White Sands National Park

Onward to White Sands National Park in New Mexico – the world’s largest gypsum dune field.  We spent a few hours hiking around and taking pictures.  The fine gypsum feels nice and cool underfoot – it doesn’t heat up in the sun like sand.

I had hoped to also visit the Trinity test site but it’s open to visitors only two days each year (once in April and once in October) due to the site being part of the active White Sands Missile Range. We left the park an hour or two before sunset to find a nice dispersed campsite beyond the next little range of mountains:

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Carlsbad Caverns

Continuing on our return trip, next stop was Guadalupe Mountains National Park in Texas near the New Mexico border.  We checked out the visitor center and went for a hike in the afternoon before continuing on to camp on some BLM land in New Mexico near Carlsbad Caverns National Park.  The following day was of course to visit Carlsbad Caverns.

We bought tickets for the self-guided tour and spent several hours enjoying and following the extensive walking paths of the cave system.  There are ranger-led tours to some more isolated portions of the cave but these are very limited and get booked up well in advance.  After exploring the cave at our leisure and having lunch back in the van, we waited around to join the ranger-hosted twilight event to learn about the bats that use the cave for much of the year and to wait for their grand, swarming, evening exit from the cave.  No photography allowed (or any devices or talking for that matter) but we did get to watch many hundreds stream out.  Apparently at later times of the year, you can see many hundreds of thousands of bats exit the cave.

We camped on some more BLM land that evening but woke the next day to a severe high wind and dust storm forecast for hundreds of miles in every direction.  We had already planned to restock food in the town of Carlsbad so we ended up just renting a hotel room to sit out the storm.

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Big Bend National Park

On our return trip from watching the eclipse in Central Texas, Darlene and I first headed to the southwest edge of Texas to spend a few days exploring Big Bend National Park along the Mexico border.

 

We didn’t have campground reservations and of course everything in the park was booked out for weeks but we were able to snag backcountry sites which you can only reserve in-person 24 hours in advance.  These are a handful of very dispersed but specifically designated sites along some of the unpaved back roads.  Know that some of these roads require high clearance 4×4 vehicles and some of the sites are very remote, requiring hours to reach.  We actually chose not to take one of these sites because we didn’t want to have to spend so much time to get to it and from it.  As it turned out though, we spent over an hour trying to get to a camp area outside the north end of the park.  In hindsight, we should have looked to find a campground out the more built-up west entrance of the park.

Anyway, we spent three full days hiking, biking and touring very different areas of the park, from desert to mountains and along the Rio Grande.  If you go, make sure you don’t skip out on the really well done Fossil Discovery Exhibit.

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Petrified Forest National Park

On our way to Texas to see the eclipse, we enjoyed an afternoon checking out the Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona: lots of wide vistas and pretty landscapes, some pueblo ruins and petroglyphs, Triassic era fossils and of course lots of colorful “rockified” (okay, petrified) tree remains everywhere.

 

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Among the Giant Sequoias

Darlene and I loaded up the van and the cats and headed out this past week for a short adventure.  First stop was to overnight under some dark skies in the San Benito mountains for a potential meteor storm from Tau Herculids.  (There was a decent meteor shower, but no full-on storm.)  We then spent the next five days in and around Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park, hiking among the magnificent giant sequoia trees, checking out Kings Canyon and exploring the Sequoia National Forest between the two national parks.  We also attempted an extended mountain bike ride from Buck Rock to Lookout Peak but had to abort due to a failure / total destruction of my rear hub – resulting in a long bike walk back.

We came across some black bears while hiking in Sequoia National Park.

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Great Basin National Park

Looking towards Doso Doyabi (center) and Wheeler Peak (right).

These are pictures from spending four days in Great Basin National Park in mid-April (with the cats, of course) – driving up to the Mather Overlook (the road was still closed beyond that point due to snow), hiking up the Baker Creek Trail and the Lehman Creek Trail, taking the Lehman Caves tour and venturing around to the remote southern tip of the park to hike up to Lexington Arch.

I want to go back sometime and do the hike to the top of Wheeler Peak (elevation 13,065 ft / 3982 m).

(If this HDR video can’t play in your browser, here’s a more basic, non-HDR version.)

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Dinosaur National Monument

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent about four days in Dinosaur National Monument but could have happily spent more if not for the worsening smoke from this year’s California wildfires.

One of many canyon overlooks along Yampa Bench Road

 

Coming from the south, we started with the canyon portion of the park and spent two nights at the Echo Park campground.  One day was just biking out along the Yampa Bench Road and checking out many of the amazing river canyon overlooks.

The following day we turned our attention to the dinosaur fossils and petroglyphs in the western part of the park by taking a slow, rough 4WD road to the other side of the park.  (Why take the easy way around??)

At the Quarry Exhibit Hall, you can see hundreds of fossilized dinosaur bones still embedded in the rock:

Lots of petroglyphs along Harper’s Corner Road

And we had a close encounter with a pair of bighorn sheep:

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Black Canyon of the Gunnison

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent a day exploring the south side of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.  And yes, it is an incredibly deep, steep and narrow canyon!  We camped on some BLM land just outside of the park and spent a full day gawking at the canyon from the various viewpoints, including hiking out the Warner Point nature trail.

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Great Sand Dunes National Park

As part of our month-long Colorado road trip, we spent a couple of days at the Great Sand Dunes National Park.

We rented some rather worn out sand sleds, hiked to the high point of the first ridge (while fighting the strong high winds that day) and eventually managed to get the sleds working well enough to glide back down.

 

Sledding down the dunes

We had also planned to take the 4WD route over the mountains (Medano Pass Primitive Road) but were put off by the reports of very deep sand to get through.  We did hike up to see the nearby, cool-to-see Zapata Falls though.

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Road Trip to the Pacific Northwest


Humboldt Redwoods State Park (California)

With Darlene out in Wisconsin visiting her family, I loaded up the van with Pan and Hera and headed up to the Pacific Northwest for a couple of weeks, visiting with my brother and some friends in the Portland/Vancouver area as well as exploring a bit of countryside – while avoiding the smoke from the wildfires already flaring up.


Visiting with Corey and his family

And with Jon & Siobhan

 

Glenn and Michele then joined me in their new van for a little tour around Olympic National Park.

 
Hiking in Olympic National Park (Washington)

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Onward to Lassen

After a couple of days layover in Tahoe to ski some new snow and repair the van (a badly installed anti-sway bar), we headed off again – north this time towards Lassen National Park.  Along the way, we spent an afternoon riding as far as we could (before being turned back by snow) up the Mills Peak Lookout trail near Greagle, checked out the Subway Cave near Old Station, wandered around some rough forest roads, visited Burney Falls – and in Burney I was finally able to snag a covid vaccination shot!

The highway through Lassen was still closed to vehicles as they continued to clear the snow but open to biking which made a lovely ride to the top from the southwest entrance.  We made two attempts at hiking the Chaos Crags trail on the other side of the park (after getting caught in a thunder and hail storm) and pushed past the still snow covered road to check out the Fantastic Lava Beds area.

 

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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Camping in Pinnacles

Darlene and I met up with Greg, Erin & Merritt and Resi, Troy & Aiden for a very warm weekend of camping at Pinnacles National Park this past weekend.

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(And sorry guys, the first batch of photos are pretty messed up by my not noticing until our hiking snack break that I had left my camera set at a very high ISO.  Just think of it as an old-timey filter…)

   

Colorado National Monument

Continuing on our way home from Wisconsin, Darlene and I came across Colorado National Monument just outside of Grand Junction and decided to have a look.  I’d never heard of this place but the scenery was gorgeous and there were fantastic views and rock formations in every direction throughout the park.  We ended up spending a couple of days to check it out and do a little hiking – click through for the full gallery:

      

Passing through Colorado

On our return trip from Wisconsin, Darlene and I made our way down through Iowa and Missouri and across Kansas with one overnight stop and then into Colorado stopping off in Denver but failing to find anywhere nearby to grab a campsite.  (Ended up in a motel parking lot north of Boulder.)  We stayed a couple of nights in Rocky Mountain National Park to do some hiking.  The long views weren’t all that great because the smoke from the huge California wildfires were filling the skies even in Colorado.

  

Heading south, we found a spot to camp for a couple of nights in national forest land outside of Winter Park and got in some high altitude (10,000′) mountain biking.  We visited Dave and Martha at their new home in Evergreen before continuing west on I-70.  We camped out a couple of nights and did some trail riding in the hills above Eagle and had to wait out the mud in the morning in order to get the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle™ safely down the mountain again.

We also took some time to ride along Glenwood Canyon and tried to hike up to Hanging Lake late in the evening but ran out of time.  We came across a mama bear and her two cubs climbing in the trees near the trail though:

Badlands of South Dakota

Continuing our trek out to Wisconsin along I-90 and across South Dakota, we visited and hiked around a bit in the Badlands National Park and encountered some bighorn sheep.  The park campgrounds were full but we found dispersed camping (with lots of other folks) just outside the northwest entrance.

We weren’t able to visit some of the other interesting sites in the nearby Black Hills area (like Jewel Cave or Wind Cave National Park) because a severe thunderstorm and hail warning drove us north out of the way.  The next day I dropped Darlene off at the Rapid City airport so she could fly home to make her doctor’s appointment (she’s currently on medical leave due to a hip injury).

I continued on with Pan and Hera and visited the Minuteman Historic National Monument, which was well worth the stop.

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