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Posts Tagged ‘Wildflowers’

Montrose and Gunnison, Colo.
Visited: August 20, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 231 and 232 of 353
NPS Black Canyon NP Website; NPS Curecanti NRA Website

StriationsWHAT IS IT?
The Black Canyon is deep, narrow canyon formed by the Gunnison River whose schist and gneiss walls give it its dark appearance. The nearby Curecanti NRA consists of three reservoirs created by the downstream damming of the Gunnison.

BEAUTY (9/10)
The Black Canyon is unreal. At most, of the overlooks, the opposite rim stands less than a quarter-mile away. Then you look down. The head gets dizzy, the stomach rises, the knees wobble and fear sets in. The drop never stops, falling 2,750 feet at the deepest point. The white water down below roars with same decibels as a jet airplane.

The canyon walls really are black. Streaks and striations of grey and white give the walls and unbending character. The Canyon’s narrow demeanor causes constant optical illusions. The walls blend, the sides become one, the gorge disappears. The Canyon wishes to be unseen. It never beckons, never asks you to hike down. It cherishes its mystery and wants to be left alone.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10)
Humans have lived in the area for 10,000 years but no one traversed through the Black Canyon until 1901; it had been too steep and too menacing. A train display at Curecanti NRA’s Cimmaron Visitor Center showcases the area’s role in the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad’s Scenic Line of the World.

CROWDS (6/10)
The moderate-sized crowd did not affect our stay at the Black Canyon, an auto-tour style park.

EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
These Parks are located in the central portion of western Colorado. They both sit along U.S. Route 50 between the towns of Montrose to the west and Gunnison to the east. The Black Canyon VC is 90 miles to the southeast of Interstate 70 at Grand Junction via Route 50. Route 50 continues eastward meeting up with I-25 at Pueblo, 200 miles east of the Black Canyon.

The circuitous 250 miles northwest from the Black Canyon to Denver travel up, in, through and around the Rocky Mountains. Have fun.

The Black CanyonCONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
We had a great time browsing through Black Canyon NP’s huge book selection. Did you know that there are at least 50 books published about Rocky Mountain wild flowers? We did not. Michael’s mother owns most of the children’s books for sale there, including a few classics: Ten Little Rabbits, Owl Moon and The Lorax. Her kindergarten classroom does not include Sunshine on My Shoulder, a children’s book based on John Denver’s touching song. We really should have bought it for her. Darn.

The store sells the actual United States Geological Service maps and surveys of the Gunnison Canyon and gorge. How cool is that. If you are having trouble understanding what is on those maps, the store sells more than a dozen books that explain the Canyon’s geology.

COSTS (2/5)
Black Canyon NP entry is $8 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass. Curecanti NRA is always free. If you want to launch a boat, its $4 for two days.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
One Ranger and one Electronic Ranger.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The nearly 30-minute Park introductory film dives head first into the Park’s history. Problem is the pool is awful shallow. The Park’s history could be recounted in much less time. Sometimes the 18-minute pretty picture films are preferable. Nonetheless, the film’s pictures of the canyon are beautiful and done with the help of a brave helicopter. But who needs pictures when the natural wonder is just outside?

We enjoyed meandering through Curecanti NRA’s Cimarron rail yard. Between Memorial Day and Labor Day the Park Service offers two daily $12 guided Boat tours at Curecanti NRA. The boat ride begins at the Pine Creek boat dock, travel through the upper Black Canyon and allows for lake-level views of the Curecanti Needle. Sounds like fun to us.

Scenic Rail FUN (7/10)
road leads down to the Canyon’s East Portal. Make sure your brakes are in order before you make the 2,000-foot descent with 16 per cent grades and hairpin turns. From the East Portal, you are on your own. Only experienced kayakers should proceed; the River is classified as Class V to unnavigable.

The Black Canyon’s floor remains a mystery to all but the most skilled. There are no hiking trails down, no helicopter flights in and no super elevator rides. You must use your imagination from your distant rim perch. The Curecanti NRA allows for more accessible water-related fun.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (7/10)
The Black Canyon of the Gunnison is every bit as awesome as Arizona’s Grand Canyon. Michael had traveled to both canyons prior to our journey. In fact, one of the trip’s motivations was to climb down to the bottom of both. He did not realize that you cannot hike down the Black Canyon. He does now.

The Auto Tour allows for terrific views of this magnificent geological wonder but ultimately your brain cannot comprehend the depth and colors of the canyon. You want to be overwhelmed but the scenery looks more like a painting than an actual object of nature. The Black Canyon is stunning but after both visits Michael left wanting more.

TOTAL 49/80

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near Enumclaw, Wash.
Visited: July 26, 2005
NPS Site Visited: 223 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Rainier’s Wildflowers

WHAT IS IT?
Standing 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest and most imposing of the Cascade Range’s volcanic peaks.

BEAUTY (10/10)
On a clear Seattle day, she hovers omnipresent in the background like a lurking flying saucer. Her base is broad, her dome a perfectly symmetrical mound. She is cloaked by a permanent haze and appears to be a dirty yellow. Only rain and mist remove her from her keen watch over the Emerald City. When the sun returns, she does too, grander than ever.

As you drive towards her, she never disappears from view; she sees in all directions. Closeness inspires awe. There she stands with stern majesty. Glaciers and snowfields encapsulate her rounded dome. She is monolithic. She is power.

Her aura changes when you get closer and bask in her shadow. The meadows are swathed in a rainbow array of wildflowers. She is now delicate. Blues, oranges, reds and yellows stretch as far as the eye can see. She remains in the background framing every picture, providing water and life to the beauty below.

Tiny dots flicker above amidst the endless fields of white. They are hikers and climbers, every day numbering in the hundreds, aiming to scale her volatile sides and achieve personal goals. But she is unconquerable. We live with this sleeping giant, on time borrowed from her. She will not be dormant forever.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (4/10)
British explorers named Mount Rainier for one of their own. Local residents have since made unsuccessful attempts at renaming the peak Mount Tahoma, its Native American moniker.

Mount Rainier became a National Park in 1899 and the first to admit cars in 1907. The National Park auto tour vacation had officially begun. The 1908 entry fee was $5 per vehicle. In almost 100 years, the fee has gone up only $5. Not too shabby.

CROWDS (8/10)
Mount Rainier easy proximity to the Seattle metropolis brings big crowds, especially in the Park’s Paradise section. If you wish to avoid the throngs and still enjoy the wildflowers and stellar mountain-view hikes, then Sunrise would be a great choice. Still, the hikers at Mount Rainier were some of the friendliest and most courteous we have found in all the National Parks.

The Park has enough trails and backcountry opportunities to make seclusion a viable choice.

We took the Nisqually Vista Hike with about 40 other people. We were the youngest by far. Everyone our age had strapped on their mountaineering boots and was heading up the snowfields. Maybe next time we will act our age and make the hike to Camp Muir.


Gab and the Volcano
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (5/5)
Hard to believe that such a stunning and accessible wilderness mecca is within a two-hour drive for so many people. At the same time, when this volcano blows, a lot of people are going to be in trouble.

The Paradise and Sunrise sections of the Park include easy trails that take you very close to glaciers. Mt. Rainier NP’s hundreds of miles of hiking trails are mostly accessible and subsequently real to the average visitor, unlike the bloated mileage numbers of so many other National Parks. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail, which people have been hiking for almost 100 years, sounds too wonderful for words.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (3/5)
Each VC carried a small selection of books, nature guides and maps. The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center split its offerings into two separate shops.

One store is dedicated to Mount Rainier captured in print, large framed photographs, video and DVD. The second store caters to all of your apparel and souvenir needs. Pretty standard NPS fare, with the exception of some cleverly named food products and “Ashware,” plates and pottery created from Mount Rainier’s more volatile neighbor, Mount St. Helens.

COSTS (3/5)
Entry is $10 per vehicle, free with the National Parks Pass. Campsites are priced affordably, ranging between $10 and $15 per night. A mountain climbing permit runs $30, rental gear will bring this cost up.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (5/5)
Plenty of Rangers at all three Visitor Centers. Gab especially enjoyed her talks with a young female Ranger at Sunrise. The Ranger recognized Gab’s B hat, she had just graduated from Brown University! She gave us great hiking advice. The next day was her day off. Her plans: climb Mount Rainier. Wow.

TOURS/CLASSES (6/10)
Our first stop in the Park was the Sunrise Visitor Center near the Northeast entrance. We made a half-hearted attempt to browse through its wildlife displays, but Mt. Rainier in all its glory was beckoning us outside. After our chat with Gab’s fellow Brunonian, we skipped past the introductory panels and ran on the trails to experience the Park firsthand.

The Henry M. Jackson Memorial VC shows two films in a comfortable theatre. Its historical overview of the Site is more interesting than others we have seen, but we were still lured outside by the blooming meadows.

Mount Rainier recognizes that most of its guests have a hard time staying indoors and offers Ranger walks on a variety of subjects starting from each of its Visitor Centers. There are at least three daily strolls leaving from the Paradise and Sunrise VCs. We chose the Nisqually Vista Walk and were finally able to combine our quest for knowledge with the fresh mountain air.


Alpine Tundra
FUN (9/10)
Mount Rainier NP is a wonderful day trip. It makes an even better destination for a two or three day trip. Does any circuit hike sound better than the 7-14 day, 93-mile Wonderland Trek around the mountain?

This Park, as well as our other incredible outdoor experiences in the area, made us sincerely consider relocating to Seattle. Then we remembered that we had been frolicking around live volcanoes. The floods, blizzards and high humidity of Central PA suddenly do not sound that bad.

Michael thinks Mount Rainier is going to erupt before the Seahawks or Mariners win a World Championship. Will anyone give him odds?

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (9/10)
Wholeheartedly. Mount Rainier is an accessible mountain, free of ski lifts and full of tremendous hiking opportunities and easy scenic walks. Heavy snowfall closes the Park down to casual tourists for much of the year. We recommend coming in July so that you can experience the vibrant shades of its countless wildflowers.

TOTAL 62/80

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near Jackson, Wyo.
Visited: September 17, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 96 of 353
NPS Website; Local Website

Want More? Click Here for our Grand Teton Hiking Story

View of the TetonsWHAT IS IT?
A thin spine of magnificent mountains, twelve rising over 12,000 feet, which stand, unobstructed by foothills, over glacial lakes and rippling meadows.

BEAUTY (10/10)
When we easterners imagine the splendor and the romance of the Rocky Mountains, we are picturing the sharp-toothed peaks of the Tetons. The mountains are never an abstraction; you never have to guess their height. You see everything, their base, their steepness and their snowy peaks. The landscape, from the Snake River to Jackson and Jenny Lake, to the wet meadows, to the sagebrush flats to the naked mountains is extraordinarily beautiful.

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (3/10)
We did not learn much history during our stay at the Park. If you are looking for historical fulfillment, the often geographically out of context Indian Art Museum might quench your thirst. John D. Rockefeller helped ensure both the Park’s protection and eternal public access by purchasing a great many acres that are now part of Grand Teton NP.

CROWDS (9/10)
At midday, the lower altitude trails around Jenny, Bradley and Taggert Lakes were all full of hikers, but most greeted us with pleasant smiles and warms hellos. We were all so happy to be hiking in such an astonishing place on perfect weather days.

We started the 13-mile round trip hike to the Forks of Cascade Canyon late. When we reached the 7.5-mile turnaround point, two twentysomething girls were resting near the directional sign leaning on their stuffed-for-a-few-more-backcountry-nights packs. They warmly greeted us; we warned them of the incoming snowstorm. They had not heard of the weather pattern, leading us to believe that they had not seen many people at all during the three days out on the Teton Ridge Trail.

They were so nice and looked so happy and content that we both immediately thought, “we have got to get out in the backcountry soon and away from the easy joys of car camping and day hiking.” We turned around inspired. When we reached Inspiration Point on the return, there was no one else there. We enjoyed the peaceful view of Jenny Lake by ourselves.


Hello, Mom
EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
Grand Teton NP is a destination site and not particularly close to a large population center or an Interstate. Idaho Falls, Idaho, as well as Interstate 15 is 90 miles to the west of the South Entrance. The faux western, nouveau riche and wildly expensive resort town of Jackson, Wyoming is the portal to the park. It stands at the south entrance and has an International Airport.

The east entrance is a long way from nowhere and the north entrance leads only into Yellowstone National Park.

Once you find your way to the Tetons, the Park is accessible. There are numerous lodges on Site and roads take you to the foot of the mountains. Overlooks abound and hiking tails take you everywhere.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (5/5)
Whoa. The Visitor Center bookstores, especially at Moose, have oodles of Grand Teton-related books. The kids section takes over ten shelves. A large and extremely lifelike raven puppet enamored Michael and a female octogenarian just off a bus tour. Both placed their hand in the puppet, made raven sounds and pestered their spouse with the toy’s leather beak. Fun in bookstores.

COSTS (3/5)
A $20 vehicle entrance fee is good for a week’s stay at both Yellowstone NP and Grand Teton NP, an incredible bargain given the sheer amount of things to in the Parks’ combined 2.5 million acres. Entry is free with the National Parks Pass.

The National Park Service operates five campgrounds in Grand Teton NP, a total of 913 campsites. All Sites are $12 per night. The Park literature warns that all but the 372-site Gros Ventre campground normally fills by 2:00 p.m.

We stayed at the popular 50-site, tent-only Jenny Lake campground. This Site normally fills by 8:00 a.m. and was at capacity during our stay despite sub-freezing nighttime temperatures and a snowstorm threat.

Alpine LakeRANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (4/5)
There are three well-manned Visitor Centers along the Park’s 51-mile north-south road. The Colter Bay Visitor Center included a refreshingly ebullient Ranger working the Backcountry Permit window who eagerly inundated us with more hiking information than we could handle.

During the summer months, there are numerous Ranger-led hikes along the lakes and mountainsides, talks at the Visitor Centers and nighttime campfire programs at the lodges and campgrounds. Planned activities drop off considerably the rest of the year.

TOURS/CLASSES (7/10)
The Colter Bay Visitor Center includes an Indian Arts Museum. The Museum has a tremendous amount of moccasins, beadwork, clothing, you name it, on display. The exhibits show the personal items and artistry of many different Indian tribes, some of which never resided anywhere close to the Tetons. We found it confusing and overwhelming. We find it easier intellectually to travel to Site’s and Museums dedicated only to that areas indigenous tribe. But if you don’t have the luxury of time, the Colter Bay Indian Arts is not a bad alternative.

The Jenny Lake and Moose Visitor Centers center around dinner table-sized topographical maps of the Park. We attended only one Ranger talk, at Moose, which took place around that same map. It was a pointer on hard plastic introduction to the Park and it was crowded. We tried hard, but failed, to nudge our way in to get a view of the map. So we left. We had already spent a few days at the Tetons so we probably were not the aimed demographic.

We did not attend the Ranger classes because we were having such a great time hiking the mountains. We were ably assisted by terrific (and free) map and trail guides provided by the Park. You just have to ask for them. The pamphlets explain many hikes, point of wildlife tidbits and give surprisingly detailed topographical information. The Taggert and Bradley Lakes map even shows the correct number of switchbacks on the way to Amphitheater Lake! While on the hike, Michael eagerly counted down all fourteen.


Roadblock
FUN (10/10)
As if watching the majestic Teton peaks getting closer and closer as we drove straight down from Yellowstone wasn’t exciting enough, by the time we finished talking with the Backcountry Ranger at Colter Bay we were nearly falling over ourselves rushing to get a camping spot, dump our stuff and head right into our first hikes. We found one of the few remaining sites at the beautiful Jenny Lake campground, set up camp and set out while the sun was still shining.

Each walk we took had what Gab likes to call, a “payoff.” Something beautiful that can only be reached by foot: justification for your trek into the canyon or up the hill, a good reason for why you are out of breath. Hidden waterfalls, glacial lakes and a bald eagle were among our payoffs here.

This place is magical. We felt renewed and re-invigorated with each hike and reminded that it was high time to head into the backcountry after talking with the two young girls nearing the end of their trip. We tried to cram as much as we could into the sunny days preceding the ominous weather forecast, but still find ourselves eager for more time in the Park, especially the Teton Ridge Trail.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (10/10)
Yes. Yes. Yes. Grand Tetons NP is not as well-known or as crowded as its northern neighbor, but it is just as accessible, just as beautiful, and just as unpredictable when it comes to weather. We strongly recommend checking the forecast before heading into the Tetons. We may not have been so enthralled had the road out been closed because of snow.

TOTAL 63/80

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Munising, Mich.
Visited: May 21, 2004
NPS Site Visited: 46 of 353
NPS Website

Want More? Read about both Gab’s and Michael’s terrific day on the Upper Peninsula

Miners Castle at Pictured RocksWHAT IS IT?
Area hugging Lake Superior’s southern shoreline for 40 miles resplendent with multi-hued sandstone cliffs, waterfalls, lighthouses, dunes and forests.

BEAUTY (8/10)
The Pictured Rocks are stunning 200-foot high sandstone cliffs, molded by glaciers, and stained by minerals. Their oranges, tans, greens, whites, and myriad mixtures in between contrast sharply with the sparkling rich blues and fluorescent greens of the Lake. The Park’s waterfalls charm and the wildflowers emit wonderful aromas. And we saw a bald eagle!

HISTORIC SIGNIFICANCE (5/10)
The sandstone cliffs tell a geological story. Like the concentric rings of a tree, each color tells of a different age of rock. We do not understand geology but the gravitas of the explanatory panel made the colorful cliffs rather interesting.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s famous poem, The Song of Hiawatha takes place in and around the Pictured Rocks NL. The pictured rocks are specifically mentioned.

CROWDS (6/10)
There was a small crowd at each of the stops we made at Pictured Rocks NL. Everyone looked happy, especially a group of excited kids who enjoyed reading aloud to their parents the descriptions provided by the Miners Falls Trail walking tour pamphlet.

The Flowering U.P.EASE OF USE/ACCESS (2/5)
The southern coast of Lake Superior is awfully remote. Once you find your way through the scenic two lane highways surrounded by Wildlife Refuge areas and National Forests the Site itself is well marked if not easy to get around. Most of its interior roads are unpaved and better suited for a 4×4 than our Nissan Altima.

Paths and Lookout points at Miners Castle were all paved and accessible to individuals with physical disabilities.

CONCESSIONS/BOOKSTORE (4/5)
A quirky selection highlighted by ecological philosophy books and I (Heart) Hiking T-Shirts.

COSTS (4/5)
The Site is free.

RANGER/GUIDE TO TOURIST RATIO (3/5)
Two Rangers staffed the main Pictured Rocks Visitor Center. They were friendly, helpful and gave good suggestions on lake shore highlights. Other Visitor Centers in the interior of the park were not yet open for the season, so no other Rangers were available.

TOURS/CLASSES (5/10)
The Miners Falls Walking Trail pamphlet was cool. We are appreciative that the box at trail’s head was diligently restocked. There was no video and no museum display at the only open Visitor Information Center. Maybe things will be different post-Memorial Day. Given the stellar publications and exhibit panels we saw at Pictured Rocks we are willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

WaterfallFUN (8/10)
We followed the Rangers’ recommendations of where to go and what to see and were not disappointed. Short hikes to the Munising Falls and Miners Falls were easy and pleasant; both falls were beautiful.

We drove to the lookout at Miners Castle where three vista spots offered views of the Pictured Rocks. The best place to observe Pictured Rocks is probably on a boat, but we enjoyed our landlocked view. A large set of picnic tables offered a perfect lunch spot for us to devour our leftover pizza. And, of course, spotting the bald eagle was the icing on the cake.

WOULD WE RECOMMEND? (8/10)
We didn’t expect much from Pictured Rocks NL. The previous National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes NL, was pretty, but not spectacular. It was fun enough, but nothing to write home about (although we write home about everything). Pictured Rocks NL for some reason captured our hearts. We had such an enjoyable time there.

Maybe it was because the morning clouds cleared just in time to see sun reflecting off the Munising Falls, bringing out the vibrant yellow of the wildflowers. Maybe it was because we made the decision early not to camp out and were giddy at the idea of a shower and a hotel room waiting for us in the next town. Perhaps it was because we had no expectations of the site to live up to. Or maybe it was because Pictured Rocks is a beautiful area that is well maintained and well stocked with information to help you get the most out of your visit.

We imagine this is a highly touristed destination in the summer time. We can see why.

TOTAL 53/80

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