Tag Archives: geology

Grand Canyon National Park

Overview

Grand Canyon National Park is generally considered one of the seven natural wonders of the world.   Billions of years of geologic history have been laid bare by the cutting power of the Colorado River.  It is cliché but true, you simply have to see this icon with your own eyes.  It can be overwhelming.  So can the crowds on the South Rim, but those tend to thin out if you hike a mile or two down a trail.  If you have the time during the summer months, be sure to drive five hours over the forested Kaibab Plateau to reach the North Rim (which is only 10 miles away as the raven flies). 

Highlights

Desert View Watchtower, Hopi House, El Tovar Hotel, Phantom Ranch, Toroweap Overlook, whitewater rafting the Colorado River

Must-Do Activity

Growing up in Arizona, Scott used to visit this park frequently, but he feels he never got to know it until he hiked to the bottom in 2016.  Even if you only go a couple thousand feet down in elevation on the Grandview Trail or busy Bright Angel Trail, it will give you a new perspective on the canyon.

Best Trail

We day hiked the 18 miles from South Kaibab Trailhead (7200 feet elevation) down to Phantom Ranch (2500 feet) where we filled up with water on the way back up to Bright Angel Trailhead (6800 feet, with multiple water stations on the trail).  Backcountry permits can turn this into a multiple day trek, but then you have to carry all your gear out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

It is an arduous 90-mile one-way drive down a (mostly) dirt road to access Toroweap Overlook, but there is a reason photos from this fantastic overlook show up everywhere since the canyon walls are nearly vertical here.

Peak Season

Summer when it is very hot inside the canyon, though it can also be busy around the spring, fall, and December holidays.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/grca/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$35 per vehicle or America The Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Most roads are paved, and except for the very end of the 90-mile long graded dirt road to Toroweap Overlook is accessible to all passenger vehicles.

Camping

The park has campgrounds on both rims, but you can also find dispersed camping in the neighboring Kaibab National Forest.

This design we created to celebrate Grand Canyon National Park is available on a variety of products at Cafe Press and Amazon.

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John Day Fossil Beds National Monument

Overview

There are three units of this National Monument named for the John Day River that drains this region in the rain shadow of the Cascades.  It is less green than much of Oregon, but that lack of vegetation allows the wonderful colors of the soil to show through in places like the Painted Hills and Blue Basin.

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Highlights

Scenic views, geologic formations, fossils, museum

Must-Do Activity

The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gets our vote for the best museum in the entire National Park Service System.   Across from Sheep Rock, it has awesome exhibits on the 40-million years of mammalian history this monument protects.  Plus, watch real laboratory specimens being prepared by archaeologists.  Across the highway, have a picnic at the James Cant Ranch Historic District and learn about sheep and cattle ranching in this region.

Best Trail

The Blue Basin is accurately named at the end of the one-mile Island in Time Trail.

Instagram-worthy Photo

If you can only see one unit of the monument, make sure it is the surreal Painted Hills. Stunning colors on large clay hills with several interpretive loop trails describe the geological history and fossils found there.

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Peak Season

Summer, though wildfires can cause road closures.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/joda/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

None

Road Conditions

Dirt roads at the Painted Hills are passable with most vehicles when dry.

Camping

None within the monument, but there are several campgrounds in the area, including a nice one we stayed at in the town of Fossil, Oregon.

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The John Day River running through the National Monument.

Rock formations like the ones at Devils Postpile NM
The Thomas Condon Paleontology Center gets our vote for the best museum in the entire NPS System.

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The blue badlands at the end of the one-mile Island in Time Trail. 

Group shot

 

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There are several trails through the Painted Hills for up-close views of the colorful soil.

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Appalachian National Scenic Trail

Overview

The Appalachian Trail (or A.T.) is one of only three National Scenic Trails that the National Park Service (NPS) includes in its total of 417 units, despite there being many other affiliated trails (some with their own Visitor Centers).  The trail stretches 2,185 miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Mount Katahdin, Maine, crossing 14 states, 6 NPS sites, 8 National Forests, and countless other parks.

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Highlights

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Shenandoah National Park, Mount Washington State Park, Baxter State Park

Must-Do Activity

Even if just for a short stretch, gets a taste for the A.T. by following the white rectangular blazes going north or south anywhere along its length.  The trail through Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park is especially popular.

Best Trail

The last stretch of the trail ascends Katahdin in Maine’s Baxter State Park.  My impression from the surly park employees is that they would rather not be the official end of the Appalachian Trail.  For instance, they fined record-setting Scott Jurek for public alcohol consumption and littering when he spilled some champagne celebrating his accomplishment atop Katahdin in 2015.  The funny thing about the A.T. is that it ends (or begins) on top of a mountain where you have to turn around and hike out.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The views on top of Katahdin are unsurpassed and you might get to celebrate with a thru-hiker finishing the 2,185-mile journey.

At the top!  The mountain looks similar to many of the 14ers in Colorado

Peak Season

Most thru-hikers go in the summer due to snow.  Baxter State Park closes in the winter, but most of the trail is accessible year round.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/appa/planyourvisit/basicinfo.htm

Fees

Free to hike, but some parks (like Shenandoah National Park) charge for admission and camping.

Road Conditions

Trailhead access can be both paved and dirt (which is the case in Baxter State Park).  The trail is only paved in a few portions like atop Clingman’s Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Camping

There are more than 160 trail shelters along the A.T. and in some places like Great Smoky Mountains National Park backpackers are required to utilize them.  Otherwise dispersed camping is mostly allowed along the entire length of the trail.

Raven flyover
Raven about the Katahdin summit!

At the peak and end of the AT

Group shot!

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A view of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument
A view looking east at the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

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City of Rocks National Reserve

Overview

In the high desert of southeast Idaho stands a collection of granite spires that served as a welcome rest stop along the California Trail.   At the height of the gold rush in 1852, some 50,000 pioneers passed this site in a single year.  Many left their names painted in axle grease, still legible on Camp Rock and Register Rock.  Today it is a popular destination for rock climbers from around the world, but also has 22 miles of hiking and equestrian trails.

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Highlights

Rock climbing, Register Rock, Window Arch, primitive camping

Must-Do Activity

Rock climbers flock here from around the world to take on the granite spires that inspired emigrants on the California Gold Rush Trail to name it City of Rocks.  The grippy granite is fun for any skill level to clamber around on and easily accessible from all campsites.

Best Trail

Trails snake through this area leading to different climbing routes, especially around Elephant Rock, which is a great place to watch other climbers.  Keep watching the skies, too, as a variety of raptors (and pigeons) enjoy the thermals here.

Instagram-worthy Photo

Window Arch is a great place to watch the sun come up, just try not to wake up campers in the neighboring sites.

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Peak Season

Summer, since it is very cold at this elevation (7,000 feet) in other seasons.  Autumn briefly turns aspen leaves yellow.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/ciro/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Free to enter and only $12.72 to camp per night (so bring exact change)

Road Conditions

A dirt road winds through the park and is accessible to passenger vehicles.

Camping

78 primitive campsites located off the dirt Emery Canyon Road, with several nice sites sit right next to Window Arch.  For more upscale accommodations try the Lodge and Bunkhouse at nearby Castle Rocks State Park.

Lots of fins

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One of the more famous inscriptions
Emigrants on the California Trail passed right through here.

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Kalaupapa National Historical Park

Overview

Located on the remote northern peninsula of Molokai, in the Hawaiian Islands, this isolated spot was selected by King Kamehameha V in 1865 as a quarantine area for those suffering from Hansen’s disease (also known as leprosy).  It is fairly noncontagious and successful treatments were developed, meaning patients have not been forced to live here since 1949.  There are still no roads to the settlement, so you will have to get the necessary permits through Father Damien Tours to fly, hike, or ride mules into the restricted-access park.  Nobody under age 16 is allowed.

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Highlights

Kalaupapa Trail, St. Philomena Church, Kalawao Settlement

Must-Do Activity

“Must do” in this case means you are only allowed to enter this park on the 4-hour bus tours led by Hansen’s disease patients who choose to remain living here, which truly enhances your experience.  From them you will hear the amazing stories of the exiles and those who helped them, including two saints: Father Damien and Mother Marianne Cope.

Best Trail

Hiking down the 1,600-foot high cliffs is an exciting introduction to the land, or you can ride a mule on the same trail.  Permits required.

Instagram-worthy Photo

The tour stops for lunch at the long-abandoned Kalawao Settlement at the end of the road, which offers stunning views of the 1,600-foot cliffs that plunge into the Pacific Ocean.

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Peak Season

The weather is nice year round in the tropics, but always be prepared for rain.

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/kala/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

Permits are required to enter this park and the only concessionaire is Father Damien Tours.  A day trip including flights from Honolulu cost $249 per person in 2016, but cheaper options are available if you are already staying on Molokai Island.

Road Conditions

The dirt roads are bumpy, especially in a bus, but you won’t be driving so just enjoy the scenery.

Camping

None

A view of Kalaupapa from near the top of the trail
Tropical jungles and extraordinary overlooks are two reasons to enter the park via the Kalaupapa Trail.

Tiff on the downhill

Scott with an awesome tree

Tiff at the restored church built by Father Damien in the 1800s
Father Damien served here at St. Philomena Church in the later abandoned Kalawao Settlement; he was canonized in 2009.

Active Catholic church in Kalaupapa

Tiff boarding our plane to get topside on Moloka'i
Small airplanes are used to fly in and out of Kalaupapa, offering great views of Molokai.

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