Forest Service restoration website.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Help Support RockyMountainHikingTrails.com This Season

As you do your Christmas and Holiday shopping this season, please keep in mind that you can help support RockyMountainHikingTrails.com by shopping from our Amazon affiliate program. By clicking on the AD below (or any Amazon AD on our website) you receive the exact same low prices and great service that you would receive if you went directly to the Amazon home page:



Thanks again for all you support - we really appreciate it!


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Discover the Joys of Winter Hiking

Many hikers tend to run from the woods as soon as the first snow flakes begin to fall. However, winter is great time to hit the trail. Not only are the crowds gone, but many parks show off their true beauty after a fresh snowfall. With just a little more attention to detail beforehand, anyone can have a safe and enjoyable hike during the winter.

Although it might feel quite frigid at the trailhead, your body will begin generating plenty of heat after just 10 or 15 minutes of walking. The best thing you can do to keep the cold out is to dress in layers: a base layer that wicks moisture off your body, a fleece jacket for insulating warmth, and a shell to keep you dry and to keep the wind from penetrating your core. Most importantly, dressing in layers allows you to adjust your attire as you heat-up or cool-off. When dressing for a winter hike, always remember the adage: cotton kills! Never wear anything made of cotton while hiking in the backcountry. Once wet, cotton no longer insulates you from the cold. Moreover, it wicks heat away from your body and puts you at risk of becoming hypothermic.

Some people are prone to cold feet in the winter. One of the keys to keeping your feet warm is to make sure they stay dry. Wear a good pair of hiking socks, made of wool blends or synthetic fabrics, that wick moisture away from your skin, retain heat when wet, and dry faster if they become wet. I always keep an extra pair in my pack in case the ones I’m wearing do get wet. (Expert Advice: How to Choose Socks) You should also wear above-the-ankle hiking boots which help to keep snow away from your feet. You may want to consider wearing gaiters, especially if there are several inches of snow on the ground.

To round-out your winter apparel, don’t forget about a good pair of gloves, a ski cap and maybe even a balaclava.

If the snow is too deep in the mountains, consider hiking at lower elevations, or even wearing snowshoes. If you expect a lot of ice, especially in areas where there might be steep drop-offs, consider bringing crampons specifically made for hiking. These are sometimes referred to as traction devices, or in-step crampons, which you can either strap-on or slide onto your boots.

Trekking poles are another excellent choice for helping to maintain your balance on sections of trail with slick ice and snow.

After outfitting yourself with the proper winter gear, hikers will then need to focus on staying hydrated and properly fueled while out on the trail. Hiking in the cold, especially in snow, burns more calories. By some estimates, hikers can burn as much as 50% more calories when compared to similar distances and terrain in the summer. By not consuming enough calories while on the trail you become prone to getting cold faster. Make sure you bring plenty of high-energy snacks with you to munch on periodically throughout your hike. Watch out for foods that can freeze solid, such as some power bars. Or, instead of storing in your backpack, put some snacks inside your fleece jacket. Your body should generate enough heat to prevent them from freezing.

Although it may sound counter-intuitive, it can actually be easier to experience dehydration in the winter, versus hiking in the summer. Dehydration can occur faster in cold weather because the air is much drier. Moreover, dehydration can be dangerous because it can accelerate hypothermia and frostbite. Make sure you bring plenty of liquids with you, and drink often while on the trail.

If you’re storing water bottles in your backpack during a very cold day, you may need to insulate them to prevent them from freezing. An old wool sock will work in this case. Also, you may want to turn the bottle upside down to prevent the water from freezing at the neck. If you plan to be out for several hours, consider bringing a thermos containing a hot drink, or even soup.

Other winter hazards hikers need to be aware of include hiking in steep terrain that’s prone to avalanches, or a storm that covers the trail with fresh snow, thus making navigation difficult. You should always carry a topographical map and a compass with you in case you ever need help finding your way back to the trailhead if you were to become lost.

Other gear to bring with you includes a first aid kit, firestarter, waterproof matches, a pocket knife, an emergency blanket and maybe even a bivy sack.

Finally, let someone know where you’re going, when you’ll be back, and who to call if they don’t hear back from you at a specified time.

With a little care and preparation up front, anyone can discover the joys of winter hiking.






Jeff
Rocky Mountain Hiking Trails

Friday, November 23, 2012

Update on the Fern Lake Fire

Rocky Mountain National Park published this update on the Fern Lake Fire this afternoon:

On Thanksgiving Day the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park produced smoke that could be seen from the surrounding area. Due to dry and unseasonably warm weather, the fire crept toward Spruce Creek and grew in size to over 1200 acres. While snow lies on north-facing aspects, the fire is occasionally torching trees on steep, dry slopes. Fire managers are monitoring the fire and are planning for any change in fire behavior.

The forecast for the area calls for low humidity, low to moderate temperatures, and gusty winds. More smoke is expected to be seen mid-day today and until the current weather pattern changes. A Type 1 helicopter has been ordered to assist with suppression actions. Additional resources are being put on standby.

A fire and smoking ban is in effect immediately, and until further notice, in the backcountry of the park, east of the Continental Divide.

Moraine Park Campground remains open and campfires in grates are allowed. Use of fire anywhere in the area should be used with extreme caution.

For visitor safety, trails in the immediate area of western Moraine Park and the fire are closed to hikers, once again. This includes Fern Lake Road beyond the winter parking lot, Fern Lake Trail all the way to Lake Helene (by The Pool, Fern Falls, Fern Lake, Odessa Lake), the Cub Lake Trail from the trailhead to The Pool and the Mill Creek Trail from the Mill Creek Basin campsites to the Cub Lake Trail. Visitors who ignore trail closures will be issued a citation. Trails are posted and physically closed.

Suppressing the Fern Lake Fire with firefighters on the ground is extremely unsafe. The terrain is steep, there are numerous hazardous trees that could topple, fuel loads are heavy, and evacuation of an injured firefighter would be extremely difficult. Fire managers have and will actively manage portions of the fire, while opting to ensure fire fighter safety and wait for winter conditions to stop the fire spread and eventually put it out.






Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Winter Adventures in Rocky Mountain National Park

Just because there's a little bit of snow on the ground doesn't mean that Rocky Mountain National Park shuts down for the winter. In fact, the park offer several opportunities for outdoor winter adventures, including a few ranger led activities.

From the Estes Park area on the east side, visitors can enjoy Snowshoe Ecology Walks on weekends between January 5th and March 23rd.

The park will also be offering Full Moon Walks on the nights of November 28, December 28, January 26, and February 25. This is a great chance to explore the park by the light of the full moon. Each walk will last about an hour to 1.5 hours.

On the west side of the park, starting from the Kawuneeche Visitor Center, RMNP will offer ranger-led beginner and intermediate snowshoe tours, as well as cross-country skiing tours on mostly-level terrain.

For more information, please click here.






Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Are Threats of Budget Cuts Closing National Parks Overblown?

A lot is being made recently on how Congressional budget cuts could possibly close several national parks around the country. Earlier in the month, Craig Obey, Senior Vice President for the National Parks Conservation Association, published this statement on the NPCA website:
“With looming closures throughout the national park system if scheduled cuts occur in January through the budgetary sequester, we are encouraged to hear President Obama and congressional leaders focusing on the necessity of a balanced approach to addressing the federal deficit. In fact, the first leg of that stool was the Budget Control Act, which already cut significant funds for national parks and other worthwhile programs. It is time for our leaders to bring more balance to the equation.

“If Congress fails to find a solution by January, more than $200 million dollars could be cut from the National Park Service budget, which would likely close visitor centers and campgrounds, and could put as many as 9,000 rangers and other park employees out of a job. These cuts could close as many as 200 park sites across the country.

“According to a recent poll, 92 percent of Americans believe funding for national parks should either remain steady or be increased. Sequester or not, our national parks will face a tough decade ahead. They cannot afford additional cuts after two consecutive years of cuts and a budget in today’s dollars that is 15 percent less than it was a decade ago.

“America’s 398 national parks – from the Statue of Liberty to Yellowstone’s geysers, to the magnificent Grand Canyon – are treasured places that tell the stories of our country’s shared heritage, drawing tourists, and tourist dollars from throughout the world. We call on the President and Congress to find a balanced approach that doesn’t mindlessly cut national parks, which generate more than $30 billion in economic activity each year.”
I'm going to have to take the contrarian view here, and say that these fears are simply overblown. Whenever the idea is floated that parks could be closed due to budget cuts, it conjures up images of Rocky Mountain or Glacier National Park being shut down. In reality, those headlines are referring to national park units that most people have never heard of, such as Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument in Texas, or River Raisin National Battlefield Park in Michigan. The cynical side of me thinks that these assertions are meant to scare people into coughing up more of their tax dollars.

Right now there are 398 national park units, which include national parks, monuments, battlefields, lakeshores, seashores, historic sites, etc. Based on the current budget shortfalls within the National Park Service - even before the proposed cuts - it's pretty obvious that the NPS has over-extended itself. From my perch it's clear that the NPS has taken on responsibilities for far too many properties beyond the scope of their charter.

Wouldn't it be better if the federal government sold parks such as Devils Postpile National Monument, or Bent's Old Fort National Historic Site, back to the states to be managed under state park systems? Or, what if some parks, such as Weir Farm National Historic Site, or Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, were sold to private entities - with certain stipulations - and run as for-profit organizations, or maybe even as a non-profit foundation, similar to Thomas Jefferson's Monticello?

In my view, this would allow the NPS to concentrate its limited resources on running the parks and monuments that deserve national recognition and preservation, more efficiently.

What are your thoughts?


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Fee Free Days Announced for Rocky Mountain National Park

Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar today announced dates in 2013 when more than 2,000 national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and other federal lands will offer free admittance to everyone.

“Our national parks, wildlife refuges, forests and other public lands offer every American a place to get outdoors, learn about our nation’s history and culture, and restore our spirits,” Salazar said. “By providing free admission, we are rolling out the welcome mat for Americans to visit and enjoy these extraordinary treasures that belong to all of us.”

Tourism and outdoor recreation tied to public lands are powerful economic engines in communities across the country. Recreation on federal lands provided 440,000 jobs and contributed $55 billion to the economy in 2009. Each year, over 280 million national park visitors pump $31 billion into local economies, supporting 258,000 jobs.

The Fee Free Days in 2013 include:

* January 21: Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

* April 22-26: National Park Week

* August 25: National Park Service Birthday

* September 28: National Public Lands Day

* November 9-11: Veterans Day weekend

Additionally, active duty military members and their dependents are eligible for a free annual pass that provides entrance to lands managed by the National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass Program also offers a free lifetime pass for people with disabilities, a $10 lifetime senior pass for those age 62 and over, and an $80 annual pass for the general public.





Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Monday, November 19, 2012

The American Camper Report

The Outdoor Foundation recently published the American Camper Report, a detailed analysis on camping trends throughout the United States. The report presents information on overall participation, preferences, buying behavior and the future of camping.

The chief takeaway, if we are to believe the headline intro, is that camping participation is growing: "Camping is a true American tradition, and it is gaining in popularity.". The Outdoor Foundation cites that 42.5 million Americans — or 14.9% of the US population over age six — went camping in 2011. This participation rate is up from 39.9 million, or 14.1% of the population, in 2010. However, when viewing participation data over the last several years, based on a graph included with the report, participation has clearly flat-lined since 2006 (the first year data is available). By insinuating a growing trend, I think the Outdoor Foundation has jumped the gun with their overall conclusion. As an indication that the flat-line trend will likely remain in place, the report cites that the average camper went on 4.97 camping trips last year. However, campers are planning an average of only 4.33 camping trips next year, an indication that participation rates may show a decline in the next report.

The American Camper Report does show some pretty interesting trends, however. While conventional tents are still available to traditional campers, many campsites are evolving to more modern tastes, providing amenities such as indoor bathrooms, washers and driers and free Wi-Fi. Others have gone a step further by offering heated pools, waterslides, zip lines, golf carts and a calendar full of activities. KOA Campgrounds provides deluxe cabin rentals with flat screen TVs and air conditioning for customers who want to experience the outdoors with all the conveniences of home.

But is this really camping?

Some of the other key findings from the report that I found interesting, include:

• In 2011, campers spent an impressive 534.9 million days camping, an average of 12.6 days per person.

• Almost all age brackets added participants, except the adolescent group.

• The Mountain Region has the highest camping participation rate, while the South has the lowest.

• State parks are by far the most popular camping destinations.

• Hiking is the most popular activity to participate in while camping.

To read the entire report, please click here.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Best Cities to Raise an Outdoor Kid

Which towns offer the ideal mix of accessible trails, inspiring teachers, and great recreational resources?

Backpacker Magazine and The Outdoor Foundation recently teamed-up to identify America’s top 25 places to beat nature deficit disorder. Ranking number 1 on that list was Boulder, Colorado - no great surprise there. In fact, Colorado had 4 cities that made the cut - the most of any state in the union.

Durango ranked 3rd, while Colorado Springs ranked 7th and Ft. Collins came in at #9.

Citing some of the reasons for Boulder's lofty ranking, include:

* Named America’s “Smartest” and “Most Livable” town by Forbes
* 105 miles of bike paths
* and of course Longs Peak and the Indian Peaks Wilderness are less than an hour away

To check out which towns made the top 25 you can click here.



The North Face Closeouts at REI-OUTLET! 160+ Styles at markdown prices. Free Shipping on Orders $50+.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Within Two Worlds

Below is an absolutely stunning timelapse video from the Pacific Crest Trail by Brad Goldpaint. Brad's videos have been featured on NASA, National Geographic Magazine, Popular Science and MSNBC, among other media outlets.

Here's how he describes the video on his website:

"Within Two Worlds depicts an alternate perspective by giving us the illusion of times movement, signifying a beginning and end within a world of constant contradiction. It appears you are traveling in the midst of a dream, half-sleeping, half-waking, and touching the arch connecting heaven and earth."


Within Two Worlds from Goldpaint Photography on Vimeo.



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Friday, November 16, 2012

Become a Backpacker Magazine Gear Tester

Here's your chance to become a professional gear tester! Backpacker Magazine is currently looking for exceptional people that share their fascination with new products, cool gear, and upcoming trends.

If selected, you will will win two prizes. First, you will get to test some hot new products in 2013. Second, you will become an elite member of the Backpacker Reader Reader (BRR) team and will be sent on assignment to Outdoor Retailer Winter Market, 2013, in Salt Lake City to write, blog, photograph, and maybe even star in a video or two at the world’s largest outdoor industry trade show. Your job will be to give Backpacker readers a “man or woman in the aisles and behind the scenes perspective on upcoming new gear and new trends.

To apply, send a writing sample and a compelling video to Backpacker by December 1, 2012. For more information, please click here.


The North Face Closeouts at REI-OUTLET! 160+ Styles at markdown prices. Free Shipping on Orders $50+.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Time in Nature is the real “Smart Drug” Children Need

The following is a guest blog by Dr. Mark Ellison:

Many children and their parents are looking for ways to increase academic performance to prepare for college admission and a future career. This pursuit often ends in seeking “smart drugs” such as Ritalin or Adderall to improve concentration. Even adults without symptoms of ADHD are now taking these drugs to work longer hours.

The current trend is to medicate children, not considering that changing the environment where they spend their time could have more positive health consequences. Children are often in places full of artificial stimulants including video games, television, music, smart phones and other devices that grab attention. Replacing this with time in nature can have positive health outcomes.

The Natural Learning Initiative led by Dr. Robin Moore, a professor in the landscape architecture program at North Carolina State University, is helping to educate about the positive health benefits of children spending time in nature. The purpose of this initiative is to promote the importance of the natural environment in the daily experience of children, through environmental design, action research, education, and dissemination of information. One of the intriguing developments of this movement is the creation of natural play areas that encourage the use of creativity and imagination, as well as longer and richer play experiences in a natural setting. Reedy Creek Nature Preserve in Charlotte, NC recently added one of these play zones.

Research is now revealing that time in nature reduces symptoms of ADHD in children. The Landscape and Human Health Laboratory (LHHL) at the University of Illinois is a multidisciplinary research laboratory dedicated to studying the connection between greenery and human health. Recent research at LHHL has found that nature has a calming and restorative effect on children and adolescents with ADHD, reducing symptoms and having a positive effect in cases where other treatments offer only limited help. The lab continues to research in this area and is currently examining the effects of schoolyard nature on children’s learning and academic achievement as reflected in standardized test scores.

Innovative programs are needed to get children and families in nature. An example of this is the Kids in Parks Program developed by the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, which is helping to get families out on nature trails. The mission of this program is to promote children’s health and the health of parks by engaging families in outdoor adventures that increase physical activity and foster a meaningful connection to the natural and cultural world.

Another program, sponsored by The Children and Nature Network, is the “Lets G.O.!” (Get outside) initiative in April 2013 designed to get people out into nature.

All of this aligns with the Child’s Right to Nature and a Healthy Environment Initiative which states that every child has a right to connect to nature in a meaningful way; that every child has the right to be prepared and equipped to help address environmental challenges; and a right to a clean and healthy environment.

We have a responsibility to preserve natural areas so that the next generation can experience the beauty and health benefits that are associated with it. This is especially important for children who grow up in inner city environments, with no access to nature. How can you help to get children out in nature more?


Dr. Mark Ellison is an educator, researcher and author on using the restorative power of nature for optimal health and effectiveness. While earning a doctorate in adult education and human resource development from North Carolina State University, Dr. Ellison's dissertation explored the restorative benefits of hiking in wilderness solitude and the relationship to job satisfaction. He's recently started a second research study focused on hiking and the relationship to psychological well-being and reduced stress. He is also the founder of HikingResearch.com.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Colorado Fourteeners Initiative at Work

Did you know there's an organization in Colorado that looks after the Centennial State's 54 14,000–foot peaks?

Known as the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative, the non-profit organization has built 24 sustainably located, designed and constructed summit routes on 22 peaks. Its work has garnered honors and awards from Congress, the US Forest Service and the National Forest Foundation.

The organization was formed in 1994 after a 1993 study noted significant environmental impacts due to rapidly expanding recreational use on Colorado’s 14,000–foot peaks.

The mission of the CFI is to:

1. Create a structure for engaging local communities in the protection of Colorado’s highest peaks

2. Build and maintain sustainable hiking routes on the Fourteeners to accommodate hiking use while minimizing damage to native alpine ecosystems

3. Stabilize and restore trampled and eroded areas to protect sensitive alpine plant and animal communities

4. Educate Fourteener hikers about Leave No Trace principles and sustainable recreational practicesdesigned to lessen ecosystem impacts

Here is an overview of the Colorado Fourteeners Initiative at work:



For more information/trip reports/photos on a couple of fourteeners we've hiked, you can visit these pages:

* Mt. Elbert

* Quandary Peak

* Huron Peak



Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

U.S. Forest Service acquires Little Echo Lake near James Peak

Little Echo Lake, in Gilpin County, is one of the most spectacular high alpine lakes in Colorado and is now owned by the public along with the trail across it that provides new legal access to James Peak and the Continental Divide Trail.

United States Forest Service (USFS), Wilderness Land Trust (WLT) and Colorado Conservation Trust (CCT) officials have been coordinating for several years to acquire public ownership of the glacial lake and surrounding 318 acres which includes the lake, riparian areas along Mammoth Gulch, and a broad ridge that extends from James Peak framing the scenic valley.

The USFS was able to acquire the new property Aug. 30, 2012 with dollars from the Land and Water Conservation Fund which is supported by Colorado’s congressional delegation. The Little Echo Lake parcel can now be incorporated into the National Forest System lands that are managed by the Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grassland Supervisor and staff.

Since 1992, The WLT has worked throughout the west to buy “inholdings” from willing sellers. It conveys ownership to federal land agencies to ensure the land will be permanently protected for the American public. Often small land acquisitions like this can decrease ownership fragmentation; such fragmentation can make managing public lands a challenge.

David Kirk, WLT’s senior lands specialist, negotiated their purchase in a way that made access to hundreds of miles of trails, lakes and peaks along the Continental Divide, including 13,000-foot James Peak available through the Little Echo Lake parcel.

Now that the USFS has acquired the parcel, the public can enjoy the lake and surrounding trails. “Hikers, backpackers, skiers, equestrians and anglers will be very pleased with this new public land and trail access,” Kirk said.

Funding from CCT was critical to the acquisition. “CCT and partners are pleased to be a part of a project that will protect this exceptional landscape forever,” said CCT Executive Director Brian Ross. “Thanks to WLT diligence and determination, the public can enjoy this spectacular area and appreciate a part of what makes Colorado so special.”

The CCT is a nonprofit organization working to conserve Colorado’s exceptional places.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park Seeks to Allow Bikes on the East Shore Trail

Rocky Mountain National Park is currently accepting comments on an environmental assessment to allow mountain bikes on a 2-mile section of the East Shore Trail. The path is an existing hiking and equestrian trail that runs roughly north/south along the east shore of Shadow Mountain Lake near the town of Grand Lake. The northern terminus of the trail is the East Shore Trailhead, which is located due south of the town of Grand Lake. The entire trail is 6.2 miles long and ends at the south boundary of RMNP.

Currently, bicycles are prohibited on all established trails in Rocky Mountain National Park.

The proposal to allow bikes on the East Shore Trail is being actively supported by the International Mountain Bicycling Association, as well as the Town of Grand Lake and the Grand County Commissioners.

The following is some background information from the NPS Park Planning website:
Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) that will be used to evaluate whether bicycles should or should not be permitted on a two mile section of the East Shore Trail within the park. The East Shore Trailhead and the first 0.7 mile of the trail is situated on land administered by the USDA Forest Service where bicycles are currently permitted. The remaining 5.5 miles of the East Shore Trail is located within RMNP. Bicycles are currently not permitted on trails within the national park. The trail is also part of the Continental Divide National Scenic Trail.

Multiple stakeholders, including wilderness advocates and Congressional staff, met in January, 2006, to negotiate significant components of proposed wilderness legislation for RMNP. Advocates for bicycle use, which included the Town of Grand Lake and the Grand County Commissioners, made it clear that their support of wilderness designation for the park was contingent upon the consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail. Bicycles are not permitted in designated wilderness.

Wilderness designation for RMNP occurred in April 2009 (PL 111-11). The wilderness legislation excluded the East Shore Trail Area from the wilderness boundary to "maximize the opportunity for sustained use of the Trail without causing harm to affected resources or conflicts among users." Consideration of bicycle use on the East Shore Trail was part of the legislation. The designated East Shore Trail Area was a strip of land 1/8 mile wide along the west boundary of the park south of Grand Lake.

Following wilderness designation the National Park Service (NPS) had one year to identify an alignment line for the East Shore Trail. The alignment line was submitted to the Secretary of the Interior in 2010, and for the most part follows the existing trail. For bicycle use, some sections would need to be re-routed for public safety and to avoid sensitive natural and cultural resources. Upon submittal of the alignment line, the official wilderness boundary was located fifty feet (50') east of the alignment line.

PL 111-11 does not require the construction of a trail along the established alignment line. NPS conservation planning and environmental impact analysis policies and procedures are applicable to the decision making process for the trail.

In August, 2011, the Grand County Commissioners wrote to the NPS Regional Director, Intermountain Region, requesting that planning and compliance for the East Shore Trail be divided into two sections. The Commissioners proposed focusing on the northern two miles of the trail within RMNP. While not the proponent for bicycle use on the East Shore Trail, the NPS is providing funding for planning and compliance. A contract was awarded in July 2012 for the preparation of an Environmental Assessment that will consider whether or not bicycles should be permitted on the northern two miles of the East Shore Trail. Public scoping with a broad range of stakeholders will begin in August 2012, and the NEPA process is expected to be completed by the fall of 2013.
What are your thoughts on this proposal? Do bikes belong at all in RMNP? Or can hikers and bikers coexist in appropriate circumstances? If you would like to provide feedback and opinions, please click here to visit the park planning website.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Registration for Ouray Ice Festival Clinics Begin This Week

The Ouray Ice Festival, held each year in January in Ouray, Colorado, is an eclectic gathering of ice climbers, gear manufacturers, and ice climbing enthusiasts from around the world. The international Festival was first held in 1996 and now is widely recognized as the world’s premier ice climbing event. Festival events are held in and around the Ouray Ice Park, located in the Uncompahgre Gorge in Ouray, as well as various other venues around town. This year's festival will be held January 9-13, 2013.

San Juan Mountain Guides, the official concessionaire of the Ouray Ice Park, is again organizing over 70 unique, informative, and cutting-edge ice and mixed climbing clinics and seminars. Each clinic/seminar is taught by a mixture of professional athletes and guides. The half-day clinics and full-day seminars will be offered on Friday January 11, Saturday January 12, and Sunday January 13, 2013.

This year SJMG will also be offering a few unique opportunities to participate in Full-Day Backcountry Ice Seminars in Ouray/Silverton, and Full-Day Backcountry Skiing Seminars on Red Mountain Pass.

Registration and sign-ups will begin on Thursday, November 15, at 9:00 a.m. For more information, please click here.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Friday, November 9, 2012

Smoke Will Again Be Visible From The Fern Lake Fire

As expected yesterday with higher temperatures and low humidity, fire activity increased on the Fern Lake Fire in Rocky Mountain National Park. Winds remained too high to complete any bucket drops with the Type 1 helicopter that arrived in the park on Tuesday afternoon. Most of the fire activity was in the bottom of Forest Canyon along the west flank. Today with similar temperatures fire managers are expecting smoke like yesterday.

A reduced area closure is still in effect. Some parts of the closure area have been lifted. The Cub Lake Trail is now open, but the trail west of Cub Lake leading to The Pool is still closed. Fern Lake and Spruce Lake are now open but can only be accessed from the Bear Lake Trailhead.

Lower Fern Lake Trail from Moraine Park to the Fern Lake/Spruce Lake trail junction, including the areas known as The Pool and Fern Falls are closed. The Fern Lake Road (beyond the winter parking) is closed. All access to the Ute Trail is closed, including from Upper Beaver Meadows. The Beaver Mountain Trail is closed. Other trails leading into the fire area are closed and are posted. This closure will be in effect for the duration of the Fern Lake Fire. Violating the terms of these closures is subject to criminal prosecution.

Fire managers expect the fire to continue smoldering and creeping and putting up smoke until a significant snow event assists with firefighting efforts. The forecasted moisture for this weekend is not expected to accomplish this. The fire size is currently 1096 acres and is 30 percent contained. Fire managers expect to continue active monitoring, suppression as needed, and mop-up until the fire is completely out.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.


Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Grand Canyon: Rim to Rim

Bonus guest blog written by my wife, Kathy:

For many hikers, a “bucket list” or “life list” just wouldn’t be complete unless it included a rim to rim hike across the Grand Canyon. I was fortunate enough to do just that over the Memorial Day weekend in 1996 with three fellow hikers. While the hike itself was no easy task, perhaps just as difficult was trying to coordinate all the required reservations - at least one year in advance!

Our plan was to hike down the North Kaibab Trail, spend the night at the Phantom Ranch, and then climb back up the South Rim via the Bright Angel Trail the next day. To accomplish this we had to leave our car at the South Rim and then take the five hour shuttle to the North Rim. The day we arrived at the South Rim temperatures were in the 80’s, however, by the time we reached the North Rim that evening, it was snowing!

After spending the night at The Grand Canyon Lodge, the only lodging on the North Rim, we took the park shuttle to the North Kaibab trailhead at daybreak to begin our 14 mile trek to the bottom of the canyon. Starting off we dressed in lots of layers as the temperature was quite cold that morning.

Surprisingly, the hike begins in a spectacular alpine setting. As you continue down the trail you’ll quickly begin to see millions of years of erosion as you descend through the various geologic eras. You’re also likely to see guided mule tours as you proceed down the canyon. Some might consider this the “easy” way down to Phantom Ranch, but some of those folks didn’t appear to be having a particularly good time. We learned that mules prefer to hug the outside of the trail, which was a little frightening for some of the riders. I should note here that the park service emphatically claims that no one has ever been killed while riding a mule in the park.

This being my first visit to the deserts of the southwest, I was quite surprised by the amount of wildflowers we saw along the trail.

The first section of the North Kaibab Trail to Supai Tunnel is extremely steep, dropping more than 1400 feet in the first 1.7 miles. There are several sections where the trail is essentially a shelf on a wall. The steep drop-offs in some places are quite frightening. From Supai Tunnel to the Cottonwood Campground, the trail isn’t quite as steep, but still has an average grade of 10%. Once past the campground, with “just” 7 miles to go, the hike becomes much easier on the knees and follows along the bottom of the canyon until you reach Phantom Ranch.

Phantom Ranch is only accessible by foot, mule or raft, and seems like an oasis after an all-day hike. We arrived late in the afternoon and made our first stop at the Phantom Ranch canteen where t-shirts, snacks and cold drinks are available. After purchasing the ceremonial Phantom Ranch t-shirt and a supersize Snickers, we headed over to our cabin. After a long day on the trail my feet were pretty beat up. Since our cabin sat along Bright Angel Creek, I immediately removed my boots and dipped my achy feet into the creek water. Although quite cold, it felt great. While the cabins only have the basics: bunk beds, a sink and toilet, guests must go to a separate building to take a shower. What I remember most were the luxurious towels and the hot water…this was an unexpected treat for being at the bottom of the Grand Canyon!

Dinner is served at a pre-determined time and your menu is chosen at the time you make your reservations. I’m glad I went with the beef stew – probably the best I’ve ever had. After the ranger presentation we all turned in early - too tired to do anything else.

After an incredible pancake breakfast the next morning we hit the trail at daybreak, each with a sack lunch provided by the Ranch.

Shortly after leaving Phantom Ranch we crossed the Colorado River using a suspension bridge where you can look straight down through the grated bottom and see the raging river – another challenge for someone with a fear of heights! The hike up Bright Angel Trail is a 9.8 mile trek. While the first three miles from the ranch are relatively easy, the last 7 miles are a long slow slog to the top. Since Bright Angel Trail is one of the most popular trails in the park, it’s also the most congested, especially as you get closer to the top. It’s no wonder why though, the views are large and spectacular.

About midway up a park ranger stopped all hikers from going any further for roughly 30 minutes due to a helicopter rescue. The next day we actually met the rescued woman in the airport and found out that she broke her ankle after tripping over some rocks. This is another reminder of how dangerous hiking can be, especially on the Bright Angel Trail, which was recently named as one of the 10 most dangerous trails in the country by Backpacker Magazine.

Although tired and sore, once we reached the top of the South Rim I was overjoyed by a spectacular sense of achievement. At that time it was the most miles I’d ever hiked in a two-day period. After a well-deserved ice cream stop we headed over to our hotel, El Tovar, which is one of the park’s National Historic Landmarks. This was the perfect spot to pamper ourselves after two days and 24 miles of hiking.

After all is said and done, some may ask “was it worth it?” Absolutely! As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is a national treasure everyone should enjoy at least once in their lives.



Hiking Grand Canyon National Park provides first hand descriptions and detailed maps for all of the developed trails in the park—from easy day hikes suitable for novices and children to extended backpack trips geared for intrepid wilderness travelers. The guide covers 15 hikes on the South Rim and 13 hikes on the North Rim. Also included are tips on safety, hiking with children, access, and services, as well as indispensable information about backcountry regulations, permits, and water sources.







Kathy
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

The Devils Hall

After eating a large Texas-shaped waffle in Odessa, we made the three-hour drive to Guadalupe Mountains National Park to do the relatively easy hike to Devils Hall. The 4.2 mile hike would act as a warm-up for our trek up to Guadalupe Peak the next day - the highest point in Texas.

Because the Guadalupe Mountains are so isolated, the park, established in 1932, is one of the least visited parks in the National Park System. Only about 200,000 people make the trek to Guadalupe Mountains in West Texas each year – compared to roughly 10 million for the Smokies per year.

The park rises above the Chihuahuan Desert, and lies within the heart of the Guadalupe Mountain range that spans southeastern New Mexico and West Texas.

Our destination for the day was a relatively flat trail that leads hikers to a narrow canyon at the end of Pine Spring Canyon.

The trail highlights a wide diversity of plant life. In addition to the many cactus type plants you might expect to see in a desert environment, we also saw many wildflowers, as well as pine, maple and ash trees.

Roughly half-way into our hike we startled a mule deer. Instead of running away, it hopped away as if it were on a pogo stick. We also saw several prairie lizards, a rather large collared lizard, and a couple of Rufous Hummingbirds. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we didn’t get an opportunity to see any of the other star creatures of the park, such as black bears, mountain lions, elk, javelinas, rattlesnakes, scorpions or even tarantulas.

Just prior to reaching the Devils Hall we climbed the Hikers Staircase - a natural rock formation that conveniently provides hikers relatively easy passage through an otherwise rough section.

As you proceed up Pine Spring, the canyon continues to narrow until you reach the dramatic and beautiful Devils Hall.

Over the next two nights we stayed in the tiny town of Van Horn, Texas – roughly 60 miles south of the park. Prior to our trip we had heard about Chuy’s, a local Mexican restaurant in town. We were quite intrigued by the fact that John Madden of NFL fame claimed the restaurant as one of his favorites on his "John Madden Haul of Fame" bus stops, and made at least one visit per year from 1993 until his recent retirement. However, the restaurant got some mixed reviews on Trip Advisor which concerned us a little. We decided to try it anyway.

After eating there twice I can understand why some of the reviews were less than complimentary. My assumption is that these people went in there expecting to get the same Tex-Mex fare you can get at almost any Mexican restaurant around the country. What makes this restaurant stand out is that it serves food that is more traditional or home-style. You’ll find a lot of the same items as anywhere else, but they’re made and taste completely different than anything you normally find. We especially liked the gorditas.

Trail: Devils Hall
RT Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation Gain: roughly 300 feet
Max Elevation: roughly 6000 feet



Hiking Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks is the only comprehensive guide that covers all the hiking trails in both parks.












National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Guadalupe Mountains National Park also includes coverage for Lincoln National Forest, Lonesome Ridge WSA, Devils Den Canyon WSA, McKittrick Canyon WSA and the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness.








Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

The Top of Texas

After staying in Van Horn the night before, we made the 60-mile drive north in the early morning darkness. My goal was to arrive just outside of Guadalupe Mountains National Park in order to a get a photo of El Capitan just as the sun begins to shine on the dramatic rock face of the mountain that stands at the southern terminus of the Guadalupe range.

With an elevation of 8,749 feet, Guadalupe Peak is the highest point in Texas, and, is the 14th highest state high point. It’s also one of only four state highpoints that’s located within a national park - Denali, Mount Rainier and Clingmans Dome being the other three.

The hardest part of the hike is at the very beginning in which the trail ascends a series of switchbacks over the course of the first mile-and-a-half or so. Hikers can use the parking lot and the highway far below to gauge their progress.

During this first section the trail climbs the east face of the peak, which means hikers are fully exposed to the hot desert sun. I highly recommend starting this hike before sunrise in order to knock-out as much of this section as possible during the relative cool of the morning. It's also a good idea to start early so that you’ll have time to get off the mountain before summer afternoon thunderstorms arrive.

At roughly 7000 feet in elevation, and 1.7 miles from the trailhead, the trail skirts a relatively narrow ledge. Although not exceedingly dangerous, you'll still want to take your time through this short section of trail. Just beyond this point the switchbacks mercifully come to an end (although they'll inflict more pain on the way down). Soon the trail winds around the other side of the mountain and reaches some much appreciated shade. From here the grade became much easier and remained relatively moderate for the rest of the hike.

As we traveled upward we saw numerous Northern Harriers flying just above us. Up at the summit we also saw a few Golden Eagles and a couple of Peregrine Falcons soaring and gliding on the thermal updrafts.

At the second cliff section:

The photo above includes a young man from New Zealand and his girlfriend getting ready to cross the highest bridge in Texas. Just days before a 7.1 magnitude earthquake hit near his hometown just outside of Christchurch. It took a day or two, but he finally received confirmation that his entire family was alright. He said his dad, who happens to be a building inspector, was keeping extremely busy in the aftermath of the quake. Coincidentally, the young Kiwi just happens to work as a rafting guide on the Pigeon River in Tennessee.

Just past the bridge we began the final climb to the top. Over the last quarter mile route finding became a little difficult. We made the same mistake a guy in front us made by missing the trail as it heads-off towards the right. Consequently, we took a route that required a little bit of scrambling. No big deal, it just would’ve been easier had we stayed on the main trail.

At the summit is a stainless steel memorial that was erected by American Airlines in 1958 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, a 2800-mile stagecoach route that passed on the south side of the mountain. On one side of the pyramid is the American Airlines logo. Another side displays a U.S. Postal Service tribute to the Pony Express Riders of the Butterfield Stage. The third displays a compass with the logo of the Boy Scouts of America.

From the summit we could see a line of thick high clouds extending from one end of the horizon to the other in the far off distance (they say you can see more than 100 miles away). These were likely the leading bands of Hurricane Hermine that was pummeling central and east Texas that day.

Although the hurricane had no impact on our hike, hikers should always expect high winds on the mountain – especially during the winter months when winds can exceed 80 MPH on a fairly regular basis.

Looking towards the north from the summit:

Looking down on El Capitan and Highway 62/180 far below:

The park also recommends that you take a full gallon of water. I only took about 100 ounces, thinking that would be enough given the relatively cool weather that day. I barely had enough, however. During peak summer months I would definitely take the parks’ recommendation of one full gallon.

One final note about this part of the country: After our hike we had planned to attend the Evening Star Party at the McDonald Observatory 65 miles south of Van Horn. Every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday the observatory invites the public to view the universe through 16 and 22-inch telescopes located atop Mount Locke and Mount Fowlkes (6300-6800 feet). The observatory in the remote Davis Mountains offers some of the darkest night skies in the continental United States. Unfortunately Hurricane Hermine wasn’t going to allow that to happen that night. As the early evening progressed the clouds continued to thicken, so we decided to cancel our plans. However, we did hear a lot of great things about the program and sounds like it would be a great excursion if you’re in the area.

Trail: Guadalupe Peak Trail
RT Distance: 8.5 miles
Elevation Gain: 2927 feet
Max Elevation: 8749 feet



Hiking Carlsbad Caverns & Guadalupe Mountains National Parks is the only comprehensive guide that covers all the hiking trails in both parks.












National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map for Guadalupe Mountains National Park also includes coverage for Lincoln National Forest, Lonesome Ridge WSA, Devils Den Canyon WSA, McKittrick Canyon WSA and the Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness.








Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com

The Ghost Ranch

Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.

-- Georgia O'Keeffe

In the early-to-mid Twentieth Century, the Ghost Ranch near Abiquiu was used as a summer home by Georgia O'Keeffe, an artist best known for her paintings of flowers, rocks, shells, animal bones, and landscapes, in particular, those of Northern New Mexico and the Ghost Ranch.

The name "Ghost Ranch," or the local name, "El Rancho de los Brujos," was derived from the many tales of ghosts and legends of cattle rustler hangings in the Ranch's long history.

Located 65 miles northwest of Santa Fe, the Ghost Ranch today is a retreat and education center run by the Presbyterian Church. The 21,000-acre ranch includes several hiking trails that are open to the public - at no cost.

During our visit we hiked the three-mile (round-trip) trail to Chimney Rock, one of the most popular destinations on the ranch. Except for a couple of short steep sections, the hike was fairly easy.


Less than half-way up the ridge we saw the first views of Chimney Rock. The trail ends on a mesa just behind Chimney Rock, and provides an up-close, birds-eye view of the towering monolith. You’ll also have commanding 360-degree views of the ranch, the Piedra Lumbre basin and the surrounding mountains.




With the abundance of red rock, the gold and yellow hues of the mesas and odd rock formations, and just the general beauty of the area, it’s easy to see why O'Keeffe was so easily inspired by these landscapes.

Trail: Chimney Rock
RT Distance: 3 miles
Elevation Gain: 600 feet
Max Elevation: 7,100 feet




























Jeff
RockyMountainHikingTrails.com