​Joshua Tree National Park

Having to be in San Diego the week of June 2, I opted to fly out early (actually bypassed home for the weekend) and spend the weekend at Joshua Tree National Park.  I arrived in San Diego about 7:30 Friday evening and then drove over to Palm Desert, CA which is just about a half hour drive from the park.

Saturday morning I headed into the park just taking the drive from the West Entrance Station through the park to the south entrance.  I stopped for pictures at several places and took a couple of short hikes.  Scoped out a slightly bigger hike for Sunday.  Can’t figure out why people want to live in the middle of the desert – it was 90 degrees at 9am and 108 by the time I got back to the hotel.  At least the part is a bit cooler due to it’s higher elevation – temperature peaked in the low 90s.

Sunday morning I headed back to the park via the opposite route – things always look different the other way ’round.  I stopped for a short hike through the Cholla Cactus Garden.  These are also called Teddy Bear and Jumping Cholla.  They look soft from a distance, but in fact are comprised of roughly inch long brittle spikes.  If there is any doubt as to the true nastiness of these guys, watch this clip from the Saguaro National Park episode of Motion.

My primary objective for the day was to hike Ryan Mountain which offers views of the surrounding valleys within the park.  It’s just a 3 mile round trip, but the first half up to the peak is an elevation gain of about 1,000 ft.  It wasn’t too bad, and definitely worth the effort.

After the hike, it was out of the park through the North Entrance Station at 29 Palms which was a route I hadn’t yet covered and back to the hotel to just relax.

2014 NCAA MIDWEST REGIONAL Men’s Hockey Tournament

Since I was working in Michigan this week and it was a relatively short drive down to Cincinnati, I decided to attend the regional tournament that UND was assigned to last week.  I drove down on Friday afternoon after wrapping up work.  I missed the Ferris State-Colgate game but arrived about 45 minutes before the UND-Wisconsin game. Perfect!

UND never trailed Friday night but it was a nail-biter down to the end.  UND took the lead 3-2 with 1:44 left to play and managed to put in 2 empty-netters to make the final score look more lop-sided than the game really was.  That’s the thanks Wisconsin gets for winning last week, ensuring UND’s spot in the tourney;-)

That victory certainly made the trip worthwhile since I would not have to endure a game I had no interest in.  Saturday night’s championship game against Ferris State is sure to be an instant classic.  They traded goals in the 2nd period and wrapped up regulation tied 1-1. Overtime proceeded with no scoring but finally 1:28 into the second OT, UND put in the game-winner.  It was finally one of those somewhat lop-sided games that went UND’s way as our goaltender was the one with the ridiculous number of saves – 44 I think was the final tally.

All in all a great weekend in Cincinnati.  Tomorrow I’ll head back up to MI and catch my flight home!

Ice Caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore

Last month I had heard about the seaice caves at Apostle Islands National Lakeshore being accessible for the first time in 5 years.  I think I first saw an article in the newspaper and then checked out the park service website, and also saw an NBC news report.  So last week I finally decided that this weekend would be the perfect time to head up that way.  So I made the decision and booked a room in Ashland – thinking that the caves were offshore from Bayfield, WI.

Well, on Thursday Feb 20 we had our biggest winter storm of the season.  It had started as rain then turned over to wet heavy snow.  We had about 10″ here in St. Paul and up near Bayfield they were predicting near 15″.  On Friday morning, the roads were pretty bad, of course the storm had just finally ended about 6am, so I didn’t think anything of it.  When I went home at 5 on Friday evening the roads were worse than in the morning and travel was not advised for Saturday.  I went to see about canceling my hotel, usually you can do it up until the day of arrival, not so fast.  I had until 4 o’clock the day before.  Oh well, figured I’d have a look in the morning and make the final decision.

As I left the house Saturday morning, the roads around my house were pretty good.  OK, I’ll give it a shot.  694 out of Oakdale wasn’t too bad, just a few icy patches and traffic moving well – though in  the opposite direction cars were backing up.  Getting onto 36 towards Stillwater was a bit nasty, but I’ll give it a bit further.  Across the river into Wisconsin and things were looking good.  Then I turned onto US-63 north…

What am I doing out here???

What am I doing out here???

The road was entirely ice, but it had frozen hard to the concrete and the extreme cold made it nice and hard.  So in the end, it wasn’t too bad to drive on.  The minimal traffic also helped.  Only ran across one foolish person who was in a hurry and needed to pass everyone.  Seriously.

I had left a bit later than originally planned and given the road conditions the drive took about 2 hours longer than planned.  So instead of getting into Bayfield around noon-ish it was about 3 pm when I walked into the Visitor Center in Bayfield.  It was then I learned that the ice caves were over on the other side of the peninsula – about a 20 minute drive.

So the ice caves are not where I expected them to be...

So the ice caves are not where I expected them to be…

Not bad, but given that you need at least a couple hours to get out to the caves and back and sunset was at about 5:30 I decided to just drive past to scope it out and then head to the hotel, relax for the evening and hit the caves early on Sunday.

As I approached the Meyer’s Beach, where you access the lake, the cars were parked probably nearly a mile back from the turn out and not quite as far going the other direction. Definitely better to hit it early in the morning!  There have been nearly 60,000 people visiting the caves this year, in 2009 when they were last accessible it was under 10,000. On to the hotel.

After a good night’s sleep I was on the road out to the caves by 7:30 and pulled into the beach parking area about 8:30.  No cars on the road yet, that’s a good sign.  However, the cars were backed up about halfway down the entrance road where I parked.  The Park Service had plenty of Rangers, and other staff, out directing traffic and pointing people in the right direction.  It wasn’t too cold as I left the car, but as soon as I was on the lake the wind was brutal.  At least on the way out to the caves the wind was at my back – of course I knew what that meant for my return trip…

I was just walking in boots, as were the vast majority of people.  There were a handful with snow shoes and I saw just two people on cross-country skis (I had though about bringing mine).  Next time – SNOW SHOES!  Given the number of people, in some places, especially around the caves, there were good trails packed down.  In other areas it was like a beach.  The benefit of it being only 5 degrees was that the snow never got slushy – it was like a sandy beach.  Think warm thoughts;-)  And bring SNOW SHOES!

It was definitely worth the effort. The number of people, despite the cold and wind and fresh, sometimes deep, snow really surprised me.

The return leg back to the parking lot was indeed brutal as it was heading into the wind.  But it was well worth the effort and cold.  As soon as I was off the lake and onto dry (snowy) ground, the effect of the wind was clear.  I took my hat and gloves off and opened my coat as I felt downright hot!  Made it back to my car about 10:45, so the entire trip was just a little over 2 hours.  Was on the road by 11 and pulled into my garage about 3 pm!

A great weekend trip!

A Day at the Aquarium

Back in Boston on Tuesday evening in order to do some work Wednesday thru Friday. I’d always wanted to visit the New England Aquarium so decided rather than trying to rush out on Friday I’d spend the night and visit the aquarium on Saturday. Unfortunately I didn’t think to check out the website until after I booked my flight.

As it turns out the aquarium is under construction at the moment. They are actually in the process of renovatingupgrading the main Ocean Tank exhibit. That was a little disappointing but gives me a reason for a return visit.

As I’d had early starts every day – including 6:30 yesterday morning I slept in this morning. Up around 8:30 and then out of the hotel just after 10. After a wrong turn out of the parking ramp made it to the aquarium about 11. Opted to include an IMAX movie at noon (Deep Sea 3D).

I managed to see most of the exhibits in the hour before the movie and then went back in to see the section I missed. My favorites were the Sea Dragons and Sea Horses. I wrapped up there at about 1 o’clock – I’m sure with the Ocean Tank open easily a couple more hours could be spent and is probably quite immersive as the other exhibits spiral up around it. Oh well, maybe next time.

From the aquarium I headed across the street to the Granary Tavern, which I had spotted on my wrong turn, for lunch. I had a bowl of clam chowder, not the best I’ve had, and a Garlic Sausage flatbread that was fantastic.

Garlic Sausage Flatbread

Garlic Sausage Flatbread

Along with a couple of Whale’s Tails ales – quite refreshing;-).

When I wrap up with lunch I’ll be heading to the airport and will hang out there for a couple hours before my flight. Was upgraded to first class on the way home and unlike a couple of weeks ago have no worries about getting out of town tonight. Despite the storm that blew thru here Thu-Fri, today there is a beautiful blue, cloud-free sky and the snow is melting fast.

Olympic National Park Redux

I was back in Seattle during the first week of October and decided to give Olympic National Park another go since my visit in June was a bust. Turns out this time of year is generally dry in the Pacific Northwest, so it worked out well.

On Saturday morning I left my hotel and drove up to Edmonds, just north of Seattle, and rolled up perfectly timed to catch the ferry across Puget Sound to Kingston. I had a spot right on the side of the ferry so had a nice view for the 30 minute crossing. From there it was about another hour drive out to the park. The ferry saved me about an hour and a half that I would have had to have driven south around the sound and across the Tacoma narrows – which is what I did last time.
It was an absolutely beautiful day, in the mid-sixties and cloudless! I drove up to the Hurricane Ridge visitor center which I had also done back in June. This time, the view was absolutely stunning. I made the 3 mile round trip hike from near the visitor center up to Hurricane Hill which overlooks the park to the south and the town of Port Angeles on the coast to the north. Well worth the effort.
After this hike I headed back down the wonderfully twisty mountain road and grabbed lunch in Port Angeles. Then it was on to the Elwha section of the park which I had not previously visited. Unfortunately, the main road was closed due to some serious construction – the Glines Canyon Dam is currently being removed and is the nation’s largest dam removal project currently under way. So I took the Whiskey Bend Road instead. This is a single lane dirt road that heads up to a trailhead.
I took the trail down into Rica Canyon which is just above the dam removal area. It was about a 4 mile hike that led down nearly to river level. Some very nice views overlooking the canyon. Finally down at the river I made it out to Goblin Gates. At this point the river makes a nearly right-angle turn and cuts into the mountain. It is this cut that is called Goblin Gates and it is spectacular – though probably more so from the other side of the river.
After making it back up the trail from the river level it was about 5 o’clock and I called it a day and headed for my hotel in Sequim – pronounced squim for some reason. Got a good night’s sleep and then headed to the airport Sunday morning and was home about 8 o’clock. All in all a pretty good weekend in the park!

Rocky Mountain National Park – Wild Basin

So I ended up “stuck” in Colorado over the weekend on a business trip.  Fortunately Saturday was beautiful and I was free.  Decided I’d head over to RMNP since it was less than an hour drive.

I know I should have checked the park website to see if there were any “conditions” to be aware of, but I got sidetracked on other things and never did…  Driving towards Estes Park there seemed to be a lot of traffic, but I figured “it’s just a Saturday morning and it’s beautiful”.  Then I saw the first sign indicating there might be an issue – something about only shuttle access into the park, uh-oh.

As I got closer, the traffic got even thicker and I saw another sign mentioning the shuttle.  Then I hit Estes Park and it was a mad house!  I turned around and headed back out of town and pulled over to do some investigation.  OK, there is a major construction project to renovate the main road through the park.  Only shuttle access between 9am-4pm.  Expect delays of up to 2 hours!  No thanks.  Checked the map and decided to head to the Longs Peak area about 10 miles south.

That’s when I discovered the real reason for the traffic and crowd in Estes Park – Scottish and Irish Festival days, apparently one of the biggest of it’s kind in the country.  Took me about another half hour to get thru town, but then I was finally free!  Got down to Long’s Peak but given it was already about 10:30 the parking area was filled and the road down the hill was fully lined with cars.  OK, plan C; a bit further south to the “Wild Basin Area”

Finally, no major crowds and parking only about 3/4 mile from the trail head, this’ll work!  Finally got on the trail a little after 11 and made my way out to Ouzel Falls.  The destination was a bit underwhelming but the journey was worth it.  The day was clear and cool with a nice breeze – absolutely perfect for a stroll through the mountains!  On the way back to the car, I decided to take an alternate route based on the park map I had.  It looked only slightly further than the route I had gone in on.


A topo map would have been helpful.  Turns out this route took me up the valley that I had come in on which was great for the views, but I wasn’t prepared to keep going up…  It was worth it in the end – or what I thought was the end.  I reached a distance marker at one point expecting it to be a bit less than a mile further to the car.  Turned out to be almost 2.5 miles!  Oh, well.  I finally made it back to the car around 5 and was beat!  Checked the map and plotted a course around Estes Park and was back to the hotel around 6.  Time to relax!

Olympic National Park

So I had spent the week in Seattle for work and decided to spend the weekend and take the opportunity to visit Olympic National Park.  It’s a large park, so I knew I was only going to be able to get a small taste, but that’s OK.

So after having 3 absolutely beautiful days during the week, spent inside of course, it got cloudy on Friday morning and was raining by the afternoon.  I debated changing my flight and just heading home, but ended up deciding to take my chances (which I knew to be slim to none – OK, none) and drove over to Bremerton.  I took the route over the Tacoma Narrows, which was the site of a pretty spectacular bridge failure in 1940 – the current spans were opened in 1950(westbound) and 2007(eastbound).  My drive was uneventful!

I woke up Saturday morning to a spectacularly cloudy, drizzly day but headed out to the park anyway.   I stopped in at the visitor center and watched a nice 20 min film about the park and then headed up to Hurricane Ridge.  This is a 17 mile drive up into the heart of the park, which on clear days would provide nice views of some of the mountains.  On this day however, by the time I made it up to about 5,000′ the fog was pretty thick and at the visitor center at 7,000′ visibility was pretty much zilch!  On the way down again I spotted a mother elk and very young calf and managed to pull the car into a turnout and jump out of the car in time to snap a couple pictures before they headed downslope.


From there I headed over to the Sol Duc Valley where I planned to take a short hike out to a waterfall.  On a nice day, this would have been a beautiful drive as the route around the north side of the park parallels a spectacular lake shore drive.  This day was just wet and gray…  As I pulled into the parking lot at the trailhead the soft drizzle became a torrential downpour.  I get it, it’s a rain forest!  I took a nap for about 45 minutes until the rain finally let up to a light drizzle again and then donned by rain gear and headed up the trail.  It was only about a 20 minute hike but it was nice and peaceful and cool in the park with lots of water trickling everywhere.  Headed back to Bremerton after that.

Sunday morning I got up early and had been considering another run out to the park as my flight wasn’t until the evening.  However, despite a mostly clear sky in Bremerton the satellite weather mages showed the rest of the peninsula to be under cloud cover again.  So that made an easy decision and I decided to take a tour of the USS Turner Joy, DD-951 a Forest-Sherman class destroyer which is now a floating museum.  It’s moored pretty much just outside of the hotel I was staying at so was a no-brainer.  Never having toured a modern navel vessel, it was pretty impressive to see how everything gets squeezed into place.

Bremerton is home to a pretty significant naval shipyard and at the moment there are four retired aircraft carriers here currently awaiting their final disposition (Ranger, Independence, Kitty Hawk and Constellation).  Very impressive to see those amazing vessels sitting there – a little sad though as they are starting to show signs of rusting…

After all of this I had a nice lunch and then headed back to the Airport.  Caught my 6:30 flight and got home a little before 1 a.m.  The time change was good when I went to bed – not so much when I got up for work Monday morning…

Frontenac State Park

This morning I decided to take a drive down to Frontenac State Park which is a little over an hour from my house and just south of Red Wing, MN.  It rained all day Saturday, so I was ready to get out of the house for some fresh air.  It was a little cool on the drive down – in the Solstice with the top down, but well worth it.  By the time I pulled into the park a little after 10, most of the clouds were gone and it was warming up nicely.  It was in the low-mid 70s while I was hiking – perfect!  I strolled along the trails along Lake Pepin and just enjoyed listening to all the birds and other critters in the woods.  I saw a couple of golden eagles and some sort of snake was sunning itself right behind my car when I got back to it.  It decided to get out of the way when I got close enough.


William O’Brien State Park

I spent the morning hiking thru William O’Brien State Park – managed about 6 miles.  It’s about 45 minutes from my house – a nice drive up the St. Croix valley.  The park has nice rolling hills, some hardwood forests and open prairie.  I spotted a couple of cardinals, but they were too skittish to get any good pictures.  I also saw a hummingbird, but only got a long distance shot.  Didn’t see anything else bigger than a squirrel.  All in all it was a beautiful day to take a stroll thru the woods.