Great Basin National Park

After taking a drive east across Nevada on Highway 50, aka “The Loneliest in America”, we arrived at Great Basin National Park. This park is billed as an “island oasis” in an sea of sagebrush. Having crossed most of what is know as the Great Basin on our drive from California across Nevada, we soon understood what that meant. The mountainous park serves as a reprieve for plants and animals where the air is cooler and water is in greater supply.  We spent two days exploring this example of an island in a desert sea.

Sea of Sagebrush

Bristlecone Pine and Glacier Trail

On our first day at the park, we stopped by the visitor center and spoke with the rangers about suggested hikes and current conditions. We then grabbed a campsite at the Upper Lehman Creek Campground and had lunch.

Bristlecone Pine

After lunch, we headed up the scenic drive towards Wheeler Peak and upon reaching the end, we parked and hopped on the Bristlecone Pine trail. This hike is 4.6 miles with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. The Bristlecone portion of the trail leads you to a grove of ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees. These trees only exist at elevations between 9,500 and 11,000 feet and have adapted to their harsh environment living to be 2,000 to 3,000 years old! This was yet another unique experience to be walking amongst some of the oldest living organisms on earth.

Glacial valley below Wheeler Peak

The trail continues to a glacial area at the base of Wheeler Peak, the only glacier in Nevada. We hiked about a mile past the Bristlecone Grove to a beautiful vista of Wheeler Peak and the glacial cut valley below. Satisfied with the sights, we turned back and headed to the trailhead then drove back to our campsite for the evening.

Wheeler Peak Summit Hike

The focal point of this park is the 13,063 foot Wheeler Peak. Upon seeing there was a trail to the top, I immediately decided we should give it a try and after a little convincing, Ashby was up for the challenge. The summit hike is an 8.6 mile round trip with 2,900 feet of elevation gain. After waking up early so we could secure a parking spot at the trailhead, we ate breakfast, packed our day packs then hit the trail. The initial two miles of the trail were relatively flat and led us through foliage lush with fall color and by an alpine reservoir called Stella Lake.

Aspen Trees in Fall Foliage

After the first two miles the real summit climb began as we hiked a long ridge on the north side of the mountain. Because the trail begins at 10,060 feet we were soon out of breath and had to take numerous breaks on our way to the top. The last two miles were comprised of steep loose rock and took us another hour and a half to complete before we reached the summit. After regaining our breath we found a spot overlooking the valley below and ate our lunches then explored the summit for another half hour then began the hike down.

Going for the summit!
View from the top!

This was the most challenging summit hike we had done to date mostly because of the higher altitude conditions. When we returned to camp for the evening we were tired and our legs sore but also were full of a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

We were up there!

Takeaways

This park was a nice break from the “sea of sage” we crossed to get there. We only explored the Wheeler Peak area this time but hope to return to discover the parks many other wonders including the unique underground world on Lehman Cave. Until next time!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Click here for more photos of our Great Basin NP visit!

Lassen Volcanic National Park

After exploring the Redwoods, we headed east to see the largest plug dome volcano in the world, Lassen Peak! Lassen Volcanic National Park is one of the few areas in the world where you can see all four types of volcanoes, plug dome, shield, cinder cone and stratovolcano. Due to the volcanic activity in this area, there are hydrothermal features similar to Yellowstone National Park. We spent two days hiking through this park.

Bumpass Hell

Bumpass Hell

On our first day in the park, we began our hike at Bumpass Trailhead to see Bumpass Hell, the largest hydrothermal area within the park. This 2.7 mile hike features bubbling mudpots, sulfur vents and boiling hot springs. Even though hiking through the area smells like rotten eggs, the views of the hydrothermal features paired with the surrounding subalpine terrain were worth it! We learned that this area is named after Kendall Bumpass, who explored the region in the late 1800’s. On his first visit to the area he stepped through the thin crust and severely burned his foot. A few visits later he broke through the crust again and burned his leg so badly it had to be amputated. Talk about horrifying! There is a boardwalk in place now, so Alan and I didn’t have to worry about stepping through fragile areas. Phew!

After Bumpass Hell, we decided to continue on the trail to Cold Boiling Lake. The views on the way to the lake were spectacular! Once we arrived at the lake it didn’t seem to be boiling but it did have one small bubble that kept coming up every once in a while. The actually contains a small hot spring which causes it to bubble.

Crumbaugh Lake
Cold Boiling Lake

Lassen Peak

On our second day, we hiked to the tallest peak in the park. The Lassen Peak trail is 5 miles long with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet and tops out at 10,457 feet. When we made it to the top, we had fantastic views of Lake Helen and surrounding cinder cones, mountains and lava flows from the last volcanic eruption in 1915. We could even see parts of the Cascade Mountain range to the north of us and the Sierra Nevada mountains to the south. Pretty cool!

Views from Lassen Peak!

Takeaways

After being blown away by the geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park, we were excited to see more at Lassen Volcanic National Park. We had an awesome time at this park and loved that it was not as busy as other national parks we have been to. Besides the the volcanic and hydrothermal features, the park also has a handful of beautiful lakes right of off the main road which made for a very scenic drive. This is definitely an underrated national park over shadowed by it’s California cousins.

Thanks for reading!

-Ashby

Click here for more photos from our Lassen Volcanic NP visit!

Redwood National Park

Having already sought out some very tall trees on the Olympic Peninsula, we could not wait to walk amongst some of the tallest trees in the world. Redwood National Park is in northern California on the Pacific coast. We spent two days exploring the park.

Tall Trees Grove

The tall trees grove is an area known to have some the tallest trees in the park and, subsequently, in the world. Redwood trees in this area tower to heights 350+ feet! Access to this area is allowed by permit only and we were lucky enough to acquire one a week before our visit. This trail is one of the more difficult to access, besides the permit we had to drive 7 miles down a dirt road to a small parking lot which thankfully the van fit into.

Tall Trees Grove

From the trailhead, we hiked 2 miles down 800 ft of elevation to Redwood Creek where the Tall Trees Grove lives. A one mile loop took us through the grove and we had to keep stopping at each colossal Redwood we came to and ponder its mass. After the grove loop, we hike along Redwood Creek for a bit then returned up to the trailhead.

Tree hugger
Leaning on a friend.

Prairie Creek

After our Tall Trees hike, we grabbed the last available spot at Elk Prairie campground and bedded down for the evening. The next day we went to the visitor center then explored some of the nearby points of interest including Big Tree and Corkscrew Tree. Big Tree is not the tallest in the area but is known to have one of the widest trunks among other trees in the park with a diameter of 23 feet. Corkscrew Tree is truly a unique site which is saying something when you are surrounded by 300 foot tall trees! It consists of four trees intertwined in a corkscrew pattern that reach skyward together.

Big Tree
Corkscrew Tree

Takeaways

It is truly difficult to get a scale of the size of the Coastal Redwoods at this awesome park. We could tell they were enormous but since every tree is so big, we had no comparison to the “tall” pines of the Piney Woods back home. We plan to come back and hike more of the many trails that wind through these giants of nature and continue to be humbled.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

See gallery below for more photos from our Redwood adventure!

Dodging Wildfires in Southern Oregon

While moving through Oregon, we found ourselves having to maneuver away from active wildfires and smoke. At one point we decided it would be best to drive East away from the forests toward Burns, Oregon only to wake up to find that the wind direction forced the hazy smoke to follow us! Since we didn’t want to completely go off course, we thought it was best to hunker down in a couple of Airbnb’s in Bend, Oregon until the smoke cleared.

Look at that sun and heavy smoke!

We made the best of our stay in Bend and enjoyed living in a house even if it was just for a little while. We took advantage of having a full kitchen and made some homemade tortillas and mole. YUM! We were also able to watch the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference finals. GO STARS!

Flipping tortillas BY HAND, what a guy!

Oh yeah, we eventually made it to Crater Lake but visibility was still pretty poor. We drove around the parks scenic loop to see what we could and just decided we will have to return to this park in the future. Until next time!

-Ashby

Crater Lake

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

At 14,000 acres, this national monument might be relatively small but it is loaded with many paleontological and geological wonders. John Day Fossil Beds is located in eastern Oregon near the towns of Mitchell and is comprised of three separate units each with their own unique features. This was our first time in eastern Oregon and we were surprised at how quickly the landscape and temperatures changed from the densely wooded coast and 75 degrees to mountainous desert grasslands in the east and 100 degrees (yikes!).

Painted Hills

Painted Hills

The first unit we explored was Painted Hills, named so for the large hills with stratifications in the soil making stripes of red, tan, orange, and black in the hillside. We hiked up an adjacent hill via the Carroll Rim Trail and had amazing views of the Painted Hills below. We then explored an area called Painted Cove that has small hills of deep red, yellow, and lavender claystone hills.

Sheep Rock

Blue Basin

This area of the national monument is the largest of the three units and is named after a large rock formation near the visitor center. Our favorite feature of this unit was an area called Blue Basin, a small canyon walls of blue green claystone. There are also many preserved fossil replicas along the trail though the canyon of various ancient specimens found in the area.

Clarno

Natural Bridge

We visited the Clarno Unit on our way out of the monument. This area features palisades made of volcanic ash and mud flows formed 45 million years ago. The trail along the palisades contains many fossils embedded in the rock and lead us to an overlook of a natural bridge at the top of the palisade cliffs.

Takeaways

John Day Fossil Beds is a fun and educational park where you can embrace your inner paleontologist. We enjoyed our visit and would not mind a return trip in the future. I especially enjoyed being back in the desert for a bit after the forests of coastal Washington and Oregon.

Click here for more photos of our John Day Fossil Beds visit!

Thanks for reading!

-Alan

Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest

We hadn’t realized how many volcanoes there are in the pacific northwest and soon learned that this area belongs to the Pacific Ring of Fire which contains 75% of the worlds active or dormant volcanoes, After exploring Olympic National Park, we headed south toward Mount Rainier and what would become a volcanic tour of the northwest. We spent the most time at Rainier but also visited Mount St. Helens, Mount Hood, and Newberry Volcanic National Monument.

Mount Rainier National Park

Our first day in Mount Rainier National Park, we hiked the Pinnacle Peak Saddle trail. The trail was a short and sweet with a total distance of 2.4 miles and an elevation gain of 1000 ft. The hike was packed with colorful wildflowers and when we reached the “saddle” we had amazing views of Mt. Rainier on one side and Mt. Adams on the other.

The next day we hiked to Pebble Creek via the Skyline Trail. This hike ended up being around 8 miles with 2500 ft. in elevation gain. When we reached Pebble Creek we felt as if we were so close to the top of the mountain. The glacier views from this point were unbelievable and we could even hear ice falls on the mountain that sounded like thunder.

The best part about this park is that you can be anywhere in the park and still get a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier. On our last day at the park, we drove up to the Sunrise area on north end of the mountain. After parking we hiked up to Mount Fremont lookout for spectacular view once again. It was not easy to leave this majestic mountain!

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Just before crossing into the Oregon border, we made quick stop at Mount St. Helens to hike the nature trail near the visitor center. Although the hike was short, we learned so much about the vicious eruption that took place only 40 years ago! The destruction left behind is still very evident and it was interesting to see how the plant and animal life has made its way back.

Mount Hood National Forest

On our way east across Oregon, we stopped for a couple of nights in Mount Hood National Forest. Mount Hood is another stratovolcano that dominates horizon and can easily be seen from Portland. We hiked the Bald Mountain and Muddy Fork trail which was a little under 6 miles and gained 1200 ft. in elevation. The trail wound through the forest and eventually went downhill into a valley at the base of Mount Hood. This made for a nice lunch spot!

Newberry National Volcanic Monument

While we were near Bend, OR, we visited Newberry National Volcanic Monument located in Deschutes National Forest. Our first stop was the Lava Lands area to check out a cinder cone and a large lava flow below it. While we were there we stopped by the visitor center to bird for a bit and saw a Cooper’s Hawk (or maybe a Sharp-shinned Hawk). We then headed to the Newberry Caldera to see Paulina Falls, Paulina Peak and the Big Obsidian Flow. The Big Obsidian Flow was especially unique because it was completely made up of black volcanic glass. So beautiful!

Takeaways

The many volcanoes of the northwest are not only beautiful part of the natural landscape, but allow for a glimpse into the past and provide some education about the earth’s formation. All of the volcanoes we visited are still active and you can not help but wonder when they will erupt again.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan & Ashby

Click here for more photos from our volcanic adventures!

Volcanoes of the Pacific Northwest Photo Gallery

Mount Rainier National Park

Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument

Mount Hood National Forest

Newberry Volcanic National Monument

Olympic National Park

After our San Juan Island adventure, we kept it coastal heading south to the Olympic Peninsula. This area is located at the in the northwest corner of Washington and is home to the Olympic Mountains. We spent 9 days exploring the immense area that is Olympic National Park and the surrounding Olympic National Forest.

Hoh Rainforest

This sure is a fungi!

The Hoh Rainforest is, in our opinion, the most unique area in Olympic National Park. This area receives more rainfall annually than any other area in the country and is full of mossy trees and lush foliage. We planned a four night backpacking trip through the forest via the Hoh River Trail up to Blue Glacier at the foot of Mount Olympus then back to the Hoh Visitor Center summing up to 37 miles in distance.

Hoh River Trail

Day one of the hike was easy going as the trail does not climb much until you get close to Blue Glacier. We hiked 13 miles to our campsite at an area called Lewis Meadow. We were able to find a nice spot next to the river bed with mountain views. Unfortunately, Ashby had developed some blisters on her toes and heels that required some first aid attention. After a couple of dehydrated meals accompanied with wine, we got to work on Ashby’s aching feet. The blisters turned out to be worse than we thought and after doing what we could we decided we would see how they felt in the morning then decide whether we could continue.

Ashby’s feet post op

The next morning after breakfast and packing up camp, Ashby assessed her feet with hiking boots on and a pack on her back. She determined that if we continued forward, her blisters would only worsen making the return trip miserable (the 13 mile return to the trailhead was already daunting enough). Having made the decision cut the trip short and head back, we started for the trailhead. Six hours later, we were in the van resting our feet. The trip back was painful for Ashby and we were glad we chose to turn around.  Despite not hiking the entire trail, this was still an awesome trek through a unique ecosystem and we would love to return to see Blue Glacier.

Rialto Beach

Since Ashby’s feet required some recovery, we decided to head to the coastal region of the park and hang out for a few days. We were lucky enough to reserve 3 nights in the Mora Campground near Rialto Beach. At Rialto Beach, we hiked to a formation called “Hole in the Wall” and checked out the surrounding tide pools with their many unique marine species. Of course, since we were on the beach, we did not miss the opportunity to catch the amazing sunsets over the Pacific Ocean. These pair well with a glass of wine!

Sunset at Rialto Beach

After leaving the Rialto Beach area, we headed south along the coast stopping at some of the beaches within the southwest part of the park. After some research we found that Olympic National Park is home to some of the largest Douglas Fur and Sitka Spruce Trees in the world and decided to try and find them. Our first attempt was of mixed success in that we did not find the Douglas Fur we were looking for but, saw a group of Ruffed Grouse on the forest floor. This was exciting for us beginner birders as we had never seen birds like this before.

Ruffed Grouse

Our next “tree stop” was to a Sitka Spruce near Lake Quinault and we were able to find it with ease. This Spruce is the largest in the world towering 191 feet above the ground and is over a thousand years old. This got us pumped up to go to Redwood National Park and see the world’s tallest trees.

Big Sitka Spruce!

Staircase

The Staircase area is located on the southeast side of the park near Lake Cushman. This area is dense with large Douglas Firs and features long cascading rapids from which its namesake is derived. We were able to secure a night in the first come first served campground which made it easy to explore the area. That evening, we hiked the rapids loop trail that takes you along the Staircase Rapids then back along the opposite shore of the creek.

Staircase Cascade

The next morning, we packed up camp then headed for another trail in Olympic National Forest along an area called Big Creek. The trail is a 4.5 mile loop that begins with a thousand foot climb at the top of which we enjoyed vast views of the forest valley below. The trail continued its beauty on the way down crossing multiple flowing cascades of the creek. This was an awesome way to start our day and kickstart the endorphins!

Upper Big Creek

Takeaways

The Olympic Peninsula is an enormous preserve of diverse ecosystems from dense rainforest to coastal tide pools. We enjoyed our stay and have added many activities to the “when we return” list.

Thanks for reading!

-Alan  

Click here for more photos from our Olympic National Park adventure!