Tag: outdoors (Page 2 of 2)

Nevada Road Trip Part One: From Phoenix to Great Basin

Created by Google Maps

Created by Google Maps

I have a life goal to see all of the national parks in the United States, which is easier said than done, because there are a lot of them! But so far, this has led me to visit more than a few places that I didn’t previously know existed, and I haven’t regretted any of them. One of the national parks that I had never heard of was Great Basin, which seemed fascinating based on its name and its location north of Las Vegas in Nevada, an area that I had never explored. My dad and I were further intrigued by this place after learning that it is home to the Bristlecone Pine, one of the longest lived life forms on the planet. Finally, when we had a few days free, we decided to take a road trip up to Great Basin, and without much planning we ended up visiting several beautiful and intriguing places. The following account will mostly cover the places that we visited during this road trip, but I will also highlight a few places along the way that would be worth stopped at but which we didn’t have the time to visit.

Day One: Setting Out

(c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

Lake Pleasant (c) Sweet Tea @ http://www.rentcafe.com/blog/cities/great-phoenix-day-trip-lake-pleasant/

The first day of our road trip didn’t start until 15:00, so our only goal was to make it up into Nevada for our first night. Luckily, the drive between Phoenix and the Las Vegas area is pretty nice, and it would actually have several good stops along the way for travelers with a full day. First, Lake Pleasant is worth a stop for anyone that hasn’t been, as it is a good example of Arizona’s artificial lakes, even if it isn’t one of the most beautiful. After living in the desert for a few years, it is hard to not appreciate water where-ever you find it, and besides some good desert winds for sailing, Lake Pleasant also has some nice hikes nearby in the Hells Canyon Wilderness. Furthermore, this area is home to wild burros, which I have seen on several occasions, and they are some great charismatic megafauna to see in the Sonora.

Further down the road, there is also the Hassayampa River Preserve just outside of Wickenburg. I actually haven’t made it to this area before, so I don’t have any personal experience with it yet, but it is somewhere that I hope to visit in the near future. Another oasis in the desert, the river preserve protects something that is rare now in Arizona, a river still flowing in its banks, thanks to the Nature Conservancy. There are plenty of trails here, and like Lake Pleasant it is good to experience any water that the desert has to offer, even more so, in places where some natural riparian ecosystems remain.

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Hoover Dam at Night (c) AB Raschke

Of course, the biggest attraction between Phoenix and Las Vegas is the Hoover Dam, which we hit around 20:00. When I initially envisioned this trip last year, I had hoped to visit during the day and take a tour of the Dam. There is actually quite a bit there to see and do during the day, and in any case, this place is a major historical landmark for the country, and it has also shaped the Southwest in a very serious way. Las Vegas certainly owes its size to the resources provided by the dam, and the life-line of the Central Arizona Project shows the link between Phoenix and the Colorado River. Sadly, I didn’t get to take a tour this time around, but the dam is open to visitors until 21:00. So, we at least got to drive across the dam, park and take pictures of the landmark at night. It was a very peaceful place without the crowds, and there were some good views of the stars to boot.

Our day ended in Boulder City, where we spent the night in a Quality Inn a mere five minutes from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

Day Two: Through the Desert to the Great Basin

(c) AB Raschke

Lake Mead (c) AB Raschke

Before we hopped in the car for the day, I dragged my dad to Lake Mead, because I had to get my national parks passport stamped and I wanted to go on a little hike before our journey. As it turned out, we found a really great little trail outside of the fee area, and we both really enjoyed this stroll. The Historic Railway Trail is right by the entrance to the park, and as its name implies, this trail follows the former track of the railroad that brought materials from Boulder City to the site of Hoover Dam as it was being built. Besides the great views of lake from the trail, we really enjoyed getting to see the massive tunnels that were built through the mountains in order to fit the large pieces of dam equipment through. From the trailhead to the first tunnel is about a mile, so it was a great section of the trail to walk when we only had a limited amount of time.

From Wikipedia

Lower Lake Pahranagat Lake From Wikipedia

From Boulder City to Baker was quite a drive. Most of the towns that we passed, besides Las Vegas, were quite small. Alamo, which is perched just north of Pahranagat Lake, didn’t have much to offer along the side of the road, and when we asked about places to grab lunch there, the gas station attendant only told us about two different restaurants. We ended up at the Windmill just north of the town, and it was quiet enjoyable. Not only did they have some good standard American fare, but they also had a nice little bakery where we got a fresh cookie and a lemon square.

From there on out, we entered the Great Basin region, which gave us a taste for what we would see and learn more about in the National Park. This region is characterized by parallel ranges of mountains, which remind me of the sky islands in Arizona, rising up out of the dry lowlands to peaks of lush forests. The lowlands, instead of being Arizona desert, however, were large, flat plains of sagebrush and grasses, where we spotted herds of cows and even a few ranchers on horseback.

Once we got to Baker, we were somewhat surprised at how small the town at the gateway to Great Basin NP was. In fact, since we traveled to the park out of season, there were no open restaurants, and according to Wikipedia the population is 68. That being said, we had a reserved a great little place to stay for the night called the Get-Away Cabin. The owner was very friendly and welcoming, and she even bakes her guests delicious little loaves of banana bread.

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

Baker Archaeological Park (c) AB Raschke

After getting some tips about what to do in the park the at the visitor’s center for the next day, we drove a few miles out of town to check out the Baker Archaeological Site, which wasn’t much more than a few outlines of Fremont buildings among the sagebrush. There was some good information in a little guide book that the BLM provided at the site, however. After a short stop there, we made it out to the Border Inn where we enjoyed a delicious dinner, and picked up some groceries.

Day 3 and 4 to come on April 1st! And Washington DC… someday!

If you have any questions about my experience in Nevada and Arizona or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

The Apache Trail and Tonto National Monument

From Google Maps

From Google Maps

Going to the Tonto National Monument is an all-day trip from Phoenix, especially if you want to take the most scenic road to Roosevelt Lake. Google claimed that the drive was about 2 hours long on Apache Trail (88), but the drive down the twisting, dirt roads is more realistically between two and three hours long. It takes longer if you stop along the way, of course, and taking your time is a good idea on Apache Trail for both safety and your enjoyment.

Just before the Apache Trail turns into a dirt road, you will see three small buildings near the edge of Fish Creek. The buildings are somewhat ramshackle, and their boxy architecture and wooden walls is purposefully reminiscent of a small historic Western town. This is Tortilla Flats; and it is one of my personal favorite places to stop whenever I am on the 88. There isn’t much here- a small restaurant, a gift shop, and a country store. The restaurant has a great atmosphere that fits the area to a T. The walls are coated in layers of signed dollar bills, most from the US, but I always like to peek around for money from all over the world. The bar is also lined with horse saddle stools, and the bathrooms are surprisingly humorous but I won’t spoil why. The food here is good, mostly sporting American classics. As much as I enjoy stopping by the restaurant here, however, I mostly come to Tortilla Flats for its delicious prickly pear ice cream, which I like to eat next to the (sometimes) gurgling stream that runs right by the area.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Past Tortilla Flats the dirt road begins, and while this area is breathtakingly beautiful, anyone who wants to drive this road needs to take their time, and keep their eyes on the road. There are cliffs along long stretches of the road, and at times the road narrows until vehicles will need to stop and pull over in order to let each other pass. Along this part of the Apache Trail is the small Apache Lake, and the Roosevelt Lake Dam. After stopping to view the dam, the road curves up one final hill, and at the top the largest lake in Arizona expands out to either horizon- Roosevelt Lake.

For some reason, I was expecting there to be a sizeable town around Roosevelt Lake, but in the direction from Roosevalt Dam towards the Tonto National Monument all I saw were a few small settlements. One was a high-end gated community perched on the edge of the lake, some looked like a mix of large camp grounds and RV grounds, and about eight miles from the turn off by the dam was a small collection of low buildings including a gas station, and an all American restaurant called Boston’s Lake House Grill (that seemed surprisingly far from the lake for its name).

From the lake to Tonto National Monument was a short drive up from the relatively flat desert surrounding Roosevelt up into a small box canyon. The visitor center here was under construction when I visited, so there wasn’t much there to see, and we immediately headed out onto the trail leading to the Lower Cliff Dwelling. This is the only trail accessible to visitors without a ranger or guide, it is a mile long (round-trip), and it is nicely paved and thus welcoming to most people, although it is steep.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

I got winded a few times on the way up, but it was a good excuse to stop and take in the scenery, which was always worth the pause. The plant communities surrounding the path up to the Lower Cliff Dwellings was amazingly rich, and was so lush that I almost felt like I was taking a stroll through Phoenix’s manicured Desert Botanical Gardens. All of the charismatic plants of the Sonoran Desert were represented in vibrant greens on either side of the trail, and any time spent at one of the trail’s benches would reveal a variety of bird, mammal, and reptile life as well.

(c) AB Raschke

(c) AB Raschke

Of course, the crowning jewel of the trail and the national monument itself are the ruins. Unlike Montezuma’s castle, Tonto National Monument allows visitors to carefully climb inside of the ancient Salado ruins here. They are watched over by a volunteer, who dutifully reminds visitors to not lean or sit on the stone walls tucked into the mountain-side, and who is prepared to answer any questions that visitors may have about the people who once lived here, as well as the surrounding area. Inside the warm, stone and mortar walls of this ancient Native American village, it is easy to see what drew people to this place. The shallow cavern that the buildings were constructed in makes the place feel safe and protected. The walls are dark with the remains of fires from hundreds of years ago, but the closeness of those ancestral families doesn’t seem to have abandoned this place. Just over the remaining walls, or through the surviving doorways and windows, visitors can catch glimpses of the Salt River Valley and the lake, beckoning with its life giving waters, and the lush desert around it.

In short, Tonto NP is a must-see for anyone interested in Arizona history, or in the ingenuity of our ancestors. There is a second set of ruins in the park as well, but visitors must join a tour in order to see them, and the hike is more difficult than the trek to the Lower Cliff Dwellings. If what I saw was any indication, however, I think that the trip to the Upper Dwellings would certainly not disappoint anyone with the time and ability to make the journey further into the mountains.

And if you have any questions about Tonto or my travels feel free to leave me a comment. 🙂

Everything You Need to Know About Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

During my trip to Dominica, I visited the Morne Trois Pitons National Park (MTP) on several occasions, and I would have liked to have spent even more time there. The park has several main attractions- the Freshwater Lake, the Boiling Lake, the Valley of Desolation, the Emerald Pools, and Trafalgar Falls, among other things. There are things to do there for both the casual traveller, and the adventurous hiker, as it offered beautiful stops close the road, and more secluded areas down miles of trails.

My initial visit to Morne Trois Pitons National Park was on my first full day in Dominica, and it was a place that I have not been able to stop dreaming about since. Still tired from our day and a half of traveling, my dad and I opted for a relaxing tour of the park in which we drove from site to site, and our longest hike was probably half a mile long. The road up through the park from Dominica’s capital was steep and narrow, complete with sharp, blind turns, but it was well maintained and there seemed to be better signage here than anywhere else that I had seen, which hinted at the park’s importance to Dominica’s tourism.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Freshwater Lake (c) ABR

The Freshwater Lake

Many tourists, in fact, come to the island on a cruise ship, jump on a tour bus at the dock, and then spend the day seeing some of the most beautiful places that the island, and perhaps the world, has to offer. Oddly, however, less cruise passengers took this opportunity than I would have thought.

The first place that we visited in Morne Trois Pitons National Park was the Freshwater Lake, which is the largest of Dominica’s four freshwater lakes, and the second deepest- according to the UNESCO World Heritage website. When we got there, the area was deserted. There was a small museum and ticketing booth along the shore of the lake that no one had opened that day, suggesting that few visitors were expected. It made me a little sad to think that no one was out there to appreciate the beauty of this place, but it was nice to have the chance to drink in the lush landscape and enjoy the crisp air in peace. The lake itself was surrounded by intense, green forests and the steep mountains that characterize Dominica’s interior, and there were some short trails that weaved their way down to the lake’s edge. If this place had been in Arizona, the water would have been dotted with kayakers, and I would have enjoyed exploring Freshwater more, but we didn’t linger there long. We stayed just long enough to take a few pictures, regard the shuttered visitor center with some disappointment, and watch a few of the montane clouds drift over the tops of the mountains on the cool, tropical winds of the lake’s high elevation.

Ti Tou Gorge

After stopping at the lake, we drove down to Ti Tou Gorge (which I don’t think is technically part of the National Park). Here, we took a short hike up along a creek to a lean-to where there were several people selling souvenirs and snacks, along with a group of guides that were bringing people up through the gorge.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Ti Tou Gorge (c) ABR

As I would later find out, Ti Tou Gorge sits at the trailhead that leads to the Boiling Lake. Due to the fact that I was unwilling to get wet and cold in order to explore the gorge itself, I used the bottom of the trail to explore the upper edge of the formation, which was something like a massive crack in the stony ground of the forest. Looking down from the edge, I could make out several waterfalls and enjoy the sounds of the creek as it rushed through the narrow spaces below. For those who are less bothered by cold water, it was possible to pay a guide to take you into the gorge and up to one of those waterfalls.

Trafalgar Falls

Our last stop in the park during that first day was Trafalgar falls. Here the visitor center was open, and we were required to purchase our week-long national park ticket before we took the short trail down to the falls. For those visitors uninterested or unable to do some scrambling, there was a nice outlook point complete with benches for resting. The falls were off in the distance here, but I couldn’t imagine anything more pleasant than resting in the shade close to those waterfalls, surrounded by the living rainforest of Dominica. Not opposed to some scrambling myself, my father and I hiked down from the viewing point where we followed the trail between some massive boulders, and across a warm, volcanic stream. On the other side of the murky, volcanic waters the forest opened up to a sunny hill of grey boulders, which were crowned by the twin Trafalgar falls. We climbed up far enough to get a clear view of the falls, and we could have worked our way further up to the base of either, if we had had the time. It was a somewhat difficult area to explore, however, due to the sheer size of the boulders here.

The Boiling Lake

The grandest adventure of Morne Trois Pitons National Park (at least that is widely advertised to tourists) is the trek to Boiling Lake. As I mentioned above, the trailhead for this volcanic attraction is at Ti Tou Gorge, where the trail begins a slow decent up into the tropical rainforest and continues on for about 7 miles, one way.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

Trafalgar Falls (c) ABR

Due to the length of the trail, it generally takes about 8 hours to go to the lake and come back, and it is necessary to start the hike early. The first section of the trail, which climbs up and down the mountains, crosses the Breakfast River, and then descends into the Valley of Desolation is well maintained, and consistently lined with logs, which serve as steps for the nearly constantly incline (in one direction or another) of the journey. Once the trail drops down into the Valley of Desolation, however, it becomes hard to follow, and it weaves between steaming volcanic vents, which can be very dangerous. So, guides are needed for this journey for safety reasons, but they also provide good information and stories along the trail, and any money spent on a guide is good support for local people.

Desolation Valley

Much of the trek through the forest towards the lake looked much the same to me, although I enjoyed listening to songs of Dominica’s native birds, and learning about some of medicinal uses for the plants that we were passing along the way. The first major stop on the trail is the Breakfast River, which the trail crosses right over. We only stopped long enough for a short snack, and then began the long climb from the river up to the highest point of the trail. The steep climb was intense, but we were rewarded for our efforts by the cool air at the top of the mountain, and some spectacular views of the landscape of the island’s interior.

After this point, the trail arched down the mountain, and then all but disappeared into the multicolored, volcanic soil of Desolation Valley. Our guide led us safely down the this very steep (and slippery in the rain) part of the trail, and I found that both hands and feet needed to be firmly planted on the smooth surface of the cliff to avoid slipping. It was a somewhat frightening climb down, in my opinion, but our guide did a very good job getting us safely into the valley.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Valley of Desolation (c) ABR

Trekking Home

Once down from the cliff, we had to pick our way through a nearly lifeless valley dotted with steaming pools of grey mud. Many of these were hot enough to cause serious burns, but the guides knew of places were visitors could scoop up the mineral mud to coat parts of their skin in. I didn’t partake in this activity, but rumor had it, the mud was very good for the skin.

About a half-mile or a mile from the edge of the valley, and after following the trail along a creek, up and down a few more small cliffs, and through more of the desolate, volcanic landscape that makes up the valley, we tiredly made our way into the steamy mist that surrounds the Boiling Lake. We perched along a cliff there for lunch, where we could regard the natural feature that had drawn us through the forest for miles. It was an almost unbelievable sight- the flat grey form of the lake was constantly disturbed by bubbles. All my understanding of the world told me that these bubbles must be caused by air escaping up through the water, but in fact, the lake is so hot that it is actively boiling (as its name suggests). The cloud of steam that surrounds the pool of hot water is a testament to its heat, as are the stories that tell of guides lowering eggs into the water in little baskets, and then drawing them back up to the cliff, fully cooked.

After enjoying the lake for some time, and resting our exhausted bodies, it came time to return, all the way back where were had come from.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Boiling Lake (c) ABR

On the way, there were hot pools to enjoy and relax in, and then we had to brave the cliffs and mountains again to return home. It was well worth the trip, but perhaps one of the most difficult hikes that I have ever done.

Emerald Pool

Finally, on my dad’s last day on the island, we visited the Emerald Pool. This particular part of the park is easily accessible from one of the roads that run up from Roseau to the Melville Hall airport, and it is a good place to stop at before bidding the island farewell. There was a surprisingly large parking lot here, ringed by a large visitor center as well as venders selling souvenirs and socializing in the shade. Past the visitor’s center is a short loop trail, which guides travellers through the forest and down to the calm, brilliantly blue pool for which this area is named. The pool itself sits at the bottom of a rocky cliff, and is fed by a slender waterfall. The forest is mostly kept at bay by the rocky soil of the beach, but a few tall and twisted trees are perched along the edge of the pool- making for pleasant places to rest and enjoy the almost otherworldly beauty of the Emerald Pool. On the returning leg of the loop trail, there is one spot where visitors can look out at the forest and see the ocean on the other side of the island. For those visitors looking for a quick stop, the Emerald Pool is easy to pass through in a half an hour or so, but it is also a place where one could spend the afternoon, picnicking, swimming in the pool, and appreciating the hospitality of the Dominican landscape.

Morne Trois Pitons National Park

The Emerald Pool (c) ABR

If you are looking into visiting Dominica, be sure to read our guide!

FOR MORE INFO!
MTP UNESCO Page
MTP Discover Dominica Page
MTP Tripadvisor Page

Watson Lake Loop Trail, Prescott, Arizona

3101 Watson Lake Rd
Trail Length: 4.79 mi

Animals Identified:
Red-winged blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus – AGPH)
Ornate Tree Lizard (Urosaurus ornatus – UROR)
Common Side-Blotched Lizard (Uta stansburiana – UTST)
Whiptail sp.
Rock Squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus – SPVA)Phoenix got hot really quick this summer, and on Memorial Day I was feeling desperate to get out of the city for the afternoon. About an hour or so out of Phoenix and at a slightly higher elevation, Prescott seemed like a good option. Besides that, Prescott has a lot to offer, a historic downtown for the casual explorer, a large variety of trails in and around the city, and a ton of lakes (for the desert). I wasn’t quite sure what we were going to have the energy to do when we got up there, so having some options seemed important.

With grumbling stomachs, our first stop was downtown, where we dropped into the Lone Spur Café. The front room of the restaurant was full of southwestern décor befitting of its name, but we ended up in the back room of the restaurant. Windowless, and not nearly as themed as the front room, I found myself feeling oddly disappointed, but I didn’t bother to ask to be seated else-where. My guess is that the restaurant’s specialty is hamburgers or something similarly “western,” but I wasn’t in the mood for something so heavy, and I ended up ordering a sandwich. Nothing to write home about, but the service was really fast, which was convenient as we were able to eat, and then make it out before the day got too late. We had decided mid-meal that we were going to suck it up and go hiking.

A quick glance at the internet indicated that the Watson Lake Loop Trail sounded right up our alley; it was next to the water, and the length of the trail sounded perfect for a good work out. I wasn’t expecting it to be as difficult as it turned out to be, however, as my only reference for lake-side hiking in Prescott was Lynx Lake, which had a very flat, shaded trail. Watson Lake had little in common with my previous experience. There is no forest cover at Watson, just rolling, stony hills dotted with fluffy, green bushes. That didn’t subtract from its beauty, however. Like most man-made desert lakes, Watson had a beautiful juxtaposition between the mirror-like, blue surface of the water, and the tan-reds of the hills, some of which peeked out of the water in little island formations. Besides having a 4.7 mile hiking trail, the lake is also home to a park complete with kayak rentals, Frisbee golf facilities, and bathrooms among other things, and the entrance fee was only $2.

(c) AB Raschke

The Watson Loop trail, if you start from the main parking lot, weaves along the edge of the lake for a while. There are a bunch of smaller trails in this area, so it was a little confusing to get started, but after about a half mile the loop trail became more obvious, and we learned to follow the white, painted dots that follow the trail for most of its length. I was pretty enamored by the first section of the loop, as I love water bodies, and walking along the edge of the lake provided some great views of the water and the landscape beyond.

Once we started to approach the dam on the north side of the lake, however, the trail changed. It passes above the dam, and dips down into the little crooks and canyons that twist their way between the hills here.

(c) AB Raschke

Without the white dots that we had learned to follow earlier on the trail, it would be nearly impossible to navigate through this area. Most of the time, the trail simply passed over the rocky surface of the hills, which were mostly unmarked by the level of traffic that passed through. At this point, despite knowing where the lake was, it actually didn’t come back into view for nearly an hour, after traversing the wild terrain just above the dam. This part of the trail was pretty difficult, in my opinion, because there was plenty of up-hill climbs, and the lack of shade made things pretty hot. It was well worth the effort, however, especially when we happened on the creek that flows out from the dam.

(c) AB Raschke

It was lush and green there. The water was lined with tall grass, and trees towered above, gathering at the base of the dam, where there was an artificial waterfall surrounded by warning signs (although we spotted some swimmers here, I didn’t think it all that prudent to ignore the warnings despite the heat; dams can be extremely dangerous). It was a beautiful place to trek through, and it was nice to get some shady respite from the afternoon sun.

After struggling our way through the hills, the trail arches back to the edge of the lake, and then eventually joins with the straighter track of a bike trail. We were pretty tired by this point, but even this section of the loop was picturesque. The twin tire tracks that ran along the raised ridge of the trail was spotted here and there by large trees, which reminded me of stereotypical farm pictures from movies, but it made the stroll south feel relaxing despite how tired and hot I was.

The last section of the loop passes through the riparian area to the south of the lake. It was dry when we visited, but that didn’t seem to dissuade the red-winged black birds that were flitting through the shadows, arguing about who owned which patch of tall grass. It felt wonderful to wander through the cool air of the little desert forest on the tail end of the hike, because after nearly 5 miles of trekking, I was pretty beat. Nothing some homemade Young’s Farm ice cream couldn’t fix though!

Links:
The Lone Spur Cafe
Watson Lake Park
Young’s Farm Homemade Ice Cream

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