Why I Love the West – Death Valley National Park

Vastness. Miles and miles of uninterrupted wilderness. Places where wild animals call home and man is estranged. Such places are characteristic of the west coast, and for this reason, I will be forever drawn to this side of the country. These places exist partly because of the efforts that went into preserving our most treasured places. Also, though, the vastness of the west is due to the harsh conditions of its mountainous and desert regions; here, even with all of our modern technologies, it is still difficult to build on and to live in. Death Valley National Park is a prime example of such a huge, empty, and arid landscape.

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Death Valley, California

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Volcanoes Galore: Lassen Volcanic National Park

Lassen holds a rich landscape full of coniferous forests and vast mountain slopes.  Fascinatingly, all four types of volcanoes exist within its borders: cinder cone, shield, composite, and plug dome.  We summited two of the four types on our visit in September.

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At camp – Lassen National Forest

Lassen is a little known wonder. Thermal features, mountains, volcanoes, forests: Lassen has everything except crowds.  I unfortunately came down with a stomach bug while we were there, which trampled our plans to hike in the backcountry.  However, for once we didn’t need to go to the backcountry to find solitude. We camped at a free national forest site outside the park and went on many day hikes. Continue reading

To Yosemite and Beyond

After our glorious first full day in the Sierra, I can say with full confidence that I am whole heartedly in love with this place. I’ve been reading John Muir’s The Mountains of California for some time now.  I had always struggled to read it at home as it is meant to be read outdoors. I’ve been in many a beautiful place while reading it, and have thus guffawed at Mr. Muir multiple times while he boldly proclaimed the Sierra the finest mountain range in all the land. But after finally arriving here, it felt as though being here was what our whole adventure has been leading up to. Muir’s thoughts and observations echo through my head as I stare in wonder at the glacially carved peaks; or ponder the beauty of the pines, firs, cedars, and hemlocks.

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Magic for Muggles: Olympic National Park

At the end of August, we spent a week (not nearly enough time) exploring the Olympic Peninsula.  Upon entering the otherworldly rainforest, my imagination was immediately captivated.  It seems that every fairy tale that has ever been told could have taken place here. The lush rainforest is at once alluring, and at times foreboding. In the midst of our hike to Enchanted Valley, I imagined Snow White singing to the birds in the meadow.  Moments later, coming upon a wooded forest once again, the trees seemed ominous, as if the big bad wolf was lurking just behind the next grove.  Many times I expected to come upon some cottage made of sweets, or to see a fairy nestled amongst the intricate moss.

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Little Red Riding Hood’s Territory – Olympic National Park

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Smoke on the Rockwall: Kootenay National Park

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.

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Most of my Rockwall Trail photos are shrouded in smoke

 

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Let’s Talk About Bears: Banff National Park

Our first hike in the Canadian Rockies was to Egypt Lake near Sunshine Village Ski Area.  At Healy Creek camp on the last morning of our three-day journey, we met three young Banff residents who were coming in while we were headed out.  As hikers do, they asked us how our trip was, and we told them the scenery had been great, but some of our fellow campers at Egypt Lake had been utterly negligent about bear safety.  They were as horrified as we had been when we told them that we witnessed a group of kids eating in their campsite.

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Hiking Healy Pass to Egypt Lake – Banff National Park

The hikers then told us that they had just heard that Bear 148 was currently located in the Sunshine Village Ski area. “They dropped her off in Yoho, but she came right back to Sunshine,” the man claimed. We had heard of Bear 148 before.  She apparently had grown a little too accustomed to being around humans, having had chased a few humans and even strolled onto a rugby field full of adolescents.  We were uneasy about the presence of such a conditioned griz, but they told us not to worry as we at least didn’t have a dog.  Bear 148 has a particular aversion to dogs.  They told us also about the legend they called “The Master Bear”, also known as “The Boss”. The Boss had been seen on the side of the road eating a black bear.  He is the biggest bear in the park, and has fathered many of the bears in the Canadian Rockies. Our hike out was a bit scary that day, what with the thought of the bear-eating bear and the presences of Bear 148. As always, we practiced bear safety measures, and made it out without a sighting.

Though it would be tremendous to see a brown bear, we have no desire to. Certainly, our own personal safety is a concern. But the truth is that humans are much more of a threat to bears than bears are to humans. In the United States in particular, if a bear is food conditioned or shows any interest in humans, the bear is viewed as a threat and is killed. Canada seems to give bears more of a chance, which is why Bear 148 still roams. Sadly, her fate is questionable too. Continue reading

Stories from the Backcountry: Glacier and Waterton Lakes National Parks

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.

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Loons in the Backcountry – Glacier National Park

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

Unknown Wonders: Idaho

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.

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Sawtooth Wilderness – Idaho

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

Wilderness for the People, by the People: Grand Tetons

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.

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String Lake – Grand Teton National Park

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

Where the Wild Things Call Home: Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem

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.

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Killdeer – Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone

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.

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