Category Archives: Geology on the Rocks

Rockhounding, meteorite hunting and the like

Gulkana Glacier… Try, Try Again

We couldn’t see a safe way to actually get on Gulkana Glacier during our previous hikes – we were stymied right at the edge of the glacier due to being unable to cross the crashing current. We know that some people have hiked right up onto the unstable moraine in the brittle zone at the foot of the glacier in previous years, but glaciers morph every year… and that way, too, seemed risky at this point. We decided to try an “over the top approach”.

Gulkana Glacier Overlook

Gulkana Glacier Overlook

We waited for a good weather day, and packed for a 2 day overnight trek. This time, after we crossed the suspension bridge, we stayed alert for a trail to the right, which we hoped would enable us to ascend to the peak of the moraine and get past the the unstable end moraine and the creek coming out of Gulkana – success!!!

Only about a tenth of a mile or so after crossing the suspension bridge we encountered a very small trail that did a right diagonal in the general direction we had hoped to be able to go. We took it – it was narrow and at times hard to see, but it did gradually rise, until we were actually on top of the moraine and headed in the right direction.  After a mile or so, we were able to see some beautiful tundra, far down to our right, which would have been much easier walking than the moraine peak we were on, however there didn’t seem to be any reasonable way to reach it off the moraine, and we were not sure where it might lead if we did the work to get down to it.  (In retrospect that would have been a good approach.)

Rugged Landscape on the Moraine

Rugged Landscape on the Moraine

To look at a moraine, you would think that it was like any other rocky boulder climb. But it isn’t. Most rocky slopes (such as along a shore) have some degree of stability. Most piles of boulders have been around for a long, long time, and have “settled” and interlocked in place. In many cases they are firmed in place with dirt or sand or loose gravel. Sometimes they are stabilized by a thin layer of topsoil created by the action of mosses, lichens and other plants that break down the rock itself. Given enough time. Not so with a moraine. It is as if a giant spilled his enormous pile of blocks in a heap. Yesterday.

A Multitude of Alpine Plants Stabilizing Rocks on an Older Moraine

A Multitude of Alpine Plants Stabilizing Rocks on an Older Moraine

Lichen Rock Art

Lichen Rock Art

Once-Upon-a-Time Mud Now Rock

Once-Upon-a-Time Mud Now Rock

We stuck with the path we were on, though the footing was difficult, and in another mile or so we could see Gulkana Glacier below us to our left.

Meltwater Streams on the Glacier

Meltwater Streams on the Glacier. It Looks So Close. (It Isn’t!)

The moraine we were on descended to a creek basin that we felt was probably created by glacial run off. It was dry, with no water flowing through at that time. Once we got ourselves down to it, we located a high point where we could pitch our tent on sandy gravel. (In retrospect that was probably a dangerous idea. Every year campers die when their campsite floods unexpectedly, and we could see clear signs of water flow in the sand bar. Hmmm.)

Tent Camp Behind Moraine

Tent Camp Behind Moraine

Gulkana Glacier Tent Camp

Gulkana Glacier Tent Camp

We set up the tent, and once finished, grabbed our “kitchen” and walked a couple of hundred yards upstream (and upwind) to cook our supper, good “bear country” camping practice. (Side note: on this entire expedition we have seen no evidence of bears – no tracks, no scat – but we have continued to carry bear deterrent spray and treat our food and trash as if bears were present.)  Anyway, continuing up wind, we found a flat rock and set up our Whisper Jet stove and boiled 2 cups of water for our Mountain House meal of Chicken Rice Teriyaki, which was delicious!

Whisper Jet Set-Up

Whisper Jet Set-Up

Once supper was done, and the dishes washed and put away, we decided to ascend the moraine between us and the glacier. Our goal was to descend the moraine onto Gulkana’s surface and walk about a bit. That’s one great thing about this time of year in Alaska – the day just never ends until you’re exhausted. It was quite a hike – both Linda and I have no problem with up, but the descent was pretty stressful, with 4 different levels. We’d think we had one more ridge to get over and down to the surface of the glacier – 4 times!

Ric Descending Moraine

Ric Descending Moraine

Finally, we reached the level of the ice, which was mostly covered with gravel and rocks. We donned our micro-spikes and set out. It was probably a good 200 or 300 yards until we were past the rocks and gravel and actually on the ice. Then we took our time to explore the amazing world of glaciers… It was a hard won reward to be sure!

Ric Hiking Across Gulkana Glacier

Ric Hiking Across Gulkana Glacier

Rock Wall Riddled with Intrusive Igneous Dikes

Rock Wall Riddled with Intrusive Igneous Dikes

On Gulkana - Looking Down Valley

On Gulkana – Looking Down Valley

On Gulkana - Looking Up Glacier

On Gulkana – Looking Up Glacier

The surface was like a very icy, knobby, snow (firn) and gave a satisfying crunch as we tramped around. We encountered some very small crevices in progress that were easy to step over.

Lin Walking Across the Glacier

Lin Crunching Across the Glacier in Her Microspikes

Lin on Gulkana Glacier

Lin on Gulkana Glacier. Worth the Effort!

 

In the course of our 2 hour or so meander we actually came across 3 different moulins, which we had read were the cause of death (a much larger one than those we saw!) of a 9 year old boy out on a snowmobile outing with his family. Moulins and crevasses can be exceedingly dangerous. Even the small moulins we saw were pretty impressive features – not that wide, but extremely deep from what we could see. You can hear the sound of the water swirling and falling and echoing, as if into a deep, deep well.

 

A Small Moulin on Gulknana Glacier

A Small Moulin on Gulknana Glacier

I estimate that we walked between 1/2 and 2/3 of the way across the lower end of the glacier when we decided that given our days’ walk and what we had left to do before we got “home” we would head back. When we felt we had reached the edge of the glacier and bottom of the moraine, we found a rock to sit and doff our micro spikes. Looking at the moraine, we could see how the ice continued inside (beneath the rocks) and up quite a ways. Kind of makes you wonder where solid “ground” began!

Lin Hiking Up the Moraine

Lin Hiking Up the Moraine

By the time we made it back to camp, we were both very tired. All thoughts of reading or journaling quickly evaporated once we were in the tent and horizontal. As we approached camp, I noticed that there was a significant flow of water that had not been there when we left. Apparently it had rained higher in the mountains and we were just now getting the run off. We began to doubt the wisdom of our tent placement and used rocks to deepen the stream bed around the tent and built small banks to help the water divert around our tent. Soon we had water flowing on both sides of the tent (which was only 3 or 4 inches higher than the channel the water was flowing in).  Still, there was really no better place to put the tent, the sky was fairly clear, and the forecast was favorable. So we called it a night (a very restless night.)

The next morning, amongst grunts and groaning, mostly by Ric, we popped up right around 5 AM. It felt very cool – somewhere in low 40’s. Lin was VERY pleased with the new sleeping mat that Lyric and Matt had sent her bought for her birthday. The mat plus the thermolite liners and Jack R Better Sleeping Bags kept us warm into the 30s for very little pack weight.

Ice on the Water in the Morning

Cool Indeed! There is ICE on that Water!

The water which had been flowing on both sides of the tent when we went to sleep, was completely dried up – though another stream was still flowing out from rocks, just downstream from our camp. While Lin got organized, I walked the 100 yards or so to our food stash and retrieved it for our breakfast and day’s travel. Once we had some chow, we broke camp down and packed for our return hike. We were able to establish the route along the peak of the moraine. After a quarter to half a mile, I noticed a trail at the foot of the moraine that appeared to be parallel to our path and we decided to check it out – which meant another moraine down slope to negotiate. Once on that trail, it led to the tundra section we had seen during our hike in.

From that vantage, we could see College Creek, and we decided to head along the base of the hills and try to get to a point where we’d be able to see College Glacier. We named this valley “Cross Glacier Valley” because you could get to either glacier from that point.
The tundra was much easier hoofing than the moraine and at one point we both thought of the them from the “Sound of Music” – you know – “The Hills are Alive, with the Sound of Music…”.

The Hills are Alive with the Sound...

The Hills are Alive…

Ric Approaching College Glacier

Ric Approaching College Glacier

We saw some critters along this portion of our hike, including what we thought might be a fox, but then decided was an arctic ground squirrel of giant proportions, and a mama Ptarmigan and her chicks.

Ptarmigan Wearing Granite Camo

Ptarmigan Wearing Granite Camo

Once we got back to our packs, we had lunch and decided to try and get down to College Creek and hike along it to get back to the suspension bridge, reasoning that it had to be easier hiking than going back up and along the peak of a moraine.

College Creek Overlook

College Creek Overlook and Our Route Home

Once we got down to the creek – which was a bit of a challenge – we followed the creek for a couple of hours, encountering some stretches that were very narrow and close to fast flowing water, and then finally spotted the bridge – both quite relieved due to fatigue. It was still another half mile along the river so we elected to try bushwhacking to the trail that we had come out on. This meant scaling a fairly steep alder brush embankment.

Bad idea. After a grueling bit of this, we still had not encountered the trail and we were both completely bushed and annoyed by the small (non-biting) black flies that we disturbed in the brush. The flies tries to fly into any orifice they could find… eyes, nose, ears, mouth. We never could figure out what they wanted from us! We forged ahead. It was grueling, but we knew the direction where the bridge lay and we were not really THAT disoriented. Just dissatisfied with the available choices!

Twenty minutes later we found another trail that did in fact lead down to the suspension bridge. Only a half a mile to go to get to the truck! As soon as we got a very short distance onto the bridge it started to rain – then to pour. A suspension bridge is no place to remove your pack and don rain gear so we got fairly soaked getting across. Once there, we donned raincoats and put pack covers on, and walked the remaining distance to the truck.
As always, these kinds of hikes present challenges and we make mistakes and learn from them. They also serve to remind us of the comfort of such things as comfortable car seats at the end of the hike; a warm, dry and relatively bug proof roof over our heads; and a cold beer in the fridge!

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Filed under Alaska Journal, Geology on the Rocks, Hike, Uncategorized

Gulkana Glacier. In a word: “Amazing”

There is just so much about this place to share. This is the place where we really felt like we had accomplished some of our goals for this trip. If we could choose just one place to spend an entire summer in Alaska, this would probably be it.

To begin with, while we were at our boondock site near Paxson and the Denali Highway, we explored north on the Richardson Hwy to Summit Lake to try to find a certain long suspension bridge over College Creek which provides access to Gulkana Glacier. Dan (remember Dan? The Audubon guy from our last post?) had told us about this legendary bridge. It sounded like just our kind of adventure.
We turned onto a gravel road and onto the outwash plain for the Gulkana River. The area is used for primitive camping and we scouted for a good site . It didn’t take us long to decide that, while our site in Paxson was good, this site would be spectacular!

Gulkana Camp

Gulkana Glacier Camp

We then drove out a long ways on this gravel road, until it deteriorated and looked more like a stream than a road. We found a good place to park the truck and hoofed it the rest of the way. We found the bridge without too much trouble (one minor detour – our mistake).
The bridge was “as advertised” … and awesome.

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Crossing the Suspension Bridge

Looking Down Over the Creek

Looking Down Over the Creek

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Ric at the End of the Bridge

Crossing the bridge provides access to a path that leads to Gulkana Glacier. Gulkana is monitored very closely by the USGS. (It is currently receding about 0.4 meters each year.)  It’s rugged terrain has also served as a winter military training ground for decades, as well as a training ground for geology students, and a proving ground for Mars Rovers.

Gulkana Glacier

Gulkana Glacier

From a visual standpoint it is a lovely sight, with sweeping curves defined by its medial moraine stripes. It has a dramatic cliff on its left side, with deeply crevassed, overhanging ice. It was love at first sight.
This first day we determined that we would cross the bridge, and then just see how far we could go without any serious equipment. The trail was distinct after crossing the bridge, and took us over an overgrown, stabilized moraine to the creek flowing out of the glacier -a typical braided glacial creek with milky bluish white water, laden with rock flour. Here’s a short video of the walk up to the foot of the glacier:

As we approached the foot of the glacier, we could see that the creek would be formidable to cross, so we kept hiking along the right shoreline to the mouth of the creek, where it gushed from from a small cave beneath the glacier.
We spent a bit of time searching for an easy access to the ice, but got the impression (as we watched small avalanches of small rocks and pebbles sliding off the moraine) that it was probably not the safest place to hang around for very long. Many of those large boulders surrounding us had begun their journey higher up! We sat on a boulder and had a quick (very quick) lunch as we listened to the music of these little rock slides.
At the end of the day (really – at the end of the day), we were determined to find a reasonably safe way onto the glacier, however. But decided to give it some thought and try again another day, armed with a little more planning and our microspikes.

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Dog Canyon Hike at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park

Here at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park there are two established trails, one is a 0.5 mile walk along the Dog Canyon Arroyo. It is a nice easy nature walk along a riparian zone near the Visitor’s Center. The other hike is a 5-1/2 mile (11 mile round trip) ball buster of a hike up Dog Canyon. It was a case of hiking feast or famine.

Dog Canyon sign 2

Dog Canyon is a National Recreation Trail. It starts at Oliver Lee State Park and then quickly passes into the Lincoln National Forest, ascending an escarpment into the Sacramento Mountains and terminating at Joplin Ridge and Forest Road 90B. Every sign or piece of literature describing the hike used words such as “strenuous”, “challenging”, “for serious hikers”, “knee-killer” etc. You get the idea. It has an elevation gain of about 3,100 feet and reaches an elevation of 7,782 feet.  It is a FULL day of hiking along a steep and rocky trail, and it took us about 9 hours (including a half hour break for lunch and a few other shorter rest breaks).

Dog Canyon Map 1

We dipped our toe in the trail the day after we arrived at Oliver Lee, hiking to the two mile marker, and returning for a total hike of 4 miles.

dog canyon mile 2It was a hot day by our Yankee (or Red Sox) benchmarks, with temperatures in the low 80’s and strong winds. We would wait to do the full  hike a few days later, when the temperatures would be in the low 70’s and the winds calmer. It gave us a taste of what was to come, and since the trail rises abruptly and relentlessly for the first half mile, it also gave us great views of the campground, the Tularosa Basin and White Sands in the distance. The windy day was lofting massive amounts of the fine white sand into the air, making  it look like smoke in the distance.

Oliver Lee campground from Dog Canyon trail near begin

Oliver Lee campground from Dog Canyon trail near beginning

We stopped in the Visitor’s Center and learned that there is much history associated with the trail. It was a haven for prehistoric peoples and later, Apaches, and was the scene of several historic battles between the Apaches and the U.S. Cavalry in the late 1800s. Placing themselves at the top of a massive cliff (the “Eyebrow”), the Apaches rained down rocks and boulders and bullets upon the pursuing cavalry soldiers, and more often than not, drove them back.

Depiction of Calvary Apache battle in Dog Canyon.

Depiction of Calvary Apache battle in Dog Canyon.

It was also the site of a ranch and land owned by Francois “Frenchy” Jean Rochas, a colorful character of the area in the 1800’s. Frenchy constructed cabins and an extensive network of rock walls, many of which still remain as a testament to his industry.

Frenchy Rock Wall Remains in Dog Canyon

Frenchy Rock Wall Remains in Dog Canyon

The day of our hike (April 9th-Ric’s late Mom’s Birthday) was the cooler, calmer day that we had hoped for and we set out early (by our standards), getting onto the trail about 9 am. We kept a steady, slow pace up the steep inclines knowing that we had a long day ahead.

 

Ascending toward the "Benches" on Dog Canyon Trail

Ascending toward the “Benches” on Dog Canyon Trail

The trail is not completely relentlessly uphill. There are two flat, meadowy areas known as the “benches”. The first bench is reached  a bit after a half mile of steady, steep ascent and is a welcome relief.  Black-throated sparrows serenaded us as we walked across blessedly flat land, and there were an abundance of wildflowers and blooming yuccas to treat the eye.

 First Bench Dog Canyon TrailFirst Bench Dog Canyon Trail

 From there the trail goes went up and down a series of large ledges, then more uphill again to the second of these two grassy meadows (about 2-1/2 miles along the trail). This is a truly lovely and peaceful little “Eden” peppered with huge boulders and lush green trees.

2nd Bench Eden: Lush Green Trees

2nd Bench Eden: Lush Green Trees

At the end of the bench the trail rapidly descends to the site of  “the Line Cabin” (just shy of 3 miles on the trail). The ruins of this cabin lie near a stately old juniper and a spring which feeds the Dog Canyon Creek. We took our lunch break there and enjoyed watching the black-chinned hummingbirds and the numerous butterflies that thrived in the riparian environment of the spring.

Spring Near the Line Cabin

Spring Near the Line Cabin

Remains of Line Cabin around 3rd mile up.

Remains of Line Cabin around 3rd mile up.

The next section of trail ascended to the”Eyebrow” (a massive cliff) and one of the benchmarks of the trail. It was one of the steepest, rockiest, narrowest and most dangerous – due to precipitous drops adjacent to very narrow sections of the trail, and being continuously uphill without a break.

Nice wide part of eyebrow trail!

Nice wide part of eyebrow trail!

View of the 2nd Bench from the "Eyebrow"

View of the 2nd Bench from the “Eyebrow”

In spite of the ascent, the fossil strewn landscape provided  a bit of a diversion from our aching feet and acrophobia.

Fossil example along trail on approach to brow.

Fossil example along trail on approach to brow.

We were also rewarded for our efforts with absolutely spectacular views of the Canyon and the Tularosa Basin beyond. All around us we could hear the descending trills of Canyon wrens.

View from Dog Canyon to the Tularosa Basin and White Sands

View from Dog Canyon to the Tularosa Basin and White Sands

Telephoto of Oliver Lee from well up Dog Canyon Trail.

Telephoto of Oliver Lee from well up Dog Canyon Trail – near top of the eyebrow.

Past the “Eyebrow” the trail continued to gain elevation up the steep and rocky terrain to mile 4.5, at which point we came to small descent into a relatively flat meadow for a short distance. Aside from being alert for rattling snakes in the grass it was a nice break from climbing.

Dog Canyon flat at 5 mi plus

Dog Canyon flat at 5 mi plus

Finally the trail took us up another steep (but short) ledge with switchbacks to the top of Joplin ridge. Near the end of the trail there was an area of charred trees from a past burn… something we are becoming accustomed to seeing here in the west.

 

Burned area at top of Dog Canyon Trail

Burned area at top of Dog Canyon Trail

 

When we say “near the end of the trail” we actually mean half-way. What goes up must come down. We knew we couldn’t linger long, so after a trail terminus pic or two we were on our way again, ready for the punishing downhill… returning as we came. Views all the way.

Linda - only 5.5 Miles to go!

Linda says “Only 5.5 Miles to go!”

Downhill Along the Eyebrow

Downhill Along the Eyebrow

We arrived home about 6 pm, after a long day at the “office”.

Leaving Lincoln Forest sign Dog Canyon

Leaving Lincoln Forest sign Dog Canyon

All in all we fared well. No serious complaints except for extremely sore feet. Rocky trails take such a toll that way – and 9 hours is a simply a long time to beat your feet. Our knees held up remarkably well, and we probably have our trekking poles to thank for that. A day of rest and we’ll be ready to go -just not 11 rocky miles for a little while!

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Chiricahua National Monument Hikes

Again, we are woefully behind with reporting on our hikes and explorations…but life sort of got in the way with the purchase of our new RV. But in the interest of at least keeping up with the HIGHLIGHTS of our journey we must include our hikes in the Chiricahua National Monument… so we are rewinding to a few weeks ago for this post!

Ric and Lin along the Heart of Rocks Trail at Chiricahua National Monument

Ric and Lin along the Heart of Rocks Trail at Chiricahua National Monument

The Chiricahua National Monument is in eastern Arizona – very near to the border of New Mexico and close to the town of Wilcox. We decided it would be a good place to explore on the way back to Silver City from our visit with friends, Shorty and Hazie, in Sunsites, AZ. We could only spend three days at Chiricahua because our offer for the new RV was in play and we had to get back to Silver City to seal the deal.

A Mosaic of Hoodoos Seen from Massai Point

A Mosaic of Hoodoos Seen from Massai Point

A Landscape of Hoodoos

A Landscape of Hoodoos

Chiricahua means “Land of the Standing Up Rocks” in Apache and it is a wondrous fantasyland of immense and towering rock formations. The rock was spawned by the Turkey Creek volcanic eruptions (27 million years ago), which laid down massive volumes of thick ash and pumice, to create a rhyolite rock formation 2000 feet thick. To put this in perspective, that is one-thousand times larger than the Mt. Saint Helens eruption of 1980. The ash trapped bubbles of gas which became distorted as the ash cooled and fused, and can be seen as these white inclusions (called “Fiammes”) in the rock today:

Fiammes at Chiricahua

Fiammes at Chiricahua… Fingerprints of Volcanic Origin

But is was the steady force of nature over the succeeding eons … blasting the rock with wind, carving the rock with water, and fracturing the rock with icy freeze-thaw cycles that produced the amazing formations that exist here today. Nature is AWE-some…powerful and patient.

Mushroom Rock at Chiricahua

Mushroom Rock at Chiricahua

We stayed at the Bonita Campground, and did two hikes while we were there. The first hike was from Massai Point (we took a hiker’s shuttle to Massai Point itself).  We took a few minutes to explore the exhibit building and then the “Lookout” which had an old and beautifully designed mechanical “Viewfinder”…

Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

A Close Look at The Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

A Close Look at The Viewfinder at Massai Point Lookout

We descended from this peak down a series of trails that took us through ridges and canyons as the massive formations towered over us. Shortly after entering the trailhead we saw this touching memorial that someone had placed in a tree along the trail. The little bell was inscribed “RIP” with initals on it…

Memorial Bell along the Trail near Massai Point

Memorial Bell along the Trail near Massai Point

That first thing, that was hard to ignore, was that the forest fires of 2011 had made serious incursions into this area. Almost immediately after starting the hike we descended into a canyon littered with burned trees. At once it seemed tragic, and yet as we walked we heard the constant drumming of woodpeckers backed up by a chirping, twittering, warbling chorus. We watched as the birds worked from tree to tree, gathering the insects that had taken residence in the burned, decaying trees. Nature finds a way, and some niche critter benefits from the worst of circumstances. It gives a hopeful feeling.

Hiking Through a Burned Area at Chiricahua

Hiking Through a Burned Area at Chiricahua

Ric Hikes Through a Charred Landscape

Ric Hikes Through a Charred Landscape at Chiricahua

Woodpecker at Chiricahua

Woodpecker at Chiricahua

Flicker at Chiricahua National Monument

Flicker at Chiricahua National Monument

Pecked Holes in Charred Tree

Pecked Holes in Charred Tree

Feathered Friend along Trail at Chiricahua

Feathered Friend along Trail at Chiricahua

(Sorry about those blurry pics – one of these days we’ll get better at photographing busy birds… we’re working on it!)

The Civilian Conservation Corps played a big role in building this great system of trails… and it leaves one wondering, why couldn’t we revive this idea? On many of our travels we have encountered the works left by this “New Deal” Program of the 30s.

Massive Rock Wall along Trail at Chiricahua

Massive Rock Wall along Trail at Chiricahua

So often these projects are on a massive scale – the Civilian Conservation Corps left an amazing legacy across our nation. In this place the workers in the CCC gave names to many of the rock formations, especially along the “Heart of Rocks Trail” here are a few of our favorite formations in this area, and a few other of the many impressive “named” formations along the trails:

Big Balanced Rock Stats Sign

Big Balanced Rock Stats Sign

The "Big Balanced Rock" Formation at Chiricahua

The “Big Balanced Rock” Formation at Chiricahua

The "Pinnacle Balanced Rock" Formation at Chiricahua National Monument

The “Pinnacle Balanced Rock” Formation at Chiricahua National Monument

Lin Beneath "Camel Head"

Lin Beneath “Camel Head”

 

As is usually the case, some of the best and brightest moments when hiking are the little wonders… like seeing the streak of bird poop which gives away a prime nesting site…

Prime nesting site on formation along Rhyolite Trail

Prime Nesting Site on Formation along Rhyolite Trail

Or seeing a lichen formation that looked like a petroglygh…

Lichens as Petroglyph

Lichens as Petroglyph

Throughout the descent we were surrounded by the passage of time, and in touch with our own miniscule moment on this planet. Chiricahua reminds you every step of the way that the forces of nature work these wonders over a long… a very, very long time.

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Foothills-Smith Springs-Frijole Hike

Today was my day to solo hike after Ric’s hike to Guadalupe Peak yesterday. I felt sufficiently rested and this hike promised to be less strenuous and yet still interesting. I don’t always need a challenging hike to a peak to be happy. In fact, I love to hike at a naturalist’s slow pace… seeing as much of the macro and micro world as possible. That is just not possible on a long, steep hike because you have to “get the job done” before nightfall. I had been feeling a little frustrated after two days of hikes where I had to blow by all the fossil wonders at my feet. Not today…

Foothills Trail Fossil 1

Foothills Trail Fossil 1

Foothills Trail Fossil 2

Foothills Trail Fossil 2

Foothills Trail Fossil Fusulinids

Foothills Trail Fossil Fusulinids

I started the trail a few minutes before nine. Within the first ten minutes I was faced with one of those ambiguous “wash crossings” and sure enough I wound up trucking down the wash much farther than I had to. Once I realized my error, I cut right angle to the wash and found the trail quickly. The real Foothills Trail was much more pleasant to walk on than the wash (that’s my tired feet talking) and I would have made good time if I hadn’t been fossil hunting with my camera. National Park rules state that you can’t take any rocks from the park. That’s fine with me, as we don’t have any spare room in the RV for rocks! A photographic collection doesn’t take up much room unless you count megabytes. The fun will be trying to figure out what these fossils are (don’t ask me – I don’t know…yet). So here is what the actual Foothills Trail looked like shortly after I found it:

Foothills Trail Early On

Foothills Trail Early On

By 11:00 am I had reached the Frijole Ranch, which is the start of the Smith and Manzanita Springs Trails. The Frijole Ranch itself is an historical site, but it wasn’t open today. I walked around outside and was impressed with the spring house, which covered the spring, and the irrigation system from the spring to the orchard, where pear trees were sustained by the water.

Frijole Ranch Buildings

Frijole Ranch Buildings

Frijole Ranch Spring House

Frijole Ranch Spring House

I was also much impressed by this example of frontier simplicity and ingenuity in the design of this simple gate latch:

Gate Latch at Frijole Ranch

Gate Latch at Frijole Ranch

After having lunch at the picnic table area near the ranch I proceeded down the Smith Springs Trail. I had decided before hand that if I reached the ranch before noon I would do this extra loop trail that connects to the Frijole Trail to bring me back to the Pine Springs Campground. Not too far down this trail I came to the Manzanita Spring Pool. Long ago the ranchers dammed the spring to create the pool.

Manzanita Springs Pool and El Capitan

Manzanita Springs Pool and El Capitan

From there, the trail turns back into a foot path and gains elevation through the foothills, heading toward “Nipple Mountain”
(which is named for very obvious reasons)

Nipple Mountain from Foothills Trail

Nipple Mountain from Foothills Trail

I kept gaining elevation and the terrain became a bit more rugged, but the effort was rewarded when I reached Smith Spring.
It is hard to describe how stunning it is to come upon a  desert spring… there was little warning except that you could see damp ground in places, and there was increased green vegetation. I guess I was expecting little more than a seep, and was truly surprised to hear the trickle of falling water as I approached. The spring was gorgeous! A cascade of water coming down the backdrop of rock ledge into a clear pool of water. The water flowed from the pool, creating a small stream meandering downhill.

Smith Spring

Smith Spring on Foothills Trail

After leaving the spring, the trail led gradually higher and higher along the hills and afforded a sweeping vista of the land below. Going up and down and in and out of small washes and canyons along the way.

Smith Spring Trail Beyond Smith Spring

Smith Spring Trail Beyond Smith Spring

As I came more into the open,the wind, which had been quite strong all morning, became even more intense. It was a constant struggle to keep my hat from blowing away. The trail descended into fields of grass and juniper whipping in the wind. Soon I reached the trail marker for the Frijole Trail. After taking a brief snack and pack break I hit the Frijole Trail which would bring me over ridges and washes to Bear Canyon. Near Bear Canyon I spied one of the best fossils of the day… I am going out on a limb and calling this ammonoid. (I’ll correct the blog later if it isn’t true.) You can clearly see the separated chambers in this cross-sectioned fossil:

Frijole Fossil Ammonoid

Frijole Fossil Ammonoid

Shortly after I also found several awesome fossils along this trail. The fossil shells are very easy to see…and they have lots of interesting friends as well…

Frijole Trail Fossil Shells 1

Frijole Trail Fossil Shells 1

I don’t know what this one is – it reminds me of a giant paramecium… but it may be an ammonoid on edge:

Frijole Trail Fossil 1

Frijole Trail Fossil 1

I’m not sure what this is either – but it looks a lot like a sponge… just not very soft anymore…

Frijole Trail Fossil

Frijole Trail Fossil

Sorry about the lack of a ruler or object for scale. That is something I definitely will add to my backpack for my next journey into the natural world!

As the afternoon began to wane I spied this mule deer (one of three) grazing high on the side of a hill. We have seen (and photographed) many mule deer here. They are not often hunted, and so just hold their ground and look as us with curiosity.

Mule Deer on Frijole Trail

Mule Deer on Frijole Trail

As El Capitan peak appeared over a hill, I knew I was nearing the end of my hike. Just a few more miles to go…

El Capitan from Frijole Trail

El Capitan from Frijole Trail

It was a perfect day, and I am so thankful to be able to engage with nature and continue to try to learn.

Life is good.

 

 

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Back in the USA – Washington State

We made our crossing back into the USA and found our way to the Douglas Fir Campground in the National Forest area near Mt. Baker. It was an easy ride from the border and we were just about ready for a day of R & R. We found ourselves in an awe-inspiring and breathtaking old growth forest. The canopy over our campsite shut out much of the light and we found ourselves in a dim and subdued light long before the sun set.

Horshoe Bend Trail near Mt. Baker

Admiring the scenery along Horshoe Bend Trail near Mt. Baker.

Taking a walk on the Horshoe Bend trail, we felt like we had been transported into the movie Avatar… surrounded by lush, old-growth forest. We decided to spend an extra day there, just to relax  and absorb the energy of this place.

Linda on Horshoe Bend Trail

That's Linda ahead on the trail - gives you a feel for the "overstory" this forest has.

There were occasional peeks of Baker Mountain peaks.

Big leaf in the Pacific Northwest

Can you imagine the Maple Syrup from a tree that this monster grew on?

We half expected to see dragonflies with four foot wingspans… feeling like we were transported back to prehistoric times.

Mossy Fingers Pacific Northwest

Mossy Fingers in the Pacific Northwest forest.

Inukshuk garden

Inukshuk garden along Horshoe Bend trail and the Nooksak River in the Pacific Northwest.

This spider web caught a shaft of sun nicely as we rounded a bend - it's owner was not evident.

 

That's Ric's 5' staff - made from the desert Sotol cactus plant, leaning for scale against this toppled giant with younger trees growing right out of it.

Feeling renewed, the next day we headed south to Seattle to visit with Andrew and Ashley before heading east.

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Hyder Bear Walk

We had been told by friends that the “Hyder Bear Walk” was a must see on our Alaska journey, so we set out to cross the border again between Stewart BC and and Hyder, AK. It was a sunny afternoon on our way to Hyder along Route 37A and we saw 11 bears roadside (sadly one was a casualty). Our closest encounter was this guy who was so absorbed in chowing down that he scarcely gave us a glance…

Roadside bear on the road to Hyder

Roadside bear on the road to Hyder.

The following day was one of constant rain – a not unusual circumstance in these parts.  We were a little late for bear breakfast, arriving at midday (the bears like to dine between 6 am and 10 am). Nevertheless we saw much evidence for an all-you-can-eat salmon breakfast buffet. One little cub straggled and so we got our bear fix. He either slept in, or was purposely arrived late to avoid conflicts with the bigger bears…

Cub at Hyder

Cub at Hyder. He worked his way along the bank of the stream, browsing on foliage and checking for unwary salmon.

Hyder cub checking for salmon

Hyder cub checking for salmon in Fish Creek on a rainy day.

The bear walk is constructed along the Fish River, which is a really appropriate name. There is a distinct odor of salmon for obvious reasons.

Gulls at Hyder

Gulls at Hyder picking at the salmon remains left by the bears.

Bears often take a bite and then grab another fish - a real boon to the "clean up crew"!

We were pretty amazed that there weren't more gulls and scavengers, given the amount of food to be had.

With around 16 FEET (!) of rain per year, this is a very common sight along the Bear Walk.

Visible from the Hyder Bear Walk, this beautiful lagoon was actually man made - an accidental feature created when the road was built. Nevertheless, it provides an excellent habitat for salmon fry and the predators that feed on them.

Hyder Bear Walk interpretive sign describing area formation.

Another day in the rain – yet to be expected – since this region of the continent can often get sixteen feet of rain per year. Wow.

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