Neighboring national parks Kings Canyon and Sequoia are known by locals jointly as “SEKI”. They’re even administrated jointly. The two parks, however, are vastly different. Kings Canyon is made up of a series of glacially sculpted canyons through which flow the ever beautiful Kings River and its tributaries. Sequoia protects groves of the Big Trees, beloved by all who meet them. One thing that both parks have in common is that they are predominantly wilderness areas, making them ideal places for hikers to get away from the crowds.
After our amazing two-month stay in California, It felt strange to leave. Alas, it was time to move on. There was red rock to see. Our first stop en route to Utah: the iconic Grand Canyon.
Driving into the park on a cold morning in early November, we headed straight for the backcountry office to try our luck at a permit. Surprisingly, we were able to get a permit to camp down at the bottom of the Grand Canyon that very night! Without further ado, we returned to the FunBus where we quickly readied our packs for a two-night adventure. We then jumped on a shuttle bus to Yaki Point. As we sat at the front of the bus and chatted, I suddenly realized how surreal it was that I was about to hike down to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and yet had not even seen it from above yet. With this in mind, I glanced backward out the window, and was suddenly gifted a grand view. I nudged Stephanie. “There it is,” I said casually, pointing toward the giant hole in the ground. Stephanie laughed at my aloofness and she, too marveled at the pace at which this was suddenly happening.
The massive and ancient Coast Redwood trees (Sequoia sempervirens) are master survivors from a prehistoric time. They are built to withstand fire, to ward off insects, and, most impressively, to regenerate themselves through burl sprouts. When a redwood is distressed from, say, fire, the cells or burl sprouts within it react by shooting out sprouts which can become new trees! It is not uncommon to see a redwood, dead or alive, with a younger cloned tree shooting up from beside it or even from within it! Is there any other species on this planet that has the ability to clone itself in such a way? While looking up a massive trunk to the tree branches and the reiterated trees sprouting from it, I said “This…this is higher power.” These trees have survived thousands of years because of their design. I am not a religious person, but being out here, I don’t doubt that there is a creator. Here, in nature, is where my church lies. Come out here yourself, and maybe you will be reminded that it is by honoring nature that we honor our maker.
Aside: I feel blessed to have spent a full month in the Canadian Rockies. I still have more to write about the area, as well as the amazing Olympic Peninsula, but for now I just wanted to skip ahead to Redwood National Park due to the level of influence it has on me.
Even before the wildfires in Banff started, the locals knew they were coming. We had just taken a relaxing dip in Radium Hot Springs at the south end of Kootenay National Park, after which we bought some snacks in town and I gave in to my bad habits and bought my first pack of Canadian cigarettes. As I lit one on a bench located on the boulevard between the filling station and the road, a small gas station attendant came frantically toward me. “If you’re going to smoke there, be very careful” she pleaded. “We have a small ashtray on the pavement you could use instead. We are very worried. Storms are coming.” “I understand,” I told her. I relocated myself outside the station.
Then, on our drive back into Kootenay, we noticed the fire danger sign now read “EXTREME”. This was a strange sight indeed, as I’ve never seen a Minnesota fire danger sign exceed “Moderate”. Sure enough, that night, as cracks of thunder echoed over the blazer where we were camped in Kootenay National Park, a burst of lightning started a wildfire near Sunshine Village Ski Resort, not 30 miles from where we slept. Fortunately for us, we had only just finished our hike to Egypt Lake. All the trails we had explored for the past three days were hereafter closed due to wildfire.
I cannot stress enough how amazing the backcountry is. Camping in the backcountry brings us away from the crowds and into the heart of the wilderness, where natural beauty is, to a certain extent, unobstructed by man. Out in the backcountry, we are visitors to a gorgeous wonderland home to bears, elk, deer, mountain lions, coyotes, wolves, squirrels, bunnies, chipmunks, birds, and many more fascinating creatures.
Another benefit of the backcountry is the great people we meet out here. My goal from the start has been to get away from people altogether, but snow and water have prevented us from achieving complete solitude very often; we always end up staying with one or more other groups. As it turns out, this has been much more a blessing than a curse. In the month that we’ve been travelling in and out of backcountry paradises, we have not met one soul who has not been wonderful. Fellow backpackers share many common interests with us, and, best of all, they are full of amazing stories as well as great recommendations for local hikes and hot spots. Continue reading
Idaho is known by many for its potatoes. It’s even on their license plate: “Famous Potatoes”. Also on their license plate is “Scenic Idaho”, and it is this impression that I took from visiting Idaho. I’m fairly confident that many have no idea just how amazingly scenic Idaho actually is.
In fact, over 60% of Idaho’s land is owned by the federal government, and most of the federal land is managed by either the Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service. The result is a treasure trove of beautiful places. Maybe I’m a jerk to Idahoans for letting their secret out, but SERIOUSLY, Idaho is the place to visit. Still don’t believe me? Listen up. Continue reading
Grand Teton National Park, established in 1929, is part of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. While Yellowstone was the first National Park, Teton is special in that its establishment was influenced by many different locals who truly appreciated the area and wanted to preserve the wildness of the Tetons.
In the early 1920’s, residents began noticing that development around Jenny Lake was starting to invade the Tetons. In 1923, locals met with then superintendent of Yellowstone at Maud cabin to start a conversation about preservation in the Teton Range, eventually leading to Grand Teton National Park being established in 1929. Continue reading
Yellowstone is significant because it became the nation’s first National Park in 1872. The land was chosen because of its mysterious thermal features and other natural wonders. When you think of Yellowstone, you probably think of geysers such as the famous Old Faithful. And indeed—such features are truly wondrous and the main thing that most people come to see. The real value of Yellowstone, however, is its wildlife. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is large and wild enough to allow for a diverse ecosystem to survive and thrive. In fact, it holds the highest concentration of wildlife in the lower 48 states.
We spent our first two days in Yellowstone in the backcountry, leaving from Blacktail Creek trailhead and hiking along the creek and then the Yellowstone River. The Yellowstone backcountry is a very peaceful and refreshing place; we ran into more marmots than humans.
We cancelled climbing Cloud Peak in Wyoming due to too much snow in the mountains. Instead, we hiked into the Beartooth Mountains from East Rosebud Lake trailhead. This hike reaches elevations in the 9000’s, and having called ahead, I learned that snow would begin at 8000 to 8500 feet. I have zero regrets about changing plans to hike in the Beartooth Wilderness. Natural beauty and wildlife are plentiful here.
What I was most taken aback by on this first mountain hike was the awesome force of the water racing across the landscape. East Rosebud Creek ran along our entire hike. I have never in my life seen so much water running with such ferocity. The melting snow is sure to be the cause of this phenomenon. Typically, when I think of a creek, I think of a gentle flow of water embedded in the landscape. Not so in the Beartooths in early summer; here the water does not flow within the landscape, rather it flies across it like a horse galloping at full speed. It seems to run atop the ground rather than within it.
The first four days after our day of departure from Minnesota were spent at Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Western North Dakota and Makoshika State Park in Eastern Montana. Both areas we visited shared a common theme: maco sika, a Lakota phrase meaning “bad land,” or “bad earth”. These bizarre lands are named such for their hot dry climate and lack of potable water.
What fascinated me most about the badlands was how much prehistoric evidence exists within them. Their history is not hot and dry at all, but lush and subtropical. Millions of years ago, these lands were inhabited by animals now extinct (an ancient reptile called Champsosaurus at Theodore Roosevelt and dinosaurs at Makoshika).