Zion National Park – Day 6

Yes, sleeping in a real bed does beat a tent. After having breakfast I got all of my gear packed for the trip home tonight. Loaded up the car and headed out for a day of driving to some remote areas of the park. I had plenty of time as my flight is at 1am and I’ve got the whole Time Zone thing working in my favor today.

First route was the Kolob Terrace Road which heads into the middle of the park from the south. The road actually meanders in and out of the park boundaries and ends at the Kolob Reservoir which looked to be a bit low at the moment. A couple of miles before the reservoir is a turnoff back into the park to Lava Point Lookout which provides a long distance view at Zion Canyon from above. There’s a campground here with access to some of the back-country trails. Definitely worth the drive.

View from Lava Point

View from Lava Point

Second stop was the Kolob Canyons area in the northwest region of the park. There are several trails here as well but as I was planning a relaxing day I only took he Timber Creek Overlook trail which is just a short 1 mile round trip with views southward over the park along with the adjacent Kolob Canyons. Again definitely worth the effort to make it to this section of the park.

Kolob Canyon

Kolob Canyon

I finished touring this section of the park around 3:30 (2:30 in Las Vegas) so still had plenty of time to kill so decided to head up to Cedar Breaks National Monument which was only about 45 minutes north. I had visited this two years ago during my road trip but figured it would also be worth seeing again in a different season. I also took a slightly different route that passed through a portion of the Dixie National Forest which has some spectacular overlooks. I only stopped at one of the overlooks in the monument before heading back towards Vegas.

On the way back to Vegas I realized I was still going to have a few hours to kill so decided I would try to catch a movie. I pulled over after getting into the city and found a theater showing Gone Girl at 8pm – perfect! It was a good show – did not expect the twist. The movie let out shortly before 11 and by the time I filled the car’s gas tank, returned the car, checked my luggage and got through security I arrived at the gate about 15 minutes before boarding started so the timing couldn’t have been better.

Zion is such an amazing place. There really aren’t words worthy to describe it and the pictures that I’ll be posting in the coming days can’t do it justice either. It is a place that simply must be witnessed first hand. Even if you can’t do the hiking, just visiting the canyon along the shuttle route is worth the trip.

​Zion National Park – Day 5

So last night I called an audible and decided that this would be my last night in the central area of the park. Since I didn’t have any activities planned in Zion canyon for Friday I opted to check out of the campground this morning and instead spend some of my Hampton points tonight and relax.

So after getting breakfast made and camp packed up I finally boarded a shuttle to Weeping Rock at 10 o’clock. Was on the trail up into Hidden Canyon by about 10:30. This was only about a 3.5 mile round trip but the first mile was pretty much straight up. About 2/3 of the way up I heard some commotion a couple of switchbacks above me. I wasn’t able to get my camera to the ready quick enough to capture the bighorn sheep ram jumping up the slope so there’s no evidence but it was pretty cool. There were three guys on the trail and they said at first he had headed straight at them! It’s nearing the end of the rut season for the bighorns so you definitely don’t want to be on their bad side…

Once reaching the top of the climb it was then a matter of following the trail along the ledges around and into Hidden Canyon. The park service had again placed some chains for hand holds. I actually think these are a bad idea in most cases. It seems to give people who perhaps shouldn’t be up there in the first place some false security. To me it felt better to keep a hand in the rock because the chains are slack and if you’re falling outwards you may not be able to hold onto the chain. Better to have a hand on the rock and be leaning towards it. But what do I know?

Trail to Hidden Canyon

Trail to Hidden Canyon

Anyway after reaching the entrance to the canyon the maintained section of the trail ends. The options are either just turn back or head into the canyon which requires a bit of scrambling over debris in the canyon; rocks, boulders and trees. The payoff is a little arch along the canyon wall. Nothing spectacular but it was fun to climb over stuff!

From there I headed up to the Temple of Sinewava which is at the upper end of the canyon and is the start of the Riverwalk and entrance to the Narrows “trail”. I walked along the Riverwalk as there are some great views but had decided not to do the Narrows hike. Perhaps I’ll make it back someday to do that one. There are so many people heading in there that it just seems too crowded – nothing worse than a crowd on a trail as far as I’m concerned.

By the time I finished there it was about 4:30. So after the ~40 minute shuttle ride to the visitor center and walk to the car I finally made it to the hotel about 5:30. Got cleaned up and headed out for dinner. The town of Springdale exists pretty much to serve the tourists, so every place was pretty busy. The third place I hit, The Flying Monkey, I was able to get a table without waiting. It wasn’t great but at least I didn’t have to wait.

Back to the hotel for a good nights sleep. Tomorrow I’m going to spend driving to a couple of the more remote areas of the park before heading back to Vegas for my red-eye flight home.

​Zion National Park – Day 4

There was a full lunar eclipse this morning at about 4:30. Unfortunately Zion was completely overcast so I didn’t get to see it. I wasn’t really surprised as the clouds had started rolling in last night. And anyway I got to sleep longer this way.

For awhile it actually looked like it would rain so I didn’t roll out of my tent until after 7:30. After breakfast and a little reading I finally headed out a little before 10. Today’s hike was to the Emerald Pools. I got off the shuttle at Zion Lodge and then took the Grotto Trail to the Grotto. I got some nice shots of Angels Landing from the canyon floor and then headed up the Kayenta trail, which offers spectacular views of the canyon , towards the Emerald Pools.


I had intended to hit the Middle Pool first then the Upper and the Lower last to avoid unnecessary backtracking. Somehow I missed the spur the Middle Pool and ended up first at the Lower Pool which is really not impressive. From there it was up to the Middle Pool which certainly had some potential – at this time of year the water is running rather low. Finally it was onward to the Upper Pool which is spectacular. Photos can’t really do justice unless you have a super wide angle lens, as its a relatively small pool but it’s at the base of this enormous cliff face. I’ll probably post the video I took once I’m back home. Just stunning. It was shaded and cool and being right around noon was the perfect spot for lunch.

After about a half hour I headed back down the trail and ended my hike back at the lodge. I hung out on the lawn for a little while deciding what to do next. Ended up hopping the shuttle down canyon and took in the short film about the park at the Zion Human History Museum. After that I took the Par’us trail back to camp.

I’ve gotten a little reading in this afternoon and now it’s time to make some dinner. Later I’ll be heading over to the amphitheater for the evening ranger talk. No idea what the topic is…

​Zion National Park – Day 3

Today was a pretty lazy day as I wasn’t quite sure what I felt like doing. In the end I made this my driving day, just to the east side of the park which is entirely different from Zion Canyon. In addition to the scenery it’s just a fun little drive up the switchbacks and through the tunnel and back again.


It was somewhat cloudy all day so after the little drive I came back to camp and took a little nap. Then got some reading in, made dinner and then went to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had no expectations whatsoever so have to say I did enjoy it. And the soundtrack is amazing!

Tomorrow it’s back on the trails. I’ll be taking in the Emerald Pools in a loop from Zion Lodge to The Grotto and back. May relax with a nice lunch in the lodge.

​Zion National Park – Day 2

I did not make the first shuttle leaving the visitor center today at 7am. Instead I had a nice leisurely morning and finally boarded a bus around 9am. I road up to The Grotto which is where the trailhead to Angels Landing is found. Was on the trail about 9:30.

This hike is a little over 5 miles round trip with the first half being pretty much entirely uphill. At a little over the two mile point you reach Scout Lookout after making the climb up Walter’s Wiggles, a series of switchbacks, and then the last half mile is the section out to Angels Landing, which is essentially a climb along the side of a cliff. The park service has placed chains for assistance but in my opinion they were generally more trouble than they were worth. In any case I arrived without any issues and the effort was certainly worth it.

Walter's Wiggles viewed from above.

Walter’s Wiggles viewed from above.

The view of Zion Canyon from Angels Landing

The view of Zion Canyon from Angels Landing

I relaxed and ate lunch, fending off numerous chipmunks all the while, and then headed back down. Thought I had been drinking enough water or maybe it was something in my lunch but I really wasn’t feeling well by about half way back to Scout Lookout. Took a few breaks along the way and then found some shade at the Scout Lookout and just rested for awhile. Still not sure whether it was something I ate or some mild heat exhaustion but long story short, after I puked I felt great…

Headed back down the rest of the way which took about an hour and then caught the shuttle back to camp. Took a nap, made some dinner and then attended the evening ranger program hosted by Ranger Adam. Tonight’s presentation was about nocturnal life in the park.

Was planning to hike the emerald pools trail tomorrow, but may opt for a driving day around the park instead. I’ll see what the morning brings.

​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!

​Last day in New York

Before heading for home we had one last item on the itinerary – the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall!  The coach left the hotel at 10 o’clock for the short ride over – only needed the bus in order to have all our luggage aboard, as it’s only about 5 blocks to the hall.  The show was good and the hall is absolutely amazing – was particularly intrigued by how they could project video uniformly over the entire ceiling as part of the show…

From the theater it was on to the airport – we had to bypass the lunch plans due to the heavy traffic in the city.  Mom and most of the tour group had a 4:30 flight, but Jerry and I along with the remainder of the group had a 6:10 flight.  Made it home around 10 in the evening after taking a cab to Jerry’s to pick up my car.

All in all, I had a wonderful time.  All of the entertainment was great and the sight-seeing tour was nice despite the less than perfect weather.  Will need to return sometime to see the completed 9/11 memorial and perhaps take in some museums.  Not that there were any issues with it, but I’m still not sure how I feel about traveling with such a large group, aside from the fact that everything is planned by somebody else;-)

​Sunday in NYC

Sunday morning was another free part of the itinerary.  After breakfast I decided I would take a walk up into Central Park.  The south end of the park is about ten blocks from our hotel.  I headed up that direction, stopping in Columbus Circle before entering the park where they were just opening up the Christmas market.  Despite yesterday’s snowfall, there were still a few people walking or running through the park.  There are so many little hidden areas of the park that you could easily spend days exploring them all.  It was just nice to get away from the crowds so I took my time and enjoyed it.  I made my way up and around the north side of the Jacqueline Onassis reservoir before heading back southwards along 5th Avenue.  This was nearly a fifty block walk and despite the temperature hovering around 30 degrees I had dressed warm enough that it was very pleasant.

I decided I had enough time to head over to Grand Central Terminal before meeting everyone else back at the hotel.  When I reached the south end of the park at 57th street along 5th, the transition was like night and day.  It was now a little after 11 am and sidewalks were filled with people – very jarring after the calm in the park.  I popped into Grand Central for a couple of photos and then headed back towards the hotel.

We grabbed a pizza at another little Italian place down the street from the hotel.  A classic New York style pizza-pie – fantastic!  Not the place the bus driver told us about yesterday but that’s was OK.

After lunch it was on to see a matinée showing of the musical Once.  I really enjoyed this one too!  It’s a little different from most – the cast was actually on stage playing while the crowd arrives.  They even have a bar on stage, which is one of the set locations, where you can get beverages before and during intermission.  Then as everyone is seated, the show simply starts – you’re not quite sure if it’s the show or more prelude but I think it works well.

From the theater it was back to the hotel to catch the coach down to the World Yacht Cruise.  This was a dinner cruise that took us from Pier 81 on the west side of Manhattan down around the tip of the island, back up the East River under the Brooklyn, Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges.  Then back down the river across the harbor pas Ellis Island and around the Statue of Liberty before heading back to shore.  The food was great as were the views.  Only bad thing was that the pictures didn’t turn out great – it’s very hard to get night shots from a moving platform.  That being said, here are a few: