Tag Archives: Day Hike

Great Sand Dunes National Park: Mosca Pass Trail

On the afternoon of Tuesday, August 24, we continued exploring the parts of Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve that were not actually the dunes proper. We’d decided to save them for the following morning, when temperatures would be cooler. We toyed with the idea of driving to a trailhead on the other (eastern) side of the Sangre de Cristo Range to hike to a couple of alpine lakes high in the range, but the drive was almost two and a half hours.

So instead we opted for Mosca Pass Trail, which leads from near the Visitor Center complex up into the Sangre de Cristos to a low pass between the San Luis Valley and the Wet Mountains Valley. The hike was 3.5 miles to the crest of the pass, then 3.5 miles back to the trailhead. The Falcon Guide rated it Easy. We figured it would be a nice end to a day of hiking around the foothills zone between the dunefield and the mountains.

We were wrong.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park: Between the Sand and the Slopes

Cathedral Peak and Escape Dunes Complex

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve protects 149,000 acres of dune field, transition zone, and a portion of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in south central Colorado. The Park and Preserve was authorized by Congress in the waning days of the Clinton administration in 2000 and established in 2004 under the Bush administration. The dunes proper had received earlier protection in the waning days of the Hoover administration in 1932 after local communities became alarmed that the dunes might be destroyed for industrial use for gold mining or concrete production.

That the tallest sand dunes in North America rise above the enormous, flat, high-elevation (above 7,000 feet) San Luis Valley in Colorado—and not in, say Death Valley, nor the Mojave, Sonoran, or Chihuahuan Deserts, places generally much sandier than the valley—is a unique circumstance of geography. The sand that comprises the dunes comes mainly from the San Juan Mountains dozens of miles to the west across the broad, flat valley. Sediment washed down from the mountains by snowmelt, rain, and the Rio Grande, whose headwaters are in the San Juans and which begins its long journey to the Gulf of Mexico by emerging into the San Luis Valley. Sandy sediment is deposited on the western side of the valley and then blown by the prevailing winds rushing down from the San Juans. The Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the southernmost range in the Rockies, run north-south for 242 miles, but the dunes formed only in a nook just north of Mount Blanca, the range’s highest peak and a sacred mountain to a number of Native American peoples. The dunes formed adjacent to a relatively low saddle in the range where three major ephemeral springs flow down into the valley. The streams, which secure the sand, are important for the stability of the dunes and for the hardy plant communities that grow from the extensive sand flats surrounding the dunes proper. But it is the storm winds rushing down from the low saddle in the Sangre de Cristos that balance the prevailing winds from the west, keeping the dunes themselves remarkably stable over years and decades.

Even with the uniqueness of the region’s wind and geography, the sheer amount of sand cannot be explained just by this process. More recent evidence suggests that the southern end of the San Luis Valley was once covered by a vast lake, remnants of which are visible as wetland complexes west and south of the dunes and a vast aquifer beneath the valley, which makes agriculture possible. It is the sand of this ancient lakebed that comprises the bulk of the dunes.

Tuesday, August 24, we’d spend exploring this singular place by getting to know the transition area between the dunes and the mountains.

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Havasu Canyon, Grand Canyon: A Day in the Canyon

Mulgullo Point above Carbonate Canyon

Tuesday, October 29 was a quiet day. We mostly took it easy and rested or explored Havasu Canyon areas closer to the campground. We needed to marshal our strength for the big hike back out of the canyon the following day. And we were worried about Rick’s hurt knee. The slower day also afforded us the opportunity to check out the tiny village of Supai, where most Havasupai homes and services in the canyon are clustered.

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Havasu Canyon, Grand Canyon (National Park): Down Creek and Down Canyon

Beaver Falls

Monday, October 28 was the first of our two full days in Havasu Canyon. We had hiked in the morning of the previous day for our three nights of camping. Despite the big hike that day, we decided for another big hike this following day: hiking downstream to Beaver Falls and then on to attempt to reach the confluence of Havasu Creek and the Colorado River in the main trunk of the Grand Canyon. From the campground, the confluence is seven miles, so it would be a long, but doable fourteen mile out-and-back. We’d decided to do it this first day because then we’d have a full day to rest before the hike back out of the canyon on Wednesday.

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Detour: Lava Beds National Monument, Part Two

Petroglyph Point

In the afternoon of Wednesday, September 18, Sean and I drove just northeast from the main unit of Lava Beds National Monument to visit the tiny Petroglyph Section, separated from the bulk of the Monument by both Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge and private farmland. For the succeeding hour and a half, we contemplated, I hope respectfully, the Modoc people and their ancestors.

The Modoc people once lived on both sides of what is now the California-Oregon border, in villages on and near Tule, Lower Klamath, and Clear Lakes. Like the ancient people who first inhabited this area more than 11,000 years ago, they took advantage of abundant waterfowl and game, edible and medicinal plants, and an easily accessible water supply. They moved about the region freely with the seasons, until the coming of whites in 1826 when the pattern of Modoc life began to change. The Modoc, a fiercely independent people, began to clash with some of the newcomers that laid claim to Modoc grounds for their own uses, and the seeds were sown for one of the most tragic of the Indian Wars: the Modoc War of 1872-73.

National Park Service
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Lassen Volcanic National Park: On the Pacific Crest

On Sunday, September 15, we spent a classic National Park day in the wild heart of Lassen Volcanic National Park. I love a day when we can rise from our tent and go see some amazingly lovely sights propelled by nothing but our own legs. On the docket for our big hike day in Lassen was an 11.6 mile loop over creeks, around lakes, and into the Park’s designated wilderness.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park: Butte Lake and the Fantastic Lava Beds

Butte Lake

Sean and I had wrapped up our auto tour of the Lassen Volcanic National Park Highway by about ten to three on Saturday, September 14. We decided to spend the rest of the day exploring the area around Butte Lake in the northeast corner of the Park, an area that was once a separate National Monument before it was incorporated into the National Park.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park: Park Highway

Brokeoff Mountain

Sean and I arrived at the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at about a quarter after eleven on the morning of Saturday, September 14. The LEED-certified platinum building only opened in 2008 and was Lassen Volcanic National Park’s first formal visitor center. Our intention was to check out the visitor center and then drive the Park Highway all the way to the northwest entrance at Manzanita Lake, stopping at the interpreted sites along the way.

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Redwood National and State Parks: Fern Canyon

Lady Fern

Friday, September 13 was a travel day. It was time to strike camp and continue on from Redwood National Park to Lassen Volcanic National Park. But first, we had time for one more morning adventure at Redwood: Fern Canyon, located at the northern end of Davison Road, just a couple miles from the campground. Like the campground, Fern Canyon is in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, part of the patchwork of co-managed state and federal lands that comprises Redwood National and State Parks.

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Redwood National and State Parks: Redwood Creek, or Journey to the Realm of the Banana Slugs

Cat Tail Moss on Bigtooth Maple
Banana Slug

After having spent the previous day exploring distributed Redwood National and State Parks sites by car, we intended to make Thursday, September 12 the day of our big hike at Redwood. Our destination was the heart of the Redwood Creek area, traveling into the middle of the largest contiguous section of the National Park. From the trailhead, Tall Trees Grove is an 8.3-mile one-way hike, which would make for a long, almost seventeen mile day hike. We doubted we’d make it that far, but we’d make it some portion of that distance. We thought that after the hike we’d head down to Arcata and check out the hot tub cafe that was recommended to us by Ang at the Chicago REI and by our friend Aimee.

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